Top Cities in Iceland to Visit
Although city breaks in Reykjavik are popular the majority of people don’t come to Iceland for its urban appeal. In general it is the epic landscapes and natural phenomena that draw people. Even weekend visitors to the capital will head out on day trips to the Golden Circle or the Blue Lagoon. When it comes to unmissable attractions in Iceland it is definitely nature that tops all the lists.
That is not to say that there isn’t a whole lot of urban fun to be had too though. Of course being such a relatively young nation Iceland’s cities don’t have that grand gravitas of history about them. But there is plenty of urban cool to discover and some excellent museums and galleries. In this article we will take a look at the best cities in Iceland to visit.
Important cities in Iceland
When it comes to cities of course Reykjavik is the biggest and most well known. It is perhaps the only settlement that feels like a city to most people visiting from overseas. With a population of around 365,000 in the whole country there just aren’t the numbers that the majority of us are used to. And that’s a good thing! It all adds to the unique feel of this fascinating island nation. The rest of the settlements covered in this article are more like small towns in terms of numbers. But despite being diminutive in size they all have their own charms.
The Capital - Reykjavik
Let’s start with the big-hitter. The capital of Iceland has a population just shy of 130,000. However the nearby settlements on the Reykjanes Peninsula and the surrounding area take that figure up to around 230,000. This means that nearly two thirds of the entire population of Iceland live in the region. Reykjavik was founded as a trading post on the south coast of Iceland in 1785. The city grew up around a busy fishing industry and there are several fascinating museums relaying its important history.
These days Reykjavik is one of the favourite Scandinavian cities to visit. Visitors come for the cultural scene with lively food markets and bars and quirky shopping. The music scene is buzzing too with lots of live music venues and festivals to enjoy. There are museums and art galleries galore and it’s great for fine dining. Architecturally speaking there are some fantastic modernist gems to visit. The iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church is a must-see as is the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik’s regenerated harbour area.
If you are spending a few days in the capital then consider investing in a Reykjavik City Card. The card covers entrance to many of the best museums and galleries. It also covers bus travel and entrance to hot springs and swimming pools as well as other offers.
The Northern Capital - Akureyri
Akureyri is often referred to as the capital of the north. It is one of the biggest settlements outside of Reykjavik with around 19,000 inhabitants. It is a lovely waterfront city that grew up around a sheltered bay. There are museums and galleries to enjoy as well as the excellent national Botanical Gardens.
If you are driving the Iceland Ring Road route then this makes for a perfect northern stop. There are plenty of large supermarkets to restock supplies. You can also stay and enjoy the cultural scene for a few days before heading back out on the road. Many people choose to fly to Akureyri and rent a camper van or motorhome from here. They base themselves in the city to begin with and then take road trips out around North Iceland.
Húsavík – The Whale Watching Capital
Húsavík lies on the north coast of Iceland and is blessed with a sheltered bay. It is the prime spot in Iceland for taking whale watching boat trips. The sheltered waters here are alive with marine life. Many different species of whales and dolphin frequent the waters here. It is one of the prime areas for wildlife in Iceland with the coastal cliffs welcoming birdlife too. In the town itself there is the wonderful Húsavík Whale Museum to enjoy.
Hofn is a small town of just over 2000 people on the southeast coast of Iceland. It lies on the Ring Road route not far from the Vatnajökull National Park. Like most of the coastal towns in Iceland it started out as a fishing village. This is the place to come for some plush seafood dining. The catch of the day is as fresh as they come and it has several very refined restaurants. If you are a foodie then this is the place for a credit card splash.
Sellfoss is an inland town that has grown up around the river and the famous nearby waterfall. Sellfoss Waterfall is one of the must-see sights in the South of Iceland. But there is more to the town than this. With around 7000 inhabitants it is a real hub of trade and industry in South Iceland. If you are visiting Iceland and hiring a motorhome you can choose between several good campsites around the town. It also has an excellent outdoor swimming pool with hot tubs.
Vik Y Myrdal
Vik is actually a very small village in Iceland on the south coast. It is an attractive place with just over 300 inhabitants. But despite its diminutive size it is an extremely popular place to visit. This is mostly down to the surrounding landscapes. Just beyond the town is the famous black sand beach of Reynisfjara. No trip to Iceland would be complete without seeing one of its striking black sand beaches. And this one really is a beauty with its sea stacks and basalt column cliffs.
There is an excellent campsite just on the outskirts of the town. So if you are hiring a motorhome in Iceland this makes a great base for a few days. The nearby Vatnajökull National Park can easily be visited on a daytrip. As well as many other interesting places including glaciers, ice caves and waterfalls. Despite being a small town Vik is well set up for its many visitors with a good range of restaurants, shops and bars to choose between. And with very little light