You’ve finally gotten your bags from baggage claim, you have trekked from Keflavík airport, you’ve checked into your accommodations in Reykjavik. So now what? First-timers to Reykjavik will likely want to go out and explore the city, taste our food, or experience our culture. But, where should you go? What do you do? How many hot dogs are considered acceptable to eat, and how many are deemed to be bad etiquette? These are valid questions, and I am here to help! Here is a quick list of things to do during your stay in Reykjavik.
Hallgrimskirkja is a stunning piece of architecture, and it has a lot of history tied to it. You definitely know what it is if you have ever seen photos of Iceland, and you probably don’t know it by its real name. Hallgrimskirkja is our massive church that some people say looks like a spaceship. The church was constructed in the 30s, and its exterior was meant to represent our diverse and captivating landscapes here in Iceland.
Personally, I am on team spaceship. The thing looks like a retro-futuristic rocket, and I’m cool with that. Outside of the church is a statue of our most famous citizen Leif Erikson. Thanks for being so awesome, Leif! I highly recommend going inside, as its one of the cheaper activities to do in Iceland (coming in at 900 krona or around seven US bucks).
You can’t miss the church either, as it’s the tallest structure in Reykjavik. Here are two pro-tips for you, on the house. First, at the top of the church, there is a killer observation deck to survey the city and take incredible photos. Second, if you ever get lost you can orient yourself using the church! Just ask people to point you in its general direction. Boom! Didn’t think of that, did you!
Check Out Some Local Art in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has incredible public sculptures, art galleries, and street art nestled all across the city. What better way to better understand our culture than by investigating our art?! The most famous sculpture in the city is called the Sun Voyager. It is fascinating. Sitting next to the sea, this ship-like sculpture is a major tourist attraction. Swing by and snap some photos before heading off to other parts of the city.
Fun-fact: most tourists assume the ship is meant to represent a Viking warship. However, there is speculation that since the sculptor was diagnosed with terminal cancer during its construction, that maybe he saw it as a vessel to take him to the afterlife. Go visit it and report back what you think, and yes this homework does count towards your final grade. Either way, this sculpture is a stunning work of art.
Also, we have some very talented street artists here in Reykjavik. I believe that visitors wouldn’t assume our Nordic capital would have such a dynamic and thriving street art scene, but we do. All you need to do is take a walk through the city, and you will see stunning murals created by local artists. What better way to enhance your social media clout than by posing in front of some Icelandic street art?
Go On A Free City Walking Tour!
I am a big, big fan of the free walking tours whenever I go to a new city. Some people loathe them and think they are designed for the inexperienced traveler. Let me tell you the same thing I shout at my friends who feel this way. “Wrong!!!”. Going on a free walking tour is just about the smartest thing that you can do when you get to a new city. Let me explain myself.
By joining a free walking tour, you are essentially getting a crash course on how to orient yourself in the city you are visiting. The efficacy of this thought process depends on the size of the city. A city like Paris, uh yeah, you are probably not going to get a helpful orientation of the entire city. Reykjavik, on the other hand, is a perfect size! It is just small enough for you to get a great lay of the land.
Also, the guides on these tours are friendly, knowledgeable, and they can key you into some really crucial insights about our capital city. After your walk is finished, make sure you give them a generous tip (just because the tour is free doesn’t mean you can’t tip! What’s wrong with you!) and ask them in a straightforward manner where they would go or what they would do during their first trip to Iceland. You will be surprised by some of the gems and hidden locals-only spots they will turn you onto.
Eat, Drink, Be Merry
Reykjavik is known for being a city that is notoriously expensive and even more difficult to spell. Does the k come after the j, or is it y before…who cares! I am from here, and I still misspell it. Anyways, food. You are going to need to eat during your Icelandic holiday. I recommend checking out TripAdvisor and seeing what restaurants are close to your accommodation.
You may feel like I am phoning it in, but I don’t want to give you a recommendation for Icelandic food you won’t like. I care about you too much! If you need a good jumping off point for your Nordic culinary experience you can check out a previous blog I wrote about restaurants and nightlife.
And, if you are starving and genuinely don’t want to break the bank you could always go on a food tour through the city. These tours will take you to some of the most popular and famous Icelandic restaurants in Reykjavik, and you will be able to sample items from their menu. It is a great way to taste some of our traditional, and modern, dishes while saving money and making friends at the same time!
Reykjavik Tourist Center
Kind of an obligatory Reykjavik recommendation, but you should head to the tourist center to get an idea of what events are happening across the city. You could have booked your Icelandic trip right around the time of a great festival or event. However, if you don’t know what events and activities are happening around Reykjavik, then you may never know. They are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful at the tourist center, and they can provide you with details and information about tours (in and outside the city), tips for getting around, and a whole host of other details. Get a map while you are there; you never know when your phone will die, and they also make great souvenirs.
Head To Laugavegur Street
Laugavegur Street in downtown Reykjavik is always buzzing and bustling with tourists and Icelanders alike. During the summer months, the street becomes a veritable beehive of activity. Laugavegur street is most famous for its shopping, but it also has a ton of great restaurants and bars. If you are limited to window-shopping due to Icelandic prices (no shame in it, I live here, and I do the same), don’t hesitate to take a break from fantasizing about the 66 degrees North Rain Jacket (man, I really want that thing) and grab a pint at one of the many bars on the street. There is some excellent vintage cloth shopping down here, and you never know when you could find the deal of a lifetime.
Best Activities and Things to Do in Reykjavik
First timers in Reykjavik are sure to leave our capital with pleasant memories of Viking war parties, raids on neighboring lands, and delicious lamb legs cooking over open fires whilst we drink mead. Wait, sorry, I was watching Vikings on Netflix. Apologies. Those visiting Reykjavik for the first time are sure to have a blast during their first Icelandic holiday. Our capital is incredibly accessible and easy to walk on foot, Icelanders are warm, welcoming and will help with any questions, and our culinary scene is ever growing. Armed with these tips I have provided you, you should have a wonderful time here!