Not that exploring Reykjavík by bike is really that different than doing it by car or on foot/bus… but it is preferable to some old school transport modes:
Greater Reykjavík holds only about 200k residents (~2/3 of Iceland’s total population), but the city puts on a show of more than three times that, by US standards. Commerce is concentrated in the downtown core, which, along with pretty much the rest of Iceland, is under seemingly continuous construction. It’s difficult to get an overview shot of downtown, but this is from one of the parks on one of the surrounding hills, looking west here.
Everything in Iceland is extremely clean, functional, precise, well-maintained, quality, clear, ridiculously safe (even the police, of which you will not see any, do not carry guns) – if you’re OCD, you will find peace here. This is all by US standards. In one week of wandering I have yet to come across a dirty bathroom, a door that doesn’t quite fit, a resentful cashier, or even moldy bread. And I’ve been staying in the cheapest places in the country – camping, hostels and guesthouses. As far as I can tell, there is no (like, zero) pavement in Iceland that is as bad as San Francisco’s average street. And I’ve ridden over some 500 miles of it – and I’m not exaggerating. That ‘higher standard of living’ thing – it really shows.
One of the dominating features of Reykjavík’s skyline is this huge church, the Hallgrímskirkja. Which, of course, was under (re)construction when I was there.
Appearently that statue out in front was a gift from ‘The People of the USA’ to those of Iceland in 1930, in celebration of the 1000 year anniversary of the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy. Go us! Kinda like the Statue of Liberty, just more, well, how to put this nicely… economical.
Speaking of Americans, aside from those on my flight in from San Francisco via Minneapolis, I neither met nor overheard any American accents during my two days in Reykjavík. The closest I found was Montreal. Which, as anyone from the Heartland will tell you, is a long, long way from American.
That’s not to say you can’t get by with English. You are 100% fully functional with English here – if you manage to find an Icelander that isn’t fluent in English, then they’re not actually an Icelander… they’re a French tourist or something.
Reykjavík’s downtown has European-style narrow streets, with a streetwall of 3-5 stories. Aside from the expressways, roads and streets do not have shoulders – rather a sharp curb to mark the end of the street and the beginning of the not-street. Very pedestrian friendly, if not so much for bikes. All the crosswalks are raised to the level of the ’sidewalk’ (which, outside the downtown, is generally a completely separated paved path, more like the American idea of a ‘multi-use path’ – bikes are legal). This isn’t a Reykjavík thing though – it’s an Iceland thing. You’ll find this even in little communities of a few hundred people hundreds of km from anything bigger – the crosswalks are raised and made of brick. What, building for people not cars? Silly hippies.
And it’s true – most everything in Reykjavík (and Iceland in general) is expensive. I paid 900 Krona for a beer with dinner in Reykjavík – about 10 USD. In general, expect to pay about twice as much as in the US. The big exception: budget sleeping. Just like seemingly every single community over zero residents, Reykjavík has a campsite (in town) and a hostel. The campsite will run you under 10 USD, and a bed in the hostel (bring your own sleeping bag!) will run you 15-20 USD. I stayed in the campsite:
Finally, why on two wheels? Well, two reasons for that. First, Reykjavík is relatively auto-oriented compared to its European counterparts. There are very functional and efficient expressways that divide the downtown from its waterfront and the parks that stretch along it. Parking is only regulated in the central downtown core. Bicycles are a new thing in Reykjavík… but those ‘multi-use’ paths are being built everywhere across the city. There is no rail system in Reykjavík (or Iceland at all, for that matter). The bus system is much stronger than those you’ll find in the states, but still isn’t enough to make transit preferable. So, this all adds up to – unless you choose to rent a vehicle, exploring Reykjavík by bike is a smoother ride than by foot/bus.
Second reason to go on bike… after exploring Reykjavík, you can go on tour across the island!