Attractions in Reykjavik
Of course, you fully understand that Reykjavik’s attractions and sights cannot compare to what you find in major cities. But the lack of the magnificent and gigantic ones takes the Icelanders back with charm and style. And monuments and art can be found everywhere in Reykjavik. We clearly see that the people here are both creative and innovative, while at the same time holding on to their proud traditions.
Another of Reykjavik’s most characteristic landmarks is the huge statue of a Viking ship lying by the harbor, see image first in the article. Sólfar, or Sun Voyager, is Jón Gunnar Árnason’s artwork and is dedicated to seafarers who landed here over a thousand years ago, and is one of the city’s most widely used photo motifs, both for tourists and postcard photographers.
All Norwegians should have a special interest in spending an hour or two watching what our Vikings ancestors did with a thousand years ago. Although Iceland’s history is relatively short, it is well documented by gentlemen such as Snorre Sturlason. And closely related to our own history. The Viking exhibit has everything from weapons and armor to household items and tools.
The National Museum also houses the Naval and Medical Museum subdivisions. The National Museum is located in Sudurgata 41 and is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm. 1100 to 1700, but is closed on Mondays during the winter. Adults must pay entrance fees, free for children.
Alþingishúsið is Iceland’s parliament building, built in 1880 and located in Austurvöllur in downtown Reykjavik. The Alþingishús has been home to both the National Gallery, the National Library, the University and the president’s offices.
Just east of the Alþingishúsið is Reykjavik’s cathedral and most important church building historically, Dómkirkja from 1796. This is often overlooked in favor of the more flashy Hallgrimskirkja, but played an important role in Iceland’s transition from Catholicism to Protestantism.
National Gallery of Iceland
In a stylish wooden and glass building is the National Gallery of Iceland, which is also the country’s largest art collection, where you will find works of everything from young promising local artists to old masters such as Munch and Picasso.
From databases all over the museum you can click into the various works of art and get detailed information about the artist. Open daily except Mondays from 2pm. 1100 to 1700, and it costs entry fee.
Reykjavik’s foremost landmark is the 74-meter-high Hallgrimskirkja, begun in 1945 but first completed in 1986. The church has a huge pipe organ with over 5,200 beeps, and a lift that takes you up into the tower accompanied by a heavenly angel choir.
From the top you have a great panoramic view from the country’s tallest building (see photo on Getting to know Reykjavik). Also note the statue of Leiv Eriksson outside, a gift from the United States on the occasion of the Icelandic Parliament’s millennial anniversary in 1930. The church is open daily from 6 p.m. 0900 to 1700. Tickets for the tower cost money.
Reykjavik’s most distinctive building, next to Hallgrimskirkja, is a combination of a hot water reservoir, restaurant, museum and tourist center. Located on a hilltop at the domestic airport is Perlan, a striking round glass building on top of six huge water tanks that supply Reykjavik with hot water.
Perlan houses a rotating upscale restaurant, but you will also find a cheaper cafeteria here, and a terrace with great city views.
The Saga Museum is also part of Perlan, and the museum recreates some of the most important and dramatic moments in Iceland’s history. This is one of Reykjavik’s most visited attractions, and is open daily from 10am to 10pm. 1000 to 1800, but only on the holidays in the winter. Admission fee for adults, half price for children.
A few kilometers outside the city center is Reykjavik’s answer to the Folk Museum at Bygdøy in Oslo. Arbær farm is mentioned in historical documents from the 1400s, although most of the buildings today are from the 19th century.
Here, daily life on an Icelandic farm in the Middle Ages has been tried and recreated to the best of its ability, with employees in contemporary costumes demonstrating local craftsmanship, while eating traditional home-cooked food at the Dillon restaurant. Open at 1000 to 1700 in high season June – August, entry fee for adults, free for children.
Tourist in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a small city that is quick to get to, and you can easily get around on foot to all the central sights. The alternatives are taxi or bus, there is no tram or metro in Reykjavik.
Day 1 in Reykjavik
After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we start today’s tour of Reykjavik’s premier landmark, Hallgrimskirkja. Almost wherever you are in the city, you can look around and orient yourself to the 74 meter high tower. Outside stands a statue of “our man” Leiv Eriksson. Walk in, take the elevator up and enjoy the view from Iceland’s tallest building.
On the hilltop just south you will easily notice the city’s other landmark, Perlan, which you can walk to in ten to fifteen minutes. This is a rotating restaurant located on top of heavy water tanks that supply Reykjavik with hot water. Also visit the Saga Museum, which shows the dramatic history of Iceland. A few meters further south is an artificial geyser that regularly sprays water.
On the way back you turn left into Hringbraut and then right into Frikirkjuvegur. You will now reach the eastern shore of Reykjavik’s idyllic lake Tjörn, which in summer is home to over 40 different bird species, and in winter is the ice rink for Reykjavik residents. To the right is the National Gallery of Iceland, and to the north you will see the town hall, which also has a cafe with a nice view. Here you can stop for a cup of coffee. At the southwest corner of the lake you can visit the National Museum.
Just north of Tjörn you come to Reykjavik’s historic oldest area and the city’s natural center, the Austurvöllur square. Here you see both the parliament building Alþingishúsið and the cathedral from 1796. Continue west in Kirkjustræti and up Aðalstræti (where the city’s oldest building is at number 10), and you will reach the cobblestone square Ingolfstorg, which is surrounded by old wooden houses and with a fountain centrally located.
Head north up Posthusstræti and you will reach Tryggvagata, where you will find the Reykjavik Art Museum in a state-of-the-art glass and steel building. Stop by for a quick snack at the sausage stall which has become an institution in Reykjavik, Bæjarin’s Beztu Pylsur (yes, that means the City’s Best Sausages). The residents of the city call the sausages here for Iceland’s national law, and in 2006 the British newspaper The Guardian named Bæjarins the best sausage store in Europe. As many celebrities as US President Bill Clinton and Metallica’s vocalist James Hetfield have actually eaten here.
Back at Ingolfstorg you can now continue eastwards into Austurstræti. The next kilometer is Reykjavik’s main shopping street, where you will find a variety of shops, bars, restaurants and museums. The strangest of these museums is undoubtedly the Fallological Museum of Iceland, which is simply a collection of penises from all mammals in the country. The human is in place as soon as the voluntary donor has exhaled.
For dinner we must of course try one of Reykjavik’s many good restaurants. Just remember to bring money well. There is no cheap pleasure. Afterwards you can taste Reykjavik’s nightlife at one of the many bars along Laugavegur.
Day 2 in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is such a small city that day 2 takes place outside the city limits. Here you will experience Iceland’s real and natural tourist attractions. If you have the opportunity to drive a rental car, do so. Possibly there are several tour operators who can take you on the so-called Golden Circle, including City Discovery.
Start by heading in the direction of Keflavik Airport, but turn south towards Grindarvik after approx. 35 kilometers. Here you will see signs pointing to the geological phenomenon of the Blue Lagoon. The water here is really blue and maintains a steady temperature of around 35-40 degrees of heat. The water comes from springs located at 2000 meters deep. The entrance fee costs money. If you have not brought your own swimwear and towels, you can rent this here. Be careful about swimming out towards the middle of the lagoon, because suddenly a scalding hot underwater current can rise from the depths and make it directly painful.
The area around the lagoon could just as easily have been on the moon, with black lava information and small craters like bubbles and spraying steam. Continue straight east towards Selfoss afterwards, and then turn onto Route 30. On the right hand you will see in the distance the active volcano Hekla. It is also only a few miles from the dangerous volcano Katla. Hekla has had an outbreak about every ten years, the last time in February 2000.
The next stop on the program is the majestic Gullfoss. This is Europe’s most powerful waterfall, where the White River plunges into two deep stages in a deep gorge of waterfalls. Close by is a small museum, the Sigríðurstofa, and a nice café where you can have lunch.
From here it is a short drive to the world famous Geysir, which unfortunately has not been active since the 1960s. Previously, this source of hot water sprayed 30 feet up into the air at regular intervals, but today curious people must settle for the smaller Strokkur or Little Geysir. It blows “only” 6-7 meters high every ten minutes, but is still an impressive sight.
On route 36 back to Reykjavik, you pass Þingvellir, which is Iceland’s most important historical site. In this vegetation-free valley with deep cuts and volcanic rock formations, the country’s parliament met firmly from the year 930 to 1798. Although there is not much to see, nature is wild and fascinating, and a tourist center can provide you with rich and interesting information about the place.
Traditional food in Reykjavik
Well back in Reykjavik, it’s time for a hearty dinner. If you dare, head to Café Loki right by Hallgrimskirkja. This popular restaurant gets great feedback and offers everything from shark to more edible traditional Icelandic dishes.
Afterwards, if you are ready for Reykjavik’s vibrant nightlife, walk down Austurstræti / Bankastræti until you reach the cross street Bergstaðastræti, where you will find the city’s trendiest bar Kaffibarinn. The place is owned by Damon Albarn from the British pop band Blur, and has regular guests like Iceland’s first celebrity Björk. Here you have the opportunity to drink and dance at least until 10 pm. 0300.