Reykjavik is a great city to visit, in my obviously completely impartial opinion. I happen to love my city and many of the fun things you can do in it. However, there are great things to do outside the city, of course. And while I think you could certainly have a great time staying in the City there are great sights to see all over the country. But many of those are quite far away, so unless you have planned a trip around the island you might not get a chance to visit them. It’s not a problem, however, since there are plenty of fantastic sights to see within a stone’s throw of Reykjavik. Whether you want to see the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon or some of the lesser known sites you don’t know about yet, read on to find out what to see in Iceland.
These are in my opinion some of the must see places close to Reykjavik. Most of these are easily accessible by car or bus, within a few hours from the City.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a mythical place. Snæfellsjökull (Snæfells-glacier) is featured in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, and is said to be a major energy vortex. The landscape on the Peninsula is quite beautiful and somewhat different from the many other areas. That alone is worth a visit, but there are also many great places of note to visit there.
Sönghellir (The Singing Cave) is a small cave with unique acoustic properties, famed for its echoing quality. I highly recommend hiking up there and hearing how your voice sounds in there. It’s possibly the best place in the world to burst into song.
You should also check out the Snæfellsnes national park, as well as Stykkishólmur, which is the biggest town on the peninsula, and is just a beautiful town. It has a lot of old buildings and some of the streets are stunning. On a summer’s day you will also most likely see people fishing on the pier in Stykkishólmur, and that’s not a bad way to spend your day there. The gas station sells fishing rods and unlike freshwater fishing, it’s free to fish in the sea, so why not?
The Snæfellsnes peninsula is a stunning area, and I can’t recommend it enough, whether you go there on a scheduled tour or drive up there by yourself.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is of course the most popular tour for visitors in Iceland. And yes, it’s a very touristy thing to do. But I would say that there is a reason for that. It truly is a magnificent experience that you can do in only a few hours. You can either do it on your own in a rental car, or in a number of different tours at all different price points.
The Golden Circle is comprised of Gullfoss, one of the most magnificent waterfalls in Iceland, Geysir, the legendary geyser all others are named after, and Þingvellir national park, the site of the old parliament.
Gullfoss is in Hvítá river, and it is possibly the most iconic waterfall in Iceland. It is very accessible and only a short walk from the parking lot, so if you choose to drive there yourself you should find it easy.
Geysir is a geyser that actually died years ago. It hasn’t erupted in decades. But there is a much smaller geyser in that area, Strokkur, that goes off every few minutes. It’s a fun area to explore, but you should be careful as it can be a bit dangerous to make your way across the highway from the parking area to the geysers.
Þingvellir national park is the site of the old main parliament, Alþingi (which means A gathering of everyone). It is a beautiful area, where you can see the rift between the European and American tectonic plates. It is worth exploring, and I recommend spending a little while there if you can. There is plenty of history there, so exploring it with a good guide might be worth it, if you can afford one, but it is pretty easy to explore on your own as well.
The Golden Circle is popular for a reason. It’s close to Reykjavik and it’s three of the most magnificent areas in the country, arguably. So I would definitely say it’s worth it.
The Blue Lagoon
Visitors ask me all the time whether the Blue Lagoon is worth it, and I go back and forth. To be completely honest I think it’s very overpriced. But on the other hand, it’s a pretty unique experience. You should, however, be aware that the Blue Lagoon is not a natural lagoon. It is man made. The water and the mineral content are of course natural, and they say it’s very good for your skin. And from what I hear, the spa there is very good. So I would say it all depends on your preferences.
Icelanders don’t visit the Blue Lagoon very much anymore. It has very much become a tourist thing. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all – but you should be aware of the fact that it’s not something the locals do very much. We tend to stick to the swimming pools, which are much cheaper and more casual. I also love the Secret Lagoon, which I’ll discuss below. That is a natural lagoon, and much cheaper than the Blue Lagoon.
So to get back to the question at hand. Should you visit the Blue Lagoon? My take on it is that it is overpriced, but it’s certainly a pretty unique experience. So if price is no objection, go for it. If you want to save your money a bit, however, I would say it’s definitely not essential. You can have a great time at one of the geothermal swimming pools, or at the Secret Lagoon. They won’t be as blue and space-like, but they’ll be warm and cozy and special.
Again, it all depends on what you want to get out of your visit. A lot of people can’t even consider a visit to Iceland without going to the Blue Lagoon, and that’s absolutely understandable. We all have different ideas about what we want to get out of our vacations. But if that’s not the case, you shouldn’t feel obligated to visit it. There are plenty of amazing places to visit that won’t cost you nearly as much, and your visit will be just as rewarding.
The Secret Lagoon
As I said before, the Blue Lagoon is a man made lagoon. The Secret Lagoon is sort of man made as well, but it’s basically a pit that was dug ages ago, that is filled with natural hot spring water. It’s the oldest swimming pool in Iceland (although it’s a bit warm to swim in, perhaps). The area around the pool has a lot of hot springs, and there is a walkway you can go around and take it all in. It is an amazing location and a magnificent sight to behold. It doesn’t have the otherworldly quality of the Blue Lagoon, though. It’s much more casual and down to earth. I would say it’s a fun look into the past. This is how Icelanders would learn to swim years and years ago.
Every child in Iceland is taught to swim in elementary school. Throughout the ages knowing how to swim has been the difference between life and death in Iceland. We are, after all, a nation of fishermen living on an island. And in the old days, most kids would learn to swim in places like the Secret Lagoon.
The Secret Lagoon is a little bit farther away from Reykjavik than the Blue Lagoon. There are scheduled tours there, if you don’t want to drive yourself, including a tour of the Golden Circle that also visits the Secret Lagoon.
The Secret Lagoon is a very Icelandic experience that I thoroughly recommend.
The South Coast
The South Coast of Iceland has some of the most alien landscapes on the island. It used to be all black sand, desert for miles. But that’s changed a bit, thanks to efforts to plant hardy plants that make sure that the sand doesn’t blow all over and ruin fields and grass. There are still large black sand beaches there, however, and plenty of majestic cliffs and moon-like hills and craters.
The South Coast is a fun and different area to explore. The Glacier Lagoon, Dyrhólaey and Reynisfjara are but a few of the beautiful places you can see there. I do recommend doing a guided tour there, however, or at least be extremely careful if you choose to go by yourself, as there are many dangerous areas there. We have unfortunately lost people to the currents at some of the beaches in that area, so be very conscious of any warning signs if you go there.
Also, if you are driving around on your own, whether it’s in the south or elsewhere, be sure to get the 112 app and check in there. It lets the police and rescue teams find you easily in case you get lost or trapped or otherwise get in trouble.
Please be safe. Your visit to Iceland should be fun, but there are dangerous areas out there. Nature doesn’t mess about, so respect it and take every precaution to make sure your vacation doesn’t go wrong.
Snorkling in Silfra
Silfra is a unique part of Þingvellir, the national park on the Golden Circle. It’s a pool of water that is deep and extremely cold. The cold makes it extra clear, so it’s a snorkeler’s dream. It’s very unique and I certainly recommend it to anybody who is interested in diving. It can make your Golden Circle tour very different and outstanding.
These are just a few ideas for fun things to do that won’t take you too far outside Reykjavik. Of course there are plenty of things further away, and a lot of fun things that won’t take you out of the city at all. If you have any more questions about tours or activities, or just travelling in Iceland in general, don’t be afraid to reach out to us. We’re here to help.
Has this been helpful?
I hope this list has been helpful and has given you some ideas for your visit to Iceland. If you need any information, do not hesitate to get in touch. If this has been useful, I hope you will consider booking your tours, accommodation, flights or activities through this web site. It won’t cost you any extra, I make sure to only list the very best partner companies I can find, and it does help me to run this site and market my tours and activities. I appreciate you and hope you have a great visit in Iceland.