Icelandic Language Blog

Hiding in plain sight: the other side of Reykjavík harbour. Posted by on Jul 22, 2014 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic history


The fifth and final post on things you don’t know you could see in Iceland but totally should: the other side of the Reykjavík harbour.

This might sound confusing. After all, Reykjavík harbour is all around downtown and there isn’t much more there than the concert hall Harpa and some piers – well, occasionally Danish warships which are cool to watch – but all in all it’s quickly seen, right? Well, no. 😀

Let’s start at the aforementioned Harpa. Standing in front of it facing the City Centre you should turn right towards Kólaportið and walk straight ahead along the seaside. You’ll pass the library, after a while a small but interesting hamburger kiosk, then a long but low-built hotel. Before the hotel, right after the kiosk is another pier with booths for whale and puffin watching tours, but walk past those and take the small walkway on the right side of the hotel. All in all it will take you about 15 minutes if you walk slowly.


What makes this playground amazing and definitely worth seeing is that it’s entirely built of recycled ship materials! It seems to be steadily growing too with new pieces introduced every now and then. If you’re traveling with small ones this might be a place for them to easily spend hours on. Notice the building on the right with the rusted balcony? That would be the

sd113Maritime museum

Right behind the playground you’ll see a small bridge leading into a building. This place is the Maritime museum where the history of seafaring Icelanders is spread in front of you on two floors. Here you’ll see what the sea gives and what it takes, the conditions that the sailors of yore had to survive in (they even have a “room” with bunk beds to show just how little space each man had to himself), and also how their life back onshore looked like. Naturally the museum doesn’t stop there, because catching fish for eating is only the first part of the process of bringing it to people to eat: the workers on land, most often women, get their fair share as well. You’ll even get to try to lift weights like those fish that these ladies slung around all day long with little trouble and well… let’s just say I probably wouldn’t be able to keep working for three hours with those women.



Again you won’t have to go far. Parked right next to the museum is Óðinn, a famous Cod Wars coast guard ship that’s now serving as a part of the museum. You’ll have to buy a separate ticket toit but it’s quite large with plenty of things to see. As it is a ship, be prepared for narrow corridors and staircases, definitely not for those with weak knees.

There was no typo in the previous paragraph by the way, there indeed were three “wars” Iceland partook in that are called Cod Wars (link). Each time the fighting began when Icelanders declared a portion of sea around the country to themselves and the coast guards started to harass British fishing ships, cutting their trawlers and in general making fishing impossible for them. The UK naturally didn’t take this well and eventually sent warships in, to which the Icelanders replied by, er, ramming their own little ships to them. They in fact won every single war by this technique and the number of casualties of all three Cod Wars was one on both sides: a British trawlerman who was accidentally hit by a hawser and was injured, and an Icelandic man who fell into the sea and drowned while making repairs to his ship.

The staff at Óðinn can tell you many more interesting stories and you’ll also get a chance at seeing how the president of Iceland traveled on this ship.


Lastly but not leastly, the ice cream shop Valdís that’s across the street from both Óðinn and the museum. It’s the first ice cream store to sell selfmade ice cream and their menu changes daily according to which flavours they felt like making/thought up that day. Be prepared to queue if the day is sunny and even if it isn’t, well, Icelanders do love their ice cream. My personal record is 40min during a really busy time, but hey, the ice cream was so worth it.


Remember how to order ice cream? It may come in handy (just kidding, the staff speaks good English)! 😀

Previously in this series:


Near Hallgrímskirkja.



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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!