Top 5 Things to See and Do in Reykjavik

The capital of Iceland has many things to offer, and is the natural starting point for many visitors to the country. From cultural institutions to vintage shops, here is my list the top of 5 things to see and do in the Icelandic capital:

Hallgrímskirkja
This church is the tallest building in Iceland, with a tower that stands 73 meters tall. It’s pretty impressive, and almost impossible to photograph. We tried several times, but we eventually managed to capture both myself and the top of the tower by standing by the Leif Erikson statue (which predates the church). For 900 ISK you can access the top of the tower by lift, which gives spectacular panoramic views of Reykjavik.

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Hallgrimskirkja and statue of Leif Erikson. Image: Michelle Mackie

Harpa Concert Hall

Harpa Concert Hall opened its doors in 2011, and is placed right on the waterfront. It has won awards for its architecture, and it is worth seeing, if only for the windows. While we didn’t see any performances while we were there, the “How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes” comedy show looked delightful, and is a staple act at the Harpa.  

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Harpa Concert Hall viewed from the side. Image: Michelle Mackie

Sólfarið – The Sun Voyager

While you’re down by the Harpa, why not walk along to the The Sun Voyager, a sculptured dreamboat whose position offers a great view of the harbour area and Mount Esja. Designed by Jón Gunnar Árnason, it is an impressive sculpture which resembles a viking boat, but is, infact, an ode to the sun. It is said to represent hope, discovery, freedom, dreams and forward progress.

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The Sun Voyager. Image: Michelle Mackie

Lucky Records and 12 Tónar

105, Rauðarárstígur 10, Reykjavík, Iceland; Skólavörðustígur 15, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.

Reykjavik has a great scene for music and record shops. Lucky Records and 12 Tónar are perhaps the best in the city, each with their individual vibe and speciality. While Lucky Records is the largest record shop in Iceland, 12 Tónar has been featured on The Guardian, and has its own independent record label. Icelandic musicians like Björk and Sigur Rós are, apparently, fans of the shop. Both shops sometimes host small concerts, and 12 Tónar will offer you a free espresso to accompany you while you peruse their two floors.

12 Tonar (top, Tripadvisor), and two interior shots of Lucky Records (Michelle Mackie)

Spúútnik Fatamarkadur – Vintage Clothes Shopping
Laugavegur 118, Reykjavík, Iceland.

We came across this shop almost by accident, and it was a great find. Go down the stairs, and you enter a room full of colourful clothes, hats, shoes, and various accessories. There is a wide range of different styles, and you can spend ages sifting through their various
racks and shelves. There is even a room at the back of the shop dedicated to men’s vintage clothes, and an excellent selection of pre-owned Icelandic jumpers. It is right next to a Red Cross second hand shop, which will give you even better prices than Fatamarkaðurinn.  It is also right down the road from The Icelandic Phallological Museum, if a visit to that should take your fancy.

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View going into the vintage shop. Image: The Reykjavik Grapevine

 

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Superb Second-Hand – The best second-hand bookshops in Edinburgh

As a literature student, I read a lot of books. Each new semester brings new courses and new required reading, and purchasing brand new books each time is dear. While Amazon and World of Books is cheap and easy, buying second-hand is fun and supports local business. Plus, shops allow you to peruse, to smell and to discover new titles – all experiences lacking online. Each bookshop has its own atmosphere and history, and these Edinburgh bookshops often appear like mazes with wall-to-ceiling books. Edinburgh has many independent bookshops, and if you like books even half as much as I do, then you will love these seven establishments.

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Armchair Books

Located right off the Grassmarket on West Port, Armchair Books is the first port of call for second-hand books. The entrance is also the fantasy section, and this bookshop is made from the stuff of dreams. Shelves are suspended over the isles and a ladder is tucked away in the only free corner, there is also an entire room dedicated to antique books.

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Edinburgh Books 

Further up the road from Armchair Books you will find Edinburgh Books, which has a stuffed water buffalo head named Clarence. Dealing in used books and antiques, Edinburgh Books has four rooms and a basement – and plenty of stepladders to help you read and reach the titles on the books on the top shelf.

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Tills Bookshop

Located close to both The University of Edinburgh and the Meadows, Tills is perfect for picking up course-books or for some light reading in the park. Impeccably organised and with knowledgeable staff, Tills is small but has plenty of charm to make up for it. There is a particularly good section of fantasy and science fiction books, and the shop will occasionally sell vintage posters.

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Oxfam Bookshop

The Oxfam Bookshop on Nicholson Street is great – it is worth walking by just to look at their window display. This charity book shop has a little bit of every genre along with a good selection of LP records and DVD’s – you are almost guaranteed to find something you will like!

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Old Town Bookshop 

You will find Old Town Bookshop on the picturesque Victoria Street between Grassmarket and George IV bridge. This small shop has an eclectic collection, and specialised in antiquarian books as well as old maps and prints. It is one-of-a-kind, and well worth a visit.

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Old Children’s Bookshelf 

This second-hand bookshop specialises in children’s literature, and you will find some unique hardbacks alongside more modern second-hand novels. There are also plenty of collectables, as well as picture-books for the youngest reader. Keep an eye out for it as you walk down the Royal Mile, as this gem is hidden away on 175 Canongate.

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McNaughtan’s
As the oldest second-hand and antiquarian bookshop in Scotland, McNaughtan’s is not to be missed – which you might easily do, seeing as it is located below street level! Specialising in antiquarian books, you can also view the art they have on display as the shop also has a gallery of contemporary art.

“Inexpensive Oslo”

 

Is it possible? It’s no secret that Norway is an expensive country, and it’s capital more so. While other destinations will save you a pretty penny, several things can be done to cut down on expenses while visiting Oslo, and here are some of my favourite free and low cost activities to do in Oslo.

First though, a little tip: download the transportation app ‘Ruter’ from Ruter.no . Norwegian public transport is state run, so with this app you can board just about any train, tram, underground (T-bane) and bus. A single zone ticket costs 32NOK and is valid for one hour, so you won’t have to buy a new ticket every time you board. The app also lets you buy 24 hour and period tickets, so do some research before you leave to calculate what the best option is for you. Beware of buying tickets directly from the conductor, as they will charge you 40NOK more than the ticket price.

Vigeland Sculpture Park – Frognerparken

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Frognerparken is a sculpture park just outside the centre of Oslo, and probably the best free activity available in the city. Consisting of more than 200 sculptures, the park is open all year round. The artist Gustav Vigeland (1889-1943) is behind both the architecture of the park as well as its sculptures, making it the largest park in the world created by a single artist. The most famous sculptures are Angry Boy (Sinnataggen, bronze), the Monolith (Monolitten, granite) and the Wheel of Life (Livshjulet, bronze).

 

The National Gallery – Nationalgalleriet 

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Located close to Nasjonaltheateret station and with Aker Brygge a stone’s throw away, the National Gallery houses the most famous norwegian paintings, as well as some from the European masters. The artist Christian Krogh is particularly well represented, politically inclined, he is known for his depiction of social realism in the Norwegian capital. Albertine i Politilægens Venteværelse (Albertine at the Police Doctor’s Waiting Room)  in particular is worth noting.

Entrance is free on Thursdays, otherwise it is 100NOK per adult or 50NOK for students.

Pro tip: the National Gallery also houses the most famous Edvard Munch paintings, including  Scream and Madonna. Entrance is slightly cheaper here than at the Munch Museum at Tøyen (100/60NOK) and is slightly more accessible here since it is in the city centre.

 

 

Oslo Opera House – Den Norske Opera & Ballett 

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This relatively new attraction lies in the harbour area of Oslo, close to Oslo Central Station. Designed to look like a glacier rising out of the sea, the building has won several prestigious design prizes. It’s most fun feature though, is that it is designed for the public to walk on. Climb to the top and it offers panoramic views of Oslo, the likes of which you would otherwise have to climb up Holmenkollen ski-jump for. Mind your step though – like a glacier, its surface is uneven!

 

Walk Along Akerselva-river

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Walk along the Akerselva-river through the middle of the city for some inner city peace and quiet on a sunny day. Running from Maridalselva to the Oslo Fjord, it is a popular trail for locals, tourists, walkers and runners alike. The trail takes you past the old industrial parts of the city which makes for an interesting trip, as well as several Oslo neighbourhoods. The trendy borough Grünerløkka is worth stopping by, with its art galleries, vintage and secondhand shops, restaurants, cafés and bars.

 

Holmenkollen and Frognerseteren

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A steep climb from the T-bane stop ‘Holmenkollen’ to the ski-jump, the elevated position of Holmenkollen and Frognerseteren mean that these locations have excellent views of Oslo. 130/110NOK will give you entrance to the ski museum and the top of the Holmenkollen ski-jump, and in autumn a zip-line  is open for drop-in bookings (600NOK).

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After visiting the ski-museum, a visit to the Frognerseteren restaurant and café may be in order. Architecturally designed to resemble the wooden Stave Churches, it is a beautiful building with traditional Norwegian interiors. Large fireplaces keeps it warm in winter, and there are tables outside to make use of during summer. The apple-cake is recommended, and many other tasty and traditional Scandinavian dishes are on offer.

5 Books to Read Before Visiting Edinburgh

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As Unesco’s city of literature, Edinburgh has both a rich literary history and a thriving contemporary climate for literature. From Sir Walter Scott to J. K. Rowling and Ian Rankin, many of the great figures English literature have connections with this Scottish city, whether visiting it, living there or being influenced by its writers.

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886

‘Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm’.

While the novel may be set in London, it is common consensus among scots that this infamous story may just as well have been set in Edinburgh. The dual personality of the protagonist clearly echoes the Janus nature of the city itself, split between the Old Town with its closes, maze like streets and age old buildings, and the New Town, with its perfectly planned Georgian architecture. Robert Louis Stevenson is one of Scotland’s most beloved authors, and this novella is a must on any reading list.

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Muriel Spark, 1961

Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life’.

Filmatised in 1969 starring Maggie Smith, this novel is considered a modern classic. Follow Jean Brodie and her girls, ‘the Brodie set’, parade through the Meadows and the Grass Market, as Miss Brodie applies her unconventional teaching methods. This novel uses frequent flash forward and flash back, making for an interesting read of how Miss Brodie was ‘in her prime’.

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The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
James Hogg, 1824

‘Nothing in the world delights a truly religious people so much as consigning them to eternal damnation’.

Murder, intrigue, duels and family drama… explore Edinburgh at a time when brawls broke out on the Royal Mile and the Princes Street Gardens was still a Loch in the middle of the city. Calvinism and superstition also feature heavily, two influential and important aspects of Scottish history which remain part of the Scottish character today. Cultural influences of this novel still persist in today’s culture, far beyond the borders of Scotland.

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Trainspotting
Irvine Welsh, 1993

‘By definition, you have to live until you die. Better to make that life as complete and enjoyable an experience as possible, in case death is shite, which I suspect it will be’.

Now most famous as the cult classic film starring Ewan McGregor and Kevin McKidd, this is originally a novel set in Edinburgh and Leith. While Leith itself has undergone gentrification since the novel’s publication, Welsh shows with gritty realism the underside of any large city, even a picturesque one like Edinburgh. It is a challenging read, both style- and content wise, depicting characters riddled with addiction, frequent use of a broad scottish dialect and a narrative consisting mainly of short stories. The movie provides a great point of reference, so although this is supposed to be a list of novels, in this case the film is heartily recommended as well.

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Hide and Seek
Ian Rankin, 1991

‘“Hide! Hide!”’

This is the second detective novel of one of Edinburgh’s resident writers, Ian Rankin. Following Inspector John Rebus as he reports to the scene of an overdose where the body is surrounded by symbols of satanic worship, his investigation leads to the discovery of a much larger systemic corruption. Like Welsh, Rankin uncovers the shady underside of the ‘posh’ city. This crime novel is full of literary allusions to John Keats, Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson, and in his preface to the novel, Rankin himself cites Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as one of his main influences. This is a book of mystery with one of the most enduring and influential ‘hard-boiled’ detectives created in recent times. If you are going to read one piece of tartan noir, read this one.