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How to Beat the Crowds in Reykjavik


How to Beat the Crowds in Reykjavik
Hi, I'm Karen!

Karen is a Scottish freelance travel and culture writer based in the US. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, and Condé Nast Traveler.

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Hi, I'm Karen!

Karen is a Scottish freelance travel and culture writer based in the US. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, and Condé Nast Traveler.

see more

It’s not news that Iceland is a very popular tourist destination—visitor numbers to the Land of Ice and Fire climbed so steeply in the early 2010s that the term “overtourism” was coined specifically in reference to this Scandi country. But the specter of crowds shouldn’t deter you from a visit to Reykjavik, as most tourists tend to stick to a well-worn trail, snapping selfies at the same familiar spots. The answer? Go off the beaten path and enjoy both the city’s charms and the country's spectral beauty in relative peace.

Book a private tour

Exploring Reykjavik by private tour to learn about the capital city. Photo: Walk with a Viking Tour / Tripadvisor

Customize your Icelandic experience.

Exploring Reykjavik with a private guide not only promises a more intimate experience, it also gives you the flexibility of being able to customize your itinerary (so you only go where you want to go) and make last-minute changes should crowds descend. Moreover, your guide will be able to take you to hidden gems that can’t accommodate large groups.

Hike Mt. Úlfarsfell

Horse lovers can enjoy the mountain trials near Mt. Úlfarsfell. Photo: Blue Planet Studio / Shutterstock

Get off the tourist trail … literally.

There are few better ways to leave the crowds in your dust than by hiking up a mountain. While Mt. Esja is most visitors’ go-to hiking destination near Reykjavik, fewer venture to Mt. Úlfarsfell, which is actually closer to downtown and has a variety of marked trails to suit everyone, as well as views over the city and Faxaflói Bay that are just as impressive. Horse lovers can even explore the mountain trails on a riding tour from Reykjavik.

Skip the Blue Lagoon

Reykjavik has plenty of hot springs to choose from. Photo: kovop58 / Shutterstock

There are plenty more hot springs to enjoy.

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions and is always teeming with crowds of tourists. But it’s not the only hot spring within reach of Reykjavik. Visit the Secret Lagoon, Laugarvatn Fontana, or Reykjadalur Hot Springs instead, which are all within 62 miles (100 kilometers) of Reykjavik. Another great option is Hvammsvík Hot Springs, less than an hour away, which you can visit on a private tour.

Go swimming at a local pool

Take a dip in one of Iceland's geothermal swimming pools. Photo: Yuliya Halianiuk / Shutterstock

Do as the locals do.

For a truly local experience, go swimming in one of Reykjavík's 17 geothermal swimming pools. A blend of sports center, water park, and spa, Iceland’s swimming pools have huge cultural significance (akin to the British pub) and are where you’ll get a glimpse of the nation’s soul. East of the city center, Laugardalslaug is Reykjavík's largest and most popular, with two swimming pools, seven hot tubs, a steam bath, and large water slide.

Brave a dip in the chilly ocean

Enjoy a day at one of Iceland's beaches. Photo: FotoHelin / Shutterstock

Water, water, everywhere.

If wild swimming is more your style, head for Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach and take a dip in the cold Atlantic Ocean. The man-made beach, which is less than a 10-minute drive from downtown, is also a local’s favorite sunbathing spot. It even has a small geothermally heated lagoon for paddling in.

Join a foodie walking tour

Taste some of Reykjavik's authentic tastings on a food tour. Photo: ezellhphotography / Shutterstock

Sample the best of Icelandic cuisine.

Rather than falling into the trap of patronizing the same touristy restaurants as every other visitor to Iceland, scope out the culinary scene in the company of an expert. A guided food tour can introduce you to the best local establishments, from food trucks to fine dining restaurants, while you enjoy delicious bites and get local insights into places to visit later on your own.

Make the most of the midnight sun

Whale watching in Iceland is a magical experience. Photo: Denis Kichatof / Shutterstock

Reykjavik rewards night owls.

During the summer months, the sun hardly sets in Iceland, which opens up more opportunities for visiting attractions outside of peak hours. If you’re willing to wait until late evening to head out, you’ll likely find that you have some of the top spots all to yourself. One of the most magical experiences you can have is watching a whale breach under the midnight sun: book a whale-watching trip in Faxaflói Bay to make the dream come true.

Escape to an urban oasis

Escape busy city crowds and go berry picking in the countryside. Photo: dvoevnore / Shutterstock

Skip the crowded center.

Reykjavik’s downtown public parks are sure to be crowded on any pleasant day. Head instead for the Elliðaárdalur Valley, around 10 minutes east of downtown. You can take a stroll by the river, climb a waterfall, pick berries, spot wild rabbits, and visit the nearby Árbær Open Air Museum and Árbæjarlaug swimming pool.

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Things to do in Reykjavik
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Don’t-Miss Dishes in Reykjavik
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