We help you to arrange the greatest excursions w/ pickup service at the Laugabjarg Guesthouse.
Top 10 must-do’s in Iceland – from a local’s point of view
1. The Golden Circle
Þingvellir national park. To be honest, it’s just a big, very pretty piece of land without anything mind blowing or spectacular in plain sight, but what’s really cool about it is the history and the geology. This is the place where the world’s first parliament was formed and the only place in the world where you can clearly see the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust glide away from one another. Plus this is where the medieval Vikings used to meet up to hang out! Check out the Visitor’s centre for all sorts of information about the place.
This first stop of the Golden Circle is only about a 40 minute drive away from Reykjavík city centre.
Gullfoss waterfall. While you are out here you must go look at Gullfoss. Not so many “world’s greatest” historic statements to be made about it, but it’s there, it’s big and it’s pretty.
We’re not so big on rules or safety railings around here so just be careful and use common sense when trampling around the edge.
Geysir. Now this is actually awesome. This is where the word „Geyser“comes from! A geothermal area with different sizes of holes filled with bubbling mud and water and of course the famous Strokkur which spouts boiling water 15 meters up into the air every few minutes. Surprises you every time and looks incredible. The even more famous Geysir is usually dormant with old age but occasionally it joins the party.
Again, use common sense and stay inside the marked path. It’s there for a reason.
Insider’s tip: You can actually snorkel or dive between the tectonic plates at Þingvellir in a big water filled fissure, Silfra. The water is unusually clear so you can see several meters down and all kinds of plants and pretty colours, it’s definitely a recommended experience.
2. The Glacier Lagoon (and the Vatnajökull area)
You do not want to miss this! Even though it’s located about 4 hours away from Reykjavík it’s a trip worth taking. On a clear day the drive offers a million different views; waterfalls, moss-covered mountains and glaciers and you also drive through the area affected by the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption. (On a rainy day you can listen to some solid Icelandic tunes on your ipod and even sleep off the night before, stopping every now and then for some delicious greasy food at a petrol station).
Once you get there you’ll be faced with enormous 1.500 year old icebergs floating in a huge lagoon framed by a part of Europe’s biggest glacier. You can either take a stroll along the pebbly waterfront or go on a 40 minute guided boat ride on an amphibious boat. If you’re lucky you could even spot a seal or see an iceberg turn over!
Rain or shine, this place is amazing.
This is kind of a 2 in 1 deal as Skaftafell national park (hosting the rest of Europe’s biggest glacier, Vatnajökull) is on the way there so you can spend some time in stunning surroundings, take a short hike up to Svartifoss waterfall or do one of the many tours provided by the local tour companies, like glacier hikes or ice climbing. Ice axes make your holiday photos so much more hardcore!
Insider’s tip: Check out Fjallsárlón, 10 kilometres west of Jökulsárlón. It’s a miniature version of the real thing, with little to none tourist traffic and you can see the glacial wall clearly.
3. The Blue Lagoon
True, this place has turned into a bit of a cliché, but nevertheless you should not leave Iceland without being able to say you went there.
Even on a sunny high-season day when it’s filled with eager tourists from all of the world’s corners, there is still something special about this outdoor geothermal spa. Milky blue water surrounded by black lava and modern architecture make it worth checking out, not to mention that rejuvenated feeling you get after soaking for a couple of hours.
So forget the cheesiness, enjoy the relaxing warm water, check out the sauna, slather on a natural silica facemask provided or even grab a drink from the bar they recently planted in the water. You can even get a massage floating on a mattress in the lagoon or a spa treatment if your budget allows it.
For those not-so-bikini ready or beer-belly conscious, you can rely on the cloudy water to keep the mystery alive and as a bonus the silica in it makes skin silky smooth (it is also used to treat several skin diseases).
Insider’s tip: Do not put your hair in the water! Lather it up with some conditioner (provided by the lagoon) in the shower before you go in and keep your head above water. Although the silica does wonders for your skin it doesn’t cooperate with hair so much.
4. Reykjavík nightlife
First of all, alcohol is extremely expensive in downtown Reykjavík so go to the liqour store (we call it „Ríkið“ but its official name is „Vínbúðin“) beforehand and buy what you require a little cheaper or shop duty free. Second of all, nobody with any sense of self respect is seen down town before midnight. The party doesn’t really kick off until around 1.30 AM. This is why a little disco nap in the afternoon can be extremely helpful if you plan to party like the locals. Showing up at eight o’clock to a half empty bar, deciding the Icelandic club scene isn’t all it’s talked up to be and going home before midnight is a typical rookie mistake. Note that we only go out on the weekends though, none of this applies during the week.
There is no cover charge anywhere (except for the occasional concert) so if you don’t like the place, the people or the music, just move on to the next.
For something completely different, try the Viking Bar in Hafnarfjörður, you can have traditional Icelandic dinner or just sit on some reindeer skin, enjoy an enormous beer and watch the staff trying to make people take them seriously in Viking costumes.
Insider’s tip: Because alcohol is so insanely expensive we don’t do rounds in Iceland. Even if you do go ahead and buy a round, don’t expect anyone else to get the next one. But the good news is you can buy everyone drinks and be their favourite person for the next hour or so. It’s an easy way to make friends!
Whether you’re in Reykjavík or out in the middle of nowhere, in the next 50 kilometres or so you will find a public pool. The water is thermally heated, it’s relatively cheap and the hot tubs are the Icelander’s favourite way to relax. All of the pools have at least one hot tub and playing on the water slide is completely acceptable for grown-ups. Going to the pool is the perfect way to get warm after a long day of sightseeing in random Icelandic weather.
Insider’s tip: Everyone runs around completely naked in the change rooms and showering in the nude before swimming is mandatory. Take a deep breath and enjoy the liberal vibe or try to awkwardly change under your towel, your choice.
6. Eat something crazy
People always ask „what’s the Icelanders’ favourite food?“ and the answer to that would be pizza. However, before we turned into major sell-outs we had our own traditions, like burying food in the ground or leaving it to hang outdoors for months before digging in.
The must-taste local delicacies would be:
Hákarl (Fermented shark): You can get it at any local supermarket. It’s been in the ground rotting and hanging in a shed for ages. A snack for the brave.
Pylsa (Hot dog): Try „Bæjarins Bestu“ for supposedly the town’s best hot dog and ask for one with „everything“ (hot dog, bun, ketchup, mustard, remoulade sauce, raw onions, fried onions. Yum!)
Harðfiskur (Dried fish): This is not only delicious but also extremely healthy, it has a bunch of protein and almost no fat and is enjoyed by most Icelanders on a daily/weekly basis. Everyone from kids to body builders loves the stuff! Don’t take it on a long bus ride though, it smells and you will experience an instant drop in your popularity.
Skyr: A unique yoghurt-like dairy product, another low fat, high protein success that is a part of people’s daily diet. It comes in all flavours imaginable and is delicious as a dessert or as a meal.
Slátur: It’s made from innards and stuffed into a sheep’s stomach. Excellent to bring along on hikes or just enjoy as a snack. Tastes good cold from the fridge or you can heat it up on a pan and whip up some mashed potatoes and even put a bit of sugar on it. Looks like dog food; tastes great.
Puffin: These cute little fellas taste amazing, they’re kind of rare at restaurants so if you do get a chance to try the delicious black bird meat, don’t miss it.
Whale: For the less politically correct, do try the whale before you leave. It is so incredibly tasty.
Insider’s tip: If none of this excites you there is one Icelandic specialty you can definitely not miss, a pepperoni pizza with cream cheese. My personal favourite deliciously sinful hangover cure.
7. The Great Outdoors
Hiking, horse riding, snowmobiling, whatever your poison is, just get out there and breathe in some of the freshest air in the world and get some adventure in you.
Whatever you do, don’t just walk around Reykjavík the entire time you’re in Iceland.
Here’s a rare opportunity for complete stillness, lots of space, no phones, TV or music, just you and the ever changing sky. Lie down between moss covered mounds, close your eyes, breathe in the smell of thyme and just enjoy existing.
Camping up here is also wonderful, especially for the lack of bugs.
It’s easy to get out of the city, buses go in all directions outside the city limits. If you have a rental car, go check out Krísuvík geothermal area (about 30 minutes outside the city centre) or Hveragerði town geothermal area (about 40 minutes from central Reykjavík).
Insider’s tip: If you´re here during the middle of summer: stay up all night long and enjoy the 24 hour daylight. If it’s wintertime, stay up anyway and go on a northern light hunt.
8. Whale Watching
Now is your chance to go look at the gentle giants up close, an experience you will not forget. Several companies operate whale-watching tours at different locations in Iceland, including Reykjavík harbour. Dress warmly and bring your camera, you can normally get a ticket with short notice and join a 2-3 hour tour. You can easily combine it with some down town Reykjavík sightseeing.
If you don’t go see the whales, at least eat some.
Insider’s tip: If you’re going to discuss whale killings with the locals, prepare to have your arguments put through the blender. Icelandic people in general are not opposed to whale hunting when done by the book, so don’t expect everyone to agree with your opinions on the matter.
9. Kolaportið Markets
During the weekends there is a market down by the Reykjavík harbour, called Kolaportið. A funny mix of second hand clothing, furniture, antiques, books, underwear and a whole section devoted to liquorice and all kinds of fish (dried, salted, fresh, fermented). You will definitely pick up some souvenirs you never expected to buy.
Insider’s tip: This place smells kind of funky due to the fish and all the old stuff, so don’t go there with a hangover, trust me on this.
10. Learn some Icelandic
While you are here, take the opportunity to learn a few words of one of the rarest languages in the world. It won’t be easy, this language is ridiculous at times but damn are you going to liven up a party back home with your perfect “Eyjafjallajökull” pronunciation.
Pick any friendly looking Icelander and get him or her to teach you what you want to learn, it’s a good conversation starter if you want to connect with the locals.
Insider’s tip: Odds are you will learn mostly dirty phrases using this method. Don’t take their word for it, go on Google Translate and find out what you’re actually saying.