It’s often said that the best things come in small packages, and Reykjavik is a perfect example of this. For such a small city with a population of only 120,000 it’s surprisingly cosmopolitan and offers a throng of unforgettable activities to do, ranging from the adventurous to the downright strange. That’s the brilliant thing about Reykjavik; it’s as diverse and unique as the Icelandic landscape that surrounds it, filled with bubbling calderas and volcanic activity.
1. Visit Harpa Concert Hall
You don’t have to be interested in Scandinavian architecture to find this building impressive; its ‘honeycomb’ structure consists of a steel framework clad with geometric shaped glass panels of different colours. It’s difficult to gauge how large each glass panel is so I stood inside one in order to provide a perspective. Harpa is a multipurpose building that has four large concert halls, a café, design shop, bar and lounge and open spaces to hold a variety of cultural functions (I was lucky enough to be there at the Reykjavik Chess Open 2013).
2. Visit the World’s only Penis Museum
This is what I was referring to when I said there are some ‘downright strange’ things to do here. It’s not a place any visitor will forget anytime soon and showcases the humorous side that Icelandic people are noted for (the ex-Mayor of Reykjavik, Jón Gnarr, is also a comedian and actor!). This is one of my all-time favourite museums, not just because it’s filled with over 280 penises but because the owner happens to be an ex-school teacher(!). You couldn’t make this story up. The collection grew from a joke, as the school teacher let slip to his colleagues that he used a bull’s penis to whip cattle as a young boy. A sneaky peek inside the museum shows off a humongous whale penis, giraffe penis, and lamp shades made from bull’s scrotum, but for a more detailed account read my earlier post here.
3. Head up to Hallgrímskirkja Church for a Bird’s-Eye View of the City
After visiting the Penis Museum you might want to repent at Hallgrímskirkja Church, but since I’m sure none of you lovely people reading this actually require a trip to confession then you should head straight up to the top of the church for a bird’s-eye view of the city. This view is the best way to see how quirky and colourful Reykjavik really is. Compact corrugated iron houses nestle next to large futuristic glass buildings to make it look as though Reykjavik was modelled from the buildings found on the Monopoly board – and an upgraded version of the game can explain any new and modern architecture.
Fact: Did you know the unique basalt columns at Svartifoss inspired the architect who made Hallgrímskirkja church? To learn more about these unique rock formations check out my other post: Geology Rocks! Basalt Columns in Iceland.
4. Have Lobster Soup at Sea Baron
If you’re into seafood then Sea Baron located by the harbour is the place to go, I highly recommend the Lobster soup accompanied with a few slices of bread dressed simply with butter. At 1500 ISK (Icelandic Kroner) which equates to approximately £6 it is priced very reasonably, considering anything with lobster in the title of an English menu usually comes with a heavy price tag.
5. Search for Street Art
Searching for street art (or graffiti – where does the line between graffiti and street art begin and end?) was one of my favourite things to do in Reykjavik. Actually, you don’t even have to go searching for it because it’s so prolific that you’ll end up stumbling across a decent amount just by wandering around the city.
6. Day Trip on the Golden Circle Tour
Many people who go to Reykjavik do so because it acts as a point of base to explore more of Iceland, and the perfect excursion for this is the Golden Circle Tour. On this tour you’ll experience some of Iceland’s most famous sights – Thingvellir National Park, The Great Geysir as well as Strokkur geyser (The Great Geysir usually lies dormant, but Strokkur erupts every 4-7 minutes so you’re guaranteed some excellent action shots) and finally the almighty Gullfoss waterfall.
7. Reykjavik Art Museum
Whenever I’m in a new city I always try and go to at least one art gallery, and Reykjavik was no exception to this rule. The modern art gallery located near the harbour is home to the largest art collection in Iceland, focussing on Icelandic artists as well as contemporary art by young, international artists. Benefiting from the city’s small population, I can almost say for certain that you’re never going to find this museum overcrowded, and taking advantage of this, Alex and I got up to a bit of mischief by manipulating some of the film installations that were on display when no one was watching….
8. Go to the Rooftop of the Perlan (& the Revolving Restaurant)
The Perlan is a quirky looking building, and from a distance looks a bit like a UFO but it’s actually a revolving rooftop restaurant sitting atop five huge water tanks. If you have money to splurge then the word on the grapevine is that the food is superb, however, if you’re a budget traveller like me then you should go to the Perlan for its panoramic views for the city. The view is not as ‘perfect’ as the ones from Hallgrímskirkja but it does come for free (heading up to the top of Hallgrímskirkja sets you back approx. £3.50). I went through the day, but I imagine it would be a good place to come on an evening for a chance to enjoy the bar and see what the city lights look like at night.
9. Take a Trip to the Blue Lagoon
Forty minutes away from Reykjavik, you’ll find The Blue Lagoon in Grindavik, it is Iceland’s number one tourist attraction so try and get there either early in the morning or in the evening to avoid turning what should be a therapeutic experience into something more chaotic. It’s opened 10am-8pm from Sept to May and 9am-9pm from June to August, so any time after 5pm should guarantee enough time and space to overload on relaxation thanks to some unique geothermal energy.
10. Rummage Through the Shops
I usually avoid visiting shops when I travel but Reykjavik has some really stylish places selling a variety of new and old objects that prove difficult to resist. It’s easy to whittle away the time by admiring all the design shops and studios scattered along Laugavegur, the main shopping street, but my weakness lies in rummaging through second-hand tat in vintage shops which are found dotted around the city. You never know what you might find! Music aficionados will appreciate the selection of good quality record stores, something that can be difficult to find in a world that’s converting everything into digital formats.