The tourist industry in Iceland has grown significantly over the last few years. More and more travelers are discovering the charms of our tiny Nordic island and all that Iceland has to offer. Taking a journey around the country’s Ring Road has become the ultimate bucket list item. There’s something quite charming about Iceland’s major towns and cities; each one is different and worth a visit. We’ve compiled a list of the best villages, towns, and cities in Iceland to visit.
Iceland Cities, Major Towns, and Villages
You’ll often hear the phrase Icelandic villages to describe the small towns along your way. This is because the population in many urban areas is not large enough to warrant the designation of a city or town. You might even find just a small grouping of houses that barely qualifies as a village. While a large percentage of Icelanders live in the capital city of Reykjavik or another city like Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, or Akureyri, going to a small town is also a huge part of the Iceland road trip experience.
In fact, one of the most popular places for tourists to stay in only has about 320 inhabitants! Vik and its black sand beaches are the quintessential seaside Icelandic village. There are about 70 towns and villages scattered across the island and in the Iceland countryside.
Reykjavik: Iceland’s Capital City
Looking at a map of Iceland going counterclockwise to see the towns, villages, and cities in Iceland to visit, Reykjavik is obviously our first stop. Iceland’s population is just under 340,000, and over a third live in the capital. Reykjavik City is a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis that at the same time feels like it’s not too big. It’s manageable by foot as most of the city’s main sights are within walking distance from the downtown area.
As the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik has a thriving cultural scene and lively nightlife. In fact, Iceland’s main city is known for its bars, clubs, and nocturnal activities. Parties start late go well towards the dawn. You’ll also find fantastic cuisine with Michelin-starred restaurants, a robust café culture, and lots of shopping on Laugavegur street.
And course there are the museums. From the Punk Museum to the National Gallery to historical exhibits tracing settlement in Iceland, there’s something for everyone. You can even get to know the island’s cetaceans at the Whales of Iceland exhibition. The interactive installations and life-sized models provide a nice complement to seeing the creatures in real life on a whale watching excursion.
If you’re looking for relaxation, Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon is only about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik. You’ll spend the day floating in the milky, turquoise waters of our popular geothermal spa. Be sure to give yourself a silica face mask to help remove impurities from your skin. Finish off the day with lunch and a massage for the ultimate treat.
Of course, the Blue Lagoon isn’t necessarily everyone’s favorite way to unwind and de-stress. You’re also only about 20 minutes away from the Oddur golf course if you’d like to get in a few holes during your visit.
This is the second largest city in Iceland with around 30,000 residents and is developing rapidly. Its proximity to Reykjavik makes it a sought-after place to live, and the city is known for its striking architecture and the Kópavogur Art Museum. A stunning architectural jewel of this Icelandic city is Kópavogur Church, which towers over the rest of the city.
The Westman Islands
When looking at a map of South Iceland, you’ll see a small archipelago just off the coast near Route 1. This group of small islands in south west Iceland is known as the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). They were formed by underwater volcanic activity and have 70-80 volcanoes above and below the sea. The largest island in the group is called Heimaey, and its largest town is Vestmannaeyjabær.
Geological activities on the island include a visit to Eldfell volcano, the Eldheimar 1973 volcano eruption remembrance museum, and hiking Helgafell volcano. The Sæheimar Sea Life Trust Aquarium also warrants a visit. This marine life preservation organization is home to both an open water sanctuary for beluga whales and a cornish seal sanctuary. Animal lovers will enjoy their time here with these beautiful and at-risk animals.
Vik: A Lovely Seaside Village in the South of Iceland
As you travel along the South of Iceland on the Ring Road, you’ll pass the pleasant little town of Vik. Though small, the seaside town is one of the most popular stop-offs on any trip around Iceland. Not only is it located halfway between Reykjavik and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, but it’s home to something very special. Iceland is famous for its volcanic, black sand beaches, and this is the place to see them. Not only that, but the hexagonal basalt columns of Reynisfjara beach are also a major attraction in the area.
Many tourists in Iceland choose to stay the night here and even use it as a base for exploring the area. After visiting the volcanic formations at the beach, you can also take a trip to Vatnajökull National Park. Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell glacier, the glacier lagoon, and Diamond beach all await you here. The hiking trails of Landmannalaugar are also close to Vik.
Nestled among Iceland’s dramatic Eastfjords is the colorful and quaint waterfront town of Seyðisfjörður. As you make your way along Iceland’s winding east coast, you’ll want to be sure to include a short stay here. With a vibrant art scene, you’ll find your creative side truly inspired. The locals are also extremely friendly and welcoming. There’s hiking in the area and plenty of cascades to discover in and around the fjords. It’s a relaxing place to spend a few days in nature before continuing onward to Húsavik and the Diamond Circle.
Húsavik: The Whale Watching Capital of Iceland
Another one of the best cities and towns in Iceland is the coastal town of Húsavik. Resting on the shores of Skjálfandi bay, this cute little town is known as the capital of whale watching in Iceland. If you have the chance to do a summertime whale watching excursion while here, Húsavik is the place to do it.
Húsavik is also the starting point for the Diamond Circle route and is a good base for excursions. Some highlights of the 260 km (162-mile ) circuit include Lake Mývatn, Ásbyrgi Canyon, Dettifoss waterfall, Godafoss waterfall, and Hverir geothermal area.
Akureyri – The Capital of North Iceland
Akureyri is known as Iceland’s second city and is the capital of the North. The surrounding area includes a botanical garden, ski trails, the Akureyri Contemporary Art museum, and the famous Church of Akureyri (Akureyrarkirkja). The Lutheran church sits on a hill overlooking the town. As one of the major cities in Iceland, Akureyri is port of call for both winter sports enthusiasts and those looking to explore the North of Iceland. As the gateway to the North, Akureyri is definitely one of the best cities to visit in Iceland.
The Town of Siglufjörður
Perhaps the most striking feature of Siglufjörður is the town’s colorful buildings. Shades of crimson, violet, and tangerine cover the facades of these traditional Icelandic houses. Resting on a fjord of the same name, this often-visited Icelandic town has a history of fishing. You can learn more about its ties to this industry and economic growth at the Herring Era Museum. The Þjóðlagasetur Folk Music Centre and Museum will also give you a taste of Iceland’s culture and musical heritage.
Nature lovers should also take an excursion to Héðinsfjörður fjord as this zone in North Iceland is known for the beauty of its fjords. One of the best times of year to visit Siglufjörður is wintertime. The plethora of winter activities is wide-ranging. Take part in snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and more. In the summer, golfing and fishing are common activities for inhabitants and visitors alike.
Hofsós: Fjords and Thermal Pools
A list of the most beautiful cities in Iceland wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a place with one of our renowned thermal swimming pools. Hofsós is particularly striking because it features an thermal bath that looks like an infinity pool with views of Icelandic fjords steeply jutting out and descending into the water below.
Towns in Snaefellsness Peninsula: Stykkishólmur and Arnarstapi
Many of the towns and villages on this western peninsula got their start because they acted as a trading post for fishermen and other types of commerce. Their proximity to the shore meant the early fishing industry in Iceland could slowly begin to flourish. They still have their maritime roots but have begun catering to the tourist industry. While this territory makes for a great day trip from Reykjavik, there are also several places of interest for those looking to explore the area more in depth.
Two towns in particular often catch the attention of most travelers. Once you’ve explored Snaefellsnes peninsula and Kirkjufell mountain and waterfall, Stykkishólmur is a wonderful spot to spend the night. Located close to Breiðafjörður Bay, this is the epitome of a small Icelandic fishing town. There’s a church, a volcano museum, great restaurants, and a nice campsite. With beautiful surroundings and excursions to Snæfellsjökull glacier, Berserkjahraun lava field, and Lóndrangar, this is charming town to spend some time in.
The second town in Snaefellsnes peninsula that I recommend is Arnarstapi. It’s home to one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the country. This is a popular spot for travelers to rest and refuel while making their way to Snaefellsjökull National Park from Reykjavik. A hike to admire the rocky basalt cliffs between towns in the area is a wonderful way to spend the evening before heading back to town for dinner. Nearby Hellnar village and Breiðavík farms are the most common destinations. Taking a trek up Mt. Stapafell is also a great option.
Iceland’s Major Towns and Cities
A map of Iceland with cities and towns shows lots of places to visit sprinkled all around the island. Taking a road trip in Iceland will ideally be a wonderful mix of big city living and staying in picturesque little villages that look like something out of a postcard. I hope this list of cities in Iceland and towns will help you plan a fantastic trip and help you get to know the country inside and out. You’ll have more of a chance to meet locals when staying in small towns, so be sure to include a few on your itinerary.
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