Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rainy day in Reykjavik? Make it a culture day!

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral
Start you culture walk at the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral
OK, we all know you came to Iceland to experience the amazing landscape but you do know that Iceland has so much more to offer, don’t you? If you are stuck in Reykjavik on a rainy day, or just want to take a break from excursions and sight-seeing, here is a suggestion for a cultural ‘walk’ to suit most tastes. You can take the whole ‘tour’ or just the parts you think are interesting.

A good starting point is at the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral. Its unique exterior and minimalistic interior make it an interesting sight. You can even go to the top of the church tower for some spectacular view over Reykjavik and the surroundings. In front of the church you should take a look at the statue of Leifur Eiriksson, who discovered America in the year 1000. The statue was a gift from the people of The United States to the people of Iceland.

To your right, when facing the church entrance, is a small museum, The Einar Jonsson Museum, with displays the works of sculptor Einar Jonsson who was a groundbreaking figure in Icelandic sculpture and his influence on the visual arts in Iceland has been considerable. In his work you can see folklore heritage but also mythological and religious motifs. A visit should take about an hour. If you don’t want to pay the admission fee, there are a few works of Einar Jonsson on display in the yard behind the museum.

After studying the fabulous sculptures you should head back towards the church. On the way, to your left, is small coffee house named Café Loki, where you can enjoy traditional Icelandic cakes, pastries and light meals. Well worth the visit.

Turn left when you reach the statue of Leifur Eiriksson again and head down Skolavordustigur street towards the city centre. On both sides of Skolavordustigur you find many interesting designer boutiques with Icelandic jewellery, art and fashion. This walk takes about 10 minutes if you don’t window browse or visit any of the shops. 

When you reach the end of Skolavordustigur you, walk a short distance down the main shopping street, Laugavegur. At the next junction head right and walk along Ingolfsstraeti street until you reach the Hverfisgata street (about 1 minute walk). Now you see a white house to your right across the street. This is The National Centre for Cultural Heritage, offering many exhibitions. A visit should take 1 – 2 hours.

After the visit, once you are outside, head to your right and walk down Hverfisgata street. After about 1 minute walk you cross Ingolfsstraeti street and see a statue to your right. This is the statue of Ingolfur Arnarsson, the first settler of Reykjavik. From the base of the statue you have a good view over the city centre and to your right you can see the new Harpa Reykjavík Concert Hall and Conference Centre. In the Harpa you can go on guided tours of the building which is very interestingly designed, in part by Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson.

Next up is The Settlement Exhibition, located on the corner of Adalstraeti and Sudurgata. On the way there you may want to stop by the Baejarins Bestu for some authentic Icelandic hot dogs. Ask the locals for directions. The exhibition is based on the archaeological excavation of the ruin of one of the first houses in Iceland and findings from other excavations in the city centre. The exhibition won the international Nodem Awards in 2006 for best design of digital experiences in museums. A visit should take about 1 hour. 

The last visit on the agenda, is The National Museum of Iceland. When exiting the Settlement Exhibition we turn right and walk along Sudurgata for about 10 minutes or until we reach a large roundabout. Opposite, to our left is the National Museum. Of particular interest here is the Making of a Nation exhibition. A visit should take about 3 hours.

In addition, though excluded from the suggested agenda above, we would like to recommend The Reykjavik Art Museum located on several locations around town. Take a look at their web to see what is on offer that interests you.


  1. This is fantastic! I am visiting Reykjavic this week and feel very lucky that I just stumbled across this post. Rain or shine, you have most of the sites I knew I wanted to see but placing them in order with walking directions really makes this valuable to a first time visitor like me. Thank you!

    1. Glad I could be of help. Hope you have a fantastic trip to Reykjavik!