Updated: Nov 2, 2022
Just like any capital around the world, there’s a lot of hustle and bustle that goes on in the city of Reykjavik. But with most things in Iceland, the experiences one can have is quite unique. We reveal the top 11 things to do in Reykjavik.
Some travelers prefer sticking around the capital during their trip to Iceland. Others simply use Reykjavik as a starting point. Either way, you are guaranteed to be welcomed by a pretty busy town. And where there are people, there are things to do. So, if you’ve been wondering what you should be putting on your Reykjavik to-do list, this handy list can guide you:
Top things to do in Reykjavik
1. Go to Elf School
Elf folklore is engrained into the Icelandic culture. Even those who don’t truly believe in these magical creatures enjoy playing along with the narrative instilled from birth. One of the most interesting Reykjavik things to do is attend Magnus Skarphedinsson’s elf school. He has spent 30 years studying these little people and you can now benefit from it by attending his 3-hour elf school sessions on Friday afternoons whilst enjoying some tea and pancakes.
2. Visit the Phallological Museum
Most will probably not believe you when you tell them that you visited a museum of penises, but it sure makes for a great story. The Phallological Museum is indeed a real place and includes penises from most of the animals roaming Iceland (including humans and even elves!).
The museum is a nice blend of serious science and humor. Keep an eye out for the flashing robot. Just as a side note, if you get a Reykjavik City Card you will get free access to a number of museums and attractions in the city. So, if you’re planning on visiting more than just the Phallological Museum, it’s worth looking into.
3. Have a Bite
Any foodie would be happy to visit Reykjavik since one of the best things to do in Reykjavik is eat some local cuisine. In fact, you can actually take food tours in the capital. One of the things that’s a very unique dish on the menu, is fermented shark. It’s a pretty stinky traditional experience that any traveler has to try at least once. Hákarl (what they call fermented shark) is a dish that was created out of necessity.
Since there were plenty of times that food was a scarce commodity on the island, the locals had to make do with what they had. And what they had included the Greenland Shark. Interestingly, the fermenting was to make the meat edible in the first place. You see, fresh Greenland Shark meat is poisonous, but after fermenting it underground for between 1.5 – 3 months it becomes safe for human consumption.
4. Turn into a Viking
Another favorite when it comes to Iceland Reykjavik things to do is popping into MINK Studio. The name is quite fitting when you enter the costume department, filled with authentic Viking clothing including all sorts of furs and an array of weapons. It should come as no surprise that you will need to book in advance for this experience.
For 45 minutes to 2 hours, you can enjoy a Viking shoot by one of the most renowned photographers in the world who actually worked on the Game of Thrones series. And you just need to view one of his final photos to understand why – he truly manages to capture your inner Viking brought to life!
5. Go Shopping
This is no ordinary shopping trip. If you’re one of those people who enjoy watching Bargain Hunters, Storage Wars, etc. then this one’s for you. One of the top things to do in Reykjavik will transport you straight into the middle of your own episode. Kolaportid Flea Market can be found at the harbor of Reykjavik. It is an old warehouse that offers up all sorts of trinkets and treasures.
From used books, and authentic Icelandic wool sweaters to souvenirs and traditional food such as dried fish – you’ll find it all in the myriad of stalls. But you’ll need to get your timing right if you’re planning on visiting as the market is only open on weekends during the winter months and all week during the summer months.
6. Watch Some Whales
So technically you can’t go whale watching within the capital itself, but most of the whale-watching tour boats embark from the Reykjavik old harbor. Iceland is home to a wide variety of whale species such as the Humpback whale, Blue Whale, Sperm Whale, Minke Whale, and many more.
Although whale spotting remains one of the things to do in Iceland Reykjavik all year round, we do suggest that you come during the summer months (so October to March is not ideal). The migratory period brings a lot more whales to the Icelandic shores and you are sure to see a wide variety of species during your 3-hour whale-watching tour.
7. Take a Walk
We highly recommend this being one of the top things to do in Reykjavik upon arrival. Reykjavik offers visitors the opportunity to go on a walking tour. Not only is this a fun activity, but it will help you get your bearings which is helpful for the rest of your stay. During the tour you will be taking a stroll around the city and whilst learning about the city itself, you’ll also be entertained with quirky stories and be immersed in the local culture. The walking tours are free, but it’s customary to give the guide a tip.
8. Admire the Architecture
Like most cities around the world, Reykjavik also has its fair share of impressive architecture to gawk at. Best of all; this is one of the things to do in Iceland Reykjavik that won’t cost you a thing. Some of the sights that are an absolute must include the Hallgrimskirkja Church, Púfa Hill, and the Harpa Concert Hall. And even though it’s not architecture, we recommend stopping by the Sun Voyager at Reykjavik’s Waterfront too. It’s an impressive steel sculpture that resembles a Viking long-ship.
9. Visit Perlan Museum
One of the best things to do in Reykjavik if you’re interested in all the natural wonders the island has to offer. Not only is the museum famous for its amazing view over the city, but it will also take you on an in-depth journey regarding some of the most unique natural experiences Iceland has. The Perlan museum has a real ice tunnel, teaches you more about volcanoes, and has a Northern Lights show (which is perfect for those who visit in the summer months and won’t be able to see the Northern Lights).
10. Take a Dip
Iceland is famous for its natural hot springs all over the island. This is due to volcanic activity heating up the underground water supply. Many locals also swear by the medicinal properties of the water, especially dermatologically (mainly because of how mineral-rich the water is). One of the best things to do in Reykjavik is to take a dip in the Sky Lagoon. The Sky Lagoon is just a 10-minute drive from the city center and doesn’t just offer the chance to lounge around the water of between 38-40 degrees Celsius, but offers amazing views over the coast.
Unlike some other hot springs on the island, Sky Lagoon does have an entrance fee, but we promise it’s worth every cent. It’s also just worth taking note that children under the age of 12 are not allowed at Sky Lagoon, so if your intent was to pack up the kids for a swim, you’ll need to look for warmer waters elsewhere.
11. Fly Over Iceland
This is the perfect solution for those who are planning on staying within the capital or are on a budget that won’t allow for much exploring beyond the borders of Reykjavik. Now you don’t need to drive a meter to see all the wonderful things Iceland has to offer.
FlyOver Iceland is a type of flying ride that makes use of extensive technology to give you the real sensation of flying over Iceland. And with added effects such as mist, wind, and smells, you truly get to experience all the magnificent sights with all your senses. The entire FlyOver Iceland experience takes a little more than half an hour and is something that’s not to be missed!
Make the most of it
Iceland as a country has a lot to offer visitors and based on our top things to do in Reykjavik list, you can see that sticking to the capital won’t make your adventure any less unique. Another way of ensuring that you have your own transport whilst cutting down on accommodation costs (allowing you to do more), is to rent a campervan.
Since traveling with motorhomes in Iceland has become so popular, there are designated parking spots for campervans all over the island, including Reykjavik. Now you can travel to all the top things to do in Reykjavik and sleep in the comfort of your own “home”. So what are you waiting for? Book your Icelandic adventure today!