ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 10-12a –Reykjavik – Walking the Center

July 04, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

August 2015

ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 10-12a –Reykjavik – Walking the Center


Day 10-12a map

01 Day 10-12a map01 Day 10-12a map

The last 3 days of our Iceland trip were spent in Reykjavik.  The “official” tour (Road Scholar, Capturing Iceland: Digital Photography Under the Midsummer Sun) had 2 nights in Reykjavik with departures scheduled for th      e following day – so we tacked on a couple of extra days.  This “Part A” for Reykjavik is centered on the downtown (tourist) area of town. 

Iceland has about 329,000 people (2014) of which over 60% live in the greater Reykjavik area (overall only 1% of the population live in non urban areas).  The population of Iceland is 93% Icelandic origin, mostly of Norwegian and Celtic (Ireland & Scotland) origin so it’s anything but diverse – unless of course you include tourists. 

Reykjavik is the only real city in Iceland and is it’s capital.  As it turns out, is also the worlds northernmost capital.  Reykjavík is the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland – which, along with having a decent harbor, explains why it’s the biggest developed area in the country.  Ingólfur Arnarson is said to have established it around AD 870.   However, until the 18th century, there was little, if any, urban development in the location like happened in other European cities. The city itself was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national center of commerce, population, and governmental activities. It is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world.

Downtown is centered at Ingólfstorg Square which is not too far from the docks.  However, the word “downtown” is probably a misleading term.  We’re not talking about a typical downtown you may be used to with crowded tall buildings and streets congested with cars, trolleys, busses, and taxis whizzing by all accented by emergency vehicle sirens and horns honking.  In Reykjavik’s “downtown” the buildings are typically 2 stories with a 3 or 4 thrown in from time to time.  The streets are two lanes (one each way) and with a wide variety to their appearance.  The main shopping streets are pretty much pedestrian only and you rarely hear a siren or horn honking. 

Our first day in Reykjavik was spent just walking around the city to see what we could see.  The city has two main pedestrian streets that are where most of the stores and restaurants aimed at the tourist trade are located.  These two streets form a “Y” shape with the base being at Ingólfstorg Square in the center of town.  Although the street changes name along the way the tourist section runs about 6 blocks where it forks.  One side continues another 4 or 5 blocks and the other side goes about 5 blocks up to a big church on the top of a hill.  So, all told, we’re not talking about huge distances. 

Typical “downtown” street

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Many buildings in Reykjavik are painted bright colors and many have an old world charm that is quite pleasing, especially in a downtown area.  The other notable thing about the stores and shops is the distinct paucity of chain stores.  In our entire time in Reykjavik (well, actually the whole trip) the only chain stores I noticed which I was familiar with were a few Subway sandwich shops scattered around and a Dunkin Donuts here in Reykjavik.  Our guide told us that the government has gone to great lengths to keep big chains out of the country (another advantage of a progressive socialist government).  He also mentioned that they actually threw McDonalds out of the country and implied that it was due to labor practices as well as import/export issues.  I suspect though that it was more of a desire to not have Iceland look like everyplace else in the world with one chain store after another. 

Quaint Restaurant

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Interesting architecture

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Another Restaurant

Restaurant, Bankastraeti St.Restaurant, Bankastraeti St.

But, the charm is not limited to just the commercial streets.  As you wander up and down many of the side streets, you find that people are not afraid to use bright colors on their homes and businesses.  I’m sure it’s less so the farther you get away from the center of town but around the middle of Reykjavik, colors abound.

Choosing a color

Choosing the colorChoosing the color


Side street

Painted housesPainted houses


Row of colorful homes

Colorful houses, Reykjavik Streets #1Colorful houses, Reykjavik Streets #1


Another street of color

Colorful houses, Reykjavik Streets #2Colorful houses, Reykjavik Streets #2

As one wanders around, one can’t help but encounter various forms of artwork.  This artwork takes many forms.  Sometimes it is a colorful mural on the side of a building - which many cities have - but here it seems more whimsical.  At other times the artwork is part of the building architecture itself or takes the form of statues or other things shop owners put in front of their stores.  And, then there is also traditional art installations put in by the city.

Whimsical City Art Mural by the docks

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In front of a shop

Two TrollsTwo Trolls


Looks even better close up

Icelandic TrollsIcelandic Trolls


In front of a store

Viking TrollViking Troll


On a building ledge

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“The Unknown Official” (1994) by Magnus Tomasson

The BlockheadThe Blockhead


“The Water Carrier” (by Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982)

Water Carrier (Bearer)Water Carrier (Bearer)

And then there are just some unusual shops.  Two that caught my eye were a “stockings” store and a photo gallery that was more a display of antique cameras.

Odd thing to see as you walk by

Legs on Bankastraeti St.Legs on Bankastraeti St.


Antique cameras in photo gallery

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Iceland and Reykjavik have a very strong and accepted, LGBT+ community.  It was the first country in the world to elect an openly gay head of state and the laws of the land state that all people have the same rights regardless of sexual orientation.  Evidence of this abounds including a week long gay pride event each year, rainbow buildings, posters, signs, and rainbow colored streets.  

Gay pride street

Gay Pride in Reykjavik #05Gay Pride in Reykjavik #05


In a park by our hotel

Rainbow bricksRainbow bricks


As it says on the sign “Queer Bar”

Kiki Queer BarKiki Queer Bar


Art installation with photos from Gay weekend festivities

Gay Pride in Reykjavik #03Gay Pride in Reykjavik #03


Rainbow street

Gay Pride in Reykjavik #04Gay Pride in Reykjavik #04


“Bicycle Gates” swing out when cars are not allowed.

Bicycle GatesBicycle Gates

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Thanks for reading -- Dan



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