Top 8 Attractions in and around Reykjavik; capital of Iceland

with No Comments
Sun Voyager, Reykjavik, Iceland
Sun Voyager, Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland has long been famed for its raw and dramatic landscape, a dream destination for any avid landscape photographer. Located between Greenland and Norway, the island nation is at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

Formed around 20-25 million years ago by volcanic eruptions and shaped by massive glaciers, Iceland is aptly known as “The Land of Fire and Ice”. The island’s breathtaking beauty can be in part attributed to it being one of the youngest landmasses on the planet. Consequently, Iceland has the most active volcano area in the world.

 

This post is part of our comprehensive blog on how to plan for an Iceland Road Trip. Read also:

 

Reykjavík: The northernmost capital in the world

Located southwestern of Iceland, Reykjavík is its capital and largest city. While Iceland (as a nation) is famed for its breathtaking and remote landscape, Reykjavík instead is a city that epitomizes modernity.

“The world’s most northerly capital combines colourful buildings, quirky, creative people, eye-popping design, wild nightlife and a capricious soul to devastating effect. 

In many ways Reykjavík is strikingly cosmopolitan for its size. After all, it’s merely a town by international standards, and yet it’s loaded with excellent museums, captivating art, rich culinary choices, and funky cafes and bars.” (Source, Lonely Planet: Reykjavik)

Having visited Iceland for 2 weeks in the summer of 2014, the following is my compilation of the Top 8 Attractions in and around Reykjavík(Listed in random order) 

Map view of the 8 attractions

 

 

#1: Sun Voyager

One of the most prominent symbols of Reykjavík, the Sun Voyager sculpture is located in the middle of the city, by the Atlantic Ocean and along Sæbraut highway.

Sun Voyager, Reykjavik, Iceland
Sun Voyager, Reykjavik, Iceland

The sculpture was unveiled on 18-Aug-1990 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city. With the vast Atlantic Ocean as its backdrop, the Sun Voyager’s simplicity and beauty has captivated many visitors since its unveiling.

Definitely one of the must-see icons of the city. Excellent place for photo-shoot. (map)

 

#2: Harpa

Another prominent symbol of Reykjavík, Harpa is a Concert Hall and Conference Centre with distinctive architecture designs.

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland
Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland

A stone throw away from the Sun Voyager and Reykjavík’s old harbor, it too has the dramatic Atlantic Ocean as its backdrop. The entire façade of the building is covered with glass panels of different colours, giving it a unique look especially when viewed from the interior. When visiting, one must surely consign some time to explore Harpa’s interior and appreciate its beauty.

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland
Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland

Opened in 2011, Harpa nearly fell victim to Iceland’s 2008 financial crisis. Construction was troubled with uncertainty until the Icelandic government committed to funding the half-completed project.

Certainly another must visit attraction of Reykjavík with its fascinating architecture. (map)

 

 

#3: Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja is without doubt the most well-known church in Reykjavík. Towering at an impressive 73 metres, it can be seen from almost everywhere in the compact city.

Hallgrímskirkja (Reykjavik, Iceland)
Hallgrímskirkja (Reykjavik, Iceland)

With a resemblance to the basalt lava flows commonly seen around Iceland, it is the nation’s largest church. Construction took a lengthy 38 years with completion in 1986. A statue of Leifur Eiriksson (the first European to discover America) stands proud in front of the church.

 

Hallgrímskirkja (Reykjavik, Iceland)
Hallgrímskirkja (Reykjavik, Iceland)

One interesting feature of the church is its observation deck located at the top of the main tower. Visitors could take a lift up to the deck (fee payable) for a bird’s-eye view of the city. Given that Hallgrímskirkja is the sixth tallest architectural structure in Iceland, the observation deck does offer some fantastic view of the city. [Observation deck fee and opening hours]

View from top of Hallgrímskirkja (Reykjavik, Iceland)
View from top of Hallgrímskirkja (Reykjavik, Iceland)

Highly recommended to visit. The most appealing aspects of Hallgrímskirkja must be its impressive exterior architecture and the observation deck that offers a sweeping view of the city. (map)


 Advertisements





 

#4: Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon geothermal spa (i.e. thermal bath) is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland and hailed as “One of the 25 Wonders of the World” according to National Geographic. It is located ~20km from Keflavík International Airport (arrival point for most international visitors), and ~40km from Reykjavík.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Blue Lagoon, Iceland

The warm waters in the man-made lagoon contain silica, algae and minerals, giving it a distinctive milky blue shade. With this unique composition and a constant water temperature of 37–40°C, the bath is reputed to help certain skin diseases.

Public area outside Blue Lagoon (unused lagoon), Iceland
Public area outside Blue Lagoon (unused lagoon), Iceland

There is a huge unused lagoon outside the main building, which is free for public to explore. Once inside the main building, visitors could pay for entry into the actual lagoon, which is adjacent to the building. Non-patrons are not allowed in the “paid” area (i.e. lagoon), though there is a small viewing area (after the cafe) where non-patrons are allowed to take photos of the lagoon.

Main Building of Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Main Building of Blue Lagoon, Iceland

 

Area for paying patrons, Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Area for paying patrons, Blue Lagoon, Iceland

As one of the most famous attractions in Iceland, it is definitely worth visiting to check out the scenery (which is pretty amazing) even if you’re not planning to get into the lagoon/bath. The fact that it is near to the airport is a big plus for any visitor in a rush or short stopover.

The only downside is the pricing. As to be expected, it is higher priced compared to other geothermal spas around the island. I’ve visited another geothermal spa on the northern part of the island for approximately half the cost. However in all due fairness, you’re probably paying for better amenities/scenery and a bigger brand name in the Blue Lagoon. (map)

 

 

#5: Krýsuvík -Seltun

Krýsuvík is a popular geothermal area on the Reykjanes peninsula, between Keflavík International Airport and Reykjavík. Just 57km (50 minutes drive) from the airport, it is easily accessible.

Krysuvik-Seltun, Iceland
Krysuvik-Seltun, Iceland

“It is in the south of Reykjanes in the middle of the fissure zone on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which traverses Iceland. Krýsuvík consists of several geothermal fields, such as Seltún. Here solfataras, fumaroles, mud pots and hot springs have formed, the soil is coloured bright yellow, red, and green hues.” (Source. Wikipedia: Krýsuvík)

Krysuvik-Seltun, Iceland
Krysuvik-Seltun, Iceland

 

Krysuvik-Seltun, Iceland
Krysuvik-Seltun, Iceland

Though colorful and with numerous geothermal features, Krýsuvík is not exactly the most scenic geothermal area in Iceland. If you are planning to explore the rest of the island, chances are you’ll get to see more impressive geothermal areas (e.g. Mývatn in the north). Nevertheless, Krýsuvík’s proximity to Reykjavik and the airport means that it is worth visiting especially for those whom only have a few hours or 1-2 days to explore Iceland. (map)

Directions: From the major highway (#41) connecting Reykjavik and the airport, turn onto route #42 and head south. Before reaching the geothermal area, you would pass a deserted but scenic inland lake with black sand beach. Soon after passing the lake, Krýsuvík will be on the right and clearly marked.

Krysuvik-Seltun, Iceland
Krysuvik-Seltun, Iceland

 

 

Golden Circle – The most popular 1-day tourist circuit from Reykjavik.  

The Golden Circle is the most popular single-day trip from Reykjavik for most tourist. It consist of the trio attractions of Þingvellir (Thingvellir), Geysir and Gullfoss, which are in relatively close proximity to each other and all within 115km of Reykjavik. The Golden Circle can be attempted via a simple self-drive or joining a day-tour with one of the local travel agents.

 

#6: Thingvellir National Park (Golden Circle)

Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park is an excellent historical and geological site, and is part of Iceland’s famous Golden Circle trio of star attractions. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 due to its historical and geological importance. Approximately 46km (40 minutes) from Reykjavik.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

As a historical location, Thingvellir is the site of Althing, Iceland’s first Parliament. It was established in the year 930 and remained at Thingvellir till 1798.

Law Rock with Iceland national flag. Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Law Rock with Iceland national flag. Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

As a geological site, Thingvellir is situated in a rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge; which separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The continental drift causes the two plates to move away from each other by up to a few centimeters yearly, and the faults (cracks) can clearly be seen in Thingvellir.

Fault lines at Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Fault lines at Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

 

“Scuba diving has also become popular at Silfra Lake as the continental drift between the tectonic plates made it wide enough for divers to enjoy unparalleled visibility” (Source, Wikipedia: Þingvellir)

With such historical and geological background, Thingvellir is clearly an attraction not-to-be-missed. Personally, I’m more awed by its geological setting. After all, Iceland is about the only place in the world where a regular tourist (like myself) is able to stand between the Eurasian and North American Plates! (map)

Tip: When at the national park, go direct to the visitor center and ask the staffs for advice on the best walking route to cover the park. This will help to make best use of your time there.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

 

 

#7: Geysir (Golden Circle)

The Geysir hot spring is located in a geothermal field on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, 60km (50 minutes) from Thingvellir National Park. It is the hot spring where the English word “geyser” originates.

Geysir Geothermal Field, Iceland
Geysir Geothermal Field, Iceland

“It was the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans.” “Eruptions at Geysir can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air.” (Source, Wikipedia: Geysir)

The Great Geysir, Geysir Geothermal Field, Iceland
The Great Geysir, Geysir Geothermal Field, Iceland

“The numerous travelogues printed about Iceland almost all pay tribute to Geysir. To this very day, Geysir’s water jets are considered to be amongst the most remarkable natural phenomena in Iceland. Many a traveller has journeyed far to behold them and Icelanders have been proud of them for a long time.” (Source, Extreme Iceland (www.extremeiceland.is))

With such prominence and fanfare, it is a pity that Geysir’s eruption is notoriously unpredictable and infrequent. Fortunately, this geothermal field is also home to the Strokkur geyser, which is about 50 metres away. Strokkur is more predictable and erupts every few minutes, spouting water up to 30 metres into the air.

Strokkur geyser erupting (Video: Click to start)
Strokkur geyser erupting (Video: Click to start)

With such regularity, it is no surprise that there are always throngs of photographers/tourist circling the Strokkur, waiting to witness the next eruption.

Strokkur, Geysir Geothermal Field, Iceland
Strokkur, Geysir Geothermal Field, Iceland

 

The fame of Geysir and the sight of Strokkur’s eruption are more than enough reasons to visit this attraction. Highly befitting its status as one of the trio highlights of Iceland’s famed Golden Circle. The only downside is that there are midges around the area, which can be pretty irritating. (map)

 

#8: Gullfoss (Golden Circle)

Magnificent and scenic waterfall! A must-visit as part of the Golden Circle circuit. Approximately 110km (1.5 hours) from Reykjavik and only 10km from Geysir, it is the furthest of the Golden Circle trio of attractions. (map)

Gullfoss, Iceland
Gullfoss, Iceland

“Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) is an iconic waterfall of Iceland offering a spectacular view of the forces and beauty of untouched nature.

Gullfoss is part of the Golden Circle tour, located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height.

On a sunny day shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls.” (Source: www.gullfoss.is

 

Gullfoss, Iceland
Gullfoss, Iceland

 

 

Gullfoss, Iceland
Gullfoss, Iceland

Tip: There are 2 levels of viewing. The lower level offers better view as you can walk right up to the edge of the waterfall.

 

Map view of the 8 attractions

 

Related post:

 

 


Subscribe to us

Like what you've just read? Subscribe to our blog via registering your email below! You will receive email notification when there are any new posts.


 Advertisements





Leave a Reply