Why the Best of Iceland is Found Beyond Reykjavik

Traditional Iceland Buildings | © worldislandinfo.com/Flickr
Traditional Iceland Buildings | © worldislandinfo.com/Flickr
Although Reykjavik is a great place to get a glimpse of what Iceland has to offer with its many museums and restaurants and shops, there is a whole side of the Nordic island nation that is not represented in its capital city. Outside of Reykjavik, you can find the natural landmarks and phenomena that make this place such renowned spot on everyone’s travel list.

Better Aurora Borealis Visibility

Although some Aurora activity is bright enough to outshine even the hazy glow of Reykjavik’s light pollution, you can definitely see it clearer once far outside the city. Visible roughly between April and late August each year, read our guide on the best places to catch a glimpse of this beautiful phenomena.

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Iceland is full of gorgeous waterfalls spotted all over the country and are definitely part of the country´s iconic landscape. The closest ones to Reykjavik being Glymur, Þórufoss, and Öxarárfoss. Read our guide on the most amazing waterfalls you can visit.

Land of waterfalls © IndigoMood/Flickr


If you want to witness the awe-inspiring and fragile phenomena that are glaciers, you have to get out of Reykjavik. There are a few glaciers along the South Coast route where you can pull off to a hiking trail that will lead you to the foot of a glacial tongue.

Iceland - Eyjafjallajökull Glacier - 51 © Kyle Taylor/Flickr


Outside of Reykjavik, the landscape opens up into incredible vistas of mountain, ocean, glacier, tundra and all kinds of combinations of features. The diversity of the landscape in such a small area is really astounding and makes Iceland the visually enticing and photogenic place that it is known for.

Central Highlands Iceland © moonjazz / Flickr

Timeless Iceland

The lava fields that you find almost immediately upon leaving the capital area, such as Eldhraun are only a couple of hundreds of years old. Ódáðahraun lava field in Northeast Iceland, however, has lava created at different times from different volcanoes with the oldest layers being around 9,000 years old.

Ancient Lava Fields © ActiveSteve/Flickr

Wildlife (Sheep in the Road)

While driving the windswept countryside roads outside of Reykjavik, you have to watch out for the frequent meandering of sheep on the roads. In most cases, they will be running swiftly out of the path of the car, although sometimes you have to honk to encourage them. This rather adorable sight doesn’t happen in Reykjavik.

Ubiquitous farm scene on the way to Gullfoss © Kirk Y./Flickr


According to Statistics Iceland (SI), the population of Iceland at the end of 2016 was 336,060 according to new data. Inhabitants of the capital region were 215,380 and 120,680 outside the capital region. Although this likely shifts in the summertime with people moving to the countryside from Reykjavik, your chances of having seclusion are greater outside of Reykjavik.

Path © Jakob Walter/Flickr

Small Villages

Sleepy Icelandic villages are very unlike the general atmosphere of Reykjavik. The small population means there is usually just one of everything in the village: one gas station, one bakery, one pool, one grocery. It is similar in most countries, the divide between city dwellers and rural dwellers is well known. Check out our guide on why you should visit Stykkishólmur in Snæfellsnes Peninsula before Reykjavik.

Village church overlooks ocean in Iceland © pml2008/Flickr

Cliffs and Rock Formations

Outside of Reykjavik, you can see a variety of cliffs and rock formations that you can’t see in the city. In Vík, for instance, the village is situated next to Reynisfjara beach with its iconic black basalt pillars emerging out at sea and the basalt columns formed in the mountainside next to the beach. There is also Látrarberg Cliffs on the southern coast of the Westfjords offering incredible views and birdwatching.

Arnarstapi © Harvey Barrisson/Flickr


While Reykjavik does have consistent views of the invigorating sight of Mount Esja, beyond the city limits you can find many breathtaking mountains for viewing or for climbing. Herðubreið mountain at 1,682 meters in the Central Highlands, for example, is visually stunning and makes for a challenging ascent. Landmannalaugar hiking area in Southeast Iceland contains a number of mountains which you can meander between on the hiking trail network.

Iceland © Chris Marquardt/Flickr

Historical Treasures

Many of Iceland’s most treasured historical monuments are found outside of Reykjavik. With Iceland’s rich history, many sites reflect or are connected to the Sagas, a foundation of Icelandic heritage. Þingvellir, the site of the world’s oldest parliament, for example, is located about an hour from Reykjavik. There is also Reykholt in West Iceland, famous for being the home of the author of the Prose Edda and other important historical texts in Icelandic literature, Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241).

Traditional Iceland Buildings © worldislandinfo.com/Flickr