About half of my trip to Iceland was spent in Reykjavik. It is a small city that nevertheless contains the majority of Iceland’s entire population.
Reykjavik reminded me a lot of Edinburgh in spirit, and in some of its scenery. Most of the action (in the city itself at least) appears to be in a few streets in the centre, in an area of maybe about 1½ square miles. It is also very tourist friendly.
Reykjavik is jam packed with interesting museums and other activities, but I got the feeling that spending a week in the city itself might be too long. You will see it all before that. It’s just as well Iceland has so much amazing nature to see, which I will cover in a separate article.
Unsurprisingly for a country lucky to be gifted with a fascinating geography, Iceland is adept at turning its nature into tourist attractions. The Blue Lagoon takes this concept another step further, turning a man-made geothermal pool into one of its most popular tourist destinations.
I’m not generally a fan of water attractions. I can’t even really swim properly. But I will make an exception for the Blue Lagoon. It just has to be done. It is a surreal and oddly enjoyable experience.
Being outdoors in Iceland in December wearing just your swimming shorts would generally not be advisable. You don’t so much walk into the lagoon as speed-tiptoe.
Dip yourself in, and things become much more pleasant. It’s about the temperature of a bath after 20 minutes. It could be hotter, especially since your head is still exposed to the Icelandic winter elements. But it is nevertheless a very relaxing sensation.
Best of all, you can buy a beer from the poolside shop. So there we were, just sitting in a geothermal spring having a beer at 11.30am as the sun rose. As you do. Holidays, eh?
I was lucky to happen across this small lake at sunset. It is an absolutely stunning place to watch the sun go down, and it is right in the heart of Reykjavik.
Most of the lake had turned to ice. It was filled with people larking about — ice skating, playing winter games, or generally just having fun.
So many dozens of people were on the ice. But they were braver people than I am. Not all of the lake was icy, so I would have thought it wasn’t necessarily safe!
Nearby is this quirky statue, which flummoxed us when we were there. Some Googling when I got home has revealed that this is the monument to the unknown bureaucrat. Iceland, eh? Love it.
Reykjavík 871±2 — The Settlement Exhibition
Just up the road from the tourist information office, in the basement of an quiet and unassuming corner, is this most incredible museum that takes you back to the founding days of Reykjavik — literally.
The centrepiece of this exhibition is the archaeological remains of what is thought to be the first settlement in Reykjavik, from just before AD871, ±2 years. They can seemingly be this accurate, the telltale sign being a layer of volcanic ash in the ground.
These remains were only discovered in 2001 during building work for a hotel. It is to the credit of all involved that they have chosen to preserve it and open it up for all to see.
There are also lots of other archaeological artifacts on display. But the best part of the museum is the interactive displays, which tell you all about what is known about where the settlers came from, why, and how the language developed.
Overall, I was struck by just how young a country Iceland is in the grand scale of things. Yet, it has one of the oldest parliaments in the world, formed in AD930. I think is all says something about the nature of Iceland’s people. What a country.
Other highlights from Reykjavik
The harbour, the shore walk and Sólfar (Sun Voyager)
Reykjavik has a beautiful shoreline, and this is where comparisons with Edinburgh become relevant again. Across the water, you can see some beautiful snowy hills, which remind me of Arthur’s Seat.
Walking along the shore, you come across the sculpture Sólfar, or Sun Voyager. It is quite striking, although I only saw it after sunset. Unfortunately this was the best photograph I could get, and it is rather blurry. Apparently, it is spectacular at sunset. I will have to visit it again on my next trip to Iceland!
Buying an Icelandic jumper — Thorvaldsen’s Bazaar
During my stay in Iceland, it became my question to buy one of those nice hand knitted jumpers that Icelandic people wear. It’s probably the equivalent of buying a jimmy hat, except that jimmy hats don’t typically cost upwards of 20,000 Icelandic krónur (or north of £100).
I ended up buying my jumper from Thorvaldsen’s Bazaar. This is said to be the oldest shop in Reykjavik city centre. It is run by volunteers and proceeds from sales go to charity. It was also more or less the cheapest good quality jumper I could find (only a mere 16,900 krónur). I’m pretty pleased with it.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
This museum all about willies was right across the road from where I was staying in Reykjavik. We didn’t go in, although I think it would have been good for a laugh, and maybe interesting as well.
But I did look in the window, and I saw that the shop was selling these phallus-shaped salt and pepper shakers. Nice.
There will be more about my adventures in Reykjavik in future articles looking at Iceland’s architecture and the city’s nightlife.