Nestled high up in the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is a Nordic island that is the current epicenter of Scandinavian travel. The country is home to three UNESCO heritage sites, lava fields and stunning glaciers, all while maintaining volcanic activity. Funneled by a massive tourism campaign, Iceland now attracts a bevy of international travelers that immerse themselves in everything the country has to offer: culture, adventure opportunity, breathtaking topography, and inimitable cuisine.
Native Icelanders tend to joke about the unstable climate: “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes and you’ll get something different.”
Partly because Iceland is high in latitude and the climate is influenced by both North Pole and ocean winds, the country is described as having windy, cloudy, and cold temperatures. Winter temperatures average -0.5°C /31°F while summer temperatures average to around 9.0°C/49.5°F.
LAY OF THE LAND
Iceland has a diverse terrain to discover. Visitors can rent a car from the Keflavík International Airport or choose to take local tours. Icelandic travel is largely divided up between Northern Iceland, Southern Iceland, and within the main city of Reykjavik. As most of the Icelandic population (approximately 365, 991 people!) is located in Reykjavik, travellers typically will stay in the city and take excursions by bus or car to explore out.
Hosts landscapes that include waterfalls, volcanoes, geysirs, glaciers, and black sand beaches.
Offers tranquility, nature baths, and the Myvatn region known for its rare biology and volcanic lake.
Where you can find lava caves, waterfalls, national parks and history.
Coastlines, smaller villages, mountainous regions and fjords are some of what this part of the country can offer.
The main city in Iceland, home to the majority of the population. Museums, restaurants, and shopping can be found here.
One of the most popular streets in Reykjavik. Many hotels, shops, and local destinations are on this street and it leads into the city center.
An area in South-Western Iceland that is an UNESCO Geopark, known for being volcanically active and home to stunning lava fields. Travellers can find endless hot springs here, with the Blue Lagoon being the most notable. This is where visitors will fly into, as it is the location of the International Airport and is one of Iceland’s most striking landscapes.”
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Visitors are welcome to Iceland year-round, but the best time to visit is dependent on travel needs. For those yearning to see the Northern Lights, it would be best to travel between February-March and September-October, as this is when the nights are longest. Summer months (July & August, particularly) are encouraged for those that want to hike and enjoy outdoor activity during the season of midnight sun. From around mid-May to mid-August, the sun sets around midnight in Iceland due to its geographic location being so north. Peak months are July and August when daylight is 24 hours; a unique experience that one can only have in the Northern Hemisphere.
When packing for Iceland, travellers should generally include bringing a warm jacket, wind breaker, outdoor boots, socks, and versatile pieces that can withstand the ever-changing weather. Packing tip for summer months? A great quality sleeping mask to block that 24/hr light. Thrill-seekers, err on the side of caution when packing for Icelandic adventures. It is not uncommon to need winter gear, great hiking or cold-weather boot, and staple pieces that are versatile in different terrains and temperatures. Make sure to include: thermal layers, backpack, hats, sunglasses, waterproof pants, and ski/snowboard jackets. Gear is available for rental at resorts.
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon
In-water massage at a luxury spa amid a volcanic lava field? It’s an easy sell for the luxe travellers that crave upscale spaces and amenities. Guests are given unlimited access to the Blue Lagoon, the Retreat Lagoon, and the Retreat Spa. Perks include skin care amenities, yoga and guided daily group hikes. This space is perfect for a romantic or secluded getaway as guests will need to travel to city center by bus or car from this location.
Norðurljósavegur 9 / 240 Grindavík / 354.420.8700
Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre
One cannot go wrong staying at a Hilton, especially this particular location that is bustling with culture and unique amenities. Interested in vinyl? There’s a diverse collection available here where guests can borrow a portal player and listen to some tunes. Located right in the center of all shops and city life – near Laugavegur Street – guests are within walking distance to almost everything.
Smiðjustígur 4/ 101 Reykjavík / 354.528.7000
Diamond Suites Luxury Boutique Hotel
Located near the Keflavík Airport and close in proximity to the Blue Lagoon, this is the first 5-star hotel in Iceland. It’s the perfect place for those seeking luxury accommodation and a private getaway.
14, Vatnsesvegi 12 / Reykjanesbær / 354.420.7000
Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel
A boutique style hotel located in the heart of Reykjavik. The hotel has an eclectic Scandinavian aesthetic and is situated in a historic building.
Pósthússtræti 2 / 101 Reykjavík / 354.599.1000
The Alda Hotel is the perfect spot for those that are interested in an upscale space that is both trendy and modern. The hotel includes a gym, barbershop, outdoor hot tub and provides complimentary cellphones (data included!) that will cover local calls and provide access to helpful local maps.
Laugavegur 66-68/ 101 Reykjavik/ Iceland / 354.444.4000
Dill is an award-winning restaurant in Reykjavik that is also Michelin star graded, a perfect combination for those that love to explore fine dining options.
Laugavegur 59/ Reykjavík 101 / 354.552.1522
A great spot for those looking for upscale-dining in the city-centre. Kol has a diverse menu of fresh duck, beef tenderloin, and seafood. Try the tasting menu to get the whole experience.
Skólavörðustígur 40 / Reykjavík 101 / 354.517.7474
A luxurious dining experience fit for those with a spicy palette, Sumac blends Icelandic staples with flavour inspired by Morocco and Lebanon. Expect exotic spices mixed with classic Icelandic cuisine and a unique European and North African wine list.
Laugavegur 28 / Reykjavík 101/ 354.537.9900
Seafood is an absolute must-try when visiting Reykjavik, considering fresh ocean water surrounds Iceland. Messinn is a popular seafood restaurant known for their fried fish dishes, quaint ambiance and quality food.
Lækjargata 6 / Reykjavík 101 / 354.546.0095
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
The Icelandic pylsur is, without doubt, one of the most famous food items in the country. Known specifically for its unique spices, mayo, mustard, fried and fresh onion toppings, the pylsur is a city staple for tourists and locals alike. Where to get an Icelandic hotdog? From the famous hotdog stand Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, of course. This quite literally translates to “best hot dogs in town” and has been around since 1937.
Tryggvagata 1 / 101 Reykjavík / 354.511.1566
Pho Vietnam Restaurant
Steps from the Alda Hotel, you’ll find this inviting space with delicious Pho soup. Although this is not your typical Icelandic cuisine, the soup is incredible and the perfect dish for a cold, windy day in the city.
Laugavegur 101 / 101 Reykjavík / Iceland
BARS & CAFÉ
Kaffibarinn is one of the most popular bars in Reykjavik. Visitors can expect a laid-back feel during the day and sounds of revelry at night. The bar is two-levels and is the perfect lounge-slash-bar that will cater to all.
Bergstaðastræti 1 / Reykjavík 101 / 354.551.1588
Skúli Craft Bar
Beer lovers, beware. This well-known bar has one of the largest beer selections in Reykjavik. Home to fourteen beers on tap and one-hundred and thirty other types available, it’s a no-brainer to stop in and explore.
Aðalstræti 9 / Reykjavík 101 / 354.519.6455
The English Pub
Head here for darts, live music and sports to compliment some classic drink options and cocktails.”
Austurstræti 12 / 101 Reykjavík, Iceland / 354.578.0400
Stofan is the perfect vintage-style cafe where guests can play board games, eat bagels, and drink coffee, espresso or wine. The ambiance is complimented seamlessly with the use of vintage furniture and exposed brick paired with an eclectic design.
Vesturgata 3 / Reykjavík 101 / 354.546.1842
Located by the Hallgrímskirkja (city hall), Café Loki is a tourist favourite. It boasts a great view within the heart of the city centre and includes a wide variety of Icelandic food. Fermented shark? It’s there for you to try it.
Lokastígur 28 / Reykjavík 101 / 354.466.2828
Te & Kaffi
The perfect stop-in for some speciality coffee, sweets, and time-out from all the adventure Iceland has to offer. Te & Kaffi has an artisanal atmosphere, healthier options for those that need variety and is within walking distance from many hotels.
Laugavegur 107 / Reykjavík 101 / 354.527.2880
Strokkur is a fountain-type geyser found in the Geothermal Area beside the Hvítá River in Iceland in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavík. It is the greatest active geyser on site; Strokkur erupts more regularly than Geysir ever did, blasting water to heights of around fifteen to twenty meters every five to ten minutes, although it is known to reach up to forty meters. It is Iceland’s most visited active geyser.
Guided Day Trips
Reykjavik Excursions, among others, host incredible day trips and effortless transportation options for those that do not want to rent a car and solo explore. Classic day trips include the Golden-Circle Tour, Northern Lights Tour, and ones that head south to the Reynisfjara Beach (black sand beach).
Iceland has no shortage of golf clubs, but Brautarholt Golf Club is the oldest one around. Why not try a classic 18-hole course during midnight sun? With a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean, this is the perfect way to spice up a classic game of golf.
Brautarholt Kjalarnes 162 / Reykjavík, Iceland
Exactly as it sounds, these excursions are made for the brave. Pack warm boots, but some tools may be available for rental. Ice-climbing and glacier visits must be accompanied by a guide and are often included through tour companies such as Reykjavik Excursions.
Dare to explore a magma chamber? It’s definitely possible in Iceland. Other caves to visit include the Gjábakkahellir Cave near Þingvellir National Park in the summer months, and the Leiðarendi Cave in the Bláfjöll area in wintertime.
Explore via ATV, snowmobiles, boats, buggy cars or jeeps through various terrain types. Individuals can choose from jet tours, beach exploration, and mountain touring as examples. Those interested in glaciers are able to take boat tours or river rapid excursions for a thrill seek.
Riding tours are available on farms and in various areas outside of the capital, Reykjavik. These tours can accommodate every type of traveller: some are day tours and others last up to 10 days. It’s easy to spot an Icelandic horse – they are known for being uniquely small and notable in feature as they originate from ancient horses that are now extinct. It’s a fun time for families, couples, or solo travellers.
Remember that in-flight feeling, staring out the window in awe of nature’s wonder? Expect that sensation continuously while exploring Iceland, but even more so from above on a helicopter tour. Iceland has a range of geographies to discover by air, considering many unique parts of the island are difficult to access by foot. Speaking of helicopters – dare to go heli-skiing?
Skiiing and Snowboarding
Taking shredding to new heights. Opt for a ski trip and embrace all the fresh powder the country has to offer. How about trading a traditional lift in favour of a helicopter? That’s an option, too. Some notable ski resorts include: Hlidarfjall Ski Resort, Dalvik Ski Resort, Blafjoll Ski Resort and Isafjordur Ski Resort. Skiing is typically recommended between November and May and excursions can be found via Guide to Iceland.
Go wild, gents. Many indigenous species of birds call Iceland home, with one of the most famous being the Atlantic Puffin. For those tending towards more mild adventure and nature exploration alone or with the family, bird or whale watching is a fantastic alternative to some of the more adrenaline style activities. It is recommended to visit from the end of April to the beginning of June as peak bird-watching season, although tours are available year round. Combination tours are available for those interested in seeing both.
A trip to Iceland is incomplete without visiting the Blue Lagoon, located within a moss-covered lava field in the Reykjanes UNESCO Geopark. While there is no shortage of geothermal pools in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most illustrious destinations. The Blue Lagoon is heated from geothermal energy and is home to a variety of healing minerals: most notably silica, algae, and sulfur that are known to nourish skin. The ambiance of the lagoon is an aesthetic dream – the sum of an alluring turquoise-hued water mixed with modern Scandinavian design- that instantly invokes relaxation. It’s the token spot for a romantic getaway or for those that need the feeling of seclusion and ease. One can expect to cozy up in the warmth, try some free mud masks and zone out with an in-water massage. Guests have the opportunity to bring the lagoon’s mineral benefits home by way of a speciality skincare collection available for purchase in the spa. While visitors can encounter many geothermal pools throughout the country, this one is the definite must-see.
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull is the largest National Park in Iceland, surrounded by glaciers and volcanic activity. A great hiking route is available and will take you to the Dettifoss waterfall which is the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
Urridaholtsstraeti 6-8 / 354.575.8400
Pingvellir (Thingvellir) is a must-see for those that want to visit a UNESCO Heritage site. It’s of historical significance because it is home to a canyon that is in between two tectonic plates and has the oldest parliament (930AD) in the world.
Thingvellir / 801 Selfoss / 354.482.2660
Snæfellsjökull National Park
The Snæfellsjökull glacier is the main attraction of this park, which is at the base of a volcano. Travellers are able to find excursions to the glacier itself but also can enjoy views of the ocean, beach, coastline and wildlife.
Klettsbud 7 / 360 Hellissandur / 354.436.6860
Reykjavik Art Museum
Calling all art enthusiasts because we’ve found a spot for you. The Reykjavik Art Museum holds a variety of year-round events, over twenty yearly exhibitions, and a huge gallery space. The museum has three locations in the city and is the largest art space in the country.
Hafnarhús – Tryggvagata 17/ 101 Reykjavík / 354.411.6400
National Museum of Iceland
Traditionalists, this is for you. This will be your classic museum experience where guests can learn about Icelandic settlement history (from 1600 onwards) all the way to modern life. Expect to view artifacts and even a bronze figure of Thor. Embrace this moment to show off – you are way more buff than this version of him.
Sudurgata 41 / Reykjavik / 354.530.2200
The Saga Museum is catered to Icelandic history, such as settlers and Vikings, as well as key historic moments. Journey through the hardships of Icelandic settlers as they faced everything nature had to offer: volcanic eruptions, natural catastrophes, avalanches, the Black Death and in between. Leave here with perspective knowing the country available today was built from the 1/3 of the population left after the plague.
Grandagarður 2 / 101 Reykjavík / 354.511.1517
Iceland Punk Museum
Pay attention when walking down into the Reykjavik city centre – it’s certain you will hear punk rock music blasting from a graffiti covered stairway leading into the ground. Created out of repurposed bathroom stalls, this punk museum is a tiny space that is dedicated to the history of Icelandic punk. It’s an overall cool concept with even cooler artwork throughout the entry-way.
Bankastræti 2 / 101 Reykjavík
Icelandic Phallological Museum
For a laugh – and learning opportunity? It would be a disservice to not recommend one of Iceland’s most infamous attractions. This museum hosts an incredible collection of 215 penises from all Iceland animals of land and sea. From whale, to polar bear, walrus’ and seals, this museum is a riveting experience and token of Icelandic culture.
Kalkofnsvegur 2 101 / 101 Reykjavík / 354.561.6663
SHOP & GROOM
Húrra & Reykjavík
A boutique clothing store that is well known for streetwear and accessories. Soak in all that Scandinavian fashion has to offer – minimal, cool, and effortless pieces.
Hverfisgata 18a/ Reykjavík1 01 / 354.571.7101
Kormákur & Skjöldur
An upscale menswear shop with a built-in barbershop inside.
Kjörgarður / Laugavegi 59 / Reykjavík 101 / 354.511.1817
Need gear for some glacier activity? Head here for all your outdoor adventure needs.
Bankastraeti 5 & Laugavegur 17-19 / 354.535.6674
Rakarastofa Ragnars & Harõar
A local barbershop since 1957, gentlemen can head this way for classic cuts and warm service.
Vesturgata 48 / Reykjavík 101 / 354.552.4738
Located inside the Alda Hotel, Barber has been awarded the best barbershop in Reykjavik twice. It’s definitely a convenient option for hotel dwellers and residents alike. Be sure to book in advance.
Laugavegur 66-68 / 101 Reykjavik / 354.444.4000
Editor’s Note: Some of the activities, hotels, and restaurants listed on our website may be currently closed due to Covid health restrictions. We urge you to check before visiting and to exercise caution and follow CDC guidelines if traveling or visiting any of our recommendations.