Backpacking Iceland: Top Sites in Reykjavik

Words by guest writer Cara Johnson

Iceland’s world-renowned reputation has much to do with its enchanting landscape. Our article ‘Top 10 Reasons Iceland Needs to Be On Your Bucket List’ already singled out many of these natural landmarks, including active volcanoes, geothermal pools, glaciers, and of course, the glorious Northern Lights. The capital city of Reykjavik is also worth a pit stop. On top of the amazing scenery, there’s lots of historical and cultural attractions, architectural wonders, and a thriving music and arts scene for everyone to enjoy. 

Tours around this particular Nordic country are notoriously expensive, however, if you have the time to plan a DIY trip it will make it much more affordable especially if you take advantage of hostels and all the free attractions. So, here are some of the top things to do in Reykjavik that won’t break the bank.

1. Hallgrimur’s Church

The unusual geometrical shape of Hallgrimur’s Church is one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Iceland. It stands at the center of the capital and is a popular subject for photographs among tourists. Though it’s considered iconic now, the Lutheran church was seen as an eyesore when it was first constructed. Its architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, designed it with the country’s aesthetic in mind, and it’s supposed to look like cooling lava.

2. National Museum of Iceland

You can learn all about the history and culture of the country in the National Museum of Iceland. It houses an incredible display of artifacts dating back to when the Vikings ruled Scandinavia. There’s plenty to learn about their seafaring ways, including how they survived harsh winters, how they traded, and how they fought. Admission is only 2,000 ISK (about $16), and entrance is free for City Card holders. 

3. Húrra

Before taking on the international stage, homegrown musicians like Björk, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Rós started to hone their craft in Reykjavik’s many bars. Húrra is one of the local bars known for its live music every week where you can also enjoy a cocktail or two. Who knows? You might even discover the next great alternative act from Iceland.

4. Mount Esja

Image: Best Hiking

Image: Best Hiking

Best Hiking wrote an article detailing everything you need to know about the logistics of hiking up Mount Esja. They explain how the hiking trail is medium in difficulty, 6.9km long, about 914 meters above sea level, and will take about 2 to 4 hours to finish depending on your fitness. It’s 9.6km to the north of Reykjavik. Esja is a volcanic mountain range that’s really popular among recreational hikers and backpackers. At the peak, you’ll be rewarded with views of the entire city so don’t forget to take your camera!

5. Laugardalur Valley

Image: Icelandic Times

Image: Icelandic Times

You can spend a few days in Laugardalur Valley alone. It’s primarily known as the city’s sports center. Start with a leisurely stroll in the botanical garden. It might be small but you’ll find arctic flowers that you may not get a chance to see anywhere else. Then, take a dip at Reykjavik’s largest outdoor geothermal pool. Locals and tourists come here all year round, especially to get some respite from the winter chills. Be careful not to slip on the ice as you hurry toward the heated pool though!

Laugardalur Valley is also home to Iceland’s main sporting arena, the Laugardalshöll, and the country’s national soccer stadium, the Laugardalsvöllur. The indoor arena hosts several sporting events like handball, volleyball, and basketball. They’ve also recently attracted more soccer fans to the outdoor stadium following Iceland’s historic run in the 2018 World Cup. In a 2018 World Cup guide it was explained how it was Iceland’s first ever appearance at the tournament. Although Iceland didn’t go on to win the World Cup, they did beat England en route to reaching the quarterfinals. As a result, the national team garnered worldwide recognition, as did their very loud fans. If you are lucky enough to catch a live game while you’re visiting Laugardalur Valley, don’t pass up the chance, as it will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

6. Northern Coastline

If you want to catch the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, the northern coastline will be your best bet. It will grant you an unforgettable sunset as you walk along the boardwalk. You should also check out the famous Sun Voyager sculpture. There’s less light pollution here, and it is one of the best places to get a cool picture of the Aurora’s reflection on the ocean. It is certainly one to check off your bucket list, that’s for sure.

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