The possibilities are endless in this eccentric city. Below, we explore some of Reykjavik’s most unique spots—away from the masses of tourists.
Reykjavik City Hall is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the city, almost hovering over the small lake that is probably the most frequented part of the capital, where the locals come to look at the swans and ducks whilst taking in the fresh air. Inside the city hall is a fascinating 3D map of the entire island, more or less the size of a volleyball court. It is exciting to have a look beforehand at the places that you will go to next, or where you have already been. The map, which was handmade, is located on the ground floor and is open to the public.
A bizarre market if there ever was one, Kolaportið has it all; antiques, toys, clothes, food, candy and much, much more. This market is located by the famous Old Harbor in Reykjavik, one of the most famous parts of the city. After exploring the area and seeing some of the most important sites, such as the Harpa building, travelers should definitely stop by this indoor market. It is open during the weekends, and it is very entertaining to search through the mountains of objects and find a unique treasure.
The Einar Jónsson Museum, which is dedicated to Iceland’s first sculptor—Einar Jónsson—houses a collection of beautiful artwork. What most people are not aware of is that behind the museum there is a garden, open all year round, that also exhibits some remarkable sculptures. It was originally designed by Jónsson himself, although parts of the garden have now been changed and re-designed. It is a pleasant place in which to stop and take in some of Iceland’s culture—even better, there are no entrance fees.
This restaurant serves one of the meanest burgers in Reykjavik, but it is not really advertised on most tourist guides, so the clientele is largely local. The Forget-me-not burger is one of a kind and truly a specialty burger, and the blue cheese burger is a Icelandic favorite. The buns, the meat, the fries, the sauces and all the extra ingredients merge together to make an unforgettable dining experience, great for fueling a day of sightseeing in the capital.
Elliðaárdalur is a stunning part of Iceland’s capital, with woodlands, waterfalls, rivers and wildlife. Visitors can even expect to see rabbits darting in and out of the bushes. Here tourists can take a relaxing stroll exploring nature, watching salmon swim in the river and animals roam the woods, until they reach the open-air museum. The site has over 20 buildings and recreates a town, showing what the architecture and way of life was like in Iceland centuries ago. Afterwards, a visit to the incredible Árbæjarlaug swimming pool is a great way to end a calm evening.
Tourists in Iceland can go their whole holiday without seeing a coin or a banknote, since nowadays pretty much everything on the island can be paid with a credit card. Those who are interested in learning a bit more about the Icelandic currency should pay the Central Bank of Iceland a visit. The lower floor has an exhibition with over 20,000 coins and 5,000 notes from Iceland and other countries. Admission here is free and it is open throughout the week from 1:30pm to 3:30pm.
Another of the capital’s best kept secrets is a wonderful geothermal pool by a lighthouse looking out on the water. It is located at the westernmost end of the city, in the area called Seltjarnarnes. On the northern part of the coast there is a big rock which is approximately the size of a hot tub; the local heating company has drilled a hole there and pumps warm water into it throughout the year. The beautiful views over the Faxaflói fjord, the mountains and the lighthouse make for a stunning panorama and a romantic setting that can be enjoyed whilst soaking your feet in the warm water.
Geothermal pools and saunas are a very Scandinavian concept, so of course Iceland is not far behind and offers many natural pools or sweat lodges where visitors can cleanse and relax. The experience at The Sweat Lodge is very characteristic of Iceland, lasting five hours and including singing and dancing. It is a great spiritual experience that will leave visitors feeling relaxed and refreshed, ready to tackle their Icelandic experience with new strength.
The Öskjuhlíð area is breathtakingly beautiful and is the site of the famous Perlan building, which has one of the best Scandinavian restaurants in the city. The hill is 61 meters above sea level, with some great views and a distinctly outdoorsy feel, since the city officials have put a lot of work into looking after the surrounding forest. What makes this part of the capital so special is that there are remains of an American World War II military base, and visitors can still see the bunkers that were built here along the hill.
Reykjavik has some pretty good theater productions, although visitors are often not aware of them since much of the focus of visiting Iceland is on wandering around the beautiful natural landscapes and not really on exploring its cultural activities. However, the shows that are put on at The North Pole theater are well worth a watch, and some of them have a very international feel about them. The theater is situated in the Seltjarnarnes area, and is, for now, one of the city’s hidden gems.