Intro to Reykjavik

What’s there to do in Reykjavik, Iceland? Well, a lot. I have no doubt that Iceland is at the top of your “countries to visit” list. And, if it’s not, it’s most likely on a friend’s. Why? Iceland is a phenomenal country with extremely diverse nature – from glaciers to forests to black-sand beaches – kind, welcoming people, a form of government that seems to work more than most, and endless opportunities for adventures both near and far. In short, Iceland is a must-see country. And, if you’re going to Iceland, you’re most likely making Reykjavik your first stop. Whether the city is as awe-inspiring as you’ve heard is entirely up to you to find out.

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Beautiful streams shooting from above the Gljúfrabúi waterfall in Iceland
Beautiful streams shooting from above the Gljúfrabúi waterfall in Iceland

Things you don’t have to see in Reykjavik, but might want to

Seljalandsfoss – Iceland is a country full of waterfalls. Some spectacular, others okay. I consider myself a waterfall enthusiast, so I don’t say any of this lightly. Seljalandsfoss is closer to the spectacular side of the spectrum than the okay side, but I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest waterfall in the country (see above for that one). However, it’s large and worth a visit (it’s the most popular waterfall in the country, if that matters). What’s pretty cool is that you can walk into a little cave behind the waterfall and view its enormous power gushing and thrusting all over the place. What’s not cool is that there are a ton of tourists, and they’ll most likely be in that cave right with you.

Price: Free to enter

Address:

Hours of operation: Always

Time required: 1 hour

Thingvellir National Park – Remember Thingvellir (spelled Þingvellir) from our brief history of Reykjavik and Iceland above? If not, no worries. It was the historic site where the Icelandic parliament was established in 930 AD. No biggie, right. Today, it’s a national park, featuring the Mid-Atlantic ridge, which separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates (thick pieces of rock and crust that, when they touch, cause earthquakes and other natural disasters). So, the park is pretty important for a handful of reasons. I didn’t feature it on the Things you have to see in Reykjavik list, because it’s just a nice (beautiful, really) place to walk around; and I’m saying this as a park guy). There was a huge flag of Iceland blowing in the wind, and you can see Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.

Price: Free to enter, just have to pay for parking

Address: Thingvellir

Hours of operation: Always

Time required: 1 hour

A bit of Thingvellir National park in Reykjavik, Iceland
A bit of Thingvellir National park in Reykjavik, Iceland

Skálholt – I somehow found myself on a tour, which brought me to this place whose name I only recently learned of (years after my trip). But, it was nice nonetheless. Skálholt is basically a place (it used to be an Episcopal “see,” which is a town where a cathedral or bishop’s home is located) which was one of the most important places in Iceland. This is because before the reformation and Lutheranism, Iceland was largely Catholic, and Skálholt was one of the main places for culture and religion (it’s also where the first school was established). The main draw is the cathedral, with features a very “Nordic” version of Jesus in a colorful mosaic. Aside from the cathedral, there were two houses nearby completely covered in grass. For some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Price: Free to enter

Address: Skálholti, 801 Selfossi

Hours of operation: Always (at a reasonable hour)

Time required: 30 minutes

The mosaic of nordic Jesus in the cathedral at Skálholt, Iceland
The mosaic of nordic Jesus in the cathedral at Skálholt, Iceland

Nesjavellir power plant – If you’re into geothermal power, I’m sure the power plant is worth it. If not, pass. I went, since it was a stop on a tour I was on, but I didn’t want to shell out the money it cost to get in, so I hung out in the main lobby for an hour. However, hanging out in the lobby wasn’t for nought! There’s an excellent selection of photography books, as well as books on Icelandic history. The visit prompted me to order The Little Book of Icelanders in the Old Days, which is a humorous, informative and enjoyable read. There’s also a cafe in the lobby.

Price: $10

Address: Paejarhahls 1 110, Reykjavik

Hours of operation: 9am – 5pm Mon – Saturday, 1pm – 6pm Sunday

Time required: 1 hour

Hallgrímskirkja – Even if you’re unfamiliar with the name, Hallgrímskirkja is the beautiful and famouse Lutheran church in the middle of Reykjavik. It’s also one of the tallest structures in all of Iceland. It somewhat resembles a spike on an EKG, even though the designer said it was intended to resemble mountains and glaciers, which are reminiscent of Icelandic nature; same thing, right? Construction of the church lasted 41 years – 1945 to 1985. What I’ll say about it, is that it’s nice to look at. I went inside, walked around a bit and saw a few religious sculptures (one was of a red hand with a spike nailed through it – stigmata), but didn’t go up to the observation tower.

Price: $8

Address: Hallgrímstorg 101, 101 Reykjavík

Hours of operation: Winter (October – April): 9 am – 5 pm, Summer (May – September): 9 am – 9 pm

Time required: 30 minutes

Kíkí Queer Bar – My newly acquired Icelandic friend said she was meeting a friend at Kiki’s, so I tagged along and ended up having a blast. The music was an eclectic mix of jams that I can only describe as European, and the dance floor filled out as the night went on. The whole bar was pretty small, but was a good place to start the night. Something tells me that the place got a bit crazier after I left.

Price: Free to enter

Address: Laugavegur 22, 101 Reykjavík

Hours of operation: 9pm – 1am daily

Time required: Up to you

Gljúfrabúi – Gljúfrabúi is a little, itty-bitty waterfall located a few minutes (walking) from Seljalandsfoss – very easy to miss, so make sure you don’t. You enter via a crack in the rockwall  (a gorge), and after walking a few meters (it was really wet when I went), you’ll see some of the most picturesque little waterfalls bursting from above. I was incredibly surprised that this place even existed, especially since it’s so close to the main attraction of Seljalandsfoss. Only later did I find out that locals were keeping it a secret for quite a long time. Once inside, it’ll be a bit difficult to take photos due to the bright lighting and mist everywhere, but a great place to stand is on one of the rocks to the right. However, be careful. They can be a bit slippery!

Price: Free to enter

Address: Next to Seljalandsfoss

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 30 minutes

A stunning shot of Gulfoss from above
A stunning shot of Gulfoss from above

Gaukurinn – Gaukurinn is a live music venue and bar. I happened to go there when it was comedy night, and I was pleasantly surprised by how funny the comedians were (who knew Icelandic people were so funny?). One even managed to single me out and claimed I had never properly executed some not-to-be-mentioned act before, which I have. As I motioned to speak up, I proceeded to fall out of my chair and onto the floor, which caused everyone thought I was the drunk American. American, yes. But, at that point, I wasn’t close to drunk. I digress. It’s a fun place, and if you’re able to catch comedy night (Mondays) you’re in luck.

Price: Free to enter

Address: Tryggvagata 22, 101 Reykjavík

Hours of operation: 2pm – 1am Sunday – Thursday, 2pm – 1am Friday and Saturday

Time required: As much as you need

Summary of Reykjavik

Reykjavik, the “Smoke Cove,” has been through a lot in order to get to where it is today. From Irish hermits to norsemen to the literal plague, the capital of Iceland has certainly earned its reputation as one of the most sought after destinations in the world, and it’s likely not to disappoint. Whether you’re in the mood for a delicious meal, fancy a night out on the town, or just want to use it as a starting point for your amazing Icelandic adventure, Reykjavik is the place to be.

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Mateo is a writer who quit his flashy job in NYC to live life on his own terms. He’s done everything from working at an orphanage in Nairobi to building a new university in Abu Dhabi to sleeping on volcanos in Guatemala. And right now, he’s writing his second novel. His writing has been featured internationally in publications including Matador Network, GoAbroad, Víkurfréttir, Caribbean News Now and Black & Abroad. Regardless of where he is, he’s always working. To keep up with him, follow him on Instagram & Twitter at @AskMateo and read one of his elaborate stories at SwagPapi.com

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