8 non-touristy places in and around Reykjavik

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From rugged landscape to mesmerising nature, there is no end to Iceland’s incredible beauty, something Justin and I couldn’t get enough of! Find out why Iceland should be on your travel bucket list HERE

Since we got to spend a month living as locals in Iceland, I’ve unearthed a list of off-the-beaten-path destinations that are worth checking out – all of which can be visited within a day (except Snæfellsnes for which I would recommend multi-days trip).

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Hveragerði – Located 45 km from the capital of Reykjavik on the main ring route, Road One, Hveragerði is considered the world’s hot springs capital. This charming town in South Iceland is also known as the ‘flower village’ due to the ubiquity of greenhouses and draws visitors to its most precious gem, the geothermal park. Very few places in the world can boast having hotsprings in people’s backyard! Some of the activities include:

  • Salmon and trout fishing
  • Hiking
  • Horseback riding
  • Soaking in hot spring

If you are looking for a memorable dining experience, the Kjöt & Kúnst restaurant, one of Iceland’s best kept secrets will not disappoint. It prides itself on unique ‘earth cooking’ and has a geothermal kitchen where it uses geothermal power for some of its cooking. The soup buffet spread was good offering both earth cooked soup and bread as was the traditional Icelandic fish and chips and we certainly recommend it to anyone wanting to experience a slice of Icelandic traditions in this lovely town. Opening hours vary seasonally.

Borgarnes – is a picturesque town located on a peninsula at the shore of the Borgarfjörður fjord in West Iceland, approximately 70km from Reykjavik. Borgarnes is the gateway to the Snæfellsnes National Park and with a population of less than 2000 residents, it is little wonder why this tiny town is often overshadowed by commercial activity (i.e. stop for food or petrol – thanks to the second largest bridge in Iceland that connects the main ring road to the town). But it’s definitely worth checking out for its breathtaking landscapes that include lakes, rivers, waterfalls and hot springs.

Borgarnes

Akranes – Truth be told, Akranes isn’t the prettiest or the most exciting town in Iceland. The first time we were there, the weather took a dramatic turn and we ended up battling a storm with our two four-legged friends, much to their dismay. Barely mentioned in guidebooks, Akranes is no tourist hotspot and therein lies its charm. Once a simple fishing village, it is a quiet and relaxing town with not one but two picturesque lighthouses by the harbor, which make for great photo opportunity. For a real blast from the past, plan a visit to the Akranes Folk Museum.

Akranes

Bessastaðir – Fancy getting up close and personal with the President and First Lady of Iceland? Located in Alftanes, not far from the capital Reykjavik, is the unassuming Bessastaðir, which currently serves as the official residence of the President of Iceland. Bessastaðir has a fascinating history dating back to the Age of Settlement with the site being mentioned in the Islendinga Saga/Saga of the Icelanders, a testament to its immense historical value. Home to some spectacular northern lights opportunities.

Bessastaðir in the background

Mosfellsbær – Only 15 minutes drive out of Reykjavik on Road One lies Mosfellsbær often labeled the ‘green town’ which is perfect for outdoor lovers with activities such as walking, hiking and fishing. This ruggedly beautiful town makes for a great stop if you are driving through from Reykjavik towards Þingvellir National Park. The popularity of this town is attributed to Halldór Laxness (1902-1998), a prolific writer who is the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955. 

The green town Mosfellsbær

Hafnarfjörður – Literally translated as ‘harbour fjord’, owing to its natural harbor surrounded by lava fields, Hafnarfjörður is a charming seaside town located about 10km from Reykjavik, which makes for a perfect day trip. Also known as the town in the lava, legend has it that Iceland’s elves co-exist harmoniously with the town’s residents – living in lava cliffs and rocks thus cementing its reputation as the elves’ capital. The annual Viking Festival takes place at the town’s most famous landmark, the Viking Village. 

Reykjanes Peninsula (a Unesco Global Geopark) – Home to the Keflavik International Airport and the world famous Blue Lagoon, Reykjanes Peninsula bears testament to Iceland’s geological diversity – a highly underrated destination but which holds treasures in abundance and blessed with spectacular landscape that is out of this world. Granted we landed close to midnight (we wouldn’t be able to tell had we landed on the moon!) but visitors who arrive via Keflavik International Airport are surprised by the otherworldly landscape that greets them upon arrival – green-grey moss topped lava fields that go on for miles which bear a striking and uncanny resemblance to the moon!

1. Bridge between Continents at Sandvik – This site is a symbol of connection between Europe and North America, which lies on one of the world’s major plate boundaries, the Mid Atlantic Range (the only place in the world where the Mid Atlantic Range is visible above sea level).  Where else in the world can you set foot in two different continents amidst a diverging plate margin?

2. Reykjanesviti Coast – a popular spot for bird watching with magnificent coastlines

3. Grindavík – a fishing town with beauty as breathtaking as the world famous Blue Lagoon, located at its doorstep. The spirit of the town is centered around the harbour, where you will find good seafood restaurants

4. Gunnuhver Hot Springs – the largest hot spring in Iceland and named after an angry female ghost, whose spirit was trapped in the boiling pit 

5. Keflavik Town – far from being a nondescript airport town, Keflavik is a lovely town along the Reykjanes coast with plenty of dining options. Makes for a good stop if you have some time to kill before your departing flight

6. Sandgerði – a fishing village close to Keflavik International Airport. Great for bird watching and golfing

7. Krýsuvik – a large and fascinating geothermal area (Seltún being the most famous) against a dramatic landscape of stunning hills

8. Kleifarvatn Lake – one of the deepest lakes in the country and the largest lake in the Reykjanes Peninsula. This lake bears no visible surface drainage and the water comes and leaves underground. 

Snæfellsnes – West Iceland is known for its legendary beauty including the magnificent Snæfellsjökull glacier, which towers over the Snæfellsnes National Park in the westernmost part of the peninsula, considered one of the world’s best known glaciers. This peninsula was immortalised in Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” and rumour has it that the glacier is a meeting place of extra-terrestrials. Often referred to as “Iceland in a Nutshell”, if time is scarce and you only have a few days in Iceland, plan a visit to the peninsula to experience the diversity of its landscape.

Snæfellsnes

Though the distance from Reykjavik to Snæfellsnes Peninsula is only 150 km (93 miles) but in reality due to the road condition in Iceland, it took us almost double the journey time and in the end we spent most of our day trip driving back and forth, which is a shame because there is so much to discover in this part of Iceland – think dramatic volcano peaks, lava fields, waterfalls, fishing villages, hot springs and golden beaches. If you like beach of a different kind, Ytri-Tunga is a sandy beach known as a seal beach and the best time to spot seals is from June to August. For more information, visit its official travel guide HERE

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