Spending an extended weekend in Iceland means making sure you pack in all the things worth seeing and doing here. Don't fret, though, we've kindly compiled a useful list that you are free to follow to make sure you get the full experience of this wonderful Viking island.
See the sights
Reykjavik is the world's most northerly capital. Small, but full of soul, it's a city which embodies the word 'quirky'. Bright colourful buildings, innovative design, funky bars and creative types make it the sought after destination many know it to be.
The most obvious place to start your exploration of Iceland’s capital is at the Hallgrimskirkja - the church of the future (which many say looks like a rocket)! Towering in the distance, dead centre of Skólavörðustígur street, it's hard to miss this ode to the Icelandic landscape (it's shaped to resemble lava flow). The closer you get to it the more impressive it becomes, really. It's a modern Lutheran cathedral with a very plain interior but one with a rewarding view of the city if you take the lift up its 73m to the viewing. Brightly coloured rooftops lined up neatly along straight roads spread out below you, with Reykjavik Bay waiting beyond. The church square directly below boasts a statue of Leif Eriksson - an Icelandic explorer who is said to have been the first European to land in North America, even before Christopher Columbus.
Another noteworthy stop-off is the Culture House or the Safnahúsið as the Icelanders call it. The Culture House is a museum and exhibition space which is used to house art from Icelandic creators. It also used to house the famed Icelandic sagas - olden stories, which we’ve been told by a local are written on calf skin with blood, recording Icelandic history from the Medieval Ages, "tales of dragons, kings and knights".
Street art spotting
Unbeknown to many, yet obvious to anyone who visits Reykjavik and takes a gander around its streets is the fact that street art here is the pride and joy of the downtown district.
As well as spotting the numerous works of art down various alleys and walls, this is also the perfect chance to window shop and admire all the local artistry - whether it's modern wool knits, elaborate jewellery embedding precious rock or stone, art or lava inspired products - Reykjavik is full of quirky spots which can occupy you for hours. The Icelanders know a thing or two about pretty things! And when your feet can't take it anymore, try out a Te or Kaffi shop for a refresher.
Take to the harbour
A walk down Reykjavik harbour is must-do when in the city, and also inevitably a place where you will end up if you follow streets leading down from the Hallgrimskirkja. A good place to kick it all off is at the notable Viking ship sculpture, The Sun Voyager or Sólfar as it's known by the Icelandic. It's part of a Scandinavian art project and designed by Jón Gunnar to represent the promise of new, undiscovered territory. A little way along from this, the magnificent Harpa concert hall is hard to miss and is impressive both by day or night. It's a geometric masterpiece which dominates the harbour and was once the only active construction project in Iceland for several years. By day, colourful stained-glass windows provide a fun lookout at Reykjavik Bay, and by night the ever-changing colour display over its facade is fun to watch as it reflects in the shallow pools outside Harpa's main square.
Following the path along the dock, past the moored ships and fishing boats you can find a few fresh fish restaurants, but head to Saegreifinn or Sea-Baron restaurant where they serve the local delicacy - all things lobster. Fresh off the fishing boats, we tuck into hot lobster soup and fresh-baked bread for a filling Icelandic style lunch.
A walk along the harbour will also lead you to the whale-watching dock. Tens of tour companies are lined up to take you out on a three-hour sail where you can see dolphins and whales swim up to the surface for a hello. It's not an activity you can do in most places around the world so make sure you take some time in your afternoon to jump on board and try to spot a blowhole burst out over the horizon for your first sighting of a whale.
Iceland lies within the Auroral Oval, an oval shaped region around the North Pole, where the Aurora Borealis is particularly active. This means Iceland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, but we’re sure you already knew that.
The clarity and colours of the lights are dependent on many factors like geography, weather, the time of day and many others, however as dusk drops into evening and the skies clear, prepare yourself for one of the most spectacular displays of nature, as the lights dance across the sky in dramatic shapes and colours.
Plenty of tours are organised by expert Northern Lights ‘hunters’ who are trained to locate them along the Icelandic coast (where the sky is clearer, and there’s less light pollution) and we strongly recommend embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, chasing the Aurora Borealis through the frosty Icelandic night.
Another must-see when in Iceland is the famous Blue Lagoon. A geothermal spa often mistaken to be natural, the Blue Lagoon still remains one of the 25 wonders of the world even if it is man-made. The lagoon was formed in 1976 as operations from a nearby geothermal power plant allowed natural minerals and salts to mix with hot spring water which rose up from natural geothermal spots. The unique colour of the water and the silica mud is said to have healing properties to those with dermatological problems. A swim in hot spring water, surrounded by the volcanic landscape of Iceland, is topped off only by the cooling breeze which blows as you soak your worries away.
Iceland's Golden Circle tour is the most iconic route through the south east coast of the country - one that sees tourists flock from around the world just to see the natural landmarks which many Icelanders are still fiercely proud of.
The ‘circle’ makes stop-offs at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) a national park famous for housing the site of the original Icelandic national parliament (Alþingi). This was once the spot where an open-air assembly gathered to represent the voices of all those living in Iceland. It was established in 930, but ceased meeting at Thingvellir in 1798 when the official gathering of parliament was migrated to Reykjavik. Thingvellir holds not only cultural and historical importance, but also geological interest too. It's at this spot that the Eurasian and North American tectonic plate boundaries meet, or yet separate. It's been recorded that on average these are moving apart at a rate of 2cm yearly, the land in between them ebbing away! A short hike up from the main path through the national park reveals the picturesque Öxarárfoss - a waterfall which flows in from the Öxará river.
Another stop-off is 'Geysir' or geyser as it's more commonly known, the name of which derives from this one particular hot spring, and is the one thing all other spouting hot springs on earth are named after. Though now very much in a dormant state, Geysir has passed on its name and lets the other, smaller geysers in the area do all the hard work. Strokkur, for example, erupts every 5-7 minutes and it's just as exciting each time - you can never tell when it's coming!
From Geysir it's a short drive to Gullfoss, which literally translates to Golden waterfall. (This is also coincidentally why Iceland's national Gull beer is named so.)
As you lay eyes on it all you will surely think about how terrifying it would be to get anywhere near the sheer power of that thundering, icy water, but we promise you’ll also be inexplicably drawn to get as close to it as possible. The Hvítá river flows down a three-fold staircase to create the impressive Gullfoss which has a memorable history, which signposts in the area explain.
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