Iceland’s capital and largest city, Reykjavík, is packed with exciting culture, restaurants, and nightlife. It also makes a great jumping-off point for any trip into the countryside. You won’t want to skip this surprisingly laid-back metropolis.

Perlan on a sunny summer’s day
Cinnamon buns and croissants in a bakery window in Reykjavík
The Tjörnin pond in Reykjavík in summer
Perlan on a sunny summer’s day
Cinnamon buns and croissants in a bakery window in Reykjavík

FAQs about Reykjavík

Reykjavík is located in southwest Iceland on the shores of the Faxaflói bay. The city is mostly built on a peninsula, surrounded by the North Atlantic ocean on 3 sides. You’ll find a scattering of islands around the bay, including the tranquil Viðey nature reserve.

As you walk along the coastal path in Reykjavík, you can’t help but notice the striking Esja mountain. This peak to the north of the city is popular with hillwalkers. Glancing at it is a great way of telling what the weather will be like in Reykjavík.

By population, Reykjavík is Iceland’s largest settlement by far with around 230,000 residents in the capital area. This is about two thirds of the country’s entire population! You could say this makes it the only true city in Iceland.

Given its fairly small population, Reykjavík covers a surprisingly large area of land, or around 273 sq km (105 sq mi). The city’s many neighborhoods are broken up by stretches of forest, marshland, and rivers.

Iceland in general has some of the lowest crime rates in the world, with Reykjavík being no exception. You’ll soon pick up on the city’s relaxed vibe, and enjoy plenty of personal space.

Icelanders in general are unassuming and have a ‘live and let live’ attitude to life. You’re very unlikely to end up in an unsafe situation in the city, and there aren’t really any ‘rough’ neighborhoods.

Reykjavík means ‘Smokey Bay’. This name traces its origins to the clouds of steam that rise from the city’s natural hot springs, which were originally mistaken for smoke.

Legend goes that the Viking who first settled the area, Ingólfur Árnason, threw 2 great wooden pillars overboard from his ship. He landed where they drifted ashore and the rest is history.

Within Iceland, Reykjavík is known as the main hub of culture and business. It has the biggest cluster of restaurants, shops, and history and art museums in the country. You’ll see neighborhoods of brightly colored houses and walls decorated with street art.

This all adds up to create a chilled, bohemian vibe which you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. It really is one of the most relaxing cities in the world.

Reykjavík is also known as the nightlife capital of the north. Its legendary bars and nightclubs have produced a music scene that has been exported the world over. If you really want to see Icelanders in their element, there’s nothing like a night out in downtown Reykjavík.

Temperatures in Reykjavík vary throughout the year, with distinct summer and winter seasons. In January, the average high is 3°C (37°F). This climbs to 15°C (58°F) in July. Occasionally, summer temperatures can creep up to 21°C (70°F).

Despite the cool temperatures, Iceland is probably sunnier than you’re expecting. In wintertime, you will see rain and snow, especially in January, February, and March.

For any trip to Iceland, it pays to come prepared. The best approach is to dress in layers, including a waterproof outer layer. This means you can easily switch up what you’re wearing depending on the weather that day.

Icelanders tend to dress similarly to Scandinavians. This means you won’t see them wearing hiking gear in Reykjavík city center. It’s a good idea to pack a second pair of shoes for wandering around downtown.

If you’re planning to visit in winter, check out this Iceland packing guide.

There’s plenty for you to see and do in the Reykjavík area. Here’s some ideas:

  • Check out a gig at the Harpa Concert Hall
  • Relax and pamper yourself at the Sky Lagoon spa
  • Learn about Viking history at the Settlement Exhibition
  • Take in views of the city and Esja mountain at Perlan
  • Scoot to the Grótta lighthouse and spot the Northern Lights
  • Go for a summer stroll on the protected island of Viðey
  • Swim in the heated sea at Nauthólsvík geothermal beach
  • Grab hot dogs at the legendary Bæjarins beztu stand
  • Make friends with locals at the swimming pools
  • Join a whale watching boat tour from the old harbor

Check out what else there is to do in downtown Reykjavík.

Absolutely! In wintertime, you’ve got a good chance of spotting the Northern Lights in Reykjavík. Although you can even see them downtown, they’ll look even more spectacular if you go to a patch of the city with darker skies.

Top places to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavík include by the Grótta lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula and by the Öskjuhlíð forest to the south of the city.

The answer to this question depends on what you want to get out of your vacation. If you’re after a proper Iceland cultural experience, 2–3 days in Reykjavík at a minimum will give you time to explore different neighborhoods.

On a multi-day tour from Reykjavík, you would base yourself in the city and join different day tours into the countryside. This means you have the evenings to check out what the city has to offer.

That said, you might still want to set aside a day or two to visit museums and galleries. Some of the most popular are the National Museum of Iceland and the Settlement Exhibition.

The main public transport option in the Reykjavík area is the Strætó bus system. It’s easy to plan journeys and pay on your phone using the Klappið app.

You’ll notice lots of Icelanders prefer to cycle or use e-scooters. You can easily hire an e-scooter by downloading an app. The two main services in Reykjavík are Hopp and Zolo.

On a multi-day or privately guided tour, you’ll have local transfers included. This means you’ll be picked up from your hotel or a nearby pickup point.

If you’re planning on taking a self-drive tour, you’ll have no problem getting around Reykjavík by car. There’s little traffic and parking is plentiful, although you may have to pay in the downtown area.

Keflavík International Airport is roughly a 40-minute drive from central Reykjavík. There are bus and taxi connections available from the terminal.

If you buy a vacation package from Iceland Tours, your airport transfer is always included. You even have the option to add a visit to the Blue Lagoon on your way to or from the city.

If you’re driving yourself, simply take route 49 until you reach route 40, then follow this until you turn off onto route 41. Staying on this should take you into the very heart of Reykjavík.


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