Iceland’s tourism numbers have skyrocketed in recent years, and for good reason. Not only is Iceland a beautiful country with breath-taking scenery, the northern lights and one geological wonder after another, it’s also got a funky and lively capital city full of friendly locals.
Perhaps it’s because of the colourful and cultural vibe Reykjavik has to offer, that people are so keen to experience this city. But be aware – because Iceland has become so popular with tourists; it’s easy to get sucked into the tourist trap spots and miss out some of the best truly Icelandic experiences. It would be a shame to miss the authentic experiences of Reykjavik when travelling to Iceland. After all, what better way to experience a city than like a true local? Here are our top five tips for how to experience Reykjavik like a local.
How to Experience Reykjavik like a Local on an Iceland Holiday
1. Eat hotdogs and ice cream
When you think about the cuisine in Iceland, the first things that come to mind are probably fresh seafood, fermented shark and lamb. While these are some of the more well-known dishes in Iceland, locals also can’t get enough hotdogs and ice cream. Yes, hotdogs and ice cream. Hotdogs are extremely popular in just about each of the Nordic countries, and you’ve probably heard of Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, the hotdog stand made famous by Bill Clinton and Anthony Bourdain.
It’s certainly worth grabbing a hotdog from Baejarins Beztu Pylsur when you’re in Reykjavik, but locals would also point you toward Pylsuhusid Hot Dog House. Why not try both?
After your hotdog, it’s time for dessert. Ice cream is always popular in Iceland, even during winter. Reykjavik is full of ice cream shops where you can enjoy a variety of flavours with your choice of toppings. While most tourists will visit popular ice cream parlours like Hafís and Eldur og Ís (both worth a visit), Skubb is unmissable.
2. Don’t be shy
One of the best ways to live like a local is to get recommendations from the locals themselves! Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Icelanders are very friendly. Most of them all speak excellent English; so don’t feel like you have to struggle through broken Icelandic to ask them a question.
You can also opt to rent an apartment or cottage for your visit rather than staying at a hotel; this will allow you to live like a local in a residential area of the city. Try your hand at cooking some Icelandic dishes; and you might even get some recommendations from the property owner on things to do and places to see that, as a tourist, you’d otherwise be unaware of.
3. Explore the surrounding areas
In Iceland, even in the country’s biggest city, you’re never far from nature. But that doesn’t stop Reykjavik’s residents from escaping the city from time to time to experience the beautiful nature in the surrounding areas. Before getting out and exploring the surrounding areas, do a little research on safety tips for driving in Iceland, as some roads are shut during the winter and you may need to take some extra precautions during inclement weather conditions.
The Golden Circle is a route that can be taken in just one day and starts and ends in Reykjavik, showcasing some of the country’s best sites and beautiful scenery.
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is just a roughly two-hour drive northwest of Reykjavik; and offers some highly photogenic areas, such as Kirkjufell mountain beside Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall. The area is also home to many geological wonders and some beautiful beaches you won’t want to miss.
4. Skip the Blue Lagoon
Spas and geothermal springs are a couple more reasons that Iceland is so popular with visitors. Water is a huge part of life for Icelanders, who all frequent public swimming pools and secret springs, but you won’t find any at The Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions for tourists; and while it’s beyond beautiful and soothing, it’s not necessarily the best way to experience Iceland’s magical waters, especially for the price tag.
Instead, you can pamper yourself like a local – in a natural steaming river for a fraction of the price in the beautiful Reykjadalur Valley, just a thirty-minute drive from Reykjavik. Here you can soak in the natural springs after taking in a beautiful hike of the valley; surrounded by Iceland’s natural landscapes.
If you’re after a little Icelandic history, you could venture towards Laugarvatn; a little village an hour away from Reykjavik. Here you’ll find Vígðalaug, or the Blessed Pool. This small and quiet pool’s history dates all the way back to the 11th century when Norwegian Priests used the pool for christenings.
5. Catch a performance at Harpa Concert Hall
Reykjavik is a hub for all things art and culture. From museums to live music and street art, the city absolutely pulsates with creativity. There’s plenty of ways to take in the city’s culture; but perhaps no better way than to pay a visit to Harpa Concert hall and view any number of performances, including orchestras, symphonies and so much more.
The building itself is reason enough to visit; constructed from glass in shades that change colour as the sun moves throughout the day and reflecting off the sea. Attending a performance at Harpa Concert Hall is a great way to experience Reykjavik like a local and get a little culture at the same time.