Explore off the Beaten Path in Reykjavik
The Nordic island nation of Iceland has breathtaking views, sustainable agriculture, active volcanos, and a diverse culinary scene. This is just the tip of the iceberg — Iceland also features a bustling nightlife, dozens of public geothermal pools, and hospitable locals. Given the number of European travelers I encountered, it became apparent that perhaps, Iceland is a nation that Americans unknowingly overlook as a top travel destination. Start exploring on a road less traveled.
The traditional language in Reykjavik is Icelandic or “Íslenska,” a northern Germanic language true to the country’s Scandinavian roots. Don’t panic, most Icelanders speak English as well. Iceland does not have any rideshare companies but you’ll be able to navigate around town via public buses. The buses run frequently, offer free Wi-Fi, and are clean and comfortable. Taxis are also conveniently accessible from downtown Reykjavik.
Stroll around downtown where you will find plenty of shops, bars, restaurants, and local businesses. Make the most out of your trip by purchasing the Reykjavik City Card. The city card offers free admission to certain museums, attractions, hot pools, and free rides on the inner city’s public transit buses. (Excluding Bus 55, the airport express bus) It also offers discounts at specific restaurants, additional attractions, and tours.
What to Taste
Don’t leave Iceland without tasting an Icelandic hotdog, locally known as a pylsa. Critically acclaimed as one of the best hotdogs in the world, pylsas are easy to find in Reykjavik. My favorite pylsa was from The Hot Dog Shake and Pylsa Stand. It is only a couple blocks away the downtown city center. The Hot Dog Shake and Pylsa Stand top their dogs with extra crispy fried onions. They also offer more traditional toppings including raw white onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard, and remoulade. Remoulade is usually made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs.
If you’re looking for some cool shops and bars, head over to Laugavegur Street, which translates to “Wash Road.” Enjoy authentic Icelandic beverages and foodie options at the Lebowski Bar. A lively sports bar and a tribute to the 1998 crime/indie film The Big Lebowski. Their extensive list of crafted White Russians, the burger of the month, happy hour, abasement bowling alley, and a live DJ after 9 PM are all great reasons to visit.
Visiting hot pools is a frequent pastime of Icelanders all year round. If you plan on visiting a few different public hot pools, I recommend purchasing the Reykjavik city card to gain admission into various hot pools throughout the city. Most of the hot pools are easily accessible by walking, bus, or taxi.
Sightseeing in Reykjavik
Visit the Sun Voyager structure for the perfect photo ops. The structure overlooks Mount Esja and the vast landscape throughout Reykjavik. Although active, this volcanic mountain range is a serene and picturesque landscape to enjoy.
Have a thing for architecture? Visit Hallgrímskirkja, the tallest church in Iceland. The tower boasts 224 feet high and can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. The church is open to the public for free before noon.
Tours of the Northern Lights are most popular during the winter months from November through February. This is when the country experiences the least amount of daylight and the Northern Lights display beautifully. Although a self-guided tour of The Northern Lights is not impossible on your own, I definitely recommend joining a tour guide. They will be able to take you out during perfect weather when you have a greater chance of seeing the lights.
The most popular daytime tour is the Golden Circle Tour. It includes Kerið, a volcanic crater, Geysir Hot Spring, Thingvellir National Park (a Game of Thrones film site), and Gullfoss Waterfall. Depending on your tour guide and the amount of time you have, you’re likely to make more stops along the way.
While you are exploring Reykjavik and the surrounding areas, submerge yourself in the beauty and culture that Iceland has to offer. Icelanders are even more welcoming towards visitors that seek local experiences rather than popular ones, so don’t be afraid to explore on your own. You might find an old record shop, a cozy cafe, comedy club, or a convenient grocery store that reminds you of home. Whatever you do, find your own adventure in Reykjavik!
Know Before You Go
- An Icelandic hotdog is known as a Pylsa.
- For some of the best views, you should pay a visit to the Hallgrimskirkja. The cathedral is one of the tallest buildings in Iceland and can be seen from all around the city.
- The Golden Circle Tour is one of the most popular guides in Europe. It includes stops at the volcanic crater of Kerio, Geysir, Thingvellir, and the Gullfoss Waterfall.