Things to Do in Reykjavik - page 2
With its tunnels of multi-hued lava tubes, dripping with stalactites and dotted with peculiar rock formations, the Leiðarendi lava caves are a subterranean fantasyland. The Leiðarendi caves take their name—which translates as “the end of the journey”—from the carcass of a dead sheep that is found at the end of a tunnel (you can still see the bones), but intrepid travelers needn’t worry as seasoned guides keep everyone safe.
Iceland’s National Museum is an ideal attraction for anyone interested in exploring the country’s fascinating history. Alongside temporary exhibits, the museum’s permanent exhibition, “Making of a Nation,” employs more than 2,000 artifacts to chronicle Icelandic history from the Viking settlement through the introduction of Christianity and up to today.
One of the largest exhibitions of its kind, Whales of Iceland features life-size models of whale species found in Iceland's coastal waters throughout history: from a harbor porpoise to a blue whale nearly as long as a basketball court. Seeing how these mammals look up close is a family-friendly way to learn more about the vast underwater world.
East of downtown Reykjavik, Laugardalur is a favorite park among locals. Laugardalur means “hot spring valley,” and its hot pools were once the city’s main source of hot water. Up until the 1930s, women would come here to wash laundry. Today, you’ll find sports facilities, a music venue, playgrounds, and more.
Looming on the horizon 6 miles (10 kilometers) north of Reykjavik, 2,999-foot (914-meter) Mount Esja offers a striking backdrop to the city and is an attraction in its own right. Mount Esja is a volcanic mountain range made up of basalt and tuff. From the top, you can see the entire city of Reykjavik, the bay, and beyond.
Bessastadir is the official residence of the Icelandic president. First settled in 1000, the site was once home to famed Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson, and the residence (built in 1761) housed a farm and a school before being donated to the state in 1941. After Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1944, Bessastadir became the president’s official residence.
Located on the banks of Reykjavik’s Tjörnin Lake, the National Gallery of Iceland is the country’s most important art museum. Home to a vast collection of 19th- and 20th-century Icelandic art, it also houses works by international artists such as Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Karel Appel, and Richard Serra.
Quaint old buildings have been uprooted from their original sites and rebuilt at the Árbaer Open Air Museum (Árbaejarsafn), a kind of zoo for houses, 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from the city centre. Alongside the 19th century homes are a turf-roofed church, and various stables, smithies, barns and boathouses - all very picturesque. The museum opened in 1957 - before that the place was a working farm - and the aim is to give an insight into the way Icelanders once lived.
There are summer arts-and-crafts demonstrations including traditional handcrafts, hay-making and animals to see. There is also a cafe. The farm is a great place for kids to let off steam.
The Reykjavik Art Museum - or Hafnarhusid - has three sites and around twenty exhibitions a year. The main location isHafnarhús in downtown Reykjavik, established in 2000, which hosts exhibitions of contemporary art in a number of gallery spaces. The other important location is theKjarvalsstadir exhibition hall at Miklatún, which was established in 1973. Here you can see paintings and sculptures by established artists. The third site focuses on the work of one artist, the sculptorÁsmundur Sveinsson. The Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum and Park at Sigtún opened in 1991.
Iceland has a dynamic creative arts scene and you will see art everywhere, from the sculpture by the waterfront to graffiti near the main street. Even if you don't normally visit art museums, it's worth popping your head in to get a sense of the culture and life in this small, vibrant country.
Some of Hengill’s best scenery can be enjoyed on a hike through Reykjadalur, nicknamed “Smoky Valley” for the steam emanating from several thermal springs in the area. From Hvergerði, a gravel trail leads hikers into the valley, and as the trail gradually ascends, the thermal waters become warmer.
The reward for the relatively easy hike is a chance to soak in a thermal river. The point where the thermal water merges with a cold river is one of the best spots, but hikers can head up or downhill to find their perfect temperature. The area has numerous signposted hiking trails, including an hour-long trail that circumnavigates Öklelduhnúkur and another that continues all the way to Þingvallavatn.
More Things to Do in Reykjavik
Iceland is one of the most volcanically active places on earth, which makes it an excellent place to learn about the science behind the eruptions. For a solid overview of Iceland’s geological history and volcanic systems, stop by Volcano House, just a short walk from Reykjavik’s charming Old Harbour.
Conceptualized by Yoko Ono — a notable musician and peace advocate — the Imagine Peace Tower on Viðey Island serves as a literal and figurative beacon of world peace. The permanent art installation takes the form of a wishing well, from which 15 powerful beams of light emerge nightly between John Lennon’s birthday (October 9) and the anniversary of his death (December 9). When lit, the pillar of light is visible from the mainland.
On the well itself, the words ‘Imagine Peace’ are inscribed in 24 different languages. The electricity used to power the lights comes from clean geothermal energy.
Positioned right between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers in southern Iceland, Fimmvörðuháls roughly consists of a 25-kilometer-long and 1,000-meter-high pass accessible to visitors between mid-June and late-August. Its location makes it one of the most sought-after hiking trails in the country, with some travelers opting for a six-day trip by adding in
Landmannalaugar and Thórsmörk nature preserves. The Fimmvörðuháls trail alone takes between eight and 10 hours to complete.
There are two mountain huts – the first one is modern and the second is quite rudimentary–along the route. The journey from Skógar to Thórsmörk is one of the most memorable hiking experiences in the country, if not the world, as it offers splendid panoramas of south Iceland, and of the new lava fields formed by the infamous Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010.
A small eruption actually took place at Fimmvörðuháls following months of earthquakes under the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, just a few weeks before the big outbreak. This eruption produced a 300-meter-long fissure on the northern part of the pass, creating two new craters that later on erupted toward Thórsmörk, briefly stopping tours and hikes in the process. A small reminder that Iceland, despite being on everybody’s lips lately, is still a very wild, unpredictable place to travel to.
Journey back to the Viking age at Iceland’s Viking World museum, where the star exhibit is the impressiveIcelander (“Islendingur”) Viking ship. A painstakingly recreated replica of a ninth-century vessel, the Icelander made headlines when it sailed the Atlantic in 2000 to commemorate Leif Erikson’s journey to the New World.
With its natural fjords encircled by lava fields and bustling port bobbing with fishing boats, Hafnafjörður makes a lively alternative to neighboring Reykjavík and at just a 20-minute drive from the capital, it’s become a popular retreat for both locals and tourists. As the gateway to the scenic Reykjanes peninsula, Hafnafjörður’s spectacular surroundings are its main draw and hiking, bird watching, horse riding and whale watching cruises are all popular activities.
There’s plenty to see and do in the town itself too, and visitors can soak in one of Hafnarfjörður’s three thermal pools, learn about the town’s history at the Hafnarfjörður museum, explore the bubbling mud pools at Hellisgerdi Lava Park or visit for one of the many atmospheric seasonal events, like the annual Viking Festival in June or the festive markets held over the Christmas period.
Located in an active volcanic zone, the steaming landscape of Hveragerdi sprawls across a 5,000-year-old lava field, and its geothermal park is one of the country’s main centers of natural energy. The Hveragerdi Geothermal Park heats a series of greenhouses that grow everything from flowers to vegetables, and the celebrated Hveragerdi hot springs draw many visitors.
Jutting out into the ocean just south of Reykjavik, the Reykjanes Peninsula is known for its otherworldly volcanic and geothermal landscapes. A UNESCO Global Geopark, the peninsula is home to craters, caves, dramatic fissures, bird-filled sea cliffs, lava fields, and black-sand beaches, as well as the popular Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.
An expanse of uninhabited and unspoiled volcanic terrain located in central Iceland and largely off-limits to vehicles, Landmannalaugar has fast become a popular choice for those looking to escape Reykjavík and explore off-the-beaten-track. Among Iceland’s top hiking destinations, Landmannalaugar is best known for its spectacular scenery, with its multi-colored rhyolite mountains, rugged lava fields and steamy thermal pools, set against a backdrop of the ominous Helka Volcano.
The No. 1 challenge for enthusiastic hikers is the 43-kilometer-long Laugavegur trail, Iceland’s most famous long distance trail, which runs from Landmannalaugar all the way to the Thorsmork Valley. Alternatively, less-experienced adventurers can tackle the 16.5-km Landmannahellir Hiking Trail around the Laugahraun lava field, enjoy a day hike or horse riding excursion through the Jokulgil valley, camp out one of the remote mountain huts or soak in one of the many natural hot springs.
Snuggled between the peninsulas of Snaefellsnes and Reykjanes in southwest Iceland,Faxaflói Bay has long held economic importance to Icelanders. Fishermen used to catch rations here that would feed entire villages. Nowadays, Faxaflói Bay isn’t exactly the fishing hub it once was, but it retains its historical significance.
Aptly named after the Norse god of strength and storms, this mountain range is frequently featured in “most stunning landscapes on the planet” lists. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that Thor’s Woods (Thórsmörk) is one of the top hiking spots in Iceland, nestled between the Mýrdalsjökull, Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers. A wilderness retreat dear to the heart of many Icelanders, Thor’s Woods are nuzzled between three glaciers and contain canyons, still-warm volcano craters, mighty waterfalls, moss-covered caves and spectacular valleys crisscrossed by the Krossá River. This glacial valley truly is a hiker’s paradise!
Visitors thinking of visiting Thórsmörk should prepare accordingly, for this is one of Iceland’s most remote locations, and amenities are few and far between. Proper hiking boots, warm clothing and an acute common sense are required to hike this extremely rugged region that is characterized by harsh conditions and unpredictable weather. Luckily, there is a large number of marked trails to help visitors stay on track and safe.
Just off the Ring Road, in the heart of Iceland’s countryside, you’ll find one of the country’s most popular museums. Founded in 1949, Skogar Museum is a cultural heritage collection of around 15,000 artifacts exhibited in three museums and six historical buildings. Together, they tell rich stories about Icelandic social history.
Reykjavik’s Saga Museum brings to life the history of Iceland as it was told in the medieval sagas. Unnerving sounds and eerily lifelike silicone figures depict famous scenes from the sagas, such as Leif Erikson’s voyage to Vinland. Spend a few hours at the museum for a compelling view of Iceland’s social history.
Skarfabakki Cruise Terminal in Reykjavik serves as the gateway not only to the city itself but also to the rugged natural wonders of Iceland, from the Blue Lagoon and the Gullfoss waterfall to the Strokkur geyser. Use Skarfabakki Cruise Terminal as a jumping-off point to explore the Icelandic capital, or depart on shore excursions for the Westfjords and beyond.
The Icelandic island of Akurey lies off Reykjavik’s shore in the Kollafjordur fjord. Many puffins nest here each summer—a big draw for visitors keen on sighting the seabirds. Puffins nest in the same burrows year after year, laying a single egg each spring, feeding their puffling for a month or two before heading back out to the open sea.