Top 7 Cool Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

by Jules on January 14, 2014

The most northernmost capital city within Europe is brimming with colourful houses, gorgeous parks and fascinating museums: in fact there are plenty of things to do in Reykjavik – the capital of cool!

Get to know Reykjavik via the National Museum of Iceland

The best way to acquaint yourself with a new city is to browse the National Museum and Iceland’s certainly doesn’t disappoint. Reykjavik’s eclectic heritage is brought to life, from the very first Viking explorers to discover Iceland, the prosperity of the 18th century and the boom during the Second World War period. Located right next to the University of Iceland campus, this museum has a fascinating range of temporary as well as permanent exhibitions. Don’t miss the ‘Making of a Nation’ exhibit with over 2,000 objects on display as well as 1,000 intriguing photos.

If you’re planning on hitting the museums, you can purchase a ‘Reykjavík Welcome Card’ which for one fee, includes entrance to many attractions across the city. Other notable museums include;

  • Reykjavík Art Museum, Hafnarhús, includes works by local artist Erró, not to be confused with the;
  • Reykjavík Art Museum, Kjarvalsstaðir, which hosts works by Icelandic artist Kjarval
  • Reykjavík City Museum, open air museum-slash-historic-village complete with staff in period costume

Climb Inside the Volcano

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like inside a volcano (and quite frankly who hasn’t) you can find out on the ‘Inside the Volcano’ experience. The geological hotspot of the Thrihnukagigur volcano is the setting for this unique experience. A 45 minute hike will lead you to the crater where you will then descend 120 meters/400 feet to the very bowels of the crater via an open cable lift. If thoughts of those recent ash clouds come to mind, don’t panic, Thrihnukagigur hasn’t erupted for more than 4,000 years!

And if volcanoes are your thing, don’t miss the Volcano House Museum in Reykjavik which screens two documentaries hourly on the two most explosive volcanic eruptions to hit Iceland. Many travellers will remember the pesky ash clouds from Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 which grounded millions of flights at the time. The movie also covers the 1973 eruption on the Westman Islands.

Wander Old Town Reykjavik

Reykjavik was made the capital of Iceland in 1801 and today holds the greatest concentration of heritage. The Old Town district, Tjörnin, in particular offers a wealth of cultural sights; from its colourful metal-sided buildings, intriguing art galleries and superb museums. The heart of the capital, the sights are laid out around Tjörnin Lake, which supports around 50 different species of birds. Don’t miss the postmodern Ráðhús which rises from the lake on its concrete feet, admire the modern-meets-heritage Icelandic parliament and take in the handsome Dómkirkja Cathedral.

Reykjavik is also blessed with an abundance of open areas and parklands, such as;

  • Reykjavík Botanical Gardens, compact green space with endemic plantlife
  • Austurvöllur Park is a great place for a picnic in the summer and is surrounded by the parliament and the national cathedral buildings
  • Viðey island lies on the Kollafjörður the fjord, in the north of Reykjavík and offers a real getaway-from-it all as its now uninhabited, besides the plethora of seabirds

Experience the Gullfoss Waterfall up close

There are no superlatives great enough for Iceland’s absolutely breathtaking natural landscapes: from vast volcanoes (that have caused havoc to air travel a few years ago), sheer glaciers, magnificent geysers (by which all others are named) and shimmering waterfalls. And the most captivating waterfall has to be the Gullfoss, aka Golden Falls. The spectacular waters lie just outside Reykjavik and feature a 32 meter high double waterfall, located on the White River.

To make the most of your time in Reykjavik, consider joining a ‘Golden Circle tour’ which also stops at UNESCO-listed Þingvellir National Park and the original geothermal hotspot of ‘geysir’ (by which all others are named) as well as the Gullfoss Waterfall above.

Catch a festival in Reykjavik

More and more travellers are wising up to Reykjavik’s lively nightlife scene, but did you know that the city also hosts an eclectic range of festivals all year round? After all, 22 hours on daylight through the summer is the perfect excuse to party! One of the coolest events on the calendar has to be the Iceland Airwaves festival which runs for five days around October/November time. In 2014 the Reykjavik Jazz festival will be in its 25th year and the five day musical feast will attract many international masters.  The annual Reykjavik International Film Festival is a must-experience too, with a ten day celebration including talks, special screenings and previews. And finally don’t miss the colourful Winter Lights Festival around February time which really goes to town in seeing off winter, with a food festival and cultural festivities, along with brightly lit buildings, hence the name!

Get blinded by the lights

We can’t create a list of the coolest things to do in Reykjavik without mentioning the Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights. Witness this extraordinary natural phenomena for yourself as the sky flits between rich reds, luminous yellows and gregarious greens.

The prime time to witness the lights is around midnight on 100 or so nights of the year between September and October and from March to April companies like superjeep provide excellent tours of the Northern Lights.

Studied for many years, the Aurora Borealis is named after ‘Aurora’, the Roman goddess of dawn and ‘Boreas’, the Greek name for the northern wind. Science says that the mysterious lights are caused by an interaction between the earth’s magnetic fields and the solar winds. I like the romanticism behind the Eskimos belief that the lights are the souls of animals.

Get back to nature in Iceland

There are a wealth of activities and adventures waiting for you just outside of Reykjavik. The most popular activity is to spot minke and humpback whales, which come right into the city’s Faxaflói Bay. Travellers can explore the outskirts of the city atop an Icelandic Pony on a rising expedition and for something a little more challenging, try hiking the natural landscape. Try a spot of flyfishing in Iceland too which offers the opportunity to land an impressive catch. Head to Esjan Mountain which offers commanding views over both the city and diverse landscape.

Travelers can also cycle the streets of Reykjavik as a speedy way to get around. Hire a bike locally, and stick to the local cycling laws.

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