We spent a sizable chunk of our 91 Icelandic days inside the drinking and eating establishments of Reykjavík. After another long day of museum-visiting or waterfall-ogling, a big beer and dinner cooked by someone else always sounded like a good idea. Here’s a quick list of our favorite places in the city.
One of our favorite parts of moving to a new place is checking out the street art scene. We’ve come to learn that aspects of a city’s personality will often be reflected in its graffiti and public art, so the work we saw in Reykjavík wasn’t a total surprise. Extremely artistic, modern, intelligent and well-coordinated, Reykjavík’s street art is clearly done with the property owner’s permission. Perhaps a bit too nice for such an anarchic art form, but very Icelandic.
Here’s a little known fact: anyone who can correctly pronounce the name of Iceland’s National Museum automatically wins Icelandic citizenship. Absolutely true. The immense Þjóðminjasafn (that’s THYOTH-min-ya-safin, if you feel like practicing) takes visitors on an exhausting chronological tour through Icelandic history. If you want to learn about the country and can only visit a single museum, this is the clear choice.
An asymmetrical glass building on Reykjavík’s harbor, Harpa resembles a shimmering iceberg that crashed onto the shore. Since opening in 2010, the city’s opera and concert hall has won prominent architectural awards, welcomed over two million visitors and become one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
Reykjavík’s Ásmundursafn is dedicated to the work of Iceland’s most accomplished sculpture artist, Ásmundur Sveinsson. The museum is worth visiting as much for the architecture of the building, as for the statues both indoors and out in the garden.
Located appropriately enough on Reykjavík’s harbor, the Víkin Maritime Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the history of Iceland’s fishing industry. It’s a massive place which is more interesting than a fishing museum really has any right to be, and could easily eat up hours of your time.
Not all that many animals are native to Iceland, and those that do exist can be notoriously difficult to spot in the wild. So if you want to see creatures like reindeer, seals and foxes, and don’t have time to scour the coasts and countrysides, head to the tiny Reykjavík City Zoo.
Upon arriving in the village of Árbær, I was amused by the men and women dressed in historical attire, toiling at tasks around the farm. But after an hour, I no longer registered their presence. And as the day progressed, I found myself worrying about the impending harvest back home. Would old Betsy survive another winter? Say, that’s a fetching wench. I wonder whither she brings that bucket of mead, and what her dowry may be. And then my cellphone rang, snapping me back into reality.
Nothing is so important to Iceland’s cultural identity as its sagas. Transposed onto vellum leaf by anonymous scribes in the 13th and 14th centuries, these are the blood-soaked stories of the country’s settlement. Today, the best collection can be found in the Þjóðmenningarhúsið, or the Culture House.