Are you visiting Iceland and spending some time in Reykjavik, wondering what you should see and do there? No worries. This list covers all the bases and could be completed in as little as a couple of day in winter or summer.
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is a picturesque city that offers the ideal blend of natural wonders and urban attractions. From geothermal hot springs to colorful buildings, and fascinating museums, Reykjavik has something to offer for everyone.
Whether you’re a nature lover, an art enthusiast, or a foodie, the city has all the activities and experiences you could want. In this article, we’ll explore some the best things to do in Reykjavik, to make the most of your visit to this interesting destination.
This post contains affiliate links. That means I may earn a commission, at no cost to you, if you book or buy something from a link I provide. This keeps Southerner Says online and on the road. Thank you for your support.
Things to do in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a beautiful city with plenty to see and do but most people only spend only a short amount of time there, often utilizing it as a base for exploring other locations in Iceland.
That’s what I did for my 4 days in Iceland. I really didn’t know too much about the city and now, I wish I had spent more time there.
Most of these things on my list are things I have done or things I hope to do when I return. The majority of these sites and attractions can be done on foot. If you have a car and the weather is nice, find a public parking lot and walk.
Now, for the things to do in Reykjavik.
One of the most recognizable buildings in Reykjavik is the Harpa Concert Hall – a stunning, award winning, modern building located on the waterfront in downtown.
The exterior of the building is adorned with geometric patterns and shapes that change according to the time of day and the angle of the sun. Depending where you stand, the exterior reflects the surroundings.
Honestly, I could have spent all day just snapping photos outside the fascinating exterior but the inside is a work of art as well.
Harpa is a active concert hall with frequently scheduled events with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the Icelandic Opera and Reykjavík Big Band. If you are lucky enough to be in town when there is a concert, it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Reykjavik.
If you don’t have that kind of time, Harpa also offers a couple of restaurants inside and a store with local and handmade products from Icelandic craftsmen. I bought the cutest pair of socks there.
2. Sky Lagoon
After the Blue Lagoon, Sky Lagoon has become one of the more popular geothermal spa located near Reykjavik. It opened in 2021 and it didn’t take long for it to become a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
And it’s no wonder. The spa offers visitors a chance to relax in hot geothermal waters while enjoying stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape. The spa’s centerpiece is a large infinity pool that appears to merge with the ocean, giving visitors the feeling of swimming in the sea.
In addition to the hot pools, Sky Lagoon also features a cold plunge pool, a sauna, and a steam room. There is also a restaurant on-site that serves Icelandic cuisine and a bar that offers a selection of cocktails and other beverages.
Sky Lagoon is open year-round, and the experience can be especially magical during the winter months when the Northern Lights can sometimes be seen overhead. Tickets can be purchased online and they offer at least four different packages and a popular 7 step wellness ritual. Sounds divine.
3. Grab a Coffee
One walk down a Reykjavik street and you can’t help but notice the abundance of coffee shops around. Since Iceland experiences cold and dark winters, coffee has become a popular beverage for locals and visitors alike. Coffee shops offer a warm and cozy haven where you can escape the cold and enjoy a hot drink.
You might be wondering if Iceland coffee is any good? Especially since most food products are imported. But surprisingly, Icelandic coffee is very good. In fact, Reykjavik has a reputation for serving some of the best coffee in the world.
Many coffee shops offer locally roasted beans that come from the south of the island. Who knew? This has led to a culture of coffee appreciation.
4. Visit a Record Store
Iceland in general has a strong music culture (ever heard of Bjork?) and Reykjavik in particular has a thriving music scene. But due to its remote location, the island has limited access to some digital music platforms. This has led to a high demand for vinyl records and other physical music formats.
Because of this, there’s a decent amount of record stores in Reykjavik. They’ve become a popular destination for music lovers and tourists alike and one of the more unique things to do in Reykjavik. You’ll find records stores all around downtown. Some of the more popular stores are Lucky Records, Reykjavik Record Shop and Smekkleysa.
And while records aren’t the ideal thing to bring back in your luggage, perusing a record store with a coffee in hand is a great way to spend a snowy afternoon in Reykjavik.
One of the best things to do in Reykjavik is visiting the famous church Hallgrímskirkja. This Lutheran church is the largest church in Iceland and one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. At 244 feet tall, it’s a popular destination for the awesome views of downtown and the waterfront.
Hallgrímskirkja was designed by the Icelandic architect Guðjón Samúelsson and is inspired by the basalt columns found in Iceland’s natural landscapes. Also interesting is the church’s organ, which was designed and built by a famous German organ builder and is one of the largest in Iceland and is known for its beautiful sound.
You can visit the tower when there are no church services happening. Check their website for the hours that change seasonally.
6. Museums – One of the Best Things to do in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has an old heritage and is home to many museums showcasing the island’s history, art, and culture. Museums in Reykjavik are another one of the best things to do in Reykjavik especially in winter when the weather might be less than perfect. Here are some of the most popular museums in Reykjavik.
The National Museum of Iceland is located in downtown Reykjavik and features exhibitions on the country’s history, including Viking artifacts, medieval manuscripts, and exhibits on the settlement and development of Iceland. Entrance fee is less than $20 and children are free.
The Reykjavik Art Museum is a modern art museum that showcases Icelandic and international contemporary art. The museum has three locations in Reykjavik, each with its own exhibitions and events.
If you are looking for something a bit different to do, one of the more quirky museums in Iceland is the Icelandic Phallological Museum that features a collection of phallic specimens from various animals and humans.
Additionally, the National Gallery of Iceland has a ticket includes three museums for the price of one.
7. Search for Murals
But you won’t have to search too hard. Because of the huge arts and culture scene, Reykjavik is known for its vibrant street art. There are so many murals and other outdoor art installations throughout the city.
Everywhere you look, you will see something impressive that catches your eye – on buildings, in alleyways and even on the streets themselves. Here’s a few of my favorites.
8. Shop Thrift Stores
Thrifting might not be the first thing you think about doing while on vacation but due to the high cost of living, thrift stores are quite popular in Reykjavik. These type of stores offer a more affordable option for Icelanders who are looking to save money.
Icelanders are also known for their commitment to sustainability and reducing waste. Thrift stores provide a way for people to recycle and reuse clothing and other items, which is in line with Iceland’s environmental values.
Fatamarkaðurinn – a popular second-hand clothing store that offers a wide selection of vintage and contemporary clothing for men and women and Spúútnik – a vintage clothing store offering a curated selection of unique clothing and accessories from the 1950s to the 1990s are two of the most visited.
9. The Old Harbor
“Gamla Höfnin”, or the Old Harbor, is a historic harbor area located in Reykjavik. In the 18th century, it was the city’s main harbor before being replaced by the larger and more modern Reykjavik Harbor.
Today, the Old Harbor is a popular spot to walk around in with a variety of restaurants, shops, and attractions.
One of the main attractions in the Old Harbor is the Reykjavik Maritime Museum, which showcases Iceland’s fishing history. You can learn about the country’s seafaring traditions and see some exhibits such as fishing boats, navigational equipment, and fishing gear.
The Old Harbor was almost empty the day I was there and I loved wandering around looking at all the boats and just a different way of life. I imagine it’s a very lively place during the holidays and special events.
10. FlyOver Iceland
FlyOver Iceland is a unique experience in Reykjavik that utilizes state-of-the-art technology to give you the feeling of flight. You’ll hang suspended, in front of a 20-metre spherical screen, while the file takes you on an exhilarating journey across Iceland.
There are even special effects like wind, mist and scents that combine with the ride’s motion to create an unforgettable experience. Similar to a few rides at famous amusement parks in the U.S.
If something fabricated just isn’t your style, and you’d rather experience a real flyover, then Heleicopter.is is the real deal. With various packages and tours, they offer everything from romance and happy hour packages to volcano tours and waterfall tours.
There are couple of dishes you just have to sample when you are in Iceland and Reykjavik is the perfect spot. Hot dogs – which I unfortunately didn’t get to try – and fish-n-chips, which I could have eaten every day.
Throughout downtown Reykjavik, you’ll see restaurants and stalls featuring fish-n-chips. I opted to try Islandic Fish-n-Chips from their food cart in the Old Harbor. Crispy, golden, delicious and so Iceland.
12. Sun Voyager
Besides the murals and Harpa, one of the things I really wanted to do in Reykjavik was see the Sun Voyager. This sculpture is remarkable – more so in person than the photos I’d seen.
Made of stainless steel and shaped like a Viking ship, this sculpture was designed by Icelandic artist Jón Gunnar Árnason. It was unveiled in 1990 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city of Reykjavik.
More so than just the art and placement along the waterfront, it’s the sentiment I appreciate the most as a traveler since the piece symbolizes the human desire for adventure and exploration. Most fitting for Iceland and a can’t miss in Rekjavik.
13. Enjoy a Heated Swimming Pool
Since Iceland in general is known for its geothermal activity, in addition to hot springs, Reykjavik also has more than a handful of heated swimming pools in the city. Water is an important part of Icelandic culture and let’s face it a dip in a pool is a great way to relax and unwind after a day of sightseeing or outdoor activities.
The most famous family-friendly swimming pool in Reykjavik is Laugardalslaug – the largest outdoor pool in the city. It’s open year round and has hot tubs, a steam bath, and a waterslide.
Sundhöllin is a historic indoor swimming pool located in the heart of Reykjavik, with a 82 foot pool, hot tubs, cold plunge and a sauna. It was built in 1937 and is known for its unique art deco design and style.
Something to do in Reykjavik that both kids and grownups will enjoy is Perlan. This futuristic-looking building with a large glass dome houses a variety of fun and unique attractions and is a iconic landmark located in Reykjavik.
What once was a hot water storage tank is now a modern and innovative attraction for visitors of all ages to Reykjavik. The main attraction is the 360-degree observation deck located on the top floor of the glass dome. From here, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Reykjavik and the surrounding mountains and ocean.
One of the most amazing things at Perlan is the world’s first indoor Ice Cave made with over 350 tons of snow. So even if you can’t make it to a glacier or ice cave elsewhere on the island, you have the option right in Reykjavik.
Perlan also has a restaurant – with fish n chips on the menu – a cafe and an ice cream parlor on site.
15. See the Northern Lights (Fingers Crossed)
Visitors to Iceland often have one main goal in mind: to see the Northern Lights, aka the Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon that occurs in the polar regions when charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. This creates a display of colorful lights dancing in the sky.
Iceland’s location near the Arctic Circle makes it one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. Many visitors plan their trips to Iceland specifically for this purpose. For the best chance too see the lights, visit in fall or winter when it’s darkest and the nights are longer.
In Reykjavik, one of the best places to see the lights is the Grotta Island Lighthouse. This public area is close to downtown but far enough away from the city lights to see the Aurora. I was able to see the lights in September from this location by using the Aurora app My Aurora.
However, I don’t have any photos because I forgot my tripod. A tripod is a must for snapping Nothern Light photos. You can pick one up on Amazon. I have this one and it’s lightweight and travels well. I also have this bendy one that’s good phone cameras.
The lighthouse is open 24/7 and there’s is free (outside of summer) public parking at the lighthouse.
Things to do in Reykjavik FAQ
How Do You Get to Reykjavik From the Interenational Airport?
Reykjavik is approximately a 45 minute drive from the international airport in Keflavík. You can get to the city center by renting a car, taxi (expensive) or a transfer bus. Flybus is the most economical way to get from Keflavik (KEF) to Reykjavik.
How long do you need in Reykjavik?
The amount of time you want to spend in Reykjavik will ultimately based on individual preferences and your travel plans but you could see most things on the this list in about 3 days.
Is it easy to get around Reykjavik without a car?
Yes, it is relatively easy to get around Reykjavik without a car. The city is compact and walkable, and many of the main tourist attractions, restaurants, and shops are located within a few blocks of each other in the city center. Reykjavik also has an extensive public transportation system, with buses that run regularly throughout the city and surrounding areas. There are also taxis.
Is there Uber in Reykjavik?
No, there is no Uber in Reykjavik.
Are taxis easy to get in Reykjavik?
Yes, taxis are relatively easy to get in Reykjavik. There are several taxi companies operating in the city, and taxis can typically be found at designated taxi stands throughout the city center, at major hotels, and at the Keflavik International Airport. They are on the pricier side so walking is best if you are on a budget.
Final Thoughts About Things to do in Reykjavik
The capital of Iceland is probably not the first reason you decided to visit the island but I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the city and all the things to do in Reykjavik. It’s safe, clean, easy to get around in. Plus , it’s an interesting peek into the lives of Icelanders.
You don’t have to worry about cash – your credit card will get everywhere. Even if you have to pay for parking.
For even more things to do in Reykjavik, consider buying a Reykjavik City Card. This card can be purchased for stays from 24 to 72 hours and includes entrance to oodles of attractions, including thermal pools, museums and the zoo.
One of the perks of the card is discounts to even more places and transportation around town. And it offers really good discounts for seniors, too.
Check out my other Iceland guides:
As always – see you on the road!