The capital of Iceland is a beautiful Nordic island in the North Atlantic. It’s a sparsely populated island, with Reykjavik home to around two-thirds of the national population of under 400,000. Its first inhabitants arrived from Scandinavia in the 9th century. They found an island whose climate was moderated by the Gulf Stream. As a result of this warm current, winters are harsh at times but not as harsh as others on a similar latitude around the world. Although independent since 1918, it was not until 1944 that it formally became a republic, completely free from the Danish monarchy, with Reykjavik as its capital.
This is the world’s northernmost capital and is in the South West of Iceland. The national economy relied on fishing and agriculture over the centuries, hence there was minimal urban development outside Reykjavik until late in the 18th century. Today, Iceland has a very modern economy, including finance, industry and technology. Although remote, Iceland has developed a good tourist trade with many natural attractions such as volcanoes and glaciers. Using Reykjavik as a base, tours to every corner of the island reveal a great environment, especially for those who enjoy outdoor life. Few countries in the western world have retained so much of their natural environment. The list below will give you a flavour of Iceland and the best things to do in Reykjavik.
20 Things To Do In Reykjavik
1- Walk With A Viking
What better way to be introduced to Reykjavik than to walk around with a “Viking”?
Vikings came to Iceland in their heyday during the 9th century.
You will hear a great deal about history as you walk, visiting several landmarks in the city, including Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgrímskirkja Church and the Reykjavik Pond.
Your guide will point out good places to eat and drink as well.
You should remember a little of the Icelandic that your guide will tell you, useful words for your time in the city.
This two-hour tour is a great start to your time in Reykjavik.
All your questions will be answered by your “Viking” so you should be ready to head out to see more of the country.
2- Marvel At The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are on most people’s bucket list as they are a spectacular light show through winter.
Meteorologists can usually predict where and when the skies light up.
It must be a place with no artificial light, but there are plenty of these in the sparsely populated countryside.
They come about when particles in the earth’s atmosphere clash with charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere, a regular occurrence in Iceland.
The Aurora Museum in the city is a place to visit if you need any explanation about the Aurora Borealis and admission is free if you book a tour.
3- Relax At The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is a definite highlight of Iceland, formed in 1976 close to a geothermal power station and from that time, locals discovered the delights of bathing there.
It is the mud as well as the waters that provide a great experience.
There’s a choice of packages you can select on arrival and regular transport from the capital.
One of the top things to do in Reykjavik is to go on a day trip to relax and reinvigorate yourself than at the Blue Lagoon.
The setting is fabulous, blue waters surrounded by a lava field.
The facilities on site are excellent and a visit is something you will be talking about for years.
4- Tour The South
A popular tour from Reykjavik takes in the south of the island, rivers and waterfalls, mountains, many volcanic and glaciers.
Seeing this part of Iceland, you’ll soon understand why it’s nicknamed the “Land of Ice and Fire.”
Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls are stunning, and at Seljalandsfoss, you can go behind the cascades of water and feel the spray on your face.
Skógafoss drops 60 metres (almost 200 feet).
The sandy beaches are black, quite a contrast to the mighty sea.
Other highlights are the glaciers, Sólheimajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, before you reach the extreme south of the island, the village of Reynisfjara.
You will smile on your return as you replay the amazing sights in your mind. Check it out here.
5- Ride A Snowmobile
Riding on a snowmobile is a great adventure you’ll always remember.
You transfer to the base camp of Langjökull Glacier, where you dress appropriately for the ride ahead.
That means a snowmobile suit, gloves, and balaclava over which you don your helmet.
You will be with a professional glacier guide who will give instructions on operating your snowmobile.
For an hour, you will be in charge, travelling on the ice-filled volcanic craters surrounded by volcanoes.
All the views are wonderful, including that of the Eiríksjökull glacier, the Hofsjökull glacier, and the Kerlingafjöll mountains.
6- Search For A Whale
Nothing is guaranteed in nature, but the marine life offshore from Reykjavík City is rich and varied.
Set sail with the expectation of seeing whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
Your cruise will take in the small islands in Faxaflói Bay and the coastline from where you get good city views.
The purpose of your trip is the marine life, such as minke and humpback whales, dolphins and porpoises.
There is even the chance of killer whales (orcas) and an experienced captain and crew will do their best to ensure you have a memorable day.
7- Snorkel At A Top Dive Site
The Silfra fissure is regularly mentioned as one of the top diving sites, and with 100 metre (over 300 feet) visibility, you will soon forget that the waters are a little chilly.
That is not surprising because the waters are glacial melt originating 50 kilometres (30 miles) away.
The low temperature means that marine life cannot be sustained but the views are wonderful.
The fissure is within the Thingvellir National Park, which UNESCO has recognised as a World Heritage Site. Join this half-day snorkel tour.
8- Walk And Eat
Icelandic cuisine certainly has some unusual elements and its isolation means that the cuisine developed based on what was available locally.
Some of it may sound a little strange.
A great way to explore the city’s food culture is to join a food tour heading to several different places to try the food the locals enjoy.
One thing popular with everyone is lamb soup, a warm filling dish, especially for cold days.
Hot dogs are a local favourite, and lobster soup is a real treat when lobster is often very expensive in many parts of the world.
Seasonal meats, local cheese and ice cream, are other tasty treats included on your walk at places known only to the locals.
For something unusual, ask about hakari, which is “treated” shark and usually eaten with a “shot” of local liqueur, puffin and sheep’s head and jelly.
9- Hike On A Volcano
Iceland has many active volcanoes, so some of the terrain changes radically.
If you go for a hike in the Geldingadalur Valley, a particularly active area, you will see evidence of recent activity.
An expert guide will give you plenty of information on volcanoes as you walk.
You need to be suitably dressed for your hike, and with luck, you will encounter flowing lava but don’t get too close.
There has been plenty of activity in 2022, incidentally.
Take a packed lunch with you. Join this guided tour.
10- Explore An Ice Cave
Iceland’s ice caves in the south of the island are intriguing and even the road to reach them is spectacular.
The day involves two glaciers, Myrdalsjokull and Kötlujökull Glaciers and you will wear provided crampons to make the traverse.
The cold blue and black ice caves are lovely, and with the help of an experienced guide, you will stand back and admire them.
Learn more about the age and formation of such caves as you look around and see their beauty. You may like this ice cave tour.
11- Drink In A Unique Setting
Reykjavik’s Ice Bar has few to compare with it.
The sculptures and carvings in ice are wonderful; you can stand and admire them as you take your first drink from an ice glass.
The temperature is constant, cold enough to ensure that nothing melts, so the gloves and poncho you are given on entry are most welcome.
The carvings tell the story of the Viking sailors who came from Norway. Centuries ago.
The first drink comes with the entry fee, but you are welcome to buy more as you look at the walls and admire the skills that have created the place. Book your experience now.
12- Sail On A Lagoon
As if sailing on the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon is not pleasant enough, the other natural features you will see on a trip out of Reykjavik are the Hvannadalshnjúkur Mountain and a black sandy desert that divides Skaftafell National Park from the lagoon.
Start at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, where you can go behind the cascading water and the Skógafoss Waterfall before you reach the lagoon.
Ancient ice has been breaking off the glacier to float on the lagoon itself, with the location becoming famous for its role in films such as Batman Begins and Tomb Raider.
Sailing close to these pieces of ice during Iceland’s warmer months completes the perfect day.
13- Wonder At Iceland’s Variety
Snaefellsnes Peninsula is another guided tour from Reykjavik, taking in the Berserkjahraun lava fields, Snaefellsjokull Volcano, and Kirkjufell Mountain.
Take some snacks with you because you are in the wilderness, where there will not be any shops.
Kirkjufell played a role in the “Game of Thrones” and is comfortably the most-photographed mountain in Iceland.
You can climb up Saxholl, a volcanic crater, with your guide telling you of its history.
Djupalonssandur and Arnarstapi, a fishing village with beautiful cliffs, follow before you finally reach a golden beach, Ytri-Tunga and an enormous seal colony.
14- Take To “Flight”
In the heart of Reykjavik, you can go to FlyOver Iceland, where technology can take you on a trip over the wild terrain of Iceland.
Special effects such as wind and mist allow you to imagine you are in flight.
The complex is easy to reach, and retail outlets include souvenir shops and refreshments.
The “flight” itself is preceded by entertainment that provides insight into Iceland’s culture and people.
You should go there anyway, but it’s the top thing to do in Reykjavik on a day when the weather is poor.
15- Go Touring In A Helicopter
It may not be cheap, but a helicopter ride from the domestic airport is a great way to get around and see Iceland’s many highlights.
One of the beauties of a helicopter is that it can land in most places, so all your time will not be in the air.
Hover over colourful mountains, hot springs, craters and lava fields and land next to hot springs, camera in hand.
You will see Reykjavik from the air before landing at the airport.
16- Explore A Lava Tunnel
With an experienced guide, you can explore the Raufarhólshellir lava cave equipped with a flashlight and helmet.
It is around half an hour from the capital and you will immediately see the beautiful columns of light from above on entry.
The range of colours is stunning, a product of the different minerals in the rock. While there, your guide will tell you about the history of the formation of such tunnels in Iceland.
This is another location previously used by Hollywood for a film, “Noah”, which starred Anthony Hopkins.
17- See Waterfalls, Glaciers And Black Beaches
If you love waterfalls, head south again to see Reynisfjara’s black beach, the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano, and those beautiful waterfalls.
Hike to the Solheimajokull Glacier for about 90 minutes and then encounter four stunning waterfalls, the famous Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, and two lesser-known, Glufrabui and Irafoss.
Eyjafjallajökull glacial volcano, the Mýrdalsjökull glacier cap, and the Solheimajokull Glacier follow.
The whole day is truly memorable and when you show your photographs to family and friends back home, they will agree. For more information go here.
18- Take The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle tour southwest of Reykjavik includes the geothermal area of Geysir and Gullfoss Waterfall.
This region, Þingvellir National Park, is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
The active hot spring of Strokkur spouts every eight minutes, and hot water is blown 30 metres (around 100 feet) into the air.
Gullfoss Waterfall (“Golden Falls “) has a 32-metre (over 100 feet) drop into a deep crevice.
Þingvellir has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. The first Viking parliament was held here.
The crater of Lake Kerið is next, with the journey back to the capital passing local farms.
19- Board A Traditional Fishing Boat
Cold-water fish are among the most popular worldwide, helped by refrigeration, of course.
There’s no need for refrigeration in Iceland, where you can board a traditional fishing boat in search of cod and pollock, halibut and haddock, towards Faxaflói Bay, where experience has taught the fishermen the best place to catch fish.
Before the fishing starts, you will see puffins and a stunning coastline.
Spend up to three hours fishing and even enjoy your catch on a BBQ on the boat.
There is also the facility of getting a special flight case to take your catch home to friends and family, better than a mere photograph. Book this tour here.
20- Explore The Whale Of Iceland Museum
This is the biggest museum of its kind in Europe.
You can expect to see 23 life-size models, each of a species seen around the coast of Iceland.
The museum is at the harbour and you will see interactive displays while you wander around.
The blue whale is the most impressive because of its sheer size.
The narwhal, with its single tusk, also attracts great interest, while minkes and humpbacks are common in Iceland’s waters, orcas and belugas are less so.
There is plenty of information to read on all 23, with the audio guide a real help.
As important as the species information is that which talks of the threats that face all whales from human activity. Skip the line and prebook your entry ticket here.
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