Reykjavik: The Best Things in Life are Free

If you have ever been to a major metropolitan city, you most likely would’ve heard about free walking tours at some point during your stay. Since tourism can be a major facet of the local economy, walking tours (especially the free ones) can be a great way to learn about your surroundings and get your bearings in unfamiliar territory. Iceland is no exception.

Even though this tour was “free”, the guide will often give you suggestions for future tours, activities, restaurants, and/or bars that are worth visiting during your stay. So, although there is no outright cost, free tours still contribute to boosting the local dollar through tourism. And I have to say, the free tour currently offered in Reykjavik was the best one I have ever been on. Hands down.

 

Our first meet and greet with Kevin in Laekjartorg Square!

There is more than one company currently offering free tours, and while everyone has given rave reviews about all the tours available, I find it hard to believe that anyone could have been better than our guide Kevin with Free Walking Tour Reykjavik.

In fact, I had no idea there was any other company running this tour until I literally bumped into another guide holding a sign for the CityWalk tour. We asked him if he was our guide (since he was a bit early) and he said no. He also informed us that what we were about to participate in is actually the “unofficial” tour. But me and my new friends were feeling rebellious! Also, this tour was the one recommended by other travelers on TripAdvisor. I don’t know what the “official” tour does that we didn’t do because in those 90 minutes, my entire perspective on Reykjavik and Iceland were completely changed for the better!

 

The gardens of the Parliament building where we learned of history, government, and the importance of elves!

I can’t say that I’m a walking tour connoisseur (though I’m sure I soon will be as I plan to capitalize on every free opportunity), but this was most definitely the best tour I have ever taken! Aside from being super informative, the guide was absolutely fantastic! Kevin not only gave us the history of the settlement of Iceland and Reykjavik specifically, but also was a wealth of anecdotal and informational tidbits that made Iceland one of the coolest countries I’ve ever visited. And not just in regard to their climate. While I don’t want to give everything away, because everyone and their mother, brother, sister, father, etc. should take this tour, I will share with you a few of the really neat things I learned on the tour.

In regard to the settlement of Iceland, the first settler Ingólfur Arnarson, arrived from Norway halfway through the 9th century. As Kevin explained, the way he chose his settlement location was by throwing two wooden pylons into the bay and praying to the Gods for guidance and acceptance of his migration. He then sent two servants to walk around the entire circumference of the island and find the discarded planks. They eventually did, four years later, in the area that is Reykjavik. I also learned that the name of the city actually means “smoky bay” with regard to all the geothermal activity that surrounded the coast at the time of its settlement. That “smoke”, or steam rather, has since evaporated but the name remains as a reminder of its once caliginous glory.

We also learned a lot about Icelandic culture and the current Icelandic government, which Kevin told us was very “unpopular”. An example he used to elaborate this point was the famous Harpa concert hall.

The grandiose Harpa concert hall

It was partially constructed when the crash of 2008 happened and took a large toll on the economy of Iceland, and Europe as a whole. In order to resume construction of the Harpa, the Icelandic government used taxpayer Krona (and they pay 40% in taxes, by the way) to finish the project. The building itself is not only controversial for this reason but also because it blocks the view of the harbor for many residents and tourists alike.

From inside the Harpa, looking up

On culture, I learned that in Iceland, there are no last names or family names. Children’s last names contain their fathers first name followed by either “son” or “daughter” (but in Icelandic of course). So, even siblings will have different last names which I found very curious. But even more interesting is that when naming your child, you are only allowed to use a the agreed upon names chosen by the Icelandic Naming Committee. They provide the list of possibilities and only those options are viable. In fact, Kevin informed us that just recently the naming committee banned the name Dylan/Dillon from being used in all future cases. Current Dylans are grandfathered in, but future Dylans are “illegal” at this point.

Currently, as tourism expands, Reykjavik is putting more and more pressure on the construction of 4 star hotels. All the digging has unearthed some very interesting archaeological finds, namely possibly the oldest Viking long house in the history of Iceland! Something I would never have learned had I not taken this wonderful (and have I mentioned free?) tour!

A view of the dig in progess as they search for more clues about early life in Iceland

I could tell you a lot more about what I learned, but then you would have no incentive to take the tour yourself so hopefully I have enticed you enough to jet off to Reykjavik and meet Kevin! Tip him loads because he is most certainly worth it; the man works three jobs for cripes sake! The tour takes place every day at both 12:00 and 14:00 and there’s no need to reserve a spot. They take everybody, unlike CityWalk.

So, there ya have it. Happy touring everybody!

Amazing 3-D map of Iceland inside City Hall. Never wouldve found it if not for Kevin! And it took 4 years to make!

 

The tour went through a Bacon Festival, so on the way back we stopped and bought a plate of bacon!
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