Reykjavík was our home for the first 6 days of our trip. We stayed in an apartment we had found on VRBO. The lady who owned the apartment rented it out in the summer to tourists while she stayed with her father. She was our first interaction with Icelanders and she couldn’t of been nicer. She even picked up our luggage at the bus station so we didn’t have to carry it and gave us some pointers on what we should do on our visit.
Reykjavík has a population of a little over 100,000. The downtown area was very easy to navigate on foot and we found no lack of things to do while we were there. Here are some of the things we explored.
The first thing in Reykjavík you notice is Hallgrímskirkja. It’s visible from almost wherever you are in the downtown area. But to truly enjoy the church you must go to the top. For a small entrance fee, you can ride the elevator up, and check out spectacular views of the city.
Reykjavík has a LOT of museums. And we made it to a number of them. But at around $20 USD admission for each, it can get kind of expensive. We found that if you purchased a Reykjavík City Card you got FREE access to a number of the museums, thermal pools and buses for the amount of time you purchased the pass for. In our case that was 24 hours. These were my top 5 museums.
- The Settlement Exhibition: Built around a longhouse that was unearthed in the heart of the downtown area, they use a mix of technology and actual artifacts to describe a life long ago. Included in the City Card: YES!
- The National Museum of Iceland: This museum contained the biggest collection of artifacts of any of the museums we went to. While many of the museums we went to you could complete in about an hour, this one could easily take a half day. Included in the City Card: YES!
- The Saga Museum: I’m pretty sure we had the most fun at the Saga Museum. Sagas are a huge part of Icelandic culture, and here is where they come to life. With a mix of an audio tour and lifelike wax figures, the stories of some popular Icelandic sagas unfold in front of you. At the end of the tour you are able to dress up in Viking era costumes, which we may of enjoyed a little TOO much. Included in the City Card: No, but you get a discount.
- The Reykjavík Art Museum: This is the largest art museum in Iceland, housed in three different buildings. We only made it to Hafnarhus, but they all seemed worthy to check out. Included in the City Card: YES! All three are.
- The Phallological Museum: Better known as the Penis Museum. Yes, it is a museum full of penises from different species. They have penises ranging from little bitty mice, to giant walrus penis. It even has some of human variety, legally gifted by fans. It might be the strangest museum you ever see, unless you have been to the vagina museum in Austria. The museum doesn’t take long to visit, only maybe an hour or two. Included in the City Card: No, but you get a discount.
A trip to Iceland wouldn’t be the same without an encounter with Icelandic horses. Don’t call them ponies . . . even though they are small they are still referred to as horses. The breed dates back about 1,000 years and no new horses are allowed to be imported into the country. They are sturdy and sure-footed in order to adapt to the Icelandic landscape but are best known for their unusual gate. We were able to take a half day riding tour through Eldhestar, who picked us up in the city and brought us to the farm.
The Pearl is a great location to get panoramic views of the city. The site originally was the home of some giant hot water storage tanks. To give the site a more appealing look, the glass dome structor was built in 1991. Now along with the observation deck, it contains a restaurant, several shops and a exhibition floor.
Thermal Pools are a huge part of Icelandic culture which rely on Iceland’s own geothermal energy to heat. Everyone has heard of the Blue Lagoon, but there are over 100 thermal pools throughout Iceland. They are relaxing, therapeutic, and a perfect way to end a long day of site seeing. We were surprised at how many rules they had, regarding everything from how you shower beforehand, to taking off your shoes when entering the building. So on your first trip, be sure to read the signs carefully to avoid being disrespectful. Also many of the thermal pools have free or discounted admission with the Reykjavík City Card. For a complete list of pools in Iceland. . . click here.
Reykjavík’s nightlife is well renowned, so every night around 10 we headed downtown. Right in the middle of it all is Laugavegur Street. The later it got, the more people we began to see. Hot dog vendors lined the street and cafes that sold coffee by day, convert to selling liquor at night. It’s hard to feel tired when the sun never sets and the darkest it gets is equivalent to twilight at best.
Kolaportid Flea Market
If you want to go where the locals go, try the flea market. Only open on Saturdays, it is a mix of booths, fresh seafood, and food vendors. A lot of the booths look like junk, but like any flea market there are treasures to be found by all. I picked up a trendy pair of inexpensive leopard print sunglasses. The seafood vendors are a good place to see puffin eggs on sale, and to try a free sample of the Icelandic delicacy. . . pickled fermented sharks meat. To me it was about as awful tasting as it sounded. Sort of a mix of rotten cheese and ammonia. I thought it may be rude to spit it out, so I managed to choke it down.
What we missed.
Sadly, there were a few places we would of liked to of made it to, but didn’t have the time. Two of which were Viðey Island and the Open Air Museum, Arbaer. Videy Island required a ferry ride and looked to take a good half of day at least to experience. Arbaer was further away as well although accessible by bus. There they had recreated a historic Icelandic farm complete with costumes. If you have experienced either of these places, please let me know what you though below.