10 Incredible Views From Reykjavík
Planning a trip to Iceland can feel more like interplanetary than international travel, given the island nation's dramatic and almost otherworldly vistas. Imagine yourself in the capital city and its spectacular natural surroundings, Top of the World-style, by taking in a few of our favorite Icelandic scenes.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most popular destinations for visitors, and it’s easy to see why: Its mineral-rich, geothermally-heated water gathers in a pearlescent blue expanse (in the middle of a dramatic lava field) that can be enjoyed year-round. Lagoon bathers are invited to smear themselves with white mud composed of the silicates in the water, to indulge in in-water massages and skin treatments and to enjoy drinks and smoothies at the lagoon’s swim-up bar.
Deildartunguhver Thermal Spring
Located in western Iceland, the largest hot spring in the country—and the most powerful one in all of Europe—yields water that’s just under 212 degrees Fahrenheit when it erupts from the earth (hence the steam). Most of Deildartunguhver’s flow is used to heat nearby towns, but it’s also piped up to 65 kilometers away to heat bathers in Akranes. Reykjavik itself means "smoky bay" or "steamy bay," owing to similar geothermal activity nearby.
Iceland’s 100,000 horses, which are owned by both city-dwellers who board them at local farms and farmers who have herds of up to 100 animals, are half-wild and half-tame. When it’s warm, they roam the countryside as they like for months at a time—and in September, the herds are gathered from the mountains and reunited with their owners. Iceland’s shaggy, diminutive horses are so unique that the importation of other horses to the country is forbidden—and if a horse leaves Iceland, it can’t come back.
About 140 kilometers east of Reykjavik, Eyjafjallajokull (a conical volcano covered with an ice cap) made headlines in March and April of 2010, when it erupted for the first time in 180 years and created a gargantuan ash cloud that disrupted flights all over Europe and caused massive floods, electrical storms and earthquakes. Visitors can now take a tour on the ice cap and see Eyjafjallajokull’s crater—which, guides say, is now completely safe.
Keflavík International Airport
Iceland’s main airport was built by the U.S. military during World War II, and its two airstrips were originally called Patterson Field and Meeks Field (after two airmen who died in Iceland). Travelers to Keflavik had to pass through military checkpoints to catch their flights until 1987, owing to the continued American military presence in the region and its significance to NATO. The airport is now significantly more civilian, and more Icelandic: It boasts a massive, whimsical statue of a jet hatching out of an egg, and is regularly voted the best airport in Europe.
Iceland’s second biggest glacier, the Langjokull, creates runoff which wends its way through the Hvita river canyon in the southern part of the country and crashes down in two spectacular stages. "Gullfoss" means "Golden Waterfall," a moniker it earned by virtue of the sediment in the glacial water (which causes it to glow gold in the sunlight).
A five-minute ferry ride from the coast of Reykjavik, Videy boasts Videy House (the first building in the country to have been built out of stone), one of Iceland’s oldest churches, and some of the region’s most notable works of modern art. Richard Serra’s "Milestones" project consists of nine pairs of basalt pillars that create striking scenes on the western side of the island, and since 2006, the 15 geothermally-powered searchlights in Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower have beamed light into the wintry night sky from October 9th (John Lennon’s birthday) through December 8th (the date he was shot).
The Old Harbour
Whale and puffin enthusiasts, northern-lights-chasers, museumgoers and seafood-lovers all converge at Reykjavik’s Old Harbour, a once-primarily-commercial maritime hub that now shares space with restaurants, hotels, museums and more. The Old Harbour also plays host to Harpa, a striking conference center (and home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra) with a shimmering, piscine facade designed by Olafur Eliasson.
Legend has it that a Viking settler buried a treasure in a cave behind Skogafoss, one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls—but visitors have yet to find it (though a ring which was supposedly attached to the chest is now in a local museum). Skogafoss is also part of stories all over the world, thanks to its appearances in films such as Thor: The Dark World, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the Bollywood movie Dilwale.
The Continental Divide
Nowhere on earth is the evidence of continental drift more visible than in þingvellir (pronounced "Thingvellir") National Park, where visitors can actually see the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Those massive plates are tearing away from each other at a rate of between one and 18 millimeters per year—which creates fissures, pond, and rivers (as well as earthquakes).