MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Roving Round Reykjavik

After 9 days in Iceland, I’d seen a lot of the country’s natural beauty, but I felt I knew little of its history or its culture. It really is a country deserving of more time, but I had been so determined to pack as much in to my 10 day whirlwind circumnavigation as possible, that I was really just touching the surface. It took reaching the little town of Borgarnes, 60km north of Reykjavik, to delve a little into the history of the place. Despite its small size, it is home to the Settlement Centre, a really interesting museum detailing the settlement of Iceland as well as the tale of Egils Saga based on a transcript from the 13th century. The location of Borgarnes is pretty, being out on a peninsula, and parking up at the Settlement Centre I was greeted by a local friendly cat who was eager for some attention.

The museum is divided into two separate sections: one upstairs and one downstairs, and for each you are provided with a head set to narrate you through the numbered displays. It was a bit crowded in places with the displays in a relatively small space, but for me, it was a good introduction and overview to the surrounding area as well as the country as a whole. Nearby there were some cairns erected to remember a couple of the people depicted in Egils Saga, and behind the museum there was a beautiful sculpture on the hill overlooking the mountains across the water. At the end of the road, a little island sits across a bridge, and round from here, a short walk led round the tip of the peninsula and up behind the local school. It was another overcast day but with just me and a couple of locals around it was a very peaceful place to be. I’ve found Iceland’s churches to be very pretty so I wound my way round the streets and up the hill to the town’s kirk for a wander around the grounds. As with many of them, it was up a slight hill giving a rooftop view of the area.

Cairn for a missing lady

Sculpture at Borgarnes

Borgarnes sculpture

Bridge at Borgarnes

Borgarnes panorama

Borgarnes church

Borgarnes church

I drove across the bridge to leave Borgarnes behind and wanting to avoid the Toll tunnel, I left Route 1 and took the more scenic drive round route 47 up yet another fjord, before doubling back on the far side to rejoin the Ring Road to head south to Reykjavik. As with the day I first arrived, despite it being a relatively small city, I was grateful for the GPS on my phone to guide me to my night’s accommodation. But once in the heart of the city, I realised it was actually quite straightforward to navigate around. My first night in Iceland I stayed in the outskirts of Reykjavik but this time I was staying amidst all the action. Unfortunately this meant the reality of city life as a car driver: trying to find a place to park near my hostel and then having to pay for the privilege when I eventually found one. It was strange being back amongst hustle and bustle when I’d had peace and tranquility in rural Iceland for the past week.

I started exploring the capital city by heading down to the harbour and wandering around the port looking at the mixture of tour boats, fishing vessels, cargo ships and passenger ferries. Amongst it all there was even a dry dock, and there was movement and buzz everywhere, being in the middle of the working week as it was. I followed a painted line on the ground west past businesses and round to an area of museums and shops. I joined the crowd of people at a popular ice cream shop before retracing my steps to where I’d started then continuing east along the waterfront towards the city centre. Some statues lined this walk as I made my way to the Harpa, the city’s music and conference hall. Opened in 2011, it has a distinctive facade with a multitude of different coloured glass panels.

Ferry in Reykjavik harbour

Boat in dry dock

Sign at Reykjavik harbour

Fishermen statue

Statue outside Harpa

Harpa

Next I worked my way to Skólavörðustígur, the street that leads up to Iceland’s most iconic building Hallgrímskirkja. Completed in 1986, the 73metre tall church not only is distinctive in design but can be seen from many angles around the city, acting as a handy locator beacon. Designed by the same person who designed Akureyrarkirkja in Akureyri, it is one of the city’s top attractions. On a sunny day this building looks stunning, but even on a grey day, whilst it blended slightly into the cloudy background, it was still a distinctive sight to behold. Outside, the statue of explorer Leif Eriksson stands proudly on the forecourt and through the front doors, the long body of the church stretched forward, with the massive organ suspended above the front door.

Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

Explorer Leif Eriksson

Inside Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja's organ

Statue in Hallgrímskirkja

After wandering around downstairs, I purchased my ticket and queued for the lift up to the observation deck within the tower. Up here, through a series of pane-less windows, there was a 360 degree view overlooking the city. There is a smattering of coloured roofs and walls amongst the mainly pale-coloured buildings, and the mountains to the north as well as the surrounding sea surround the fringes of the city. The city’s domestic airport is close by, and it is a handy spot to get some bearings before exploring the city further.

Reykjavik panorama west

Reykjavik panorama north

Reykjavik panorama east

Reykjavik Panorama south

Back outside, I walked round the church to appreciate it from all angles before wandering down to the foreshore to head back to Harpa in the hope of grabbing tickets for a show. Along this promenade was one of my favourite sculptures in Iceland, that of a Viking-style ship depicted in metal. Behind it on the water, some sail boats lazily moved along nearby. Unfortunately when I checked the schedule inside Harpa, there was nothing at a suitable time for me to attend so I decided to spend my evening wandering the streets, given that daylight would continue past midnight. Passing old and colourful buildings, I found myself at a large lake behind the city centre.

Hallgrímskirkja

Walking round Hallgrímskirkja

Walking around Hallgrímskirkja

Ship sculpture

Ship sculpture on the promenade

Sailing at Reykjavik

Building in Reykjavik's Old Town

Building in Reykjavik's Old Town

Tjörnin was pretty deserted by this time, and I almost had it to myself, wandering along side the water. There were more interesting sculptures along the path and crossing a road to reach its far end, there was a water fountain and a statue in the lake itself which bore a striking resemblance to Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid. I visited Copenhagen when I was a young girl but if I close my eyes I can still picture the Little Mermaid, and it felt strange looking at a similar statue in another city. Beyond the lake and across a main road was Vatnsmýri, a wetland where there were loads of Greylag geese wandering about. I was completely alone here, and it was a nice part of the city to get some peace and quiet.

Sculpture at Tjornin

Church at Tjornin

Statues by Tjornin

Reykjavik's Little Mermaid

Reykjavik wetlands

Greylag goose

I awoke to sunshine on my last morning in Iceland. Ever wary of the ticket metre kicking in on the street outside, I took my car out of the city early and headed to Perlan, a domed building atop a hill which offers a differing view over the city. The building itself had seen better days and was rather drab looking inside and out, but the outdoor viewing platform upstairs gave a 360 degree view of the city from a different perspective than had been on offer at Hallgrímskirkja, and from here in the sunshine, the famous church looked beautiful. It was also possible to see more of the southern suburbs disappearing into the distance, than had been evident elsewhere.

Hallgrímskirkja in the sunshine

Reykjavik from Perlan

South Reykjavik from Perlan

Band statue at Perlan

After driving to Laugardalur near where I’d stayed the first night, I visited the large park and the small Botanical Gardens within them. It was a popular place with joggers, and children on visits from school, but there wasn’t much to look at, and the gardens themselves proved rather underwhelming. I returned to the city centre, and parked my car up for the rest of the day, ensuring my parking ticket was correct. Now the city centre was mine to explore, and with the shops and eateries open, I made the most of city life. I was pleased to discover lots of street art around the city, something which I’ve grown to love as it has taken over my home city of Christchurch. I’ve had the joy of exploring other worldwide cities’ mural works such as Melbourne in Australia and my native Glasgow in Scotland, so I went out my way to explore side alleys to see as much of it as I could find. In between this I enjoyed not just the tourist shops, but some quirky local shops as well, and despite being a weekday, the city centre was full of people. Outside a handful of restaurants there were various signs offering both Minke whale and puffin to eat, and they seemed particularly targeted towards tourists. I’ll usually try local cuisine when I’m abroad, but not when it involves killing endangered creatures.

Building in Reykjavik

Reykjavik street art

Whale on the menu

Tourist menu

But as the afternoon came round, it was soon time for one of the highlights of my trip. I probably wouldn’t have known about it, had it not been for reading a fellow blogger’s post, and despite initially being put off by the price of it, I soon came round to the idea of it. Unfortunately there was a slight mix up with the bus pick up service that was included in the price I paid, and this led to a slightly stressful time where I was worried that I wouldn’t get there. In hindsight, I could have just driven myself, but I had somehow convinced myself it involved an unsealed road which in fact it didn’t. In the end though, all was well, and I made it with everyone else to the building up in the hills outside of Reykjavik to join my tour group to go Inside the Volcano, and we all kitted up in a waterproof jacket to make the long trek there.

Þríhnúkagígur is a dormant volcano that last erupted over 4000 years ago. Quite unique in that the magma chamber has not been filled up, it contains a large chamber that can be descended into for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see what a volcano looks like from the inside. There is a 50 minute walk across the nearby lava field to get there, a relatively barren and desolate land from which some cones stand out in various directions in the distance. Eventually we reached a small hut where we were split into groups and given our harnesses and helmets. To a lot of people’s delight there was an arctic fox pup running around, having become orphaned and being looked after by the staff there. I was excited to be put into the first group to descend, so there was little time to wait before we were marched up the side of the cone to the crater rim where the rigging and ‘elevator’ awaited us. Despite being June, there were patches of snow visible from here, and we had a nice view across the mainly black landscape towards the edge of Reykjavik which was visible in the distance.

Crossing the lava field near Þríhnúkagígur

Arctic fox cub

Crater rim of Þríhnúkagígur

Top of the crater descent

Snow amongst the lava

The descent into the volcano was incredible, harnessed into what looks like a window-cleaner’s lift bucket. It was slow and steady and as the entrance is narrow, we got very close to the colourful rock on the way down. Then as the chamber widens, we were all blown away by the glorious yellow that was the dominant colour of the rock. I really wish I had better camera skills because despite having 3 separate devices that could take photographs, I struggled to get anything that came close to the immense beauty that lay under the ground. After 120metres of descent, we were let loose to explore the nearby rocks whilst the lift returned to the surface to collect the next group. I wandered around in a bit of a daze, my excitement blurring my vision a little, as I tried desperately to absorb what I was seeing. There was just yellow everywhere, and interspersed with this were reds and blacks, and with this view there was an ever present audio of dripping water and echoing voices. I love caves, and this felt no different, and whilst I paid no attention to myself at the time, I’m pretty sure I had a giant grin on my face the whole time.

Descent into the volcano

Colours inside Þríhnúkagígur

Bright yellow wall of the magma chamber

Roof of the magma chamber

Brilliant yellow rocks

Lift descending into the chamber from above

By the time the remaining groups had descended, it was then my turn to go back up. I tried hard to take mental snapshots of the view with my eyes in a desperate attempt to burn the memory in my head. Back at the surface, there was warm soup waiting for us at the cabin, and as there was then some waiting to do, I wandered around the nearby paths before the arrival of rain sent me back to the cabin. The walk back to the waiting bus took nearly as long as the hike there had been, and then it was time to head back to Reykjavik. The bus driver forgot about me on the way back meaning I had to circle the city twice to be released near my hostel. I was too tired to eat out, so grabbed a take-away before heading back to my dorm to pack.

Þríhnúkagígur cone

Info board at the cabin

Hiking back across the lava field

I had an early rise to head to the airport, and in an attempt to be quiet and not wake my roommates, I accidentally dropped my laptop which not only broke it, but made a very loud noise. I cursed out loud before hastily exiting from the room. I reached the airport at Keflavik in good time and dropped my rental car off before reaching the terminal and being greeted by utter chaos. Clearly several flights were leaving at a similar time, and the staff there seemed unable to clearly direct people or deal with the increasingly grumbly travellers who were forced to wait in lines that seemed never to move. It was another reminder that the country’s popularity is rising faster than it can cope with, but despite getting there to discover that my flight was an hour later than my ticket said, I brushed both annoyances out of my mind to enjoy a last breakfast in the country that I had easily fallen in love with.

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7 thoughts on “Roving Round Reykjavik

  1. Pingback: Right to the Golden Circle | MistyNites

  2. Pingback: Northern Limits | MistyNites

  3. Great post – I’ve booked Reykjavik for next October and am really looking forward to it. The fox pup is ADORABLE 💕

  4. I guess when you go to Iceland exploring Reykjavik is a must:) The Hallgrímskirkja is really beautiful!

    The volcano visit looks super fascinating, but I don’t like heights that much and I am sure I would not enjoy the time in the bucket lift:) But it seems like it would be worth it.

    Cannot leave without commenting – who would eat puffins? They are way too cute to be food.

    • The city is worth a look around certainly, although for me I preferred being away from the city life.
      Somebody must be eating the puffin otherwise they wouldn’t be on the menu, but as their worldwide numbers are in decline I don’t agree with it, just like the whale.

  5. As much as I loved Iceland, the fact that they still kill whales is horrific. I wish they would stop. Great history on such a beautiful country. 🙂

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