Things to do in Reykjavik and traveller’s tips for Iceland
I have to be honest, in terms of a wish list of places to see, Iceland was hardly at the top. My holidays are usually in warmer climates, especially as I live in rainy Britain. But after my trip, I’ve realised that there are so many things to do in Reykjavik that it’s totally worth a visit at least once.
My husband was keen to see the Northern Lights, and it was this natural phenomenon that drew us to the island. But after a few days stay, I’ve realised that Iceland has so much more to offer, and makes for a truly mind-blowing, if not a bit chilly, stay.
The sea view in Reykjavic
So here’s my lowdown of things to do in Reykjavik, and my thoughts on Iceland itself.
My first thoughts on Reykjavik, Iceland
OK, so when we landed in Reykjavik, I was a bit perturbed. With a view of vast, cold, barren land, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy my stay. The grass was dried to hay, and there just wasn’t much around. But this isn’t too surprising considering it’s a land of just 320,000 people, making it the most
sparsely populated country in Europe. This is in huge contrast with the bustling, jam-packed city of London.
The city of Reykjavik is small, quaint and quiet. Considering it’s a capital city, I was surprised how quiet it was, with a few restaurants, shops and bars dotted around.
However, Iceland is not a city break, but it’s a great outdoor adventure with amazing scenery and one in a lifetime experience.
The houses are pretty, the sea view is vast and the air is biting cold, but wrap up in your thermals and you’ll be just fine.
Food in Reykjavik Iceland (plus surprising halal options)
When travelling anywhere, food is always a priority for me. Not just because I’m a massive foodie and I love sampling local cuisine, but also because I have to take into special consideration what I eat as any meat needs to be halal and all dishes must be alcohol-free. This can often mean missing out on some of the best regional specialties.
However this isn’t the case in Iceland. Their key specialty is fish, and most restaurants and cafes serve up delicious seafood options which were alcohol free.
Of course, if you’re really missing meat, then there is also the odd kebab shop downtown which served halal lamb, to fulfil any carnivorous tendencies.
As well as seafood, another Scandinavian delicacy is their open sandwich, which I’ve reviewed here. This is essentially one slice of bread with various topping (usually fish and salad with relish). It did seem kind of ironic as the whole point is to ‘sandwich’ together the fillings. Also it wasn’t really a sandwich with just one piece of bread.
But I digress…
Anyway, I’ll detail more about what we ate in Iceland in separate reviews.
Things to do in Reykjavik #1 – Sightsee in the city
During our stay, we whiled away a day just exploring the capital city. We took in the awe inspiring church with its towering spiral staircase…
The frozen lake, which acted as a great shortcut, local attraction and duck pond. See me trying to report from the lake without falling here…
And the many pretty houses, painted in different colours.
Things to do in Reykjavik #2 – The Northern Lights
Of course, this was top of our list of things to do. Iceland is a popular destination for those hoping to see the Northern Lights.
Sightings of the Northern Lights are usually during the winter months, and the weather also plays a big part in your chances of seeing the spectacle.
We got very lucky in that we got to see the lights on our first night in Reykjavik. It was a perfectly clear night, and the lights danced across the sky above. Where we didn’t get so lucky is with capturing a shot of the lights in action.
Having fiddled with my camera settings numerous times to no avail, I gave up and simply decided to enjoy the moment and see the lights in all their glory. After all, the whole point of going to Iceland was to see the lights with our own eyes, rather than capture them for posterity.
We booked our Northern Lights tour through Reykjavik Excursions, who offer a number of outings, many of which we took good advantage of.
Reykjavik Excursions picked us up from our hotel and took us out to a campsite, so we could have a good view of the lights. The great thing about the tour operator is that if you don’t see the lights during your excursion, you can go again the next night for free, doubling your chance of a sighting. However we didn’t need to utilise a second trip, as we got one of the best views first time round.
The excursion cost around £28 each, which is pretty good value for a rare sighting of such a natural phenomenon.
Things to do in Reykjavik #3 – take a dip in the Blue Lagoon
This was my favourite excursion in Iceland. Part spa day, part experience, the Blue Lagoon is a natural geothermal pool situated in the heart of the rocky terrain of Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon is about 50 minutes away from the city of Reykjavik, miles away from any civilisation.
Nestled in the Icelandic landscape, the Blue Lagoon looks and feels like a Jacuzzi, but is purely heated by natural springs.
So essentially, you’re in a heated outdoor pool, in freezing temperatures. You’re warm as toast neck
down, but your face is freezing. However, the combination of hot and cold is amazing. And to be in such a climate is breath-taking. The pictures don’t really do justice in terms of how stunning it was.
The Blue Lagoon – nature’s spa
Also, the pool has a spa-like effect, and it’s known to have healing and wellbeing advantages. I can’t vouch for the latter, but I can say that my skin, which had been slightly ravaged by the cold temperatures in Iceland, felt like it had a new lease of life. It was like sitting in a sauna.
However, the salt and sulphur in the pool did wreak havoc with my hair. But that’s nothing that a shampoo and intense condition couldn’t resolve.
Of course, as the blue lagoon is such a huge draw, a whole spa experience has been built around it, with a restaurant, treatment centre and massage room all available to you. But for me, the unique experience of the Blue Lagoon was enough, and I happily whiled away a few hours there.
The package we got included drop off, pick up and admission to the Blue Lagoon, and we could stay until the last pickup at 9.15pm. This cost around £45 each but any extras, such as towel, swimwear or robe rental was at an extra cost. So if you could bring your own towels, you’d save a few pounds.
Things to do in Reykjavik #4 – Go on a Southshore Adventure
For our final excursion, we initially booked a glacier walk. However, this was cancelled due to strong winds. So instead we opted for a Southshore Adventure, which took us to waterfalls, glaciers and a museum in the countryside, complete with quaint hobbit-like houses, all in one day.
The whistle-stop tour showed us all the very different facets of Iceland. We drove for miles through the snow-topped mountains to see Eyjafjallajokull, made famous by Ben Stiller in the brilliantly witty Secret Life of Walter Mitty. As the movie depicted, the place was desolate and unspoilt, with hills and greenery for miles around.
We then visited a waterfall, for which we climbed up over 450 steps to get to the top. Out of breath and exhausted, the summit was worth the trek, as the views were amazing.
Breathtaking natural architecture
After this, we were taken to a beach, where we could see the ‘architecture’ of nature, carved into the mountains near the seashore. As it was such a windy day, the waves were crashing against the shore, and we had to occasionally shield our eyes from the aggressive pellet of and stone.
But the real treat was yet to come. After much anticipation, we were taken to see a glacier in the mountains. We travelled down a very rocky road, with many of us questioning if it was safe to do so.
Once we got to the glacier, the view was amazing, and for me, not like anything I’d seen before. The sharp, jutting peaks of the glacier looked as though waves of crashing water had been frozen in time. I could go on describing the scene, but the pictures speak for themselves.
Our penultimate stop on the Southshore adventure was the Skogar Folk Museum. This gave us a real
insight into how people lived in Iceland. And it was amazing to hear that many people in the countryside didn’t electricity or running water until the 1950s.
The very animated tour guide at the museum
My very own hobbit house
We were also informed that for women of previous generations in Iceland, it was imperative to know how to spin wool, in order to be fit for marriage.
I captured a video of the museum’s 94 year-old curator, teaching us ladies how to catch a man through the art of wool-spinning. You can see it here.
Outside of the museum, there were many tiny, hobbit-style houses. They were built to show how people used to live in Iceland. While the conditions were poor and the rooms were small, my husband was actually quite jealous. It’s his dream to live in a hobbit house.
Finally, we were taken to the Skogofass waterfall, which stands at 60meters high. Legend has it that there is a chest of gold hidden behind the waterfall. Many men have tried and failed to retrieve it. As it was a rather wet and windy day when we visited, we decided not to try our luck and go in the waterfall. So if legend is true, the chest is still up for grabs.
So there you have it. There are so many things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland, and my roundup is just a summary of some of the things available.
So if you thought Iceland was just a viewing station for the Northern Lights, think again.
To find out where to eat in Iceland, click here and here.
For my review of where we stayed in Reykjavik, click here.
I’m a British-Bengali Muslim mum-of-two. My pictures aren’t filtered and neither are my words. I’m not a makeup artist, chef or lifestyle guru. I’m just me, sharing honest beauty reviews for brown skin, halal restaurant finds, travel inspo, mum life hacks, easy Bengali recipes and more. If that’s your bag, keep reading!