When Iceland’s dark winter days come to an end, Reykjavik’s streets spring to life with a profusion of festivals and events throughout the city. Raflost, the festival of electronic arts which occurs at the end of May, seamlessly flows into the Reykjavik Arts Festival, which brings together exhibitions and performances of the visual and performing arts for two weeks in May and June.
In August, Reykjavik Culture Night sees museums, galleries, churches and shops hosting events late into the evening, while the Reykjavik Jazz Festival showcases the vast talent of the local and international music scene in a week’s worth of jazz, electronica and world music performances.
But the real beauty of a short summer break in Reykjavik lies in the city’s proximity to Iceland’s greatest natural wonders. Here’s our guide to the top 5 excursions from Reykjavik which will take you from culture vulture to outdoor enthusiast in just a few hours.
1) Relax in the Blue Lagoon
No holiday to Iceland would be complete without a trip to the fabulous Blue Lagoon. Situated in the middle of a black lava field between the international airport and downtown Reykjavik, it makes perfect sense to stop for a spot of natural spa-ing as part of your arrival or departure transfer. Known for its anti-aging qualities, the white silica mud found in the 37° geothermal waters is dotted around the natural lagoon in pots – smother yourself from head to toe for the true Blue Lagoon experience.
2) Explore the Golden Circle
The name ‘Golden Circle’ refers to the trio of natural sights which can all be reached on a circular day trip, either by Superjeep or by coach, from Reykjavik. Visit Thingvellir National Park, historic seat of the first Icelandic parliament, travel to Gullfoss waterfall – the ‘Golden Falls’ where the Hvita River crashes down into a 32 metre crevice – and discover the geothermal area of Geysir where powerful Strokkur erupts into the air every 10-15 minutes. All this and be back in Reykjavik in time for dinner.
3) Experience Midnight Whale Watching
Some of the best whale watching in the world can be experienced in Iceland’s waters, and you don’t have to go far to see these incredible giants of the sea. Whale-watching excursions from Reykjavik’s historic harbour are possible year-round, but from mid-June to the end of July there’s the option to do something a little bit special. Head out under the glow of the midnight sun on an evening whale watching excursion and, as whales never fully sleep, you may find yourself having a close encounter with minke whales, white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises.
4) Hike on a Glacier
Feel the full force of nature at your feet on an excursion to the frozen glacial tongue of magnificent Sólheimajökull, the southwestern outlet of the Myrdalsjokull icecap. Equipped with ice axes, crampons, safety lines and, most importantly, a knowledgeable glacier guide , explore the amazing ice formations of the crevasse-riddled outer glacier before trying your hand at a spot of ice wall climbing. Don’t forget to pack warm layers and a lightweight waterproof for this awe-inspiring glacial adventure.
5) Swim Between Two Continents
Iceland’s first National Park, Thingvellir, around 50 km from Reykjavik, is the stunning location of a continental rift between the North American and Eurasian plates. The rift’s Silfra fissure contains some of the purest and clearest water in the world – glacial melt-water from Langjökull glacier which has filtered through the lava for decades. Snorkelling between these two plates provides not only an incredibly unique opportunity to swim between two continents, it also offers some of the best underwater visibility in the world – around 80 metres.