Maybe it’s the surreal Blue Lagoon photos that you’ve seen on your Insta feed or maybe it’s because Game of Thrones was filmed in Iceland — whatever initially drew you to visit the country and its beautiful landscapes, there are many other reasons to stay and explore the scenic town. Reykjavik, the largest city in the country (and the most popular amongst tourists), is extremely safe, the locals are welcoming and there is a thriving music scene. Bet you didn’t know the band Of Monsters and Men are originally from Reykjavik?
There is a lot to do in Reykjavik other than just visit the Blue Lagoon. I was only in town for 48 hours but we crammed a lot in a short amount of time. Here are 7 things to do during your visit to Reykjavik.
Is it really a trip to Iceland without taking a swim in the Blue Lagoon? Sure, it’s a tourist attraction but trust me when I say, the geothermal spa will be calling your name when temperatures drop below 50 degrees. It is an eerily breathtaking backdrop set amongst a volcanic landscape that really must be seen and experienced in person. The water is said to have rejuvenating powers and there are two swim-up bars: a beauty bar and an alcohol bar so you can choose to lather on a mud mask and feel like Mrs. Doubtfire for 20 minutes or indulge in a cold beer.
You will need to book your ticket to the Blue Lagoon in advance and the best time to visit the spa is after you land. It’s a short 20-minute drive from KEF airport (versus 45 minutes from the city center). You should also try to book your ticket for an early morning slot so you can beat the tourist crowds mid-day. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
The Lutheran church that stands tall at about 245 feet is a popular attraction in Reykjavik and was designed by one of the city’s most renowned architects, Guðjón Samúelsson. Admission to the church is free but the cost to go to the top of the tower is about $10. You’ll enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the city so don’t forget your camera.
The 50-room hotel that opened earlier in March 2018 right in the heart of Reykjavik, is an old 1900 department store turned hotel that’s full of modern charm but still plays homage to the local surroundings and history. The spacious hotel rooms at the Reykjavik Konsulat are adorned with black and white photos that pay tribute to the department store owner, Consul Thomsen, and his family, while still maintaining a bit of modern elegance with brass hardware accents in the bathroom and a large shower stocked with luxurious amenities. The hotel is conveniently located near major landmarks, tons of pubs, and cultural attractions all within walking distance and perfect for a stroll.
GOTT (which means “good”), is the family-owned hotel restaurant that earned its name because all the food is made from scratch and is good for you (insider tip: order the seafood pasta). Don’t forget to check out the hotel bathhouse which is a nod to the country’s geothermal pools and hot springs as you unwind with a delicious handcrafted cocktail in hand.
You can’t miss this architectural stunner in the city center. The award-winning concert hall which opened in 2011, features a glass facade and four concert halls and stages that have welcomed icons like James Taylor, Gustavo Dudamel, and Elvis Costello. Harpa hosts a variety of concerts year-round including performances by the Icelandic Opera and Iceland Symphony Orchestra so take a look at their calendar of events to see who’s playing when you’re in town.
How often do you get to stand on top of a 3,000-year-old glacier and walk into an ice cave? It’s a pretty epic experience and it’s one that couldn’t be better suited during a trip to Iceland. Make a reservation with the local tour company, Into the Glacier, which will provide all the gear you’ll need i.e. your winter coat won’t do the trick. You’ll take a trip to the top of the country’s second largest glacier, Langjökull, and get a tour of the man-made ice cave where rumor has it, three couples actually got married inside!
Not only is Hotel Husafell one of the best spots to watch the Northern Lights but it also has a fantastic restaurant that is the perfect place to stop after you’ve worked up an appetite on the glacier. Ask to be seated next to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows so you can enjoy lunch with a view and start off with the flavor-packed shellfish soup – so good, you may not want to order anything else (but you will). The menu uses fresh, local ingredients that make every dish look a little too pretty to eat but that won’t stop you from devouring every last crumb on your plate.
You’ve likely seen the gorgeous stallions in photographs with their trademark mane. Icelandic horses might be smaller in size but they excel in speed which is why they are often trained to compete in races. The family-run ranch at Sturlureykir is home to nearly 50 horses, many of which have won first-class awards and are available for a ride around the farm. A visit to the farm begins with a cup of hot chocolate and a warm welcome from the owner who will proudly share loaves of her freshly baked, “travel bread” — a traditional Icelandic rye bread that bakes in a hot spring for 24 hours. It is rumored that the bread cures many ailments! A member of the family will guide you on a tour of the farm and share interesting facts about their local horses like once an Icelandic horse leaves the country they are not allowed back in to avoid cross-breeding.
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