I headed to Iceland late last year with some friends and as it was our first time here we decided to book onto a walking tour for our first day in Reykjavik to get our bearings and find out a bit about the city. We decided to go for City Walk Reykjavik – a free walking tour where you pay what you think it’s worth at the end.
When we rocked up we got to find out that the company is run by two history graduates – Martin and Eric – whose team run multiple tours each day including the ‘Walk-the-crash’ tour, which outlines the financial history of Iceland, as well as an Icelandic pub crawl.
City Walk Reykjavik
We started the free walking tour of the city at Austurvöllur, a public square surrounded by cafes and bars as well as the Parliament building, where we were greeted by Eric who checked us off his list with a big smile. There was a group of around 25 people also on the tour, but Eric was great at herding us to the right points around the city (his big yellow jacket helped too!).
Passionate about Iceland
You notice very quickly that Eric is hugely passionate about the history of his country and he knows an awful lot! As we moved around the city he told us snippets of information about everything from statues and settlers, to the parliament, population and prisons. He told us that Iceland has the lowest crime rate of any country in Europe and you never really see police on the streets. Apparently you see them more on Instagram, as their account has over 200k followers! Icelanders are proud of their crime rate, as Eric told us on average there are 1.1 murders a year and the country only has five prisons – only one of which has any security!
My favourite part of the tour was seeing the oldest part of the city, Grjótaþorpið (translates as Rock Village). This part of downtown Reykjavik is famous for the rainbow coloured houses that sit side by side on a few small streets. While most of the buildings in Reykjavik are brilliantly multi-coloured, these are built from volcanic rock or timber with corrugated iron fixed over it, ensuring the houses are protected from the harsh weather. All houses in Reykjavik used to be built in this way, but these are they only ones left now which makes them highly sought after!
The tour ended at City Hall, a modern building on the northern shore of the Lake Tjörnin. While we were there the lake was still half frozen, which was eerily beautiful. Before going in, (to the building, not the lake!) we stopped briefly so Eric could tell us about the statue by Magnús Tómasson that stands outside the building. Named the ‘Unknown Bureaucrat’, it depicts a businessman holding a briefcase with half of his body submerged in a big slab of stone. It represents, slightly humorously, the sometimes trivial existence of a general ‘worker bee’ with the stone signifying everyday life crushing down on them – unusually glum for such a vibrant city, but this is one of the most visited statues in Reykjavik.
City Hall, Reykjavik
City Hall houses a large relief map of Iceland. It’s really interesting to see where the volcanoes, glaciers and towns are in relation to each other. Reykjavik is by far the biggest city in Iceland and two thirds of the country’s population live in the capital.
At the end of the tour, Eric passed round a box of traditional Icelandic liquorice while he took questions from the group. We also got a free gift if we left an email address – a huge guide to Reykjavik that the team had put together including tours, tips and tricks for travellers as well as a map of the city.
If you go to Reykjavik, I do recommend booking a walking tour around the city at the beginning of your stay. It gives you your bearings and sets you up for the rest of your visit, and you can also get insider information from your tour guide about where the best restaurants and bars are, as well as places to visit outside of the city.
Eric’s City Walk Reykjavik tour lasts roughly two hours, although he was happy to stay and chat with us and answer our questions for a further half hour when we got to City Hall. Tours are ‘free’ but you do have to book a place in order to take part.
Regarding payment, the team asks that you pay however much or little you feel the tour was worth. On their website they recommend you compare the prices of other city tours available and choose what you’d like to offer from that.