From the same Viking word that gives us the English word “tarn”, Tjörnin is the central lake of Reykjavík. Although the lake has been enclosed by urban construction, it has been here since the time of settlement, and it is fed on the far side by a stream from the Vatnsmyri marshes. By the edge of the lake is Magnús Tómasson’s amusing sculpture Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat (1994).
From here, there are two ways to get to the Ráðhús (City Hall). You can take a stroll right round the lake, past the Fríkirkjan church and the National Gallery on the left hand side, round the Hljómskálagarðurinn gardens at the far end, and alongside the city’s most expensive houses at Tjarnargata on the right hand side. This walk is a mile and takes 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can walk across the footbridge on your right. This takes less than a minute.
Opened in 1992, the Ráðhús houses the city’s mayor and local government. In 2010, the popular comedian Jón Gnarr founded a local political party called the Best Party and made a satirical bid for the position of mayor. He proposed to build Disneyland at Vatnsmyri, with free admission for the homeless, he refused to make political agreements with anyone unless they watched the HBO series The Wire, he gave speeches invoking the model town of Moomin Valley and he promised “all kinds of things for weaklings”. Nobody was as surprised as him when he and his party won the election. The highlight of City Hall itself is a huge raised relief map of Iceland on the ground floor.
On leaving the Ráðhús, cross Vonarstræti and continue along Tjarnargata for one block until you reach the tiny park at Víkurgarður. In the middle of the green is a statue of Skúli Magnússon – the reformist Governor of Iceland who opened the prison at Stjórnarráðshúsið and had the idea of using it as a wool factory – and to the left of the green is the Settlement Exhibition. It had always been believed that the Austurvöllur square was the farmstead of Iceland’s first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson. In 2001, an archaeological dig at this site established proof of this by unearthing the oldest relics of human habitation in Reykjavík. During the excavation, one of the original Viking longhouses of Ingólfur’s settlement was located, and has been carefully preserved inside the exhibition.
Pass to the left of the exhibition centre, and ascend the hill Túngata.