The world’s northernmost capital is much more than just a travel destination—but a fascinating place surrounded by incredible landscapes, colorful buildings, quirky people, crystal-clear air, and countless adventures awaiting to be discovered. Add to that a backdrop of snow-topped mountains, churning seas, as well as a renowned late-night club scene and remnants of Viking history scattered all throughout town, and there’s no doubt that visitors of all sorts will fall helplessly in love with this Icelandic beauty.
Despite it being a small city, there’s tons to do in Reykjavík. The old town is super easy to walk around, with many area houses boasting very distinct features, most notably some brightly colored corrugated metal sidings. Plan to spend at least a couple hours just wandering around, taking in the eclectic city, as some of the most interesting buildings you'll come across will be just by taking a stroll through town. A few that deserve special mention include City Hall, Reykjavík Cathedral, and Imagine Peace Tower, Yoko Ono's memorial to John Lennon, projecting a "tower of light" into the air that can be seen from around the city. Culturally, the local area is just as rich, with several museums of art and of history found all throughout the downtown area such as the National Gallery of Iceland and The Culture House, a grand building previously housing the national library and is today home two world class exhibitions. There’s also a hip and vibrant music scene with live concerts most evenings, as well as a thriving theatre scene, with two main theatres staging around ten plays a year each (as well as a number of smaller theatre groups specializing in different kinds of modern theatre). Catch a show at Harpa, the new home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, or the National Theatre of Iceland, which is in many ways the focal point of Icelandic theatre. And make sure to party it up with tons of great food and the notoriously "enthusiastic" nightlife scene!
There are even a number of opportunities to experience at least a bit of Icelandic nature without leaving the city itself, as outdoors activities in the immediate vicinity of the city are simple to come upon. Embark on a volcano tour, go diving in the otherworldly waters of Silfra, or go whale watching, horse riding, hiking, or get in touch with your animal side at the Reykjavík Domestic Animal Zoo. You can’t forget to take in those Northern Lights while in the city, as Reykjavik and surrounding areas are the perfect spot to see these glittery wonders, as well as to recharge after all those outdoor pursuits in one of the many geothermal springs or luxurious indoor spas the region has to offer.
If you’ve got some time to spare, it’s always worth venturing outside the city limits into Greater Reykjavík, for an even deeper taste of the Icelandic provinces – suburban style. There’s the town of Hafnarfjörður, which is large enough to be independent of Reykjavík and houses a couple of museums as well as a busy harbor that often hosts some of the most well-known Viking feasts in the world. Sample traditional delicacies along with generous quantities of the potent Icelandic schnapps before heading on over to the flat and treeless island of Viðey, which is barely ten minutes offshore from Reykjavík—a place that’s also got magnificent views, as well as several enjoyable walking trails that lead around the island. Don’t forget also to head out to Mount Esja, the color changing mountain that is a familiar sight to anyone who’s ever spent even a few hours in the city. At 909m, it shifts from light purple to deep blue, from light grey to golden -- depending on prevailing weather conditions and the light that reflects on the basalt rock and palagonite minerals which make up the mountain – and offers tons of hiking trails to make your way around. Try starting out at Mógilsá, beside the Ringroad, where the Icelandic state forestry station has its base.
Other options include venturing out to Skogarfoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park, or Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland, which is one of the most popular destinations for visitors, with countless of lava caves, hot springs, and waterfalls. The Blue Lagoon and Grimsey Island are also vacation destination favorites, as well as Golden Circle's Classic tour, a full-day guided tour around Iceland that’s become one of the most popular day trips from Reykjavik. Stops include Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, the famous Geysir, and several other popular must-see sights.
Whether you're seeking luxury style rooms, spaces to stay in the heart of the city, a quaint B&B in the suburbs, or something in a more natural setting, accommodations are easy to find in this Artic Region city. Be warned though that there isn’t much in the way of affordable lodging in Iceland, particularly when travelling with the entire family. The cheapest option by far, would be to stay at the city's only campsite—but if that’s not exactly what you’re looking for, there are also several hostels with affordable dorms located in the center of the city. Most of these hostels offer single or double bedrooms, while a few small guesthouses have rooms at similar prices as well. Try the Capital Inn near near the Fossvog churchyard, Star Guesthouse, or Guesthouse Sunna, right across the square from Hallgrimskirkja.
And just as there are surprisingly few cheap accommodation options in Reykjavík, there are unsurprisingly many more expensive ones such as 101 Hotel, the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel, or Hótel Holt, which sits by a quiet street in the central part of town. Modern luxury apartments in the downtown area can also be found at Black Pearl.
Walking in Reykjavík is always highly recommended, as many attractions are within walking distance from most area hotels. Plus, the city is extremely beautiful all on its own and the sidewalk and pathway system have been rated one of the bests in the world. There’s also a very long and scenic pathway for walking and cycling that circles almost the entire city that’s typically unknown to many tourists. Try starting point at any place where the city touches the sea and follow along on a path that leads by an outdoor swimming pool, a sandy beach, a golf course, and a salmon river.
For those looking to take on the road, however, Reykjavík also has a public bus system that is clean and reliable, with Sterna and Reykjavík Excursions operating regular bus service from West Iceland, South Iceland and Akureyri daily. There are even numerous rental car services to choose from (the cheapest car at the cheapest dealer would probably average out to about 5500 ISK each day). In addition, several cruise liners stop in Reykjavík each summer, mostly arriving in Sundahöfn which is three kilometers east from the city center, so those hoping to travel by water have plenty of options as well. Visit Cruise Iceland, a website run by several companies that service cruise liners in the country.
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