Krýsuvík (<30 minutes) --
Easy. Walk on catwalks around steam vents and mud pots in this geothermal area about halfway between downtown Reykjavik and Keflavik Airport. Makes a good day trip with a visit to the Blue Lagoon and adjacent power plant and lunch in the quaint seaside town of Grindavik.
Mount Esja (< 30 minutes) --
Moderate (difficult at summit with rock scramble). Standing tall across Faxafloi Bay from downtown Reykjavik, Mount Esja beckons you to climb it, particularly on a sunny day when you can see the top. City bus service actually has a stop at the base of the mountain, so no problem for the car-less to get to and from. This is a very popular hike and there are some local groups that do it regularly by running! Probably takes 1.5 hours to get to the summit. Very windy up there!
Hveragerði (~30 minutes) --
Moderate. Hveragerði is a small village, 30 minutes east of Reykjavik on the Ring Road (Route 1), that is one of the biggest geothermal agriculture areas of the country, with many greenhouses in and around the village. There is a fantastic 1.5-hour hike up a mountain pass to a natural hot tub formed by the joining of a hot and cold stream. Unless you have waterproof shoes, you may need to cross a small stream with bare feet. Bring your bathing suits - or not!
þingvellir (~45 minutes) --
Easy. þingvellir is a dramatic sheltered plain and large lake area where the world's first parliament covened in the 10th century. There are many walking trails in the area, but a particularly enjoyable one is the approximately 5K walk east of the main þingvellir area / parking lot to a location called Skogarkot, where the foundation of an old building remain. The area has many small trees ("If you are ever lost in a forest in Iceland, just stand up!"), lichen, and neat rock outcroppings.
Glymur (~45 minutes) --
Moderate / Difficult. Glymur is the tallest waterfall in Iceland, but one of the narrowest as well. The hike begins at the farthest point inland of Hvalfjordur ("Whale Fjord"), northwest of Reykjavik. From Reykjavik continue past Mount Esja above for about 20-25 minutes, on a road the hugs the southern perimeter of Hvalfjordur (do not make left for the tunnel that goes underneath the mouth of Hvalfjordur). The start of the hike features crossing a small stream on a log while holding onto a wire. Be sure to walk up the right side of the stream to the summit. At the top, there are incredible views of the length of Hvalfjordur and on a clear day, you can see Snaefellsjokull glacier in the distance.
þingvellir waterfall (~45 minutes) --
þingvellir (Thingvellir) is typically the first stop on the "Golden Circle" (þingvellir - Geysir - Gullfoss) day trip. In addition to a dramatic plain where the continents of Europe and North America are slowly pulling apart. The river Öxará traverses the national park and forms a waterfall -- see photo images here. What is neat about this waterfall is depending on where you park and walk, you can see the waterfall from below or experience it from the cliff above.
Geysir (~90 minutes) -- Though not a waterfall, water is a big part of the attraction of "Geysir", the second stop in the Golden Circle day trip. Although "Geysir", the largest of the geysers found in a geothermally-active plain doesn't spout often these days, the adjacent "Strokkur" geyser faithfully delivers a large plume of water every few minutes. The challenge for visitors is get their photos at just the right moment when the water roars out of the ground.
Gullfoss (~2 hours) --
The jewel of the "Golden Circle" day trip, this is a site not to be missed, Where else can you walk right up on a ledge where the powerful Hvita river flows past you over the falls into a gorge below. Watch your step and be prepared to get sprayed!
Seljalandsfoss (~1.5 hours) --
This waterfall is on the south coast, just off of the Ring Road (Route 1) on the left-hand side east of Hvolsvöllur. This is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. You can walk on a small path behind the waterfall.
Skogafoss (~2 hours) --
Also visible from the Ring Road on the left side in the quaint village of Skogar, less than 30 minutes east of Seljalandsfoss. If you come to Skogar, you must also go to the folk museum housed in several traditional sod-roofed houses. Skogar is the southern terminus of one of the most popular two-day hikes in the country, between this village to Thórsmörk, passing between two glaciers, including Eyjafjallajökull, which had a massive eruption in Spring 2010.
Barnafoss (~1.5 hours) --
While the above waterfalls are all located in south central Iceland, Barnafoss ("children's waterfall") is located northwest of Reykjavik in the heart of Saga country. If you decide to venture here (rental car needed), you should make it a day trip including the forests of nearby Husafell, then to the ancient educational center of Reykholt, lunch in the seaside village of Borgarnes, and a hike up the Eldborg extinct volcanic caldera to see the sun set.
One thing you must do if you go to Iceland is get in the water. Swimming is a national pastime and it is done year-round, rain or shine, summer or winter. So, be sure to bring a swimsuit, and if you have space a towel as well, and enjoy all of the marvelous swimming locales in Iceland.
Laugardalslaug (Reykjavik's largest swimming pool) --
This is my favorite swimming pool in my favorite area of Reykjavik. Laugardalslaug is located adjacent to a large recreation and nature preserve about 10 minutes from the heart of downtown. Think of it as the "Central Park" of Reykjavik, complete with the largest swimming pool, largest fitness complex ("World Class Iceland"), the national soccer stadium, an ice skating rink, park, small zoo, and excellent youth hostel The pool itself has indoor and outdoor racing and splash pools, and numerous hot pots. Plus, it is 10% of the cost of the Blue Lagoon. Don't miss it!
Note that Reykjavik has 19 swimming pools, so if Laugardalslaug is not convenient or your favorite, try another one nearby. Click here for more info.
Blue Lagoon (~30 minutes) --
This is one of the "musts" for the first-time or only time visitor to Iceland, the place they have seen in the ads and in the movies. Located only 15 minutes from the international airport at Keflavik (about 30 minutes from downtown Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon is actual man-made. It is the run off of geothermal water used to generate electricity at an adjacent power plant. The warm waters (~100 degrees) and the interaction with the lava field where it resides is also rumored to have healing powers for the skin. It is not cheap, with admission and towel approximately $35. If you have time, you should do a tour of the power plant next door. For more information on the Blue Lagoon, click here. If you are planning to go to the north part of Iceland, there is a similar facility near Lake Myvatn.
Hveragerði (~30 minutes) --
In addition to swimming pools and man-made hot springs, there are also a number of opportunities to enjoy nature's warm waters as you hike around areas of geothermally active areas throughout the country. One of which, only about 30 minutes east of Reykjavik is in the mountains above Hveragerði. The bathing spot is about 1.5 hours up from the parking area where a cold and hot spring come together. If you want to try it, leave your modesty at home. Changing is out in the open, but take comfort in the fact that you will probably be able to find a private spot somewhere and that warm water will feel really good in the cool air after a long hike. Oh, but getting out is another story! One note - be careful where you bathe - some steam vents and pools of water can be scalding hot.
Cheap Eats (Reykjavik)
Baejarins Beztu ("Town's Best") --
This is a famous small hot dog stand near the Reykjavik Art Museum and waterfront that serves "pylsa" -- Icelandic lamb hot dogs. President Clinton stopped by and had a hot dog from here when he visited. It is located at the corner of Tryggvagata and Pósthússtræti, but easier to remember that it is just two blocks from the main shopping street (Laugavegur / Austurstræti).
Café Paris --
A nicer, sit down place, yet still reasonable is Café Paris, along on the main shopping street Austurstræti. The café also faces Austrovollur square on the rear across from Iceland's parliament (Althingi). On warm, dry days, Café Paris offers al fresco seating. The café offers sandwiches, soups, and desserts.
Gló Restaurant --
Chain of four small cafes serving some of the freshest salads and soups.
Hamborgarabúllan ("Burger Joint") -- Small cozy wood-paneled house adjacent to the waterfront at Skipholt 70, with a few tables and seats at the counter. The menu is as limited as you would think for a place called "Burger Joint", but burgers and fries are tasty and reasonably-priced.
Svarta Kaffið --
This is located on the main shopping street near the main bus terminal (Hlemmur) (Laugavegur 54) -- they are known for serving soup in a bread bowl -- vegetarian and meat option -- along with salads and desserts. Fills you up and doesn't cost much, plus nice on a cold evening. It is on the 2nd level so you can look out on all the passersby on Laugavegur.
Valdis -- Gelato café with wide variety of unique choices in redeveloping harbor area of Reykjavik.
Vox -- A fine dining establishment by night, Vox offers a fantastic fair-priced weekend brunch with wide selection of breakfast and lunch items, pastries, Icelandic fresh fish and meats, skyrr, and other delicacies. It is an especially good deal for family travel, as children under 6 are free and it is half-price for 6 -- 12-year olds. It is part of the Hilton Nordica Hotel about 5 minutes from downtown. If taking advantage of an Icelandair package deal, breakfast at the Vox is usually included. For the location, food, and views (get an even numbered room!), the Vox and Hilton Nordica combination can't be beat.