Have a 24 or 48-hour layover in Iceland? Completely jet-lagged from your seven-hour flight and 4 am arrival time, then spend your day wandering around the small, quaint capital of Iceland: Reykjavik. For a city of only 120,000 Reykjavik has plenty to offer tourists even when the weather is crappy. The city is walkable from any neighborhood you would likely be staying in and we found it pleasant even in pouring rain and 30 mph winds. Here are seven things to do, and one place to skip, during your time in Reykjavik. Think of this as not an exhaustive list, but a jumping off point for your own adventures.
Þúfa by Ólöf Nordal
This outdoor art piece was something that we noticed on our first bleary-eyed morning in Reykjavik. A large grass dome at the edge of the harbor, this art piece provides spectacular views of the city and the mountains across the bay. At the top of the dome structure is a small shed for drying fish, and, in our case, a sheep's head.
The Harpa (opera house) and the rest of the Harbor from the Þúfa .By the way, that letter at the beginning is pronounced as a "th."
Reykjavik from the Þúfa.
Drying animal parts aren't creepy at all. Seriously, they would make a lovely addition to more public art pieces. :)
Once the only construction project in Iceland, the Harpa or opera house was completed in 2011 and not without controversy. The building is the most expensive in Iceland which sticks out when you think about how it was built during the economic crisis. Icelanders are still divided about the building, both as a symbol and the actual aesthetics. Personally, I think the genius and beauty of the building is best appreciated from the inside. Maybe that was because the outside was obstructed by an Icelandic conference on emergency and rescue vehicles while I was there.
Beautiful geometric windows and a mirrored ceiling make this building a stunning retreat from the cold outside.
Mult-colored panes make for the world's most modern and pretty glass beehive.
Possibly the most famous building in Reykjavik, the Hallgrímskirkja is the sixth tallest structure in Iceland. It stands out in the skyline and you can see it from almost anywhere in the city. The outside of the church resembles the prow of a Viking ship and appropriately, a statue of Leif Eriksson stands in front of the church. The inside of the church houses an enormous organ, but is otherwise rather spartan especially compared to the grand cathedrals of Europe (it is a Lutheran church, so this makes sense). You should absolutely pay the seven dollars to go to the top of the church; you will get some of the best views in Reykjavik.
The view from Hallgrimskirkja. We went on a day with 50 km/h winds and got blown back from the windows. I'm sure on a nice clear day the views are even better.
The Sun Voyager
Designed by sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason, the sculpture commemorates the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik. Located down the street from the Harpa, the sculpture depicts a Viking ship and was conceived as a symbol of hope, progress, and freedom. From the pictures I had seen, I thought it was going to be much larger than it was, but is worth checking out on a walk from the Harpa to downtown along the waterfront.
Okay, calling it Tjörnin Lake is redundant since "tjörnin" translates to "pond." This small lake in central Reykjavik is perfect for an anytime of day stroll. Frequented by 40-50 different species of birds, including enormous evil swans, it is an excellent spot for bird watching. At the south part of the lake is Tjarnagarthur, a statue garden. The city developed around the lake and you can spot prominent buildings such as the supreme court, the Reykjavik Art Museum, the National Museum, and the Parliament building. A late afternoon stroll provides excellent lighting on the water.
The Settlement Exhibition 871+/-
Discover the history of Reykjavik at this small exhibit. Home to the oldest human relics in Reykjavik, the exhibit is built around the archaeological site of a longhouse built around 871. The museum features technologically enhanced interactive exhibits such as a touch screen table that provides specific information on each part of the longhouse. Personally, it was not my favorite museum in Iceland (that goes to Viking World) and, like many things in Iceland, it was overpriced (1500 ISK which is around 13.07) for a one room exhibit.
Normally, shopping is not an activity that I look forward to, and I still didn't do much of it in Iceland since the prices are so expensive. However, I did enjoy wandering around Laugavegur and its surrounding streets. Laugavegar is the major shopping street in downtown Reykjavik with many shops for tourists (i.e. at least fifty puffin related stores). If you're looking for famous Icelandic knitwear or puffin related merchandise, then this is the place to go. There's also a number of smaller art galleries and non-puffin related stores. There were several bookstores in the area, which is something that is becoming a novelty in the United States. This is where most of the restaurants in town are located and where you can spot the Wall Poetry from my other post on Reykjavik street art.
These seven tourist spots are just some of the places and attractions you can find in small, but mighty Reykjavik. There are numerous museums, the Grotta lighthouse in Seltjarnes, and the Pearl, but we didn't have a chance to check those out. Well, we went to Grotta but only at night so there were no pictures. Now, onto one place to skip.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum
I have to admit that the Icelandic Phallalogical Museum was on my list of must-dos in Iceland along with the northern lights, hiking on a glacier, and eating an Icelandic hot dog. I was pretty damn excited by the quirky museum dedicated to all things to dick, but like a lot of my early relationships, I was disappointed.
At first, I thought oh cool, enormous whale penis in a jar. That's kind of neat. But after the fourth or fifth hacked-off cock in formaldehyde and the cod-piece made of whale penis skin, I was done. It honestly made me a little queasy and this is coming from the person who looked at every single agent orange aborted fetus at the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam.
I wanted the museum to be cheeky fun but it just felt like someone's creepy basement collection.