City Life: Reykjavík Exploration, Getting Your Bearings

To-do list for a curious traveler:

  1. Walk and get your bearings (know where the pond, harbor, cathedral, and HARPA are in reference to your lodgings)
  2. Visit a geothermal pool and take your time to enjoy and experience it
  3. Explore a few museums (if you love museums, get a City Card!)
  4. Find some affordable food and drink

Get your bearings.

Good maps of downtown are available all over! If you won’t have cell service, make it a point to visit a tourist information center for plenty of free info (and ads). Most hotels also have maps in the lobby for guests. If you do have cell service, here are a couple things to keep in mind: Google Maps doesn’t always do great with placing addresses, even in urban areas – use common sense, and don’t hesitate to step into a museum and ask for directions at the front desk!

For getting oriented downtown, start with an orientational stroll from your hotel/lodging. Make sure that you get a feel for which direction the harbor is (north), the pond (on the SW edge of the center of old downtown), Hallgrímskirkja (highest point, SE edge of downtown), and HARPA (pictured above, NE edge of downtown).

Key streets:

Laugavegur, for shops and souvenirs, from the cheesy to the authentic Icelandic Handknitting Association (just off Laugarvegur)

Tryggvagata, parallel to the harbor in old downtown

Laekjargata/Fríkirkjuvegur, runs north/south along the east side of tjörnin (pond), following it will also connect you to the BSÍ hub if you’re taking a Reykajvík Excursions/FlyBus coach.

If you’re taking Straeto (city bus):

Also know Hlemmur, which is the downtown main bus station. It’s recently been revitalized into a great food court! Check out my transport post for more bus tips. There are hotels in the area, but even if you aren’t staying near it, you’ll often change lines here (really not that hard). Hlemmur is toward the harbor, just east of most of the downtown stuff (near the Phallological Museum on the map above).

If you’re going to primarily walk:

This is a great option if you’re reasonably fit and have a plan for your day (or are fine walking 5-10 miles a day to wander more), assuming you’re staying not too far from downtown. Sights like Perlan (exhibitions and an observation deck), Arbaer (part of the city museum system, the outdoor folk site), and Nauthólsvík (semi-artificial heated yellow sand beach) are generally a bit away from the rest of downtown. If you’re needing to be economical on time, it’s worth ~$4.50 to take the bus at least one way. Even Hafnarfjördur, the oldest suburb of Reykjavík, is the same cost but is a 20-30 minute ride. More on the out-of-the-way, unique sites in this town in another post.

In the next post, I’ll discuss THE POOL!!