Plenty of people dismiss Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, as too cold and too expensive for a travel destination. Write it off, however, and you risk missing out on some fantastic adventures. Whether you’re planning a short break or a longer stay, perhaps as part of a gap year, Reykjavik is full of unique experiences you just can’t get anywhere else — here’s our top 10 things to do in the capital city of Iceland.
Grab a bargain
Reykjavik has many shops selling Icelandic specialities and souvenirs, but these can be pricey. You might have more luck at the weekend Kolaportið Flea Market by the harbour, which sells food, souvenirs, and second-hand goods. While you’re there, buy a hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu, allegedly the best in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon might be Reykjavik’s most famous watery destination, but the city has a number of pools. These are cheap to visit, warmed by geothermal energy, and open all year round, so you can trot across the frosty ground to immerse yourself in warm water. If you’re not brave enough for that, most pools also have an indoor area. You’ll find facilities including hot tubs, steam rooms, water slides and children’s pools.
There’s a thriving LGBT scene in Iceland, and Reykjavik has its own Pride festival. A slightly more unusual entry to the calendar is Bears On Ice, the annual celebration of large, hairy men and the people who love them. Bears and friends from all over the world descend on the city to enjoy Icelandic hospitality and see the country. It’s a fun event with a serious message of tolerance.
Go to a music festival
Throughout the year, Reykjavik celebrates music of all kinds, from folk to heavy metal to jazz. The most famous music festival is probably Airwaves, in November, which promotes Icelandic talent. There’s also Tectonics, representing the cutting edge in orchestral and electronic music, offbeat Saga Fest, cosy All Tomorrow’s Parties, Secret Solstice, which takes place at the height of midsummer, and much more.
Ride an Icelandic horse
Escape from the city on horseback for a day or more. You don’t have to go far from Reykjavik to experience spectacular scenery, and some trips even start and end in the city itself. Riding tours run in the depths of winter as well as high summer. Small and tough, the Icelandic horse is a distinct breed unique to the country.
Push the boat out and have dinner at Perlan. This iconic building, whose name means Pearl, is perched on a hill, offering beautiful views from its glass dome. The top floor houses a revolving restaurant where you can watch the world go by over dinner and cocktails. A cheaper option is to buy a snack in the cafeteria and take a walk on the outside viewing deck.
Walk to America
Close to the airport, the Bridge Between Continents makes a quick but thought provoking trip. The footbridge crosses, in theory, the divide between two tectonic plates, separating Europe from North America. Good for photo opportunities, and you can take home a certificate to say you’ve crossed it too.
The Phallological Museum
In the Laugavegur shopping street, you’ll find the world’s only museum dedicated to the scientific study of the penis. View over two hundred specimens taken from humans and other native Icelandic mammals. Although the museum is backed by serious science, its tongue is firmly in its cheek. There can be no better place to buy souvenirs for friends and family.
Learn about the Northern Lights
You could simply appreciate the Northern Lights for their natural beauty, but why not go one step further and understand the scientific basis for their appearance? At Aurora, you can learn all about the phenomenon, why it happens and its place in folklore, as well as seeing photos and watching HD footage of the lights themselves.
See them for yourself
No top ten of Iceland is complete without the Northern Lights, though, Reykjavik weather means there’s no guarantee you will be lucky. Although you might see the Aurora Borealis from the city, you’ll have more chance if you head for the dark of the countryside on a cold, clear night between October and March. The inside knowledge you gained at Aurora is sure to make you popular with the rest of your group when they’re trying to gaze in silent awe at the sky.