We spent three days in Reykjavik (well more like two and half due to jet lag), but we found it compact and easy to maneuver. We saw several interesting sites all within easy walking distance from our hotel. If you are passing through the beautiful Icelandic city of Reykjavik, we recommend the following – Reykjavik on foot.
Take a Stroll and see Reykjavik on Foot
Consider picking up Rick Steve’s Iceland Guide, as we found it very helpful and on our first day we did his self-guided walking tour in the downtown core. It’s compact and very easy to do this walking tour in just a couple of hours. If you don’t have the book, Reykjavik on foot is easy with our suggestions;
Start at Ingolfstorg Square – location of the original Reykjavik farm. Currently a gathering place, although somewhat drab, there are a few historic buildings near by, as is Vestiurgata which is the original shoreline. This area was filled in but a brass marker in the sidewalk marks the spot.
We enjoyed wandering the back streets and seeing the local homes. Most of the homes today, even the historic ones, are covered with galvanized steel siding that protects from Iceland’s rough climate. Homes are small and tidy and often very colorful and patriotic. Two streets we recommend are Mjostraeti and Athalstraeti.
A fascinating relief map of Iceland is available for viewing inside Reykjavik’s City Hall. We definitely recommend this if you are in Reykjavik on a week day. It’s free and really interesting.
Adjacent to city hall is the Pond (Tjornin) where on a nice day residents stroll and relax and feed the ducks. Across the pond you can see the University of Iceland and the National Museum which we recommend below. For more exercise you can extend your Reykjavik on foot tour with a walk all the way around the pond, about 2 miles.
Head away from the pond to see Austurvollur, Iceland’s Parliament Building and Square. Both historic and modern it is another gathering spot with lots of history.
Main Street Reykjavik on Foot
If you can, we recommend booking a hotel near the main street of Reykjavik known as Austurstraeti. We stayed in the very modest Hotel Fron. Nothing special, but comfortable and included breakfast for about $150 a night. The location however, is excellent for enjoying Reykjavik on foot, on one of the main streets called Laugavegur.
The Main Street area known as Austurstraeti is great for strolling and shopping. From our hotel we could head down the hill to several sites including Laekjartorg Square.
Angling off up the hill from Laugavegur is Skolavorthustigur Street, lined with a rainbow. Many shops and restaurants line this historic street. From the bottom of the street you have a great view of Hallgrimskirja Church. Head up the street to see this iconic landmark.
In the neighborhood of Hallfrimskirja you can also enjoy the Leif Erickson statue as well as Einar Jonsson Sculpture Garden just across the street.
Museums and Exhibitions
We did not see all the museums in Reykjavik but we were so glad we visited two. Both gave us a wonderful introduction to the history and geology of Iceland, prior to embarking on our camper van trek.
We highly recommend The National Museum of Iceland, just across the pond near the university and an easy walk from town. About $18 entry fee. The exhibit takes the visitor through ancient Iceland history and up to the 20th century. Superbly done and fascinating.
A bit further walk but still doable is the brand new experience known as the Perlan. The first fascinating thing about this is that it is built into two old water tanks (great use of a former eyesore). Entry fee is just under $40 but for that price you explore a variety of exhibits about the natural aspect of Iceland as well as enjoy a really well done movie about the aurora borealis. In addition you can walk through a very authentic ice cave. Upstairs don’t miss the coffee shop with the best view in Reykjavik.
On the Harbor
Just a quick mention of two sites of interest on the waterfront. If you have time take a walk through the Harpa Concert Hall, a architectural wonder. Check the schedule online for performances.
We also enjoyed a brief stop at the Sun Voyager sculpture. You will probably recognize this metal sculpture of a Viking Boat, particularly beautiful at sunset.
Eating in Reykjavik
Next week I’m going to explore more in depth the foods we discovered in Iceland, but today let me touch on a couple great places to eat. Thanks again to the Rick Steves guide we learned about the Hlemmur Food Hall – a converted bus station now housing several restaurants. We walked in and sat up at the bar of Skall without knowing anything about it. An excellent decision. Absolutely delicious and unique variety of small plates from cod to tomatoes, lumpfish roe to cauliflower.
We also had a fantastic meal at Rok. Reservations are a good idea here, but we arrived early enough that we were able to squeeze into a table. Rok is in a historic old house with beautiful wood beams and we again did a selection of small plates, sharing everything from langoustine soup (divine) to Icelandic char, reindeer and green salad. I’ll talk more about all these next week.
One thing I really recommend is to consider either a food tour (which we did) or a history tour with Your Friends in Reykjavik. Our food tour opened our eyes to some of Iceland’s most traditional (and a few bizarre) dishes. I’ll tell you about that next week.
Reykjavik on foot. Compact and easy, this city is interesting, maneuverable, colorful and delicious. I hope you will visit soon.
See last week’s blog Iceland by Camper Van.
Learn more about Iceland at Visit Iceland.
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