Let’s face it. Reykjavík is not a public transportation friendly capitol. We do have buses but they don’t make up an ideal transportation for people who wants to explore Reykjavík, add to that, the fickle weather off season makes renting a car the best solution. The distances between the different, interesting are not great often but since you are on a vacation, comfort and ease should be on your priority list.
Reykjavík is like many other cities with its hotels, museum, restaurants and so fourth but to help you while you create your Reykjavík itinerary, we are listing a few of the most interesting places you’ll find in Reykjavík.
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This is the most photographed place in Iceland. Hallgrímskirkja, the church in the middle of Reykjavík and can be seen from almost anyplace even close to the city. In 1937, the state architect Guðjón Samúelsson was asked to design the church. When designing the church, he wanted to highlight Icelandic architecture and Icelandic nature as can easily be seen the influence of the famous basalt columns Reynisfjara is famous for. In 1948 the church officially opened and in 1974, the tower and the wings of the church were finalized.
The 73 m high tower is open to public and for a fee, you can get to the top and enjoy the stunning views over Reykjavik. The organ consists of 5275 pipes, is 15 m/49 ft high and weighs about 25 ton. Organ players from all around the world travels here to get to play the organ.
A sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason along the northern shore. It was unveiled on the 18th of August, 1990 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city of Reykjavík. It is a common misunderstanding that Sun Voyager is a Viking ship which is quite understandable. Sun Voyager was essentially envisaged as being a dreamboat, an ode to the sun symbolizing light and hope.
It’s a short walk to the Sun Voyager if you are downtown and the parking next to it is free. When you walk there (see map above), make sure you use the crossings for the cars driving on Sæbraut (the big road along the shore), they drive often very fast.
When you are by the Sun Voyager and look west, you will see Harpa. Harpa was officially opened in May 2011. Its name refers to two things. It’s an old Icelandic name of a month in the old Nordic calendar and the first day of that month is the holiday Sumardagur fyrsti, “The First summerday”, referring to a beginning, the time of light. It is also the name of an instrument and is the same word in English.
The Icelandic/Danish artist Ólafur Elíasson designed the glass frame of Harpa together with a Danish architect company. It is truly a wonderful building and the diamond is the main music hall, a sound engineering and design marvel. If you are not attending a concert there, there are guided tours which we highly recommend.
Yes, this hot dog stand is HUGELY popular and has made its name far outside Iceland. One of the biggest names who went there to have a hot dog is most likely President Clinton. When you are at Harpa, it’s a short walk towards town (see map, green marker) to reach Bæjarins Beztu. There is always a line there and people don’t seem to mind waiting for their hot dog.
The most regular order is Ein með öllu which means one with everything. Then you’ll get a hot dog together with a warm, steamed bun topped with raw onions and fried & dried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard & herbs. If there is something you don’t want, you just ask to not add that to your hot dog. People do it all the time but try, at least once, a hot dog with all the condiments. This hot dog stand has been up and running since 1937 so they should know what they are doing.
Einar Jónsson has the title of being Iceland’s first sculptor. In 1909, Einar Jónsson offered all of his works as a gift to the Icelandic people on the condition that a museum be built for his work. Initially it was not accepted but in 1914 they changed their minds and in 1923, Iceland saw it’s first art museum open.
The garden of the museum is free of charge and always open. His sculptures is really worth checking out and you can also visit the museum for a small fee. H used to live on the top floor while the lower floor was his studio.
When you visit Hallgrímskirkja, just look in a southern direction and you will see the museum very clearly for there are no building quite like it in Iceland.
The weirdest museum in Iceland attracts people from all over the work. The Icelandic Phallological Museum is 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.
If you are so inclined and want to visit this oddball museum like so many others, you’ll find it at the end of the shopping street Laugavegur. (see map)
Viðey is a small island just outside the main harbor in Reykjavik, a few minute long boat ride. Viðey was inhabited soon after the settlement in 900 AD and in 1225 they built a monastery there. In 1755 (Viðey House) Viðeyjarstofa was completed and was the residence of Skúli Magnússon who became the first Treasurer in Iceland. In 1930 there were 138 people living on Viðey but by 1943, everybody had left the island. Farming continued there until 1950’s.
Nowadays people go out there to enjoy the nature, the food at Viðeyjarstofa and not to forget, to participate in the lighting of Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower. The time of turning on and off is as follows:
It is lit from around 1 hour after sunset until midnight each night except on John & Yoko’s birthdays and on New Year’s Eve, when it remains lit until sunrise. On 9th October and 20th & 27th March it lights at 8pm.
To get there, you can walk (weather permitting), take a bus (bus nr:16) or a cab. The ferry takes only a few minutes.
The harbor has gone through some big chances in the past years and is lovely to walk around on good days. Quite a few wonderful restaurants has popped up and not to mention all whale tours start there. In the southwest corner you have 2 museums. The Maritime and the Saga museum. Not to mention that the road in front of the Maritime museum going north is becoming quite a nice street with all kind of food stores and, apparently, an Ice cream store people love.
If you are standing by the water at Harpa and look towards the opposite side of the harbor mouth, you’ll see a very circular grass hill. It’s an artwork by Ólöf Nordal who won a competition held by Reykjavik harbor. It’s 26 m/85 ft in diameter and 8 m/26 ft high. There is a path going around the hill so you can reach the top. There you’ll find a fish hut that is actually used for drying fish. The name of the art installation is Þúfa meaning tussock.
Perlan has recently gone through a big change. The once high end, 360º rotating restaurant is now gone and is now home for a few high end, exclusive exhibits like the “Glaciers and Ice cave” exhibition. They use one of the water tanks for this one and inside you will find the only indoor ice cave in the world. You’ll learn about the glaciers and it’s bleak future.
There is a 360º Planetarium where you can enjoy the best images of Iceland accompanied by Icelandic music composed especially for the show. The exhibition “Land, Coast, Ocean” take up all space on the ground floor and it’s a virtual aquarium using cutting edge technology like augmented reality to educate the visitors about the marine life along the Icelandic coastline.
For you who come to Iceland determined to see the Northern lights but the weather is not in your favor, can now enjoy them in the exhibition “Northern Lights” where once more, cutting edge technology is used to present the lights in a natural way.
It’s easy to find Perlan and the parking is free.
This beach might be the only heated ocean beach in the world. The excess warm water from Perlan is piped to this area where you have a hot pot and the rest of the water is directed into the little man made bay with the beach, keeping the water nice and toasty as ocean water only reaches the beach at high tide. As more and more Icelanders likes to swim in the ocean (outside the heated area) all year around (yes, all year), you will see them enjoying the facilities after their swim so the question is, are you up for the challenge? 🙂
The beach is found below Perlan and has free parking.
When it comes to swimming in Reykjavik, you are almost spoilt for choice. Just in the area close to the city center, you have 4 to choose from and 4 “in the burbs”. The latest addition is the outdoor pool addition to the indoor pool that is being built in the middle of Reykjavik, just a few minutes walk from Hallgrímskirkja. Coincidentally, this pool was designed by the same architect who designed Hallgrímskirkja.
By far the biggest one is in Laugardal. (see map). There you’ll find 2 full size swimming pools and one of them is indoors. There is also a big play pool, shallow and warm with all kinds of toys for the kids. There are 7 hot tubs, one filled with seawater and saunas.
When beer became legal 1st of March, 1989, there has been no shortages of bars in Reykjavik and the rumor of the nightlife here has gone far and wide. Simultaneously with the influx of tourism, restaurants are now fighting for space with the bars. Like in any city, you’ll find food from all around the world and you can go out any day of the week and always find live music somewhere.
After midnight during weekends, the nightlife can be a bit messy and noisy and might not be for everybody but in general, one is pretty safe at any time of the day and Reykjavik has been stamped as one of the safest cities in the world.
If you plan to go out, leave your rental car by your accommodation for drinking and driving is not only dangerous, it is also taken very seriously here.
Icelanders love to shop and to buy new stuff so there are a few places to choose from when it comes to shopping. Laugavegur is the main shopping street in Reykjavik. Here you’ll find a bunch of clothing stores and what Icelanders call Lundabúð, that’s tourist stores with all the trinkets you want to buy and take home. There are also a bunch of restaurants here but make sure you don’t miss out on any of the side streets for there are all kinds of fun stores to explore. Skólavörðustígur is the road that starts at Laugavegur and goes straight up to Hallgrímskirkja. There you’ll find a bunch of stores too.
Iceland’s first shopping mall is also found in Reykjavik. A three story building with all the usual suspects for a mall. There are free buses to the mall that departs every hour from the Tourist Information Center. (see map). Don’t forget to collect your VAT if you are doing some serious shopping!
Reykjavik is a relatively easy town to drive in and downtown is where you will find most parking meters. The old parts are narrow at times and many streets are one way. When parking, you can safely pay with any major credit card. You pay, wait for the printout and place that on display on your dashboard.
There are plenty of speed bumps in town and there is no turning right on red unfortunately. During mornings and afternoons when everybody is going to work or school, the traffic can be quite congested. Take your time, the traffic will dissipate but be AWARE of the Icelandic drivers! 🙂
Make sure to keep your speed too for the Police can pop up anywhere to measure your speed and speeding tickets in Iceland are not cheap.
Also, in case you run into stones that looks out of place or rather untouched here and there, you should know that it’s stones where elves live, the hidden people of Iceland. Instead of trying to remove the stones (has caused havoc on heavy machinery), they let the hidden people continue to live where they have lived for thousands of years! 🙂
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Happy travels! #GoIceland
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