Reykjavík Old Town Walk
What better guiding presence on a tour of historic Reykjavík than the man who started it all, one of the first settlers of Iceland and Reykjavík's founder, Ingólfur Arnarson? Overlooking the old city center and harbor is a grassy knoll known as Arnarhóll, topped by the Ingólfur Arnarson statue. From here there's a fine panorama of midtown Reykjavík.
Behind him on his left, on Hverfisgata, the classic white Landsbókasafnið (Old National Library) has been resurrected as the Þjóðmenningarhúsið, or National Cultural House. Outside, its crests pay tribute to giants of Icelandic literature. Inside, it includes informative cultural exhibits. Across the street and slightly east of the Þjóðmenningarhúsið is Alþjóðahús, the Intercultural Center where there are often art exhibitions and music shows—the lively café is a good place to stop for a coffee. Walk down Hverfisgata from these buildings to Lækjargata to the Stjórnarráðhusið, which contains the offices of the prime minister. Across Bankastræti, continuing along the hill above Lækjargata and the oversize pavement chessboard on the same side, stands the historic mid-19th-century Bernhöftstorfan—a row of distinct two-story wooden houses, two of which are now restaurants. The building across Amtmannsstígur and closer to the pond is Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík.
Continue south on Lækjargata to the corner of the Tjörnin Pond. Overlooking Tjörnin Pond from its northwest corner is the modern Ráðhús, on the corner of Vonarstræti and Tjarnargata. Inside there's usually a large relief map of Iceland, which is very useful for planning any out-of-town journeys.
From the pond, follow Templarasund a little more than a block north to Austurvöllur Square, dominated by a statue of Jón Sigurðsson (1811–79), who initiated Iceland's fight for independence from Denmark. Sigurðsson looks approvingly at the 19th-century Alþingishús, on Kirkjustræti. Next to the Parliament is the Dómkirkjan, on the corner of Templarasund and Kirkjustræti. From the square toward the harbor runs Pósthússtræti, taking its name from the main post office, the large red building on the corner of Austurstræti. At the northwest corner of Pósthússtræti and Tryggvagata is Tollhúsið, which is distinguished by Iceland's largest mosaic mural, a harbor scene by Gerður Helgadóttir.
Continue west on Tryggvagata until you reach Hafnarhús, a former warehouse, now the Listasafn Reykjavíkur, the Reykjavík Art Museum. It's recognizable by its entrance under what looks like a wide gangplank hanging from the wall overhead. After taking in the latest exhibition, head north on Grófin and cross Geirsgata, the major street running along the harbor.
Detour: A 15-minute walk west will take you to the Víkin-Maritime Museum,, housed in a former fish factory. Heading back east along Geirsgata brings you to Ingólfsgarður pier, closest to Lækjartorg Plaza. Here you may spot Iceland's Coast Guard vessels docked for service. If you continue walking east along the shoreline, you'll pass the green, dual-pointed Partnership sculpture, a gift to Iceland from a former U.S. ambassador and his wife. A few hundred yards farther along the shore is the even more dramatic Sólfar, a stunning modern tribute to the Viking seafarers who first sailed into this harbor 1,100 years ago.
Allow about 90 minutes for this walk, including some time in the Ráðhús and Dómkirkja. Give yourself more time if you want to visit the Maritime Museum or exhibitions at the Listasafn Reykjavíkur. Note: The bus terminus at Lækjargata a few short blocks east of Lækjartorg Plaza is a good place to depart for the Perlan or the Árbæjarsafn, a re-created Icelandic village. Farther east is Laugardalur Park and the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum.
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