Five must-see things to see and do in Reykjavik, Iceland

Five must-see things to see and do in Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland should be on any traveler's short list. Iceland has the cleanest air in the world, water so pure you can drink it right from the tap, lava-covered landscapes, roaring waterfalls, gushing geysers, and eclectic cuisine

@Ron Stern All rights reserved

REYKJAVIK, Iceland, May 12, 2016 —  Steeped in Nordic traditions and culture,  Reykjavik (Visit Reykjavik)  is one of those mysterious destinations that everyone seems to be talking about visiting and for good reasons. Iceland has the cleanest air in the world, water so pure you can drink it right from the tap, lava-covered landscapes along with roaring waterfalls, gushing geysers and an eclectic cuisine to satisfy any appetite.

Here are five things you won’t want to miss when you visit:

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

1. The Food

Typical Icelandic cuisine includes lamb and seafood and some rather odd choices, such as fermented or rotten shark.  But, there is no doubt that, from hot dogs to fine dining, Icelanders love to eat.

While it might seem strange to come to Scandinavia for a hot dog, this fare has somehow worked its way into the collective palate, and you will find it everywhere. One of the best is a simple stand located in downtown near the harbor called Bæjarins Beztu (the Best Hot Dog in Town), and there is almost always a line.

Get your dogs with mustard, onions and remolaði, which is a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish.

At Matur & Drykuur, enjoy some tasty classical Icelandic home cooking such as salted cod croquettes with horseradish and remoulade. Or try the lamb with rhubarb jam, potatoes, kale, and crowberries.

Located on the campus of Icelandic University, AALTO Bistro is where celebrity chef Sveinn Kjartansson uses the freshest, local ingredients to create “happy food for a healthy heart.” Start with his carrot soup with coriander cream, then try one of his daily seafood specials. Vegetarians will also love his pumpkin burger with crispy green cabbage and baked tomato with kale and pesto.

Icelanders seem to have a sweet tooth and are the largest consumers of Coca Cola in the world. Other local confections that you will want to sample include chocolate, chocolate with licorice, pastries filled with marshmallow cream, and Appelsin (orange soda) that they mix with malt.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

2. Golden Circle Tour with the Secret Lagoon

Sterna Travel offers a guided bus tour around southern Iceland on this must-see all day adventure. After picking you up from your hotel, your guide will take you to several spots overlooking the rugged terrain, much of which is covered with lava and green moss created from the county’s 130 volcanoes. There are a couple of photo op stops where you can walk down trails to view the local topography.

The first highlight on this trip is Strokkur, a geothermal geyser shooting hot water up to 65 feet in the air every four to eight minutes. This is one of the most famous in the country and attracts people from all over the world.  Afterwards, you’ll enjoy lunch in the restaurant or cafeteria with a variety of hot and cold entrees.

The next stop is the stunning Gullfoss or Golden Falls, located on the Hvítá River. This is the No.1 attraction for the area on TripAdvisor and is truly magnificent to watch as the water careens down the stair-stepped rocks to the canyon below. On sunny days, you can easily capture a rainbow or two as the light is reflected near the water.

Your final stop will be the Secret Lagoon, the oldest geothermal swimming pool in the country, located in the town of Fludir. The water in the pool stays at a constant year-round temp of about 100 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and is the perfect place to soak away your cares while enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

3. Whales of Iceland Exhibition

Located in Reykjavik Harbor, this is the largest whale exhibition in Europe, featuring 23 species that can be found in local waters. The displays include some 25 realistic life-sized models such as white whales, pilot whales, minke whales, sperm whales and the largest, the blue whale, reaching an astounding 108 feet in length.

The exhibition also has interesting interactive exhibits and a virtual reality experience where you can swim right alongside one of these ocean giants. Opened in February 2015, the Whales of Iceland has already attracted some 600,000 visitors.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

4. Art and Cultural Venues

Reykjavik has been designated a UNESCO City of Literature, and there is an abundance of museums, festivals and events at any time of year. The Harpa Conference Hall and Concert Center is Reykjavik’s gem, standing out against the city’s skyline. Created out of geometric glass shapes, the structure reflects the sun like a shining colored jewel.

You can enjoy major performances here in their massive red-hued concert hall and see art exhibitions such as photographs of David Bowie that were on display during my visit.

In addition to art, historical, literary and maritime museums, there are also some unusual ones such as the Árbær Open Air Museum, located a short distance from downtown. Here, you will find a recreated Icelandic village from the 19th century with more than 20 buildings that have been moved to this area. The turf houses are particularly fascinating with their sod-covered roofs, providing a glimpse into early pioneer life in Iceland.

Reykjavik enjoys a good party, and with more than 80 festivals held each year, you will be able to sample local flavor and hospitality. Since there are only about two hours of sunlight in the winter, someone got the idea to host a Winter Lights Festival each February with glowing colored lights and events throughout the city.

The motto for the Culture Night festival, held in August from 1-11 p.m., is “Come On In.” The purpose of this fête is to showcase the city’s cultural programs for the upcoming year.

@Ron Stern All rights reserved
@Ron Stern All rights reserved

5. Sport Adventures

For a small country (about the size of Ohio), Iceland sure seems to pack a lot of fun into any visit. Some of the outdoor adventures available are horseback riding, jeep and helicopter tours, scuba diving, volcano exploration and cycling tours.

If you are an adrenaline junkie, there are plenty of activities to keep your blood pumping, such as four-wheeling through the dirt and mud, courtesy of Buggy Adventures. Driving a state-of-the-art dune buggy with all the safety equipment, you will zoom across the moon-like landscape of Iceland for a true off-road experience. A variety of tour options is available.

Instead of just dreaming about visiting this Nordic island, you should start making your plans now. Warmer than New York during the winter, Iceland has genuinely friendly citizens who are welcoming to travelers.  The country is also easily accessible from most major airports, and Iceland Air offers a free stopover here while en route to other locales. Whether you come for a quick visit or an extended stay, Reykjavik is one city that will leave you with lasting memories.

FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored trip. All opinions herein are the author’s.


Visit Reykjavik

Where to Stay:

The Apotek Hotel

Located in the city center, this boutique hotel is about a 50-minute ride from the airport. The Apotek has modern décor, great views of the city and clean, comfortable and affordable rooms.

Reykjavik Excursions

They have bus service to the city center for about $23 per person.

Sterna Travel- Golden Circle Tour with Secret Lagoon

Approximately $104 for adults

Whales of Iceland

Buggy Adventures

Rebound Tag

I used rebound tag on this trip which offers a trackable microchipped luggage bag tag using state-of-the art technology for a $31.99 annual fee. If your baggage is lost, you can locate it with GPS on your phone and receive SMS messages when found.

Roam Mobile

Why pay for expensive roaming fees or unreliable connections while traveling abroad. Roam mobile offers portable WiFi hotspots that are easy to set up and use. I found that I was able to connect quickly and securely during my visit to Reykjavik in most of the places I visited.


Even though many tour books say that it isn’t necessary to tip while in Iceland, it is always appreciated.

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Ron Stern
Ron Stern, aka: The Global Gumshoe is passionate about excellence in hospitality and tourism. He writes full features with a focus on luxury, cuisine, hotels, resorts, tourism and travel destinations. His articles have appeared in national and regional magazines such as Shape, Cruise, Frequent Flyer, AAA Motorist, Visit Los Cabos Guide, Destinations West, Key Biscayne and La Jolla Today. Other articles have been published in newspapers (print and online) such as The Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sun Sentinel, Bismarck Tribune, The Jamaican Observer, the Coloradoan and travel trade magazines. Ron’s other contributions have been noted by PBS, Mobil Travel Guides and his photography has been used extensively by entities such as tourism boards and public relations firms. He has traveled extensively and is the author of five books. Ron's motto: "uncovering the sole of travel" humorously captures his spirit of walking the world travel beat as a gumshoe detective, always looking for a story.