CREATIVE HUBS: REYKJAVIK
In Iceland, playing in a band is a rite of passage, pretty much everybody knows how to sew, and 10 per cent of the population have written a book. These are just a few measures and the artistic nature of this isolated nation, which exudes creativity in design, music, art and literature.
It’s easy to assume that this kind of productivity is down to the island’s natural beauty – surely waterfalls, mountains and fjords act as a kind of muse? But Icelanders themselves are quick to dismiss this, claiming that their inspiration is rooted in community and culture. The capital city of Reykjavik – in and around which half of the population live – is a good place to go and investigate.
Iceland suffered a massive economic crisis in 2008, from which it has now resurfaced – largely thanks to tourism. Today the nation boasts some 7,000 creative companies, and Reykjavik is brimming with spaces where creative people can work together. MINØR Coworking, for instance, is located in an old factory in the up-and-coming Fishpacking District, and is home to a number of art studios and startup businesses.
Lovers of art have a few spots to go in the city: there are big players, such as the Reykjavik Art Museum; while newer spaces like the BERG Contemporary feature a roster of eight ambiguous Icelandic and international artists. The current hot ticket is Marshall House, a creative space that houses The Living Art Museum, Gallery Kling & Bang as well as Olafur Eliasson’s open studio.
Reykjavik’s nightlife attracts tourists from across the globe. It is, after all, the city that inspired Bjork and Sigur Ros. Visitors can catch concerts at Harpa or dance the night away at the city’s underground favourite, Paloma. And don’t forget the sixth edition of Sonar Festival this year…
The intensity of Reykjavik’s creativity is bolstered by their daylight hours. In winter, long and dark nights mean city dwellers spend the majority of their time indoors working, then experience long periods of inspiration during the daylight hours of the summer. This is a city of shifting creativity, which changes its focus with each season.
WHERE TO STAY
An apartment-style hotel with seven suites located in the upscale harbour district, within walking distance of the Harpa concert hall. Housed inside historic timber buildings, this is an old-worldly sort of place, so expect floral wallpaper, grandfather clocks, and antique chairs.
Part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, Konsulat has opened just this year. The interiors have taken inspiration from the historic grandeur of Consul Thomsen, who owned a department store on the site back in the 1900s. It’s full of character – think lots of dark wood, leather furnishings and black and white photographs. There’s a geothermal spa here, too.
One of Reykjavik’s first boutique hotels still packs a punch. 101’s futuristic bar – complete with an impressive collection of contemporary art – has hosted a number of wild parties over the years, which undoubtedly wind up in their monochromatic rooms.
WHAT TO SEE
Opened in 2017, this new city landmark hosts concerts and cultural talks. It was designed by Olafur Eliasson, who took inspiration from the staggering beauty of Reykjavik’s surroundings. The exterior glass reflects the harbour and sky and practically glitters after dark.
This former fishmeal factory has been redesigned as a cultural centre, home to three different creative spaces: The Living Art Museum, a non-profit for experimental art; Gallery Kling & Bang, a space run by local artists; and Ólafur Elíasson’s open studio.
Reykjavik’s official art museum is split over three sites. There’s Hafnarhús, which focuses on progressive art; Kjarvalsstaðir, which is home to rotating exhibits by masters of modern art; and Ásmundarsafn, a sculpture house in which Ásmundur Sveinsson once lived and worked.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Nestled on the edge of a wetland and wild-bird reserve, this New Nordic eatery is Iceland’s first to be awarded a Michelin star. The tasting menu changes weekly and features dishes like crispy millet with celeriac and herb cream with lojrom caviar, cress and goat cheese.
You shouldn’t leave without visiting this modest hot dog stand, which, in fact, is the city’s most visited foodie spot. These dogs – known locally as plysa – contain lamb meat, and are served with a delicious mix of condiments.
If you’re after a look into Reykjavik’s underground music scene, then head to Paloma. Like a cross between a dive bar and a rave, you’ll find reggae, electronica and pop upstairs; but head to the basement for a seriously deep house scene. You will get sweaty.