5 Unique and Unusual Things to Do in Reykjavik
1. Walk Among Giant Whales: Whales of Iceland Exhibition
The Whales of Iceland exhibition opened in 2015, and its main purpose is to educate the public about the fragile and fascinating world of whales and dolphins. It contains highly-detailed models of 23 species of whales that reside in the oceans around Iceland. It also has a collection of whale skeletons, whale bones, and interactive educational material on these gentle giants of the sea, which is both suitable for children and adults.
This is a very high-caliber exhibit as it offers you a chance to walk amongst the whale models, which are extremely lifelike and accurate in size. As far as I know this is not an experience possible anywhere else in the world, and it is quite enthralling. Visiting this museum seemingly takes you to another world—the ambiance tries to mimic the sea with blue colors and soothing whale sounds in the background.
The Whales of Iceland exhibition is located in the Grandi neighborhood (which is northwest of the city center), and you can see the location on the map below. The area also has a few restaurants and an ice cream store called Valdis, which is probably the best in Reykjavik.
This is a great exhibition to visit for anyone with an interest in marine life, especially whales. Be sure to check it out when you visit Iceland.
Whales of Iceland, whale exhibition.
2. Visit the Icelandic Phallological Museum
The Icelandic Phallological Museum is a one-of-a-kind museum that boasts a collection of more than two hundred embalmed phalluses from numerous mammals. The museum includes showpieces from every known mammal of Iceland, ranging from small mice to whales; a phallus from Homo sapiens sapiens is also among them. As a humorous side note, this museum is also considered the global center of phallological studies.
The founder of the museum, Sigurður Hjartarson, is a historian with a BA in history and an M.Litt degree in Latin American History from the University of Edinburgh. The foundation for the museum was laid back in 1974 when Sigurður acquired his first specimen from a bull, followed by some whale specimens which were meant as a joke. From this growing collection came the idea of collecting specimens from all Icelandic mammals, ultimately resulting in the Icelandic Phallological Museum.
The museum is an experience no traveler to Iceland should miss—it is located near the city center at Laugavegur 116 and is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm.
Inside the Icelandic Phallological Museum
3. Try an Icelandic Delicacy Called Svið
One of the more unique and unusual things you can do in Reykjavik is to buy "svið" (pronounced roughly as Swe-Th) with massed turnips and a can of coke from a drive-through window at the local bus station called BSI.
What makes this a unique experience is that "svið" is half a sheep head that has been boiled in water after having its hair burned off with a flamer—no, I am not joking. Considered a delicacy among the older generations, svið has been sold at the drive-through at BSI for several decades. You can also sit down at the bus station restaurant to enjoy this local delicacy. Ultimately, trying this uncommon food will give you a wealth of stories to tell and pictures to show to your friends and family.
A Delicious Piece of Svið. Essentially a Burned and Boiled Sheep Head
It should be easy for you to find BSI as it's the main bus station in Reykjavik where a large number of nature excursions begin. However, if you need help, you can use the map below.
4. Attempt to Eat Some Fermented Shark
Speaking of unspeakable food, you should also try to get your hands on some fermented shark. Another traditional staple of the Icelandic diet, fermented shark is usually offered as a small cube on a stick. Try not to inhale too deeply as you place the piece in your mouth as the smell carries a punch.
How fermented shark came to be eaten is something of a mystery as the meat of this particular type of shark is poisonous when fresh. However, at some point, someone decided to behead a shark, gut it, bury it in the sand, place heavy stones on top of it to press the fluids out of the meat, and leave the shark in the sand for six to 12 weeks. This person then decided to dig the shark up, cut it into pieces, and hang them up to dry for a few months. How this genius figured this cumbersome process would make the shark edible is anyone's guess.
You should be able to find fermented shark meat at the city center flea market which is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm. If you are having trouble finding this strange food, you just need to ask a local for "Hákarl" (pronounced roughly as How-kar-l), and they will gleefully assist you. They might even take some pictures as you eat a bite. You can also get a few pieces at some restaurants near the city harbor, usually with a shot of strong spirits called Black Death.
In all seriousness, tasting fermented shark is not so bad, but it's still something you should only do as a dare really.
If you decide to try this out, there are a few things you should take heed of:
- Do not eat this in your hotel room as the smell is strong and will linger.
- Do NOT spill any of the liquid on your clothes, trust me on this one.
- And finally, under no circumstances should you attempt to bring this with you on your flight home. If you do, for god's sake do not open it mid-flight.
Richard and Jessica From "Travel Man" Try Some Fermented Shark
5. Relax at the Coldest Beach in the World
On the southern shores of Reykjavik you will find a beach called Nauthólsvík, which has the usual yellow sand and sunbathers of any other beach. What makes this particular beach unique, however, is that it is located at the 62°N longitude, making it the northernmost sun-beach in the world, as far as I know.
During "warm" and sunny summer days, the locals gather here to roam about or lie in their swimming clothes, and the brave take a quick dip in the sea.
This is also the location of the local sea-swimming club. Yes, there is a sea-swimming club in Reykjavik which operates all year, and it is a sight to see an elderly couple rising from the sea during a cold winter day.
So, there you have it. Five very unique and interesting things you can do in Reykjavik when you come to visit. If you found this article interesting or funny then by all means share it with your friends and family. If you have any questions or want to share your own stories then please feel free to use the comment section below.
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© 2017 Jon Sigurdsson