TT&S Reykjavik: Top 10 Ways to Travel Back in Time While Visiting…
Iceland is full of stunning landscapes– lush moss-covered lava fields, breathtaking waterfalls galore, and a plethora of crystal blue lagoons… but it has history too! Settled in the 9th century by Vikings, Iceland is rife with folklore and history. While flights (particularly stopover deals) are affordable, accommodations and food are bit pricey but visiting is worth the expense. Here are my recommendations for historical must-sees…
- Landnamssyningin/The Settlement Exhibition– Reykjavik 871± 2
- Saga Museum
- Arbaer: Open Air Museum
- CityWalk: Free Walking Tour of Reykjavik
- Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Outside Reykjavik: Day Trip Ideas
Have you been to Reykjavik? Do you have any additional suggestions to travel back in time while visiting? I would love to hear in the comments…
- Landnamssyningin/The Settlement Exhibition – Reykjavik 871± 2, plus or minus 2 correlates to the dating of a nearby eruption and allows for a time frame of settlement. Discovered during a renovation, the remains of a great hall were unearthed in the basement and instead of demolishing the building, they built a museum underneath it. The Hall dates to the 10th century and while the remnants are minimal, they have done a great job presenting what it may have looked like at the time. It cost about $10 but the donation to preserving it is worth it.
- Saga Museum offers 17 exhibits from the Icelandic Sagas– legends and historical figures like Snorri Sturlusson, Ingolfur Arnarson and Leifur Eiriksson. Even the Black Death in the 14th century made its way to Iceland! The Museum is a Madam Tussauds of wax Vikings. Entrance fee is about $20 and is located near the old harbor, not far from the Maritime Museum– maybe stop by after a puffin or whale watching excursion!
3. Hallgrimskirkja, while only just built in the middle of the last century, is impressive nonetheless. It is both a national monument and church; dedicated to the Icelandic poet, Hallgrimur Pertursson (1614-1674), it was built to transmit radio signals– in addition to offering stunning views of Reykjavik from the top! (Cost: about $10) Tower closes at 4:30pm in the winter and 8:30pm in summer. The church is open to visitors except during weekly services, funerals and during concert choirs (see website for times). Make sure to stop by the statue of Leif Ericsson, Icelandic explorer who discovered North America, directly in front of the church…
4. Arbaer: Open Air Museum is a window to the past, you step back in time and surround yourself with the way life once was. It showcases ‘old Reykjavik’ from an architectural and agricultural viewpoint. There are many exhibitions and events held at the Museum which highlight specific periods in Reykjavik’s history. The museum is located 5 miles outside of downtown Reykjavik, cab or bus recommended. $15 entrance fee. If you don’t make it here, see Skogar Museum (below).
5. CityWalk: Free Walking Tour of Reykjavik is a history and culture walk offered by locals. The tour is free in the sense that they rely on tips to make it worth their while so don’t skimp. Tours will vary depending on guide and their interests but they are knowledgeable and great to be shown around by a local. Also offer Pubcrawls on the weekends, 3 hours VIP tours and others — not free but worth checking out!
6. Reykjavik Maritime Museum opened in 2005 and showcases how Iceland has depended on the fishing industry, especially over the last two centuries. There are several permanent exhibits, as well as limited time special exhibits. The Coast Guard Vessel Óðinn is as one of the Maritime Museum’s main exhibitions, take one of three hour long tours– offered each day at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm. Museum costs $15 and is open daily 10am to 5pm.
- Thingvellir National Park may look like merely a flagpole surrounded by rocks but it is so much more. At Þingvellir/Thingvellir – literally “Parliament Plains” – the Alþing general assembly was established around 930 and continued to convene there until 1798. It is a National Shrine… as well as a natural wonder! It is part of a fissure zone that runs through Iceland, situated where the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates meet or rather grow apart– 2cm a year! All those earthquakes and volcanoes on the island make sense. It is a must see!
2. Skogar Museum is three museums rolled into one- Folk, Open Air, and Technical museums. The Folk Museum offers agricultural history, local antique handcrafts and natural history. Step outside and walk through history– tour examples of Icelandic architectural history: traditional turf farmhouse, early 20th c. Icelandic schoolhouse, baðstofa (communal room where the household slept, ate and worked), and more. In the Technical Museum tour the history and evolution of transport, communication and technologies from the last 100+ yrs. The backdrop is not too shabby either– The Skogar Waterfall is within sight so why not stop for a tour after!
3. Stokkur Geysir is Iceland’s most visited active geyser. Strokkur is found in the Geysir Geothermal Area, titled after the Great Geysir, which lent its name to all others across the world. To create a geyser it needs to have magma close to the surface, flowing underground water, and a way for it to escape to the surface. The area is surrounded by hot springs, mud pits and mini-geysers making the landscape appear almost surreal. A bit stinky (sulfur) but worth seeing at least once!
4. Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon is simply spectacular! Well worth the time it takes to get there. After passing through the moss-covered lava fields, just across the bridge that spans the water flowing into the ocean, is the lagoon– right along Highway One. You can’t miss it. Huge blocks of ice constantly break off the glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, and large icebergs float in the lagoon. The striations of black volcano ash in the ice is breathtaking. Walk along the lagoon and down to the black sand beach, riddled with chucks of ice… or take a boat ride and see the icy blue bergs up close. I recommend both! Highlight of the trip…
** Haunted Walk (Summer Only) The Haunted Walk deals with Icelandic history, folklore and of course some well-known local ghosts! Offered every night (except Fridays) at 8pm during June, July and August. Cost about $25 (kids are free!) It does not get dark in the summer so while the stories may be scary, it will be light out! No one can jump out at you from dark corners… or can they?