I decided to hitch myself to Reykjavík Sightseeing’s wagon and see the city through an Icelander’s eyes.
Reykjavík is thronging with tours these days. Everywhere you look, there are biking tours, walking tours, boating tours, helicopter tours—and as soon as you choose your method of transit, a thousand new options seem to open up. It could be all too easy to sample the quirky cheeses down by the wharf, browse row upon row of stuffed animal puffins, and call it a day. But on a particularly blustery day, I decided to hitch myself to Reykjavík Sightseeing’s wagon and see the city through an Icelander’s eyes.
From the top of Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík's iconic church, you get a sense of how small this northern capital is compared to other cities: there are few skyscrapers, no clogged highways and no rapid transit. In both its size and its artistic flare, the city feels much like my hometown in the mountains of North Carolina: both Reykjavík and Asheville are walkable, intimate and brimming with tourist shops.
In the sculpture garden across from Hallgrímskirkja sit masterpieces from one of Iceland’s most renowned sculptors, Einar Jónsson, whose name I’d heard but whose work I’d never taken a chance to appreciate. There, you can take in such works as a man sucking from the teet of a cow—the Norse creation myth—and next to it, a bent, melancholic figure titled “Sleep.” The dark metal at first seemed cold and uninviting, jarringly different from the marble that dominates Western sculpture, but it speaks powerfully of Icelandic history, culture and myth. Einar’s pieces have become part of the national consciousness—a means of honouring both the woe and joy of life.
This tour also includes the national cathedral, which is actually much smaller than Hallgrímskirkja, and much more inviting, with its wooden framing, candlelight and narrow pews. Björk’s concert there a few years ago could even be described as “quaint”, a word not often associated with the swan dress-wearing pop star. From the cathedral, it's a quick jaunt to the City Hall.
The penultimate stop is Harpa, the postmodern concert hall meant to vault Iceland into the 21st century. You can see why many Icelanders now see Harpa as a gem of the city: the glass honeycomb frame mirrors a choppy ocean and links the building to the sea, Iceland’s constant muse. And the shows inside put Reykjavík on the world stage.
You'll come away with a deeper appreciation for Reykjavík's art and architecture, and the history and culture of the town is also delightfully visible. If you want a glimpse of Icelandic murals or are passionate about Nordic building design, this tour could be the one for you.
Your tour starts at the whatson tourist info located at Laugavegur 5, 101 Reykjavík
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