By Rachael Funk
Take a journey to the land of rugged beauty that inspired epic storytelling, classic romances, and memories to last a lifetime. A city rebranded as a wellness and health destination, Reykjavik is home to strange beauty, ancient folklore, and vibrant skies.
What to know
Nestled between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, Iceland has become a huge tourism destination. The capital city of Reykjavik is filled with colorful buildings, varied museums, innovative restaurants, boutiques, and more. More than just a destination, it’s a place of thrilling experiences and gorgeous landscapes.
When to Go
Iceland is a magical destination year-round and the best time to visit may depend on what number visit this may be for you. If it is your first visit to Iceland, you may want to go in winter, when the Aurora Borealis is at its most vivid and you can soak in the geothermal pools while snow is covering the ground. If the northern lights are not on the bucket list, or you have an aversion to snow, mid-June through August sees the balmiest weather and the phenomenon of the midnight sun. During this time, you can see the country’s flora in full bloom, instead of hidden under a blanket of snow.
How to Get Around
The easiest and most affordable way to get around the city is to walk. The sights and attractions of the downtown area are close enough to each other to easily reach on foot, but if you opt for a hotel outside of the city center, you may benefit from hiring or renting a car. Public transportation is limited, so a car rental is likely the next best option to walking. Before you rent, however, be sure to brush up on rental and driving rules in Iceland as there are important differences regarding lane sharing, gas station availability, and rental guidelines.
Where to Eat
Travel to Iceland may be a no-brainer, but the country’s reputation for food may give pause to even the most adventurous eaters. If fermented shark isn’t really your jam, have no fear! Reykjavik is packed with hip places to get fantastic Icelandic food that’s less intimidating than what you may be expecting. Here are a few places in the city where you can’t go wrong.
- Dill Hverfisgata 12 Phone: +354 552 1522
- Vinberid Laugavegur 43 Phone: +354 551 2475
- Marshall Restaurant + Bar Grandagarður 20 Phone: +354 519 7766
- Baejarins Beztu Pylsur Tryggvagata 1 Phone: +354 511 1566
- Kaffivagninn 10, Grandagarður Phone: +354 551 5932
- MAT BAR Hverfisgata 26 Phone: +354 788 3900
- Kol Restaurant Skólavörðustígur 40 Phone: +354 517 7474
- Kopar Geirsgata 3 Phone: +354 567 2700
- The Noodle Station Laugavegur 103 Phone: +354 551 3198
What to See
The Marshall House
Located in an area emerging as a new cultural district known to the locals as “Grandi,” the Marshall House was built in 1948 as a fish meal factory. In 2017, it was redesigned and renovated as a cultural center with three institutions: The Living Art Museum, Gallery Kling & Bang, and Studio Ólafur Elíasson. The restaurant on the ground floor serves up fresh seafood and tasty cocktails.
A Lutheran parish church, it is the largest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in the country. Hallgrímskirkja is known as Reykjavik’s main landmark and its tower can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The church features a massive pipe organ designed and constructed by Johannes Klais of Bonn. Outside stands a statue of Leifur Eiríksson, who is credited as the first European to discover America.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
A riveting museum that may not entice every traveler, the Icelandic Phallological Museum showcases a collection of over 215 specimen for examination. Almost exclusively belonging to land and sea mammals which can be found in Iceland, the specimen include contributions from 17 different kinds of whale, a polar bear, seven kinds of seal, a walrus, and more. The museum’s goal is to enable individuals to be able to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, serious fashion.
Great for families or a quiet morning stroll, this scenic park is popular for locals and visitors alike. Within Laugarfalur, you will find a campsite, youth hostel, and the largest outdoor thermal pool in Reykjavik, which is open for swimming year-round. The park also has a beautiful botanical garden and Café Flora as well as the Family Park and Zoo. At the edge of the valley, the Reykjavik Art Museum’s Ásmundarsafn sculpture collection can be found, as well as the city’s main sports stadium.
Tips and Tricks
The hot water in the city is provided by geothermal activity, so it may have a Sulphur smell. This is normal and no cause for alarm! Cold water comes from another source and should not have a scent.
If you travel during the summer, bring a sleeping mask. Many hotels do not have blackout curtains.
A Reykjavik City Card will grant you unlimited access to all geothermal pools in the city.
To find a famous Icelandic sweater at a fraction of the cost, hit a thrift store before you look for one at a retail store.
Try an Icelandic hot dog!
You can’t visit Iceland without a trip to the Blue Lagoon! One of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe, these thermal waters are the perfect way to kick back and release the stress of travel. The Blue Lagoon complex has a spa center where you can book mud treatments, massages, and more!
A hidden gem on Iceland’s south coast, this waterfall is a sparkling example of Iceland’s unspoiled raw beauty. The picturesque landscape is the ideal place to take a few photos, soak in the mystical surroundings, and spend a few hours in pristine nature.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Uncover the adventurer within during an excursion to the largest glacier in Europe. The lagoon is covered in floating icebergs which glitter in the sunlight and is the largest and deepest glacier lagoon in Iceland.
Langjokull Glacier and Ice Caves
You can explore these breathtaking caves on foot or by snowmobile, or even raft down the Hvita River to the entrance of the cave. The manmade caves are located inside the glacier and offer a one-of-a-kind experience to anyone who enters. Guided tours are available for anyone interested in learning the cultural and geographic significance of the glacier and the area surrounding it.