Reykjavík is Iceland's capital and the start of most adventures in the 'Land of Fire and Ice'. This exceptionally cool city is the gateway to driving around the famous Ring Road and a great location for a northern city break. Whatever your plans, we recommend spending some time exploring the Reykjavík area.
The Icelandic capital area has it all, museums, exhibitions, beaches, history and an excellent foodie culture. To help you decide what you want to discover most, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite things to do in Reykjavík.
1. Go to the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church
Hallgrimskirkja Church is an iconic site that you can’t miss while walking in downtown Reykjavík. Standing tall at 73 metres, it is the largest church in Iceland. This Evangelical-Lutheran church is still an active place of worship today.
In front of the church, you can admire the large statue of Leif Eriksson, an Icelandic explorer who is believed to have been the first European to land in North America.
To make the most of your visit, take the elevator to the top of the tower for an impressive 360̊ view over the city centre and its surroundings. Admission to the church is free, although there is a fee to go up the tower.
Local tip: After your visit to the church, pop into Café Loki located across the street. If you get a seat on the top floor, you can enjoy a lovely view of Hallgrímskirkja. Our staff recommends their rye bread, flatbread and ice cream!
2. Take the ferry to Viðey Island
Take the short ferry to Viðey Island for an ideal day (or half day) out. You can enjoy some stunning views, admire the bird life and explore historical ruins. On a lovely day, you can walk or cycle around the island on the extensive network of trails.
Don’t miss the Imagine Peace Tower, a permanent installation by artist Yoko Ono. Dedicated to her late husband, John Lennon, the tower projects light into the sky. On the monument, the words ‘imagine peace’ are carved in 24 different languages.
This tower is lit up every year on Lennon’s birthday (9th October) through to the day he was killed (8th December), as well as a few additional dates along the year.
3. Visit Perlan
Located just outside central Reykjavík, Perlan, or “The Pearl”, is home to the Wonders of Iceland exhibitions as well as the planetarium. You can experience the power of nature, from volcanoes to earthquakes, meet giant whales in the underwater journey, and even walk along a real 100-metre long ice cave.
The Perlan planetarium is the first of its kind in Iceland, including a state-of-the-art 8k projection and surround sound system. This allows you to be immersed in the unique experience. Admire the starry skies and the guaranteed northern lights!
This dome-shaped landmark also offers fantastic views over Reykjavík from its viewing deck. This is especially true in summer when you can admire beautiful sunsets. While you’re in the area, you can also walk around the forest surrounding the hill before heading back to the city centre.
4. Take a dip in a local swimming pool
If you want to experience the true Reykjavík lifestyle, or have the "hot springs feel" without leaving the capital, visit one of the public swimming pools. A number of thermal pools are dotted around the city and its suburbs giving you plenty of choice.
All the pools have their own look and feel, but the largest and most popular is Laugardalslaug. It’s a great place to visit as a family as the complex includes a large outdoor pool with an 86-metre water slide, a shallow children pool, steam baths and hot tubs.
Local tip: After swimming, you can grab a snack at the hot dog stand outside. In this part of the city, you’ll also find the Húsdýragarðurinn Zoo and Grasagardur Botanical Garden.
5. See Grótta Lighthouse
To enjoy a beautiful and peaceful day out, we recommend taking the bus to Grótta Lighthouse.
Located on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, Grótta is one of Reykjavík’s most visited sites. Throughout the year, visitors and locals alike flock to this beautiful area to enjoy the outdoors and walk along the coast.
During the summer, you can dip your toes in the hidden ‘hot pot’ and enjoy the sunset. Bird enthusiasts may enjoy this area as well as Grótta is a nature reserve thanks to its abundant birdlife.
During the Christmas season, or generally during wintertime, this is an amazing northern light viewing spot.
6. Experience FlyOver Iceland
Located in the trendy Grandi area of the capital, you can experience Iceland’s incredible beauty without leaving Reykjavík.
FlyOver Iceland is exactly what it sounds like. Fly over the country’s most interesting landscapes and geography in the comfort of your seat.
You’ll be suspended with your feet dangling, watching the film that will take you on a journey across Iceland. This immersive experience is enhanced by the full motion seating, wraparound screen and wind, scents and mist.
There are also a few pre-ride shows that allow you to explore the roles of humans, nature and time on Iceland’s land and history.
This unforgettable ride will give you a real sense of flight and adventure to see the volcanoes, glaciers and mountains of this stunning country.
7. Walk along the coast
No visit to Reykjavík is complete without a stroll along the water.
You can follow the Sculpture and Shore Walk from the city centre to the old harbour. Along the way, admire the view toward Mt. Esja and make sure to stop at the various sculptures.
This includes Sólfarið, or Sun Voyager. The iconic statue was artist Jón Gunnar’s interpretation of a dreamboat and ode to the sun.
A little further, don’t miss the Harpa Concert Hall, Iceland’s premier concert hall. Its interesting architecture was even outfitted with exterior lights that mimic the glow of the northern lights.
On a sunny evening, you can watch the sunset reflecting on Faxaflói, the open bay of Reykjavík.
8. Attend a festival
Reykjavík is the cultural centre of Iceland and, for that reason, hosts events all year long. While you’re visiting this buzzing city, you can discover more about its traditions and culture by attending one of the numerous festivals.
Icelandic music is renown across the world and there are three major music festivals you can attend. Iceland Airwaves is the biggest one, happening in November. Earlier in the year, there is Sónar Reykjavík (February) and the Secret Solstice (June).
If you’re more into the arts, theatre, and film, you’ll find plenty to dig your teeth into. The Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) happens in the autumn (September into October), the Reykjavík Fringe Festival takes place in July, and the Reykjavík Arts Festival every two years in June.
One of the most important weekend of the year is at the end of August. The capital city hosts the marathon before putting on the very popular Culture Night (or Menningarnótt). This festival sees museums, theatres, shops and gardens open their doors for musical performances, exhibitions and fun.
Other events and festivals you may want to take a note of are the Reykjavík Pride in early August and the Reykjavík Food and Fun Festival in late February.
8. Visit the Einar Jónsson Sculpture Park
A hidden gem that you can visit during your time in the Icelandic capital is the Einar Jónsson sculpture park. Located around the corner from Hallgrímskrikja, the park is open all year long and is free of charge.
The Einar Jónsson Art Museum officially opened in 1984 and showcases the work of one of Iceland’s most talented artists.
Einar and his wife Anna used to live in the now museum building. They put a lot of work into the sculpture garden, and you can still find some of their work today. This includes the peculiar stone ring located between the office and museum.
Along this atmospheric and secluded garden, you’ll find 26 bronze casts of Jonsson’s work.
10. Shop at Kolaportið
If you want to buy some local products, there are plenty of souvenir boutiques on the main street, Laugavegur. To shop like a local however, we recommend you visit Kolaportið, Iceland’s only flea market.
You’ll be able to find a bit of everything from the Icelandic culture here. From liquorice to freshly baked “kleinur” (doughnuts), second-hand records to hand-knitted wool jumpers. You can meet the locals, taste local delicacies and buy some truly Icelandic products to bring home with you.
The flea market is located in the old harbour area and is open on weekends.
11. Enjoy Nauthólsvík Beach
Iceland may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of European beaches. There are some famous black sand beaches around the country, but there is also an interesting golden beach in the south of Reykjavík that you could enjoy while in the capital.
Nauthólsvík is a geothermal beach and a real hidden gem of Reykjavík. You can relax in the hot tubs or, on a nice sunny day, you may be able to swim in the ocean.
Hot water is pumped into the man-made lagoon meaning swimming temperatures average 15-19°C (59-66°F) in summer.
The beach is equipped with changing facilities and showers and is accessible by bus from the city centre.
12. Hike up Mount Esja
If you’re a keen hiker or enjoy a challenge, we recommend hiking the mighty Mt. Esja. You won’t miss this volcanic mountain range as it dominates the Reykjavík skyline.
To get there, you can simply take a bus from the city centre all the way to the starting point of the trails at the bottom of the hill.
At 914 metres, this is a challenging hike, but at the top you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over the capital, its surrounding area and the ocean.
The hike takes on average 2.5-4 hours for the return trip. Take care during the hike and ensure you’re dressed appropriately and bring enough water and snacks. Always heed weather conditions and warnings before attempting the climb.
13. Visit the National Museum of Iceland
Established in 1863, the National Museum of Iceland is home to an impressive collection of Icelandic objects and artefacts. The museum is a great outing if you wish to get an insight into Iceland’s cultural history.
As the Icelandic centre for the preservation and management of cultural heritage, the museum houses and displays objects that are significant to Icelandic history.
From the medieval days of Viking settlements to current contemporary culture, you can dive into the past, present and future of Iceland. The main exhibition houses over 2,000 artefacts found all over the country.
The piece de resistance is the Valthjófsstadur door, which features medieval engravings depicting scenes from the legendary 12th-century knight’s tale Le Chevalier au Lion.
To learn more about Iceland's Viking history, you could also visit the Settlement Exhibition - Reykjavik 871± 2 down the street.
14. Be entertained at the Secret Cellar
You’ll find the Secret Cellar in the city centre near Tjörnin lake. This hidden gem boasts about being the first and only stand-up comedy club in Iceland.
The club is open every night with comedy shows in English, followed by happy hour and karaoke.
Whether you’re looking for an evening of comedy and fun or for an escape on a rainy day, this is the place to be!
15. Discover the local food culture
Icelandic food is different from what you may be used to, but worth discovering while visiting the country. Reykjavík has a host of amazing restaurants and caféss, meaning you won’t be left wanting. You’ll find world food as well as traditional Icelandic food all around town.
We’ve compiled five of our favourite places to stop at for a snack or meal:
The Hlemmur Foodhall is located along the main street Laugavegur. It houses 10 vendors where you can buy all kinds of food, including Italian, Vietnamese and Icelandic food.
Some of our travel consultants argue that it’s the best foodhall in town! They recommend Skál, a restaurant focused on local and foraged Icelandic food. They’ve even been awarded a Michelin Bib gourmand 2019.
Grandi used to be a harbour, but has been going through a transformation over the last few years. It’s now full of cultural attractions and interesting restaurants. One of these great additions has been the Grandi foodhall.
Grandi Mathöll is home to 8 vendors, as well as a fish market. Here you can try Korean food, Icelandic lamb meat, fish and chips, or even eat vegan.
Brauð & Co.
For something sweet and simple, we recommend snacking on a cinnamon bun from the hip Brauð & Co. The bakery has multiple locations throughout the town, including near Hallgrimskirkja and at Hlemmur food market.
Mokka Kaffi is one of Reykjavík´s oldest cafés established in 1958. Its charming atmosphere and retro decor will definitely pull you in. It has a local customer base and ongoing exhibitions. Our staff recommend the waffles!
No visit to Reykjavík is complete without visiting Ísbúð Vesturbæjar. This ice cream bar is an institution in the capital and a favourite activity of the locals. Whatever the weather, you’re likely to see a queue coming out the door, but it’s definitely worth the wait!
From Reykjavík, you could always take one of our multi-day tours to discover the nearby Golden Circle and south coast. Take the bus to the Blue Lagoon to treat yourself or go whale watching to admire the impressive wildlife.
Get in touch with one of our local travel consultants to start planning your dream trip to Iceland.