Your visit to Iceland will likely start and end in Reykjavik, which is the capital city and the hub for so many activities. Reykjavik, on the southwest coast of Iceland, is one of the best places to visit, as it is a charming and walkable city. Though it is the largest city in Iceland, with a population of barely over 200,000 people, it is still relatively small when you think of capital cities. One of the top things do in Reykjavik is visit the Hallgrimskirkja Church. At 73-meters high, you cannot miss it. Take the elevator to the top and look out the open-air windows of the viewing platform for a panoramic view over the city. While in Reykjavik, you will also want to walk down to the Old Harbour, where you will find small eateries serving local fare, coffee shops, and the port where fishing vessels and whale watching tours depart.
Stroll the city streets or hop on the public bus that can take you to the Pearlan Museum and the small boutiques that sell local wares like wool sweaters and pottery. When you get tired of exploring, relax for a bit in one of Reykjavik’s public thermal pools, or you can depart for a day trip to the Blue Lagoon.
Hafnarfjörður in southwest Iceland is the hub of Viking culture. The town hosts an annual Viking festival, and it is where enthusiasts of the settlers visit to indulge in the culture since it is one of the oldest towns on the island. There are many unique activities available in Hafnarfjörður, from hidden world tours and horseback riding tours to trips to see traditional Icelandic costumes. You will notice many lava fields in Hafnarfjörður, as the town was built on 7,000-year-old lava rock, making for an unusual appearance of the landscape surrounding the homes. There are many geothermal attributes to the town, including Kleifarvatn Lake, which is the subject of local folklore and a must-see while you are in the area. There are lots of hiking opportunities in Hafnarfjörður. The Krýsuvík Cliffs are a great place to see the Atlantic ocean crashing on the rugged coast and for bird-watching. Helgafell Mountain is about two hours from Hafnarfjörður but worth the drive for a day hike if you are in the region, as you will see undisturbed lava fields and formations, as well as centuries-old artifacts from early Icelandic settlers.
Hafnarfjörður celebrates its culture with local art, food, and performances.
The northern Icelandic town of Akureyri is a lovely fishing village, with roots that date back to the 9th century when Norse Vikings settled the area. It is fun to walk through Akureyri on Kaupvangsstræti, the main street that curves through town. If you cannot pronounce it, just ask the locals to point you in the direction of Art Street, which it is also called. There are many galleries with local art for sale and small eateries with traditional foods to try. You will want to visit the Akureyri Art Museum and the Hof Cultural Center, which showcases local visual and performing arts. Another fun place to see is the Friðbjarnarhús, which has old toys and dolls on display from the late 1800s. Some of the other attractions in Akureyri are the Akureyri Church; Gásir Medieval Trading Place; and the Botanical Garden, which is one of the northernmost in the world. Outdoor activities in Akureyri are popular, with local excursions to hiking areas, bird-watching, fishing, rafting, and horseback riding. In the winter, you can take a snowcat tour into the mountains, head out for a day of skiing on Eyjafjördur Fjord, or plan an evening tour to see the aurora borealis. If you want to base yourself in Akureyri and explore off the beaten path, you can hop on the Arctic Coast Way, which follows 900 kilometers along northern Iceland, taking you to some of the most remote places on the island. The Arctic Coast Way takes you through 21 fishing villages to the most northern point in Iceland, close to the Arctic Circle.
The small town of Seyðisfjörður is on a fjord on the eastern side of Iceland. It is one of the best places to visit if you want to see puffin colonies that inhabit the remote regions of Iceland. There is rich Icelandic culture and stunning natural beauty in Seyðisfjörður, as it is surrounded by mountains and shoreline. The first things you will notice in this remote town with a population of 700 people are the quaint timber homes built in the early 19th century; the tranquil lagoon; and the comfort of Mt. Strandartindur and Mt. Bjolfur, which border both sides of the valley. Seyðisfjörður is a picturesque Norwegian fishing village that was established in the late 1800s. The Church, also called The Blue Church, in Seyðisfjörður is one of the main landmarks in town, and it is unique because it was moved from a farm in the late 1800s to Vestdalseyri then moved again and rebuilt after damage from a major storm and a fire. It was moved once more to its current home in Seyðisfjörður in 1920 with renovations restoring it to its original form, including the pipe organ inside.
The town of Kópavogur has the second largest population after Reykjavik and is also located in the southwest region. Its name translates to “seal pup bay,” which is an indication of some of the experiences you might have in the town, as seals frequent the shoreline. Kópavogur has stunning architecture, most notably the Kópavogur Church and the Gerdarsafn Kópavogur Art Museum. The landscape around Kópavogur has hills, so there are a number of hiking trails to experience, as well as flatter trails in the Kópavogsdalur Valley. There are a number of public parks, thermal pools, and bird-watching opportunities for more than 30 species that pass through the area.
While many of the cities in Iceland have small shops and boutiques, Kópavogur has two shopping malls. The town is not far from Reykjavik, so it is easy to combine a visit to both cities while you are in the area.
The town of Egilsstadir, on the east end of Iceland, is easily accessed from the Ring Road, and it has a small regional airport, so flights are easy to take here from Reykjavik. The town is surrounded by beautiful landscapes, from mountains and waterfalls to glaciers and farmland. There are some stunning hikes to take. You can find casual trails throughout Egilsstadir or join up with a local hiking club for advanced hiking in the mountains. This is a nice region to explore Icelandic culture, with visits to the East Iceland Heritage Museum, the farmstead of Sænautasel, and the former monastery of Skriðuklaustur. One of the fun cultural features in Egilsstadir is the Icelandic poetry written on some of the walls and windows around town. This is a more modern custom, but it commemorates the work of local poets and the town’s history. Take a walk around town to discover the creative tributes of scrolling poetry. The outdoors in the region are ripe with sightseeing adventures, from walking through the vibrant green Laugarvalladalur Valley to seeing the large boulders and landscape at Stórurð. Many of the outdoor locations require a small amount of hiking to access, so plan accordingly for footwear, time, and water.