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Reykjavik and the Golden Circle

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
This was originally published on Slow Travel and covers three days spent in and around in Reykjavik on the way to East Greenland in July 2008.

Background Information

After visiting West Greenland in 2007, we decided wanted to visit East Greenland. Flights leave from Reykjavik Domestic Airport so we decided to add three nights in Reykjavik to the itinerary which gave us opportunity to see something of the Reykjavik area.



We spent a day around Reykjavik and the open air folk museum. We were keen to do the Golden Circle tour and arranged a taxi for the day through the hotel at a prefixed cost. This was more expensive than signing up for a bus tour. As well as having as long as we wanted at the different sights it also meant we would have chance to visit the Norse Farm settlement at Stong which is not part of the tour itinerary. This worked well and we had a good day.

We stopped at Icelandair Hotel Loftleidir (which is now the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura). It is on the edge of Reykjavik's domestic airport but on the opposite side to the terminal. It is a large, busy tourist hotel. The city centre is about 30 minutes pleasant walk and there is bus service from the hotel into the city centre. Staff were friendly and helpful. We had a large comfortable room. Some rooms overlook the private aircraft apron which could be noisy at times. Breakfast is a good buffet, but gets very busy. There were large notices warning guests they would be charged for taking food out of the breakfast room for lunch.

Perlan is close by and it is a pleasant walk from the hotel up through the woods.



We didn’t visit the Blue Lagoon (not our thing). Having spent two weeks in East Iceland the previous year, we found the area around Reykjavik a lot more built up. Although we enjoyed our day round the Golden Ring, scenically we felt the immediate area round Reykjavik is over rated and not as good as other parts of Iceland.

The gallery of all our pictures is here.

Reykjavik

We spent a couple of mornings wandering around Reykjavik. It was a pleasant walk from the hotel past the large lake Tjörnin. The Radhusid (City Hall) is a modern building of concrete and glass built on the water’s edge. The ground floor is open to tourists and has a small Information Centre, cafe and a large relief map of Iceland.



There are a lot of old and beautiful wooden buildings especially around Laekjargata, Laugavegur (the main shopping street) and Adalstræti, the oldest street.









The Falkahus on Vesturgata is a splendid red painted building with carvings of falcons on the roof. Now a shop, it was where the royal falcons were kept before being shipped to Denmark.



Government House is built on a grassy mound overlooking Lækjatorg Square. It is an elegant white building with slate roof which is one of the oldest buildings in Reykjavik. It was built late 18thC as a prison workhouse but is now the office of the Prime Minister.



Hallgrímskirkja had scaffolding over the tower which made taking photographs difficult. Although it is often referred to as a cathedral, it is in fact just a church. It is a striking modern building which people either seem to love or hate. The main entrance of the church is huge rising as a stepped curve to a peak at the top of the tower. It is supposed to resemble basalt lava flows. It is possible to get a lift to an outside viewing area, but this was shut when we visited. Behind is a long nave with a rounded choir at the far end. Inside is very plain - almost severe with a tall, narrow nave and very simple choir and high altar. Overall, we were disappointed.



The Dómkirkjan, Lutheran Cathedral on ‪Austurvollur‬ is a much more interesting building.



It also has quite a history to it. There has been a church on the site for 800 years. The church was built 1788 but the roof was so badly built it had to be replaced in 1792. Although it could seat most of the population of Reykjavik, the building leaked and was damp so the congregation stayed away. It was discovered that wood used in the building was rotten and the church was condemned in 1815 and thoroughly restored. On Whitsunday 1825 one of the roof beams squeaked so much, that the congregation was driven mad with fear and escaped through doors and windows. It was reconstructed and enlarged in 1847-1848 but allowed to fall into disrepair through lack of maintenance and thoroughly restored again in 1879. The latest restoration was 1999.

Icelandic independence was first officially endorsed by the Lutheran church of Iceland in the Dómkirkjan. Members and cabinet ministers of every Alþing parliament have gathered here since 1845 for a service before the annual session. Iceland's national anthem (also a hymn) was first sung here in 1874.

From the outside it is a simple oblong building with large porch at the front and a side porch. There is a small clock tower and belfry above the main porch. Inside it is an elegant building with a balcony round three sides supported on pillars. The pulpit is dark wood with gilt carvings and there is a painting of Christ above the altar.



The Alpingishús (Parliament House) is a simple basalt building close to the Dómkirkjan.



We went for a wander round the old harbour area with small fishing boats and five old whalers, recognised by their harpoons, tied up. On the side of the harbour was a small preserved dock railway engine.





Outside the centre of Reykjavik, a new town has grown up with large modern multi storey buildings. Icelandic architecture is simple but elegant. There is plenty of space and grass around the buildings.



We spent a couple of hours wandering round the Botanic Gardens with their ponds, rock gardens and wild flower beds.






 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Árbæjarsafn‬ (Open Air Folk) Museum

The museum was founded in the 1950s on the site of a 15thC farm, Arbaer, a short bus ride from the centre of Reykjavik. Old buildings from the area have been reassembled on the site. Many are furnished and there are costumed interpreters in some of the houses.



The museum is made up of different areas; the town area, old farm area and industrial complex.

The town area has examples of different styles and ages of wealthy houses as well as examples of labourers cottages.







Most buildings were of wood although some of the labourers cottages were partially built using large stones. Some of the later buildings had corrugated iron cladding over the wood.







There were also a few reconstructed shop buildings.


The farm area is a short walk across fields and has a small turf church. This is a modern reconstruction of a C19th design. Churches like this can still be found in parts of Iceland. The church is surrounded by a stone bank covered with grass. Entry is through a small wooden lych gate , with a separate vestry. The end walls of the church are wood but the sides are built from pieces of cut turf on a stone base. The roof is also turf.



Inside is very simple with a screen separating the nave and small chancel. There are plain wooden benches. The altar is small, surrounded by a rail and has a picture above.



The farm is still on the original C15th site although the present buildings date from 1850-1920 and were in use until 1948. They became the first part of the museum a few years later.



The farm began as a small turf building but gradually other buildings were attached it it. The later parts were made of wood.



The barn is part of the row of buildings. Internal passageways connect the different parts of the building and in winter the barn could be accessed from the house without having to go outside.
The early kitchen with open fire can still be seen, as well as the later kitchen.





Later on as Reykjavik grew, the farm was increasingly uses as an inn by travellers, sleeping on beds under the roof.



There is an exhibition describing different building techniques in one of the big C19th warehouses.

There is a small cafe on the site serving nice snacks and a selection of cakes.

Website
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is the name given to a 190 mile circular route which covers the three tourist attractions of Þingvellir, the geysers and Gulfoss. This is one of the must see tourist trips and busy with coach tours.
We arranged with our hotel to hire a taxi for the day to take us round the Golden Circle and to visit the Norse farm settlement at Stong. We arranged an early start to arrive at Þingvellir before the coaches.



PINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. Þingvallavatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland. The area is covered with old lava flows and there is a huge slash cut across the landscape caused by the European and North American tectonic plates moving apart apart.





It was also the site of the first parliament or Alþingi in 930. The flat area of land can still be seen and is reached by a pleasant walk along the rift valley.

Across the river from the Alþingi is the church and manor house, part of which is the summer home of the prime minister, the rest is occupied by the park warden.



The church is C19th built on the site of the C11th church. It has a C17th carved wooden pulpit.



Our next stop was at the Geysers. THE GEYSIR (from which the name comes from) is virtually inactive and just steams quietly. It rarely erupts, but when it does steaming water reaches a height of 200ft. Close by is STOKKUR which spouts a 60-100 foot jet about once every five minutes. This is fascinating to watch. It looks just like any other mud pool bubbling away. It is a bit like a living thing as it pulsates. Gradually the pulses get closer and bigger as a bubble of air appears trapped in the vent. The water changes colour from grey to aqua as the air bubble gets bigger. Suddenly it explodes in a jet of steam. The jet subsides and the water runs back down into the vent and the process begins all over again. We found this fascinating to watch and must have spent an hour watching and even then were reluctant to leave.







The mighty waterfall of GULFOSS was next. The river tumbles 100ft in two sets of falls into a deep ravine. We parked at the top car park by the large visitor centre. We followed a footpath to a viewpoint of Gulfoss and then dropped down steps to the lower car park and climbed back up beside the falls. We then walked beside the top of the river for a short distance across wide open countryside.





From Gulfoss we drove to the Pjodveldisbaer valley to STONG. This was an C11th farm in a lush fertile valley which was buried when Hekla erupted.



The farm was rediscovered and excavated in 1938 and is one of the best examples of an early medieval building. The buildings are protected by a large wooden shed. The building was made up of two long rooms built end to end. One has the remains of a central hearth. There was a side annex which had a drain. Our taxi driver was fascinated by the building as his grandmother had lived in a similar style house.





The building has been reconstructed nearby. However it wasn’t signed off the road and we never managed to find it…

This was a well worthwhile and fascinating day. The coach tours don’t visit Stong. We enjoyed this as it began to take us into the wild interior of Iceland.

 

Ian Sutton

500+ Posts
What a pleasingly modest prime minister's residence, ditto parliament building :)
 

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