Iceland fast became one of my favourite places I’ve ever travelled to. The land of fire and ice (although mostly ice for us in December) was truly spectacular and it felt like being on a different planet! Read on for all of my top picks to do whilst in Reykjavik.
For a full itinerary for a week long trip to Iceland, read my other post!
Road-trip The Golden Circle
Easily my top thing to do whilst in Reykjavik and an absolute classic for tourists, for good reason! There are 3 main stops along to famous Golden Circle route and at each are spectacular and totally unique to Iceland.
Stop 1: Þingvellir National Park
This national park sits right where the two tectonic plates cut through Iceland, moving apart at a speed of about 2cm per year. We parked up at Hakið Visitor Center and from there, there is a footpath to follow along the North American tectonic plate up to Almannagjá Gorge and walk the deep fissures in the ground. As you walk along, you can learn about the history of this place which was where Iceland’s parliament sat centuries ago. Continue down to Öxarárfoss waterfall and then up to Langistígur to stand between the 2 tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also swim between the tectonic plates too at Silfra; I really wanted to do this but in December, it was just far too cold for me to even consider jumping into the lake so will return one summertime to do this instead. It’s actually in TripAdvisors list of top travel experiences to do in the world!
Stop 2: Haukadalur
This is the geothermal area of the Golden Circle route and is home to the famous hot springs and geysers. There are two geysers here called Geysir and Strokkur with the latter being the most famous these days. Geysir stopeed erupting in the year 2000 after an earhtquake and is now dormant however Strokkur still erupts about every 10-15 minutes. We spent about an 30 minutes at Strokkur and saw 2 huge eruptions and 2 smaller ones (of course, only the smaller ones got caught on camera!).
Stop 3: Gullfoss
Further North from the geyers is Gullfoss waterfall and a spectacular sight that I would argue rivals Niagara Falls. It’s a short walk from the parking and visitor centre area to see the waterfall and there are two routes to take to see the falls at different angles and I would recommend doing both for the full view. The steps downward give you a lovely view of the falls to take pictures in front of it but when you go back up, you can walk along to see the river that this waterfall comes from.
Extra Stops: Kerið Crater and Secret Lagoon
Not part of the classic Golden Circle route but we stopped here for a little while and included it as part of our tour as it is the most popular extra stop that people tend to go on their Golden Circle tours. This is a huge volcanic crater lake that is thousands of years old. This crater is fascinating to see in winter but I must admit that I think this would make a better stop in the summer time. When we were there, the crater was iced over so the main spectacle was the size of it but in the summer months, the crater has a blue lake in the middle and is surrounded by red volcanic rock rather than the usual black which you don’t see in the winter months.
Lastly, a stop we didn’t do on our Iceland trip but may be worth a visit is the Secret Lagoon, the oldest pool in the country. Iceland is known for it’s geothermal activity and you can relax in this pool where the water is sourced from a naturally occurring hot spring nearby.
Relax in the Lagoons
The most famous lagoon in Reykjavik is of course, Blue Lagoon, located actually pretty close to the airport so a perfect first or last stop on any trip after you land in Iceland or before you arrive for your flight home. The steamy water is milky blue, full of minerals and is a natural by-product of a nearby geothermal power plant. We did the Comfort package which got us entry to the lagoon, a towel, a drink and the silica mud mask to enjoy which was enough for us as Blue Lagoon is so big anyway with a waterfall, steam cave, in water bar, mask bar and the water to relax in.
As nice as Blue Lagoon is, I found Sky Lagoon to be much better! Sky Lagoon opened very recently in 2021 and is a totally different experience to Blue Lagoon. We found Sky Lagoon to be much more relaxing with far less people around and it has more of a luxury spa feel to it. We couldn’t check into our accommodation until 3pm so decided to spend the afternoon here on the first day and it was the perfect way to unwind after the flight. As you step into the hot steamy water, you make your way around the open aired cave to a hot spring come infinity pool where you can grab a drink from the bar and watch the sun set over the water.
Walk Across the Bridge Between Continents
A bit of a drive out from Rekjavik, and probably best to do the same day as doing Blue Lagoon is the Bridge Between Continents. It will be more of a passing visit and we only spent about 15 minutes here but you can walk across the bridge to cross between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in a matter of seconds. Whilst on the bridge, there is a lovely view out to the sea which was particularly nice at sunset or you can walk down in between the plates for a picture with the bridge above you.
A key part of being in Reykjavik is of course, exploring the actual city itself! In general, people come to Reykjavik for all the things you can do around the city but there are a few famous monuments you should go and make the effort to see.
When coming into Reykjavik, you will probably be able to see Hallgrímskirkja Church from a little distance away as it’s one of the tallest buildings in an otherwise pretty flat city. Famous for it’s unique design, it’s a must to go and have a look at it yourself, I truly had never seen a church like it and it’s a great representation of the Icelandic landscapes of mountains, glaciers and volcanos. Make sure you check the church out from the inside too as it is surprisingly minimalist when you step in and even features a palm tree in there!
Located on the waterfront of Reykjavik, the Sun Voyager is pointing out to sea and there is something about the sculpture that has a stoic and hopeful feel to it, perhaps because it seems to resemble a Viking ship. This abstract steel structure is a great photo op, especially if you are lucky enough to see the Northern Lights above it!
Harpa Concert Hall
Again showcasing the architecture of Iceland, Harpa Concert Hall is a short walk along the waterfront from Sun Voyager towards the harbour. It’s a beautiful glass building that has an almost beehive look to it with the distinctive angular windows. When I was in Reykjavik, there were hurricane force winds one day and in order to get some relief from the wind, we stepped into Harpa Concert Hall and discovered it’s actually worth stepping inside briefly to see the windows from the inside too and have a view out over the sea.
See The Northern Lights
On my trip to Iceland, I unfortunately wasn’t lucky enough to see the Northern Lights at all as you need a really dark, clear sky to have a chance and when checking the Northern Lights forecast every day, our chance was always a 2 or 3 out of 9 to see them. However, don’t let that put you off, check the forecast and get out there if there’s a possibility of seeing them! It’s recommended to try at about midnight for the darkest sky possible and I believe if you book a tour, when they take you out, if you don’t manage to see them, they will keep taking you out to try again on good days as the locals are well versed in when it would be possible. Don’t be put off, my boyfriends mum saw them twice when she went out to Iceland!
Get Up Close to Nature
Lastly on my list is another activity I didn’t get to do because of the time of year! We visited Iceland in December so the height of winter and alot of the animals aren’t around anymore however, I already know that I want to go back to Iceland again in the summertime and jump on a whale watching and puffin island tour. These are in season from May to August I believe to be able to see both; whales are around for longer but puffins arrive in May and leave in August. When walking around the harbour in Reykjavik, there were a few stands offering boat tours for both of these and it’s something I will definitely do next time.
Where To Stay
Whilst in Reykjavik, we stayed in 2 accommodations which were both lovely and I would highly recommend either of them, depending on what you are looking for from your accommodation.
The first place we stayed was Refurinn Guesthouse; this was actually my first time staying in a guesthouse and I loved it! Reykjavik is known for being a bit more on the expensive side so we wanted a place with a kitchen to be able to cook some meals rather than eat out all the time and this place felt like a home away from home and was in a great location, only a 5-10 minute walk into the centre of Reykjavik.
The second place we stayed was Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel; this hotel was really lovely, their rooms are beautiful with a bohemian vibe and there is a bar area where you can sit and have a drink, have dinner or sit with your laptop with free water, tea and coffee at all times. Another great location only 5-10 minutes from the centre but from the other side of town.