If you’re traveling to Reykjavik in Iceland, there’s a lot to do not only in the city but also sights nearby, from the Northern Lights to the lagoons. Whether you’re road-tripping the entire country or using Reykjavik as a base camp, these sights and experiences in the capital area are must-adds for the ultimate Iceland bucket list.
If you have time for a full day-trip from Reykjavik, touring the Golden Circle is the perfect way to spend it and see some of the area’s best sites. Your first stop will likely be Þingvellir National Park, which offers a combined dose of Icelandic history and nature. In the early years of settlement, Iceland established its parliament, called Alþing, at this site. From 930 AD on, Þingvellir remained the official annual meeting place for nationwide legal proceedings. In addition to its unique history, the UNESCO world heritage site also boasts distinctive geological features including a continental rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Walking trails within the park take you through a gorge at the plates’ edges, as well as lava fields, waterfalls, and cliffs.
At Haukadalur, you can see the famous Geysir Strokkur erupt in a steaming plume of water up to 15 meters high. There are also a myriad of other curious geothermal features, like bubbling fumaroles and steaming water pits. Secret Lagoon is another worthwhile stop, its lesser-known status compared to Blue Lagoon lending fewer crowds and lower prices. It’s a great place to pamper in its peaceful steaming waters in the small, quiet town of Flúðir, like your very own giant backyard hot tub.
Kerið Crater is another great Golden Circle stop, a volcanic crater that holds vivid aquamarine water that with a curiously bright hue from minerals in the surrounding volcanic rock. Once a cone-shaped volcano, Kerið is believed to have emptied its magma chamber when it last erupted roughly three thousand years ago, causing the rock to collapse inward and form the shape it is today. The resulting caldera features dramatic shades of deep red rock from oxidized iron, which starkly contrasts the radiant blue water it surrounds and the lush green mosses covering its walls.
Your last must-see Golden Circle stop is the waterfall Gulfoss, which flows powerfully down multiple levels of drop-offs in a wide and impressive cascade. There are walking paths along the side of the waterfall where you can see it from many different angles and enjoy the mist and rainbows created by the spray from the powerful falls.
From Reykjavik, you can take whale watching tours into the far northern waters to see humpback whales, minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises among other incredible species. Tours depart from Reykjavik barhor, where Northern Lights tours and puffin-watching tours are also on offer. If you don’t like boats or have time for a full tour, you can also check out the Whales of Iceland Museum, which has 23 impressively detailed life-size whale and dolphin renditions. Walk among gentle giants through a dark blue ocean-themed exhibit, complete with the alluring sounds of their underwater calls.
Also near Reykjavik harbor is the Ombar Chocolate Factory, Iceland’s only bean-to-bar chocolate producer, where you can learn all the processes that go into harvesting and processing cacao beans into chocolate. Numerous free samples mean you can try all the different types of chocolate they have before buying your favorite kind.