Quick Q&A: What is the best neighborhood for accommodation in Reykjavík

Back in April I went on a quick trip to Manchester on very short notice. I had to find somewhere to stay really fast and because I was booking 3 days before arrival bargain hunting was kind of out of the question. I didn’t know anything about the city, nor had I been there before, so I had no idea what areas to look at for accommodation. In the end I found a reasonably priced double room at the edge of the center of the city and was happy to read on Tripadvisor that there was a free bus that goes around the city, stopping right outside the hotel, that I was sure I would need to use while I was there. Since I was so far away from everything and all.

To make a long story short I never once used that bus because, as it turns out, Manchester city center is not so big. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle trying to figure out how to use the public transport system before I got there.

Manchester, by the way, is a lovely city to visit. I haven’t been so pleasantly surprised by a city since I accidentally spent a few days in Vienna many years ago without researching and it turned out to be one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been too. Manchester is maybe not quite so pretty, which doesn’t mean it’s ugly either, but it more than makes up for it with lively bars and restaurants, thriving music scene and friendly people. This is not the last time I visit Manchester, I can tell you that much!

I was obsessed with the cherry blossoms in Manchester and sat for two hours underneath this tree just because I could

I was obsessed with the cherry blossoms in Manchester and sat for two hours underneath this tree just because I could

The boyfriend and I are having similar problems now with trying to figure out where to stay when we visit Portland, San Francisco and other cities on the US West Coast in the fall. We’ve found reasonably priced places and then we read about not walking around those neighborhoods alone at night and our little innocent Icelandic hearts just don’t know what to do with that. Places that seem close to each other take forever to get between because of traffic (if you have ever experienced rush hour in Reykjavík you would understand why this is foreign to us) and reviews including 15 sketchy drug deals taking place outside someone’s hotel room window are just not helping. I think I’ve watched too many American crime shows..

What I’m trying to say here, in maybe a bit too lengthy manner, is that I hear you when you send me desperate e-mails asking me where to stay in Reykjavík because you cannot determine whether the neighborhood you are looking at is good or not. Which is why I’m going to help you. I’m nice that way.

Question: What is the best neighborhood for accommodation in Reykjavík

summer in Reykjavík

First of all, Reykjavík is a small city. In fact, if it was located somewhere else it probably wouldn’t even be called a city. It’s a town and the downtown area, where you are going to be spending most of your time, is basically a village. It’s very walkable and when you hear Icelandic people complain about living far away from the city center it’s basically because those same Icelanders have never had a 2 hour commute every day to get to work like many of you and they don’t know how good they have it.

To get from one end of the city to the other, excluding the municipalities around Reykjavík that make up the great capital area, takes no more than 20 minutes. Maybe 30 minutes when there’s a lot of traffic. To walk from one end of 101 Reykjavík, which is the most central postcode (and where most of the hotels and guesthouses are located), to the other takes 30 minutes.

For travelers in Reykjavík there are mostly three neighborhoods that you will be looking at when choosing accommodation: The downtown area, the west town and the east town. I actually don’t know many people that call the east part of the central area East Town anymore but that’s what it was called when I was growing up there (man I feel old writing this).

The central area

Miðbær – Downtown/Center – 101 Reykjavík

This, by many, is considered the heart of the city. This is where the Laugavegur shopping street is, where most of the museums are located and also where you will find the majority of the restaurants and bars. This is probably your best bet if you want to stay in the heart of the the city but just keep in mind that there are quite a few bars around the bottom part of Laugavegur, Bankastræti and Austurstræti that stay open until late in the weekend. Just in case you are a light sleeper. You will not need public transportation or a car to get between places in this area.

Vesturbær – West town (literal translation) – 107 Reykjavík

This area is a bit quieter than the downtown area but if you stay at the far end of it away from the downtown area you also have to walk a little further to get to places. It’s nothing major though, probably never more than 20-30 minutes walking. It’s ideal to have a bike if you are staying in this area but if you are in a hurry or you can’t be bothered walking there are also some buses available (not a lot though and it might still be quicker to walk). If you are staying closer to the edge of 107 and you have one too many beers out on town you might be tempted to take a taxi back to where you are staying, A taxi won’t break you budget, especially if you share it with someone.

If you stay in this neighborhood, and the same goes for 105 actually, you are probably a little bit closer to the local life than in 101.

Austurborg – East Town (again, literal translation) – 105 Reykjavík.

The outer edge of the 105 area is probably a bit further away than the outer edge in Vesturbær but there are also more bus connections to this area that can take you downtown in a jiffy. We live on the border of 105 and 101 and it takes me around 10 minutes to walk to Hallgrímskirkja church for my tours in the morning and around 20 minutes to get all the way downtown. Even though we live this close by I often take the bus home from downtown, just because it’s so easy and I have a bus pass anyway. If it was more complicated or the buses were further apart I would probably walk (and I often do if the weather is nice). If you want to have a dinner at a restaurant it depends on where you are in 105 whether you have anything in the neighborhood but the general rule is that you mostly go downtown fur such things. There are no neighborhood bars to speak of in this area either.

Outside of the city center

Sometimes you can get better deals on accommodation if you are OK with staying a little bit out of the city center. Postcodes like 104, 108 and 170 (although technically 170 is not Reykjavík but a little town called Seltjarnarnes) are still in walking distance from the downtown area and it’s easy to take buses from there towards the center. The buses run until around midnight but after that you have to walk, drive or take a taxi. If you are renting a car anyway while you are here you can easily drive from anywhere in the city in 10-20 minutes to the central area and there’s plenty of parking available. You might have to pay for the parking but it’s nothing like in many bigger cities where you have to pay an arm and a leg for a day’s worth of parking.

I should also mention that none of these areas are dangerous or dodgy. If you need more excitement in your life that way Reykjavík is probably not the city for you.

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19 thoughts on “Quick Q&A: What is the best neighborhood for accommodation in Reykjavík”

  1. Jennifer says:

    So, this is a little off topic, but if you’re still searching for accommodation in Portland, OR, I highly recommend the Portland International Guest House (http://www.pdxguesthouse.com/). It’s a Euro-style guesthouse (shared bathrooms) in a great residential neighborhood in PDX – lots of cute cafes, shops, and a bike rental close by so you can get around to other parts of the city. My husband and I stayed there a couple of years ago and we LOVED our experience.

  2. Megan says:

    “If you need more excitement in your life that way Reykjavík is probably not the city for you.”

    That cracked me up. I’m good with way less excitement than what I have here. 🙂

  3. Lisa says:

    Feeling safe was one of the best things about Reykjavik & Iceland. Sadly that doesn’t apply to most places in the US, if they advise not to go out alone at night or to stay away from certain neighborhoods then you should take the advise to heart.

  4. I’ve stayed in 105 (on Bólstaðarhlið) which I found it to be a little too far out—it seemed as if I was spending a lot of time walking. I did take the bus from time to time, which helped. It was midway between Miðbær and Laugardalslaug, however, which was convenient.

    In 101 I’ve stayed on Garðastræti, which is very close to the center of things, but up on a hill on a quiet street full of Embassies and private residences. A very nice location. I’ve stayed right behind Fríkirkjan a couple of times. I like that location the most. It is surprisingly quiet at night, although parking will be an issue of you have a car. The first time I came to Iceland (in 2000) I stayed at The Hotel Borg, which is right in the center of things. It was noisy.

  5. Randy Becker says:

    have usually stayed in the Holt area … very convenient for getting in to the central area and easy to leave town as well.

  6. Dave says:

    I stayed with couxhsurfers in Flókagata and Stúfholt and found them both to be beautiful areas. Just left Reykjavík yesterday and am still heartbroken! Beautiful place

  7. Whitney Krey-Epstein says:

    If you need any advice about places to stay and/or avoid in the San Francisco area, feel free to email me! You’ve been a tremendous help in my Iceland trip planning (was just there in February) and I’d love to return the favor. AirBnB is a great option in the bay area, if you haven’t already looked at that site. It can be cheaper than hotels, gives you more neighborhood options, and you can have a kitchen to save on food costs. The Tenderloin and Hunters Point/Visitacion Valley in San Francisco tend to be on the dodgier side (although the Tenderloin is very convenient and has some good food/bar options). In the east bay, West Oakland and deep East Oakland, along with parts of Richmond and San Leandro tend to be the higher crime areas. If you’re wanting to stay in San Francisco, Cole or Hayes Valley, Russian or Nob Hill are great. The inner/outer Richmond and Sunset districts are also wonderful, though a longer slog on transit from other areas (and foggy in summer). Hope that helps some!

  8. Amanda says:

    Hello,
    I just found your blog and I love love love it! I am from Portland Oregon and would recommend staying on the east side. There are plenty of places on the west side but I have found that downtown/west side closes down a bit early. On the Eastside I would stay most neighborhoods below 82nd avenue. Or North Portland is very nice too, maybe willamette avenue areas. Alberta is nice. I live in Sellwood, it is nice and very family friendly. Hawthorne or Belmont are great too! Portland is a wonderful city especially if you love beer! If we were friends I would totally show you around! 🙂

    1. mm Auður says:

      Thanks for your tips 🙂

  9. onze says:

    For San Francisco, the hostel at Fort Mason is nice. I have lunch there when I ride my bike to that part of the city. It is a little removed from the action, but the 22 Fillmore bus takes you through several cool neighborhoods and right into the Mission. If you are out late and don’t want to wait for the bus, you can use some of the money you save over a hotel or home rental and take a cab home (prob about $20). Your site is so helpful to me in planning a 3-month residency at Listhús starting in December, so I would love to have you over for tea to trade tips about San Francisco and Iceland. Email me if you would like to meet up somewhere.

    1. mm Auður says:

      That’s so nice of you – unfortunately I didn’t see this in time though 🙂

  10. Liz says:

    This post is great (and all of your other posts)! I always feel like I have this problem when traveling. I hope your time in Portland was good, I know how being placed in the wrong end of town can really make a trip bad. shocking how a small city and great public transit still a pain when your in the wrong part of town. If you do go back, I post this as I am a portlander traveling to Iceland soon so wanted to share tips about my city like you have in your post. Staying in NW alphabetic district the way to go for hotels. Another good place is inner SE (before 20th). And the hostel recommended is great but air Bnb here is also great. many of my friends who have just bought house love their air Bnb visitors.

    Thank you again for all your post! They are so helpful in planning our up coming trip.

    1. mm Auður says:

      We actually stayed in an AirBnB in the Alphabet District (NW21st – we had breakfast at Ken’s Artisan Bakery – yum!) and we went to the Tidbit Food Farm in the SE. We LOVED Portland and we definitely want to go there again

  11. Lauren says:

    I am in Iceland for 3 days end of January. I mainly want to search for the Northern Lights – would you suggest staying in reykjavik and getting a tour from hear or staying outside of the city.

    Thanks in advance for your help

    1. mm Auður says:

      It depends on whether you are renting a car or not. If you are not then you are stuck in one area where it might be cloudy on those particular nights while other areas around Reykjavík are not. If you have a car you can drive around to where the chances are best.

      If you want to do tours it’s most convenient to stay in Reykjavík.

  12. Lucy says:

    Hi, great blog and article! Any suggestions for places to stay over new year in Reykjavík? Our Airbnb just got cancelled and now everything seems to be booked out! Any advice much appreciated 🙂

    1. mm Auður says:

      Sorry Lucy, I don’t have any hot tips. Maybe you will find something if you look into splitting the stay up, stay for the first two days here and the last three days there kind of thing.

      I would also look at Booking.com because a lot of people book many places while they are trying to decide where they want to stay and then cancel those they don’t want to use.

  13. Moona says:

    Hi Guys, I am coming with my husband & parents for a short trip and will have 3 full days to explore. What are your “musts”?
    Any recommendations on tours to see the Northern Lights? Do we have better chance with a boat trip?

    1. mm Ásta - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Moona, I think this calls for a longer answer, so I’ll send you an email!

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