Reykjavík is an absolute travel gem. Very few visitors to Iceland pass through without spending
some time in its capital city. Some come for only a day, and cram in the classic must-sees:
Hallgrímskirkja, Harpa and the rainbow street of Skólavörðustígur. But you could easily spend
three nights or more in the world’s most northerly capital city. Its beautiful parks, relaxed
nightlife and excellent cuisine (forget those fermented shark horror stories!) are all captivating.
And its numerous museums, art galleries and music venues mean that there’s plenty of culture
on offer if the weather is, well, Icelandic.
But so many more attractions lie within easy striking distance of the capital, rather than in the
city itself. So here is your list of top five things to do near Reykjavík.
1. Get into hot water
Iceland is geothermal to its very core, and the heat underground pushes up hot springs all over
the land. Bathing in natural hot pots is an ancient custom still popular with Icelanders today, and
visitors should jump right in too.
The most famous hot spring—and probably Iceland’s most frequented attraction—is the Blue
Lagoon. Located conveniently close to Keflavík airport, this expansive pool of blue water is rich
in silica mud which is great for the skin. And it's very handy for a relaxing first activity when you
land, or the last one before you leave.
But there is a new lagoon on the scene. The Sky Lagoon opened In Kópavogur, the little town
next to Reykjavík, in 2021. Offering spa treatments, a sauna and expansive views of the bay,
this hotspot is less bustling than its bigger cousin Blue but we still recommend to book ahead.
You can book The Sky Lagoon here!
If you want to rub shoulders with locals, squeeze into a hot tub at one of the many local pools
such as Kópavogslaug in Kópavogur or the famous Laugardalslaug pool in Reykjavik. These are
generally cheaper than the ones aimed at tourists and offer a more authentic Icelandic experience.
2. Get into cold water
As well as hot water, Iceland also offers lakes and rivers of chilly water straight from the
glaciers. And travellers shouldn’t miss the opportunity to slip into a drysuit and dive right in!
Trust us. It’s not as crazy as it sounds…
The best Icelandic snorkelling location is at Silfra, a spot on a lake called Þingvallavatn about 50
km inland from the capital. This is one of those things to do near Reykjavik which you will
probably never experience anywhere else in the world. The water melts off the nearby
Langjökull glacier, and arrives so pure that you can drink it. And at around three degrees
Celcius, it will certainly wake you up during your dip! But other than your face, you’ll stay dry
and surprisingly warm in your dry suit. And the views of the underwater cliffs as they fall away
underneath you are stunning. You can book your snorkeling experience here!
For the even more adventurous, it is possible to scuba dive at Silfra. Being able to dive deep
into the lake enables you to fully appreciate the underwater rock formations through the crystal
clear water. You’ll need to get your scuba diving certification first, but you can either do that in
Reykjavík or before you leave home.
Another hot spot for scuba divers is the lake Kleifarvatn, a half-hour drive south of Reykjavík.
Boiling water vents up through cracks in the bottom of the lake, mixing with the near-freezing
water above. If you take a raw egg when you dive to the bottom of Kleifarvatn, you can sit it on a
vent and turn it hard boiled! Just mind your fingers…
3. Lakes and waterfalls
Most travellers come to Iceland for its natural beauty, and visiting lakes and waterfalls is one of
the most popular things to do near Reykjavik.
Iceland’s waterfalls are legendary, and many are within striking distance of the capital. Majestic
Gullfoss draws the most visitors, and you can walk behind Seljalandsfoss. Öxarárfoss, near
Silfra, is the closest one to Reykjavík and is relatively small but perfectly formed. Hraunfossar is
a series of falls created by rivulets streaming out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field; some days
the water is crystal-clear but at other times it is a creamy white.
And less than an hour’s drive north of Öxarárfoss is Glymur, which tumbles nearly 200m making it
one of Iceland’s highest falls. The glacial rivers which make the waterfalls also feed Iceland’s lakes,
creating more natural beauty and things to do near Reykjavík. In Þingvellir National Park you’ll
find Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s biggest natural lake. Head for the southern shore, where you can pull
off the road and contemplate the lake’s calm from its shingle beach. Kleifarvatn, some 30km south
of Reykjavík, is the largest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula. You can hike and fish, or just enjoy
Kleifarvatn’s majestic scenery.
4. The classic golden oldie
The Golden Circle is a ring of classic Icelandic tourist attractions not far from the capital. It’s one
of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, and definitely deserves a place in the top five things
to do near Reykjavík.
A mainstay of the Golden Circle is Geysir, the site of the huge hot water spouts which gave us
the English word “geyser”. The current chief attraction is called Strokkur, which reliably squirts
columns of hot water up to 40m high every ten minutes or so. Do stand upwind unless you’re
looking for an unscheduled shower!
Another Golden Circle must-do is The Secret Lagoon, a natural thermal pool at Flúðir which is
less fancy than The Sky Lagoon, and much less busy than The Blue Lagoon. It’s great for a
soothing dip after you’ve hiked around the rim of Kerið, a nearby volcanic crater.
The Golden Circle also includes loads of other attractions such as Þingvallavatn lake and the
waterfalls Öxarárfoss and Gullfoss, all of which are mentioned above.
5. Lava fields and tunnels
Iceland’s seismic past and present mean that there’s plenty of former volcanoes around, and a
few active ones too. So it’s no wonder that seeing some lovely lava comes high on most visitors’
list of things to do near Reykjavik.
The Fagradalsfjall volcano, about 45 km southwest of the capital, first erupted in March 2021
and roared on for some six months. It filled an adjacent valley or two with hot lava, which cooled
and created the lava fields that now pull in the visitors. It had a second smaller spout in 2022
and a thirrd one in 2023, but who can tell when it might pipe up again. In the meantime, the
lava fields are an amazing sight from the surrounding hills. Keep your fingers crossed and the
volcano might spark up again while you’re here!
If hiking lava fields sounds a bit strenuous, the nearby Krýsuvík geothermal area offers gentler
ways to appreciate Iceland’s seismic side. Take a stroll around the pools of glooping, steaming
mud at Seltún, and get a lungful of the sulphurous smells.
But one of the best lava features in Iceland is Raufarhólshellir. It was formed more than five
millennia ago when a crust formed and cooled around fast-flowing lava, creating a tunnel which
you can now visit. The main tunnel is almost a kilometre long, 10 metres high and 30 metres
wide in places. In winter stunning ice formations take shape in the cave entrance, and guided
tours take place year round so you can have a very different experience summer or winter.
You can experience this for yourself and book your tour here!