Reykjavik is the starting and ending point for almost all trips in Iceland. While many people skip the city in favour of checking out the top sights in Iceland, it’s definitely worth giving this gem of a capital city a chance. Not only is there lots of interesting museums and attractions within Reykjavik, but it’s a great base for doing some of the top adventure activities in Iceland. Here’s out pick of the top things to do in Reykjavik, and why you should REALLY stick about for a few nights! If you’ll feeling adventurous, go check out these waterfalls close to Reykjavik.
Adventurous Things To Do in Reykjavik
Drive the legendary Golden Circle
Waterfalls, geysers, a volcanic crater, traditional architecture, and a huge number of adventurous activities, these are all the hallmarks of the legendary route known as “The Golden Circle.” Starting out in Reykjavik, tourists can spend between one to three days exploring the 190 miles that make up the majority of this route. While there are at least eight different “must-see” stops along the way, planning out 20 or more activities in the area isn’t unheard.
Some of the more interesting experiences include tours of Geo-thermal power plants, visits to Norse archeological sites, hiking around the Kerið volcanic crater, and visits to the Thingvellir National Park. Side activities include Norse history museums, diving between tectonic plates, and bathing in natural hot springs in small towns along the route. Experienced hikers sometimes undertake this trip on foot, but most people will enjoy booking a van tour with scheduled stops much more than hiking. You can read my full guide to driving The Golden Circle here.
Visit The Blue Lagoon
A geothermal spa, with large outdoor pools, amazing indoor experiences, a large variety of treatments, and a high-class restaurant, The Blue Lagoon brings new meaning to the word luxury. Popular treatments include volcanic mud masks, full body scrubs, hot massages, and steam treatments. More exclusive packages offer the option of arriving early, allowing you to see the sun come up over this private lagoon.
Tickets are limited per hour and day, ensuring that the spa will never be over booked. Many people choose to stay the entire day, so plan to arrive early or pre-book your tickets to ensure that you will be able to get the full experience. This is by far one of the most popular things to do in Reykjavik (well, just outside of Reykjavik) and is a must stop on any visit to Iceland!
Do a Northern Lights Tour
As one of the best places in the word to view the Northern Lights, it isn’t surprising that many tourists come just to see the sky lit up in myriad colors. A number of different companies offer different tour packages, with everything from dinner and movies to overnight camping available. Each tour claims to have the perfect place for viewing, but most people are happy not matter what company they choose to go with. Depending on your personal preferences, you may want to view the lights in a more isolated setting, or you may want to choose an area closer to the city.
Swim In The Secret Lagoon
Another natural hot spring, the Secret Lagoon is one of the largest attractions just outside of the city. Known for having particularly scenic views and not being overly crowded, most people end up staying at least 6 hours when they visit. You can rent swimsuits, towels, and anything else you might need when you arrive. The lagoon also offers a buffet, open bar, and can even be used as a place to view the northern lights. Transport to and from the hot springs can generally be found at any of the hotels in the area, while packages including dinner and nighttime activities will often have this built into their existing prices.
Visit some Viking Statues
Lief Erikson is one of the best known Vikings, and happens to have a rather lovely statue in Reykjavik. While this statue is a well known landmark, many lesser Vikings, ships, and even important battles have been commemorated as statues in the city and the surrounding area. Pick up a map from any of the local tour shops, and walk around the city to see how many statues you can see. Most will have plaques with information about their importance in English, making this an activity you can do without a tour guide. The entire city has been designed with pedestrians in mind, and during the summer a stroll through the streets is an enjoyable way to spend the majority of a day.
Go On A Whale Watching Tour
Some of the biggest whales in the world make their homes in the waters around Iceland, and many of them are less than half an hour out of the city. Tours leave each morning to take visitors out to the areas where whales are known to congregate. Many tours will stay on the water until whales have been witnessed breaching, guaranteeing you the experience of a lifetime. Most of these tours focus on blue and humpback whales, but others also offer the chance to see native birds such as puffins in addition to the whales. Dolphins are also common on these trips, and many people see orca and minke whales as well.
For those worried about the impact of these tours, most companies work hard to make sure that their methods are sustainable, and all groups ensure that they are eco-friendly, ensuring that no harm comes to any of the whales that are seen on these tours.
Try Your Hand At Sea Fishing
While this might not seem like the most interesting experience in the world, few people actually get to go out on a commercial fishing vessel and see how it all works. However, crews in the area are able to offer day and half day packages to people who are curious about their profession. Usually these experiences include catching your own fish and a satisfying dinner after the fact. If you do want to go on one of these trips, make sure that you pack some warm clothing and are prepared to do a load of wash when you come back from the ship.
Explore Lava Caves
In an area with as many glaciers and mountains as Iceland has, it isn’t surprising that there are a number of lava caves in the area. The most famous lava tunnel in the area is known as Raufarhólshellir and can be visited with a group in a little under an hour. Other caves in the area are much deeper, and skilled guides will share the history of the area, important geological information, and even stories about local culture with anyone who joins their expedition. If you are looking for a bit of a thrill outside of the city, this is the experience for you. If you do sign up for adventurous activities like this, be sure to pack some hiking boots!
Hallgrímskirkja Observation Tower
If you’re visiting Reykjavik with kids, or you yourself are simply keen for the highest view point of the city, then Hallgrímskirkja Observation Tower is the place to go. It’s part of Iceland’s largest church and is one of its best-known landmarks in the center of Reykjavik and visible throughout the city. You’ll notice it in most photos of Reykjavik and a lot of the great photos of Reykjavik’s rooftops are taken from here. The view of the city and harbour are breathtaking and its a fun morning outing before heading off in search of more adventurous (and expensive) things to do in Reykjavik.
Watch the sun go down
If you spend a few days in the city or exploring the nearby area, one of the most relaxing things to do in Reykjavik one evening is to head down to the harbour and watch the sunset. There are many great vantage points to watch the sun go down, but anywhere close to the water is best. You might even be greeted by some dolphins if you’re lucky! Once you’ve watched the sunset and are in need of a bite to eat, check out these cheap and cheerful restaurants.