Viking Star Arrives in Reykjavik, Iceland
“Borders, I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.”
- Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian adventurer
In contrast to the foreboding weather of the past few days, guests aboard Viking Cruises’ Viking Star were greeted to brilliant sunshine and brisk temperatures this morning in Reykjavik, Iceland, with the mercury hovering around 8°C.
We arrived here just after 10:00pm last night, coming alongside to a quiet and largely deserted cruise terminal situated to the north of the city, in the Videyjarsund inlet. After being in stormy seas for 48 hours, it felt strange to feel Viking Star so oddly quiet, devoid of the motion and general sounds of a ship at sea. It felt unnatural. I decided on the spot that I was already looking forward to heading back out to sea, in search of new lands.
This morning, I set off on Viking’s included Panoramic Tour of Reykjavik. At 3.5 hours in duration, this complimentary tour hit all the highlights that a first-time visitor to Reykjavik needs to see. I’ve been here once before, in the summer of 2009 aboard another cruise ship, but didn’t see any of the city because I chose to ride an Icelandic pony through the country’s lava fields. It was great, but I felt like I’d missed out on seeing the actual city itself. Today, I got the chance to rectify that.
Departing pierside at 9:30am, my Panoramic Reykjavik tour first took us to the Hofoi House, not far from the pier. It’s the site of former President Ronald Regan’s famous meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev on the eve of the fall of Communism, though it wouldn’t look out of place all by itself in one of Iceland’s many valleys – or perhaps in one of Icelandic mystery author Arnaldur Indriðason’s novels.
Speaking of famous Icelanders, my favorite new music find is Icelandic artist Júníus Meyvant, who’s music has become the soundtrack to my day. Have a listen here:
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world, situated at latitude 64°08′ N. It has a population of about 120,000 citizens, and that number gets closer to 200,000 if you include the entire surrounding area.
Much of the city can be seen from the Hallgrímskirkja, or Church of Hallgrimur. It is the largest church in Iceland, with a total height of 244 feet and an observation platform that you can go to – if you have time to stand in the gigantic lineup to buy tickets.
Commissioned in 1937, the church wasn’t actually finished until 1946, with exterior décor designed to resemble the basalt columns that can be found in and around Iceland.
Then, it was up to the Perlan – one of Reykjavik’s most distinctive landmarks. Situated on Öskjuhlíð hill, it was built in 1991 atop old hot water storage tanks for the city. Today, it houses a “Wintergarden” interior space (complete with an intermittent geyser) that seems like it would be ideal for weddings and conferences, but its main claim to fame is the spectacular observation platform that wraps around the attractive glass dome that is the signature feature of the Perlan.
We were also given time to walk around central Reykjavik and admire the new music concert hall, Harpa (The Harp), which opened in 2011. Bordered by the old harbour, the city’s main shopping district and the North Atlantic, it is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera.
One of the greatest advantages of sailing with Viking – beyond the beautiful ship and its amenities – are these included tours. There’s no high-pressure sales pitch put forth to buy the line’s optional tours, and the line hasn’t hobbled these complimentary excursions in any way. In each case, guests are provided with a bus or walking tour that’s meant to act as an overview of a particular port of call. More in-depth excursions are provided at an additional cost.
Many – and I mean many – guests opted to do the 8.5-hour Golden Circle tour of Reykjavik and its surroundings, including the famous Blue Lagoon. At $149 per person, it’s not a cheap tour, but I’d reckon half the ship did it. Seriously – I got caught up in the throngs of people waiting to disembark at 7:45am for this great overview tour.