A trip to Iceland usually starts and ends in Reykjavik, a capital like no other. It's the world's northernmost capital with a latitude just under the Arctic Circle, and one of the smallest capitals in Europe. There are no skyscrapers here, the bars are open until 3 am and beyond, many of its inhabitants believe that elves live all around Iceland, there are weird museums, like those about Iceland's mysteries, punk music and even penises. To visit this small capital 48 hours is enough. Here is my suggestion of a cultural itinerary in Reykjavik.
Picture © Credits to Vlad_Alex
After an initial shock because Reykjavik is nothing like you expected, start with learning the basics about this rocky island's unique history in the Saga museum. It's a small and a bit of an old fashioned museum that recreates key moments of Icelandic early history that have determined the fate of Icelanders, but still very much worth a visit, especially with audio guide tour. The tour follows very artistic wax characters and gives a compelling view into how Icelanders have lived for more than a millennium. You will understand why Iceland is called the land of fire and ice, and at the end, for a cool photo, you can dress in a viking costume and strike a pose!
Once you are done with the ancient history of Iceland, only one kilometre separates you from a totally futurist entertainment venue. Harpa is one of the most modern concert halls in Europe, a real architectural gem set on the harbour. The building was meant to be the World Trade Center of Reykjavík, but the idea was abandoned in 2008, when the financial crisis took hold. At that time, the government decided to fully fund the rest of the construction costs, but to build a concert hall instead of a trade center. Five years later, Harpa gets a prestigious award, European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture. In the announcement it states:
Harpa's crystalline structure was inspired by Icelandic landscapes and traditions. Its dramatic design captures and reflects the light of the city, ocean and sky to thrilling effect.
Picture © Credits to pigprox
Picture © Credits to Olga_Gavrilova
Another obligatory sight (even if you don't care about religion) is Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church shaped like a rocket - one of the city's best-known landmarks. Standing at 74.5 meters tall, the church can be seen from any point in Reykjavik, and also, all of the city of Reykjavik can be observed from the top of it. Many visitors coming from catholic or orthodox countries where churches are packed with gold plated decoration comment that this church looks... unfinished. It's true that the church is very simple, with barely any ornamentation, and its walls are in rough concrete. Guðjón Samúelsson, who designed Hallgrímskirkja was under strong influences of the Scandinavian Modernism movement, known as Functionalism, but besides he found inspiration in natural shapes and forms, calling it “Icelandic architecture”, a style that is in harmony with Icelandic landscape. This is why the wings and the steeple of Hallgrímskirkja remind of cliffs of basalt columns.
Picture © Credits to surangaw
Once you are in front of the church, it's impossible to miss a fine statue of Leifur Eiríksson. Ready for a surprise? Records suggest that not Christopher Columbus, but Eiriksson, was the first European to discover America. Seems like Leifur arrived to the shores of the new world in the year 1000 AD, making it 500 years before Columbus. Oh well, Iceland is full of surprises, and this is just one of them.
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.