Top 10 things you must experience in and around Reykjavik

1. Discover the golden circle

    • Gullfoss

Gullfoss, or “Gold-waterfall”, is a magnificent and enormous natural waterfall with a rich history. It’s not made of gold as far as we know.

    • Geysir

Geysir National Park is a geothermally active area with many natural hot springs, some of them erupting. The largest two largest erupting geysers are Strokkur, which erupts to a height of 20 meters roughly every 15 minutes, and Geysir, from whom all geysers take their name, which erupts to a height of 70 meters, but only sporadically. Although the park is no doubt full of vacationing geezers, the name Geysir actually refers to the erupting nature of the hot spring, and can most appropriately be translated “Gushie”.

    • Þingvellir

Tempting as it may be to think of them as the “thing-wells” – Thingvellir which is a National park actually means “parliament fields” – referring to the fact that this was the site of the ancient viking parliament from about 930 AD until 1798. One of the oldest democracies in the world, viking chiefs from across the country would congregate here and hear the law spoken from the “law-rock”. (Yeah, that’s a thing). It also happens to be located along the rift of the European and American tectonic plates. Among other things, you can learn about the incredibly rich history and geology of the place, and dive in one of the natural underwater fissures.

2. Swim in the Blue Lagoon

This iconic spa resort the Blue Lagoon started in 1976 as a place to pour off excess water from a geothermal construction project. Gradually, the construction workers and passers-by started bathing there (despite the fact that raw geothermal water can vary dangerously in temperature). Since then it’s been renovated and turned into a luxurious spa resort, and the water temperature is moderated so it is perfectly safe. It is conveniently only 40 minutes from Reykjavík, and only 20 minutes from Keflavík airport.

3. See the Northern lights

Among the amazing things you can experience in Iceland is the Northern lights, the famous green celestial laser show that can be seen on clear winter nights. There are several tour operators that specialize in finding the right spot, either by bus or by boat.

4. Explore a Glacier

It is a common joke that Iceland should be called Greenland and vice versa. While it is true that Iceland is greener than Greenland, that’s not really saying much. Iceland is home to the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, and a host of others, all in all covering about 11% of the country’s surface. There are a number of ways to explore them, including hiking or riding a snowmobile on them, if so inclined.

5. Ride the unique Icelandic horse

Iceland is home to a unique breed, the Icelandic horse. It is unusual in size, the size of a pony, and yet amazingly strong and sure-footed. It has two gaits in addition to the most usual walk, trot and gallop, known as tölt and skeið. Icelanders are protective of this breed, so it is illegal to import foreign breeds to Iceland, and once and Icelandic horse leaves the country, it can never return. Riding is a usual pastime for Icelanders, whether they own their own horses, as is common, or they simply rent a horse for a day now and again in the summertime. You can find a horse riding tour in any part of the country.

6. Whale watching

There are 23 different breeds of whale that populate the ocean around Iceland. You can go on a boat tour from a number of ports, or even see them from land in some places. There are a number of operators offering rides and the best time to see whales is between May and September. Remember to wear a hat though, since sailing the ocean can be quite cold, even in summer!

7. Visit Perlan, the Pearl

The Pearl is a landmark building in Reykjavík, with its glass dome, observation deck and revolving restaurant. It sits atop tanks of geothermally heated water and is situated in Öskjuhlíð, a forested outdoor area with many walking paths and remnants of the US occupation of Iceland in the second world war.

8. View the historic site of Höfði

Höfði is a house with an interesting history. It is best known as the place where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the heads of the US and USSR respectively, had their famous negotiations in 1986. Built in 1909 as a french consulate and long time residence of famous Icelandic entrepreneur and poetEinar Benediktsson, it is now owned by the authorities and used to host parties and receptions.

9. Go Diving or Snorkeling

Iceland is probably not the first place you think of when you think of snorkeling. But between the sub-oceanic hot water outlets and the various geological fissures, there is a lot to see.

10. See the view from Hallgrímskirkja belltower

Hallgrímskirkja church is one of the tallest buildings in Iceland. Its beautiful architecture is inspired by the basalt lava columns found in Icelandic nature and on the square outside its main entrance you can see a statue of Leifur Eiríksson, who sailed to America long before it was discovered by Christopher Columbus. It is located near the center of Reykjavík and you can ride the elevator right to the top to see the view.

About Iceland

Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is famous for its magnificent nature, geothermal energy and the idiosyncratic nature of its inhabitants.

Its landscape is marked by glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs, and absolutely no trees. It has become a popular destination for adventurers and seekers of the unusual, offering white water rafting, glacial snowmobiling and hot-spring bathing, as well as phenomena such as the midnight sun and The Northern Lights.

Icelanders have never been known to go the beaten path. Descendants of the ancient vikings (but these days relatively civilized), the nation of Iceland has elected the first woman president, the first openly lesbian prime minister, and was the first country in the world to acknowledge the sovereign state of Estonia. Jón Gnarr, the mayor of Reykjavík, the capital city, was a comedian who ran for office as a joke.

Despite its meager population, it has birthed such famous musicians as Björk, SigurRós, and Of Monsters And Men. Other accomplished Icelanders include 3 different winners of the Miss World competition and two strongmen who each won the World’s Strongest Man competition four times over.

Icelandic, the language of Iceland, is considered the closes living relative of ancient Norse, and is as such related to most of the Scandinavian languages. Here are some fun words to try to learn in Icelandic:

Eyjafjallajökull (AY-yah-fyad-layer-kuh-tel) – The name of the volcano that erupted in 2010. A great word to say to impress your friends, and better yet, almost nobody will be able to correct you if you’re saying it wrong.
“Einn bjór takk” (aydn byor tack) – “One beer please”. The double “n” is pronounced as a sneeze.
“Jæja” (yaya) – an all-round conversation filler. Use it to fill an uncomfortable silence, to signal that you have to go, or just to entertain yourself when you’re bored.
“Gerðu það” (gerthu thath) – the closest icelandic equivalent of “please”. Literally means “do it”
“Ógeðslega gott!” (Oh!-gethslega got) – normal way to say “very good”. Literally means “disgustingly good!”

[b]Where is Iceland and how do I travel there?[/b]

Travel time by plane is about 3 hours from London, 2.5 from Stockholm and 6 hours from New York, it is easily reached and the perfect place to stop “on the way” between the US and Europe. There are currently a number of airlines that provide flights to Iceland, including Icelandair, Wow Air, SAS, Norwegian and EasyJet. Within Iceland, there are local airlines, bus services and tour companies that can take you pretty much anywhere on the island. Tourism is a big industry, and accommodation is relatively abundant in all parts of the country.

[b]What is it like and what is there to do there?[/b]

It is roughly the size of Kentucky and only slightly smaller than England (103,000 km2/ 40,000 sq m). The population of 320,000 makes it the least populated country in Europe. Its position on the 66th parallel, with one peninsula reaching into the Arctic circle, means northern lights in the very dark winters and very bright summer nights.

The landscape is magnificently beautiful and hauntingly terrible, ranging from volcanoes to glaciers, from the bubbly geysers to the cold dead desert of the central highlands.

In Iceland you can ride the unique Icelandic Pony around a moss-covered lava field in the morning, have world class free range lamb for lunch (it’s all free range), and ride a snowmobile on a glacier in the afternoon. Afterwards you can have a reindeer burger for dinner before heading off to bathe in a geothermal pool while looking up at the Northern Lights, and then rounding off the evening with some fermented shark and “Black Death” schnapps. All within day trip distance from your hotel. You can go whale watching and see the seat of the ancient viking parliament. Or in June you can play golf by the light of the never-setting midnight sun.
Icelandic Glacier and Northern lights
The all-important question: What is the weather like?
Not as cold as you might think. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, Iceland has a surprisingly temperate climate for its latitude. Comparable to New England, winter temperatures average at a mild 0 to -10 degrees Celsius (32 to 14 F). In summer, temperatures range between 10 and 25°C (50-77 F). However, due to the notoriously fickle weather and strong winds, you may want to bring a hat just in case, or buy a traditional hand-knitted wool sweater.