Where to Explore Reykjavik’s Natural Beauty
Recently Iceland has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The strategic location between North America and Europe as well as the growth of its airlines have caused a tourism boom. At the epicenter of this development has been the city of Reykjavik. On the surface a small, quiet fishing town with an unmatched location. However spending a few days in the city and surrounding areas will expose you to sights, sounds, and cuisine you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world.
When to Visit Reykjavik
The tourist season in Reykjavik begins in May and continues until October. However, unlike most tourist destinations, there are two totally different experiences for a traveler who visits in May and one that visits in October. In October the days become short and the nights extend, allowing you to witness the Northern Lights. In May and June the days become longer and the sun never really sets before it comes back up. Due to this phenomenon, I would suggest visiting in May or June your first time because the Midnight Sun will allow you to explore more of the city and the surrounding areas.
Where to Walk Around Town
The city of Reykjavik is pedestrian friendly if you would like to explore the city on foot. Many of the museums, venues, and restaurants are close to each other making it easy to pack in a day of exploring the Icelandic capital. Without a doubt, the first building you would notice in Reykjavik is the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral. The cathedral is one of the tallest buildings in Iceland and for a small admission fee, you can go to the top of the building where on clear days you can see for miles. Nearby is The Settlement Exhibition by the Reykjavik City Museum. It is an interactive exhibit about life on the island during the time of the Vikings. This exhibit features archaeological excavations from one of the first settlements on the island.
Enjoy a Traditional Lunch
In the afternoon, following the closing times for the museums, take a walk down some of the shopping, arts, and culinary streets such as Laugavegur and Skolavordustigur. Icelandic cuisine has become famous due to its fresh seafood and unique lamb. When you have built up an appetite you should try an Icelandic lamb hot dog at The Hot Dog Shake and Pylsa Stand. While there are many pylsa stands all over Reykjavik this one is well known and was visited by Bill Clinton on his official visit to Iceland. Head to Snaps Bistro to sit-down with good cocktails and enjoy freshly caught seafood. It is a wonderful establishment that is very popular with locals. Following dinner, watch a show at the modern Harpa concert hall overlooking the ocean.
The Great Outdoors in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a unique city because of its proximity to natural wonders that are hard to find anywhere else in the world. It is quite possible that driving around Iceland you could see more waterfalls than people. The most famous day trip from Reykjavik is called the Golden Triangle. Taking this route will take you towards the middle of the island and into Thingvellir National Park. Without a question, the first activity on your agenda should be to dive/snorkel in Silfra. This rift is created by the divergence of the Eurasian and North American plates and is filled with some of the clearest water you will ever see.
Continuing down the road you will reach Geysir a large geyser that erupts every few minutes. The farthest location on the Golden Triangle is probably the most impressive. Gullfoss is a massive multi-step waterfall that drops into a small valley. The fact that you can walk up right next to the fast moving water is just a bonus that makes this Iceland’s top attraction. Finally on the way back to Reykjavik you should stop at Kerid, a massive crater of a former volcano which really brings together all the bright colors of the Icelandic countryside.
North vs. South
If you have the opportunity for multiple day trips you should take advantage and spend one day going north and another headed south on Route 1. Heading north you will notice changes in the terrain and massive volcanoes covered in moss begin to surround you on one side while the ocean is on the other. One of the top locations to stop is Londrangar, natural towers overlooking the ocean made of black volcanic rock. Further up the road is one of the most photographed locations in Iceland, Kirkjufell and the nearby Kirkjufellsfoss. This mountain and waterfall combo will make for a picture you will cherish forever.
Heading south is a totally different experience because the area becomes grassier on one side and covered in black sand on the other. The Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls are must-see locations. The Dyrholaey peninsula is home to numerous puffins. However, the most interesting experience has to be walking on the black sand beaches in search of the World War Solheimasandur Plane Wreck.
Reykjavik, Iceland is a place that you will never forget no matter how much time you spend there. It will make an impression on you because its experiences are so unique and you will be hard-pressed to find another destination with these traits.
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.