One of the benefits of living on an island in the North Atlantic oceans is that the weather is never boring. But this can also mean that some days you get A LOT of weather. On those days you might be inclined to leave all the adventurous outdoor stuff alone and head indoors instead. But inside doesn’t have to mean inactive. There’s plenty to do in the bustling city of Reykjavík on those days the weather is less than agreeable. Here are a few suggestions for things to do in Reykjavik when it rains.
Whales of Iceland
You’ll never get closer to some of the biggest mammals on Earth than at the Whales of Iceland exhibition. With 23 life-size, models the converted warehouse in the “Grandinn” area near the harbour is like stepping into an underwater world full of the gentle giants of the sea.
Interactive displays and multi-lingual audio guides will give you all the information you need to understand the life and habits of these incredible creatures. Once you’ve learned all that you can, you can sit in the small café and eat whale themed cakes while donning the Virtual Reality glasses that let you swim with killer whales. Just be careful you don’t fall off your chair!
Harpa Concert Hall
If you’re in Reykjavík you can’t have missed the large glass house down by the harbour. The Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is an architectural marvel, both inside and out. Its distinctive glass façade was designed by Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson and is lit up at night with a light show resembling the Northern Lights.
Harpa offers plenty of activities on a rainy day. There are concerts almost every day all year round (the Pearls of Icelandic Song series is particularly great for those with an interest in Icelandic culture) and comedy plays like How to Become Icelandic in 60 minutes or Icelandic Sagas: The Greatest Hits will give you a crash-course in Icelandic history and customs so you’ll fit right in with the locals. There are also two restaurants, Smurstöðin and Kolabrautin, and several shops to keep you occupied until the weather turns.
Another prominent landmark in the Reykjavík skyline is the Hallgrímskirkja church. This much photographed building is known for its unique architecture, based on the basalt lava flows of the Icelandic landscape, but inside it there is also a wealth of hidden treasure. The large pipe organ will immediately catch your eye as you enter. It is 15m tall and weighs over 25 tonnes. It has 72 stops and the largest pipe in it is over 10 m. The organ produces powerful sounds that would make any opera phantom weep with joy. You can also go up into the church tower where you will experience a view over the city you can’t get anywhere else. The church is open every day from 9-5, has a service every Sunday and regular concerts.
Who doesn’t love browsing the stalls at a good flea market in search of a great bargain? Due to the sometimes fickle weather, the people of Reykjavík decided that it would be best to keep the city’s flea market indoors. The Kolaportið flea market is located down by the old harbour and is open from 11-5 every weekend. A mix of regular vendors who are there every weekend and people who rent stalls when they need to clear out their closets or garage, Kolaportið offers an eclectic mix of second hand clothes, accessories, books and food. It’s a great way to spend a rainy afternoon and get a great deal while you’re at it.
Aurora Reykjavík – Saga Museum
The Aurora Reykjavík Northern Lights Centre is located near the harbour, in the part known as “Grandinn”. So when the weather is not favourable for actual Northern Lights viewing, or you’re in Iceland during summer, the Aurora Reykjavík is an excellent place to visit for all your Northern Lights related interests. They have interactive displays, folktales and legends connected to the Northern Lights as well as information on what causes this beautiful natural phenomenon and tips on how to photograph them. Next door is the Saga Museum. There you can experience key moments from Icelandic history and the Sagas, all illustrated with remarkably life-like replicas of famous Icelanders. If the journey through time has left you hungry the Saga Museum is located in the same building as the popular restaurant Matur & Drykkur that serves traditional Icelandic food in a way you’ve never seen before.
Local in Focal
Speaking of food, maybe you want to do more than just sit down at a restaurant and order the most exotic thing on the menu. Cook and Dine is a cooking class taught by the talented chefs of Salt Kitchen.
Whether you’re a complete beginner or an expert in the kitchen, Cook and Dine caters to everyone. The class works together to create a 3 course Icelandic meal for everyone to enjoy at the end and you even get the recipe to take home with you. It’s a great way to sharpen your culinary skills and to get to know other people with similar interests.
Þjóðminjasafnið National Museum
Spend a pleasant afternoon looking at artifacts from Icelandic history. The National Museum of Iceland is located next to the University of Iceland and has two permanent exhibitions on life in the country in centuries past, as well as several temporary exhibitions and regular event. The museum also has a great gift shop where you can buy Icelandic design and a coffee shop that’s perfect to sit in with a hot cup of cocoa and listen to the wind outside.
Local Swimming Pool
Hang on a minute, Reykjavík mostly has outdoor swimming pools. Surely we’re not suggesting you go swim outside in bad weather. Actually, we are. There is nothing better than lounging around in the hot tubs when it’s raining or snowing. There’s a certain feeling of defying nature when you’re lying in your swimsuit in hot water in sub-zero temperatures. Our favourite swimming pools in central Reykjavik are Vesturbæjarlaugin, Laugardalslaug and Sundhöll Reykjavíkur (ok that one is an indoor pool, but the hot tubs are outside so no excuses). Join the locals in their hot tub discussions to get a feel for the community and you must make sure to get a hot dog afterwards, an essential part of the swimming pool experience.
Taste the Saga – Cheers to Reykjavík
After a full day of activities you are no doubt starting to get a little thirsty. For those with an interest in Icelandic beer, and its tumultuous history, the Taste the Saga tour hosted by Ölgerðin brewery is an informative and thirst quenching way to spend an afternoon.
Your host will tell you all about the prohibition in Iceland and the ingenious ways Icelanders found to get around it. If you feel like something a bit more casual and want a way to get to know the locals better, Cheers to Reykjavík might be more up your alley. Two locals will meet you at a bar downtown where they’ll entertain you with stories about Icelandic culture while you sample the newest craft beers and the freshest Icelandic cuisine.