Two Glorious Days in Iceland’s Capital, Despite Missed Tour

Days 58 and 59, 2023 North Atlantic Adventure

Saturday and Sunday, July 8 and 9, 2023; Reykjavik, Iceland.

You can’t cruise around Iceland and not realize the impact that movement of the earth’s crust has on this country. In fact, it is splitting the island apart by about two centimeters a year. Most day tours from Reykjavik go to Thingvellir National Park where you can see this rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

Having been there a few years ago, today I opted to visit the Perlan interactive nature museum right here in Reykjavik. Its dome covers huge hot water tanks on a hilltop, giving a 360-degree view of the city and surrounding area. We could even see the glacier-covered Snæfellsjökull volcano 75 miles away.

This museum is the No. 1 attraction in town, and it’s easy to see why. A friend and I spent three hours exploring its exhibits. My denim jacket wasn’t enough to keep me warm during my tour of the real ice cave. The accompanying interactive exhibit illustrates the effects of climate change on the glaciers of Iceland.

Another exhibit focuses on the importance of water to Iceland, where about 5,000 tons of water flow every second from the island’s more than 750 rivers and tributaries. The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is the focus of a show in what is described as one of the world’s most sophisticated planetariums.

In another theater we watched stunning video footage of the 2021 Geldingadalir volcanic eruption near Reykjavik. A geological timeline going back millions of years stretches across one whole floor of the museum, and another focuses on animal and marine life, including a recreation of the largest seabird cliff in Europe, the Látrabjarg.

We have been blessed with glorious weather, as Captain Friso likes to describe these cloudless blue-sky days.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and Saturday was one of those days. Months earlier I had booked an all-day private tour to the South Coast of Iceland. But when the ship announced that we would not dock at the usual cruise pier and meeting point for the tour, I realized my odds of getting there on time were doubtful. So I canceled just in time to get a refund.

As it turned out, another couple on our ship did make the tour. But it required a tender ride to the cruise pier and a fortunately late tour pickup. I missed an opportunity to see two more top-10 Icelandic waterfalls, a black sand beach, a glacier and a view of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano whose eruption in 2010 put flights across Europe on hold. I was disappointed, but I know it’s a first-world problem, and I hope someday to return to Iceland to see those sights.

With two other ships at the cruise pier, we moored at a nearby industrial dock. I read recently that cruise bookings are at an all-time high, and I guess crowded ports are a consequence. I just wish Holland America had told us of the alternative docking earlier, so I could have consulted with the tour company about options before sending a cancellation email.

Rant over. It could have been worse. Rumors are spiraling here of a pending volcano eruption, driven by 7,000 earthquakes since Tuesday under Mount Fabradalsfjall, a mere 22 miles southwest of Reykjavik. That could seriously impact our sightseeing.

Instead, on Saturday I took the tender to the shuttle bus to the old harbor area of Reykjavik (just as I did two weeks ago), and made a day of exploring. I started with Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland and the city’s most famous landmark.

This Lutheran church truly is amazing with its 244-foot-high tower, and my only disappointment is that it was backlit by the early morning sun. I could publish a photo book of landmarks that I have visited at the wrong time of day. Oh well, I ignored the sun in my eyes as I sketched.

Despite my slight fear of heights and tinge of vertigo, I took the elevator up the tower to behind the clocks and climbed four flights of stairs to an open-air viewing platform under the bells. When I went to Wikipedia to find out more about the bells, I was surprised to see it simply reports, “The church has a bunch of bells at the top, that ring each hour.” The church’s official website offered no further details, but I counted at least 27 bells in my photos.

Later I walked down the hill through a residential neighborhood to Tjörnin lake and took a leisurely stroll around it, past the Parliament building and through town. Seemingly everyone was enjoying the sunny day.

Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat

Once again, I had a hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pulsur (rated best) and later had a wonderful bowl of lobster soup and a local Gull beer at Seabaron on the old harbor.