A country of marvelous contrasts and known as the Land of Fire and Ice, Iceland is famous for its dramatic scenery, smoking volcanoes, enormous glaciers, and plenty of geothermal activity. The capital city of Reykjavik is a terrific base for exploring the spectacular area known as the Golden Circle, and it is also quite a charming city to explore.
With wild and rugged landscapes on the doorstep, cute colourful homes and interesting architecture, great shopping, and loads of history and culture, here are some top things to experience when staying in Reykjavik:
1. Lunar-like terrain and intriguing geothermal hotspots
Driving through lava fields and gazing at pitted and rocky barren landscapes is often said to be like exploring the surface of the moon. Once you see it for yourself, it is easy to see why so many people draw this conclusion. Unlike many other places that you are likely to have seen, look out for hot steam spurting up from between gaps in the strange-shaped rocks.
The Blue Lagoon is one of Reykjavik’s premier attractions, and it is also a fabulous place for admiring the raw power of the earth. Incredibly hot water is taken from the ground close to a lava flow, first passing through the nearby power plant to create electricity. It is then used to provide the community with a water heating system. Lastly, it flows into the man-made lagoon for bathers to enjoy.
At a temperature of between 37 and 39 degrees Celsius (99 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit), it is pleasantly warm no matter what the air temperatures are like. Imagine stepping out of the changing room, wearing only your swimsuit, to be greeted by an icy blast of wind … and knowing that you are about to immerse yourself in an outdoor pool! It’s a strange sensation indeed!
The mineral-rich waters are said to be great for the skin and numerous treatments and techniques are available in the luxurious onsite spa. Look out for small pots of silica mud as you swim around the lagoon and enjoy your own DIY facial. Slather the gloopy mud over your face for a silky-soft and glowing complexion. Float about in the milky waters as you enjoy the other-worldly landscapes and watch plumes of steam rising up into the sky from the power plant.
The shop offers an array of tempting spa products to enjoy at home and there is also an onsite restaurant and bar.
Various packages are available, but a basic package for entrance to the complex, bathing in the Blue Lagoon, and use of the changing room facilities costs 6,300 ISK (approximately 47 USD) in the winter months and 7,700 ISK (approximately 58 USD) in the summer months. You will need to take your own towel. Summer is between the beginning of June and the end of August. Discounts are available for online bookings and there is no guarantee that visitors without pre-booked tickets will be allowed entry.
Other package types include a Comfort Ticket, with use of a towel, a complimentary drink, and a trial skin-care pack, and the Premium Package, with the additional use of a bathrobe and slippers and a reserved table along with a free drink in the LAVA restaurant. For the ultimate Blue Lagoon experience in luxury, opt for the Luxury Package. It includes everything from the other packages as well as admission to the Exclusive Lounge and a full-size Spa Journey Product Set.
There are several geothermal swimming pools around the city, which are very popular with locals looking for some relaxing downtime. They include Sundhollin, Laugardalslaug, and Arbaejarlaug.
2. Bubbling and spurting geysers
Did you know that there is a place in Iceland called Geysir? And that this place gave its name to all geysers around the world? Stroll through this amazing area and you will see small bubbling pools of water and mud, caused by super high temperatures below the earth’s crust.
The geysers are very impressive, with the famous Strokkur erupting rather splendidly every few minutes. Stand and watch as the calm pool begins to boil and fizz as the pressure (and anticipation!) builds, before a huge jet of water shoots majestically into the air. Routinely reaching around 15 metres high, and sometimes ambitiously shooting up to 50 metres high, it is definitely a fantastic sight.
Don’t be tempted to step beyond the safety ropes – they are there for a reason! Being doused in scalding water really would not be a nice way to end your vacation in Iceland!
The namesake Geysir is not as regular with its activity, though it is still great to see. Largely calm since the early 1900s, it rarely releases its power nowadays. The cute Little Geysir is also well-worth a quick stop.
Entrance to this awe-inspiring area of natural wonders is 600 ISK (approximately 4.50 USD).
3. Magnificent and powerful waterfalls
Gullfoss, which translates into English as the Golden Falls, is the headline waterfall within easy reach of Reykjavik. At 32 metres tall, the double waterfall is really a spectacular sight. It may not be the tallest waterfall you have ever seen, but the width and the large volume of water might make it one of the most impressive. The powerful water creates huge plumes of spray, and you may get a little wet if you stand at the front of the viewing areas. There is a fairly easy walking route that allows you to witness the incredible waterfall from several different vantage points. If you’re lucky and get the angle right, you may see a shimmering rainbow in the mists.
Whilst many visitors head to the beautiful Gullfoss as part of a tour, independent visitors will be delighted to learn that there is no charge to enjoy the waterfall.
Seljalandsfoss is another popular waterfall close to Reykjavik. Tumbling 60 metres over a jagged cliff, take a walk behind the cascade, feel the spray, and experience what it’s like to actually be behind the water as it crashes into the pool below. This waterfall is also free to enjoy.
4. Imaginative and eye-catching buildings
The heart of Reykjavik is pretty compact and so really easy to explore by foot. Whilst many visitors spend most of their time taking trips out of the city to enjoy the nearby natural wonders, plan to spend at least half a day wandering around the city itself … there are some real gems to discover! With a rich diversity in buildings styles, the city is very photogenic.
One of Reykjavik’s most distinctive landmarks is the unusual Hallgrimskirkja. Admire its irregular façade and the large statue of the famous Icelandic explorer, Leif Ericsson, that stands proudly in front of the church. You can also pay 500 ISK (approximately 3.80 USD) to climb to the top of the soaring tower and enjoy terrific views of the city below.
Reykjavik Cathedral is another beautiful religious building, with an ornate interior and lovingly-restored exterior. The bauble-like Perlan offers great city views from its lofty hilltop location and in the winter months you will see a bright beam of light coming from the Imagine Peace Tower.
Other fabulous things to do in and around Reykjavik
Visit a wide selection of interesting museums and galleries, such as the Culture House and the National Museum of Iceland, peer inside curious rook-hewn buildings like Althingi, and wander around the atmospheric Holavallagarour Cemetery.
Discover charming nearby villages, feast your eyes on magnificent volcanic craters, and see where the earth has literally been ripped apart by seismic activity in the picturesque Thingvellir National Park.
There really are so many reasons to visit Reykjavik! What are you waiting for?! Book your trip and start counting down the days!
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.