Welcome to Reykjavik
Staying between the old city and Hallgrimskirkja was an ideal location. We walked everywhere we went in Reykjavik, as it’s much easier to walk than drive, and especially park – at least, that’s how I felt. Even in the rain, wind and sleet it was a pleasure to be able to take in the city at a slow, deliberate pace. There is a lot to see, and even though I missed out on museums that I would love to visit when I come back to Iceland someday, I still feel like we saw A LOT. Before I dive into everything we saw, I thought I’d share some quick facts abut Iceland’s capital!
✈︎ Reykjavik was actually the first permanent settlement in all of Iceland.
✈︎ Setting in a geothermal area, many of the sidewalks in the city are naturally heated, which helps because it keeps the snow and ice away in the winter. Speaking of all the geothermal activity, the closest English translation of Reykjavik is ‘Smoky Cove‘ and was given to the city by its original Norse settler Ingólfr Arnarson.
✈︎ Over 60% of the population of all of Iceland lives in Reykjavik. That being said, the population of the Reykjavik-area is under 215k.
✈︎ It’s the only Western European capital that doesn’t have a Starbucks or a McDonalds. So, if you’re big on having one of these two things, stock up before you go 😉
The City Center:
There was quite a bit to see in the city center, as with most larger cities in Europe. There were some museums to see, but even just wandering around and taking in the streets was a sight in itself. All through the city there was a lot of monuments and historical plaques about the founding of the city, the history of the city and more.
Along with the history you can spot, there are also loads of shopping opportunities and the streets are like a free art museum. Walls and fences are covered with gorgeous examples of Street Art. This ‘Days of Gray’ mural was one of my favorites mostly because I understood the sentiment between the gray mountains and the gray skies. (Although, we were lucky enough to have lots of blue skies as well.)
This simple, but beautiful gray brick building is Iceland’s Parliament building. Another fun fact, is that Iceland actually has the oldest Parliament in the world. Pretty interesting, huh?
This Lutheran Church end consecrated in 1986 even though it was founded in 1945. This church is dedicated to Hallgrímur Pétursson, a poet and author of a book of hymns. While the inside of the church is pretty plain, there are two things about this church that really, really stood out to me: the exterior and the bell tower. The exterior was inspired by the basalt columns created by lava flow that can be seen in a few different places in Iceland, one of which is a black sand beach that you’ll be reading about very soon. The bell tower is awesome because it overlooks Reykjavik.
Inside the alter area is very basic, but still nice. I liked the pipe organ that fills the back wall. I bet it sounds absolutely incredible. The photo on the right is one of a handful of works of art in the lobby. The images are of the interiors of different churches stitched into fabric.
While admission to the church is free, you do have to pay to go to the top of the bell tower. Admission to do so is 900 ISK, which is just over 8 USD, and it is so worth it. You take a tiny elevator up most of the way and then you walk up three small flights of stairs and the wind that rushes through the city hits you. The wind comes through small windows positioned on each wall that looks down over the city in all directions.
I loved seeing all brightly colored buildings + rooftops. Plus, the ocean and mountains are visible as well! It’s just THE MOST beautiful view of the city.
Gotta love those mountains. Plus, a snapshot of the stairs you take to the top.
This concert hall is by far one, if not THE most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. There are multi-colored pieces of glass placed together geometrically so, the inside almost looks like a beehive. Harpa sits right on the waterfront and overlooks ships, mountains and, of course, the ocean. Don’t make the mistake of not venturing inside because it’s a work of art! If you’re out and about in the area at night, be sure to pop back by to see it all lit up as well! I’ve just never been so blown away by a building before.
Icelandic Phallological Museum:
This is just a teaser for my next post. This museum is one-of-a-kind – in case you haven’t figured what it is, it’s a penis museum. It holds a penis from every mammal in Iceland, and is surprisingly interesting. Check back for my post on this Wednesday.
The Saga Museum:
The tagline I kept hearing for Saga Museum was to see the Vikings come to life. I wasn’t really sure what this meant, but we were instantly intrigued. It’s almost 20 USD per person to visit the museum, which seemed a bit steep. You receive a sort of MP3 player with headphones that takes you on the tour. It takes about 30 minutes to go through the museum which is set up with models and boards that have further information. It goes through the viking history in Iceland and feels like a history class, and I mean that in the best way possible. I would recommend it if you’re really interested in history, but if you’re not, I think it’s a bit expensive.
The Sun Voyager:
This sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason sits on the waterfront that looks out over the ocean and the mountains. While I’ve heard from some people that they didn’t think it was anything special, but I think that knowing a bit more about the symbolism and meaning behind this sculpture makes it extra beautiful. It’s a dreamboat which is an ode to the sun. It contains a promise of undiscovered territory and and a dream of hope, progress and freedom. Isn’t that a gorgeous sentiment?
The waterfront features Harpa and The Sun Voyager and all along it there’s a walking path. My mom and I walked a good distance of it from the Philological Museum down to Harpa and then around toward the Harbor. The backdrop is just stunning between those blue waters and mountains. I couldn’t get enough of it!
A Few More Tidbits:
There is a very rich culture of folklore in Iceland. In fact, over half of the population of Iceland believes in elves! A folklore post is coming soon, as well. Another thing that’s growing is their beer scene. So, of course, I was sure to give at least one a try.
Where I Stayed: Guesthouse Galtafell
This Guesthouse was a perfect home away from home. We had a bedroom, a kitchenette/living room and two bathrooms. It was awesome having a place to prepare food, especially since prices were so high in Iceland. It’s location is between Hallgrímskirkja and Old City Center – I would highly recommend it!
We ate/snacked here more than I would like to admit, and I also know that it’s one of four locations. To my credit, though, it was in the Old City Center, so we were near it a lot. Plus it was delicious! My favorite thing we ate was the blueberry-banana pancakes. Their chai lattes were absolutely top-notch and a perfect way to warm up after strolling through town in the snow and sleet of winter.
There is so much to see and do in this city and I can’t wait to come back and enjoy it another time. It’s a city full of art, culture, natural beauty and gorgeous buildings. Don’t forget to add it to your must-visit list of cities in Europe.
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