What to see and do in Reykjavík? This was the first question I asked myself immediately after buying airline tickets to Iceland. With its 120,000 inhabitants and a very small historic center, Reykjavík cannot really be defined as a metropolis, much less a city of art.
Put simply, after having been to other Northern Capitals e having visited Stockholm ed Helsinki, I didn't have high expectations.
Reykjavík actually doesn't offer much more than just the chance to walk around the small town and take the time to soak up the local atmosphere. And instead, this is exactly what I liked and that left me happy to have been there.
Plus Reykjavík is super organized and thanks to its small size and great tours around it is a destination where you can have a lot of fun.
- Top 10 Things to See and Do in Reykjavík
- 1.1 The Hallgrim Chiesa
- 1.2 Harpa Concert Hall
- 1.3 Vikin Maritime Museum
- 1.4 See the Aurora Borealis
- 1.5 Go hunting (photographic) for Whales
- 1.6 Golden Circle
- 1.7 Relax at the Blue Lagoon
- 1.8 Walking in Laekjargata
- 1.9 Whales of Iceland Museum of Whales
- 1.10 Icelandic National Museum
- Other Things to Do and See
- When to go, best time
- Hotel and Guesthouses in Reykjavík
- How to get there and public transport
Top 10 Things to Do and See in Reykjavík
We began our visit to the city center with what we could call the symbol of Reykjavík: the Chiesa Di Hallgrim.
Let me tell you: it's bad. It's okay that I know absolutely nothing about modernism, expressionism and other forms of art but looking at it from the outside it looks like a rocket ready to be fired into the universe.
Hallgrim Church (in Icelandic is Hallgrimskirkja) with its tower is located in an elevated position and is visible from every corner of Reykjavík. You will not struggle to find it.
From the inside it's a little better, but nothing fancy anyway, despite the impressive organ. The visit to the top of its almost 75-meter tower is really worth it: from up there you can see the 365-degree panorama of the city.
Together with view from Perlan (another ugly building also the one located on another hill with an unpronounceable name) is one of the most beautiful images of Reykjavík.
The church is dedicated to the poet / pastor Hallgrimur Petursson and its bizarre shape recalls the basalt columns of the Svartifoss waterfall, in the south of the island.
The three bells of the bell tower represent him, his wife and daughter, who died at a young age.
In front of the church entrance there is a statue of Leif Erikson, a navigator who, according to the Viking sagas discovered North America roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus.
Hallgrim Church is open every day except Sundays when there are religious services.
Harp Concert Hall
THEHarp Concert Hall is a large glass building located right on Reykjavík's old harbor.
It is worth seeing not only because it is a beautiful construction, but also because the reflections on the glass offer beautiful photo opportunities.
If I had had enough time I would have spent more time here, especially for the upcoming events and shows. When I was in Reykjavík there were two of them that I would have loved to see: How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes e Ancient Sagas of Iceland.
If you are lucky, it may happen that during your stay there is also a concert by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra or, if you are doubly lucky, it could happen during the Sónar Reykjavík electronic music festival.
So take a look at the event schedule (you find here) before leaving!
Vikin Maritime Museum
Set up inside the buildings of the old Reykjavík Trawler Company icebox (perfect place I would say), right next to the old port, the Vikin Maritime Museum it is really worth a visit, if only for the importance that fishing has had in the history of Icelanders.
Fishing has always been a source of wealth and wealth. Virtually all of Icelandic society has developed around this. The museum wants to tell the story with videos, photographs and various objects.
Seriously you can't miss it, it's very interesting.
One of the things I liked the most was there shark fishing exhibition, which was hunted to produce oil. This oil represented a great resource: it was in fact exported to Denmark.
Just think that all the streets of Copenhagen were lit by lamps powered by Icelandic shark oil!
Next to the museum, but now part of it, there is the ship Óddin (can be visited with a guided tour) which he took part in at Cod wars between Iceland and England: between 1950 and 1976 unarmed wars broke out (there was a pact not to kill each other) for the rights and borders of fishing areas in the Atlantic.
Icelandic fishing boats and British trawels fought their "war" with ramming, sabotage and "naval battles".
The Icelanders also invented a secret weapon: a large cutting pliers that were used to shred the nets of the opponents!
See the Northern Lights
Unfortunately it is not so taken for granted. The aurora is a spiteful one and it is absolutely not certain that she decides to be seen. It can be observed when it gets dark so the summer months are not suitable for this activity.
Maybe you might like: Aurora Borealis in Iceland: How, Where and When
In winter the agencies organize all sorts of tours: if you don't have a car or a camper as we did, booking a tour is the only possible choice.
There are tours for all tastes: private tours, bus tours, boat cruises to see the aurora while sailing in front of the city.
I have already told you when I saw killer whales in Iceland and what whale watching has taught me.
I took a hike in the Snaeffelsness Peninsula, but whale watching tours are also organized from Reykjavík.
Not every month the sightings are the same and nature does what it likes so no one can guarantee you 100% that you will spot whales, but the odds are very high.
Iceland is indeed a great place for whale watching. The abundance of fish in the sea around the island makes for a perfect habitat for 23 different types of cetaceans including minke whales, humpback whales, dolphins and sea killer whales.
La best season, or rather, the one with the possibility of seeing more animals, is the summer from May to September, but winter offers the unique possibility of taking pictures with a wonderful light, having snow-capped mountains as a background and why not, maybe even see the Northern Lights.
La choice of agency is very important and I advise you to rely on it to THIS tour that offers responsible sighting and that, if you don't see whales, gives you the tour also the next day!
Reykjavík is the perfect base for a world-famous day tour Golden Circle, one of Iceland's most popular destinations.
If you don't have a car to do it yourself or if you are alone and don't want to spend a fortune on renting it, you can book the tour on GetYourGuide without spending a fortune.
The Golden Circle is a circular route that covers three of the island's major attractions: The Thingvellir National Park (where the Eurasian and North American plates meet), the spectacular Valley of the Geyser at Haukaladur (Geysir and Strokkur) and the so-called golden waterfall, Gullfoss.
The tour, whether by car or organized, takes the whole day.
The Golden Circle is a great option if you don't have time to tour all of Iceland, but don't want to give up the best it can offer.
Relax at the Blue Lagoon
As I told in my article on the Blue Lagoon I went there, turned on my heels and ran away, but given the influx of tourists who visit it every day, I'm probably one of the few, if not the only one, who didn't like it.
There is one more thing to say.
In my opinion there are better spas in Iceland, but if you don't have much time or don't have a car but don't want to give up splashing around in the thermal waters, the Blue Lagoon is the best and the only opportunity you have to do so.
These spas are located in a privileged position between the capital and the international airport of Keflavik, so a good choice is to spend a few hours before leaving or immediately upon arrival.
But you must also have a rental car here.
If you don't have a car, don't despair anyway: as I said before in Reykjavík they are very organized and it is very easy to find a tour suitable for any need.
Also at the Blue Lagoon, of course.
Of course, it is also possible to get there by bus, but you have to check the timetables as they change according to the season.
Please note: and you have to book in advance, because especially in high season the Blue Lagoon is always packed with tourists. If you don't book, you can queue for seven hours including the option that they eventually decide not to let you in.
So if you really want to go, keep this in mind!
Passeggiare in Laekjargata, Laugavegur Street and Skólavörðustígur Street
Laekjargata it is a street in the center with some of the oldest houses in Reykjavík and is full of life thanks to the numerous bars (including the Hard Rock Cafe), restaurants and shops.
The name of the road derives from a spring that flowed here and was used to navigate to the sea.
Across the street is the Government House where the Prime Minister's office is located and the funny thing is that it used to be a prison.
From the government house, turning left you enter Laugavegur Street, Reykjavík's busiest shopping street. Once this was the route that Icelanders took to go to their spas and where they washed their clothes.
Why am I telling you this? Because the translation literally means "washing road". Today it is the coolest street in the city: cafes and clubs alternate with fashion and souvenir shops.
If you want to buy the typical Icelandic lopapeysa (a warm wool sweater with particular designs at chest height) you have a wide choice here.
Surely the lopapeysa is a nice gift and one of the most purchased "souvenirs" by travelers. And it is not even a tourist souvenir as so many Icelanders wear it: the wool is warm and of quality and is worth every euro of its (expensive) price.
On the corner with Laugavegur Street is the most beautiful street in Reykjavík and the one with the most unpronounceable name: Skólavörðustígur Street. Going along it you arrive straight at the Hallgrim Church.
Museo Whales of Iceland
A museum dedicated entirely to cetaceans. Fantastic for families with children, for me it was one of the most interesting exhibitions I could have found: an interactive exhibition created in an environment that, with lights and sounds, recalls the underwater world.
The Icelandic Marine Research Institute and Elding (yes, the family I recommended earlier for Whale Watching) have worked together to create the largest research and educational project on the whole island: Whales of Iceland.
Research has been carried out for decades with satellite monitoring of cetaceans around Iceland: this has allowed us to understand their behavior and habits.
Every year Whales Of Iceland tells, educates and makes tens of thousands of children dream that come here from all over the world to get to know these wonderful mammals.
I liked it a lot as I told you: I really liked the videos (one of which is really interesting on the hunting techniques of sea killer whales) and the information sheets that I found simple, but very precise and thorough.
Whales Of Iceland is located at Fiskislóð 23, near the old port and about a 15-minute walk from the center of Reykjavík.
Icelandic National Museum
If you go to Reykjavík and want to immerse yourself deeply in Icelandic culture (both present and past), this is a must-see museum.
Il Icelandic National Museum offers a variety of fascinating exhibits and a permanent display that accurately illustrates the history of the past, from the days of Viking settlements to present-day contemporary culture.
The main exhibit has over 2000 artifacts discovered in various parts of the country.
Among the many treasures of the museum there is a special place Valthjófsstadur gate, with elaborate medieval engravings depicting scenes from the tale of The Knight of the Lion the legendary knight of the twelfth century.
Other Beautiful Things in Reykjavík
Il Sun Voyager is a steel sculpture by the artist Jón Gunnar Árnason which represents a Viking boat but whose meaning is meant to remind the sun and the "dream boat".
To me it seemed more like an insect but as written above I understand little if any of art.
Surely the position in which it was placed is magical.
The sculpture points towards the baia Faxaflói with the mythical mountain behind it Esja: if you come here when the light is low at sunset (or why not, in the midnight sun!) you will be struck by the romanticism that this place can arouse in any traveler.
Tours in the surroundings
There are many tours that agencies organize from Reykjavík, I will not spend many words on them because I think I have already bored you enough: even just to get an idea see this GetYourGuide page.
However, among the things that I recommend you do, for example if you decide to spend more than one day in Reykjavik (in addition to the aforementioned Golden Circle and Snaeffelsness Peninsula) there are:
1 – SkógafossIf you love waterfalls, Skógafoss in southwestern Iceland is definitely not to be missed. A dramatic drop of water from a high cliff, it's worth making the four-hour (and a little) round trip from the capital to see it.
2 - Ghiacciaio Langjökull: glaciers and Iceland are synonymous, and it would be a shame not to see at least one. You can see Iceland's second largest ice cap in size and perhaps the most famous, Langjökull, on a day trip from the capital.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
I've seen a lot of museums in my life, but I keep wondering how anyone can come up with such a bizarre, er how to say, collection.
Il Icelandic Phallological Museum in fact it exhibits a collection of 209 "phalological samples", or parts of them, belonging to almost all the mammals present in Iceland.
Strange isn't it? Even more strange that there are honorary members (have they made a personal donation?). I don't know if it's interesting or not, it's certainly a very, very special museum.
The next time I go to Reykjavík for sure I go to visit it.
Would you like to know more? Read my post on really unmissable excursions from Reykjavik!
There are many museums in Reykjavík and perhaps you might also be interested in these:
- The Viking Saga Museum: dedicated to Viking history and its heroes.
- Settlement Museum: A museum for archeology enthusiasts displays the ruins of ancient Icelandic settlements.
- Arbaer Open Air Museum: an open-air display of ancient Icelandic houses.
Reykjavík is a small city and this is its strong point.
The offer to go out in the evening is very high, and especially in Laugavegur Street you can find all kinds of clubs and music: from underground clubs to classy clubs in which to go with good clothes.
The prices for alcohol are ridiculously high. For this reason, Icelanders often prefer to drink at home all together to get the right amount of alcohol in their veins and then go out to listen to music somewhere.
The premises also keep open until 5 or 6 in the morning.
A good choice is to take part in a pub crawling tour or a beer tour, on the web there are many.
These are two of the most famous (and most recommended) places to go for a "beer":
Skúli Craftsbar: Although not cheap, this bar offers the best beers in all of Iceland. The place is comfortable and relaxed. In short, here you will find the most awarded beers on the island and if you are an amateur you can't miss it.
Si trova in Aðalstræti 9, 101 Reykjavík.
Microbar: just a stone's throw from the Skulí Craftbar this is the second bar that I recommend.
The top beers are those of Gæðingur brewery and listen to me, try the dark ones.
When to go and weather
I don't think there is a better time to go to Reykjavík and all of Iceland in general.
The temperatures in winter are low, there are few hours of light and a hellish wind blows, but the Northern Lights and the snow-covered landscapes make the trip unforgettable to say the least.
Learn more: how to visit Iceland in winter, useful tips.
Same in summer. August is the month besieged by tourists, but the temperatures are pleasant (even if you have to bring something heavy because it can get cold) and if you are lucky you can see the aurora.
The months of June and July are excellent because the days are long, the temperatures are good and the tourists are few.
In addition, you can witness the midnight sun.
In the intermediate seasons, spring and autumn, tourists are few, prices drop and nature explodes in all its unimaginable colors.
In short, Iceland makes its best all year round.
The weather in Iceland is schizophrenic. On the same day you can have sun, rain, hail and even snow. You must therefore leave prepared in every season of the year!
Hotel di Reykjavík
Given the tourist boom that Iceland has been experiencing in recent years, and to respond to an ever-increasing demand, new hotels and guesthouses are born in Reykjavík all the time.
However, the choice is high: deciding where to stay depends above all on everyone's needs.
If you want visit Reykjavík and that's it, the best choice is definitely to stay in downtown, but if Reykjavík is used as a base for excursions, you can easily find something a little further away from the center but that fully meets your needs.
Here you will find some recommended hotels: it is important, given the influx of tourists especially in August, book well in advance so as not to run the risk that the best choices are already exhausted and you are forced to choose hotels with a worse quality / price ratio.
Guest Guesthouse: A top seller on booking.com, this property has clean rooms, shared bathrooms, an excellent location, and a three-minute walk from Hallgrimskirkja Church. The rooms go away quickly.
REK Inn: by far the best choice for quality / price. Here too the rooms go away like hotcakes so if you find a place don't miss it. Like the GestInn Guesthouse, this is also a budget option, but has both en suite and shared bathroom rooms.
Ranargata Apartment: perfect studios for couples. We went here and really enjoyed it very, very well. It is located 200 meters from the old port of Reykjavík.You want to learn more? Read my post on where to sleep in Reykjavik!
How to get there and public transport
Even if theKeflavik International Airport it is not really close to the city, transport is frequent and well scheduled.
There are two types of buses:
Airport Express: operated by Gray Line Iceland, has scheduled departures to Reykjavík 35-40 minutes after each flight that lands, in perfect time to grab your suitcase and board.
The same on the way back: the buses are perfectly scheduled for each flight, both when you arrive and when you leave.
Flybus: scheduled transports such as Airport Express. Even with them it is best to book through their website first.
To get around the city, on the other hand, there are the yellow buses of the Strætó that go almost everywhere. There are no trains, much less the subway.
Tickets can be bought on the bus but only if you have cash. Alternatively they can also be found in shopping centers or at the Mjódd bus station.
However, there is another solution: the diStrætó app through which you can buy them, or there are one or three day tickets.
Another option is the Reykjavík city card which allows you to ride the buses without limits for one, two or three days, also giving free access to some museums (in others the discount) to the geothermal pools and to the Reykjavík Family Zoo.
There are no buses at night and taking a taxi is the only option available. Taxis have their stops downtown in Ingólfstorg and Lækjartorg. You can also hail a taxi on the street if it has turned on the “free” sign. Generally the service is very efficient and super safe.
Iceland in general is expensive, but prices change a lot depending on the season. In August they reach their maximum because the influx of tourists is very high.
Going in June or July allows you to save something, even if it certainly cannot be defined as a cheap holiday.
Car rental: in October for example therenting a cheap car (as from Rentalcars website) costs around 30 euros a day, but the price obviously changes depending on the season and the type of car: in August the same car can cost up to 50/60 euros a day, while for a 4 × 4 the prices go up.
Maybe you might like: How to drive safely in Iceland.
Hotels, hostels and guesthousesPrices in Reykjavík are not low, not even for dormitory hostels or shared bathrooms. It costs an average of 25 euros per night. For a room with private bathroom in the hotel you spend even more.
In short, if you find as I said above a cheap accommodation catch it on the fly. An alternative is AirBnb for renting private apartments.
Restaurants: going to a restaurant is expensive, especially if you want to try typical dishes that are a bit particular like it shark or the whale (please don't do it) and you can easily spend 50 euros each.
Alternatively, there are fast food places where you can eat pizza and sandwiches at an honest price, but clearly it's not the best. There are also kiosks on the streets that sell hot dogs or kebabs and are an inexpensive choice.
Hope this guide on cosa vedere a Reykjavík you enjoyed it. If you notice any inaccuracies (yes, things change over time) or if you have something to add, leave it in the comments, so as to give more and more updated information to other travelers!