The capital of Iceland may be hard to pronounce, but Reykjavik has quickly become one of the easiest “exotic” destinations to reach for travelers seeking a cooler Nordic adventure. While the main draw of Iceland is the mesmerizing Northern Lights and stunning landscape, but Reykjavik has a colorful charm and interesting history worth exploring. Accessibility is still a challenge despite recent laws aiming to improve it, but with some planning ahead, you can still enjoy several sights. Here’s my list of cool wheelchair accessible things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland.
1. Hallgrímskirkja. On my first day in Reykjavik, I made my way through the wind and mist to Hallgrímskirkja. It’s a very beautiful and unique church, and designed to resemble the lava flows in Iceland. It took 41 years to build, and the inside is pretty simple and minimalist compared to other European churches of this size. There’s also an elevator that takes you to an observation area on the 8th floor where you can see some awesome views of the city. It’s really the centerpiece of Reykjavik, and helpful for getting oriented if you get lost in the city.
2. National Museum of Iceland. The National Museum of Iceland is very modern and very wheelchair accessible, and I decided to take advantage of the guided-tour-by-headset. The bottom floor holds the photography gallery, where they had an exhibit of the history of postcards in Iceland. This was a fascinating way to see the history of the country through a different way of displaying images. In a smaller separate section, they had an exhibit by a photographer who visited each of the country’s last remaining manned weather stations and took photos of the sea from each station. The two floors above displayed artifacts and videos of Iceland’s history from it’s discovery in the 9th century until the present day.
3. Harpa Concert Hall. After seeing the National Museum, I took a taxi to the Harpa concert hall for their wheelchair accessible tour. That building is one of the most incredible displays of architecture I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, the great economic collapse of 2008 hit smack in the middle of the building’s construction, so the budget got slashed and some design elements had to be changed. We got to see all the halls except for the large main hall because there was an event going on there, but the elements of lighting and acoustics were the same in the smaller halls we were able to see. We also got to go up to the top floor and see the VIP lounge–and the accompanying views of the Reykjavik harbor. I was able to access all the halls, and Harpa has wheelchair accessible toilets, a café, and gift shop. I would also highly recommend seeing the show “How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes” for a great laugh.
Iceland is often cold and very wet, especially when you’re seated and not totally covered! Waterproof pants are a must for a visit, and these are the ones I use (they come in men’s sizes, too): Singbring Women’s Outdoor Lightweight Waterproof Hiking Mountain Pants
4. The Sun Voyager. There’s a beautiful and wide accessible boardwalk that runs several kilometers along the water in Reykjavik. There are many beautiful places to stop and admire the scenery on these coastal paths, which are very popular with joggers and cyclists, however there is one well-photographed spot which has the added charm of being home to the striking Sun Voyager – a massive steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Arnason which may resemble a Viking ship, but in fact, a dream boat and ode to the sun. Because of the beautiful setting and spectacular nature of the Sun Voyager, it has become one of the most popular attractions in Reykjavik, and is especially popular selfie spot.
5. Bryggjan Brugghús. After the Harpa tour, I had to book it on my scooter to the next place because (a) I was running late, and (b) it was starting to drizzle. Within a few minutes I arrived at the Bryggjan Brugghús, a local brewery where they hold short beer tours/lessons three days a week. Over the phone they told me it would take an hour, but since I was the only one, the whole thing took about…ten minutes. But the guy was nice and I got free beer samples, so it was okay! I stayed to have dinner, and I had probably the best salmon dish of my life.
6. Reykjavik Art Museum. On my last day in Reykjavik, I visit the country’s national art gallery. The Reykjavik Art Museum is small and quite minimalist in design, but the elevators are large and it’s very easy to get around. The museum offers many different Icelandic and international exhibitions of modern and contemporary art by respected artists. It is also a platform for up-and-coming talents. The exhibitions in Reykjavík Art Museum span all the way from the historic to modern times, from the conventional to the outermost limits of art. Reykjavík Art Museum supervises the city´s art collection, including outdoor art, and possesses many of the best known works of Icelandic artists. The complete collection contains around seventeen thousand artworks.
While all of the major sights and museums here in Reykjavik are wheelchair accessible, local businesses and restaurants are decidedly not. Out of the dozens of storefronts I passed by on my way through the city, maybe ten were accessible for me in my scooter. More would be accessible if I were in a wheelchair with a travel companion because a lot of the steps were small and I could have been backed over them. But a lot of places also had stairs going down once you got through the doorway. To say I was disappointed to see this is an understatement, but there are some things you can’t plan for, and you just have to deal with it once you get there.