The centre of Reykjavík is beautiful and filled with interesting places to visit. If you only intend to spend your time on Laugavegur, however, you might be missing out. Just a few hundred metres away from the centre lies the Old Harbour district, a hidden gem in the city. Just a few years ago, the area was in decline, as the fishing industry was moving towards the new harbour. Since then, designers, artists, new restaurants, and cafés have moved in and now it’s one of the most exciting areas in the city. If you’re visiting Reykjavík you might want to check out some of the museums and exhibitions in the Old Harbour district such as…
The Saga Museum
The Sagas of the Icelanders are not only the best documentation of the Viking age there is, they’re also just pretty darn interesting. Murder! Love! Adventure! Revenge! The sagas have got it all! The Saga Museum tells the story of the first centuries of Iceland with wax figure tableaus, starting at the time of Settlement and ending at the Reformation.
You can go through the museum with an audio guide that takes about 40 minutes, which is perfect if you want to learn a little bit about the history of Iceland but don’t feel like spending the whole day in a museum. After the exhibition, you get to dress up as a Viking, weapons and all, and have your picture taken.
After visiting this exhibition, it’s almost guaranteed that you will want to start reading the Icelandic sagas!
Reykjavik Maritime Museum
It’s difficult to describe the immeasurable impact the sea around Iceland has had on Iceland and its inhabitants. Not only was crossing the ocean for most of history Icelanders’ only way to connect with the rest of the world, but fishing has also for a long time been one of the most important livelihoods of Icelanders. A visit to the Reykjavik Maritime Museum is a chance to not only learn about the history of seafaring in Iceland but to understand the foundation of the nation.
The building that houses the museum used to be a fish freezing plant. You can easily get lost in there for several hours, perfect for a rainy day (or just if you’re really interested in maritime history). Despite the size, the atmosphere is very cozy and there are a lot of artifacts (and even ships!) to be admired.
One of the objects on display is Óðinn, the Coast Guard Vessel which took part in all three Cod Wars (Iceland’s David vs Goliath fight with the UK for fishing rights in the sea around Iceland). There are guided tours available at set times throughout the day.
Whales of Iceland
The marine life in the ocean around Iceland is fascinating, especially the whales. Whales of Iceland is the largest exhibition of its kind in Europe, which is only fitting for these gentle giants. The exhibition itself is captivating, as is only to be expected. It’s set up as if you were underwater and the stars of the show are the life-size models of 23 whale species.
The location is perfect for a whale exhibition since the Old Harbour is also the point of departure for the whale watching tours. If you’re going whale watching, it’s a great idea to drop by the exhibition before or after the tour. If you don’t have time for a whale watching tour (or if you get seasick), the exhibition has videos of whale sightings so you don’t even have to go out to the sea unless you feel like it. There are also interactive screens to familiarise yourself with whale anatomy and detailed information about the whale species on display.
Whether you’ve booked a Northern Lights tour and want some information on this natural wonder, you’ve missed seeing the lights but still want to get an idea of what they’re like or if you’re just interested and want to know more, Aurora Reykjavik is THE place to visit.
The exhibition is very engaging and uses different media to convey information. There are, for example, photos of the Aurora from different countries, information on the beliefs of different peoples concerning the lights as well as how the colours of the lights work (this can later be revisited in the form of lamps which allow you to mix the colours yourself), interactive displays that give you a 360° look at Icelandic locations below Northern Lights, a video explaining the science behind the phenomenon, and much more.
This exhibition is only a few years old but they try to expand it and make it better as they go along. I can’t wait to see what they come up with in the coming years.
I hope you will enjoy these exhibitions in the old harbour area!