A country as big and as full of gorgeous as Iceland is bound to offer countless things for a tourist to explore, sometimes so many that one gets overwhelmed and ends up getting confused or scared. If your trip is going to be a long one that can accommodate all of the top experiencing that are scattered throughout the country, well and good. But if you are short on time, say, making a stopover in the capital city for a few days, and want to make the best of the time that you spend in the country then yes, the key lies in the detail. Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik is a wonderful packed city with a version of most of Iceland’s top attractions. If looked closely, the capital city itself may take several days to cover for a tourist who is not afraid to walk a few miles.
Reykjavik is Iceland’s largest civilization and is well-known for its glorious nightlife, music festivals, and other festivals that it hosts, the landmarks, the lavish hotels, and the one only, the Blue Lagoon. Just like any other place in the world or in Iceland itself, there are several things that one must do when in the capital city, some unmissable experiences and some things or places that you can not find anywhere else in the country. So, the next time you make a stop in Iceland, or the capital city per se, do not forget to add at least a few of the top things to do in Reykjavik from this carefully crafted list of ours.
Top 12 Things to Do in The Capital City
The land of natural wonders, Reykjavik, offers a lifetime experience for travelers. From cultural milestones to the natural wonder of Northern lights, it has something for everyone. Are you wondering where to start? Here are our top 12 list of things to do in and around Reykjavik:
Climb to Hallgrimskirkja
The largest church of Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja, is located in the middle of Reykjavik. With just 900 kronor, you can take the lift to the top of the church to enjoy a 360-degree view of the city. Its 74 meters high tower provides a panoramic view of the city, the mountains around, and the coasts stretching from Greenland to all the way to America. The tower remains open during the daytime except for Sundays when it closes for few hours for mass services.
The church is named after famous Icelandic poet and pastor, Hallgrimur Petursson. The church has a beautiful design similar to basalt columns found throughout Icelandic architecture. Designed by the famous architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, the building also houses the largest concert organ in Iceland. The 15m tall concert organ gives an impression of an Opera concert hall. Just in front of the church is the statue of Leif Eriksson, who is believed to discover North America 500 years before Columbus.
Go Shopping on Laugavegur Street
Once you climb down from the majestic Hallgrimskirja church, you would probably like to explore the city and around. For exploring the streets, take a bike or best walk on foot. If shopping in mind, there is no better place than Laugavegur Street in Iceland. Here, you will find all of the city’s best bars, galleries, and restaurants. Located in the heart of the city, the high-end street is also known for its renowned boutiques, exhibition, and museums. It’s great during the day, but greatest during night time. So save some energy to enjoy the vibrant night-life of Laugavegur.
The streets are named after Nordic legends. You will find Odin’s street, Thor’s street, Loki’s Path, and many more streets named after legendry figures. You will also find many local guides and information outlets for far-out destinations throughout Iceland. Think of Laugavegur as the place representing the entire country’s culture and their obsession with design. Explore the streets, you will come to know yourself why travelers love to roam around this Laugavegur.
Check out the Best Restaurants
The Icelandic cuisine and crafted beers worth your time after a long walk on Laugavegur Street. Seafood and grilled meats are the most common local cuisines you will find in most Icelandic restaurants. Even international cuisines such as Thai, Mexican, Indian, Chinese and European are available at restaurants around the city. Top restaurants offer traditional local foods such as smoked lamb, dried fish, and herring you would love to savor. Some of the top-class restaurants worth checking out are Burro Restaurant, Dill Restaurant, and Fish Company. The plant-based or vegetarian dishes have been also on the rise in the city thanks to the rising culture of veganism. The most popular vegan destinations are Veganaes and Gardurinn. If you are looking for more vegan restaurants in Reykjavik you might want to check out this article. Every year in the month of February, Food and Fun Festival is organized to showcase the fusion of local and international cuisines for one week. If you happen to be around this time, enjoy the week-long food festival to remember the taste of your lifetime. You can also hire a tour guide for a few hours if you truly want to explore Iceland’s most delicious delicacies.
Visit Harpa Concert Hall
One of the greatest landmarks in Iceland is the Harpa concert hall. Opened in 2011, the building features a top-notch design inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. Harpa was designed by renowned architects Henning Larsen and Batteríið Architects in association with Olafur Eliasson. It was designed to be an architectural icon. The architects took inspiration from the Northern Lights and scenic beauty of Iceland, the building is on the border between land and sea. The building became more popular when Netflix’s Black Mirror showcased this mesmerizing design in the episode ‘Crocodile’.
There is something going on every night of the week, from music concerts to theatre-dramas, and free concerts. The building remains open to the public from early morning till late at night. However, the best time to enjoy and appreciate this cultural icon is around night when the façade’s shifting color-patterns light up the night sky. If you are a music lover, you should probably visit Harpa during the annual Iceland Airwaves music festival, one of the world’s premium music showcases.
Visit the Museums
Museums are not just the houses of ancient objects; they are the gateway of time-travel. Iceland’s museums offer the gateway to see its transition from past to present. From the first settlers to modern art and sculpture, Iceland’s museums will give you an overview of this wonderful culture situated on the North Atlantic. The National Gallery of Iceland showcases the 19th-20th century’s Icelandic art, including the artifacts from this period. Several exhibitions take place around the year featuring national and international artists around the world. The museum recently acquired the archives of the pioneers of video art, Steina and Woody Vasuka. The Vasuka Chamber is one of the first of its kind which aims to become a pioneer in electronic and media art houses.
The literary history is well preserved in the Cultural House located in Hverfisgata (Reykjavík). Built before the outbreak of WWI, the building has been protected as a historical building. Inside the museum, the Reading Hall has been preserved as it is for more than 100 years. If you are into modern art then Reykjavík City Museum should perhaps be on your list. This building is a perfect example of Nordic Modernism showcasing the works of the most prominent artist of Iceland, Johannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972).
There are other notable museums which worth your visit:
- The National Museum of Iceland
- Viking World Museum
If you are interested in the best museums in Reykjavik, you might want to check out this article on the topic.
Go To the Swimming Pools
Swimming pools are unlike other pools you probably have set foot into. Iceland has been gifted with hot springs and hot water pools, and inhabitants have found a way to use them since the settlement. You would be surprised to know that most of the Icelandic homes are heated with water from hot springs. Swimming pools are just not a bathing place, they are meeting points for lovers, gossips, and much more. They are engraved into Icelandic culture. The largest swimming pool in the city is Laugardalslaug. It is a public thermal bath and swimming pool complex featuring two 50-meters pools, 7 hot tubs ranging in heat, a steam bath, a cold tub, a large water slide, and more. The pool is the most popular among locals and tourists alike.
Sundhöllin is another swimming pool complex providing great amenities and facilities. The pool is located in the downtown Reykjavik area. There are several others, around 15 more swimming pools you can choose from in Reykjavik. You will find it strange but it has been around for years. In every shower room, you will find a poster explaining how to wash different parts. These rules have been coded several years ago to keep the water clean. The hot-tubs have a standard temperature of 38°-40° Celsius or 100°-104° Fahrenheit. On the other hand, most of the pools have 27°-30° Celsius or 80°-86° Fahrenheit. These hot water tubs and pools provide an escape from the chilly winters of Iceland.
Walk Around Reykjavik
You can’t capture all the scenic beauties of this beautiful city without setting your foot on the streets. Walking through the city can be an enthralling experience. It makes for an incredibly unique experience. Although smaller in area, Reykjavik offers a number of different zones that have their own feel. Take a bicycle if you want to complete the city-tour in one day. Start from the Sun Voyager statue which resembles a Viking longboat. On a clear sunny day, you can also get a great view of mount Esja just opposite the statue. Your next destination would be Harpa cultural hall (as mentioned above), a stunning glass building. Peek inside and attend a cultural event if you wish to. If you are looking to shopping at cheaper rates then you must visit the Flea Market. It opens only on Saturdays and Sundays, located just across the Harpa. Tired and hungry, take lunch at the Old Harbour. It features fresh fish restaurants, unique culture, and Icelandic tradition. Once you are all charged up with fresh foods, take a turn at The Plaza. If interested in legislative buildings, you must visit the Parliament Building and Prime Minister’s House. These are the must-visit spots if you are short on time.
Explore the Public Gardens
Iceland is known for its unique natural landscapes, with plains of volcanic ashes, fields of lava rocks, and glaciers. Although the whole of Iceland offers great landscapes, nonetheless the Reykjavik itself hosts some of the beautiful public parks and gardens. The most popular park of the city is Hljómskálagarðurinn Park.
Some of the gardens you would love to visit are given below:
Gardens and parks are scattered around the city for people to have a rest or spend a lazy day.
Check out Flyover Iceland
Flyover Iceland is the new attraction of Reykjavik . It is a center that utilizes the latest technologies that give you the feeling of flight virtually flying over glaciers, fjords, and Icelandic landscape. You can virtually explore all of Iceland in a few minutes. If you opt for this enthralling journey, get ready as your feet will be dangling before a 20-meter spherical screen taking you on a virtual journey of your lifetime. The film showcasing on-screen uses special effects; along with artificial use of wind, mist, and scents created during the journey. Flyover Iceland is located in the Grandi district of Reykjavik, easily accessible by bus, car, or on foot. Get ready for the virtual journey of your lifetime.
Watch the Northern Lights or The Midnight Sun
Northern lights also known as Aurora Borealis is a natural wonder that occurs mainly in the far northern part of the earth. And there is no better place to witness this than Iceland. It occurs mainly in the winter season. This wonderful phenomenon, waves of green and gold glittering in the clear sky, must be on your list of places you must visit before you die. However, to witness the northern lights you might need some luck. If you are staying in the capital city of Reykjavik, travel to Grótta in Seltjarnarnes where there are higher chances of this natural phenomenon occurring. You can check out the best places to see the northern lights in Reykjavik, but the best way to maximize your chances of seeing the lights dance above the skies is probably to hire an expert Northern Lights guide. As guides are mostly local and they know when and where to witness the Northern Lights.
If you visiting Iceland during the summer time, you should definitely enjoy the midnight sun in the city.
Experience the Nightlife
The city of Reykjavik illuminates in the night. Night-out has been one of the favorite time-pass among the local population. It’s like the whole of the city reborn once again at night. Harpa concert hall hosts a number of musical nights, stand-up comedy and various other cultural activity which can best be enjoyed during the night. Downtown Reykjavik has a number of bars, restaurants, and pubs open till late at night. You will find a vast majority of locals along with tourists sitting around these places. If you love talking to strangers then there can be no better place than bars in Reykjavik. Many of these outlets offer ‘Happy Hours’ to make your spending cheaper. You can find the Happy Hours’ timing displayed outside the establishments. What can be more relaxing than a glass of crafted beer in the beautiful town of Reykjavik?
Book an Activity With A Local Guide
Do you want to go on glacier hiking or ice-cave tours? The best way to enjoy these adventurous journeys is by taking the help of local guides. You can get a pick up for your tour in Reykjavik city, and head out to the countryside to explore those adventures.
The most popular activities include:
We are sure that if you have a list of places to visit in a lifetime, Reykjavik must be on that list. This capital city of Iceland offers a unique blend of Viking culture and beautiful landscape which few other cities can match. Whether you want to go on a glacier hiking adventure or see the mesmerizing Northern Lights, Reykjavik has something for everyone.