Iceland is an iconic country known for magnificent natural contrasts such as steaming hot springs and vivid blue ice caves. However, Iceland has a grand landscape but few occupants. The total population is about 350,000 residents. The cities are relatively small as a result and some can even be considered small towns instead of cities. So what are the best cities in Iceland to visit?
Despite the size of the cities, you can have a unique experience and bond with the friendly locals. The cities, villages, and quaint small towns will be a wonderful contrast to the sheer stature of the natural landscape.
What is the best city to stay in Iceland is a brilliant question with an easy answer. Reykjavík is the capital city of Iceland and is by far the largest city in the country. You will most likely begin and end your trip to Iceland in this city since two main airports are nearby. It is the most known and has many attractions designed for tourists. The capital has about 200,000 inhabitants, comprising more than half of the total population.
Reykjavík has enchanting charm and vibrant colors. The city is awash in colorful graffiti commissioned by notable artists and sprinkled with modern art installations. There’s even a spot for taggers and unknown artists to display their graffiti in the city without repercussion. This place is the underpass of Miklabraut Road and called Hlíðargöngin.
If you are an art aficionado there are also many art galleries and five museums to visit.
The city center is near the seaside allowing you to see the lovely coastline. You can simultaneously appreciate the surrounding mountains and hear the Atlantic ocean break across the shore. And it becomes more amazing when the robust birdlife and the occasional majestic whale appear. Reykjavík is a great fusion of city-life and nature.
Iceland has a consistent nightlife throughout all seasons. The bars are full whether the midnight sun shines bright for 21 hours straight or during the dark winters. Around midnight, Laugavegur is the best street to find lively bars and pubs. The music scene is also robust. There are annual festivals like the Icelandic Airwaves held every October or November that highlight famous and local artists.
Everywhere has an opportunity to find something to appreciate from the Icelandic microbrewery to the local coffee shop. There is also a strong case for the culinary renaissance in Iceland. Overtime the cuisine in Reykjavík and all over Iceland have become more nuanced. For example it’s more inclusive of vegans and vegetarians. But Iceland has always upheld their reputation for fresh foods and quality ingredients. Be sure to try the local delicacies like the lamb and Atlantic Cod. It’s highly encouraged to also try some unusual fare such as fermented shark and sheep’s head. You can wash it all down with Black Death or Burning Wine. This strong Icelandic liquor traditionally is consumed in between bites of fermented shark. After your meal, you’re ready to explore the spectacular landscape. Reykjavík is one of the main pick up locations for most excursions like the Golden Circle and South Coast tours.
When you start visiting towns in Iceland you will notice many small Lutheran and Christian churches sprinkled throughout the countryside. There are about 400 churches in Iceland and many were built to avoid traveling in harsh weather. If a town or village had one it was a sign of prestige. Hallgrimskirkja church is the largest church in Iceland and is known for its striking basalt column design. This church is located in downtown Reykjavík and named after the poet, Hallgrímur Pétursson. Akureyrarkirkja is another popular church found in the second largest town, Akureyri. Guðjón Samúelsson designed both churches and you can see some similarity in the beautiful architecture.
The other important cities in Iceland after Reykjavík include Akureyri, Vík, Grindavík Grundarfjörður, Heimaey, and more. When planning your road trips definitely visit Akureyri first because it is the largest city outside of Reykjavík. It is commonly called the “Capital of North Iceland.” Akureyri has a harbor and the most ideal weather conditions for agriculture. Make sure to check out Hafnarstraet, the main city road teeming with restaurants and stores. There are also interesting museums and a wonderful Botanical Garden that displays most of the local foliage found in Iceland. They also have festivals, and concerts held throughout the year. During Easter, the ski slopes are quite popular and provides a stunning backdrop for memorable pictures. Akureyri is also close to the archeological site Gásir, where the old medieval trading post was located. Every July they organize a Medieval Market and have re-enactments.
Vík is a great town to visit when driving along the ring road in the South Coast of Iceland. There are many treasures such as the Reynisfjara Beach, which is a picturesque black sand beach. You can view the majestic Myrdalsjokull Glacier and the arch of Dyrholaey. There is also the Vík church framed by sweeping mountains.
Reykjanes peninsula is home to the Keflavík International Airport and has five villages. Most people when visiting Iceland immediately head to Reykjavík but there are several activities in this area. The Grindavík fishing village is of note because it is close to the iconic Blue Lagoon Spa. This spa is a luxurious experience and should not be missed. But the town itself has features such as swimming pools, spas, lakes for fishing, and other outdoor activities. They also have art galleries, museums, and restaurants with healthy and delicious food.
Grundarfjörður is another gorgeous village in Iceland located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. In this area you can enjoy the wildlife by booking a whale watching tour and see the famous orca whales as well as Humpbacks, Minke whales, and dolphins.Grundarfjörður has another treasure because its backdrop is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. Kirkjufell Mountain is freestanding and has famously appeared in Game of Thrones. The unique symmetry and arrowhead appearance will always attract many tourists.
In Heimaey, one of the 15 islands comprising the Westman Islands, you can admire the impressive colony of Atlantic Puffins. This island is also a perfect place to see the dancing Northern Lights during the end of summer through spring. In addition, you can view the unusual Elephant rock, a natural rock formation shaped like a large elephant.
Any of these Icelandic cities have something unique to offer and provides the perfect complement to the awe-inspiring landscape.