Surrounded by the blue ocean and the majestic Esja mountain (2,999 feet/914 meters high), Reykjavík is a destination that will leave no visitor unimpressed. The Icelandic nature is but one of the factors that attract visitors from near and afar. Add to that the geothermal baths, a plethora of museums, and a hectic nightlife: it is easy to understand Reykjavík’s popularity among travelers.
Reykjavík and Iceland have been popular destinations for more than 1,100 years now. It is believed that the Viking chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson established the first permanent settlement in Reykjavík around 870 (see also below under Museums). Since then, more settlers – and more travelers – have followed in his footsteps.
The capital of Iceland, Reykjavík of today is a city that offers visitors a variety of experiences that few other destinations can match. Sophisticated and classy, the city’s inhabitants at the same time also have nature at their doorstep.
With some 190,000 inhabitants, Reykjavík is the northernmost capital in the world. Despite the extreme location, the city (and the country) are kept habitable by the Gulf Stream. Even during Icelandic mid-winter, the warm ocean current that originates in the Caribbean results in temperatures that seldom go below 14F (-10° C).
The Skarfabakki cruise quay was inaugurated in 2007, situated some 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) from the city center. The recently opened Cruise Welcome Center offers a vast array of tourist facilities, including phone and internet services, a shop, toilets and tourist information.
- Reykjavík’s thermal pools. Throughout the centuries, Icelanders have enjoyed bathing in the geothermal springs found here. Nowadays, the naturally hot water is used to warm up Reykjavík’s seven public thermal pools, each of which has a character of its own.
- The Langavegur is the main shopping street in Reykjavík. Centrally located, the street offers a mixture of arts and crafts and designer labels – and everything in between.
- Icelandic food. It almost goes without saying that fresh fish and seafood in various forms form essential parts of Icelandic cuisine. There’s more cooking on Iceland, though. Lamb and wild game are but two of the examples. For a taste of Viking food, try the Fjörugardurinn restaurant.
- Whale watching from boats departing Reykjavík. The waters around Iceland are home to some 20 different species of cetaceans, or whales. Whale watching can be favorably combined with bird watching.
- Various forms of outdoor activities: nature is never far away on Iceland. Kayaking, white-water rafting and horse riding are but a couple of examples of what can be experienced on the island.
- The Blue Lagoon: one of Iceland’s most well-known places offers visitors the possibility to go swimming in naturally heated water that is rich in minerals. The Spa is situated only minutes from Reykjavík’s international airport.
Reykjavík has a number of museums, offering great diversity. Here, you will be able to learn more about everything from the Viking settlement on Iceland more than a 1,000 years ago to trends in current society.
- The focus of the Reykjavík 871+-2 The Settlement Exhibition is an important archaeological discovery from the Settlement Period: a longhouse from the 10th century. Artifacts from as early as the year 871 (with a margin of error of two years, hence the name) are also included in the exhibition. Street address: Aðalstræti 16
- The Reykjavík City Museum is an open-air museum that includes some 30 buildings, most of which have been moved here from Reykjavík’s city center. The museum shows how life has historically been lived by different social spheres on Iceland: rich and poor; farmers and city dwellers. Street address: v/Kistuhyl
- Reykjavík Maritime Museum – Vikin is a museum that puts focus on the importance of Iceland’s fishing industry, which has provided the base for the country’s prosperity. Exhibitions include the development from rowboats to modern trawlers and cargo vessels, as well as the construction of Reykjavik Harbor. A coast guard vessel, the Óðinn, forms part of the exhibitions. Street address: Grandagardur 8
- The Culture House includes diverse exhibitions, focusing on Iceland’s national heritage. Visitors learn about trends and currents in Icelandic society throughout the years. The Culture House’s featured exhibition is the Medieval Manuscripts – Eddas and Sagas. Street address: Hverfisgata 15
- The National Museum of Iceland provides an insight into the last 1,200 years of Iceland’s cultural history – from early settlement to the present day. Street address: 41, Reykjavík 101
A selection of shore excursions is available on Iceland, ranging from coach tours of Reykjavík and the surrounding areas, to hiking, horse riding and four-wheel-drive safaris. Options include:
- Vikings used horses to get around on Iceland. You too can opt to see Iceland from the back of an Icelandic horse. Small but sturdy, these horses are descendants to the horses brought to Iceland by the Vikings some 1,000 years ago.
- If horses are not your thing, there are other possibilities to experience horsepower on Iceland. On a four-wheel-drive excursion you will be able to see Reykjavík’s surroundings – including nearby glaciers.
- Cave exploration. Iceland being a volcanic island, there are numerous lava caves to be explored. This type of cave can be found in the neo-volcanic zone, running across the Iceland from northeast to southwest. Another option is volcano tours. The Hengill volcano, for example, is situated within easy driving distance from Reykjavík.
- The Golden Circle Tour is the most popular shore excursion for cruise passengers. The eight-hour excursion visits Geysir, which gave the world the world “geyser”; Gullfoss, a thundering double-decker waterfall; and Thingvellir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, the only place in the world where you can see this phenomenon above water.
If you continue further north from Reykjavík, you will end up in the Arctic before you know it. Denmark, in the form of Greenland, is the closest neighbor. Southeast of Iceland, the Faroe Islands are some 267 miles (430 kilometers) away. Add another 186 miles (300 kilometers) to get to Scotland.
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An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com