Museums in and Around: Reykjavik Redux

It turns out that just about everyone I know is going to Iceland. A coworker, Ross’s sister, my friend (and hiking compatriot) Stephanie….plus Ross and I are thinking of going back next year so I’ve been doing a little research into the places I want to go. I’ve been putting together a list of things that I enjoyed doing, and places that I enjoyed visiting, in a Google Doc but then thought….yeah I should just blog it.

For the record, I haven’t seen nearly half of Iceland. I’ve been to Reykjavik twice (in August 2008 and May 2013), up to Akureyri (late April 2013), and along the south shore (albeit with a tour group) in May 2013. I haven’t made it up to the Westfjords (but it’s on the slate for next year), to Snaefellsnes peninsula, or to the east coast. So I can’t cover those, but I can cover the areas I’ve been.

So let’s start with Reykjavik, because I’ve been there twice (in August 2008 and May 2013) and that’s where most of my info comes in handy.

Reykjavik has a City Card, which comes in as a 24-hour, 48-hour or 72-hour card. Ross and I got the 24-hour card, and thought we got a good deal out of it. It allowed us to take the bus, get entrance to city pools, as well as a bunch of museums, and it gives you a discount at some stores and restaurants. The only thing I would caution, if you’re getting the card on the weekend, make sure that a) buses are running, and b) museums are open, because the time starts as soon as you purchase it.

Located close to the downtown HI hostel, the Volcano House offers a glimpse into the volcanic history of Iceland. You can watch a documentary on famous eruptions in Iceland, and tour their geologic exhibit. There’s also a small cafe onsite. You can get a 20% discount with the city card.

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Follow the red rocks to find the Red Rock Cinema

For all the sparkling, new gleam of the Volcano House, my volcanic viewing pleasure will always be with Red Rock Cinema. Shown in a home theater (think small, dated, campy), the documentary was filmed by the owner and his father. His father starting chasing volcanic eruptions in the 1950s, and Villi Knudson (the owner) has kept it up since his father passed on. This is most definitely not a swanky professionally filmed documentary with a deep-voiced narrator, but it is informative, and it is the original. When I visited in 2008, the Volcano House didn’t exist, and this is where you went. Ultimately, both documentaries give you the same information, and either one is worth checking out.

I’m not one for art museums, but I love archaeology, so any museum that gives me a glimpse into the past, I’m up for. Reykjavik 871 +/-2 (also called the Settlement Museum) is right downtown, and is the site of an archaeological dig. They found a log house on the dig, and decided to turn it into a museum. There are computerized displays around the log house describing what each section was used for – very much worth a visit to see how the vikings lived a thousand years ago, specifically in the Reykjavik area.

Similarly themed, the Saga Museum offers a look at the history of Iceland. Located a little outside the downtown core, it’s still within easy walking distance near the harbour. (From what I remember, they used locals as models for the Viking figures.) Less archaeologically themed than the Settlement Museum, it’s still fun and interesting.

Along the Ring Road towards the south, on the way to Vik and 150km from Reykjavik, is the Skogar Folk Museum. We stopped in while on a tour with Reykjavik Excursions. This local museum details life along the south shore, with fishing and whaling artifacts, as well as instruments, and traditional turf-roofed houses. It gives an excellent glimpse into life in Iceland in the early 20th century. The museum is also very close to the Skogafoss waterfall, so you can cover two things at once.

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Exhibits in the phallological museum

Back in Reykjavik, there is a….distinctly unique…museum, located along Laugavegu…the Phallological Museum.  Yes, a museum dedicated to all things phallic. It’s about a 20-minute walk from downtown Reykjavik. When I was there in 2013, they only took cash for the entrance fee (there was a bank with an ATM about a block down the road) and it was 1,000kr (or roughly $10CDN). It may or may not be worth it, depending on how much you’re willing to pay to snicker at penises. They have penises belonging to nearly all sea and land mammals found in Iceland, as well as to land mammals found elsewhere (like an elephant.) There are also quite a few other, phallic themed, items on display. I enjoyed my visit (it was a little awkward, seeing as it was myself and a guy in his late 30s who kept cringing) but like I said – you may find the price a little steep for a good snicker or two.

If penile displays aren’t quite what you want to see, you can also do a tour of Harpa, the opera house in Reykjavik. We were lucky – we went for the Eve Fanfest in 2013, so we got to spend a lot of time in Harpa for free (or rather, for the price of Fanfest tickets.) This included a concert performed by the Icelandic Opera (of all music Eve-related) and a party at the end. You can tour the building (which is a work of art itself) or take in a show.

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