The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and is the single most popular attraction in Iceland.
The water is rich in silica and sulphur that helps make your skin shine like a baby. The Blue Lagoon also operates a Research and Development facility that helps find cures for skin ailments using the mineral-rich water.
The temperature in the bathing and swimming area is very comfortable, and averages 37–39 °C (98–102 °F). There´s a restaurant there and it´s a truly romantic and beautiful place one should not miss while in Iceland.
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world.
Despite a small population (120.000 and more than 200.000 in the Greater Reykjavik area), it is a vibrant city that draws an ever increasing number of visitors. It is the financial, cultural and governmental center of Iceland. It also has a reputation of being one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world.
The city of Reykjavik is located in southwest Iceland by the creek of the same name. Throughout the ages, the landscape has been shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the area is geothermal. Much of the current city area area was subglacial during the Ice Age, with the glacier reaching as far as the Alftanes peninsula, while other areas lay under the sea. After the end of the ice age the land rose as the glaciers drifted away, and it began to take on its present form.
The coastline of Reykjavik is set with peninsulas, coves, straights and islands, most notably the island of Videy, and seabirds and whales frequent the shores. The mountain ring as seen from the shore is particularly beautiful. Mount Esja is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavik and lends its distinct feature to the whole area. This majestic mountain is also highly popular for climbing. Other notable mountains that can be seen from the seaside are Akrafjall and Skardsheidi and on clear days one may even see as far to the legendary Snaefellsjokull glacier, at the end of the Snafellsnes peninsula.
The largest river to run through the city is Ellidaa in Ellidaardalur valley, which is also one of Iceland‘s best rivers for salmon fishing.
There are no trains or trams in Iceland, but most people travel by car. The city also operates a bus system. There are two major harbours in town, the old harbour in the center and Sundahofn in the east. The domestic Reykjavik Airport is located at Vatnsmyrin, not far from the city center and close to Oskjuhlid and Perlan. The international Keflavik Airport at Midnesheidi heath then lies around 50 km from the city. Cars, jeeps and bicycles can be readily rented in the city and many organized tours are also being offered.
The local arts scene is strong in Iceland, with both annual events and single ones, many of whom have hit the international stage. For the annual ones please check our articles Best Annual Events in Iceland and the Top Ten Festivals in Iceland. Major events taking place in Reykjavik include the Iceland Airwaves, Gay Pride, RIFF (The Reykjavik International Film Festival), The Reykjavik Literature Festival, Cultural Night, the Reykjavik Arts Festival, Food & Fun, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival and the Sónar music festival.
Among famous people from Reykjavik are artists Bjork Gudmundsdottir, Sigur Ros, writers Halldor Laxness (born in Laugarvegur) and Arnaldur Indridason and mayor Jon Gnarr. For more well-known and fairly-well known Icelanders, check our article on the subject.
You might also want to check our article on some of the many things to see and do in Reykjavik, such as visiting the city‘s many museums, exhibitions and galleries, checking out live music, visiting the Harpa music hall or the theaters, visiting the lighthouse at Grotta, the main shopping street of Laugavegur, visiting the old harbour and the flea market, going on a bird- and whalewatching tour or visiting Videy island. We also have a top ten list of things to do.
Make sure to visit the publis square of Austurvollur, one of the city‘s most popular gathering places, where you‘ll also find the national parliament, Althingi, the state church a statue of independence hero Jon Sigurdson, as well as cafés, bars and restaurants. Austurvollur was central in the 2008 protests, along with Laekjargata, home to the House of Government. You are also not likely to miss the great church of Hallgrimskirkja that towers over the city from the hill of Skolavorduholt, wherefrom you‘ll get a great view of the city.
Try a walk by the city pond, greet the many birds that frequent the area and visit the city hall, stationed by its banks. The Hljomaskalagardur is a beautiful park that lies by the pond, it ideal for a nice walk and sometimes concerts get held there. Further off is the campus of the university of Iceland, the Nordic house and the Vatnsmyri wetland, a particularly pleasant place, but be mindful of not disturbing the wildlife there and keep to the pathways.
For a nice swim on a warm day, we particularly recommend Nautholsvik beach.
Visit the Laugardalur valley, home to one of the city‘s best swimming pools, as well as the Asmundarsafn gallery, a beautiful botanical garden and a domestic zoo. A walk by the Aegissida beach, with it‘s old fishing sheds, in the west part of Reykjavik also holds a particular charm. The aforementioned Elllidaardalur valley is also a popular resort.
Another place that offers one of the city‘s best (and free) views is Perlan, up in Oskjuhlid hill. The hill itself is a popular resort, with over 176.000 trees and great opportunities for walking and cycling.
Travel to Alftanes to see the president‘s house at Bessastadir, which is also a historical site in it‘s own right, having been the educational center of Iceland for centuries. Nearby is a beautiful lava field, Galgahraun, well worth a visit, though there is currently an environmental struggle going on as to it‘s future state.
The city is furthermore a short drive from many of Iceland‘s major attractions, most famously the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. In close vicinity you‘ll also find the Heidmork preservation area, a favorite passtime resort of the people of Reykjavik, as well as the Blue Mountains, one of Iceland‘s most beloved skiing venues.
Check our Best of Reykjavik guide further for tips on the best cheap things to do in Reykjavik, some of the best restaurants in the city, happy hours, the top ten value places to eat and our two articles on the famous Reykjavik nightlife; Nightlife in Reykjavik and Nightlife and mating.
Finally, we‘d like to stress that these are only some suggestions of the many things you might check out in Reykjavik. Whatever you choose to do, we hope you‘ll be able to make the most of your visit and we wish you a pleasant stay in our capital.
Akureyri, ‘The Capital of the North’ is a town in the fjord Eyjafjordur in North Iceland. It lies just 100 km away from the Arctic Circle. It is Iceland’s second-largest urban area with a population of about 17,800.
Akureyri is an important fishing centre and port, but in the last few years tourism, industry, higher education and services have become the fastest growing sectors of the economy.
An international airport is located about 3 km from the center. A large number of cruisers also stop at Akureyri. One of Iceland's best skiing sites is found by Akureyri, at Hlidarfjall.
Traditionally Akureyri has survived on fisheries and some of Iceland’s largest fishing companies, like for example Samherji, have their headquarters there. Other large companies include Brim, Nordurmjolk, and Vifilfell hf, the largest brewery in Iceland.
FSA/Akureyri Hospital is a major employer in the area and is one of two major hospitals in Iceland.
Akureyri has excellent facilities for travelers and is located a short drive from many of Iceland’s top natural, cultural and historical attractions.
Akureyri is surrounded by mountains, the highest one being Kerling (1538 m). The area around it has rich agriculture and a beautiful mountain ring.
The innermost part of the fjord, Pollurinn ('The Pool') further lends the town a special character. The climate in Akureyri is generally very pleasant.
The islands Hrisey in the middle of Eyfjordur and Grimsey, straddling the Artic Circle, both belong to the municipality of Akureyri. Hrisey is often called 'The Pearl of Eyjafjordur' and Grimsey 'The Pearl of the Artic' and these beautiful and peaceful islands are highly popular with travelers.
During World War II the town was an important site for the Allies and the town grew considerably after the war, as people increasingly moved to urban areas.
Akureyri has a strong cultural scene, with several bars and renowned restaurants. Folk culture in general is more prevalent there than in Reykjavik. During the summer there are several notable festivals in Akureyri and its surroundings.
Sites of interest in Akureyri include the brand-new Hof concert hall and Akureyri’s many museums, The Nature Museum, Nonnahus, a.k.a. Jon Sveinsson Memorial Museum, for the writer, David's house or David Stefansson Memorial Museum, for the poet, Akureyri Art Museum.
Akureyri also has several churches, Akureyrarkirkja being the most notable, as well as beautiful botanical gardens. The old town is particularly charming, ideal for a nice walk.
Jokulsarlon is a glacier lagoon in the south of Vatnajokull national park that is easily reached by the Ring Road.
Covered in thick glacial ice until the 1930’s when the glacier started retreating, the lagoon today measures 7 square miles (20 km2). More than 300 feet of ice still breaks away each year, reshaping the lagoon and filling it with icebergs - causing an alarmingly beautiful sight.
The water is freezing cold and contains a mixture of salt and freshwater giving it a blue-green color. There is plenty of fish and birdlife by the lagoon and the vast sand area of Breiðamerkursandur, and hundreds of seals stay there in winter.
Myvatn is a beautiful lake with many small islands in the north of Iceland, the fourth largest lake in the country. Along with its surrounding area, the lake is one of Iceland's most amazing natural attractions.
Some of the islands in Myvatn are pseudocraters, formed by steam explosions. The lake has rich birdlife and more species of ducks than anywhere else in the world. As for vegetation, it is one of the few places in the world that grows Marimo, also known as Cladophora ball, Lake ball, or Moss Balls in English, a species of filamentous green algae (Chlorophyta).
The Myvatn nature baths are also renowned throughout the world, a perfect place to relax, surrounded by breathtaking landscape.
Close to the lake is Dimmuborgir, a fascinating area of dramatic and chaotic lava. Norwegian symphonic metal band Dimmu Borgir takes its name from the the lava field, and it continues to inspire travellers from all over the world.
The Myvatn area is definitely one of the most beautiful places in Iceland. Don´t miss it!
Godafoss waterfall is located the river Skjalfandafljot in North Iceland, the fourth largest river in Iceland. It is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, falling from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters.
The fall's name means either waterfall of the gods or of the 'godi' (i.e. priest/ chieftain). It is said that when the lawspeaker Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi declared Christianity the official religion in Iceland, after his own conversion, he threw the statues of the old Norse gods into the waterfall.
Dettifoss, in the glacier river Jokulsa á Fjollum, flowing from the glacier Vatnajokull, is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
This thunderous fall has an average waterflow of 193 m3 per second. It is 100 meters (330 ft.) wide and plummets 45 meters (150 ft.) down to Jokulsargljufur canyon.
Skogafoss is one of the biggest and most beautiful waterfalls of the island with an astounding width of 25 meters and a drop of 60 meters.
This is one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland for travelers to visit. It is located in South Iceland, not far from Skogar, which itself features a highly interesting regional museum. Due to the amount of spray the waterfall often produces a single or double rainbow on sunny days.
Geysir is a famous hot spring in Haukadalur valley in South Iceland. Part of the ‘Golden Circle', Geysir gives its name to hot springs all over the world.
Though Geysir itself is hardly active anymore, the area features spectacular hot springs such as the powerful Strokkur, which spouts a vast amount of water every 10 minutes, around 15-20 meters into the air, Smidur and Litli-Strokkur.
North of Geysir are fumaroles, i.e. unlike the hot springs the emit hot water, only steam and gas emanate from these. You may be able to observe bright yellow stains at the fumaroles, this is native sulphur, which crysallizes from the steam. At the southern part of the geothermal area, called Thykkuhverir, you‘ll find various mud pots. Such mud pots are actually fumaroles that boil up through surface water/groundwater and may become steaming fumaroles during dry spells, rather than the usual boiling mudpots.
About 2 km from Geysir is an old preserved natural pool called Marteinslaug. One can bathe in it and it has room for 3-5 people at a time, but care should be taken, as the area around the pool is very delicate. The temperature is 39-43°C, depending on how you are positioned in the pool. The water is slightly muddy, as the pool is built on soil, and the bottom is slippery due to algae, so caution is advised.
In Haukadalur there has also been tree planting in recent times and today the forest Haukadalsskogur is one of the largest in South Iceland. Aspen, various types of pine, and other plants have been tried out there and experiments and research continue. We also recommend visiting the tree museum, built in the memory of forester Gunnar Freysteinsson. There are good paths and roads in the forest and the wood is specially designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
Haukadalur has been a church site since ancient time. The current wooden church was last rebuilt in 1938 but the variety and appearance of the church dates back to 1842, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Iceland.
Haukadalur is indeed a historical place. It was settled during the age of settlement and scholar Ari “The Wise“ Thorgilsson grew up there. The first pastoral school in Iceland was also built there.
For accommodation, Hotel Gullfoss is about 7 km from the Geysir area, and closer still is the Hotel Geysir.
Gullfoss ('Golden Waterfall') in Hvita river is one of the most beautiful and beloved waterfalls in Iceland and forms a part of the famous Golden Circle along with Thingvellir National Park and the Geysir geothemal area.
This mighty waterfall cascades 32 meters into the river gorge and you'll be able to stand close enough to feel the waterspray on your face. Hvita itself should not be missed by any fan of rafting, as it is one of the most popular rafting rivers in Iceland.
Hraunfossar in Borgarfjordur district is a series of beautiful waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming from a short distance out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field.
The lava field flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjokull. The waterfalls pour into the Hvita river from ledges of less porous rock in the lava. These are some of the most magnificent falls found in Iceland and not to be missed.
Deildartunguhver, by Reykholt, in Borgarfjordur district, has the highest flow rate for a hot spring in Europe.
The flow rate of Deildartunguhver is 180 liters/second and water emerges at 97 °C. The place is also unique for being the only place in the country where the hard fern grows.
Snaefellsnes is a large peninsula extending to the west from West Iceland ending with a national park, Snaefellsjokull National Park, where the glacier towers over the scenery, as can sometimes be seen from Reykjavik, lending its beauty to the area.
The peninsula stretches over 100 km to the west as a mountain ridge that includes active volcanoes and is unique in the variety of mountains found.
A few small and beautiful villages are located on the south side and a few fishing villages are on the north side: Rif, Hellissandur, Olafsvik, Grundarfjordur and Stykkisholmur. The last one is highly popular for travelers, featuring a volcano museum and a ferry that takes you across the fascinating Breidafjordur bay to Brjanslaekur on the south border of the Westfjords.
Other museums you might want to check out are the Maritime Museum at Hellissandur, the regional museum Pakkhusid at Olafsvik, and, last but not least, the shark museum at Bjarnarhofn, indeed listed as the nr. 1 Snafellsnes attraction by Lonely Planet Travelers. Also, many of the Icelandic sagas take place at Snaefellsnes.
Snaefellsnes has an abundance of interesting sights. At the national park, you can witness the impressive lava formations of Djupalonssandur creek and test your strength on its four stones, see the two massive lava formations that compries Londrangar, explore the Saxholl volcanic crater and enjoy the echo of 'The Singing Cave', Songhellir. You may also hike on the majestic Snaefellsjokull glacier. The glacier has strong ties with folklore and was the setting for Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Other sights we can recommend at Snaefellsnes recommend include Raudfeldsgja canyon, east of the national park and the rugged and colourful Berserkjahraun lava field, near Bjarnarhofn, on the north side of the peninsula.
Last, but not least, Snaefellsnes is one of the main setting for Laxdaela saga. Chieftain Snorri godi, Gudrun Osvifursdottir, Bolli Thorlakssson all lived there as well as his namesake Bolli Bollason, the first West Norse member of the Varangian guard, an elite unit of the Byzantine army. Iceland's most famous mass murderer, Axlar-Bjorn, also lived at Snaefellsnes.
The Reykjanes peninsula in Southwest Iceland is an area of much lava, volcanoes and strong geothermal activity. This is were the continents meet and here you may enjoy rich birdlife along with some of the most powerful breaker waves you are likely to encounter.
Reykjanes is a peninsula in Southwest Iceland. The whole peminsula is covered with lavas and active volcanoes and is strong in geothermal activity. Earthquakes are very common. The peninsula is the continuation of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Indeed, at the southern tip of Reykjanes, at Sandvik, there is a bridge where one can literally walk between the continents.
Volcanic activity stretches out to the ocean. A new island was formed in 1783 but was broken by waves. In the middle ages there were many eruptions in the area, but no eruptions have been recorded on the mainland for the last 500 years.
Closely related to the volcanic activity is geothermal activity. The main geothermal areas of Reykjanes are Krysuvik, Gunnuhver and Svartsengi.
Svartsengi has a power station with an energy of 76.5 MW with about 475 litres per second of water, at a heat level of 90 degrees Celsius. Its mineral-rich surplus water fills up the Blue Lagoon spa.
Various mud pools and fumaroles can be seen at Gunnuhver and it is also said to be haunted.
At Krysuvik you may further see all kinds of solfatarae, fumaroes, hot springs and mud pots, with the soil giving off mulitcoloured hues. The green crater lake Graenavatn is also an impressive sight.
Reykjanes has rich birdlife in all cliffs and its best known birdcliff is also located in Krysuvik, Krysuvikurbjarg, a nesting place of around 77 thousand seabirds. Slightly further north is Kleifarvatn, the largest lake on the peninsula and one of the deepest lakes in the country.
Reykjanes further has some of the most breathtaking breaker waves in the country, indeed in the world. We recommend visiting Selvogur a short drive from Krysuvik. The charming little church there, Strandakirkja, has been central in Icelandic seamen’s prayers for centuries and the area of Selvogur offers some of greatest waves. The southwest tip of the peninsula, Reykjanesta, is another prime example. The waves may reach as high as 20-30 meters.
There is much fishing fishing around the peninsula, the fishing villages being mainly located on the north side, i.e. Keflavik, Sandgerdi, Gardur and Vogar. Grindavik, however, is located in the far south of the peninsula.
Near Keflavik, slightly east, is the Midnesheidi heath, where the international airport, Leifsstod (often colloquially none as Keflavikurflugvollur or ‘Keflavik Airport’). The US army formerly has a base there, as established by a highly controversial treaty with the Icelandic government in 1951, and the base came to be a kind of village in its own right. The army left in 2006 and abandoned the base.
Towards the south of the peninsula, the geothermal spa Blaa Lonid is operated. Its recreational waters are world renowned and said to help people with skin diseases. An ideal place for a relaxing bath.
The world-famous Reynisfjara shore, near the village Vik in Myrdalur on Iceland's South Coast, is widely regarded as the most impressive black-sand beach in Iceland.
Reynisfjara is a black pebble beach and features an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns resembling a rocky step pyramid, which is called Gardar. Out in the sea are the spectacularly shaped basalt sea stacks Reynisdrangar. The area has a rich birdlife, including puffins, fulmars and guillemots.
The waves at Reynisfjara are especially strong and unpredictable, and fatal accidents have occurred at this beach, so people are advised to take extra care when visiting the area.
According to folklore, two trolls attempted to drag a ship to land but were turned to stone as daylight broke, turning them into the Reynisdrangar stacks, clearly visible from the beach.
Hellnar is an old fishing village on the westernmost part of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. It used to be one of the largest fishing stations of the peninsula, the oldest record of seafaring there being from 1560.
At the shore are spectacular rock formations. Among them is a protruding cliff called Valasnos. Tunneling into the cliff is a cave renowned for its changing colourful hues, according to the light and sea movement. Large colonies of birds also nest in the area.
At Gvendarbrunnar a.k.a. Mariulind you can taste excellent spring water which is said to have healing powers.
Hellnar hosts the guesthouse for Snaefellsnes National Park and has a very interesting exhibition about the economy of former times and on the geology, flora and fauna of the national park.
Arnarstapi is a village in the southern part of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. The area has several old and charming houses with interesting stories to them and is furthermore renowned for its beautiful nature.
The beach holds a particular attraction. It has an eroded circular stone arch, called Gatklettur, and three rifts, Hundagja,Midgja and Musagja. The interplay of spectacular waves and the light of the sun creates a fascinating spectacle. Large colonies of the arctic tern also nest in the area.
An old horse trail through the lava field Hellnahraun is highly popular for hiking, due to the impressiveness of the surrounding landscape.
Vik in Myrdalur valley is the southernmost village on the Icelandic mainland, located around 180 km from the capital Reykjavik.
Vik is important as a service center for the inhabitants and visitors of the marvellous Reynisfjara beach.
Reynisfjara is widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches on earth (see for example Islands Magazine). This black pebble beach boasts an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns called Gardar, which resembles a rocky step pyramid and out in the sea are the spectaculary shaped basalt sea stacks Reynisdrangar. The area has rich birdlife, including puffins, fulmars and guillemots.
Hvítserkur, sometimes referred to as the “Troll of North-West Iceland”, is a 15m (49ft) basalt stack protruding from Húnaflói bay, along the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes peninsula. Hvítserkur gets its name from the birdlife nesting atop it. In Icelandic, the name translates to “white shirt”, a nod to the colour of the bird droppings that cover the rock.
It should come as no surprise that Hvítserkur is often referred to as a troll. Folklore implies that Hvítserkur was originally a troll determined to rip the bells down from Þingeyraklaustur convent, an apparent allusion to the people’s stoic resistance to the Christianisation of Iceland. However, as goes the story, the troll paralysed by walking out under sunlight and quickly turned to stone. The Hvítserkur stack is all that remains.
The scientific community has another explanation. Erosion from the cascading sea water has carved three large holes through the basalt rock, sculpting and shaping it into what appears as some petrified, mythological animal. The base of the stack has been reinforced with concrete to protect its foundations from the sea, but this has not stopped visitors’ interpreting the rock’s peculiar shape. Some say Hvítserkur looks like an elephant, others a rhino. Some onlookers have gone as far as to claim the rock appears as a “dinosaur drinking.” Whatever the case, the rock is a nesting ground for seagulls, shag and fulmar, making it appear constantly in motion, further enforcing the idea that Hvítserkur is, in some way, very much alive.
To the south, visitors to Hvítserkur can detour toward Sigríðarstaðir, a location reputable for viewing seal colonies. Hvítserkur is also only a short drive from the historical and quintessential Súluvellir farm, a location that boasts incredible views of the surrounding landscape.
Iceland has one main ring road: Route 1. This ring road goes all around the island and is 1332 km long (828 miles). The road connects the capital, Reykjavík, to the second biggest city in Iceland, Akureyri, in the north of the country. Other notable towns that are connected via the ring road are Borgarnes, Blönduós, Egilsstaðir, Höfn, Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Vík, Hella, Hvolsvöllur, Selfoss and Hveragerði.
A number of popular tourist attractions are also found by the ring road, such as Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Lake Mývatn and the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Goðafoss.
The ring road consists mainly of paved two lanes road (one each direction). Some parts of the ring road are still unpaved however. In various places the road contains single lane bridges, especially in the east part of the country. The speed limit is 90km per hour on the paved section of the road (lower when it passes through towns), but 80km per hour on gravel.
The road was only completed in 1974, with the opening of Iceland's longest bridge, that crosses Skeiðará river in southeast Iceland. In 1998 a tunnel below the fjord Hvalfjörður shortened the drive around Iceland by about one hour (or 45km along a winding fjord). Hvalfjörður tunnels are the biggest tunnels in Iceland, 5,8 km and 165m below sea level. The ring road has another tunnel called Almannaskarð in the southeast by Höfn and by 2017 the Vaðlaheiðar tunnels should be open in north Iceland, shortening the distance between Akureyri and Mývatn.
Some sections of the ring road are original 1940's country roads, and a number of sharp curves, blind curves, blind summits as well as single lane bridges mean that people need to drive cautiously. In wintertime most of the ring road is kept open, with the exception of a short passage in the east part of the country that may be closed due to heavy snow (a detour is needed to travel from the north to the east during wintertime).
Guide to Iceland would advise people to drive cautiously on the ring road both in summer and wintertime, but also to explore other roads leading from it to multiple attractions.
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