On a trip to Iceland, your entry and exit point would likely be the capital city of Reykjavik. Easy to explore on foot in most parts. The best things to do in Reykjavik can be covered over a day. And, if you visit in the summer months of June, July or August, that would mean 24-hours of daylight! It would make Reykjavik sightseeing easy in a day.
Did you know that Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world?
We had immersed ourselves in Iceland’s nature on the 12-day epic ring road trip across the country. Hiked Glymur waterfall and Vatnajokull glacier, went on a whale watching tour in Husavik, trekked the rim of Asbyrgi Canyon, and saw countless waterfalls, enjoyed the stunning Katla ice cave near Vik, explored the beauty of Landmannalaugar. The last day of this fabulous trip was in Reykjavik and we expected the shift from nature to cityscape was going to be difficult. Except that it wasn’t. Reykjavik is cool, joyous, a modern city with vibrant nightlife, with nice cafes and quirky street art.
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Reykjavik would delight an art lover. It has a wealth of galleries and museums. They would appreciate the street art and sculptures that pop up all over the city.
Best season for visit to Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a year-round destination. Summer is the most popular time to visit, due to mild temperatures and never-ending daylight. Those who come in winter season want the Northern Lights and winter sports. Spring and autumn months offer lower prices and fewer crowds. There are fantastic things to do in Reykjavik, even if you are here for half a day or a full day.
In Icelandic, Reykjavik means ‘Smoky Bay’ and about 60% of the country’s population lives here.
Reykjavik sightseeing: Popular tourist attractions
Sun Voyager Statue
Reykjavik was the last day in Iceland for us after a road trip all across Iceland. So we had decided to take it quite easy. Our hotel was in downtown Reykjavik, close to the main promenade facing Faxaflói Bay and we decided to walk over there. You get lovely ocean views walking on the promenade with a serene bay and mountain ranges on one side. There are several joggers and cyclists that pass you by. And you may come across a free walking tour group.
We first came upon the Sun Voyager statue. The Sun Voyager is a popular photo spot as you get a great view of Mt. Esja in the background. It would make a perfect backdrop for a sunset photo. Alas, we were here on a cloudy afternoon so not-so-clear mountain views. Sun Voyager statue is such a forward-looking modern piece. It symbolises the need for discovery as per the designer, Jon Gunnar.
Harpa Concert Hall
As we walked ahead, we saw the Harpa Concert Hall, located in Reykjavik’s Old Harbour, glinting in the afternoon. The glass facade consists of windows of different shapes. You can take a guided tour of the theatre hall inside but we had missed the last guided tour by a narrow margin. Even then, the building is stunning to look at both from outside and inside. There is a cafe and a gift shop located inside Harpa hall.
Next on our sightseeing tour was Iceland’s most iconic building: Hallgrimskirkja. I recommend you approach this icon from Skólavörðustígur Street or the Rainbow Street. With the imposing Hallgrimskirkja as a backdrop, this Rainbow Street is definitely one of the most Instagrammable locations in Reykjavik.
The architecture of this Lutheran Church is unique. The basalt columns that are found in so many spots across Iceland (Reynisfjara and Svertifoss in Iceland South Coast attractions) and the shape of hammer of Thor have inspired the architecture for Hallgrimskirkja Church. The entry to the church is free, though you need to pay for ascending the tower to get some stunning vistas of the city.
Other Cultural and Historical sites in Reykjavik
If you are interested in the country’s old buildings and its medieval past, you would enjoy a visit to Hofoi House, the Icelandic Parliament and the Cathedral. A history buff would enjoy Reykjavik’s Settlement Exhibition to look at the archeological relics of the oldest settlement formed in the city.
For art lovers, there are sculptures that you would come across on a Reykjavik sightseeing walking tour. Besides the famous Sun Voyager statue, other notable sculptures that you can enjoy around the city include: sculpture of Leif Eriksson in front of Hallgrimskirkja (the first European to reach the Americas), Einar Jonsson Sculpture Garden (behind Hallgrimskirkja).
There is vibrant street art to be found in some neighbourhoods. We saw so many across the length of Laugavegur street. There are numerous parks that you can visit in the city, but we had all the nature immersion possible across Iceland, so gave this a pass.
Sightseeing Tours in Reykjavik
You could take guided walking tours to see the best of Viking and cultural sights in the city. There is also a hop-on-hop-off bus tour option for Reykjavik sightseeing. Those who enjoy cycling will find biking tours in Reykjavik as well.
Browse through some popular tours to take in Reykjavik:
Reykjavik with kids: Don’t miss the Perlan Museum
If you are visiting Reykjavik with kids, do make time for Perlan museum. The architecture of the building itself is unique. It is a glass dome structure that rests on top of 6 heating tanks. It is located on top of Oskjuhlip Hill.
Kids and adults both would enjoy the planetarium, the glacial ice tunnel, and the various exhibitions on climate change impact, glaciers, volcanoes. It was shocking to note how much Vatnajokull glacier (the largest glacier in Iceland) would recede in the next 50 years. I personally loved the short film on Aurora.
Perlan has all possible amenities. There is a restaurant under the glass dome with lovely views of the city. Once you step out on the observation deck, you would see Reykjavik spread across. I enjoyed my coffee looking out at the city while the kids loved the homemade ice-cream at the Ice cream parlour near the gift shop.
Here are some Perlan Museum tours for you to consider:
The dining scene and nightlife in Reykjavik
You should definitely try Icelandic food in Reykjavik. There are hi-end restaurants like Dill, Tides and Fish Company. There are many casual restaurants and cool cafes in the heart of the city and the downtown areas. Laugavegur street is home to some dining spots, boutiques and bars. After spending the day with kids, we were ready to explore the music scene and the nightlife for which Reykjavik is known for. So we got the kids an early dinner at the hotel and got out. Time to party for the adults!
It was Friday evening so Laugavegur was busy at 9 pm. But it got buzzing after a couple of hours. We started with a huge library that doubled up as a bar and live music scene in the evening. So enjoyable to see a local band play. And then there were several other bars on Laugavegur to check out. When we got hungry after midnight, there was a grocery shop open until 1 am, it stocked ice-cream and mixed trail among snacks to eat.
Food and Stay recommendation
We had selected Fosshotel Baron in downtown Reykjavik. A good choice! The family suite with an extra bed for my daughter was very comfortable. The hotel location worked well for us, with proximity to the bay and major tourist attractions.
We had lunch at a casual restaurant near the Old Harbour area. It was comfort food. For dinner, we blew off our reservation at Tides (a Michelin restaurant) to eat, drink and make merry at Laugavegur street. I can’t say I was disappointed! The next morning breakfast was at Emilie and the Cool Kids, a cute cafe near our hotel. What a fantastic au revoir to the city before we head to Keflavik airport.
Tours from Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a popular base for many tourists and there are plenty of tours that start from Reykjavik: both day trips and multi-day tours. The most popular day trip from Reykjavik is to cover the famous Golden Circle in Iceland – Thingvellir national park, Gulfoss waterfall and the Geysir geothermal area.
Browse through these popular tour options from Reykjavik:
Planning a trip in Iceland?
For a full ring road itinerary for 10 to 14 days, see The Ultimate Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
If you wish to explore North Iceland, check out The Diamond Circle Route + Travel Tips
For a South Iceland itinerary, do read The Best of South Iceland attractions
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Have you visited the Land of Fire & Ice? What has been your favorite destination or experience there?
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