Things to Do in Reykjavik: A Comprehensive Travel Guide


Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is a city of stark contrasts. It’s a place where fire and ice coexist, where the Northern Lights illuminate dark skies, and where day turns into night with the city’s vibrant nightlife. Whether you’re visiting for a few days or planning an extended stay, there’s no shortage of activities to fill your itinerary. Here are 15 must-do activities in Reykjavik, Iceland, ensuring you experience the best the city has to offer.

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1. Explore the Streets on Foot

Walking through the streets of Reykjavik offers an intimate glimpse into the city’s vibrant life and culture. This method of exploration allows visitors to take their time, absorbing the eclectic mix of modern and traditional influences that shape the city. Reykjavik is known for its strikingly colorful houses, which add a bright and cheerful atmosphere to the streets. These vivid facades, set against the backdrop of the city’s natural beauty, create picturesque scenes that are perfect for photography enthusiasts.

Reykjavik Urban Streets

As you meander through the city, you’ll encounter an array of street art that ranges from large-scale murals to more subtle installations, showcasing the creativity and spirit of Reykjavik’s artists. This public art contributes to the city’s contemporary vibe and offers insight into current cultural and social themes.

The city’s unique architecture is another highlight of any walking tour. Reykjavik blends traditional Scandinavian designs with modernist ideas, creating a visually stunning urban landscape. Notable examples include the iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church, with its distinctive stepped facade that mimics the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape, and the Harpa Concert Hall, renowned for its futuristic glass facade inspired by the basalt landscapes of Iceland. Both buildings are not just architectural wonders but also serve as cultural hubs, hosting a variety of events and exhibitions throughout the year.

Harpa Concert Hall

2. Visit Hallgrimskirkja Church

Hallgrimskirkja Church is not only Reykjavik’s tallest building but also one of its most significant landmarks. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in the early 20th century, the church took over 40 years to build and stands as a testament to Iceland’s unique natural and cultural heritage. Its design was inspired by the natural forms of Iceland’s landscape, particularly the basalt lava flows, making it a symbolic representation of the country’s volcanic nature.

Aerial View Of Hallgrimskirkja Church

The church’s interior is equally impressive, characterized by its stark simplicity and elegance. The large pipe organ, which towers over the entrance, is a masterpiece that attracts musicians from around the world. The acoustics of the church make it an exceptional venue for concerts, adding a spiritual dimension to musical performances.

Hallgrimskirkja Church

One of the main attractions of Hallgrimskirkja is its tower, which offers panoramic views of Reykjavik and its surroundings. Visitors can take an elevator to the observation deck, where they’re greeted with sweeping vistas of the city’s colorful rooftops, the surrounding sea, and distant mountains. This perspective offers a unique way to appreciate the city’s layout and geographical setting.

Interior Of Hallgrimskirkja Church

Visiting Hallgrimskirkja is more than just a touristic activity; it’s an opportunity to connect with Icelandic culture and history. The church is an active place of worship, reflecting the spiritual aspects of Icelandic society. Throughout the year, it hosts various cultural events, including concerts, exhibitions, and ceremonies, making it a living part of Reykjavik’s community.

3. Relax in Geothermal Pools

Immersing yourself in geothermal pools is an essential Icelandic experience, offering both relaxation and a unique connection to the country’s volcanic landscape. The geothermal activity that shapes much of Iceland’s terrain also powers these soothing hot spots, which range from the world-renowned Blue Lagoon to local favorites like Laugardalslaug.

The Blue Lagoon In Iceland

The Blue Lagoon, situated in a vast lava field, is arguably the most famous of these pools. Its milky-blue waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur, known for their skin-healing properties. Visitors can enjoy a variety of spa treatments, swim-up bars, and surreal landscapes that blur the lines between the natural and the luxurious. The Blue Lagoon is not just a place for relaxation but also a testament to Iceland’s innovative use of geothermal energy.

Relaxing In Geothermal Pools

For those looking to experience geothermal bathing as the locals do, Laugardalslaug is the largest swimming pool in Reykjavik and offers an authentic Icelandic swimming experience. This facility includes outdoor and indoor pools, hot tubs of varying temperatures, a steam bath, and a water slide, catering to both relaxation and family fun. Swimming in geothermally heated pools is a daily activity for many Icelanders, serving as a social gathering point and a testament to the country’s connection to its natural resources.

4. Experience the Nightlife

Reykjavik is renowned for its vibrant and diverse nightlife, offering a range of experiences that cater to all tastes. Despite its relatively small size, the city boasts an impressive array of bars, clubs, and live music venues, ensuring that visitors and locals alike can find the perfect spot to enjoy their evenings.

The nightlife in Reykjavik is characterized by its friendly atmosphere and the ease with which one can move from one venue to another, thanks to the city’s compact nature. This facilitates a bar-hopping culture that is both exciting and convenient, allowing revelers to experience the distinct character and offerings of multiple venues in a single night.

Reykjavik Nightlife

Bars in Reykjavik range from cozy, laid-back establishments perfect for a quiet drink and conversation, to trendy, bustling spots where you can experience the latest in Icelandic and international music. Many bars also serve as venues for live music, showcasing local bands and artists and providing a stage for a wide variety of genres, from indie and rock to electronic and folk music.

Bars In Reykjavik

Clubs in Reykjavik, on the other hand, cater to those looking to dance the night away. With state-of-the-art sound systems and regular appearances by both local and international DJs, these clubs offer a high-energy environment that doesn’t slow down until the early hours of the morning. The music scene is diverse, with venues dedicated to everything from mainstream hits to underground electronic music, ensuring that there is something for everyone.

Clubs In Reykjavik

A unique aspect of Reykjavik’s nightlife is the phenomenon known as the “rúntur”, or the pub crawl, which sees the city’s residents and visitors alike taking to the streets on Friday and Saturday nights to enjoy the array of bars and clubs. This tradition is a fantastic way to meet new people and immerse yourself in the local culture.

Despite its northern location, Reykjavik’s nightlife is warm and welcoming, mirroring the hospitality of its inhabitants. It’s a place where memories are made, whether you’re dancing under the midnight sun or enjoying the cozy darkness of the Icelandic winter.

5. Enjoy Icelandic Cuisine

Iceland’s culinary scene offers a fascinating insight into its culture and traditions, where traditional Icelandic dishes play a significant role. One of the most unique (and perhaps adventurous) foods to try is fermented shark. Known locally as hákarl, this dish is an acquired taste, with a strong ammonia smell and a distinctive fishy flavor. It’s a traditional Viking dish that reflects Iceland’s historical ingenuity in preserving food. Sampling hákarl is seen as a rite of passage for many visitors, offering a direct connection to Icelandic history and culinary tradition.

Fermented Shark

For those looking for a less adventurous but equally iconic Icelandic experience, Baejarins Beztu offers the city’s most famous hot dogs. This humble hot dog stand has become a culinary landmark in Reykjavik, drawing both locals and tourists alike.

Baejarins Beztu

The hot dogs, made from a blend of lamb, pork, and beef, are served with a choice of toppings such as fried onions, raw onions, ketchup, sweet mustard, and remoulade, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. Simple yet delicious, a hot dog from Baejarins Beztu encapsulates the straightforward, no-frills approach to Icelandic cuisine.

6. Take a Whale Watching Tour

The cold waters around Reykjavik are a haven for marine life, making the area one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Tours departing from Reykjavik harbor offer the chance to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The most commonly sighted species include minke whales, humpback whales, blue whales, and sometimes even orcas. The tours are not only about spotting whales; they also provide an opportunity to see a variety of other marine animals, such as dolphins and porpoises, and an array of seabirds, including puffins during their nesting season.

Whale Watching Tour Near Reykjavik

Whale watching tours in Reykjavik are conducted with respect for the marine environment, ensuring minimal disturbance to the animals. Knowledgeable guides provide insightful commentary about the biology and behavior of the whales, enhancing the experience and awareness of Iceland’s marine biodiversity.

The best times for whale watching are from April to October, when the likelihood of sightings is highest. However, tours are available year-round, weather permitting. This experience offers a unique perspective on the natural beauty of Iceland and the importance of preserving its marine ecosystems.

7. Visit the Perlan

Perlan stands as a remarkable landmark in Reykjavik, recognizable by its unique structure crowned with a glass dome. This architectural marvel is not just about its aesthetic appeal; it offers visitors spectacular panoramic views of the city, the surrounding mountains, and the ocean. Beyond its observation deck, Perlan is home to the Wonders of Iceland exhibition, an immersive experience that showcases Iceland’s natural phenomena. Here, visitors can learn about glaciers, volcanoes, and the unique Icelandic ecosystem through interactive displays and real ice caves.

Perlan In Reykjavik

Adding to its attractions, Perlan also features a planetarium, where guests can embark on a cosmic journey exploring the northern lights and the starry sky above Iceland. The planetarium shows are designed to educate and enchant, making use of cutting-edge technology to bring the wonders of the universe closer to Earth. This combination of natural and technological marvels makes Perlan a must-visit destination for those looking to understand Iceland’s environment and its place in the cosmos.

View Of The Interior Of The Restaurant And The Glass Cup Of The Emblematic Monument Of Reykjavik

8. Explore the Old Harbour

The Old Harbour area of Reykjavik is a vibrant and essential part of the city’s charm. Once the heart of Reykjavik’s fishing industry, the area has been transformed into a lively cultural hub. It’s lined with restaurants and cafes that offer a taste of local and international cuisines, providing a scenic backdrop for dining with views of the harbor and the sea.

Reykjavik Old Harbour

Beyond its culinary offerings, the Old Harbour is rich in cultural and historical attractions. The Maritime Museum delves into Iceland’s seafaring past, offering insights into the lives of fishermen and the development of the fishing industry, which has been vital to the country’s survival and prosperity. Another highlight is the Saga Museum, where visitors are transported back to the Viking Age through realistic figures and settings that recount the sagas—stories of the early settlers and heroes of Iceland. This area combines leisure, learning, and history, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely day out exploring Reykjavik’s past and present.

9. Hike Mount Esja

Mount Esja, often referred to as Reykjavik’s city mountain, presents an irresistible call to adventure for outdoor enthusiasts. Situated just a short drive from the city, this mountain offers various trails that cater to all levels of hikers, from easy routes that are perfect for families to more challenging paths that lead to the summit.


The reward for those who undertake this journey is the breathtaking view from the top, where you can enjoy a panoramic vista of Reykjavik and its surrounding landscapes—from the sparkling waters of Faxaflói Bay to the rugged terrain that characterizes Iceland. Hiking Mount Esja provides not only a physical challenge but also a moment of connection with the natural beauty of Iceland, making it a must-do for visitors seeking to experience the country’s outdoor offerings.

10. Attend a Festival

Reykjavik’s vibrant cultural scene is perhaps best experienced through its numerous festivals, which take place throughout the year. These events celebrate a wide array of themes, ranging from music, art, and literature to food, fashion, and pride, ensuring that there’s something for everyone. The Iceland Airwaves music festival, for example, has gained international acclaim for showcasing new music, both Icelandic and international.

Reykjavik Festival

The Reykjavik Arts Festival is another highlight, offering a platform for various forms of artistic expressions in locations across the city. For those interested in culinary delights, the Food and Fun Festival transforms Reykjavik into a gourmet paradise, with chefs from around the world competing to create the best dishes using Icelandic ingredients. Attending one of these festivals provides a unique insight into the creativity and community spirit that define Reykjavik, making it an unforgettable part of any visit to Iceland.

11. Visit the National Museum of Iceland

The National Museum of Iceland serves as a treasure trove for anyone interested in delving into the rich tapestry of Iceland’s history. From the era of the Vikings to contemporary times, the museum provides a comprehensive overview of the cultural and social development of the country. Through an extensive collection of artifacts, ranging from ancient tools and textiles to modern design and art, visitors can trace the evolution of Icelandic life.

National Museum Of Iceland

The exhibits are thoughtfully curated to highlight key moments and figures in Iceland’s history, offering insights into the resilience and creativity of its people. Whether you’re a history buff or simply curious about Icelandic culture, a visit to the National Museum of Iceland is an enlightening experience that connects the past with the present.

12. Stroll Along the Sculpture and Shore Walk

Reykjavik’s Sculpture and Shore Walk offers a serene and artistic way to enjoy the city’s coastline. This scenic route is adorned with an array of sculptures by Icelandic artists, each adding a unique touch to the landscape. Among the most iconic pieces is the Sun Voyager, a striking steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, which is often interpreted as a Viking ship but is meant to symbolize the dream of discovery, hope, progress, and freedom.

Stroll Along The Sculpture And Shore Walk

The walk provides not only a feast for the eyes but also a tranquil space for reflection against the backdrop of the ocean and the mountains beyond. Along the way, visitors can enjoy the fresh sea air, the sound of waves, and the opportunity to see Reykjavik from a different perspective. It’s a perfect activity for those seeking a blend of art, nature, and tranquility.

13. Go to the Top of Hallgrímskirkja Church

The tower of Hallgrímskirkja Church is renowned for offering some of the most spectacular views across Reykjavik. Ascending to the top of this landmark provides a unique opportunity to see the city from an unparalleled vantage point. From this height, the panoramic vistas include the colorful rooftops of Reykjavik, the sprawling urban landscape, and the natural beauty of the surrounding sea and mountains.

Go To The Top Of Hallgrímskirkja Church

The journey to the top is an experience in itself, allowing visitors to appreciate the architectural brilliance of the church up close, including its striking concrete columns that mimic the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s natural landscape. Whether you’re a photographer seeking the perfect shot or simply looking to take in the beauty of Reykjavik from above, the tower of Hallgrímskirkja is a must-visit destination.

14. Take the Ferry to Viðey Island

Viðey Island offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, despite being just a short ferry ride from Reykjavik. The island is a blend of cultural history and natural beauty, boasting historical sites, artworks, and serene nature trails.

Ferry To Viðey Island

One of the island’s highlights is the Imagine Peace Tower, a memorial to John Lennon from his widow, Yoko Ono. The tower emits a powerful beam of light into the sky, symbolizing Lennon’s and Ono’s commitment to peace and love. Besides its cultural significance,

Imagine Peace Tower

Viðey Island is a haven for nature lovers, with its extensive network of walking paths offering picturesque views of the surrounding landscape and Reykjavik’s skyline. Whether interested in art, history, or simply enjoying a peaceful walk amidst natural beauty, Viðey Island is a captivating destination for all visitors.

Viðey Island

15. See Grótta Lighthouse

Grótta Lighthouse is a beacon not just for ships but also for those seeking scenic beauty and tranquility. Located at the edge of the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula, just a short distance from downtown Reykjavik, this spot is beloved by both locals and visitors. The lighthouse itself is a picturesque figure against the backdrop of the vast sea and sky. The area around Grótta offers some of the most stunning views, making it an ideal location for photography, especially during sunset when the sky paints a breathtaking canvas of colors.

See Grótta Lighthouse

In winter, Grótta becomes one of the most accessible places near Reykjavik to witness the awe-inspiring Northern Lights. The relative darkness of the area, away from the city lights, provides a clearer view of the auroras dancing above. Additionally, the surrounding area is a nature reserve, home to diverse birdlife, making it a great spot for birdwatching during the migratory seasons. Whether you’re chasing the Northern Lights, birdwatching, or simply looking for a peaceful spot to enjoy nature, Grótta Lighthouse is a must-visit.

Frequently Asked Questions about Reykjavík

Is 3 days enough in Reykjavík?

Three days in Reykjavík can be sufficient to experience the city’s main attractions, including iconic landmarks, museums, and local cuisine. While a longer stay allows for deeper exploration and day trips to surrounding natural wonders, a well-planned three-day itinerary can provide a fulfilling introduction to the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Reykjavík and its vicinity.

What is Reykjavík best known for?

Reykjavík is best known for its unique blend of natural beauty and cultural richness. Highlights include the striking Hallgrímskirkja church, the dynamic and colorful street art, the geothermal Blue Lagoon, and its lively music and arts scene. Reykjavík is also the gateway to Iceland’s incredible natural landscapes, such as geysers, waterfalls, and volcanic terrains.

How many days are needed in Reykjavík?

The ideal duration of a visit to Reykjavík depends on what you want to explore. To solely focus on the city’s attractions, 2-3 days might suffice. However, if you plan to include day trips to nearby natural wonders like the Golden Circle, the South Coast, or the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, consider extending your stay to 5-7 days to fully embrace the Icelandic experience.

Is there a lot to do in Reykjavík?

Absolutely, Reykjavík offers a wide range of activities catering to different interests. From exploring its rich history and culture in museums and galleries, indulging in Icelandic cuisine, participating in vibrant festivals, to embarking on outdoor adventures such as whale watching, hiking, and enjoying geothermal pools. Reykjavík serves as both a cosmopolitan hub and a base for exploring Iceland’s unparalleled natural beauty.

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