I know that Reykjavik is a must-see city for many travelers, and it’s easy to see why. Iceland is such a beautiful and mysterious place that it almost needs to be seen to be believed. Even though I’ve been to almost seventy countries so far, Iceland is one of the most magical! This list is designed to help you make the most of your own Iceland adventure by covering all the best things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland’s super chill capital.
Essential Travel Resources for 2021 & 2022
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Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
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Things to Do in Reykjavik: How to Use This List
First, do not worry about doing everything on this list! It would be nearly impossible if you’re gonna be in the city for just a few days. The goal is to show you a giant overview of the very best things to do in Reykjavik, and then you can pick which Reykjavik activities appeal to you.
Someone who loves to travel for history (like me) might want to stick to the Viking sites and museums. Adventure travelers will want to check out some of the cool adventure tours in Reykjavik, while others might want to spend their time shopping in Reykjavik.
So however you like to travel, you can use this list to figure out what to do in Reykjavik. Just don’t feel pressure to do it all!
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.
Top 10 Things to Do in Reykjavik
If you just have a few days in the city, these are my picks for the top ten things to do in Reykjavik. This is a mix of landmarks, tours, places to eat, museums, and places to shop. You would need three or four days in Reykjavik to see the sites on this top ten list.
- Sun Voyager
- Kolaportið Flea Market (weekends only)
- Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
- Self-Guided Reykjavik Street Art Tour (map here)
- Golden Circle Tour (book here)
- Whale Watching Tour (book here)
- Reykjavik Art Museum
- Blue Lagoon (book transfer)
The Complete List of the Best Things to Do in Reykjavik
This list is separated into different categories to make it easier to go through and plan your itinerary.
Historic Buildings & Landmarks
For those wondering what to see in Reykjavik, start with the cities important landmarks. Most of these spots you can just walk by and appreciate as you explore the city. If you want to do any city tours (listed in a separate section) you will probably see some of these as you go around the city.
Even though Harpa has become one of the most delightful things to see in Reykjavik, it actually only opened in 2011. The distinctive shapes of the glass panels are designed to mimic the look of the basalt columns you find in the country (perhaps most famously at the beach in Vik).
Even if you don’t intend to see a performance, you’ll want to at least walk by and see how beautiful Harpa is sitting near the water. If you’re a fan of binge-worthy television, you should know that it appeared on episodes of Black Mirror and Sense8 on Netflix.
If you’re interested in learning more about Harpa, they have guided tours of the building. I didn’t go on one in Reykjavik, but I went on a tour of the Opera House in Dresden. This kind of behind-the-scenes look at a city’s most important music venue can be a great way to learn more about the city!
Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik City Hall)
You’ll want to visit Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik’s City Hall) to see this modern building which is set beautifully on the edge of Lake Tjörnin. If you love ducks and geese, you’re in for a treat. They flock here (pun intended!), and the building is even designed to specifically attract them.
While a walk around the building’s outside is probably sufficient, you may want to duck inside. (Pun intended, again). There are usually special exhibits here which you may find interesting.
Iceland’s Althing is the oldest parliament in the world, existing since 930 AD when the original Viking settling families were the rulers of the country. For centuries the parliament was held at Thingvellir (below), but the modern parliament has been held in Reykjavik since 1844.
If you want to see the current building, head to Parliament House on Austurvollur square. This gray stone building was erected in the nineteenth century and is one of the oldest stone buildings in the country. The crown on top is that of King Christian IX of Denmark.
Grótta Island Lighthouse
Located at the end of the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula, Grótta Island Lighthouse is just a ten-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik. You can come by taxi, bus, or drive (there’s a parking lot here). Once out at the lighthouse, there are great opportunities for photography and for walking along the beautiful shore. This guide is a great overview of exactly how to visit the lighthouse from downtown.
This historic cemetery in the middle of Reykjavik dates to the 19th century, Most important modern Icelandic leaders are buried here, and it is noted for its decorative graves and statues.
If you aren’t used to visiting cemeteries when you travel, you may find it a bit odd to spend time here. However, besides the connection to the past and the beautiful statuaries, you should know that, beyond its use as a cemetery, Hólavallagarður has served as a peaceful green space in the city and a calm destination for relaxation and reflection.
While a stop at the National Archives isn’t for everyone, there are a few types of travelers who need to add this to their itinerary. If you are coming to Iceland to do a history project (like work on your family’s genealogy) than you can come here to access their documents and use the reading rooms.
Reykjavik is full of surprises. While this charming and adorable treehouse isn’t a typical tourist spot, you can find it near the intersection of Baronstígur and Laufásvegur. Don’t go on private property (obviously), but walking by it was completely delightful!
Churches & Religious Buildings
Christianity in Iceland dates back to 1000 AD, but Icelanders aren’t a particularly religious bunch. Yet, just like most European cities, some of the most beautiful and important places to visit are churches. Here are the most important churches for you to visit in Reykjavik, but there are quite a few more.
Hallgrímskirkja is a great place to start, since its the largest church in the country and one of the most important Reykjavik sites. It’s actually a relatively recent addition to the city’s skyline, as it was built from the 1940s through the 1980s.
The church simultaneously looks historic and modern. It’s architecture is inspired by the mountains and landscape of Iceland, which is probably why it blends so seamlessly into the greater Reykjavik skyline.
Landakotskirkja (Christ the King Cathedral)
The Settlement Exhibition
City Tours (Free & Self-Guided)
Free Walking Tour
Self-Guided Street Art Tour
City Tours (Paid)
Northern Lights Tour
Reykjavik City Card
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
Game of Thrones Tour
Reykjavik Literary Tour
Hidden Folk Tour
Reykjavik Art Museum
National Museum of Iceland
The Settlement Exhibition
Iceland Punk Museum
Reykjavík Maritime Museum
Spas & Pools – 6
Hot River in Reykjadalur Valley
Soli Natura Spa
Streets, Markets, & Shopping – 11
Kolaportið Flea Market
Handknitting Association of Iceland
Keflavik Duty-Free Store
Statues & Monuments
Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat
The Face of the Sun
Exploring the Outdoors
Reykjavik Botanic Gardens
Blafjoll Ski Resort
Golden Circle Tour
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
Islenski Barinn (The Icelandic Bar)
Go Grocery Shopping
ÚT Í BLÁINN
Icelandic Family Dinner
Wondering what to do in Reykjavik at night? Here are some great ideas that mix local traditions, uniquely Reykjavik ideas, and a few things that are great to do to learn about a city (whichever city you’re traveling to).
I had a difficult time finding a beer that I liked in Reykjavik. They were overpriced, and what we did find tasted more like PBR than good European craft beer. As someone who loves great beer, I left Reykjavik disappointed on that front.
A great way to make sure this same fate doesn’t happen to you is to go on a local Beer tour. This Reykjavik beer crawl takes you to three Reykjavik bars and you get to sample ten craft beers so you can find something you love to drink while in the city!
I haven’t gone on this particular beer tour, but I’ve gone on similar ones in Berlin and Sofia so I know that I do really enjoy this kind of tour! You get to learn about local beer culture, hang out in bars you wouldn’t otherwise know about and enjoy some comradery as you do your tour.
If you’re interested more in liquor than in beer, you can go on a whiskey distillery tour at Floki Distillery. Located about a half hour outside of Reykjavik, the family-owned distillery prides itself on creating handcrafted single-malt Icelandic whiskey. Tours are by appointment only, which you can book through their website.
Hang Out Like the Dude
One of Reykjavik’s most famous bars is Lebowski, which is inspired by the movie. True to form, they have a White Russian menu with two dozen varieties of the Dude’s favorite drink!
Icelandic Opera or Performance
You can do more at Harpa than just take pictures of the pretty building! If you’re looking for a fun activity to do in Reykjavik at night, why not go to a performance?
To determine if this makes sense for your itinerary, check out their events calendar. Just make sure to select Harpa as the location if you want to specifically see performances in this building.
Looking for something cool to do in Reykjavik at night, but don’t love having to talk to other people. Check out the cinema Bio Paradis, which shows mostly Icelandic films with English subtitles. You can check out their website (though I can’t get it to translate into English for me). Or you can go to the cinema directly and check out what’s on. The box office opens at 5 pm.
When we went to Reykjavik, we really wanted to go clubbing. Reykjavik is famous for its party scene. Alas, we didn’t make it. After a week of hardcore sightseeing, we were just too drained to want to stay up and go out.
However, if you’re up to it, you should go out! I do regret that we didn’t make it. Matador has a hilarious and realistic article on how to go clubbing in Reykjavik that you should check out if this is on your list of must-do Reykjavik activities.
New Year’s Eve Bonfire
If there’s one night of the year that you want to have something cool to do when you go out, it’s New Year’s Eve. In Reykjavik, the thing to do is to go to a bonfire. But if you’re not a local, how to do you know how to go to the bonfires and which ones are the best ones for tourists to see?
Never fear! You can go on a New Year’s Eve Bonfire Tour! This way you can learn about this tradition and attend bonfires yourself.
5 Things to Pack in Your Suitcase
- 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.
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.
Next, check out my guide to Icelandic souvenirs, which also includes more awesome Reykjavik shopping tips.
If you’re looking to get inspired before your trip, check out my post on beautiful quotes about Iceland.
Headed to Iceland? 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 or hanging out in traditional tourists spots (since tourists are easy targets, unfortunately).
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.