There is no doubt that Iceland is a mystic land with landscapes that leave you in awe. And it is also understood that visiting a place this majestic could cost you loads of expenses. But as awe-inspiring, as Iceland is, it is also expensive. Amidst all the expensive tours of Golden Circle, the north part of Iceland, or diving in Silfra, some things in this exotic yet expensive country can be enjoyed without having to spend a fortune every time and will still offer you the authentic Icelandic experience. Even better, what if you are told there are some activities and adventures you can partake in for FREE? This guide is all about what you can do for free in the capital city of Reykjavik and enjoy every single second of your stay.
Before you get immersed in the activities that the capital city has to offer, it is important to know about its cultural significance. So, Reykjavik is surrounded by magnificent landscapes and vibrant streets. Inhabited by 125,000 people, the city is bustled with life and activities all year round. Reykjavik is the host of everything artsy, fun and frolic, and culturally rooted. The world’s northernmost capital hosts many affordable and free activities when it comes to adventures and cultural sites to explore.
- Weather Conditions: Reykjavik sees quite a few variations in the weather throughout the year. You must have heard that weather can take a turn at any time in Iceland and this fact can be seen in action in the southern parts mostly. You will get to experience the best of every season in the capital city be it summer or winter. The southern part gets most of the snow and precipitation so make sure you are carrying an umbrella when you set out to explore the city.
- Road Condition: Almost all roads are properly maintained and paved throughout the city. You will find specialized parking spots all over the city so if you want to travel around in a rented car then you can expect to find a proper spot for your vehicle.
Free Things to explore in Reykjavik
Walk down the Vibrant Streets
One of the best ways to commence a trip to a city like Reykjavik is to take a walking tour. See and explore the main sites, learn about the history and the culture of the place, and get submerged in the many-many delicacies that are available in the city. You can also hire a local guide who you can ask as many questions as you want but that may cost you a little bit. However, guides won’t be necessary to take a walk in the streets. The locals are very polite and will help you in finding quirky spots to be at. You get to explore some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sites in the city. The city is filled with gorgeous cafes, sweet little bakeries, and some very prominent landmarks that are every bit worth your time. Get indulged in the beauty and serenity of the local traditions and stories of a mystical, unknown land as you take a stroll around the city.
Go Swimming in Public Pools
There is no doubt that swimming in the Blue lagoon or diving in Silfra is for sure a fabulous way to spend some great time, but it is rather pricey and difficult to get even a single trip to these places. An Interesting fact which comes to the lovers of water: Iceland has the highest ratio of swimming pools, per capita in the world. With the country’s abundant geothermal energy, you can swim outdoors in any of Reykjavik’s swimming pools. Even though it is not completely free of cost, it is not expensive to jump in one of these beauties. Outdoors public bathing has been a tradition that dates back to the earliest days of Viking’s settlement. Now it is more of recreational activity. The pools are a place where you can meet Icelanders of all creeds, ages, and professions. Most pools in the capital open during spring and stay accessible for the general public till fall at least. The pools as just as popular during the winter time as the summer time, although the pools will fill up on the few great weather days during the summer. In a country that stays below the freezing temperature most months of the year, soaking in the outdoor pools with naturally warm water is the perfect way to end the day.
Local tips: If you tend to visit the swimming pools a lot, you can buy a card with 10 admissions to the pools in Reykjavik. This will give you more than 50% discount on each visit.
Hiking is one of the most popular and adventurous activities that Iceland has to offer. While almost all of the famous hiking tours that you may have heard of or read about do not come cheap, Reykjavik offers free access to one of the popular mountains near the city for hiking and such activities. The majestic Mount Esja is located about 10 kilometers north to the capital city features a height of 914 meters above the sea level. A distinctive feature of this volcanic mountain range is that it is made of both basalt and tuff-stone. The rumors are that it is impossible to circle the mountain because the mountain is never-ending. There are many puns and jokes built on this same rumor. Comedian and former Reykjavik mayor Jon Gnarr once humored this saying that he tried to hike and go around the mountain and ended up in Akureyri all the way in the north.
Relax at Nautholsvik Beach
Nautholsvik Beach is one of the most popular resorts in Reykjavik. It is located southwest of Oskjuhlid Hill in the central area. A unique existence for a country like Iceland, this beach is probably the only beach in the country which houses a normal bathing temperature all-year-round. The sea temperature is pleasant, somewhere between 18o to -20oC. The beach is regularly cleaned` and is a hub for sunbathing, swimming, volleyball, and sea sports. There is no admission fee involved but the opening hours vary seasonally. The beach is accessible every day in summers from 10 am to 7 pm while winters have quite a variated timing schedule. Visitors can go to the beach every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday in winter.
Enjoy Local Entertainment
Icelanders have developed a creative and artistic culture over the years, courtesy of the harsh climate outdoors. So, you get an opportunity to meet lots of painters, poets, writers, and musicians. Reykjavik has various cafes, and restaurants, that host live music and stand-up shows which can be enjoyed without having to pay even a single extra penny. How about catching one at Café Rosenberg? Several other places offer you such exclusive artistic treats such as Hlemmur Square Hostel, KEX Hostel, HI Loft Hostel, and the Drunk Rabbit Irish Pub are just a few to name. While Iceland is more about the natural sights, scenic landscapes, and the thrilling trips to the unknown, relaxing and unfolding a bit at the end of the day will only do wonders for your spirits and rejuvenate you for the raw nature.
Visit the Harpa Music Hall and Conference Center
Harpa Music Hall is one of the most important cultural landmarks in the capital city. Opened in 2011, this is a cultural and social center that is worth checking out just for the architecture itself. Harpa Music Hall hosts several events all year round that contain everything from music concerts, pride month celebrations, marathons, half-marathons, Jazz nights, and more. You can catch the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Reykjavik Big Band, and the Icelandic Opera here. The venue hosts tons of other shows and performances as well along with a guided tour of the place. The architecture of Harpa Concert hall is something of a unique quality itself. The contemporary themed architecture attracts the tourists on its own enough is surely a sight to behold – a true architectural wonder.
See Reykjavik’s Botanical Garden
Constructed in 1961, this is a beautifully-designed botanical garden that is home to over 5,000 plant species. The initial reason for the construction of this garden is to conserve the diverse flora of the country for educational purposes as well as research and delight. Reykjavík Botanical Garden features ponds, birdlife, and beautiful flora dotting the small garden. A variety of events and receptions are hosted in this garden and a free 30-minute-long tour is offered in June, July, and August every year which starts at 12:40 pm at the main entrance. There is a café nearby – named Flóran Café/Bístró – that opens in the summer from May to August end, that features dishes made with herbs and spices grown on-site in the garden. It is very popular for the exotic herb dishes and shall be paid a visit when you enjoy your free trip to the garden.
Visit the Grotta Lighthouse
If you are a fan of the fabulous bird life of Iceland, the beautiful coastlines or the scene that the setting sun creates then this lighthouse is the perfect place for you to be. The lighthouse offers some fascinating and free shows of the cute little puffins. Take a long walk along the beach and you will be able to enjoy some of the most picturesque views of the gorgeous coastline. Perfect to witness the midnight sun in the summer, the lighthouse is the perfect place to enjoy the northern lights as well.
Local tip: You can find a small hot spring located close by. It is so small that it is only for a warm foot bath, but the locals love it. The typical date night in Iceland is picking up ice cream and taking a warm foot bath with breath taking views over the fjord and Esjan Mountain.
Experience the Northern Lights / Midnight Sun
Aurora Borealis is one of the best highlights and it is also one of the top things that come free in Iceland. If you plan to visit the capital city between September and March, you will get a good chance of seeing the Aurora on a clear night. Going a few kilometers from the city would give you a clear view of the majestic night. Every night in Reykjavik, there is a potential for you to see this beautiful display in the sky. You can also get to see the Midnight Sun, a phenomenon wherein the sun never sets, during the summer time. It occurs the week before and after the Summer Solstice on June 21st. A simple picnic is one of the best ways you can enjoy the northern lights in the capital city and it’s a good thing that it is all free of cost.
A dome-shaped building called Perlan or “The Pearl” is another great place where you can get the view of the city and the surrounding area. On clear days, you can see as far as Snaefellsjokull, the 700,000-years old glacier-capped volcano that is located on the west coast of the island. A fabulous cocktail bar and restaurant are located inside the dome – a perfect place to go out, dine and, breathe in the view.
See the Sun Voyager
This iconic sculpture was built in 1990 by Icelandic sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason. It is his interpretation of discovery, using the design of a traditional Viking ship that represented the promise of discovering new territory and the freedom that comes with traveling new worlds. The Sun Voyager is defined as the dreamboat or as an ode to the sun. Fun fact about the voyager, it was built as per the hand-drawn plan of the artist and turned out to be every bit amazing as it should have been. As stunning as the sculpture is, it is free for you to pay a visit.
Meet the Locals
Iceland appreciates Couchsurfing on a whole other level. This means that people will open their homes to you and offer a home-like lodging for the trip. Prominent in Reykjavik and Akureyri, these hosts never ask their guests to pay for the stay, and guests are urged to not offer either. However, cooking a nice warm meal or helping with some other household chores can be a good way to show your appreciation. If you are looking forward to saving some money, living with the Couchsurfing community would be a smart idea. In addition to this, you can make new friends through weekly meet-ups, have chitchats about the ways of daily life in Iceland, the stories, the myths, the common and the uncommon – great way to get to know the eccentric country from inside out.
Visit Hallgriskirkja Church
Visible from every single point in the city of Reykjavik, Hallgriskirkja remains to be the most popular landmark of the city. Featuring a completely different architecture in comparison to the conventional churches found across the world, Hallgriskirkja represents the uniqueness of Iceland in a single look. It was designed by Gudjon Samuelsson in 1937, after being inspired by the fascinating shapes and forms created when lava cools into basalt rock. The church tower was the first part to be finished represents a somewhat similar structure to that of the basalt columns. The church has a notable feature a gargantuan pipe organ design – constructed by German organ builder, Klais of Bonn. This 15-meter-high beauty is driven by 4 manuals, one pedal, 72 stops, 102 ranks, and 5275 pipes which ultimately results in the creation of various powerful notes to fill up the vicinity of the church. Every tourist is urged to visit this architectural wonder at least once when in the capital city as your visit will be incomplete without it.
Bessastadir and Alftanes
Not guarded as heavily as other presidential residents around the world, Bessastadir – Icelandic “White House” and home to President Gudni and his family – is open for visitors to have a trip and of the inner and roam about anytime and any day. Located on the peninsula of Álftanes also known as the swan peninsula. While guided trips inside of the resident may cost you a bit, having a feel of the outside and surrounding area is absolutely free. While this modest red-roofed building has been a presidential resident since 1941, the roots of its history run a lot deeper to the initial settlers of Iceland.
To make it a trip, explore the Alftanes peninsula a bit further. You will get to explore the beautiful, Icelandic Gardakirkja church which took about 20 years to get constructed and take on its present form. While you are at it, do not miss the chance to go to Alftanekaffi café, which is not far from Bessastadir which is well-known for its excellent cakes, soups, and sourdough pizzas.
Meet Icelandic Artists
Art is a big part of Icelandic culture. One of the most popular contemporary painter in Iceland is Tolli. His work is inspired by the Icelandic nature. We recommend that you visit his art gallery to be inspired by the Icelandic artist as well as admiring the Icelandic nature from his pictures. If you visit the gallery at the end of your trip, you might see some of your favorite locations in his pictures. It is completely free to visit his art gallery, which is open every Friday from 3 pm – 7 pm.
Picnic in a Museum
While most museums will require a certain kind of ticket to visit them, the sculpture garden of the Einar Jónsson Art Museum is completely free of cost for you to visit. The garden is open for visitors all-year-round and people are free to sit anywhere, have a joyous meal, get familiar with the peculiar sculptures and more. The sculptures featured in the garden and inside the museum are the work of famous sculptor Einar Jónsson and are very hard to be categorized within a single type and theme. The fortress-like structure of the museum is something on its own as well. You will find yourself surrounded by fabulous pieces of art when you visit this beautiful garden.
If you feel enticed with the sculptures and want to gaze upon more of these beautiful pieces of art then you can visit the museum as well. The typical entry fee is 1000 ISK. It stays open for a visit on weekdays from 8 am to 4 pm.
Affordable yet Worthy Places to Explore
Whilst you are enjoying these fabulous free things in the capital city, there also remains some not-so-free but very cheap and affordable option to include in your schedule. If you are a fan of artifacts, folklores, and sculptures then you are in for a treat. The list of these affordable places to have fun at includes many museums and galleries. Let’s have a look:
- Visit the Reykjavik Punk Museum
- See the National Gallery of Iceland
- Head to Videy Island
- Explore the Icelandic Phallological Museum
- Pay a Visit the Saga Museum
- Get the Hotdog Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
- Relax at a Cozy Café
As fun as it is to go hiking on the popular glaciers or to take a thrilling walk on the blazing volcanos of the land of ice and fire, it is equally fun to get some freebies in the capital city and indulge in some cheap thrills. You will be surprised to find out how fun these laid back adventures and wonders are and on a brighter side, you will get to peak a vision into the real life of the locals.