Top 17 Things to Do in Reykjavík

9 minute read

ITo Author Bio Adina Transparent

By Adina Lazar

27 June 2024

The Reykjavík skyline next to the Tjörnin pond on a sunny day.

Imagine a city where Viking history meets modern art, dramatic landscapes are a short hike away, and geothermal pools offer the ultimate relaxation. You’ll find all this and more in Reykjavík, Iceland's lively capital.

In this guide, discover the top experiences that make the capital city not just a stopover – but a must-see destination. Whether you're exploring the historic Old Harbor, strolling the iconic Rainbow Street, or sampling Icelandic delicacies, you’ll find endless things to do in Reykjavík. 

1. Unwind at Sky Lagoon 

Couple at Sky Lagoon in Iceland.

Relaxing in a geothermal pool or hot spring is a bucket-list experience while you’re visiting Iceland. Why not do it in style at Sky Lagoon, Reykjavík’s trendy spa?

This modern resort is perched on the edge of the North Atlantic, just 15 minutes from the city center. Here, you’ll be treated to breathtaking ocean views from an infinity-edge pool.

During your visit, we recommend trying their signature 7-Step Ritual. It’s a great introduction to Icelandic bathing culture and includes a lagoon soak, cold plunge, sauna, and a refreshing body scrub.

Travel a little further out of the city and you’ll find the Blue Lagoon. It’s roughly a 45–minute drive from Reyjavík, but if you want to soak in those famous milky-blue waters, it’s worth the journey.

2. Go whale watching in Faxaflói Bay

A whale fin emerging from the water

Rich in marine wildlife, Iceland has become one of the best places in the world for whale watching. These gentle mammals can be seen throughout the island, but one of the top spots to witness them up close is right here in the capital. 

Guided whale watching tours run year-round in Reykjavík, starting at the Old Harbor. From there, you’ll sail around Faxaflói Bay, where you can spot humpbacks, minke whales, and even dolphins!

3. Visit Hallgrímskirkja church

Hallgrimskirkja-Reykjavik-Iceland.jpg.webp

Hallgrímskirkja is Iceland's tallest church and a landmark of Reykjavík. You won’t miss its striking architecture dominating the city’s skyline. Designed by the renowned Icelandic architect Guðjón Samúelsson, the structure was inspired by the country’s unique natural landscapes.

Outside the church, you’ll find the statue of Viking Leifur Eiríksson. It was a gift from the US to commemorate the 1,000-year anniversary of Alþingi, Iceland's Viking-era parliament.

Inside, marvel at the 15-meter (49-ft) tall pipe organ and take the elevator to the top for panoramic city views. There’s no charge to visit the church itself, but if you want to go up the church tower you’ll have to pay a small fee. 

4. Discover Reykjavík’s foodie scene 

An Icelandic hot dog, or pylsa, with everything

In recent years, Reykjavík has made a name for itself as a certified foodie destination. You could easily spend a day eating your way through the city’s top restaurants, food halls, and street food spots.

You may have heard of some, like the famous hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. This popular spot, beloved by locals and tourists alike, serves up hot dogs with an Icelandic twist – topped with crispy onions, sweet mustard, and creamy remoulade.

Then there’s Reykjavík’s trendy food halls. These indoor markets are filled with restaurants offering Icelandic specialties and street food from around the world.

Places like Hlemmur Mathöll and Pósthús are perfect for sampling various dishes, from fresh seafood and gourmet burgers to traditional Icelandic produce.

5. Stroll along Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur street

Skólavörðustígur or the rainbow street in Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavík is a walkable city with many pedestrian streets, making exploring its charming neighborhoods on foot easy. 

Laugavegur is the city’s main shopping street. Lined with cool boutiques, cozy cafés, and buzzing restaurants, it offers a little something for everyone. Whether you're hunting for souvenirs, sampling delicious pastries, or simply people-watching, this bustling street captures the essence of Reykjavík.

Just a short walk away, you'll find Skólavörðustígur, AKA ‘Rainbow Street’. This brightly-painted street leads up to the Hallgrímskirkja church and celebrates Reykjavík’s inclusive spirit. It’s the perfect photo-op and a great place to explore more shops and galleries.

6. Hike Mount Esja

Reykjavik and Mount Esja covered in snow

One of the best things about Reykjavík is that you don’t have to travel far outside the city to enjoy nature. One of the most-loved hiking spots among the locals is Mount Esja, the beautiful mountain range that looms over Reykjavík. 

Located only 20-30 minutes from the city, you can easily get there by bus or car. The 8 km (5 mi) hike to the summit rewards you with breathtaking views of the city stretching all the way to the coast.

Don't worry if conquering a mountain isn't on your agenda. Mount Esja also has more leisurely trails suited to all fitness levels. Just remember, Icelandic weather can be unpredictable, so bring layers and be prepared for the elements, especially if you're aiming for the summit. 

7. Hunt for the Northern Lights 

The Northern Lights over a lake in south Iceland

If you’re only in Iceland for a city break, you still have the chance to spot the Northern Lights in wintertime. On clear nights from March to October, the Aurora can make an appearance in darker areas of the capital.

The best viewing spots include the Grótta lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula and Öskjuhlíð hill at the base of the Perlan Museum.

For an even better chance to see them, consider joining a guided Northern Lights tour. These excursions take you to prime viewing locations into the countryside where there's less light pollution. 

Bundle up, bring a hot chocolate, and get ready for one of nature's most mesmerizing shows!

8. Dive into Icelandic history and culture at Reykavík’s museums

Dome shaped building of Perland at night

Wondering what to do in Reykjavík for a dose of history and culture? The city center is full of fascinating museums that offer you an insight into Iceland’s rich heritage and natural wonders.

The Settlement Exhibition takes you on a journey back to the Viking Age. Located in the heart of the city, this museum is built around the remains of a Viking longhouse dating back to the 9th century.

Interactive exhibits and ancient artifacts bring Iceland’s early history to life, making it a must-visit for history buffs and anyone curious about the country’s origins.

For another dose of history and culture, check out the National Museum of Iceland. The museum’s impressive collection includes artifacts, art, and photography from the Vikings' arrival to modern times.

Another unmissable museum is Perlan. This glass-domed landmark is home to exhibits on Iceland’s natural wonders, including an interactive ice cave and glacier display.

The view from the observation deck alone makes it worth the visit. You’ll get amazing views of Reykjavík and Mount Esja in the distance.

9. Mingle with the locals at the city pools

Experience Iceland’s famous bathing culture at one of the city’s public pools. They’re a great way to socialize with the locals and a budget-friendly alternative to geothermal spas. Here are some of the top spots across Reykjavík: 

  • Sundhöllin – Built in 1937, the recently renovated Sundhöllin is the city's oldest swimming pool. Here you’ll find indoor and outdoor pools, a children's area, sauna, and steam bath.
  • Vesturbæjarlaug – This family-friendly pool is located near the famous Vesturbæjarís ice cream shop. Enjoy the great facilities, including a 25m (82 ft) outdoor pool, hot tubs, a cold tub, and sauna.
  • Laugardalslaug – Swim lengths in Reykjavík's only Olympic-sized pool at Laugardalslaug. Other amenities here include a children's pool with slides, saltwater hot tub, and steam bath.

10. Explore the Old Harbor & Harpa Concert Hall

Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik

Reykjavík's Old Harbor is a charming spot for a leisurely stroll. Here, you can watch colorful fishing boats, enjoy fresh seafood, and check out local shops and art galleries. 

Just a short walk away, you'll find the Harpa Concert Hall, a must-see landmark. This architectural gem, with its shimmering glass exterior, hosts concerts and cultural events throughout the year.

Even if you don’t catch a show, the building is worth a visit, and the on-site restaurant serves up delicious modern Icelandic cuisine.

11. See outdoor art on the ‘Sculpture and Shore Walk’ 

The Sun Voyager sculpture on a snowy winters evening in Iceland

From Harpa, continue eastward along the shore on a scenic path called ‘The Sculpture and Shore Walk’. This pathway stretches along the waterfront, offering stunning views of the ocean and nearby mountains. 

As you walk along, you’ll come across different sculptures and art installations, each adding a unique touch to the landscape. One of the highlights is the Sun Voyager, a renowned steel artwork that looks like a Viking ship.

The path is great for a nice sunset walk, and it’s a fantastic way to soak up the beauty of Reykjavík’s coastline. 

12. Go on day trips outside the city

The Gullfoss waterfall in summertime

Staying in Reykjavík gives you easy access to some of Iceland’s most incredible day trips.

The Golden Circle, with its trio of famous attractions – Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and Geysir – is a must-see when visiting Iceland. This classic route is a perfect introduction to the island’s stunning natural beauty.

Beyond the Golden Circle, there are plenty of other spectacular day trips. Venture to the south coast, where you can walk behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, stroll along the Reynisfjara black sand beach, and get up close to the breathtaking Skógafoss waterfall.

For something a bit different, take a trip to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, often called ‘Iceland in Miniature’ for its diverse landscapes. Here, you can see glaciers, volcanoes, lava fields, and charming fishing villages.

13. Attend a local festival

Pride parade in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Attending a festival in Reykjavík is the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy an authentic Icelandic experience.

If you’re a music lover, one of the highlights is Iceland Airwaves in November. This renowned festival features a mix of local and international artists performing in venues across the city.

For film buffs, the Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) showcases films from around the world in late September and early October.

Summertime is also packed with festivals and cultural events. One of the highlights is Reykjavík Pride in August, a week-long celebration of love and equality with parades, parties, and performances that showcase the city's inclusive spirit.

And don’t miss Culture Night (Menningarnótt), a city-wide event with art exhibitions, street performances, and fireworks.

14. Take a virtual tour of the island with FlyOver Iceland

Riders on FlyOver Iceland above a virtual waterfall

FlyOver Iceland is a thrilling, family-friendly activity that lets you see the country without leaving the city. This immersive flight simulation takes you on a journey over Iceland's stunning landscapes. 

With your feet dangling before a 20-meter (65-ft) spherical screen, you'll feel like you're soaring over glaciers, waterfalls, and volcanic craters. This is thanks to the incredible special effects and state-of-the-art technology, including wind, mist, and scents.

To enter, children must be at least 102 cm (40 in) tall and accompanied by an adult.

15. Ring in the New Year

Fireworks in Reykjavik for New Year's

Reykjavík is an amazing place to spend the winter holidays. Streets are decorated with twinkling lights, and there's a cheerful vibe everywhere you go.

For a perfect Icelandic New Year’s Eve, start off your evening with a festive meal at one of the charming downtown restaurants. Then, join the locals for a neighborhood bonfire. There are bonfires all around downtown Reykjavík, lit at different times throughout the evening.

As the clock gets closer to midnight, make your way down to the harbor to watch the breathtaking fireworks display. You can even take a boat cruise for a unique view of them from the water.

16. Experience the city’s vibrant nightlife

The capital’s nightlife centers around the main streets of Laugavegur and Austurstræti. Mingle with the locals and enjoy Icelandic beers at one of the city’s pubs or trendy bars. Many feature live music, and the shows are often free. 

In the summer, most venues black out their windows to keep out the midnight sun. Imagine coming back from a night out when the sun is high in the sky!

17. Take a street art walking tour

People walking toward Hallgrimskirkja church

Exploring Reykjavík's vibrant street art scene on a walking tour is a fun way to see the city. The streets are filled with murals and graffiti that tell the stories of Icelandic culture, history, and everyday life. 

A knowledgeable guide will take you to the best spots, sharing the fascinating stories behind the artwork and the artists who created them.

This tour is perfect for art lovers and anyone looking to see a different side of Reykjavík. You'll wander through hidden alleys and bustling neighborhoods, discovering pieces that range from bold political statements to whimsical, playful designs. 

Plan your visit to Reykjavík

With so much stuff to do in Reykjavík, Iceland's buzzing capital is an unmissable stop on your tour.

For an authentic experience, let the team at Iceland Tours plan your vacation. Our Iceland-based experts will recommend what to do in Reykjavík so you can experience the city like a local.

They’ll also arrange your accommodation, local transport, and detailed itinerary. Plus, you can customize your travel package by adding extra nights and activities. 

If you prefer not to drive, bus tours are the perfect way to explore the capital and beyond. On a multi-day tour, you can base yourself in the city and take daily guided trips to must-see attractions. On the other hand, you can opt for a guided group tour, where you can travel around with like-minded adventurers.

Whatever you choose, you’ll be led by guides with in-depth knowledge of the country. 

When you’re ready to book your Reykjavík getaway, our team can help you plan it. All it takes to secure your trip is a 5% deposit.

ITo Author Bio Adina Transparent

About the author

Adina’s love for travel has led her to different corners of the world over the years. But Iceland’s unique beauty has a special place in her heart, so she’s decided to share it with the world! Next time she’s there, she plans to take a dip in the hot springs, spot some puffins, and collect a few Icelandic wool sweaters (lopapeysa) along the way. When she’s not writing, she loves being out in nature or cozying up with a good book.

View more posts by Adina

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