Top Things to Do In Reykjavik – Iceland’s Vibrant Jewel
In this week’s post we introduce our new contributor Jason who fills us in on all the best things to do in Reykjavik, the contrasting capital of Iceland…
The northernmost capital of Europe is tribute to how an unplanned design can sometimes result in a stunning and wonderfully eclectic city. Reykjavik is a spectacular mix of contrasts, a bit of old and a bit of new, a small town metropolis with history etched into its very paths, and yet a modern and entertaining place. It’s the natural starting point to any journey in this frosty land and has been called the gateway to Iceland.
The city aesthetics are impacting due to their vast diversity and mismatch that becomes oddly charming. Be it bad planning or lack of a proper coordination, there is no particular style featured in Reykjavik. You could see an old wooden house, next to an iron enforced red villa, with a modern and sharp-looking building right down the street. It’s historic and contemporary at the same time, once tied to the legendary Vikings and now considering one of the party hotspots in the world.
Urban Paradise by Day
Reykjavík is a city in every sense of the word, with modern touches among the retro-looking buildings that stretch from one corner of the street to the other. However, among these monuments of architectural ingenuity, nature thrives. Throughout the chaos of its diverse structures, the capital celebrates life, with a variety of accessible parks and recreational areas. They add a spectacular amount of green to the already colorful sight that is the city’s skyline.
Places to Visit:
- Laugardalur (Hot Spring Valley), for those highly praised outdoor thermal pools.
- Mosfellsbaer, for excellent cycling routes.
Whether it’s the young-minded attitude or friendly demeanor of the locals, Reykjavík has become known for being the party place. In fact, celebrities have visited and praised the city’s energy along with its high-quality entertainment. If the sandy and hot beaches of Ibiza are not to your taste, Iceland’s capital city might be the spot to party for a change in scenery. It could be the locally produced beer, the young demographic, or the numerous local pubs, Reykjavik’s reputation for clubbing is high and undoubtedly ranking higher by the year.
Places to Visit:
- Bar 11 or Dillon, for the classic rock hangouts that will have you headbanging and jumping to live music.
- Kaffibarinn, a hip bar in the city with a bohemian look that will hurl you back into the 70s.
- Bunk Bar & Restaurant, set right in the middle of the city so you can’t miss it.
Everyone has probably made the mistake in their childhood of thinking that Iceland is covered with ice. Hopefully, that misconception has been debunked by the time they became adults. However, every person willing to visit this absolutely fantastic city has to keep in mind where they’re going. Careful how you pack and when you visit. Reykjavik may not be covered in ice, but it’s open to the seas, which means that there are powerful gusts of wind blowing through the city.
Make sure to wrap yourself in a few layers, forget that heavy backpack and perhaps opt for a light and simple alternative to venture through the city. A small backpack should be more than enough to keep your camera, phone, and a few other items. It would be amusing, though, to be tipped over due to the strength of the wind and weight of your bag. At the very least, your friends could have a good laugh. If not, be careful and prepared for any sudden changes in Reykjavik’s unpredictable weather.
The Land of Ice and Fire
Due to its incredible diversity in landscape, Reykjavik is the city of stark contrasts and extremes. Once you have seen and experienced the city’s nightlife and bustling cafés, you could venture a little further out to see true Icelandic wonder. Ranging from glaciers to active volcanoes, the city has it all and it’s a stunning spectacle of what you should see with your own eyes. On the list of ‘what you should see before you die’, Reykjavík can help you check off at least a couple of them.
However, keep in mind that this means venturing outside some of the city’s comforts by foot. Hitchhike to those spectacular locations, but do it smart. Few things could impend on a once-in-a-lifetime experience more than a heavy rucksack, packed with oodles of items you won’t really need. Enjoy the sights, breathe in the clean, clear, and fresh air, and don’t forget to take pictures and immortalize those precious moments. It’s guaranteed you will deem them Instagram-worthy.
There are specialized tourist tours available for those who do not want to wander all by themselves. They focus on walking around the magnificent lands of Iceland, by trekking over the mountains and watching glaciers. Not to mention Nature Explorer, which will take you the most splendid locations. Visit the geysers, the frozen lands, or the icy caves that paint Reykjavík’s picturesque lands.
What to Do:
- Whale watching
- Wildlife adventures
- Farm holidays
Bike, drive, or ride
There are quite a few options in terms of transportation, depending on your budget. Renting a rover and surging across the shores or around the uneven lands could be exciting. The thrill of the bumps and speeds as you whirl through the beautiful scenery could be the perfect occasion to test out your skills. However, that’s not for everyone. If the added cost is not to your liking, there are cheaper and better options.
For starters, biking is a very common practice in Reykjavik and the spectacular sights that surround it. They say that visiting the capital city is incomplete without taking a tour on a bike along its coastline. You’ll get to experience nature at its finest, and absorb in the outstanding sights. Not to mention it will get your heart going because they say exercise does not stop on vacation. All that clean, fresh air might just be the break from traffic jams and exhaust pipes that your lungs need.
Biking is good, but wouldn’t horseback riding be better? If you’re feeling a little more adventurous or curious, there are numerous services offering horses for the full experience. Whether it’s showing tourists the beauty of wild horses or actual riding tours, it’s all available. And one can only imagine the experience of stepping across the quiet highlands atop a horse, with the ice-covered mountains on a side and the wild sea to the other. Cue the epic music.
A True Spectacle of Lights
It’s the most captivating event that can be noticed on the darkened skies of the north. Just 20 minutes away from Reykjavik lies the island of Videy. It’s the perfect place to watch the magnificent show of lights that streak across the sky. The island is quiet, with nothing but nature around, absent of any artificial light to impend on your sight, and completely barren. No human has lived on Videy Island since the 1950s, which has now made it the epitome of raw scenery.
Outside the boundaries of our planet, solar flares spark across the surface of the sun, a viciously violent process that occurs every day. Near Reykjavik though, those events cannot be more visually impacting and stunning, with gentle rays of light etched across the northern sky in shades of green and blue. It’s just one of the many, many lifetime experiences that you will never forget. The sights, the people, the food, the culture, and the history will make you forget about the powerful winds and unpredictable weather.
You will remember Reykjavík for the rest of your life, in all its picturesque glory and stark contrasts that have made this city the beautiful and peaceful chaos that it is today.
written by: Jason
Jason is a budget traveller from the USA who has raked up the miles around the world by bus, plane and thumb.