8 Incredible Things to do in Reykjavik

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It’s a lively, bustling and colorful place. It’s the cultural hub, the transport hub, the culinary hub and pretty much, everything else too, in Iceland. Any trip to the country will start and end here in the city, and there are plenty of things to do in Reykjavik to keep you entertained and intrigued by this unique northern capital.

Reykjavik is the largest city in Iceland and the city where you will find that the vast majority of the locals in this sparsely populated and wild, but beautiful country living.

From national museums that tell the enthralling tales of Norse sagas and settlement of this icy island, to the modern, distinctive architecture of the churches and theaters and the vibrant colors of the buildings in the capital, Reykjavik is a place that you can wander endlessly – until it gets too cold that is.

Visit the Blue Lagoon to warm up and relax, or try one of the many less touristy and more local public swimming pools, heated by geothermal energy from under the surface of the earth.

Outside of the city, you can find vast landscapes and otherworldly nature, from powerful, explosive geysers to the Silfra Fissure, where continents are quite literally moving apart from each other. To help you decide how to make the most of your time in the Icelandic capital, here’s our ultimate list of things to do in Reykjavik.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Pocket Reykjavik (Travel Guide)

8 Best Things to do in Reykjavik

Reykjavik has a real array of sights to see and things to do, and you may find yourself returning again and again to this colorful city to uncover all the hidden gems that are just waiting to be discovered. Here are are our top picks of things to do in Reykjavik.

Sun voyager Statue - Things to do in Reykjavik

1. Take in the Museums

Iceland is a nation with an infinitely interesting history, and a history that has at times been as turbulent as the landscapes you find across the country. Reykjavik has many interesting museums to visit that explore the history of Iceland and of the city.

The best place to start is at the National Museum, where you can embark on a journey through the long history of the settlement of Iceland through to the modern-day challenges faced by this northern nation.

Those with an interest in Norse history can visit the excellent Saga Museum, which through mannequins and mock displays that brings the stories of the early Viking settlers to live in a colorful and at times gruesome manner.

The equally informative Settlement Museum is built around the ruins of a Viking longhouse that was unearthed during construction work in the city, while the Whales of Iceland Museum will help marine lovers to see the long relationship that locals have shared with the sea and with the whales that have always been an integral part of Icelandic culture.

Statue in downtown Reykjavik

2. Take a Walking Tour of Reykjavik

If it’s not too cold, then one of the best things to do in Reykjavik is to simply stroll through the streets. The city is easy to navigate and you will find much of interest along the way, from the colorful, vibrant townhouses to the unique works of art and sculptures that are hidden across the city.

Stop for a classic Icelandic hotdog, or pop into a cafe to try some local delicacies or to enjoy a warming, hot drink.

Our top recommended tours:

Lina Stock at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

3. Visit the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous tourist attractions, and it’s found just outside the city center, close to the international airport. Be sure to book tickets in advance, as this popular, man-made thermal spa only has limited spots each day, and those spots fill up quickly.

The huge lagoon is fed from the runoff of a geothermal power plant, providing hot, mineral water that’s perfect for relaxing and revitalizing in, while also continuing the centuries-old Icelandic tradition of outdoor bathing.

Our top recommended tours:

4. Try out the Public Swimming Pools

If the Blue Lagoon is too touristy for you, however, when you are in Reykjavik itself make sure to pay a visit to one of the many public swimming pools that are found across the city.

These outdoor pools, like the Blue Lagoon, are heated with geothermal energy and fed by mineral waters, but the ones in the city, although not as glamorous, are where the locals actually go to enjoy their bathing time.

Our top recommended tour: Secret Lagoon Hot Springs Tour from Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik

5. Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja is one of the city’s most iconic attractions. This elegant, yet unusually designed church is an architectural wonder, and if you eventually travel across Iceland, you will soon realize that the locals around the rest of the country too also have a thing for unusual churches.

This is the pick of them all though, and the tall tower can even be climbed for outstanding views across the city and out across the bay.

Our top recommended tours:

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik

6. Harpa Concert Hall

The Harpa Concert Hall is Reykjavik’s premier opera house, and throughout the year there is always an excellent performance of some kind on the schedule here. Even if you aren’t interested in seeing a concert, however, the building itself is uniquely Icelandic and the setting overlooking the bay is stunning.

Take a tour of the Harpa Concert Hall during your visit to Reykjavik.

Humpback whale breaching

7. Go Whale Watching

Although whales may be seen cruising by off the coast of Reykjavik throughout most of the year, the best time to guarantee a sighting is in the summer, and in particular between June and August, when the annual migrations bring these majestic creatures along the shore.

There are many companies offering whale watching tours during the summer, and it’s a beautiful way to see the spectacular scenery of Reykjavik and the surrounding coast and to hopefully have the once in a lifetime experience of spotting a whale in the open ocean.

Our top recommended tours:

Thingvellir National Park in Iceland

8. Tour the Golden Circle

Just outside of Reykjavik can be found some of Iceland’s most spectacular natural attractions. The Golden Circle is a tourist trail that takes visitors through the wild, rugged landscapes of the countryside.

The route passes through the incredibly beautiful Thingvellir National Park, where the European and North American tectonic plates are cracking apart from each other to the humbling Gullfoss Waterfall and the powerful, steaming Geysers.

The Golden Circle can be easily visited on a day trip from Reykjavik, and it makes for an excellent way to enjoy Iceland’s unusual and strangely wonderful natural scenery, without straying too far from the city itself.

You can book onto a tour, but it’s recommended to self-drive, in order to really enjoy the trip at your own pace and to add in any of the countless other stops along the way that you will run into.

Our top recommended tours:

 Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland

How to Travel to Reykjavik

Reykjavik has become increasingly easy to visit from Europe and from the USA, as the city is now not only a transport hub for Iceland but also a popular stopover point on transatlantic routes. Most visitors will fly in, however, there are a few cruise lines that also call into port during the summer months.

The main international airport is located just outside Reykjavik, at Keflavik. Many operators have regular schedules and competitive prices, including Icelandair, Easyjet, SAS, Delta and Wizz Air from various locations.

Keflavik International Airport is located just a short bus ride away from the city center, or you can rent a car at the airport and begin your Icelandic journey as soon as you land. Domestic flights to and from Reykjavik operate from a separate, smaller airport, and here local airlines can take you further afield to cities such as Akureyri in the north.

Long-distance bus travel in Iceland is limited, however, there are limited services to the southern coast and to Akureyri from Reykjavik. If you are on a self-drive trip around Iceland, then Reykjavik is the start and the endpoint of the extensive Route 1 ring road that traverses the entire circumference of the island.

Search for Flights with Priceline or Skyscanner.

Things to do in Reykjavik - street statues

How to Get Around Reykjavik

Reykjavik is a fairly small city to explore, and the main sights within the center can all be visited on foot, as this is a quiet and pedestrian-friendly place. Cycling is also a very popular option. Public buses also cover most of the city, and these are easy and – in terms of Icelandic prices anyway – a good value.

Tourists can even buy a Reykjavik City Card, which gives unlimited access to public transport and entrance to certain sights and museums.

Exploring on your own? Don’t forget: Lonely Planet Reykjavik City Map

Our Top Recommended Tours of Iceland:

  • Land of the Northern Lights– Start and end in Reykjavik! With the discovery tour Land of the Northern Lights – 5 days, you have a 5-day tour package taking you through Reykjavik, Iceland and 8 other destinations in Iceland. Land of the Northern Lights – 5 days includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
  • Land of Northern Lights– Start and end in Reykjavik! With the discovery tour Land of Northern Lights, you have a 5 day tour package taking you through Reykjavik, Iceland and 7 other destinations in Iceland. Land of Northern Lights includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
  • Landmannalaugar Pearl of the Highlands– Start and end in Reykjavik! With the hiking & trekking tour Landmannalaugar Pearl of the Highlands – 3-day Tour, you have a 3-day tour package taking you through Reykjavik, Iceland and 3 other destinations in Iceland. Landmannalaugar Pearl of the Highlands – 3 Day Tour is a small group tour that includes accommodation as well as an expert guide, meals, transport.
  • G Adventures Explore Iceland– At the place where two continental plates brush up against each other is Iceland, land of fire and ice. Get up close to this unique country on a nine-day exploration of its natural highlights. Make your way through lava tube caves. Watch the living Earth in action at some of the island’s volcanoes. Explore the rocky, mountainous landscapes of the stunning Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Relax in incredible hot springs and keep your eyes peeled for whales off the coast. Find your element in a place of extreme elements.
  • G Adventures Best of Iceland– If you’re looking for a fast but full visit around Iceland, this seven-day trip fits the bill perfectly. It has tons of hidden gems that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, combined with free time to experience plenty of highlights, like erupting geysers, visiting glacier lagoons, and exploring breathtaking waterfalls and black-sand beaches. Be sure to pack your sense of adventure and get ready to feel Iceland under your feet.

Blue Lagoon - Divergent Travelers

Best Time of Year to Visit Reykjavik

Reykjavik is the most northern capital city in the world, and due to its position near the Arctic Circle, it experiences very extreme seasonal differences in weather and in daylight hours.

Unlike much of the rest of the country, which can be more severely affected by the weather in winter, however, Reykjavik as a city destination can be visited year-round, as long as you don’t mind experiencing the cold, snow and lack of sunlight during winter.

The best time though to pay a visit to the city is in summer when the weather is warm and there are almost 24 hours of daylight. The summer season runs from June through to September, and this is the busiest and most expensive time of the year to visit.  

Recommended Tours
Best of Iceland
7 days
Trip Type: Small Group
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Explore Iceland
9 days
National Geographic
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Complete Iceland
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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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