Reykjavik is the largest city and capital of Iceland. Boasting the distinction of being the world’s northernmost capital of a sovereign state, this popular tourist destination has a blend of rich cultural heritage, natural wonders, educational exhibition, shopping and night life. Characterized as one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world, Reykjavik can be stated to have a little bit of something for everyone who visits. The following list highlights 10 of the most popular things to do during one’s times in this legendary Icelandic city:
Visiting a Museum
Reykjavik is home to 37 museums and historical exhibitions. Whether a person is a casual observer wishing to gain greater cultural insight into the region or they are history aficionado, the city’s museum system is quite robust. The museums in the city include but are not limited to: the National Museum of Iceland, Arbaer Open Air Musem, Reykjavik 871 Settlement Exhibition, Volcano House, Aurora Reykjavik, Saga Museum, Vikin Maritime Museum, Whales of Iceland, Einar Jonsson Museum and the Reykjavik Art Museum. While this is only a cursory list overview, there are not shortages of museums for visitors to experience in Reykjavik.
Golden Circle Trips
Though technically not part of Reykjavik, the city offers a variety of tours for explorers to experience the natural wonders surrounding the city. Golden Circle tours take the participant on three of Iceland’s most popular attractions, the National Park Thingvellir, Gulfoss and Geysir. For a visitor to the region, it is impossible to have a full experience of Iceland without seeing and feeling the splendor of the Golden Circle and Reykjavik offers a convenient starting place for morning, evening or afternoon tours.
The Northern Lights
Iceland is renowned for its haunting illumination and a great portion of this distinction is due to the vantage point the region has for viewing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). Primarily a winter phenomenon, Reykjavik offers structured tours of the Northern Lights as well as simply a location for visitors to experience the wonder of the lights at their own accord. Due to the fact that the Northern lights can be affected by factors included clouds, weather and urban light pollution, the full experience is best examined outside of the city center or from various vantage points in or around the sea.
No journey to Reykjavik is complete with experiencing the nightlife of the region. Reykjavik boasts a number of bars and clubs in addition to wine bars, coffeehouses, shows and concerts. As with the Northern Lights, visitors can visit and experience the nightlife of the region on their own or there are additional bar, club and pub tours offered. There are special interest nightlife destinations that include but are not limited to dancing, gay clubs, jazz clubs and karaoke bars. For a night on the town, Reykjavik’s large city but safe city dualism makes it great for late night destinations.
Whales are one of the most magnificent creatures on planet earth and people can go a lifetime without ever seeing one in its natural environment. Reykjavik offers a number of reasonable whale watching cruises and tours for long and short term excursions. Whale watchers in Reykjavik often see a variety of highly active porpoises, minke whales, dolphins and humpback whales in the waters of Faxafloi Bay. While whale watching is a popular activity in the city, it should be noted that the tours are heavily reliant on weather and seasonal cooperation.
Part of experiencing any culture or city necessitates consumption of local delicacies. Not for the faint of heart, some Icelandic cuisine includes sheep face dishes and whale. Sheep face can be found precooked in almost any supermarket in the area and the whole head is customarily consumed with the exception of the brain. Along the harbor in particular, whale meat is quite common. Seen as a right of passage by many visitors to Iceland, one traditional delicacy is fermented shark that is often accompanied by Iceland’s own black death schnapps (Brennivin). Other traditional Icelandic cuisine includes hot spring rye bread, Hardfiskur, ram’s testicles and Slatur (blood pudding).
Shopping in Reykjavik can run the gamut from souvenirs and traditional cultural fair to high fashions and art. One of the most popular destinations for both shoppers and tourists is the city flea market. The city flea market is a chaotic experience where individuals can mingle with locals and at the same time purchase anything from second hand clothes to DVDs. As an added bonus, the city flea market also has amazing food. The main shopping street, Laugavegur, as well as visiting the city mall Kringlan or the phallus shaped mall of Smaralind offers additional shopping experience and goods that differ from the street bazaar nature of the city flea market.
Reykjavik offers unique experiences to bathe in the thermal waters of Blue Lagoon. Whether its spa therapy, a drive through the lava fields or basking in the mineral rich healing waters of the region, the thermal experience is one that can be fit into a variety of time frames convenient for the traveller.
Few natural phenomenons inspire as much fear and wonder as volcanoes. Only a short trip from tours organized in Reykjavik, visitors can visit volcanoes, walk around areas of volcanic activity and even have the opportunity to go inside a volcano. These popular destinations can bring out the explorer in all of us. One of the more popular destinations, the Leidarendi Cave, allows visitors to experience internal lava formations by torchlight.
‘Game of Thrones’
As a popular culture phenomenon, HBO’s popular series, Game of Thrones, owes many of its scenic and fantasy based filming locations to areas in and surrounding Reykjavik. Though it may not appeal to everyone, those viewers of the show and those simply looking to experience the mood of charm of simpler times can take the now popular “Game of Thrones” filming location tours offered by various companies. For those who this may not appeal to, there are also beer tasting opportunities or viking style tour/experiences that can be used to replace this recommendation.
Though perhaps not a comprehensive list, these 10 recommendations are traditional and unique elements of Iceland and Reykjavik that would enrich any travelers appreciation and understanding of the region thereby making a trip to this city unforgettable.