Iceland is filled with many amazing natural wonders. In fact, wandering through the countryside will probably make you feel like you’re in Middle Earth.
But if you’re in a layover in Iceland and don’t have time to see it all or you just want to spend time in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, then there are plenty of things in and around the city to see and do. Reykjavik is so unique amongst many capitals out there, that it’s always surprising what you’ll see or find out. So here are some great things to explore and know when spending time and money in Iceland’s amazing capital.
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While Blue Lagoon may be overly commercialized to some, it’s definitely not overhyped. This hot spring is a huge thermal pool that’s heated by lava pushing up from below the earth’s crust. This causes hot water to push up and create what you see as the Blue Lagoon.
With its photogenic waters and steam rising into the cold Icelandic air, it’s a great place to relax for a couple hours and soak in all of the minerals that the waters nourish your skin with. And if you don’t want to get out in the cold (not sure who would), the spring goes inside, so you can walk out and not get hit by the frigid air.
There’s a swim up Lagoon Bar where you can get smoothies and other drinks, so be sure to hit that up while you relax in the healing waters.
Since the Blue Lagoon is a good 45 minutes away from Reykjavik, you’ll probably want to make the Blue Lagoon the first thing you do when you get to the Keflavik Airport. It’s very close and will give you some extra time to wander and explore the capital itself. They’ll store your luggage for only 3 euros, and you can relax and cure your jet lag.
Also be sure to budget in around $40 USD so you can experience soaking in the milky blue waters of the Blue Lagoon. A towel is given to you in your admissions package, but be sure to bring your own flip flops. It may seem a bit expensive, but the experience is worth every dollar.
Extra Tip on Hot Springs:
While it’s a couple hours away from Reykjavik, Hveravellir also has some amazingly beautiful hot springs. And if you come in the winter, you can sit in the hot waters and watch the Northern Lights display above you. I honestly can’t think of a better way to relax and be amazed.
Coffee is HUGE in Iceland. And while it may be a part of their social life as much as ours, their coffee is so much better. In fact, a cup of Starbucks coffee could be compared to their gas station coffee. It really tastes that good. And the best part is, it’s everywhere.
Their coffee houses are an amazing place to socialize and take in the great atmosphere. With each one having its own hip appeal and design, they’re a great place to relax with friends or solo.
Kex Hostel is a great place to lounge and have an amazing cup of coffee while soaking in their amazing atmosphere and getting free wifi.
Another coffee house that I would highly recommended would be Kaffitár Bankastræti. Kaffitár was the stepping stone to the Icelandic coffee culture. The owner, Aðalheiður Héðinsdóttir (try not to pronounce that, you’ll get a headache), and several other baristas (that would later on become well known in the coffee world), started this locally made and brewed coffee and coffee house which launched Iceland into their own coffee culture. With free wifi, it’s a cheery place to get a great cup of coffee, check your social media, update your blog, and watch Icelandic life go by.
Reykjavik’s nightlife is something you should experience if you’re interested in their music and party scene. Becoming a well-known place to party, their clubs, pubs, and music events stay open on the weekends until the early morning hours.
Besides dancing to amazing music and having a few drinks of locally brewed beer, the parties can sometimes get a bit wild… in a fun way. There are plenty of stories of guys having a wrestling challenge in skyr (an Icelandic dairy dessert) with people cheering them on. Not sure how those end, but it sounded like a lot of fun.
Many of the clubs and bars are all in the same area, which means they’re all walking distance. So if you don’t like the music that’s being played by one group or you want to try something different, then walk on over to another scene with no entrance fee. The locals do this all the time, so rarely will you see someone stay at one club or bar throughout the entire night.
There are many venues to choose from when searching for a great place to party and get a drink. B5 is among one of the craziest places, where people get dressed up like they’re going to a special event, but end up dancing on couches. Kaffibarinn is a bit more high class but still a place you want to check out if you’re into the art and music scene. Beyond those two suggestions, there are plenty of options all around.
Many cafes and eateries turn into a club after the sun has gone down. All you have to do is walk out and see where the crowd is going.
THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
Near Reykjavik is a road that circles around some of Iceland’s amazing wonders and sights. So if you want to get out of town and see the Middle Earth-like countryside, then this is an easy way to do it. Just rent a car instead of taking a guided tour so you can stop and take photos along the way.
The Golden Circle holds Haukadalur, an area that has geysers and mud pools and colorful mineral deposits. Two of the most well-known ones are Strokkur and Geysir (quick fact: the general name for geyser was actually named after that particular one in Iceland). They shoot up hot water high into the air and the smell of sulfur can easily be smelled.
Geysir used to erupt every hour but now it’s slowed down to every 8-10 hours. So if you want a fantastic view, then head over to Strokkur who erupts its hot waters every 5-8 minutes.
Another natural wonder to see is the Gullfoss Waterfall. Being the biggest waterfall in Iceland, the river falls down into a deep ravine and shoots up mist that forms many rainbows.
There are stairs that will take you down the cliff and show you a closer look at the fall as it cascades down the crevice of the earth. Be sure to wear a rain jacket and waterproof pants, the spray from the waterfall will reach you and will get you wet.
Þingvellir National Park
You can also hike and see the amazing view of the tectonic rift and beautiful mountain ranges in Þingvellir National Park (Þingvellir fun fact: this used to be the sight of one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world. Icelanders would gather with their officials and speak of grievances and requests. That’s pretty interesting right?) Also, the Icelandic horses are everywhere and friendly! You can pet them and take photos of them amongst the rough terrain.
Kerið Crater Lake
Kerið Crater Lake is one of the lesser known sights to see on the Golden Circle, but definitely worth it. Being formed at one point from a volcano’s roof caving down into a magma chamber, it now gives a beautiful view of the lake surrounded by red and green vegetation along the sides of the crater. It can be a great place to relax and see the natural beauty.
One of the last mentionable sights to see are the fields of cairns, stones topped on top of each other that make an otherworldly view. The Icelanders used to make the rock formations to bring luck and honor to those who died or had their farms lost to the Volcano’s wrath. It definitely gives you something stop and take photos of or contemplate the hard life that the early Icelanders had to face.
One of the coolest and strangest buildings, Hallgrímskirkja, Church of Hallgrimur in English, is a place you really want to check out. Looking like the palace in Asgard from the movie Thor, it was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson (don’t try to pronounce that). The building was designed from his inspirations of the basalt lava flows throughout Iceland.
You can get a great view of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrímskirkja and see all of the colorful whimsical buildings down below. It’s a $5 fee, but worth it. Or if that’s not your cup of tea, then check it out after nighttime when it’s fully lit up and you might catch the choir practicing.
HARPA CONCERT HALL
If you love unique modern architecture, then definitely head on over to the Harpa Concert Hall. With the glass panes and metal beams making the building look like it has fish scales, it really is a feast for the eyes, inside and out.
If you want to take part in their music events, get a drink, eat some great food, or shop, this is also a great place to hang out for the day. After the Icelandic economy crash in 2008 (quick fact: the economy downfall was so bad that the Icelandic Krona became half of its worth), the people insisted that the building keep on being made. It was as if to show others that they would get through the hard times and make it. And indeed they have.
On a Budget
Icelandic food is super expensive. It’s an island economy, which means lots of things have to be imported, therefore making everything from clothes to gasoline more expensive.
Now there are plenty of options to save money on food, but a great one is to base your diet when in Iceland around sushi. If you’re a lover of sushi, then this will be easy. Ironically, while sushi can be very expensive in the states or elsewhere, sushi is super cheap in Iceland. Because it’s an island nation, fish is in plenty which is why it makes it so budget friendly. So if you don’t feel like spending a ton of money on a restaurant dish (that may or may not fill you up), then get a few rolls and satisfy your appetite.
Not into sushi? That’s cool! Reykjavik is famous for their hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. With great prices, you can fill yourself up on the oversized and tasty meal. They’ve been serving people since 1937 so I think they know what they’re doing.
Noodle Station can give you a great price for a great lunch or dinner, but beyond this, eating fast food (sad to say) is the only way you’ll stay on budget when eating in Iceland.
Not on a Budget
Now if you’re willing to spend the extra money on the food, Grai Kotturinn comes as a highly recommended restaurant with friendly staff, great food, and a nice atmosphere. Íslenski Barinn, Cafe Loki (Thor’s brother?), and Tapas Barinn are also great choices for the foodies out there.
While there are so many things to see throughout Iceland like its crystal caves and volcanoes, Reykjavik and its surrounding land still offers an abundance of adventures and experiences.
So whether you’re going with a travel package or you want to schedule out your own sightseeing and events, this is a place that won’t disappoint. So have fun with their coffee culture and nightlife or their geysers and waterfalls. Make experiences you can’t forget about!
I hope this post was helpful, but if there was anything that I didn’t cover that you’d like to know more about, email me or let me know in the comments below! Alternatively, you can also check out this post that tells you important things you need to know before visiting Iceland!