Mention Iceland to anyone and it’s one of those places that people will say, “I really want to go there!” Mention it to me and I’d say ‘I really want to go back there’. I’ve been to Iceland twice and I’d go back in a heartbeat. With its picture-perfect volcanic landscape contributing to its wealth of outdoor activities, it’s an adventurer’s dream. But before you head out to Iceland’s epic landscapes there’s plenty to see and do in the country’s capital. Read on for the best things to do in Reykjavik…
Reykjavik is such a cool city. It has a distinct design culture and artistic creativity that punches well above its weight in terms of population. There are the obvious design stars like Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgrimskirkja Church and The Sea Voyager but amongst the brightly coloured corrugated homes that line the streets you’ll find another creative vibe when visiting Reykjavik. Shops crammed with design for the home, crafted from natural, sustainable Icelandic materials. The old harbour has become a design hub, brimming with workshops, galleries and artists. Here are some of my Reykjavik design favourites…
There’s a rye bread that’s been baked underground in geothermal springs in Iceland for generations. The Icelandic bread is dark, dense, deliciously sweet and it’s called Hverabrauð, Thunder Bread or Icelandic rye bread. Read on to find out about our day in Iceland and for the thunder bread recipe which I recommend you have a go at making at home (you don’t actually need a thermal lake in your garden to do this).
I went on a whirlwind, 24-hour visit, to Iceland to discover how Thunder Bread is made and to catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Celebrity Cruises and Waitrose ‘Taste of Travel’ food and travel series. The series is filmed with the lovely Rosie’s Deli Cafe owner and presenter Rosie Lovell.
The steaming milky-blue waters of the Blue Lagoon, Iceland beckoned. Wearing just my swimming costume I took a deep breath and pegged-it through the biting chill of Iceland’s February weather. Wading into the hot, mineral-rich water felt all the better for the minus degree dash. I laid back and soaked blissfully as the piping hot water relaxed every muscle in my body. Heaven…
Reykjavik has a distinct vibe going on. It has a small-town feel; traditionally built wooden houses, shops packed with local design, café culture, restaurants serving amazing food, all built around a working harbour. But there’s a definite edge. Reykjavik is an intriguing capital full of creatives, culture, off-the-wall architecture, art and, of course, nature’s stunning backdrop over Faxaflói Bay to Mount Esja. So, what to see and do in Iceland’s capital city? Here are my tips for visiting Reykjavík, Iceland’s oh so cool capital.
If you’ve only got time for one tour on your trip to Iceland make it a tour of The Golden Circle. Why this tour? You’ll experience three forces of nature in one unforgettable day – Gullfoss, geysers and geological rifts. This has got to be the best Iceland tour.
Iceland’s Golden Circle route in Southern Iceland, covers about 300 km starting in Reykjavík, before panning into central Iceland and back again taking in en-route the rugged beauty and power of mother nature in all her Icelandic glory. Ideally I’d like to take an Icelandic road trip but if you don’t have time this is the next best alternative.
The sky was still deep blue when we left Hotel Ion at 9am, around dawn, on an icy February morning. Visiting Iceland in winter has its bonuses though – you get to see the sunrise without having to get up at silly o’clock!
Þingvellir National Park
Our first stop was Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park, home to the world’s oldest parliament where the Alþingi general assembly was founded in the year 930 AD and carried on convening until 1798. Þingvellir means ‘Parliament Plains’ and the views across them are breathtaking; even on a dusky morning when a vicious wind whips your face and a weak sun struggles to light the landscape their beauty shines through.
Þingvellir National Park, Iceland
The whole area is part of a fissure ribboning through Iceland where you can clearly see the drifting in the tectonic plate boundaries of North America and Eurasia – The Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The rift widens every year by a few millimetres and the faults in the earth’s crust filled with deep crystal-clear waters are clearly visible.
Þingvellir National Park, Iceland
Great Geysir, Strokkur, Litli Geysir
All over Iceland wafts of eggy smelling sulphur are a constant reminder of the activity going on beneath the surface. Hillsides and plains are wreathed in mists from steaming springs and bubbling mud pools but it’s the geyser field, Haukadalur, that really shows off the country’s geothermal power to full effect.
Litli Geysir, Iceland
Great Geysir, mother of Icelandic spouts, and responsible for the naming all other geysers worldwide, is a little capricious and doesn’t want to play anymore – well maybe occasionally after an earthquake or two – but when she does, she blows an imprssive 200ft skywards.
Much more reliable is nearby Strokkur (the churn) who likes to show off and happily performs every 5-8 minutes. We stood and waited while Strokkur rippled, rolled, taunted and tantalised until suddenly, the second I looked away, spewed upwards with such force it made me jump out of my skin! I just about got the shot – well, okay, half a shot and then it was gone in a wisp of vapour.
Strokkur Geyser, Iceland
There’s a restaurant nearby where you can get a warming coffee or a steaming bowl of Icelandic lamb stew to fend off the shivers. There’s a souvenir shop too – tourist prices but definitely worth a look at the fabulous homemade Icelandic crafts.
The third A-lister on Iceland’s Golden Circle tour was the majestic Gullfoss or The Golden Falls. We heard Gullfoss before we saw it and as we carefully made our way down the icy path the thundering noise of the River Hvita filled my head and a chill spray misted the air. Gullfoss is magnificent and despite the freezing weather I stood mesmerised.
The powerful river tipped over the first step and roared towards me thundering and foaming, hints of turquoise shining beneath the surface, before pitching over the crevice and exploding into the canyon below leaving me feeling completely alive and invigorated. And very, very tiny.
← Like it? Pin it!
I had a very brief taste of Iceland and fell in love with its wild, rugged beauty, the contrasting textures and colours of the landscape, diversity of experience and the extreme forces of nature. The Golden Circle encompassed all of that, and more, in one unforgettable day
Check out my video (below) with some Iceland highlights including a helicopter ride over the black sands of Vik and some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes and glaciers. Excuse the wobbly bits – it’s a bit tricky in a helicopter!