The capital of Iceland is a progressive, culturally vibrant coastal city with a wealth of natural wonders.
Iceland topped the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report ranking of countries for the 10th year running in 2018. This measures gender disparity in economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.
Today women occupy almost 40 per cent of seats in the Althing, the oldest surviving parliament in the world. At 43, prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is one of Europe’s youngest female leaders.
The country’s gender pay gap averaged 12 per cent between 2008 and 2016, according to government agency Statistics Iceland, and reducing it is a priority for Jakobsdóttir. Last year, Iceland became the first country to require companies to prove they pay men and women equally.
Iceland is the smallest economy with its own free floating currency, which has helped the country recover from the 2008 financial crash by favouring tourism and exports. Statistics Iceland’s forecast is for just 0.2 per cent gross domestic product growth in 2019 but then an average of 2.6 per cent growth in the four years to 2024.
Reykjavík has stepped up support for entrepreneurs since the financial crisis, with accelerator programmes in the capital such as Startup Reykjavík, Firestarter, and Startup Tourism. Codland, a company created in 2012 from the Iceland Ocean Cluster incubator, encourages sustainable fishing by reusing all the byproducts of cod processing.
Spas and bathing pools fed by Iceland’s geothermal waters can be found close to the city. The Blue Lagoon in Grindavík and Vök Baths in Urriðavatn are both less than an hour’s drive south of Reykjavík, which itself has 17 geothermal pools. Six hours to the north-east, Mývatn Nature Baths offer a quieter setting and the opportunity to enjoy the Northern Lights.
Reykjavík Culture Night, which took place this August for the 24th year running, launches the city’s annual cultural programmes every summer and attracts 100,000 visitors. Meanwhile, the National Museum of Iceland’s permanent exhibition, Making of a Nation, includes Icelandic arts and crafts dating back to the Settlement Age as well as a Viking settlers’ ship.
More offbeat are the Icelandic Punk Museum, housed in a former public toilet, and the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which claims to be “probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in a single country”.
The modernist Hallgrímskirkja church is named after 17th-century clergyman and poet Hallgrímur Pétursson, author of the Passion Hymns, one of Iceland’s most famous works of religious poetry. It hosts organ concerts every Thursday and at weekends.
Icelandic cuisine focuses on natural, locally sourced ingredients, from Arctic cod to free-roaming lamb. Dill, named best restaurant in Reykjavík by White Guide Nordic — and until this year holder of the only Michelin star in Iceland — offers contemporary takes on lunchtime classics, such as plokkfiskur, a traditional fish stew, and a seven-course dinner tasting menu that changes weekly.Â
Photographs: Dreamstime; Iceland Airwaves; Ivan Guardino; Valdis
Dill Restaurant has closed since this article was written.