Just have one day to explore beautiful Reykjavik? While you can’t see absolutely everything, you can cover a lot! Here are my recommendations for how to see the best of Reykjavik in one day.
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Where to Stay in Reykjavik
Your one day in Reykjavik might be just a stopover, in which case you don’t need a place to stay in the city. But if you’ll be staying Reykjavik overnight, here are my hotel recommendations for each budget category:
- 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.
One Day in Reykjavik Itinerary Map
How to See Reykjavik in One Day
The best of Reykjavik in one day. Use the map above for directions.
Arrive at Hallgrimskirkja bright and early (8:45 am)
Since you want to make the most of your day in Reykjavik, you want to start bright and early! Hallgrimskirkja opens at 9:00 am, so get here at 8:45 to take pictures outside before it opens. This also means you’re (probably) won’t have to contend with many other tourists blocking your shots.
Hallgrimskirkja may seem like it’s been a part of the Reykjavik skyline for a century, but it’s actually a modern building. The materials used and its design is intended to mimic the Icelandic landscape. That’s part of why it is such a perfect landmark on the Reykjavik skyline.
Don’t miss the statue of Iceland’s most famous Viking, Leif Erikson. Standing in front of Hallgrimskirkja, it looks like it was intended to go with the church. Actually, the statue predates the building of the church by many decades and was a gift from the United States.
Go up the Hallgrimskirkja Observation Deck (9:00 am)
Next, it’s time to appreciate the architecture of Hallgrimskirkja! You can go into the church for free, but if you want to go up to the top of the church tower and see the amazing city views there is a fee. The cost to go up 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.
Walk around Ráðhús Reykjavíkur & Tjörninn (Reykjavik City Hall and the Pond) (9:45 am)
Reykjavik’s City Hall is the cool modern building set next to Tjörninn, a natural pond in the middle of the city. The pon is home to some pretty cool geese and ducks. I love the architecture of the buildings around Tjörninn, especially the beautiful Lutheran Church on the water’s edge.
You can go inside City Hall (they typically have exhibits), but since you only have one day in Reykjavik to explore, I would just see these sites from outside.
Visit the Althingi Parliament House, Domkirkjan, and Austurvöllur Square (10:30 am)
Next, you’ll see three important sites which are all next to one another: the Althingi Parliament House, Domkirkjan, and Austurvöllur Square.
The Parliament House is where the Icelandic Parliament moved to in the late nineteenth century. The crest and insignia on the building are for the Danish King who controlled Iceland at the time before Iceland became an independent nation.
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.
Visit the Reykjavik Art Museum (11:15 am)
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 (1:00 pm)
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.
Walk to the top of Þúfa (1:45 pm)
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.
Explore Harpa & the Old Harbor (2:30 pm)
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.
The harbor has some cool sites as well, including a beautiful small yellow lighthouse that you won’t want to miss.
Stand in Awe at the Sun Voyager (3:15 pm)
Next 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. Sun Voyager is an iconic spot in Reykjavik and one you absolutely can’t miss!
Go Shopping on Laugavegur Street (4:00 pm)
So far you’ve walked all over the city, explored art, eaten hot dogs, and learned a little bit. You deserve to do a bit of shopping!
For this itinerary, you’ll walk from Sun Voyager to Hlemurr Square. Laugavegur Street, between Hlemurr Street to Bankastraeti 10 Marker, is considered the best shopping street in Reykjavik. It’s even been 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 the intersection of Laugavegur Street and Bankastraeti, which just happens to be VERY close to where you’ll be eating dinner. This is a great place to find an Icelandic souvenir or gift to remember your time in Iceland.
You have three hours to explore here, so if you want to stop and get a coffee (and relax for a bit), Laugavegur is a great place to do it.
Enjoy Icelandic Cuisine at Islenskii Barinn (7:00 pm)
Wow, you’re probably pretty exhausted! There’s nothing like sitting down to eat a nice dinner after a long day of sightseeing.
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).
If you need a less expensive option (Iceland is just crazy pricey) you can opt for a fast food place instead (though you’ll be shocked at how expensive fast food can be here).
See the Northern Lights (9:30 pm – September through April)
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.
Things to Consider When to Spend a Day in Reykjavik
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. You’ll be outside much of the day, so you should make sure to dress for it to feel colder than the stated temperature.
How Long You Have
If you’ll be here on a stopover, you may not have a full day to explore. If you don’t take into account the Northern Lights tour, this Reykjavik in one-day itinerary really does cover a twelve-hour period for sightseeing. If you only have eight hours or so, cut things you’re not interested in. You can also cut out having a sit-down dinner an opt for fast food (or eating at the airport).
Reykjavik Travel Tips
Getting to Reykjavik from Keflavik Airport and Back
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 once you get into the city from the airport.
Here are all the items that you should pre-book that are mentioned in this post in an easy-to-reference list.
5 Things to Pack for Reykjavik
- TheLonely 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. Next, check out my guide to planning a trip to Iceland, which covers budgets, visas, money, and more.
If you have more than one day in Reykjavik, you can check out my guide for 3 Days in Reykjavik instead.
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.