Reykjavik is a small intimate city surrounded by breathtaking landscape. It is the launch point for nature, nightlife, and health & wellness activities. It was also named UNESCO City of Literature because it boasts an outstanding collection of medieval literature covering its heritage in the form of the Icelandic Sagas, the Edda and Íslendingabók.
– Perlan (The Pearl) is actually a water storage facility built on a hill on top of a geothermal spring. Here, you can transport back to the Viking ages by visiting the Saga Museum (2000 ISK or $16 USD), which is situated under one of the water tanks. To see a gorgeous view of the city center, the Perlan offers a 360° observation deck free of charge. There is also café that offers comparatively cheap, light dishes. For a fine dining experience with a view, there is the revolving restaurant on the top floor.
– Hallgrimskirkja Church is the largest and tallest church and building in Iceland. The bell tower affords another great view of the city. You can take the stairs or the elevator (350 ISK or $3) to the top.
There are tons of museums to choose. From Icelandic art, gaining insight into the Viking lifestyle, a synopsis of Icelandic national heritage and geological & volcanic history, and a history of Reyjkavik's progression to the city as we know it now. Also, if you were ever intrigued by the science of Phallology, there is a museum that hosts over 200 penises and penile parts from different land and sea mammals.
– Laugavegur is the main shopping street but nearby Skolavordustigur and Hverfisgata are also filled with shops. Numerous stores sell local stuff from Icelandic designers but two large shopping malls also sell well-known brands. Operating hours are M-F 10:00 – 16:00, S 10:00 – 14:00, closed Sundays except bakeries, florists, souvenirs and book stores.
– On the weekend, sample the area in and around Laugavegur as it completely transforms at night to prepare for the rúntur, an Icelandic bar crawl. They say nightlife in Reykjavik is a whole different beast so you can be sure to have an eventful night. Things usually get going pretty late, around midnight, as locals choose to drink at home first since the city's alcohol tends to be costly.
– Geothermal pools are found all over city but the most well-known is the Blue Lagoon. Located 40km from the city in a lava field and fed by a geothermal water plant, the warm mineral-rich waters are used for recreational and medicinal bathing and reach average temperatures of 37-39 °C.
– Given a combination of high Aurora activity and clear, dark skies, hunting the Northern Lights from Reykjavik is possible. Bundle yourself up then walk or drive away from well-lit areas and check the aurora forecast (http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast) to increase your odds.
– The Golden Circle is a 300 km tourist loop covering the Reykjavik surrounding area's natural beauty with its main stops being Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss (Golden Falls), and Geysir Geothermal Field. This can be done on your own with a car or through one of the many package tours.
Thingvellir is of cultural, historical and geological importance. It was here that the first parliament was established and the founding of the national park expanded to include the surrounding landscape, giving it the status "shrine of the nation." It is the home of the largest lake in Iceland and one of the only places where an underwater ridge, the Mid-Atlantic ridge, rises above water. The Mid-Atlantic ridge is the longest mountain range in the world and is not only responsible for Iceland's volcanic activity but also its changing geography.
Gulfoss, or golden falls, is Iceland's largest waterfall and was so named because the sediment carved off by glacial ice looks golden as it plunges down in the sunlight. According to legend, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the landowner's daughter, loved the falls so much that when speculation about using Gulfoss to harness electricity was made, she walked 120 km to Reykjavik barefoot and across unpaved roads to protest and make her threats of throwing herself into the falls real. She is credited with saving the falls and a statue is erected at the falls in her honor.
Geysir Geothermal field is home to the Great Geysir, the original spouting spring that gave rise to the English word geyser, for which all others were named. Though it has mostly been inactive since 1916, the nearby Strokkur geyser erupts more frequently.
– Landmannalaugar is another option for a feasible day trip or launching point to Iceland's most popular trail, Laugarvegur. It is 200km away from Reykjavik and only open during the summer. There are three main roads to the highlands though with its rough terrain a 4×4 may be recommended. There are also buses available daily from mid-June to mid-September. The area is full of geothermal activity with lava fields and numerous hot springs found in the area. Landmannalaugar literally means "The people's pool." Though not as convenient as the Blue Lagoon, you can combine a soak in the hot springs with a hike through multicolored rhyolitic mountains. The stunning views make the trip worth more than the effort to get there. Half of the fun is in the journey after all.
To get to Reykjavik city center from the KEF airport (30-45 minutes), you have the option of taking:
One way: 1950 ISK~ $16.64 USD, Return: 3500 ISK ~ $29.87 USD)
Free wi-fi on all buses
One way: 2090 ISK ~ $17.77 USD, Return 3800 ISK ~ $32.37 USD)
If relevant to you, for each transfer booked online, earn 200 Icelandair Saga Club points
15,000 ISK ~ $120 USD !!!!
– Renting a car
If you plan on staying in the city, then renting a car isn't really necessary since walking around is easy and the bus system reliable and easy to manage. Venturing into the countryside, however, is the best way to explore the surrounding areas. Given the high price levels in Iceland, in general, rental cars can be a steal especially in off season (September-April). Most cars are small though and gas prices are sky high.
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]
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