Reykjavik is COOL. Even typing the word feels hip. It has an effortless style about it — the people, the architecture (all colourful corrugated iron), the design-led shops, and most of all its nooks and crannies, where you’ll find literary bus stops, wonderful graffiti and random items of interest. And that’s before you’ve even DONE THE SIGHTS, like the whale exhibition, the Viking museum or the obligatory whale / puffin watching boat trip.
Verdict: A cool, quirky, fun-packed family destination with plenty for kids and adults to enjoy.
We loved: The Blue Lagoon, the Viking museum and the whale exhibition.Mingling with the hipsters, browsing the shops, discovering the quirk factor.
Downsides: Whale-watching would be a better option in the summer and I wish we’d been a bit more organised / prepared.
So, here’s our Reykjavik top 5
1. The Viking Settlement museum
We went here after a busy morning and I think we were all ready for a bit of sit-down, but that’s not the reason this is our top pick (honestly!). This museum houses an original Viking building underneath central Reykjavik, and it’s beautifully done, with a good mix of information and interactivity. I loved the screens encircling the original dwelling, showing the landscape as it might have been, with sound effects and subtle shadowy figures. We all loved the family-friendly Viking home area, complete with bones, masks, a cooking pot, hide blankets, a fabulous selection of games and a runic alphabet. We made all the important names: ours, Orla’s best friend … and Pikachu.
Favourite fact | Some of the original Viking chiefs’ names 🙂
Audun the Stutterer
2. The Blue Lagoon
(Although not actually in Reykjavik, most people who visit the capital probably go to the Blue Lagoon or their way to or from the airport, so I think that qualifies it for our Reykjavik Top 5.)
We loved the Blue Lagoon. Not the rigmarole of changing etc (it’s quite fiddly and high-tech, they’re very strict about showering before you get in and then it’s a cold dash to the water -so cold, in fact, it literally reduced a Spanish woman to tears) but the actual bobbing about and around the steamy warmth is really good fun. We got drinks at the bar, rubbed volcanic mud on our faces, splashed under the shower, and generally had a really lovely time drifting in the steamy water.
One of the things I really noticed this holiday was how sometimes our children’s enjoyment of any holiday runs in a slightly parallel groove to ours. At the Blue Lagoon, for example, while we enjoyed a drink from the bar, they chose that moment to act out their own TV channels – really funny, but totally random in the context of where we were and what we were doing. Something similar struck me on the puffin-watching trip (see below): Garry and I in awe of the natural wonders we were witnessing, while they entertained themselves playing with the ‘fairy handbags’ on the windows (curtain hooks to you and me).
3. Reykjavik window shopping and pootling about – Laugavegur etc – and going up the unpronounceable church
We found Iceland noticeably more expensive than home (multiplying any number by 6 is never good), so actual shopping was out of the question, but we did do a bit of mooching around the shops, buying kaffee and graffiti spotting — and this artwork was our favourite. It’s beautiful AND useful.
The trip to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja was worth doing too, as the views give a great sense of the capital in its natural landscape of mountains and sea.
4. The Whales of Iceland Exhibition
The walk to and from this exhibition is worth doing even if you don’t go in – you walk to the far side of the harbour, past a groovy junk playground and the wonderful bus stop picture above. Where else but Reykjavik would you find a bus stop referencing Waiting for Godot?
When we did get there, the vast warehouse housing life-sized models of over twenty whales suspended from the ceiling was much more interesting and evocative than it sounds, and walking among and beneath the models did give a real sense of their size and heft, but the best part of this visit was the virtual reality headset with 3D underwater film. Definitely worth the (possibly quite long) wait for these!
5. Puffin watching
This, sadly, is the best picture I can offer of a puffin as my camera doesn’t have a mahoosive zoom so wasn’t up to the job of taking a photo that looked anything other than a black smudge. Puffins are smaller than we all expected them to be!
That’s part of the reason this trip only merits an entry at number 5, but we were also slightly underwhelmed generally by the amount of information provided, the number of pairs of binoculars on offer, the distance between us and the puffins, and the very cold weather. To be fair, had it been warmer, we might have a) done a possibly more interesting whale watching tour instead or b) gone with a more established operator with an older, colder-looking boat but with a bit more puffin-watching expertise: we basically got on the first boat we saw that had an indoor area and looked quite snazzy.