This city is all what you wouldn’t expect from a capital city. Despite the traffic at rush hour, it’s a quiet city and the size of the city makes it easy to grasp. There’s nothing pimped for tourists and so much is totally cute. Everything is authentic and the colourful little houses look a little bit like playmobil houses.
Reykjavik is Iceland’s largest city and located in the southwest of the island. With 120.000 residents, most people in Iceland live in Reykjavik. Iceland itself has a total of 330.000 residents.
The translation of Reykjavik means ‘Smokey Bay’ and probably derives from the hot springs that surround the city. Furthermore it’s Iceland oldest permanent settlement.
The settlement was founded by Vikings from Norway in the 9th century AD. What we can hardly believe is the fact that until the 18th century Reykjavik consisted of only a few houses and farms. The city also was never of any political meaning for the world.
In 1786 Reykjavik officially became a city, in the same year, when the Danish trade monopoly ended. Industrial location and relocation of the bishop’s see at the end of the 18th century were also reasons for the increasing relevance of the city.
Travelling Icelander’s in the 19th century brought European ideas of national identities to Iceland and people liked the idea of independence. Denmark gave them more rights, but it still took a long time until they received their freedom.
During World War II Iceland was neutral and after the Brits, Americans occupied the island. Both sides made economic profits at that time.
The republic was proclaimed in Þingvellir in June 17th 1944 and made Reykjavik its capital city.
Parking and Entrance fees
For our trip in Iceland, we booked a rental car. We had our base in Selfoss and made day trips from there. Selfoss is a 45 ride from Reykjavik. We parked at the Perlan museum a little bit outside of downtown (no fees) and at the Hallgrimskírkja (also no fees).
Generally, Iceland is a very expensive country for Germans. But most tourist sights don’t charge entrance or parking fees, which makes it less badly. Museums and the tower of the Halgrims Church are the exceptions.
There’s not so much to see, as you would expect from the city’s size. Nevertheless there is a great atmosphere in Reykjavik and we really loved exploring Downtown Reykjavik. There are many tourists but they didn’t bother us. The most beautiful thing is the view of the snowy mountains from the streets in direction to the harbour.
We started exploring the city at the Perlan. Actually it’s the hot water tank of the city. It provides warm water and also heats some streets and sidewalks.
It’s located in the south western part of the city. The six tanks were roofed by a glass dome, where you can also find an observation platform. One of the tanks was drained dry and is now home to the Saga museum. Furthermore, there’s an artificial geyser in the building which erupts every few minutes and is really cool.
Not only it’s totally worth seeing and the view up there is amazing. Eating at the cafeteria is surprisingly affordable. The entry and parking is free.
The Protestant church is Iceland’s largest church and one of Reykjavik’s landmarks. The buildings were started in 1929. But it took until 1986 until it was finished. It was mostly financed by donations and was designed by state architect Guðjón Samúelsson.
From outside, it’s a really mighty church. It has a height of 75 meters. But it in the inside it’s really, really plain and miles away from Catholic decadence like the Sagrada Familia (my favourite church, by the way).
For around 6€, you can use the elevator to reach the top of the church. Up there, we had a fantastic view over the city and its colourful houses and roofs. We can totally recommend this.
There’s a statue of Leif Eriksson in front of the church, one of Iceland’s discoverers. On the other side of the street is Skólavörðustígur, a shopping street with cafés. Some of the houses are better preserved than others. The way leads to another shopping street called Laugavegur.
This is Reykjavik’s main shopping street and it surprised us, as it doesn’t really seem like a shopping street. You’ll find some design stores and boutiques next to restaurants and hipster coffee places. For Germans, everything here is really expensive.
It seems like there are all kinds of ducks, goose and swans here. If you have the time, take a walk around Reykjavik’s lake. Furthermore, there is the city hall, the university and the Frikírkja Church.
Also nearby: Alþingishúsið, home of the parliament. The building is from the 19th century.
The sun voyager
A work of art at the coastal road of Saebraut: It’s the copy of a Viking’s ship made of stainless steel. Its name derives from the direction of the ship towards north where in summer the sun sets.
Concert hall Harpa
This glass construction is a concert and conference hall and it’s really huge.
The special things are the coloured glasses: Depending on the weather, the light and the point of view the colour changes.
Actually, there is nothing special. Whalewatching tours start here, but it wasn’t season yet. Some buildings were renovated and painted in beautiful colours.
You can also see some old ships and it’s a quite nice walk on sunny days.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
We actually don’t like going to museums on sunny days, but a friend of mine told me about this one and so I had to promise her to visit it.
This Phallological museum is unique worldwide and contains the phalli of all mammals of a country. In total there are 217 pieces of 47 mammals. Since 2011 you can also see a human penis and testicles.
It was all between fascinating and disgusting and somehow we couldn’t manage to avoid giggling. It was crazy.
But seriously, it is a good museum. It wasn’t some kind of porn museum. The makers of the museum managed to present the topic in a scientific and aesthetical level. Entry fee: 6€. Here’s the link to their homepage! It’s worth the visit!
People expecting some kind of little Copenhagen, might be a little disappointed. Reykjavik has its own flair and its own style. We were really impressed by the world’s northernmost capital on a perfectly sunny day!