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.

Jump to:

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

Things you have to see in Reykjavik

Seljavallalaug – Seljavallalaug (sel-tiya-vah-lah-loog) is my favorite place in Iceland. I know this is a guide about Reykjavik, but I’m going to include a handful of places you should take day trips from Reykjavik to. And, Seljavallalaug (always a finger-twister to type) is at the top of the list. Built in 1923, Seljavallalaug a pool cut into the side of a mountain in a beautiful valley sprawling with little white waterfalls. It’s 25-meters long and 10-meters wide; plenty of room to fit a good amount of people. However, getting there isn’t easy. You need to turn off of the ring road onto a side street, park your car, and hike a bit (directions below). But, man, when that pool and valley of waterfalls comes into view, there’s almost nothing else like it. I went in September, so it was a bit cold, but completely worth it. If you’re a germaphobe, you should note that it’s only cleaned once a summer! There are changing rooms, too.

Price: Free to enter

Address: Directions (you’ll need them)

Hours of operation: Always

Time required: 1 hour

Seltjarnarnes – Seltjarnarnes is a little township located within Greater Reykjavik (Reykjavik and six municipalities outside of it). If I didn’t have an Icelandic friend, I probably would have never visited it. But, I’m so happy I did. It’s a quaint town with a beautiful lighthouse and boathouse. It was nice to see a less touristy place in the country and felt very relaxing. It’s on the list of Things you have to see in Reykjavik, because it conveys a different side than the vibrant nature and adventure typically associated with the country, which is important if you want to get to know the real Iceland.

Price: Free to enter (it’s a town)

Address: Seltjarnarnes

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 1 hour

Vesturbæjarlaug – Hot tubs. Yes, you read that correctly. Hot. Tubs. Instead of heading to the bars after a long day at work, most Icelanders head to public pools and hot tubs to cool off (ironic pun intended). Again, I most likely would not have visited the pools of Vesturbæjarlaug, but it’s beyond worth it. It’s better than the Blue Lagoon. I was in Iceland in September, and nothing scared me more than going outside, in the cold, in just a bathing suit. But, there was something soothing about the entire experience. The pools at Vesturbæjarlaug varied in size and temperature, and I met a few new people there. What’s even more amazing is the fact that “famous” Icelanders go there all the time. My friend told me she’d showered with Björk (not with her, but next to her, you know what I mean), and I managed to see the first person to come out as gay on television, an ex soccer player turned sports commentator, and one of the singers of the Icelandic band, GusGus. It’s a very family friendly place and no stress, at all. No photos allowed, though!

Price: $5

Address: Hofsvallagata, 107 Reykjavík

Hours of operation: 6:30am – 10pm (times vary) daily

Time required: 2 hours

Reynisfjara – This beautiful black beach (instead of sand, there are small, rounded black rocks) is not to be missed. As you walk across the beach, you may feel as though you’ve been transported to another planet. There are some basalt columns (naturally formed, but they look like someone cut them into perfect rectangular columns) to the left of the beach, which I wasn’t expecting. And when you look out into the sea, you’ll see what’s known as Reynisdrangar, which are two basalt sea stacks. As legend goes, they were formed when two trolls attempted to drag a three-masted ship on shore, and as the ship sank, it became needles of rock. Spooky. My favorite part about the beach (you should walk the whole thing) is that there were little yellow flowers growing among the little black rocks. There was something poetic about it.

Price: Free to enter

Address: 2.5hrs from Reykjavik, take the Ring Road

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 2 hours

A beautiful view of the water from Reynisfjara, Iceland
A beautiful view of the water from Reynisfjara, Iceland

Perlan – This place is awesome. “The Pearl” is a glass-domed restaurant that revolves. Yes, revolves. As in it moves around in a circle. It’s about 84-feet high and situated on a hill. The restaurant is described as “fine dining,” so I thought about my poor little wallet and decided to save him the agony of losing a bit of weight. Regardless, that’s not why I went! I went for the view, and it was a wet one. Rain, wind and high altitudes are rarely a good combination, but I loved it. I walked around the pearl a handful of times, and took in all that I could see of Reykjavik below.

Note: Google told me that the pearl is closed. Upon further inspection, I saw that the restaurant moved, but the building is still there. It’s worth the journey to see if you can still go up to the viewing deck – if you do, let me know!

Price: Free to enter

Address: Oskjuhlio, Reykjavik 125

Hours of operation: Might be closed

Time required: 30 minutes

Skógafoss – On the waterfall spectrum of spectacular to okay, this is closer to the spectacular side than Seljalandsfoss, but still not the best waterfall in the country. What’s great about Skogafoss is that there is a long and vertigo-inducing set of stairs that you can climb to the top of the waterfall. Despite being around 527 steps, it makes for an enchanting aerial view of the waterfall (you can see all of its power up close). Once up there, you’ll see other places to walk around. I surveyed the area a bit, but it’s important to be careful here. One slip and you’ll most likely not live to tell the tale. If you’re into movies (who isn’t), you may enjoy to learn that Skógafoss was featured in Thor: The Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Price: Free to enter

Address: Skógar (Off Ring Road)

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 1 hour

Gulfoss – Now this is the waterfall to see. On the waterfall spectrum of spectacular to okay, Gulfoss is the closest to spectacular compared to all of the other waterfalls I visited in Iceland. Why, you ask? Well, it’s because of its sheer power. It’s scary! After walking down a few dozen steps, you’ll be at one of the waterfall’s most powerful points (the place where it drops). And, man, does it drop. I stood there for close to an hour, just watching the water and mist crash all over the place. It’s truly a sight to behold. The waterfall itself is located in a canyon, which makes the whole experience even more dramatic. Adding to this all is the fact that Gulfoss has two abrupt plunges – one about 36 feet and the other 105 feet. After you’ve had your share of the waterfall, you can hike around the area, which is stunning. I crossed a “no trespassing barrier,” which I don’t always recommend, but I didn’t feel like there was any real and imminent danger, so check that part of the area out at your own risk.

Price: Free to enter

Address: Southwest Iceland (Off Ring Road)

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 2 hours

Strokkur – Looking for an active geyser? Strokkur is the place to be. Located in the valley of Haukadalur, Strokkur is one of the two many geysers there – the other is known as “Geysir,” which was the first geyser known to modern Europeans, and is what gave English the word “geyser,” itself. But, while Geysir doesn’t erupt often, Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes, shooting hot water into the air up to around 15-20 meters. Sometimes 40. Like with any highly visited attraction, try to get there early so you have a little alone time with Strokkur. Regardless, it’ll definitely blow a few times while you’re there! Definitely worth the visit.

Price: Free to enter

Address: Haukadalsvegur, Geysir

Hours of operation: Anytime

Time required: 1 hour

Strokkur having a little fun in Iceland
Strokkur having a little fun in Iceland

Blue Lagoon – The infamous Blue Lagoon. If you’ve done any research on Iceland (I doubt my guide is the first you’ve seen!), you probably noticed travelers in blue waters with white substances caked all over their faces and possibly a drink or two in hand. That is the blue lagoon, a luxury and geothermal spa visited by hundreds of thousands (if not more) of tourists every year. Despite how touristy and crowded it can be, it’s completely worth it. After walking down a long pathway, you’ll have to wait in line for a bit (depends on time of day / year, of course) and then you’ll be directed to a changing room. Afterwards, you’ll pass through a little pool, then make your way through a cave of sorts into the open, light-blue waters of the lagoon. It’s honestly really cool, and unlike anything else I’ve seen in this world. The mist blows off of the water like smoke, and you can grab white silica from designated places, or just the bottom of the lagoon, and put it all over your face and body; it’s supposed to be exfoliating.

The lagoon is man-made. As the story goes, in 1976, a pool was formed from the wastewater of a geothermal plant, and one guy, with psoriasis (red, itchy and scaly patches of skin), got the idea to jump in. Afterwards, his psoriasis was supposedly cured. So, the lagoon is often associated with having healing effects on the body and skin.

There’s a restaurant, bar and cafe to satisfy any of your food and / or beverage-related needs. Just know, it’ll cost you. I bought the most basic ticket (standard), and it ran me around $50. Again, worth it, but I wouldn’t go again unless it were for free.

Price: $48 – 478

Address: Nordurljosavegur 9, 240 Grindavík

Hours of operation: 8am – 10pm daily

Time required: 2 hours

A martian-like view on the way to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. The water in the lagoon is the same hue of blue!
A martian-like view on the way to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. The water in the lagoon is the same hue of blue!

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.

Check out my other popular adventures:

Liked this guide? Leave a comment, subscribe to my newsletter and get loads more!

–––

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

Comments

comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *