We had two days to see everything we could in Iceland. We were exhausted from our flight, but were determined to resist taking a ‘short’ nap.
We made our way to the tourist bureau, where we got a 24 hour visitor’s pass, which got us free buses and admission to a lot of museums. In addition, we bought tickets for a 1 day guided tour the following day – "Golden Circle". The visitor’s pass got us a discount on the guided tour, so before we left the tourist bureau we’d already almost broken even on the pass!We walked up to Hallgrimskirkja, a cathedral at the top of the hill. It’s a modern concrete affair, but with interesting curvy architecture from the outside. There’s an elevator to the top of the clock tower with great views of the area. There’s the standard souvenir shop at the entry. You have to pay to take the elevator to the top, but it was only $2 apiece, if memory serves. To get a good photo, stand a little ways down the street that it faces. Next, we checked out the National Gallery of Iceland which is a small gallery right downtown with too much modern art for our taste. There was 3 floors, and a temporary exhibition on the first floor. No pictures are allowed, which was a shame, because the painting we liked the most was nowhere to be found in the gift shop. It was an interesting little taste of Icelandic art, and made us feel cultured. Next we took a bus out to the Open-Air Folk Museum. The local buses run frequently (even on Sunday), and the driver was very helpful in getting us to where we wanted to go. The folk museum was an interesting collection of old buildings detailing the history of Iceland, with some very honest admissions of a lot of mistakes that have been made. There is your usual collection of original-era houses, with volunteers knitting, baking bread, the usual. A few houses with grass roofs, some people cutting grass in a field with a scythe, and we were done. (what was ironic was that we would see the scythe being used later on in our trip in Turkey, but it wasn’t just for show then) Don’t mind my lack of enthusiasm – we were barely standing by this point – I think the King himself could have been in one of the buildings and we wouldn’t have been that impressed! Note that most displays are now translated (loosely) into English, for those of us whose Icelandic is a little rough.
After a much-needed nap at the hotel, we headed to one of the public swimming pools: "Laugardalur" . This was no regular swimming pool. It was geothermally heated, like almost all of Iceland, and was more of a ‘spa experience’ than a pool. There was a few large hot tubs, a cooler swimming pool with lanes for swimmers, a huge bath-tub warm pool with a 6 story high waterslide emptying into it (with no adult supervision, and several "hot pots". The hot pots are like small circular hot tubs, with temperatures varying from 65 to 110F. All for $2 apiece – it was the only reasonably priced attraction in Reykjavik! We met lots of other tourists here, and it was a great way to wind down the day.The following day, we took the Golden Circle Tour. We are usually averse to guided tours, but it was the best way to see a lot of the southwest of Iceland in a short amount of time (even our backpacker’s guide, Let’s Go, recommended the tour). The tour takes in the geologic and historic highlights of the area. We saw many volcanoes, a greenhouse area (with a stop in a souvenir shop of course), a magnificent waterfall called Gullfoss, an active geyser area, and Thingvellir, where the Icelandic parliament was formed. For more information on this tour, just do a Google search on "Golden Circle Iceland". It was definitely worthwhile. To cap off our sightseeing in Reykjavik, we visited The Blue Lagoon. In true Icelandic style, this turns out to be the runoff from a power plant that they’ve turned into a tourist attraction! (www.bluelagoon.is) It’s not a cheap trip: it ended up being about $65 for the two of us, including admission and a public shuttle from downtown (30 mins away). The lagoon is a large silica-filled pool with purported healing powers. Everyone rubs these salts over their face and body as an exfoliant. It’s the only time you’ll see men in public exfoliating! The water is very warm, but not uncomfortably so. We stayed in for quite a while. The facilities are incredibly modern, with electronic passes to open your locker, very clean, and very well organized. There is a boutique gift store that sell a lot of spa type stuff. There is also an expensive restaurant where you can sit and enjoy a view of the lagoon.
Even on a rainy overcast day, this was a great thing to do, as it so warm. One last tip: even on a very short layover in Reykjavik (less then one day) it may be possible to visit the Blue Lagoon. It is located very close to the airport, and there are a few direct buses from the airport.