An island nation in the North Atlantic has become a growing tourist destination for Americans. An estimated 326,000 Americans visited Iceland in 2016, according to the Icelandic Tourism Board. It’s fascinating information considering Iceland’s total population is 332,529. Eventually American tourists will grossly outnumber Icelanders in 2017, due to an impressive Icelandic marketing strategy and low fare airfare.
Since 2010, Americans tourism has seen an increase; this was at the same time Iceland began an aggressive advertising campaign. Part of the increase can also be attributed to Icelandair’s free stopover program heavily pushed in 2014 with #MyStopover. Also, the wildly popular Game of Thrones announced it shot a lot of its third season in Iceland, making the country even more attractive. The Icelandic government has an ambitious nine-year tourism plan (ending in 2020) for the 40,000 sq. mi island, and on the other side of this, improvements to tourism infrastructure will be made. Icelandair flies to 39 cities in 16 countries around the world. Reykjavik’s in a perfect geographical position so travelers can stop in the city during any transatlantic flight for up to 7 days, for no extra charge.
Iceland was settled in the year 874 AD, according to the ancient manuscript Landnámabók. It states the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent settler on the island. This led to centuries of Norwegians and other Scandinavians coming to Iceland. Iceland eventually acceded to Norwegian rule in the 13th century. The establishment of the Kalmar Union in 1397 united the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Iceland thus followed Norway’s integration to that Union and came under Danish rule after Sweden’s secession from that union in 1523, and remained a distant semi-colonial Danish territory until it became a republic in 1944 (Denmark was occupied by Nazis at the time, and the Danish king didn’t resist Icelandic independence).
Reykjavik has slightly over 120,000 people, while the District of Columbia has 658,893, per a 2014 US Census report. The most northern national capital in the world is more like a cozy large town, and that’s perfect. The downtown is lined with local shops and restaurants, when a few chain establishments scattered about. The people seem relaxed and low-key, but on a nice Friday or Saturday night, you can expect to see people out at the pubs and eateries.
When you come into Iceland, you come into the Keflavík International Airport, just outside Reykjavik. Visitors get to see sites in southern Iceland, including Gulfoss waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and Geysir Geothermal Park. Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country are home to over two-thirds of the population. Iceland is warmer than you think. The Gulf Stream passes straight through Iceland, giving it such a temperate climate, despite being so far north and near the Arctic Circle. Iceland has made tourism one of its primary components. The city is filled with things to do There are many things to do while in Iceland. The popular Golden Circle tour takes you along the Icelandic countryside, but first starts in Reykjavík.
Iceland is volcanic, and geological active with geysers, and lava fields. True there’s snow, and glaciers, and cold weather; but theirs also lava fields and plate tectonics.
There are uncommon attractions like geothermal spas at Laugardalur Park or the nearby Blue Lagoon. And do the City Walk Reykjavik is a two-hour tour. Take the time to check out the National Museum of Iceland. Icelandic food can be an adventure, but also very tasty. Finally, plan to finish up your day in one of the bars and clubs clustered around the Laugavegur, the shopping district. The Laugavegur Shopping District. The locals say Reykjavik is generally quiet during the week, but can get a little rowdy on the weekends. They refer to rowdiness as the Rúntur. It’s pretty much a bar crawl on and around Laugavegur. People will pre-party at home and hit the town around midnight and stay out until 5 am or so.
If you’re looking to get beer at the supermarkets, like going to Giant, Safeway, or Whole Foods, you won’t be able to do that anywhere in Iceland. Prohibition lasted until 1989, and it took a few years after to come up with a permanent system, but you’ll have to go to special shops called Vinbuðin to buy alcohol to take home Bruggsmidjan Kaldi IPA, Gæðingur MIB, Borg Garún Icelandic Stout Nr. 19.1, Black Death Beer, Borg Leifur Nr. 32, and the top rated Ölvisholt Lava according to RateBeer.com.
But if its winter you might want to check out the Kringlan. It’s another shopping area in Reykjavik, in fact it’s the second-largest shopping, with over 170 shops and restaurants. Built in 1987, it includes a library, theatre, cinema, liquor store, cafés and a bar. It lies on the busiest traffic intersection in Reykjavík. It’s expanded numerous times, and has seen allegedly has drawn foot traffic away from the shopping around Laugavegur.
Church of Hallgrimskirkja will be on your list of things to see while in Reykjavik. You can see it from almost every point, because it’s a 73-meter-tall building which sits proudly on a hill in the center of the city. It also happens to be the tallest church in Iceland. The massive building is named after Rev. Hallgrímur Pétursson, the 17th-century hymn writer and church scholar. It took 41 years to build, with construction not beginning until 1945. The shape of the futuristic structure is a cross between a glacier and a rocket ship. It’s a functioning church, so you can check out the church’s website to see when there’s church service. You can also tour the building for about $6 USD. There’s an elevator that takes you up, but once you make it up to the top, there’s still about 30 steps to the top. Once at the top, you get some amazing view of Reykjavik.
In front of the church is a statue of the Viking Leifur Eiríksson, the first European to discover North America. They say discovered Newfoundland in Canada, went back and tried to go back but got lost, only to rediscover it his third time out.
The Pearl (or Perlan) is a five-story complex designed to tickle the senses, comes equipped with a Gourmet Shop, a Souvenir Shop, the All Year Christmas Shop, a bar, a garden, a museum, some man-made geysers, and a top-floor 360-degree revolving restaurant with some amazing views of the city and mountains. It’s situated atop Öskjuhlíð hill, near the domestic airport, and designed by Ingimundur Sveinsson. The structure was updated at the behest of Davíð Oddsson, the then-mayor of Reykjavík.
Practically every country is excited about increased tourism, but some in Iceland are concerned about overwhelmingly large number of visitors, like Birgitta Jonsdttir, Icelandic politician, poet and activist.
Jonsdttir told The Telegraph, “It’s like the city is not my city anymore.” Even though Jonsdttir has legitimate concerns, the tourism board expects Iceland will have 2 million annual tourists by 2020.
Going swimming is a big deal in Reykjavik. Locals say they often go to swimming pools for the thermal pools, hot tops, and steam saunas. The Blue Lagoon is the high-end option, and very touristy. It’ll cost you about $68 for a ticket including a towel, slippers and bathrobe. If you’re looking to spend more cash at a restaurant or pub, you can check out the local public swimming pools, even when its -5° outside in these hot tubs. You can expect to spend about 600 ISK ($5.32), whereas you might spend near a hundred bucks just for an hour doing the same in the US. Check out this map to locate pools in Iceland. Be advised, you’ll have to take a shower before you get in the pools.
Here you can find out more about tours in/from Reykjavík. Photos coming soon.