Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Walking Tour of Reykjavik, Iceland

There is really no better way to discover Reykjavik than on foot. A mix of traditional and modern reveal the eclectic charms of the city.


A brand new addition to Reykjavik's harbor is the Harpa Reykjavik Conference and Concert Center,which just opened in May. The building was designed by the artist Olafur Eliasson and Henning Larsen Architects and glitters in the sun.



From the Harpa, begin an easy walking tour of the city. Walk along Laekjargata street to the Government House, which is the office of the Prime Minister of Iceland. Turn left at the Government House and walk uphill along Laugavegur Street, the longest shopping street in Reykjavik.

You will find many shops along  Laugavegur Street selling the lopapeysa, or Icelandic wool sweater, which is a favorite of visitors to bring back home with them. You will see many Icelanders wearing the traditionally patterned lopapeysa. The yarn used, lopi, is made from the wool of Icelandic sheep. Lopi is remarkable in that it is not spun, so it contains more air than spun yarn and is very insulting, keeping Icelanders warm.

Running from the corner of Laugavegur Street is Skólavörðustígur Street, which is said to be the most beautiful street in Reykjavik. Walk along Skólavörðustígur up to the Hallgrímskirkja church, Iceland's tallest building and most striking church. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman  Hallgrímur Pétursson and the three bells in the bell tower represent Hallgrímur, his wife, and their daughter who died young.The bell tower is accessible via an elevator and awards views over the city and harbor.

The statue in front of the church is of Leif Eríkson, an Icelandic/Norwegian explorer and the first European thought to have landed in North America. The monument was a gift from the United States for the 1930 Alþingi Millennial Festival, which marked the 1000th anniversary of Iceland's parliament.

From the Hallgrímskirkja turn on to Frakkastígur Street and head back toward the water. At Sæbraut, the stunning Sólfarið (or Sun Voyager) sculpture comes into view. Made in 1971 by Jón Gunnar Árnason, it is a massive steel creation made to resemble a Viking ship floating on water.


Continue along the water back in the direction of the Harpa. Stop by Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which translates to the "best hot dog stand in town". The hot dog has been called the Icelandic national food and these are special. Made of lamb and topped with a mix of fresh and fried onions, remoulade and brown mustard, they’re unlike any hot dogs in the world. It's no wonder even Bill Clinton and James Hetfield of Metallica have even eaten here.

After refueling on a few hot dogs, continue on to Lækjartorg (Brook Square) to admire the brightly colored buildings lining the square. 


Austurvöllur is Reykjavik's oldest square. The square was originally part of the hay fields of the city's first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson. In the center of the square is the statue of Jón Sigurdsson, the Icelandic nationalist who led the country to independence from Denmark. The present parliament building, Alþingishús, which moved from Þingvellir in 1881 can be seen. Across the street and adjacent to the Alþingishús is Reykjavik’s oldest church the Domkirkjan. It was here at the Domkirkjan that Iceland's national anthem was first sung in 1874.


Venture up Túngata to find the Catholic church Landakotskirkja, which was also designed by the same architect that designed the Hallgrímskirkja. It is a Neo-gothic church with a distinctly flat top as opposed to the standard spire.

Finish the walking tour at Tjörnin Pond to feed the ducks, swans and geese.

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