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!
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
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.