Iceland is filled with many amazing natural wonders. But if you’re in a layover in Iceland and don’t have time to see it all or you just want to spend time in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, then there are plenty of things in and around the city to see and do.
Reykjavik is so unique amongst many capitals out there, that it’s always surprising what you’ll see or find out.
Here is a list of the best things to do in Reykjavik for first timers:
The Golden Circle
Near Reykjavic is a road that circles around some of Iceland’s amazing wonders and sights. So if you want to get out of town and see the Middle Earth-like countryside, then this is an easy way to do it. Just rent a car instead of taking a guided tour so you can stop and take photos along the way.
Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) is an iconic waterfall of Iceland offering a spectacular view of the forces and beauty of untouched nature.
There are stairs that will take you down the cliff and show you a closer look at the fall as it cascades down the crevice of the earth. Be sure to wear a rain jacket and waterproof pants, the spray from the waterfall will reach you and will get you wet.
The Golden Circle holds Haukadalur, an area that has geysers and mud pools and colorful mineral deposits. Two of the most well-known ones are Strokkur and Geysir (quick fact: the general name for geyser was actually named after that particular one in Iceland). They shoot up hot water high into the air and the smell of sulfur can easily be smelled.
Geysir used to erupt every hour but now it’s slowed down to every 8-10 hours. So if you want a fantastic view, then head over to Strokkur who erupts its hot waters every 5-8 minutes.
Kerið Crater Lake
Kerið Crater Lake is one of the lesser known sights to see on the Golden Circle, but definitely worth it. Being formed at one point from a volcano’s roof caving down into a magma chamber, it now gives a beautiful view of the lake surrounded by red and green vegetation along the sides of the crater. It can be a great place to relax and see the natural beauty.
One of the last mentionable sights to see are the fields of cairns, stones topped on top of each other that make an otherworldly view. The Icelanders used to make the rock formations to bring luck and honor to those who died or had their farms lost to the Volcano’s wrath. It definitely gives you something stop and take photos of or contemplate the hard life that the early Icelanders had to face.
Þingvellir National Park
You can also hike and see the amazing view of the tectonic rift and beautiful mountain ranges in Þingvellir National Park (Þingvellir fun fact: this used to be the sight of one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world. Icelanders would gather with their officials and speak of grievances and requests. ) Also, the Icelandic horses are everywhere and friendly! You can pet them and take photos of them amongst the rough terrain.
While Blue Lagoon may be overly commercialized to some, it’s definitely not overhyped. This hot spring is a huge thermal pool that’s heated by lava pushing up from below the earth’s crust. This causes hot water to push up and create what you see as the Blue Lagoon.
With its photogenic waters and steam rising into the cold Icelandic air, it’s a great place to relax for a couple hours and soak in all of the minerals that the waters nourish your skin with. And if you don’t want to get out in the cold, the spring goes inside, so you can walk out and not get hit by the frigid air.
There’s a swim up Lagoon Bar where you can get smoothies and other drinks, so be sure to hit that up while you relax in the healing waters.
One of the coolest and strangest buildings, Hallgrímskirkja ( Church of Hallgrimur), is a place you really want to check out. Looking like the palace in Asgard from the movie Thor, it was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson. The building was designed from his inspirations of the basalt lava flows throughout Iceland.
You can get a great view of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrímskirkja and see all of the colorful whimsical buildings down below.
Harpa Concert Hall
If you love unique modern architecture, then definitely head on over to the Harpa Concert Hall. With the glass panes and metal beams making the building look like it has fish scales, it really is a feast for the eyes, inside and out.
If you want to take part in their music events, get a drink, eat some great food, or shop, this is also a great place to hang out for the day. After the Icelandic economy crash in 2008., the people insisted that the building keep on being made. It was as if to show others that they would get through the hard times and make it.