Walking in Reykjavik – Historical Sites
Duration: About 2.5 hours with refreshment stops.
Distance: 1.6 km/1 mile.
Reykjavík’s Oldest Street
Excavations on Aðalstræti street have revealed ruins dating back to Viking era, when the first settlers came to Iceland. In 1752, the enterprising Constable Skúli Magnússon, often called the father of Reykjavík, decided it should be a site for various factory workshops called the “Innréttingar,” which eventually grew into the core of what we now call downtown Reykjavík.
The Oldest Timber Building
Aðalstræti 10 is considered the city’s oldest timber house. In olden times it was the residence of Bishop Geir Vídalín (1761-1823), whose hospitality was infamous, to say the least.
The Falcon House
On the corner of Hafnarstræti and Aðalstræti you’ll find the Falcon House. Icelandic Falcons (Falco Rusticolus) were kept in a house on this site before being shipped to buyers overseas, namely European aristocracy. Statues of falcons adorn the house today reminding us of its former role.
The House of Parliament
While Iceland’s Alþingi might be the world’s oldest living parliament (founded in 930 AD it predates Great Britain’s parliament by 777 years, the US Congress by 851 years and Russia’s Duma by 976 years), Iceland’s House of Parliament was only built in 1881. Before this time the Alþingi assembled outside at Thingvellir National Park.
On the corner of Skólavörðustígur and Bergstaðastræti is a place called “Gossip Ledge”. In olden times it was customary for people in Reykjavík to gather here and swap gossip. The party has since been moved to the Reykjavík city hot tubs, where all of Iceland’s most important discussions are had.
The Penalty House
One of the city’s oldest buildings is the Hegningarhúsið jail (literally, “The Penalty House”) built in 1874. It still functions as a prison today, although with no cafeteria or gym this dreary place makes Iceland’s other prisons look like Club Med.
Now crowded with boutiques and cafés, Laugavegur wasn’t always so glamorous. The street gained its name (Lauga+vegur = pool+road) from the washerwomen who would tread through the mud carrying heavy loads of laundry down to the geothermic pools in Laugadalur valley.
Completed in 1771, this was Iceland’s first proper prison, designed to hold 16 felons and 54 misdemeanants—serving as such until 1816. Today it houses the Prime Minister’s Office and serves as the meeting place for the state council consisting of Iceland’s 12 ministers. Some say that while they closed the prison, the criminals still haven’t left the building.