Iceland is most famous for its stunning landscapes and breathtaking natural wonders, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about Reykjavik. Roughly translated to ‘Smokey Bay’, Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital, though it’s certainly not a huge, sprawling metropolis. The city is small and cosy and one of the best places to discover the culture of modern Iceland.
Many visitors to Iceland use Reykjavik as a base for exploring the wider country. But it’d be a shame to miss out on the exciting things that you can discover in the city itself. As a small city, sightseeing in Reykjavik is easy to manage, and you’ll be amazed at the things you might discover!
In this guide, we’ll show you what to see in Reykjavik, things to do, and tours and trips in and around the city.
From museums to cathedrals to beaches and even thermal spas, there are plenty of sights to see in Reykjavik.
1. Hallgrímskirkja Church
One of the most iconic Reykjavik sights, Hallgrímskirkja Church is a focal point of the city. Standing at almost 75 metres tall, it’s hard to miss, and you can see it from pretty much anywhere in the city. The stunning architecture is a wonder to behold, and is inspired by the breathtaking basalt columns of Svartifoss Waterfall.
Inside, you’ll find a magnificent 25-tonne pipe organ, standing 15 metres tall and boasting 5,275 pipes. The church is free to enter, though you’ll need a ticket to ride the elevator up to the top of the tower. It’s worth the 900ISK (around US$6.50) fare though, as you’ll discover unrivalled views over the city.
2. Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach
You might not have considered your trip to Iceland to resemble a beach holiday, but beach bums can enjoy sandy golden beaches within Reykjavik. Sunbathe under the midnight sun, bathe in the naturally warmed secret lagoon, or take a dip in the icy ocean, you can do it all at Nauthólsvík! Complete with showers, changing facilities, hot tubs, and steam baths, it’s a great place to relax.
3. Seltjarnarnes Peninsula and Grótta Lighthouse
The entire peninsula is stunning, and though it’s famed for its iconic lighthouse, there are plenty of cycling, hiking, and birdwatching opportunities. The lighthouse dates back to 1897 and offers spectacular views out to the ocean, taking in Mount Esja. You can only reach the lighthouse during low tide, so be sure to check the timings.
4. Reykjavik Botanical Gardens
Free to enter and absolutely stunning, the gardens are home to over 5,000 species of plants, as well as birdlife. If you get hungry, the small on-site cafe serves up dishes prepared with herbs and spices grown in the garden. During summer, you can even enjoy a free 30-minute guided tour in English, at 12:40 every Friday in June, July, and August.
5. Reykjavik Downtown
Heading downtown in Reykjavik is a real treat, and it’s unlike your typical downtown area. Instead of the usual McDonalds and gimmicky souvenir shops, you’ll find an array of independent boutiques housed in colourful, quirky buildings. These stores typically offer handcrafted goods, such as volcano rock pottery and cosy woolen clothing. There are also numerous cafes, bars, and restaurants, each offering local delicacies.
6. Sun Voyager
This statue built in 1990 by sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason is well known as Sólfar in Icelandic. This steel sculpture resembles a Viking ship and stands also for the interpretation of discovery. You will find the Sun Voyager on the waterfront of Reykjavik with Harpa and Mount Esja on the background, this probably makes it one of Reykjaviks most photographed place.
This place is free of charge and can be visited at any time.
7. Harpa Concert Hall
You don’t have to catch a show to appreciate a visit to the Harpa Concert Hall. The building itself is a work of art, featuring a veritable hive of honeycombs, which reflect the natural colours of the sky during the day, and shine with a rainbow of lights in the night. There are 2 restaurants in the building, as well as a gift shop.
8. Reykjavik Thermal Pools
Home to 17 ‘swimming pools’ Reykjavik is a paradise for water lovers. However, the local pools are like nothing you’ve experienced before. Icelanders use natural thermal water to fill their pools, use very little chlorine, and bathe year-round in waters heated to around 30℃. Each of the pools is more like a luxury spa than a simple communal swimming pool, featuring facilities such as cold pools, swimming lanes, saunas, hot tubs, and outdoor pools. Sundhöll Reykjavíkur is among the most popular, located right in the centre of the city.
The Blue Lagoon is the most famous, so if you really want to go there, make sure you book an appointment in advance!
9. Arbaer Open Air Museum
This beautiful open air museum is like stepping back in time to a historic Icelandic village. It features more than 20 traditional homes from across the centuries, showcasing traditional building techniques and living conditions. It’s a great way to get a glimpse at what life was like, while discovering more about the culture and history of Icelandic people. After touring the restored village and farm, grab a cup of coffee at Dillon’s House Cafe.
10. Perlan Museum of Icelandic Natural Wonders
Perlan Museum is home to an amazing array of exhibits that highlight the natural beauty of Iceland. From volcanoes to cliffs, the hands-on exhibits are fully interactive and immersive, offering a real insight into what Iceland is made of. The stunning glacier exhibit is packed full of interesting information, while an ice cave replication gives you a chance to explore the frosty interior in temperatures well-below freezing! Plus, if you didn’t get a chance to catch the Northern Lights, you can head to the planetarium, where you can enjoy an immersive, audio-visual 360 display. Finally, head to the observation deck for a panoramic view over the city.
11. Hike Mount Esja
While walking around Reykjavik on the other side of the water you will see Mount Esja, a summit from around 900 meter above sea level. So if you want to see the city from above or just want to go for a nice hike, don’t miss this out! It’s just 10 km from the city and you can get there very easy using public transport. Catch bus 15 from the Hlemmur bus terminal and change for bus 57 at Háholt in Mosfellsbær, this bus will drop you at the startpoint of your hike. Always check the weather conditions before you start your hike. And if your reach the top, don’t forget to sign the book on the top!
12. Horse Back Riding
In Iceland you will only find the Icelandic horse, because it’s forbidden to import any horses. It’s even so strict that when a horse is exported once, it’s not allowed to enter Iceland again.
If you like horse riding then a ride in the scenic Icelandic landscapes will be a once in a lifetime experience. Don’t worry if you never drove a horse before, you can also take some lessons. Popular regions for a horse ride are: West Coast, Hekla, Myvatn and Snæfellsnes peninsula.
13. Flyover Reykjavik
Since 2019 Reykjavik has a new and spectacular attraction to see the unique Icelandic landscapes from a bird-eye’s view. Using the state-of-art technology you will hang suspended, with your feet free in the air underneath your body and a big screen from 20 meters it’s like you’re flying. It also has some special effects like wind, must and even smells!The experience takes 35 minutes.
Instead of spoil you with my explanation I would suggest to watch the video below:
14. The Rauðhólar
The red hills (Rauðhólar) are an amazing landscape for a hike, horseback ride or a mountain bike ride. Even though it was not the first time in Iceland I really had the feeling that I was walking on Mars and this was just 15 minutes from Reykjavik. Rauðhólar is located in the Heiðmörk Nature Reserve and the craters were formed 5000 years ago.
15. Swim between continents
When you think about snorkeling most of us will think about a tropical destination with colorful fish. Iceland has some really amazing and world-class snorkeling locations you really have to check out.
One of those spots is located in the Thingvellir National Park and is called ‘Silfra’. This spot is one of the most unique diving spots in the world as you are between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
16. Visit Viðey Island
Viðey Island is a really nice place to do some hiking or biking along the trails. During your activity you can look out for one of the oldest churches of Iceland. And a nice fact is that you can also find the Viðey House, this house is unique because it was the first house built from stone in Iceland.
One of the most famous sides on the island is the Imagine Peace Tower built by Yoko Ono. On each 9th of October the birthday of John Lennon, Yoko will light the tower and this last until the day John was killed on December 8th.
You can get here via the Elding ferry service.
17. Puffin Tour
Puffins arrive in Iceland between late March and early April and leave between late August and early September. It’s possible to take a puffin tour in Iceland any time between March and September but the summer months are best. Ideally, go puffin watching between June and August for the best chance of seeing colonies of puffins catching fish for their recently-hatched, fledgling babies.
So, if puffin watching in Iceland is high on your dream itinerary then you should travel during puffin season in Iceland which lasts between March and September. When you’re planning a trip to Iceland but aren’t sure when to go yet, take a look at our article on the Puffins in Iceland: best time and places to watch them.
18. Eat Icelandic Hot Dog
A must stop for the famous Icelandic hot dog is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, located in the harbor already since 1937. Why this place? Bill Clinton went here during his visit back in 2004. They sell roughly around 1000 hot dogs per day all across their multiple locations.
19. Saga Museum
If you really want to learn more about Iceland’s viking history, Viking Saga Museum is the place to be. In the Grandi neighborhood in Reykjavik you can get back in time and learn all about the vikings. You can get an audio tour and will find all life-like wax figures along the route across the museum. Funny thing to do: you can dress up like a viking for a nice photo.
20. Free Walking Tour
I really like to go on a walking tour with a local to learn more about the city. The City Walk and Free Walking Tours Reykjavik are two companies who offer free walking tours by a local which can tell you all about the culture, history and funny facts about the city. Even it’s free if you can don’t forget to give your guide a small tip after the tour to help maintain this.
21. The Old Harbour
22. The Reykjavik Sightseeing Bus
This hop-on, hop-off service travels throughout the city, offering great views from the open top deck. With 16 stops, the route takes in a variety of different attractions, offering plenty to see and do, including thermal pools, museums, and natural sights. You can buy either a 24 or 48-hour ticket, which enables you to explore at your leisure, and the bus runs year-round.
23. Whale Watching
Whales are such beautiful creatures. No matter what kind you think of, you know for sure that they are huge and super strong. Still, their character is very friendly and most of them are very curious about what is going on around them. Iceland is an incredible destination to go whale watching!
24. Catch the Northern Lights
In general, September to March is the best time for a Northern Lights holiday in Iceland but your specific destination will determine the months the aurora borealis is visible to the human eye. It’s possible to see the Northern Lights in late-August or early-April in some locations.
Icelandic Food Tours in Reykjavik
Sometimes the best way to discover a city is to take a tour. This way, you’ll find hidden gems, eat and drink like a local, and discover inside stories that round off the entire experience. Fortunately, there are plenty of tours that’ll help you figure out what to do in Reykjavik. Here are some of our top picks.
25. City Walk with Lunch
Small and personalized, this walking tour takes in the top sights that Reykjavik has to offer. You’ll be led by a local guide, an expert in the city who’ll tell you stories of the quirky streets and buildings you pass, while providing a fascinating overview of the local history. After a 2 and a half hour tour, you’ll get to indulge in a delicious traditional lunch.
26. Beer & Booze Tour
This is a great choice for craft beer fans! The walking tour takes in 3 of Reykjavik’s best bars, where visitors will get a chance to try 10-locally produced beers. You won’t find these outside of Iceland, so it’s a unique opportunity. If you’re not overly keen on beer, you can instead opt to try a selection of local schnapps and spirits! Along the way, you’ll learn about the history of beer in Iceland through funny stories and anecdotes. Aimed at small groups, it’s another great chance to get a more personalized tour.
27. Half-Day Food Tasting Tour
Reykjavik is a foodie paradise and this 4-hour tour will show you why! It takes you on a leisurely stroll through the city, stopping off at 6 very different local restaurants. From small family-run joints to the most popular venues in Iceland, and even hotdog stands, there’s plenty to discover. You’ll try 8 traditional Icelandic dishes and hear the story of how food has evolved in Iceland over the years. If you want to whet your appetite, check out our full guide to food in Iceland!
Top Trips from Reykjavik
While there’s lots to do in Reykjavik, it’s likely that you’ll want to explore the surrounding countryside as well. Fortunately, there are plenty of things nearby that you can check out, either as a tour or by yourself.
28. Visit the Golden Circle from Reykjavik
The Golden Circle is a route that takes in some of the best sights in the highlands of West Iceland. The route is very close to Reykjavik, so it’s a great chance to get out of the city and into nature. The entire thing can be done in one day, so if you’re short on time, it’s a great choice! For us, the Golden Circle is best explored on a self-drive trip. This way, you get to take your time at the places you’re most interested in and make detours. Highlights include:
- Gullfoss Falls: aka the golden waterfall, from which the route takes its name.
- Thingvellir National Park
- Kerid Crater
There’s loads more to explore, and you can find out all you need to know about planning the perfect Golden Circle trip by checking out our guide, right here.
29. Hike the Laugavegur Trail
Iceland is one of the last few remaining truly wild places on earth, and exploring it was one of the greatest adventures we ever had. During our epic trip, we spent a lot of time trekking and camping throughout the highlands. The Laugavegur trail was one that we were so excited to tackle.
30. Day trip to the stunning Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Snæfellsnes Peninsula is 120 km from Reykjavik and most people say that this will show you almost all the aspects of Iceland. Kirkjufell the most unique and most photographed mountain in Iceland. Isn’t it unique with this waterfall in front. I have to be honest after spending 3.5 months in Iceland, this area will really show you a lot of amazing things, but really make time to discover Iceland it’s so worth it.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
The best way to enjoy sightseeing in Reykjavik is to spend a few days in the city. When it comes to places to stay, you’re spoiled for choice. From luxury hotel suites to wallet-friendly campsites, there’s something for every type of traveler.
If you’ve done any research into Iceland, you’ll have heard that it’s an expensive country to visit. While this is true, and there are many hotels that will cost up to US$1,000 per night, there are an increasing number of quality budget hotels appearing in the city. Budget doesn’t always mean low quality and there are some fantastic options available these days.
- Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura: with rooms to suit everyone from single travelers to larger families, this is a welcoming and friendly hotel. It’s located just outside the city centre, and features a cosy library, a pool, sauna, hot tub, and in-house bakery and restaurant. Prices start at around US$90.
- 22 Hill Hotel: small and friendly, this city centre hotel offers great comfort, naturally lit rooms, and all the essentials for a great price. It’s located in a quiet part of town, but is close enough to the main attractions. They offer a buffet style breakfast at the neighbouring Potturinn og Pannan restaurant. Prices start at around US$100.
Hostels have become increasingly common in Iceland over the last few years. While they might not be as affordable as in other parts of the world, they’re a great place to meet fellow travelers. Here are some of the best.
- Kex Hostel: with space for over 200 travelers, Kex is a top place to socialize. Don’t worry though, built in a former biscuit factory, it’s spacious enough for everyone! Situated in the heart of downtown, it’s perfectly located for sightseeing in Reykjavik. It has a variety of dorm rooms, including 16-beds, as well as private rooms, offering a bed for any budget. Plus, it’s rated as Iceland’s only 5-star hostel.
- Galaxy Pod Hostel: each guest is provided with a futuristic, private space pod style bed, complete with smart TV, free WiFi, and a locker. It’s a cool experience, and there are tons of extra facilities, including a self-service kitchen, a lively bar, and even a virtual reality games room! With dorms for up to 24-people, the prices are pretty affordable. Located just a 10-minute walk from the city centre, it’s still surrounded by bars, restaurants, and shops.
You might not consider camping a viable option when visiting most capital cities around the world. But Reykjavik isn’t like most capital cities! The locals love camping, so there’s no shortage of campsites outside the city, as well as a few that are inside. They’re a great choice for backpackers and those traveling by motorhome alike. By far the most affordable accommodation in Iceland, here are some top choices!
- Reykjavik Eco Campsite: just 2.5km from downtown, this eco campsite is a top choice, with prices starting at under US$20 per night. They offer top amenities, including hot showers, BBQ areas, kitchens, WiFi, washing machines, and guest computers, as well as pitches for tents and motorhomes.
- Reykjavik Domes: Okay, so this isn’t your traditional campsite, but if you like the idea of being close to nature without losing the luxuries of a hotel room, this is a great middle ground. Each dome is fitted with a comfy double bed, a carpeted floor, a wood burning stove with a chimney, a shower, a decking area, a BBQ, and a hot tub. It offers great views over the mountains, though it’s around 10km from the city centre. Glamping at its best, with prices starting at around US$120 per night.
How many days do you need for Reykjavik?
I would suggest for just the city of Reykjavik 2 days. If you want to do some day trips from Reykjavik it would be roughly said 5 days in this area.
What is the best time of year to visit Reykjavik?
The best time for your visit to Reykjavik is between June and August, because of the great temperatures and long days. As you have the midnight sun during those months you can enjoy 21 hours of daylight.
Best way to get around Reykjavik
The best way to get around Reykjavik is by foot, bike or tourbus. The most important tour buses are:
1. BusTravel Iceland
2. Discover Iceland
3. Reykjavik Excursions
4. Gray Line Iceland
How to get in Reykjavik from the International Airport?
The most used way to get from the Airport into the city is by taking the Flybus, which takes around 45 minutes. This bus stops on almost all hotels, hostels and the well known bus stops. Please book your tickets in advance to be sure from a seat.
Can you see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik?
Yes, you can definitely see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik. Even through your window when the KP value of the Northern lights is high enough, which tells you how bright it will be.
What is Reykjavik known for?
Reykjavik is the most northern capital city in the world and this city is well known for the night life and some of the best music festivals, like Iceland Airwaves.
Pin for later
Hopefully this guide helps you to plan an incredible day or even two or more days in Reykjavik. There’s lots to do and see in this dynamic city. Although, city tripping is probably not the reason for coming to Iceland, so also have a look at our extended Iceland Travel Guide for incredible routes, amazing places to see and incredible things to do.
If you have any further questions or if you have been to Reykjavik, let me know by leaving a comment below.