Aðalstræti was Ingólfur Arnarson’s ninth-century walk from the longhouse (at the Settlement Exhibition) to the sea. The diminutive dark building on your left is Aðalstræti 10, which is the oldest building in Reykjavík. It has eight rooms and was built in 1762 for Skúli Magnússon; its subsequent inhabitants included the Bishop of Reykjavík and independence campaigner Jón Sigurðsson. Opposite the house is Ingólfur’s freshwater well, which was discovered by chance when roadworks were carried out here in 1992.
Next you come to Ingólfstorg, where some of Reykjavík’s best restaurants are arrayed around the bustling square. This is where Reykjavík’s Christmas market and skating rink are located. At the opposite end of the square is a long building of red corrugated iron flanked by two-storey buildings. This is Fálkahúsið, where the King of Denmark used to keep his prized Icelandic falcons. You can see carved falcons on the side of the building.
Walk under the glass footbridge onto Hafnarstræti (Harbour Street). This used to be the harbourside road, before land reclamation extended Reykjavík’s built area two blocks to the north (to your left). Hafnarstræti itself is nondescript, but at the junction with Pósthússtræti turn left and you will find the kiosk of Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (“The Best Hot Dog in Town”) which opened in 1937. It is arguably the most famous eatery in Iceland and in August 2006, The Guardian named it the best hot dog stand in Europe. Certainly, the majority of Icelanders have eaten here. The done thing is to order “eina með öllu” (one with everything) which will get you fried onion, raw onion, pylsusinnep (sweet mustard) and remolaði (sweet mayonnaise). If you’re picky, you can order what Bill Clinton (and Kim Kardashian) had: only with mustard and nothing else, but be prepared to receive a condescending look when you ask for “the Clinton”.
Immediately opposite the hot dog stand is the huge Tollhúsið building in front of the harbour. If it’s the weekend, walk in through the side door, on the right-hand side of the building, to the enormous ground floor Kolaportið (flea market).
Beyond the Tollhúsið building is the Gamla Höfnin (Old Harbour). Cross the Geirsgata dual carriageway and you will reach the steam locomotive “Minor”, which is on the site of the Reykjavík Harbour Railway, the first railway in Iceland. It was built in 1913 to carry stone from inland quarries for the construction of the harbour breakwaters. This work was completed in 1918 but the railway kept going for another ten years. “Minor” is surrounded by a display of old photos of the harbour, some of which show the railway in action.
The excellent natural harbour was no doubt one of the reasons why Ingólfur Arnarson chose to settle in Reykjavík. The city grew up around the harbour and in the early 20th century it was one of the centers of the Icelandic trawling industry. The harbour area has been transformed in the past decades. It is still one of the most important harbours in Iceland, but in recent years tourism and whale watching have gradually replaced fishing vessels while shops and restaurants have occupied warehouses.
You may see the grey hulks of the Icelandic Coastguard vessels, which asserted Iceland’s successive territorial claims over 12 miles of sea (1958 to 1961), then 50 miles (1972 to 1973), then 200 miles (1975 to 1976). These three so-called Cod Wars pitted Iceland against the UK: the Icelanders feeling that they should have exclusive rights to fish in this territory, and the British feeling that they shouldn’t. Each time, the United Nations ruled in Iceland’s favour, but not before each side had imposed their respective might: the British by ramming the Icelandic boats, and the Icelanders by cutting the nets of the British trawlers. Walk east along the harbourfront (to your right).