The best things to do in Reykjavík unique architecture, interesting museums, trendy hotspots, and more. While a trip to Iceland is primarily focused on nature, the capital city of Reykjavík provides a delightful change of pace. Visit Reykjavík to exchange the Icelandic natural wonders of waterfalls, geysers, and volcanoes for an urban experience. It is the only true city in the country, although it maintains an intimate, village-like atmosphere with cozy streets and colorful houses. Read this blog to discover the best activities in Reykjavík, including practical tips.
How to get to Reykjavik in Iceland
Located in southwest Iceland, Reykjavík is Europe’s westernmost capital and the country’s largest city, making it an essential destination on any Iceland travel itinerary.
Although Reykjavík is Iceland’s capital, its international airport is not situated there. Instead, it is found in Keflavik, located slightly further south and west. Nonetheless, the airport is just a 50-minute drive from the city. To reach Reykjavík from the airport at a lower cost, one may use public transportation – either a local bus or the Flybus service.
The key attractions of Iceland are primarily situated in the south and west regions of the island, which are easily accessible from Reykjavík. In just 50 minutes, you can reach Thingvellir, the initial stop on the renowned Golden Circle. On the other hand, it takes roughly two hours to drive north to the Snæfellsnes peninsula or east to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which is also the departure point for trips to Vestmannaeyjar Island.
Where to stay in Reykjavík
The best place to stay in Reykjavik is in the heart of the city, specifically in the district of Miðborg (also known as Midborg), which is referred to as 101 due to its postal code. The majority of Reykjavik’s restaurants, tourist attractions, and lodgings are located in the northern section of this district, near the well-known Hallgrímskirkja church. This area is the perfect location to stay in Reykjavik.
Though, you can discover excellent lodging options beyond Midborg as well, including remarkable hostels and hotels. In fact, for a truly exceptional overnight experience in Reykjavik, you must venture to the city’s outskirts.
The best hostels and hotels in Reykjavik:
#1 House of the Snowbird for highly-rated lodging offering guests the opportunity to stay in tastefully decorated apartments situated within a refurbished historic edifice located in Reykjavík’s Old Town, just a 13-minute stroll from Hallgrímskirkja Church. Every apartment comes equipped with its own kitchen, making it a convenient choice for those who prefer not to dine out every night.
#2 Loft Hi Hostel for an eco-hostel well-liked for its private en-suite rooms and dorms. Guests can enjoy a lounge, bar, and rooftop terrace with views of the city. The hostel’s location is incredibly convenient, just a few steps from Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik. Additionally, Hallgrímskirkja Church is only a 10-minute walk away, while the Harpa Concert Hall is merely a 5-minute walk away.
#3 Kvosin Downtown Hotel for a stylish accommodation located in the heart of Reykjavík’s city center, as it’s nestled in a square right behind the iconic Reykjavík Cathedral and Icelandic Parliament. Originally constructed in 1900, this contemporary hotel boasts a terrace, bar, and on-site parking facilities.
#4 Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel for one of the top-rated hotels in Reykjavik, situated outside the tourist district, yet only a 15-minute stroll from Hallgrímskirkja. The hotel’s rooms are charmingly decorated and equipped with cozy four-poster beds. Additionally, guests can rent bicycles to tour Reykjavik’s attractions.
#5 Tower Suites Reykjavík for a Reykjavik hotel boasting a remarkable rating of 9.5. It features chic penthouse suites located on the 20th floor within a contemporary glass tower that presents breathtaking city or sea views. The rooms come equipped with floor-to-ceiling windows and a telescope. While slightly removed from the main attractions, the hotel is only a short 500 m walk from the Laugavegur shopping street and 1 km from the Hallgrímskirkja church.
#6 Reykjavik Domes for glamping in a unique dome located just outside Reykjavik. Top-rated amenities include a comfortable bed, hot tub, cozy wood stove, and welcome drink. Guests rave about the exceptional and memorable experience.
Budget tip: Reykjavik City Card
If you plan to visit many attractions in Reykjavík, the Reykjavik City Card is definitely worth it. With this card, you have free access to numerous sights and thermal baths, and you also receive discounts on a long list of attractions. Many of the best sights in Reykjavik that you will find in this blog are included. Check out the full list of included sights here and calculate if the Reykjavik City Card is advantageous for you.
Reykjavik Tourist Map
10 best things to do in Reykjavik
A visit to Reykjavík provides a refreshing contrast to the nature-focused trips typical of Iceland. The city boasts remarkable architecture, museums, and bustling hotspots. The capital of Iceland is also a great place to visit for a city trip, even without exploring the rest of the country. Most attractions are located in the district of Miðborg, also known as 101 because of its postal code. In the northern part of this district, you will find the majority of Reykjavik’s restaurants, attractions, and hotels.
#1 The Hallgrímskirkja church
Reykjavik’s most famous attraction is the extraordinary Hallgrímskirkja. Hallgrímskirkja literally translates to “the church of Hallgrímur”. Hallgrímur Pétursson, one of Iceland’s most renowned and influential poets and pastors, lived in the seventeenth century.
Standing at a height of 74.5 meters, this is Iceland’s tallest church. It can be seen from the surrounding countryside and from every corner of Reykjavik, making it the iconic symbol of the city. However, it’s important to note that Hallgrímskirkja is not the Lutheran cathedral; that distinction belongs to Dómkirkja in Reykjavik. Reykjavik is also home to a Roman Catholic cathedral, and it was precisely that church building that the design of Hallgrímskirkja aimed to surpass. The architect therefore created this magnificent, expressionistic structure inspired by Iceland’s grand basalt formations. Construction was finally completed in 1986 after a staggering 41 years.
The unique and modern architecture of the church makes it a must-visit. As a visitor, you can also explore the Hallgrímskirkja tower and enjoy a magnificent view of the city and the surrounding landscape from the top. Access to the church itself is free, with visitors only paying an entrance fee for the church tower. For those concerned about a strenuous climb, it’s worth noting that the top is accessible only by an elevator.
#2 The Sun Voyager sculpture
The most famous artwork in Iceland is the Sun Voyager, or Sólfarið in Icelandic. This remarkable attraction in Reykjavik is located in a stunning waterfront setting, just a few minutes’ walk from the city center.
The Sun Voyager is an extraordinary design, crafted from stainless steel by Jón Gunnar Árnason. It was the winning design of a competition held in 1986 to commemorate the city’s bicentennial. Unveiled in 1990, this iconic artwork has become inseparable from the city’s identity. The striking sculpture resembles a boat, reminiscent of a Viking ship, symbolizing hope and paying tribute to the sun.
#3 Rainbow Street
One of the most vibrant spots in Reykjavik is Rainbow Street, located in the city center. Since 2015, one of the main streets in the center has been painted in rainbow flags. This transformation was initially done to celebrate the anniversary of Reykjavik Gay Pride, but it has remained intact and continuously maintained ever since. Iceland’s Rainbow Street has evolved into one of the city’s most renowned attractions, drawing numerous visitors who are eager to capture its colorful charm. Notably, the street’s endpoint features the picturesque Hallgrímskirkja, making it an even more captivating location for photography enthusiasts.
#4 The colorful houses in Midborg
Midborg, located in the heart of Reykjavik, is renowned for its vibrant houses that adorn the streets. The residents of Iceland’s capital are allowed to paint their houses in any desired color, resulting in a downtown area that resembles a rainbow. From the vantage point of Hallgrímskirkja, you can truly appreciate this kaleidoscope of colorful houses.
Notably, it is common to find houses in Midborg constructed not only with wood but also with metal and corrugated sheets. We were told that this choice is due to Iceland’s limited forests and scarcity of wood, making it less readily available. As a result, the district’s colorful paint palette extends even to the metal surfaces and corrugated sheets, adding to the unique charm of Midborg.
#5 Harpa Concert Hall
Immerse yourself in one the most awe-inspiring sights of Reykjavik with a visit to the iconic Harpa Concert Hall. Renowned for its captivating architecture, this prominent landmark demands attention within the cityscape. From its striking exterior adorned with an enchanting blend of glass panels to the breathtaking interior, the Harpa concert hall is a feast for the senses.
Designed by the visionary architect Henning Larsen, this architectural masterpiece finally opened its doors in 2011 after overcoming significant delays caused by a major financial crisis. Boasting the title of Iceland’s most expensive building, the Harpa Concert Hall leaves a lasting impression with its grandeur and scale. Step inside the magnificent main hall, capable of accommodating up to 1800 visitors, and experience the sheer magnificence of this cultural gem.
#6 Northern lights tour
Iceland is one of the most renowned destinations to witness the Northern Lights. It stands as one of the ultimate travel destinations to experience the Aurora. If you’re visiting during winter, a Northern Lights tour from Reykjavik is an absolute must.
If you wish to spot the Northern Lights on your own, it requires some preparations. You’ll need to do some research, assess the best locations, and venture out alone at night. It adds an adventurous touch and offers a unique experience. During your trip, keep an eye on the Iceland Aurora Forecast, which provides valuable insights into the areas with the highest chances of clear skies.
If you prefer to rely on professionals and locals, it’s advisable to book a night excursion. This way, you won’t have to worry about monitoring weather conditions or understanding the optimal circumstances. Most excursions are organized from the capital city of Reykjavik, allowing you to easily embark on a tour during your Icelandic city getaway.
#7 The Perlan Museum
The Perlan Museum is not just an intriguing museum, but also a striking landmark in Reykjavik. With its architecture featuring six tanks and a 26-meter-high dome in the center, Perlan stands out as one of the city’s most eye-catching attractions. Five of the geothermal tanks are used to heat water for the city, while the sixth tank houses an exhibition showcasing Iceland’s extraordinary natural phenomena.
This museum offers a unique approach to showcasing the country’s natural wonders. Instead of simply providing information about a glacier, the museum has created an impressive replica. Visitors can also experience a simulated geyser eruption and a captivating demonstration of the Northern Lights. The museum offers various ticket options depending on which exhibits and shows you wish to explore.
Located just outside Reykjavik, the museum is easily accessible via complimentary shuttle buses provided for museum visitors. Situated atop a hill, the museum itself offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the city, thanks to its elevated position and height.
#8 Shopping in Laugavegur street
As the main street of Reykjavik, Laugavegur is a must-visit destination in the city. This two-kilometer-long street is brimming with shops, cozy coffee shops, and delightful restaurants. If you’re into souvenir shopping, this is the place to be. Laugavegur is home to numerous boutiques and unique stores offering Icelandic products and designs. However, it’s worth noting that it’s not the most budget-friendly option, so you might want to limit your exploration to browsing around.
#9 The hotspots of Reykjavik
As the largest – or perhaps the only – city in Iceland, Reykjavik offers a plethora of trendy hotspots that are sure to delight any visitor. From charming coffee shops to stylish restaurants and from vegan havens to cozy bars, this vibrant city has it all! This is a selection of our favorite must-visit places in Reykjavik:
- Reykjavik Roasters
- Apotek Restaurant
- Lebowski Bar
- Garðurinn (Heart Garden)
- Kaffi Vínyl
- Fish Market (or: Fiskmarkaðurinn)
- Mokka Kaffi
- Café Babalu
- Hotdogstand Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
- Grill Market (or: Grillmarkaðurinn)
#10 Whale watching tour
One of the most unforgettable things to do in Reykjavik is whale watching. Multiple boats depart from the capital’s harbor daily, offering the opportunity to spot whales out at sea. Booking a tour is convenient and can be done online, through your accommodation, or at the old harbor. Throughout the year, you can embark on boat trips to observe whales, but if you visit Iceland in the summer, you’ll have the highest chances of actually seeing them.
During our boat excursion, we had the misfortune of not sighting any whales and experiencing severe seasickness due to the heavy waves. Despite being provided motion sickness pills by the organization beforehand, they unfortunately did not alleviate the discomfort.
#11 The Tjörnin Lake
Located in the heart of the city is Tjörnin Lake (Tjörnin roughly translates to ‘pond’). This picturesque lake is home to several prominent buildings in Reykjavik, including the City Hall Ráðhúsið, the courthouse, the parliament, and the national theater. During the winter, locals can be seen ice skating here, while in the summer, they flock to feed the ducks. The most notable structure on the lake is the City Hall, which offers free admission to visitors. Inside, you’ll find a café and a fascinating 3D model of Iceland to admire. Explore this vibrant hub and immerse yourself in the cultural and natural wonders of Reykjavik.
#12 The Icelandic Phallological Museum
One of Iceland’s most remarkable museums is the Phallological Museum, also known as the Penis Museum. This unique museum showcases dozens of penises from Icelandic mammals, including whales and seals, displayed in glass cases. The collection supposedly includes penises of Icelandic elves and dwarves as well, although these mythical creatures and their penises remain invisible to the naked eye. Discover the intriguing world of phallology at this captivating museum in Reykjavik.
#13 The Höfði House
The Höfði House is one of Reykjavik’s most famous places. The white villa is also known as the Reagan-Gorbachev House, as it served as the venue for negotiations between the two world leaders to end the Cold War.
Dating back to 1909, this building has had multiple residents and functions throughout history. In 1986, it gained global attention as the site of the Reykjavik Summit, where discussions took place regarding the termination of the Cold War. Prominent figures like the American President Reagan and the Russian leader Gorbachev attended the summit.
#14 Sky Lagoon
In addition to the famous Blue Lagoon, Iceland boasts many more hot springs, and the Sky Lagoon is one of the newer spas built around these geothermal wonders. While the Blue Lagoon is large and well-known, catering to the masses of visitors, the Sky Lagoon offers a chance for a more authentic hot spring experience, with a lower profile.
Situated just 10 minutes from the center of Reykjavik, directly overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and framed by Iceland’s rugged mountains, the Sky Lagoon offers one of the most unique activities to enjoy in Reykjavik. Its stunning location sets it apart, making it a hidden gem in Iceland, as it was only opened in 2021.
The highlight of the Sky Lagoon is its infinity pool, where the warm waters seemingly merge with the ocean, creating a breathtaking sight. Additionally, the facility features a waterfall, a sauna, and a bar located in the water, adding to the overall experience.
#15 Magic Ice Bar
In a country renowned for its glaciers and ice fields, an ice bar is a must-visit attraction in Reykjavik. Immerse yourself in the unique ambiance of the Magic Ice Bar, a bar crafted entirely from ice blocks. This isn’t your average bar where you casually pop in for a soda or beer at a table. To experience this extraordinary venue, it’s essential to book your tickets in advance. Once inside, you’ll encounter stunning ice sculptures created by international artists. And fear not, your ticket to the Magic Ice Bar includes a complimentary welcome drink because, after all, it is still a bar. Discover the chilling wonders of this icy oasis and indulge in a truly unforgettable experience.
Best things to do near Reykjavík
#16 A Golden Circle Tour
The Golden Circle is undoubtedly worth a visit if you want to experience Iceland’s unique natural phenomena and extraordinary landscapes. As one of Iceland’s most famous attractions, this “golden circle” is a nearby tour from the capital city of Reykjavik that takes you to some of Iceland’s most beautiful natural wonders. These include the tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir and Strokkur geysers, and the Gulfoss waterfall. Iceland is often referred to as the land of ice and fire, and you’ll find all the reasons why in this area. From geysers and hot springs to glaciers and frigid snorkeling, you’ll encounter these extremes along the Golden Circle.
Thingvellir, or Þingvellir National Park, revolves around the tectonic plates of Europe and America. The North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly drifting apart here, creating multiple ravines. One of the most extraordinary activities to do in Iceland is diving and snorkeling in the crystal-clear water between the continental plates in Thingvellir. The second stop takes you to the geothermal area featuring Iceland’s two most famous geysers: Geysir and Strokkur. Lastly, on the Golden Circle, you’ll find the immense Gulfoss waterfall. The waterfall consists of two cascades and is nestled within a 20-meter-wide gorge.
But did you know that there are even more attractions along the Golden Circle? You can also visit the deep blue crater lake of Kerið, enjoy free natural hot springs in Hveragerði, witness the 80-meter-wide Faxi waterfalls, relax in natural hot springs and a spa in Laugarvatn, and explore the beautiful white Skálholt Cathedral.
#17 The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is undoubtedly the most famous hot spring in Iceland, and it’s conveniently located near the capital city of Reykjavik and the Keflavik Airport, which explains its immense popularity. This magnificent geothermal wonder forms a warm bath of approximately 38°C on the surface, thanks to the underground heating of its waters.
However, the deep blue water is not just warm; it is also incredibly beneficial and even healing. The distinct deep blue color is a result of the water’s composition, which is a mixture of saltwater, freshwater, silica, algae, and minerals. Silica, in particular, contributes to the blue hue, as it reflects daylight in such a way that it appears blue. If you were to pour it into a glass, the water would appear white and cloudy. The therapeutic properties of the water make the Blue Lagoon more akin to a spa than a swimming pool, so don’t expect to do laps there. It’s not deep enough for that.
#18 The Fagradalsfjall Volcano
In 2021 and again in 2022, Iceland made headlines due to the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano. This volcano is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, which is also home to the Keflavik International Airport. Additionally, Reykjavik is nearby, making it an extraordinary day trip from the capital.
Is it safe to visit the Fagradalsfjall volcano? In short, yes. Iceland experiences volcanic eruptions more frequently, and for the Icelanders, this eruption was relatively small and posed little danger.
Multiple hiking routes from two parking areas (Geldingadalir parking P1 and Fagradalsfjall parking P2) lead you to the volcanic crater. It’s a short but challenging hike, and it’s not recommended to attempt it in bad weather conditions. You’ll traverse an otherworldly landscape alongside lava fields – do not step on them as it’s dangerous – and eventually reach the crater. If you’re familiar with images of flowing lava and a bubbling crater, you may be disappointed as the eruption has ended, and the volcano is now cooling down.
#19 A daytrip around Southern Iceland
Most of Iceland’s attractions are concentrated in the south, where you’ll find mighty glaciers, enormous waterfalls, and other remarkable natural phenomena along the Ring Road. Thanks to Iceland’s relatively small distances, you can easily embark on a day trip from Reykjavik to explore the many attractions of South Iceland. You have the option of renting a car or joining a guided excursion. If you visit Iceland in the summer, take advantage of the long daylight hours to see as much as possible in a day.
Among the highlights of South Iceland are the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, two enormous waterfalls. They are located directly along the Ring Road and therefore easily accessible. Seljalandsfoss is 65 meters tall, and what makes it unique is that you can walk behind the waterfall. Just a 30-minute drive from Seljalandsfoss is the Skógafoss waterfall. With a height of over 60 meters and a width of 25 meters, this waterfall is truly impressive.
Next, you’ll reach Vík, a charming village with a picturesque red and white church on a green hill. This is home to volcanic cliffs, the Dyrhólaey cliff, massive glaciers, a basalt cave, unique rock formations at sea, and puffins. You’ll also find some of Iceland’s famous black sand beaches here, including the one with the much-photographed DC-3 airplane wreck.
#20 The Snaefellsnes Peninsula
From the capital Reykjavik, you can drive along the west coast and reach Snaefellsnes in just 2 hours. Snaefellsnes encapsulates everything that Iceland has to offer in a nutshell, making it a must-visit peninsula to witness the country’s most unique natural wonders. From endless lava fields and volcanic craters to awe-inspiring sea cliffs and caves, Snaefellsnes has it all.
The most famous attraction on the peninsula is the Snæfellsjökull glacier, towering at 1,446 meters. This glacier lends its name to the Snæfellsjökull National Park, located at the westernmost tip of the peninsula. In addition to Snæfellsjökull itself, the park features lava fields, volcanoes, and caves. It has long been one of Iceland’s most renowned tourist destinations, thanks to its prominent role in Jules Verne’s 1864 novel, “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”
Other notable sights on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula include picturesque fishing villages like Stykkishólmur, distinctive lighthouses such as Svörtuloft, and charming churches like the iconic black church Búðakirkja. Renting a car allows you to explore every corner of the peninsula. While a day is generally sufficient, you can also spend multiple days exploring Snaefellsnes to fully immerse yourself in its beauty.
#21 A glacier hike & Katla Ice Cave
In the southern region of Iceland, you’ll find several glaciers offering unique hiking opportunities with experienced guides. Embarking on these hikes during winter or spring is the best time to have an unforgettable experience, as the ice packs are thickest, showcasing the most awe-inspiring aspects of the glaciers.
One of the largest glaciers in the area is Mýrdalsjökull, located near Vík, covering an impressive 595 km². This glacier sits atop the active Katla volcano, which has remained dormant since 1918 but historically erupts every 40 to 80 years. That’s why Iceland closely monitors Katla and even a Netflix series was filmed here evolving around the potential catastrophe following an eruption. With the guidance of a professional, you can partake in hikes or snowmobile tours across the glacier. Exploring the Katla Ice Cave involves trekking on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and visiting multiple ice caves along the way.
Venturing further east, you’ll discover more glaciers that can be visited on a day trip from Vik. The Vatnajökull Glacier in the Skaftafell-Vatnajökull National Park is truly impressive. Spanning an area of 8100 km², it is Iceland’s largest glacier and the second largest in Europe. In some areas, the ice cap reaches a thickness of 1000 meters! Beneath this glacier lie several volcanoes that frequently exhibit activity, with the most recent eruption occurring in 2004. One of the most remarkable activities in Iceland is taking a guided walk on Vatnajökull, and we highly recommend it.
#22 The Arbaer Open Air Museum
Just outside the capital lies the Árbær Museum, offering a fascinating glimpse into Iceland’s history. Rather than relying on dull displays and artifacts, this open-air museum allows visitors to explore a replicated historical village. The Árbær Museum features a village and farmstead constructed in a typical Icelandic style. Staff members dressed in traditional attire bring the past to life, while the traditional houses provide insights into Iceland’s bygone way of life. Immerse yourself in the rich history of Iceland at this captivating open-air museum near Reykjavik.