Last Updated on: 19th September 2021, 05:43 pm
I adore the city of Reykjavik! It’s cozy, charming, cool…I mean it’s everything you could want in a city this remote. So why do so many people come to Iceland and ditch Reykjavik? This Reykjavik itinerary covers what to do with 3 days in Reykjavik, which is enough time to get a good feel for the city (though you might want more when you’re done)!
There are tons of great options for day trips from Reykjavik, so for the third day, I’ve included some of the traditional sites near the city and a few that are further away. Otherwise, this is the perfect itinerary for Reykjavik if your goal is to relax and enjoy Iceland’s capital. At the bottom, I include more resources for traveling in Iceland to help you plan your trip.
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Where to Stay in Reykjavik
There are a lot of options for accommodations in Reykjavik, but it is definitely not a traditional budget destination! I’m including a recommendation for Reykjavik hotels and hostels for each of the following budget categories:
- Budget: A room in a hostel, usually $35-50 USD per night for a dorm bed.
- Mid-range: Around $75-100 USD per night
- Luxury: Around $150 per night or more
Budget: Iceland is no budget destination, but the hostel dorms at Reykjavik Downtown HI Hostel are affordable and in a great location. You can stay in the mixed dormitory or women can book a room in the female-only dorm. Includes free wifi and the option to add breakfast. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Mid-Range: For our trip to Reykjavik, we stayed at the self-catering Stay Apartments Einholt. We loved having a self-catering room since we actually cooked half of our dinners and all of our breakfasts in our apartment to save money on the trip overall. We also loved the location. It’s close to downtown within easy walking distance to the main sites. The price was right in our budget for two people, too. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: For a real luxury experience in Reykjavik, stay at the four-star Exeter Hotel by Keahotels which is located right near the city’s most important sites. Rooms are super modern and beautifully done, with a cozy take on industrial chic. You can come back and relax in the hotel’s sauna and enjoy the on-site restaurant. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
3 Day Reykjavik Itinerary Map
The Complete 3 Days in Reykjavik Itinerary: Day 1
Day one is full of some of the most important sites in the city and is packed so that you can leave room for a few other kinds of adventure at the end of your three days in Reykjavik. Wear comfortable shoes and have your camera and phone batteries charged!
If you would prefer to do a bus tour of Reykjavik instead of walking to the main sites, you can check out the Reykjavik Hop-On Hop-Off Tour, which includes many of the sites for Day 1.
Arrive at Hallgrimskirkja bright and early
Your time in Reykjavik begins at Hallgrimskirkja, the beautiful white Cathedral-like Lutheran church that is visible from almost anywhere in the city.
In the square out front, you’ll see the statue of Leif Erikson, the Icelandic Viking who was the first European to set foot in North America. The statue was a gift to Iceland from the United States.
Try to get here a little before 9 am so that you can explore the square and take any pictures you want. When the church opens at 9 am, go inside and check out how lovely the interior architecture is.
Go up the Hallgrimskirkja Observation Deck
If you want to go up to the top of the church tower and see the amazing city views. You can go into the church for free, but visiting the tower is 1000 ISK for adults and 100 ISK for children. (About $8.20 USD and $0.82 USD respectively). Check the church’s website for their up-to-date schedule.
Grab a Coffee at Reykjavik Roasters
If you haven’t gotten coffee yet, this cute coffee shop is located conveniently between Hallgrimkja and Town Hall. Stop by and grab a cup of coffee, but also look around at its simple-yet-stylish decor. I love it so much I put it on my list of the most Instagrammable places in Reykjavik. Instagramming your cup of joe not required, obviously.
Walk around Ráðhús Reykjavíkur & Tjörninn (Reykjavik City Hall and the Pond)
Reykavik’s City Hall is a modern building that sits next to Tjörninn, a naturally occurring lake in the middle of the city. The building is a landmark of modern architecture, but I adore walking around the lake just as much as seeing the building. The lake is home to make ducks and geese. Notice the beautiful Fríkirkjan church across the water.
Visit the Althingi Parliament House, Domkirkjan, and Austurvöllur Square
There are three Reykjavik sites to see at this point. The first is the Althingi Parliament House, the beautiful gray building with the year 1881 emblazoned across it. This is where the Icelandic Parliament was moved to in the nineteenth century. The crown and seal at the top represent King Christian IX of Denmark since Denmark was in control of Iceland at the time.
You’ll also want to stop by Domkirkjan, the church which stands on the square. This eighteenth-century church is known as Reykjavik Cathedral in English, and it is the seat of the Bishop of Iceland. You can go inside from 10 am until 4 pm on weekdays.
Walk to the top of Þúfa
Next, walk from the center of town to Þúfa (pronounced Thoofa), the incredible art installation on the harbor. The name Þúfa means “very tiny knoll,” and even though you’re in the middle of a city, you can find all the peace and tranquility here that those words evoke.
The site is supposed to be a place of meditation, so walk up but be respectful of others who are visiting. Even though this is one of Reykjavik’s most Instagrammable spots, don’t be a jerk to other people coming to enjoy the serenity of the place.
At the top is a small shack like the ones used all over Iceland to dry fish. If you smell something, ahem fishy, that means a fisherman is using the shack to dry his latest catch. Don’t disturb anything inside.
Eat Lunch at Fish and Chips Vagninn
It’s time to grab a quick bite to eat, and this fish and chips stall is a great place in the harbor to eat while you’re on the go. If you don’t want to eat outside (due to the weather) there are other places nearby to grab a quick lunch.
Explore Harpa & the Old Harbor
Harpa is one of my favorite buildings in the city. This beautiful concert hall is made of colored glass panels shaped to be reminiscent of the basalt columns found in Iceland. The way the light changes throughout the day drastically changes how the building looks. Give yourself time to enjoy and photograph Harpa from far away and up close.
If you’re running late and you need to skip seeing Harpa for now, you can come back towards the end of the day.
See Whales in the Bay on a Whale Watching Tour
A real highlight of any trip to Reykjavik, spend your first afternoon in the city on a whale watching tour! Book ahead of time so that you know when you need to be at your boat and where it’s leaving from.
Reykjavik’s whale watching tours head out into Faxaflói Bay, which is the bay that the city sits on. Other kinds of whales that you might see in Faxaflói Bay include Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, White Beaked Dolphins, Harbor Porpoises and sometimes Orcas. During our tour, we saw two blue whales playing, which was such a delight!
I have a guide to going on a Reykjavik whale watching tour, which includes what to wear and different kinds of tours available. For this itinerary, I suggest booking the classic 3 Hour Whale Watching Excursion that leaves at 1 pm at the harbor.
Pay attention to when and where your tour leaves from (it can change depending on weather), and adjust your sightseeing at Harpa if you need extra time to get to the boat. You can visit Harpa after your tour if you need to make a change.
Stand in Awe at the Sun Voyager
After your tour, walk from the harbor to Sun Voyager, the beautiful modern statue that sits on the bay near the harbor. Reminiscent of a Viking Ship, it’s spectacular to see in person. The view also changes marvelously depending on the light.
Your whale watching tour should end around 5 pm, so as long as the sun sets after 5:30 pm you’ll be able to see it after your tour.
Enjoy Icelandic Cuisine at Islenskii Barinn
There are lots of great (but expensive) restaurants in Reykjavik. If you want to enjoy a nice dinner out on your first full evening, I suggest heading to Iselenski Barinn (The Icelandic Bar). Here you’ll find updated versions of Icelandic cuisine. They also have traditional pub fare, which is reasonably priced (for Iceland).
The Complete 3 Days in Reykjavik Itinerary: Day 2
For your second day in Reykjavik, you have a choice between two different Reykjavik itineraries. One option is to explore Reykjavik museums and the best places to shop in the city. The other is to spend the day relaxing at the Blue Lagoon Spa. You really can’t go wrong (but you do have to make a choice).
Start with a Hearty Breakfast
I suggest starting your second day in Reykjavik with breakfast at Bergsson. This popular Icelandic breakfast spot has two locations, but you want the one called Bergsson Mathus at Templarasund 3 (see map). They open at 7 am, while the other location opens at 10.
What time you want to start breakfast depends on which of the two options you choose below. If you choose option 1, eat breakfast around 9:30 am. If you choose option 2, it depends on what pick-up time you schedule.
Option 1: Culture & Shopping
Choose this option if you love museums and shopping. Wondering what to buy in Reykjavik? Check out my Icelandic Souvenirs & Reykjavik Shopping Guide.
Go Shopping at Kolaportið Flea Market
Considering that many of the best Iceland souvenirs are expensive, bargain hunters will flip out at the prices at Kolaportið Flea Market. If most of Reykjavik is cool but sleek, Kolaportið has more of a raw, vintage vibe. You’ll find everyone from tourists to local Reykjavikers here shopping. Bring your own cash, since vendors don’t take credit cards.
What can you find here? Everything. Vinyl, second-hand fashion, vintage goods, dried fish, Icelandic knitwear, and even fermented shark. I bought a red second-hand purse here that I still use all the time. One of the best souvenirs I’ve ever bought, and it only cost me the equivalent of $7. In Iceland! That’s insane.
Unfortunately, Kolaportið is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, so if you’re only in town on weekends then skip to the next part of the itinerary. The flea market opens at 11 am. Get here when the doors open for the best deals.
Visit the Reykjavik Art Museum
The Reykjavik Art Museum has three locations, but you want to go to the one by the harbor (on the map). Built in an old fishing warehouse, Here you’ll find works by Iceland’s most famous artist, the postmodern master Erró.
Admission is 1800 ISK for adults (about $15). Children are free. See information on the Reykjavik City Card below. It may or may not make sense for you to get one during your trip.
Eat Lunch at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Icelanders love their hot dogs, and they’re much better than most of the ones you’ll find in North America. If you want to try one at the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland, eat lunch at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Everyone who comes to Reykjavik seems to have a meal here, even President Clinton stopped by!
Hot Dogs are also a great way to keep your food budget low, since this simple street food is filling, tasty (I promise, they’re way better than you’re used to), and inexpensive.
Learn about the Vikings at the Settlement Exhibition Reykjavík 871±2
If you love Viking history (or even just the show Vikings), then your next stop is Settlement Exhibition Reykjavík 871±2. This museum is built around the archeological site of an original Viking longhouse. Here you can learn all about how the Vikings came and settled Iceland.
While it’s not my favorite Viking museum in the world (nothing can compare with sailing in a Viking ship in Roskilde), it’s still really cool. I learned so much during my visit. I even picked up a copy of the Sagas in the gift shop!
Alternative Museums: Not into Viking history? Check out the Icelandic Phallological Museum (the Penis Museum) or Icelandic Punk Museum instead!
Go Shopping on Laugavegur Street
So far you’ve shopped, explored art, eaten hot dogs, and learned a little bit. You deserve to shop some more! Head to Bankastraeti 10 Marker. From here, walk down Laugavegur Street, called “Iceland’s Coolest Shopping Street” by Vogue. This stretch is lined with bars, boutiques, and vintage shops. You’ve reached the end when you get down to Hlemmur Square, so turn around and pick up whatever souvenir or gift you wanted but left behind.
See Reykjavik from Above at Perlan
Next, head to Perlan. If you’re getting tired (the walk is 30 minutes and through more industrial streets) you’re right near the bus stop. Get the 18 towards Spöng um Grafarholt. Alternatively, you can get a taxi. The cost for the bus is 460 ISK (about $4 USD) and you can pay on the bus in cash. Get off at Perlan. If you’re confused about where to get off, ask the driver. The ride is short.
There’s a lot of different things you could do here, but we’re mostly interested in going up to the Observation Deck with the amazing panoramic views of the city and bay. The view is a full three-hundred and sixty degrees. Tickets to just the Observation Deck cost 890 ISK (about $7.50 USD). If you want to know what the view is like, I listed this on my guide to the most Isntagrammable places in Reykjavik.
If you want a pick-me-up, grab a drink or a coffee at the restaurant upstairs. If you’re starving, stay and eat dinner here. Otherwise, keep eating at the next stop.
Enjoy Dinner and Drinks at Kol
This beautiful restaurant manages to be both Mid Century Modern and rustic at the same time. Check out the antler chandelier when you’re here – it’s gorgeous! As for food, they’re famous for their seafood dishes and their cocktail menu.
Alternative: Stay and eat at Perlan (if you’re starving) or eat groceries in your hotel (if you’re on a budget).
See the Night Sky Light Up on a Northern Lights Tour (Weather Permitting)
Not everyone will be able to see the Northern Lights while in Reykjavik, but some will! Unfortunately, we kept trying to book but they never appeared while we were there. However, if you’ll be in Reykjavik from September through April, it’s worth trying!
Book a Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik early to reserve your spot. If the lights don’t appear, they’ll give you a free ticket to the next tour.
Option 2: Relax with a Day at the Spa
If you have your heart set on doing a Golden Circle or South Coast tour as one of your three days in Reykjavik, then you need to decide if you want to also go to the Blue Lagoon.
It is up to you and your gut as to whether you want to spend 2 days in Reykjavik sightseeing and one day on a day trip or if you want to go on two separate day trips from the city. The great thing is you will have a great time no matter what you choose because all the options are fantastic.
After the Blue Lagoon, Go on a Northern Lights Tour (Weather Permitting)
If you want to see the Northern Lights in during your time in Iceland, you can schedule a Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik that leaves at 9:30 pm. Just make sure you’re back from the spa in time for your tour. See the description above for tour details.
The Complete 3 Days in Reykjavik Itinerary: Day 3
I love the city, and I could definitely spend more than just two days there seeing all there is to see. However, if you only have 3 days in Reykjavik then you should get out and see some of the amazing things to do outside of the city.
Of course, you only have one day, so you do need to make a choice as to what you do. Here are four options for how to spend your last day in the city. I love all of them, and they’re each great options for different kinds of travelers.
Option 1: Golden Circle Tour
This is the classic Reykjavik day trip, which takes you to Gullfoss, Geysir, and Thingvellir. Gullfoss is an amazing waterfall, and Geysir is, well, a geyser. They’re both breathtaking spots and natural wonders.
For me personally, though, the highlight of a Golden Circle tour is seeing Thingvellir. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site where the Vikings held their open-air parliament for hundreds of years. It’s also the spot where you can see the North American and European plates drifting apart.
Some people choose to rent a car and drive the triangle, but we found that it was actually less expensive for us to book a Golden Circle Tour, plus I love having a guide to tell us more about the sites as we see them.
Option 2: South Coast Tour
This was one of my favorite days in Iceland! We rented a car and drove along the south coast of the ring road, stopping at waterfalls, beautiful churches, and a village museum, before having a picnic on a stunning black sand beach. This was one of my first experiences driving in foreign countries, and it was exhilarating!
However, if you don’t want to drive, you’ll find it’s actually less expensive to book the group South of Iceland Full-Day Tour which stops at many of the same locations that we did. You won’t get to picnic with a dog on the beach, but you will have someone to tell you all the great mythology and history of the area.
Option 3: A Day at the Spa
If you chose to explore Reyjavik’s culture and shopping scene on Day 2, you still have time to get your spa on. You should book your day directly through their website. You’ll also need to book a Blue Lagoon Transfer from Reykjavik and back.
This is a great choice if you’ll be flying out of Keflavik airport at the end of your third day since you can easily take your stuff with you and schedule your return ticket directly to Keflavik instead of going back to town. Plus, you’ll be your most relaxed self on your flight home!
Option 4: Horseback Riding
This is one thing I didn’t do while in Reykjavik, and I really wish I had! We got to meet some adorable Icelandic horses (with their amazing hipster haircuts), but we didn’t set aside time to ride them! I have ridden while in other countries like Romania, and I love connecting with these amazing animals while on the road. It’s so peaceful!
If you want to spend your last day in Reykjavik meeting and riding horses, then book an Icelandic Horse Riding Tour in Lava Fields. Make sure you add the transfer pick-up option unless you want to make your way there on your own. Their pick-up is less expensive than a taxi.
Things to Consider When Planning Your Reykjavik Itinerary
Time of Year
When you go to Iceland will affect what you can do. While most of the activities in Reykjavik are good all year, there are some things, like the Northern Lights, which are seasonal. The high tourist season in Iceland is May through September. Some tours aren’t available for the rest of the year.
We went to Iceland in October, and we were able to do everything we wanted to do. Just make sure you know what to bring with you to Iceland so you’re prepared for the weather.
Because different kinds of tours are available during different times of the year, it’s important to book your activities in advance. This way you know what you will be doing, and you can adjust your wardrobe accordingly.
Reykjavik Travel Tips
Getting to Reykjavik from Keflavik Airport
The airport is about forty-five minutes outside of the city. Taxis are heinously expensive, and there’s no Uber. However, there are several bus companies that operate on this route. You can pre-book your Keflavik Airport: Reykjavik City Bus Transfer (just make sure to book both directions). Note there’s a difference in price if you want to get dropped off at your hotel instead of at a central location.
Getting Around Reykjavik
Most places in Reykjavik are easily reachable on foot, but you can also take advantages of the public buses and the taxis (though taxis are pricey). For this itinerary, every section is walkable or covered by a transfer that you can pre-book except for one place on Day 2. For this, there are bus directions listed in the itinerary, though you can also take a taxi.
Should You Get the Reykjavik City Card?
If you’re going to follow this itinerary exactly, then you don’t need to get the Reykjavik City Card. However, if you’re interested in adding more museums to your itinerary, then you should get it. It includes free entrance to both museums on the itinerary (though not the alternative museum options). It also includes free bus fare. If you plan to add one more city museum to your itinerary then you would save money. Otherwise, it will basically cost you exactly the same amount (unless you plan on using a lot of buses. Then you would also save money).
Here are all the tours mentioned in this post in an easy-to-reference list.
- Keflavik Airport: Reykjavik City Bus Transfer
- Reykjavik Hop-On Hop-Off Tour (for those who would rather ride than walk for Day 1)
- 3 Hour Whale Watching Excursion
- Reykjavik City Card
- Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik
- Blue Lagoon Transfer
- Blue Lagoon Spa Appointments
- Golden Circle Tour
- South of Iceland Full-Day Tour
- Icelandic Horse Riding Tour in Lava Fields
5 Things to Pack for Reykjavik
- The Lonely Planet Iceland guidebook or the Rick Steves Iceland guidebook for your trip. It can be kind of a pain to find the major guidebooks once you land, or you’ll find them overpriced. I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
- Tech-friendly gloves like these and warm wool socks to keep your fingers and toes toasty. Iceland gets cold! Even in summer, you want to have access to warm layers for particularly windy spots.
- A Camera since Iceland is super photogenic. I used a mix of my Nikon D810 and my Samsung8 smartphone.
- Sunscreen since you’ll be outside a lot more than back home.
- A Backup Charging Bank so you can keep your cell phone charged for long day trips without access to an electrical outlet.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Never travel without a valid travel insurance policy, because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when you’ll be doing any outdoor activities (like…ahem…whale watching) since accidents happen.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for three years, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when participating in outdoor activities or driving in foreign countries. Even in the cities, though, you’ll be happy when you’re able to replace your stuff if it’s lost or stolen.
More Iceland Travel Resources
Here are my resources to help you plan your trip. Start with my Iceland packing list so you know what to bring with you year-round. If this will be one of your first trips abroad, you may want to read my common-sense travel safety tips for staying safe in Reykjavik. It’s a super safe city, but there are smart things every traveler should know.
Next, check out my guide to Icelandic souvenirs, which also includes more awesome Reykjavik shopping tips, plus this guide to the best Reykjavik Instagram spots and how to go whale watching in Reykjavik.
If you’re looking to get inspired before your trip, check out my post on beautiful quotes about Iceland and 30 Reykjavik Pictures that Prove It’s Time to Visit Iceland.