Guide to Visiting Reykjavik in Iceland: What to Do and See
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
The northernmost capital city in the world, colorful Reykjavik is buzzing with life, surrounded by nature, and rich in cultural tradition. Boasting a fascinating history and vibrant artistic heritage, Reykjavik is one best places to visit during your trip to Iceland. Located on the southwestern coast, Reykjavik is home to 60% of Iceland’s entire population.
Want to discover the best places to see during your time in the enchanting city of Reykjavik? We’ve got you covered with our top picks of Reykjavik’s hidden gems, tourist hotspots, and interesting areas to explore. Plan your trip to Iceland’s fascinating capital with our top travel tips, helping you to save money and make the most of your trip.
Interesting Facts about Reykjavik
Before we dive into discovering the top Reykjavik vacation spots, let’s learn a little bit about the charming city of Reykjavik and its history.
Located in southwestern Iceland, Reykjavik is Europe’s most westerly capital.
Reykjavik means ‘Smoky Bay’ in Old Norse, which is believed to be inspired by the plumes of steam rising from the countless hot springs in the Reykjavik area.
Founded by Norwegian Vikings, Reykjavik began to develop from a collection of farmhouses to a small trading community in the middle of the 18th century.
Geothermal energy heats the city of Reykjavik. Iceland as a whole takes advantage of the energy produced by the country’s volcanic activity to meet around 90% of the island’s heating and hot water requirements.
Puffins abound in Reykjavik, which is the world’s only capital city with a large puffin breeding colony. In fact, half of the world’s population of Atlantic puffins breed in Iceland!
Ready to explore this intriguing and incredible city? Get started preparing your Reykjavik itinerary with our guide to the best places to visit.
Best Places to Visit in Reykjavik, Iceland
Where should I go in Reykjavik? It’s a good question with many answers! Whether you prefer wandering through captivating museums, visiting historical icelandic architecture, or exploring the lively urban center, you’ll find something for yourself in our Reykjavik city guide.
With more than 60 museums and galleries, you won’t be short of choices when exploring Reykjavik’s vibrant art scene and history! Here are some of our top picks:
Perlan – As the winner of TripAdvisor’s Best of the Best award, you can be sure to have a wonderful experience at Perlan. Explore the world’s first indoor ice cave, dive into learning about Iceland’s geology and wildlife, experience a breathtaking 360° view of Reykjavik, and watch an awe-inspiring Northern Lights show.
Reykjavik City Museum – Actually a collection of five museums spread across the city, you can explore Reykjavik’s old buildings, maritime history, Viking past, and Icelandic photography at Reykjavik City Museum. Walk down the streets of Reykjavik’s old city center at the open-air museum that forms part of the collection.
National Museum of Iceland – Learn about the stories of famous and impactful Icelanders, the journey of medieval settlers, and important archaeological discoveries revealing secrets of Iceland’s past at the National Museum of Iceland.
Reykjavik Art Museum – Separated into three sites across the city, Reykjavik Art Museum is the largest visual art museum in Iceland. Home to a variety of contemporary art, this museum is home to inspiring work by emerging Icelandic and international artists alike.
Reykjavik Tourist Attractions and Historical Sites
As Iceland’s main city, Reykjavik is home to many popular tourist attractions and beautiful historical sites. And it's also quite a romantic place. From the harbor to the concert hall, the compelling mix of architecture in Reykjavik is sure to capture your attention. Here are a few of our favorite places.
No trip to Reykjavik is complete without a visit to the famous Hallgrimskrirkja church. This imposing building towers above its neighbors, dominating the skyline of downtown Reykjavik. As Iceland’s main church, the unique architecture of Hallgrimskirirkja church is inspired by modernist aesthetics and the geological structure of Iceland itself.
You can enter the church for free, but there’s a small charge to use the elevator to reach the top of the tower. We recommend taking the upwards trip for an amazing view over the colorful city, surrounding bay, and magnificent mountains.
Harpa Concert Hall
As another of the capital’s most striking landmarks, Harpa is a concert hall and conference center that opened in 2011. Iceland’s unique landscape is reflected in the building’s colored glass facade, which was inspired by the country’s prevalent basalt rock formations. Watch the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera or Reykjavik Big Band live in concert at Harpa, or simply soak in the majestic building itself.
Reykjavik’s Old Harbor
Take a stroll along Reykjavik’s old harbor, breathing in the sea air and admiring the spectacular view across the bay to the volcanic mountain range of Mount Esja. At Reykjavik’s old harbor, you can explore the capital’s maritime history in the harbor museums, take a whale-watching boat tour and enjoy super fresh seafood or fish dinner. You’ll also find quirky and artisan street food markets at the old harbor, such as Grandi Mathöll.
Created to represent a dreamboat or an ode to the Sun, the striking outdoor sculpture of the Sun Voyager stands proud against the water in Reykjavik bay. Considered by many to look like a Viking Ship, this famous landmark symbolizes the promise of progress, freedom, and hope.
Downtown Reykjavik: Exploring Reykjavik City Center
Fancy a trip downtown? Can we come too? The exciting Reykjavik downtown area is easy to explore on foot, with a range of activities to suit everyone’s taste.
One of Reykjavik’s oldest shopping streets, you can find many Icelandic-designed and produced products in the boutiques along Laugavegur. With a diverse selection of restaurants, bars, shops, and museums, taking a trip along Laugavegur may take a while! Laugavegur is also known as the ‘Water Road’ because it used to lead directly to the hot springs.
You may have heard of 101 Reykjavik from the 2000 Icelandic comedy film of the same name. 101 is actually the zip code for the oldest part of Reykjavik city center, serving as a nickname for the center of town. Home to Iceland’s cultural elite and an ever-increasing number of hotels and guesthouses, 101 Reykjavik is famous for its multicolored small houses and narrow streets.
Food in Reykjavik
Whether you fancy tasting the traditional Icelandic cuisine, dining out in some of the capital’s top-quality restaurants, or experiencing Reykjavik’s food scene on a budget, you’ll find something in this brilliant city for you.
If you want to eat like a local, Icelandic lamb is a must. Often roasted or stewed, Icelandic lamb is sourced fresh from the hills and pastures of the country’s interior. For dairy lovers, you can’t beat Icelandic ice cream. The creamy, yogurt-like delicacy of Skyr is another must-try for those who want the authentic Icelandic experience.
We also recommend trying the traditional Reykjavik hotdog, complete with crunchy onions, fresh onions, and sweet brown mustard, at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a favorite of tourists and locals alike. A food tour of Reykjavik isn’t complete without sampling the seafood and fish on offer at the city’s port.
While traditional dishes in Iceland are mostly meat-based, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, don’t fear – there will be something for you, too! Being vegetarian in Iceland is relatively easy since plant-based eating has grown in popularity over recent years.
With a range of bars and clubs to suit all tastes, your night out in Reykjavik is sure to be one to remember. Whether you prefer a relaxed night in a bar, want to explore the local’s favorite stops, or fancy dancing all night in some of Iceland’s most popular clubs, Reykjavik’s varied and vibrant nightlife has something for you.
One of the best things to do in Reykjavik is head to the famous shopping street of Laugavegur in the Reykjavik downtown area to find the best bars and nightlife venues in the city. This strip in the old town is buzzing at night, with more chilled-out cafés, live music entertainment, lively party venues, and a myriad of bars.
There are no entry fees for the bars unless there’s a specific live performance scheduled. If you’re visiting during an Icelandic festival or cultural event, prepare yourself for a night of partying and eccentric outfits!
Accommodation in Reykjavik
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Reykjavik, from classic hotels to holiday apartments and funky accommodations, like the Reykjavik domes – perfect if you fancy something a little different.
In Reykjavik, you’ll find a whole range of guesthouses, hostels, and suites to suit any budget. We recommend booking ahead of time due to the ever-increasing popularity of Iceland as a holiday destination.
Of course, you can always bring your home with you around Iceland by renting a campervan. The perfect way to explore all the Land and Fire has to offer, including the sights and sounds of Reykjavik, a campervan gives you the ultimate flexibility to travel and enjoy.
Day Tours from Reykjavik
The natural areas surrounding Reykjavik are incredibly beautiful to behold! When staying in Reykjavik, you’re in a prime position to explore the stunning wider Reykjavik area. Taking day tours from the city, whether guided or self-guided, is a brilliant way to visit some of Iceland’s most spectacular landscapes.
Take a walk through volcanic fields, mountainous panoramas, and geothermal oases on some of Iceland’s best hikes. Spending a day exploring some short hikes from Reykjavik will take you to otherworldly places!
Soak in the nourishing blue waters of Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon, only around a 50-minute drive from the capital or reachable on a bus excursion. Taking a bath in this stunning geothermal pool surrounded by dark basalt rock mountains is an experience you surely won’t forget.
For a self-guided tour of some of Iceland’s most unforgettable scenery, you can take the Golden Circle route to visit cascading waterfalls, magnificent canyons, and breathtaking volcanic craters.
Top Tips for Visiting Reykjavik
Reykjavik City Card – Purchasing a Reykjavik City Card is the best tip we can give you for exploring the capital. With free unlimited transport on buses around the city, entry to museums, galleries, thermal pools, the city zoo, and discounts in restaurants and cultural venues, the City Card is the ultimate travel companion for your trip to Reykjavik.
Bring clothes for all occasions – With the highly changeable weather in Iceland, we recommend packing for all seasons. Especially if venturing outside the city limits to explore some of the waterfalls and hikes in the Greater Reykjavik area, you’ll need waterproof jackets, warm layers, and comfortable walking shoes. Bring a swimsuit and towel for the geothermal pools, too!
Book in advance – If possible, we recommend booking your accommodation, tours, and rental vehicle in advance. Things tend to book up quickly because Iceland, and specifically Reykjavik, are becoming ever-more-popular tourist destinations for visitors from around the world, especially in summer.
When to Visit Reykjavik
Need some help planning the timing of your Reykjavik vacation? Our guide to the different seasons in Reykjavik will give you some idea of what to expect in the Icelandic capital at different times of the year.
Reykjavik in Summer
Experience almost 24 hours of daylight when you visit Reykjavik during the summer months, at which time it’s possible to watch the midnight sun. With an average temperature of 12°C in summer, reaching a maximum of around 25°C and a minimum of about 7°C, Reykjavik's summer weather is mild and generally warmer than most places on the island.
By visiting Reykjavik in summer, you’ll have more chances to explore your picks of the top attractions in Iceland, as some places are only open and accessible in summer. During the summer months, such as August in Iceland, you’ll be able to explore the capital and the rest of this enchanting island to your heart’s content.
Reykjavik in Winter
Reykjavik's winter weather averages around 1 to 2°C, with a minimum of about -10°C and a maximum of around 10°C. With long, dark nights and short daylight periods of around 4 hours in December, winter in Reykjavik is a great time to spot the Northern Lights!
It’s important to be aware that not all attractions will be open in winter due to harsh weather and potentially heavy snowfall. However, with fewer tourists and many interesting sights to visit in the city, Reykjavik is still a brilliant destination to visit during winter.
The autumnal months, as winter approaches, is also a fantastic time to visit Reykjavik. Iceland in October is as magical as all year round!
Get ready for your adventure in Reykjavik, Iceland
Now you’re all clued up on the best that Reykjavik has to offer, it’s time to get planning for your Icelandic adventure. Get inspired for your Reykjavik vacation by scheduling your itinerary, reserving your campervan in Iceland, and booking those days off work – we know you want to!