WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND (RESPECT THE NATURE)
Excursions, tours, Self-Drive, places to see in Iceland
There are so many options of tours and so many areas and things to see in Iceland. The classic choice is to rent a car and drive on your own. Road trips to take in the vicinity of Reykjavík are:
1. Golden Circle – Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss are the 3 stops all guests make. Alternative optional stops are Efstidalur dairy farm, Friðaheimar tomato farm, Slakki Pet zoo, Skálholt (old church and historically important), Kerið crater, Secret Lagoon, Brúarfoss, Faxi waterfall.
2 . South Coast – The classic stops on the south coast include Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls and the black sand beach close to Vik where you can also see Basalt columns. Optional stops that some people do is going up to Dyrhólaey for a view or paragliding, walk to the plain wreck on Sólheimasandur. You can also book a glacier walk on Sólheimajökull. On the way back maybe consider visiting amall fishing villages (Eyrarbakki where the prison is and Stokkseyri) along the south coast via Krísuvík (road. 42) and Bláfjöll (road 417).
3. South coast past Vik – Don’t go this far unless you have a place to stay, driving to Jökulsárlón ( glacier lagoon) and back to Reykjavík in one day is not advisable, especially in winter conditions and limited daylight. A popular place to visit is the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon and hike up Systrastapi in Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Skaftafell has beautiful hikes, towards the Vatnajökull glacier and to Svartifoss waterfall. Also notice the Glacial lagoon is not the same as the Glacier lagoon, two different companies and locations.
4. Grafningur area – (road 360) gravel on occasion, bunch of farms and horses around and will take you by one of the geothermal power plants. Beautiful mountains to hike within minutes with great overview from top. Go around lake Þingvallavatn and stop by in Reykjadalur on your way back to Reykjavík.
5. Hvalfjörður – (road 47) The ring road in the past before the tunnel was constructed. Furthest in the Fjord is the tallest waterfall in Iceland, Glymur, a short hike from the road.
6. Húsafell – Isolated in winter, summer house area, at least 90 minute drive from Reykjavík along road 50 and 518. Pass by Reykholt where Snorri Sturluson (writer of the sagas) lived and also pass by Hraunfossar, one of the natural wonders in Iceland.
7. Other options are the South Coast to the Glacier Lagoon (long drive), Golden circle, Reykjanes peninsula and Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Those are the classic choices and regularly toured by various tour operators.
Driving the ring road no. 1 takes a while. it’s 1300 km, and recommended time for that is a minimum 5 days. but doable in three days for those who like to drive a lot.
Reykjavik places to visit
Main Shopping street – Enjoy a lovely walk on Laugavegur, Bankastræti, Austurstræti and Skólavörðustígur, streets that form the shape of the letter “Y”, window shopping, admiring corrugated steel houses and lookout for street art.
The lake Tjörnin (The Pond) – The Pond is the small natural lake in the heart of Reykjavík. Most photogenic place in Reykjavík
Höfði house– The place where Reagan and Gorbachov met during the coldwar First summit of the two superpowers, marking the first step towards the end of the Cold War.
Perlan (The Pearl) Looks like an astronomical center on top of a hill looming over Reykjavík. Is actually a rotating restaurant built on top of 6 water tanks that supply Reykjavík with hot water. Great overview from the observation deck which costs 450 ISK. As of 2017, an Ice cave museum is now available to visit.
Hallgrímskirkja, the church – On top of Skólavörðuholt, where Skólavörðustígur leads to. 1000 ISK to go to the top of the tower and get the best possible view over the oldest part of Reykjavík. one of the must-do in Reykjavík, make sure you check the opening hours, service on sundays (lutheran)
Nauthólsvík (Geothermal beach) – Its very close to Perlan, a man-made beach. Super crowded on sunny days and this is where Icelandic ocean swimmers gather. The costa del Sol of Icelanders
Harpa Concert Hall – Beautiful building designed by the famous Half Danish – Half Icelandic Ólafur Elíasson, free to visit but also guided tours to pay for. They’ve got events and shows every night also, both for locals and for visitors.
The old harbour – Bunch of nice restaurants as well as whale watching tours can be found there
Museums downtown Reykjavik
National History Museum – Detailed history along with many artifacts, takes around 2 hours to go through.
The settlement Exhibtion – highly recommended, focuses on the first settlers, the Vikings and their lifestyle in the years 874 – 1262. About an hour to go through and is located in Aðalstræti 16, right next to my starting location.
Saga Museum – More on history but not so much on Icelandic sagas, has great layout though and I recommend this one if you have kids in your group. They let you try on viking outfit for pictures and you walk through a bit spooky and dark museum as you read about history and important figures in Icelandic history. About 30 minutes to go through.
Food to try!
The Icelandic lamb – Roams free from spring until autumn when they are slaughtered. Easy to find in any decent restaurant and also in supermarkets. labelled as “Lambakjöt” in Icelandic, the best part being the “fillet” and second best being “lærissneiðar” – from the leg.
Skyr – Milk product, comes with lots of flavour options from many companies. Similar to Greek yogurt I’ve heard. Full of protein.
The minke whale – “Hrefna” in Icleandic or Hrefnukjöt. Available in many restaurants and supermarkets allover downtown. Please be aware of what you are eating. Very rarely eaten by locals these days because of the controversy of whaling. Whaling has been internationally prohibited because of the inhuman method of killing whales. We cook it for seconds only on a grill and almost eat it raw.
The Fermented Shark – Fish shops sell it and supermarkets. Smelling is usually enough to keep one off. Can also be found in the Flea market open on weekends. One of those disgusting things you can find in Iceland and must try.
Icelandic Salmon – World‘s best! You can get it raw in supermarkets, fish shops and restaurants. I like it fried on a pan with a touch of lemon pepper.
Lýsi – The Icelandic fish oil, usually we have a spoonfill every morning. This is what keeps us healthy and gorgeous according to the legend. (which is true).
Harðfiskur – dried fish, you can find it in supermarkets and fish shops. Very popular with butter and the classic snack in Iceland.
Kleina – The Icelandic doughnut. Looks in a way like a bread croissant. Check this out in the nearest bakery or a supermarket.
Flatkaka með Hangikjöti – Flatcake with Hanging Meat. I don’t know how to translate this thing but it is awesome. You can only get this in supermarkets and it’s great to bring for a snack between meals. To describe it I have to say a pancake tortilla with smoked lamb meat.
Ram’s testicles – No need to describe it any further, it’s one of those weird things we had in the past in february, the worst winters when we had nothing to live off. I haven’t tried it and it’s not my intention.
Sheep’s head – Looks disgusting, smells disgusting and is disgusting. I’ve had it too many times and never liked it.
Traditional meat soup – Soup with leftovers of lamb meat along with vegetables served really warm in a soup. Delicious!
Fish – The Icelandic cuisine will always be known for it’s fish. Average family has fish 1-2 per week today but it used to be a lot more frequent on dinner tables. There is no real fish market in Iceland, all the fish goes through fish merchants that are located in every neighbourhood. There you can find all types of fish and then it’s up to you how you want to cook it. They often even have fish to go or dished ready for the oven. Fiskikongurinn is my local fish merchant I really recommend them, they have all kinds of fish in any marination you can imagine. Fresh, cheap and fast. 20 minutes in the oven at home, don’t forget the cheese on top.
Local beers are plenty, most common are “Thule”, “Viking” or “Egils Gull” You’ll find plenty of bars offering Icelandic types of beer from draft and bottles. You can only buy drinks with more than 2% alcohol from liquor stores called Vínbúðin, see locations here
“Ópal” and “Tópas” – Local shots with liqurish taste that you have to try late at night. Those are just awesome. Quentin Tarantino absolutely nails it with Conan O’Brien see here
Brennivín – The old disgusting strong beverage, translated to Black Death. Used to be had with the fermented shark. Seriously stay away from this one 😉
Kókómjólk – Who doesn’t love chocolate milk? This is the best one you can find and it is very cheap in supermarkets.
The Icelandic water – of course! Drink as you like anywhere you want. Did you know that Elliðará runs through Reykjavik and is full of fish, kids swim in the river during the summer and its pure, clean and safe to drink.
Appelsín – the icelandic awesome fanta
Malt – No alcohol, but tastes like a beer in a way. Always mixed with Appelsín around christmas
Dining in Reykjavik
The restaurants in Reykjavik are overall of good quality the only downside is the price, restaurants in Reykjavik are pricey but hey you don’t need to buy water as we have the best water from the tab in the world (my opinion)
Kol – Located close to Hallgrímskirkja, Opened before the tourism boom and always had a decent stream of locals, lunch and dinner. Active social media strategy.
Sushi Social – Ever since sushi became trendy here this place has always been a popular pick among Icelanders. The Chilli mohito is a must – with or without alcohol!
Kopar – Fantastic overview of the old harbour, fish and steaks, hopefully you’ll get Ylfa, an upcoming young chef and one of the owners of the place. Her reputation has swiftly gained firm ground in the dining sector of Reykjavík.
Íslenski barinn – recently move to Ingólfsstræti. Has puffins, minke whale available on your dish, also a very popular bar at night too but they never play music, people go there for a chat at night.
Lækjarbrekka – Located on Bankastræti in one of the oldest remaining houses in Iceland. For many years a well rated restaurant, especially among the older generation in Iceland
Rústik – Based in the red Falcon house in the best spot of downtown Reykjavík, recently renovated and perfect on summer days. Very popular for lunch by Icelanders who want to sit outside.
Steikhúsið -Steakhouse located close to the old harbour, cool layout and a modern restaurant. Very classic steakhouse.
Apótek Restaurant – Located in a protected building from 1917 visible from the Austurvöllur square. Fancy restaurant and very popular all around the clock. One of the best located restaurants downtown.
Sægreifinn – Famous for his Lobster soup, but I like just to sit on their barrels, makes you feel like you are inside a boat. You can also get mink whale samples and steaks here.
Grillmarkaðurinn – The Grill market, highly rated on Tripadvisor. Everybody tends to like this place
Fiskmarkaðurinn – The fish market, been very popular for a long time now and focuses on everything from the ocean.
Forréttabarinn – Tapas restaurant, small courses but various. Opened in 2013 and highly rated on Tripadvisor.
Nostra restaurant – Fine dining, new restaurant in 2017, next to Bónus supermarket on Laugavegur
Tapas Barinn – Another Tapas restaurant, sort of a secret location in downtown Reykjavík. Spanish style.
Sæta Svínið – ON three floors, great for groups. Great to hangout after dinner, DJ and cocktail deals frequent
Fast Food in Reykjavik
Hamborgabúllan – The younger generation loves this place, unique burger chain, located originally in the Old harbour and is still in the same place, now located all over Iceland and even found in Berling, Copenhagen and London. Always the same genre. Very Icelandic in its style. Ask for french frie mayo and french fries spice.
Saffran – good for talking and chilling, they have fish, healthy pizzas, chicken dishes and the theme is a bit indian style, very weird one but loved by the younger generation in Iceland
BK Kjúklingur – This is where athletes get their chicken salad, I guarantee if you go there at lunch time your gonna see a couple of Icelandic giants. (You have to see the Vice episode about Icelandic Giants, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8A7woRoVwyM
Hlöllabátar – sort of subway style but way more cheesy and juicy, great late night food and you can get it downtown.
Ginger – Cheap and healthy sandwiches and burritos, been running since 2011 and growing quickly. One outlet can be found in 10-11 shop in Austurstræti „East street“.
Mandi – Syrian Kebab and the owner is always there to make it for you, in his way.
Ramen Momo – All the way from the Himalayas! Noodle soups and asian like food. Cheap and quick. located close to the old harbour.
Kebabhúsið – They focus on Kebabs but I really like their burger, especially around lunch as they have a great deal on burgers.
Lobster Hut – A food truck located on Stream street close to Harpa. Great soup, and also serve a lobster sub and salad.
Bæjarins Bestu – The famous hot dog stand where Bill Clinton had his hot dog!
Flatbakan – Best pizza in town! Although you have to drive for 10-15 minutes to the suburb Kópavogur it is worth the drive! Ask for “doodly one” it’s delicious!
Best natural hot springs in Iceland
The most popular natural hot springs are Reykjadalur (FREE), Seljavallalaug (FREE) and the Secret Lagoon (costs 2,800ISK), Blue Lagoon (from 5,000ISK) and Mývatn (from 3,800ISK)
Best swimming pools in Reykjavik
The Public Swimming Pools – The best bargain to be found in Iceland and as local as it gets. Warm jacuzzis with massage in your back, listen to locals fight over politics and football.
Laugardalslaug – The biggest one in Iceland and also the most recommended one. A bit touristy but yet very icelandic in its style.
Vesturbæjarlaug – Very old authentic public bath, more icelandic style and much smaller. One of my favourites
Árbæjarlaug – very classic example of a modern public bath, and not a single foreigner goes there, completely local for its neighborhood in Reykjavik. Bus is required or a car.
Sundhöllin – The oldest in Reykjavik, used to be indoors but now a couple of hot tubs are also to be found underneath a clear sky. Usually the closest one to downtown area, depending on your location of course.
Useful Websites while in Iceland
Reykjavík.com – Online blog/magazine recently established and growing quickly in popularity.
bus.is – all public bus routes
sundlaugar.is – all public baths, swimming pools etc.
midi.is – tickets to cinemas are sold here, make sure you are buying from the closest cinema.
samferda.net – A webpage for people looking for rides and/or passengers, carpooling.
tonlist.is – all the icelandic music in one place, connected with spotify.
vedur.is – the weather and aurora forecast in iceland
Reykjavík Grapevine – A magazine you can find allover Reykjavík in english, written for visitors who wanna know whats going on this week in Reykjavík. Various recommendations and advertisements also.
Hiking in Iceland
Mount Esja – Just outside Reykjavik but buses will take you there, the hike is about 2 hours up and down with a beautiful view over the bay of Reykjavik at the top. Classic choice, lots of locals fancy this hike which is carefully marked. The mountain is the one over looking Reykjavik at all times. helicopter rides are known for landing on top.
Mount Búrfell and Búrfellsgjá – Less known among tourists than Esja, very close by Reykjavík nonetheless. Easy drive for about 20 minutes on gravel road passable by any car. A rather flat hike for an hour and an elevation of 100 meters at the end as you come to a big crater of a dead volcano. Lots of caves on the way. Path is a bit muddy, volcanic landscape and very little traffic. See map of location Park your car close by.
Laugavegurinn – Generally 5 days and 4 nights, walk from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk in extraordinary landscape through rivers and over snow bridges
Vestfirðir – Westfjords, get in touch with isolated nature on your own, do your googling prior to departure and make your own trip
Shopping guide Reykjavik
Kringlan – The first mall in Reykjavik, about 30 minute walk from downtown but easily accessible by buses that cost 3 dollars to hop on.
Smáralind – Big mall in Kópavogur, 15 minutes drive from downtown.
Laugavegur – The main street, „hot spring street“ great variety of shops but also keep in mind that this is also a touristy area, so price is relatively high. Easy to find souvenirs, wool, camping gear.
The Flea Market (Kolaportið) – The closest thing to a market you can find in Iceland. Is only open on weekends though. The best and cheapest woolen sweaters can be found there and bought straight from Icelandic gorgeous housewives along with other souvenirs.
Handknitting Association of Iceland – Located on the street leading to the church, Skólavörðustígur. Midway through on your left as you go up. Lots of knitware, straight from Icelandic homes. Doesn’t get more authentic.
Thorvaldsen Bazar – Oldest Shop in reykjavík, still standing and located on Austurstræti 4, close to American bar. Profits are given to charity at the end of the year, by the woman’s association in Iceland which runs the store. Here you find icelandic woolen sweaters
Reykjavik Foto – A camera shop. If you need a new battery, a tripod or anything camera related, they are on Laugavegur, the main shopping street
Geysir – Cool store at Skólavörðustígur. Geysir designs and develops clothing from its studio in downtown Reykjavík, Iceland. Inspired by Nordic city life and the country’s history of craft and knitwear, Geysir creates pieces uniquely balanced between tradition and modernity.
12 Tónar – Music store, find CD’s with Icelandic artists, close to Hallgrímskirkja.
Macland – Electronic shop focusing on apple products on laugavegur. There you can find all plugs and switches, for example a US to European adapter.
Best bars and clubs in Reykjavik
I recommend grapevine.is they have a lot of recommendations about bars and tell you the sort of music each bar plays and who is playing when. To namedrop a few:
Lebowski bar – One of the biggest in Iceland and quite popular. Young crowd but not too young. Decent size of dance floor and a lot of tables and available seating on 2 floors. They play flashback music, something thats gonna bring back memories.
Den Danske Kro – small danish bar but its just like any other bar with live music. Very frequently visited by locals.
English pub -same owners as Den Danske Kro and same setup, just more crowded.
Live Pub – karaoke bar, the only one in Reykjavik. But the line for songs is always long
B5 – styled club. Messy, noisy, crowded. Very icelandic crowd in their early twenties. The hottest club in Iceland and by far one of the most popular places. very small nonetheless. Dresscode reguired!
Ellefan – This one is very big and open the longest. Until 5 am. They play old school mostly and rock music and sometimes during summertime offer live music in the backyard!
Austur – The biggest dancefloor in iceland. 25 squaremeters in total! There they play mainstream club music, occasionally reggaeton. Located in Austurstræti, The East street.
Jakobsen Loftið – Focuses on slightly “older” crowd. Located on Austurstræti, the east street.
Micro bar – Focuses on Icelandic beer on draft. Gæðingur and Skjálfti are their main types
Skúli Craft Pub – Great beer tasting vibe, loads of beers available on draft and new ones every weekend. Skúli was the father of Reykjavík and this place is located right next to his park.
Prikið – The red painted building on the main shopping street. They got a nice patio and play hip hop music.
American bar – A Club after midnight on Fri and Sat. They play live music until the DJ starts. Gets packed on weekends with a very Icelandic crowd where there is not much elbow space. Decent dancefloor and the only club in Iceland without a dress code.