While the Icelandic capital is a must-see destination that consistently makes it on to travel bucket lists, there’s a lot more beneath its pristine surface that can astound, amaze, and amuse. So while you’re likely to enjoy the spaceship-like Hallgrímskirkja, the modern-looking Harpa concert hall, the quaint commercial street of Laugavegur, the iconic hot dog stands, and a lengthy list of breathtaking waterfalls and natural sites that are just a few hours away; there are tons more to see that may evade the typical tourists’ radar. So if you’re attracted to the unique and obscure sights that really make a city special, then step into our little journey on to the road less traveled in Reykjavik!
The Icelandic Phallological Museum
Yes, the name is EXACTLY what it means; welcome to what is “probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in a single country.” For an admission cost of 1700 Icelandic krónur (a little under $13), you can check out the detailed collection of more than 200 penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals on Iceland, including 56 specimens belonging to 17 different kinds of whales. There’s also an additional “350 artistic oddments and practical utensils related to the museum’s chosen theme,” which make this museum an excellent stop on your quirky quest when in town!
Reykjavik Poetry Brothel (Rauða skáldahúsið)
For an immersive theater experience that brings together poetry, live music, and cabaret, prepare to be enthralled at Reykjavik Poetry Brothel (the Icelandic name “Rauða skáldahúsið” translates to “Red House of Fiction”). There is a rotating troupe of burlesque dancers, magicians, body painters, sketch artists, and acrobats who complement the bilingual poetry and music at every performance. You can also embrace your theatrical flair by dressing up (in fact, you are encouraged too!). If you visit in late November, you can be a part of the annual Masquerade Ball that features a mystery in which the audience has a role to play. Shows are spread out to once in three months and ticket prices vary (they seem to run between 1,500 to 3,000 krónur, which $12 to $25), so be sure to check their website for updates.
Many Icelanders are serious about their belief in elves, so you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to … the Elfschool! The school, which has been in existence for more than 30 years, is open most every Friday afternoon throughout the year. For a fee of 54€ /64$ (or 202€/240$ for a special session), you can get schooled about elves and hidden people, as well as gnomes, dwarfs, fairies, trolls, and other mythical entities that have been a part of Icelandic folklore for thousands of years. Visitors also learn about interactions between humans, elves and other mythical beings that have been recorded and studied in depth by the school’s Headmaster, Mr. Magnus Skarphedinsson. For an interesting visit that will surely open your eyes to the importance of elves and other supernatural beings in Icelandic culture, you have to slot this in your Reykjavik itinerary.
If you find yourself bumping elbows with too many tourists hunting for puffin souvenirs on the busy Laugavegur street, then turn into the parallel, less-busy Hverfisgata. The neighborhood is home to Bíó Paradís — an arty cinema and gallery that showcases independent and international films, cult classics from the past, and eye-opening art exhibits. You can also check out the movie house’s very cool collection of posters while enjoying a glass or two of beer on tap. If you’re artistically inclined and looking to make new friends that can introduce you to the cool underground goings-on of Reykjavik, then you’re most likely to find some like-minded souls here.
A Piece of The Berlin Wall at Hofdi House
Reykjavik also had a special role to play in the history of modern Germany; it hosted a 1986 meeting between Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev, which is said to have led to the end of the Cold War and the ultimate reunification of Germany. The meeting took place at Hofdi House, a beautiful home that has been the place of diplomatic residence and visits. The park on which the house sits is also home to a unique gift from the New West Berlin art gallery in Germany — a four-ton block of the Berlin Wall itself! You can find this colorful piece of the wall between the city’s old harbor and the new harbor, along the coastline.
While cabaret and burlesque are not things that first come to mind when you think of Reykjavik, they have seen a rise in popularity in this adventurous city. If you’re curious, you can get a humorous, raunchy, and colorful dose of some great performances with Reykjavík Kabarett. With a motley collection of talented dancers, comedians, and clowns, you’re sure to be enthralled with these one-of-a-kind performances. Shows are usually held at the Rósenberg Reykjavík and they’re adults-only. As the wesbite explains: “You must be over 20 to attend…You don’t need to understand a word in Icelandic to enjoy…”
Know of any other places and experiences that slip under the regular tourist radar? Share them with us in the comments!