Many people tend to gloss over Reykjavik using it solely as a jumping-off point for the famous Ring Road or Golden Circle. But Iceland’s capital city deserves at least a couple of days to explore its many historical, cultural, and active things to do. From street art to lagoons and the taste of the very best hot dogs, there are plenty of things to do in Reykjavik. Plus, the city center is so tiny that Reykjavik is extremely walkable – maximizing how much time you get to enjoy attractions.
Top things to do in Reykjavik
You can visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site, taste traditional Icelandic food, or appreciate Icelandic culture at Reykjavik museums. We did all of this when we visited Reykjavik for the first time. Reykjavik has enough to keep you entertained. This guide will cover all the best things to do in Reykjavik.
1. Perlan Museum
For some reason, the Perlan Museum is not one of the most popular things to do in Reykjavik. Don’t let 2023 be the year that you miss out too. This impressive glass building is a massive dome and sits hilltop in a park setting just outside the city center. The museum is a nature Exploratorium. You can learn more about Icelandic nature and science through technology and interactive exhibits. Iceland has many unique natural attractions and phenomena, so this is a top attraction for your list. Guests can enjoy an observation deck, an indoor ice cave, and a planetarium show.
When you’ve finished learning, there’s also hospitality to relax. The Perlan Museum is also home to a revolving restaurant and fancy cocktail bar. The futuristic dome has everything- what’s not to love? Grab your entrance ticket here!
2. Icelandic Phallological Museum
The Icelandic Phallological Museum is one of the most bizarre things to do in Reykjavik. Yes, you read the name correctly. This is an entire museum dedicated to ‘penises and penile parts’. The Phallological Museum is surprisingly educational, though; the specimen comes from various Icelandic land and sea mammals, including whales. The museum is a biological exhibit and stands out because of its unique focus.
Allow at least an hour or two to visit the Icelandic Phallological Museum. There are over 200 penises and penile parts on display, presented in glass columns, wall platforms, and tiny specimen jars. There’s even a mythical creatures section as a bit of extra fun. Located in central Reykjavik, the Phallological Museum is one of the most fun things to do in Reykjavik. It is a perfect attraction if you fancy some light-hearted entertainment.
3. Flyover Iceland
Flyover Iceland is relatively new to the Reykjavik attractions scene. The 4D experience is an exciting way to virtually fly over Iceland and whisks guests away on a thirty-minute tour of Iceland’s most iconic attractions. For those with limited time in Iceland, Flyover Iceland is a fantastic way to experience attractions that you can only access on lengthy road trips. The 4D experience factors in all your senses, with wind, mist, scents, and seat motion – with 3D visuals throughout. The spherical screen is 20 meters, so you can prepare for ultimate views.
Located in Downtown Reykjavik, Flyover Iceland is extremely easy to access and factor into your itinerary. And, if you want an indoor attraction, an immersive, 4D ‘flight’ is a great way to warm up. Grab Your ticket now.
Shopping in Reykjavik is one of the most fun things for Icelandic visitors to do, yet also extremely practical. Even the best-laid plans can go wrong, and the same goes for packing warm clothes. Picking up a handy woolly layer is a brilliant thing to do in Reykjavik, and you’ll thank yourself later. Icelandic wool contains two types of hair, giving it a soft inner layer and a coarser water-resistant outer layer. Read more: 5 Winter Layering Tips to Dress for Extreme Cold Weather
So, where can you find the best shops? Downtown and central Reykjavik is home to many of the city’s main shopping streets, where you’ll discover woolen clothes shops galore. The Wool Shop, Icewear Magasin Austurstraeti, Thorvaldsen Bazar, and the Nordic Store are the best shops to purchase woolly layers. Souvenir shops tend to sell smaller items like gloves and hats too. Keep your eye out for extra insulating merino layers as well as traditional wool as well.
5. Catch a live gig at the bookshop bar none
Rublan Bokakaffi might look like an unassuming bookshop by day. Still, at night it transforms into a raging live music venue. The bar switches from coffee-making to pint-pulling and cocktail mixing. Guests line up in front of bookshelves along the mezzanine floor to peer over the railings at the performing band and the lower floor becomes a dance floor. Rublan Bokakaffi is the perfect place to experience Reykjavik’s quirky nightlife. Where also could you belt out ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Wonder Wall’ next to copies of encyclopedias and world history books?
If you bar hop along the famous Laugavegur street, Dillon’s Whiskey Bar, Bravo, and Rublan Bokakaffi are three fantastic stops. We recommend combining a visit to Rublan Bokakaffi with these other two bars for the best experience of Icelandic nightlife.
6. Sky Lagoon
Sky Lagoon is one of the newest attractions in Iceland, opening at the start of 2022. Sky Lagoon is a ten-minute drive out of the city center, but it is close enough that we are including it in this guide. The natural thermal baths are heated by underground hot springs. They feature a dramatic infinity pool overlooking the Atlantic Ocean 75 meters below. The Sky Lagoon is much closer to Reykjavik and more natural than the Blue Lagoon (we’ll get to that later). The lagoon is cut into coastal cliffs, and the water is crystal clear apart from the steam. You can buy a drink from the bar and spend hours relaxing in the heat.
Aside from the lagoon itself, you can book yourself in for a seven-step spa ritual. This involves time in the lagoon, a dip in a cold therapy pool, a sauna overlooking the ocean, a cold fog experience, a cleansing scrub, a warm steam experience, and a final shower. For those wanting a more extended experience, the seven-step ritual turns the Sky Lagoon into a full-day attraction.
Reaching the Sky Lagoon is a piece of cake if you drive, and there’s plenty of parking onsite. If not, you can purchase a shuttle ride straight from Reykjavik city center.
7. Go on a whale-watching tour
Going whale watching is one of the best wild animal encounters and wildlife-related things to do in Reykjavik. Whale-watching tours can easily be booked from the old harbor. They range from more expensive experiences on smaller RIB boats and more budget-friendly options on larger tourist boats. Depending on the season, you can see humpback, blue, fine sperm, and minke whales. If you are lucky, you might spot orcas as well.
June to August are the best months for spotting whales in Iceland, but March to June are great for spotting orcas, specifically from Reykjavik. If you are visiting outside the whale watching season, at least visit the Whales of Iceland museum. The museum showcases the region’s whales using life-sized exhibits, informative displays, and interactive experiences. Reykjavik is one of the world’s best locations for spotting cetaceans, so make the most of your visit regardless of the season. This is a great tour for Whale Watching.
8. Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is very likely a familiar attraction for you. The lagoon is Iceland’s darling and attracts millions of tourists a year. The milky white thermal waters are heated by run-off from the nearby geothermal plant. They have become immortalized by glamorous social media pictures. Like the Sky Lagoon, the Blue Lagoon isn’t exactly in Reykjavik. However, it is so nearby and famous that we are including it in this guide. It is easily added to your Reykjavik itinerary at just 45 minutes from the city center by car or shuttle bus.
Check out our full guide on visiting the Blue Lagoon which includes recommendations, what to expect, and ticket prices.
The lagoon is full of bridges, hidden seating areas, and scenic viewpoints. You can spend hours exploring the lagoon, especially when it gets foggy and extra steamy on cold days. You can try out different natural facemasks or grab a drink at the lagoon bar when you aren’t exploring the lagoon layout. It is easy to see why the Blue Lagoon is so famous; just picture yourself soaking in thermal waters with a face mask and white wine.
9. Parliament House
Reykjavik might be best known for its natural attractions, but it is also home to plenty of political history. You can visit the home of the Icelandic parliament during your stay, taking a 45-60 minute guided tour of the building free of charge. Guests learn about the history of Iceland, the parliament, and the work and function of the government.
The Icelandic Parliament once sat near Silfra, the fissure that marks the divide between the European and North American tectonic plates. However now, the parliament sits in the center of Reykjavik in a ‘modest’, probably much warmer, 19th-century house. You can easily reach it on foot from Reykjavik city center in minutes. Plus, it is one of the most budget-friendly things to do in Reykjavik.
10. The National Gallery of Iceland
The National Gallery of Iceland is a lofty title, and if you love art museums, the Reykjavik National Gallery is worth a spot on your to-do list. The gallery exhibits fine art from Icelandic and international artists across the 19th and 20th centuries. As well as valuable permanent collections, the gallery has temporary exhibitions that display topical artworks and themes. It is a generous size and definitely keeps you entertained for an hour or more.
The National Gallery is in downtown Reykjavik, not far from Reykjavik City Hall and the Parliament House. It is well suited to art enthusiasts and more general visitors just curious about the gallery. And with such a central location, it is a brilliant indoor attraction for your itinerary.
11. Take a Downtown Reykjavik walking tour
Reykjavik is a very walkable city, and you don’t have to walk it alone. In fact, guided walking tours are among the best things to do in Reykjavik. Most walking tours last around two hours and take you around all the major central and downtown Reykjavik sites. The tour pauses to give information about each attraction, Icelandic culture, and Reykjavik’s history. Prices are low, and some guided tours are totally free. Walking tours are also a great way to familiarize yourself with a new city.
You will most likely stop by Hallgrimskirkja, Rainbow Street, Reykjavik street art, and the Sun Voyager sculpture. Each tour varies, so find one that best suits you and your interests. This is the walking tour we recommend.
12. Spot the Northern Lights
Who doesn’t want to spot the northern lights? The lights are one of the most famed natural wonders in the world and one of the most sought-after things to do in Reykjavik. You might spot the lights just walking around downtown Reykjavik after dark. Alternatively, you can download an app that tells you about aurora borealis predictions for that night. You can then head out of the city center to wait and try to spot the lights with less light pollution. Grotta Island Lighthouse is one of the best spots outside the city center if you want to wait for the lights.
If you prefer to put your experience in expert hands, book one of the extremely popular northern lights chasing tours that embark from Reykjavik city center. These tours whisk you away on a cross-country chase, serving you hot chocolate as you wait. Many of these tours offer a free second tour if you fail to see the lights on your first tour.
13. Visit Harpa Concert Hall
Harpa Concert Hall is another impressive glass building located along the harbor front. It is the heart of classical music culture in Reykjavik and is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera, and Reykjavik Big Band. You’ll find an endless schedule of concerts, performances, and even the occasional music festival, so it is worth checking to see if anything interests you while visiting. And even if there isn’t, Harpa Concert Hall is stunning to visit just to admire the exterior architecture.
Harpa Concert Hall is less than a fifteen-minute walk from the city center and is located nearby the Phallological Museum and Ingolfsgardur Lighthouse. It is one of the best things to do in Reykjavik if you want to book an event or admire the interesting architecture.
14. Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Speaking of harborside attractions, Reykjavik Maritime Museum is a fantastic Reykjavik attraction to learn more about Iceland’s relationship with the sea. The museum itself is set in a former fish factory. It exhibits the local fishing industry and the history and development of fishing in Iceland. As such an isolated nation with such hostile conditions, fishing was a dangerous endeavor with high stakes – essentially feeding a nation through a few brave individuals.
The Reykjavik Maritime Museum is one of the most fascinating maritime museums in the world, partly because of the ancient necessity of fishing for Icelandic survival. Its exhibits are equally impressive and include a 900-ton coast guard ship called Odinn.
15. National Museum of Iceland
The National Museum of Iceland is one of the best historical things to do in Iceland. It exhibits artifacts from the Settlement Age to the 20th century using a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions. You can see all sorts of ancient objects, from jewelry to old architecture and artwork. Guests are guided through Icelandic history from the earliest dated period of civilization to the modern day.
The museum costs around $17 to enter, but the amount of information and quality of exhibits justifies the price. It is a fantastic indoor attraction too – so keep it in mind in case the weather turns particularly horrible. The National Museum of Iceland is located in downtown Reykjavik and is an easy walk from the city center.
16. Arbaer Open Air Museum
Arbaer Open Air Museum is one of the best things to do in Reykjavik to discover Icelandic history. The museum is most famed for its settlement exhibition, which includes old houses and farms. Some buildings feature traditional grass roofs and are beautiful examples of early Icelandic architecture. Guests are guided around the museum by guides in traditional costumes and can spot grazing animals along the way. Once, Reykjavik looked much like the settlement exhibition, so it feels like a step back in time.
The museum is on the city’s outskirts, a twelve-minute drive or twenty-minute bus ride from Reykjavik city center. It is near the urban waterfall Kermoafoss and a WWII Artillery Bunker which are well worth combining with a visit.
17. Sun Voyager
The Sun Voyager is a vast steel sculpture set along Saebraut overlooking the sea. The 1990-built artwork represents a boat and is a beautiful artistic ode to Reykjavik’s relationship with the sea and fishing. You’ll find it on plenty of postcards and will likely stop by the Sun Voyager sculpture on a guided walking tour.
The Sun Voyager is free to visit and is best combined with a walk along the Sculpture & Shore Walk. The coastal path overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and dramatic mountains on the other side of the bay. In the morning, it is busy with joggers and dog walkers and is a great place to embrace the urban Icelandic lifestyle. At just a twenty-minute walk from the city center, visiting the Sun Voyager is a quick and easy thing to do in Reykjavik.
18. Try an Icelandic hot dog
Icelandic food can be weird and wonderful, but hot dogs are definitely a familiar dish. Why are hot dogs so popular in Iceland, you might wonder. Well, primarily because of the massive sheep population in Iceland. Lamb hot dogs are excellent street food and have a much sweeter and richer taste. If you want the best hot dog in Reykjavik, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – a hot dog stand that has been running since 1937.
Are you feeling inspired to try more Icelandic food? Then book a food tour or just let your taste buds guide you around Reykjavik’s most traditional cafes and restaurants. Reykjavik has plenty of options for those with luxury taste and is home to multiple Michelin-starred eateries.
19. Saga Museum
The Saga Museum is immersive history at its finest. Guests get to join in the action and dress in Viking clothes before embarking through realistic replica scenes depicting early Icelandic history. For families looking for an engaging way to learn about Icelandic history, the Saga Museum is an excellent choice. It is informative enough to suit fun-loving adults, which is a win-win.
The museum is located approximately a ten-minute walk from the city center. It is near the Bakkastigur street art, Aurora Reykjavik museum, Reykjavik Maritime Museum, Lava Show, Whales of Iceland, and Flyover Iceland.
20. Visit the Magic Ice Bar
The Magic Ice Bar is part bar, art gallery, and icy wonderland. It is a magical spot to enjoy a freezing cold cocktail and embrace the adventurous soul of Reykjavik. Guests head downstairs from a general souvenir shop to the bar’s reception. Here, you pay an entrance fee, receive a welcome drink voucher, and get dressed up in massive thermal ponchos – it is a sub-zero bar, after all.
The bar is one of the most fun and unusual things to do in Reykjavik. You’ll find ice art across its walls, dramatic ice sculptures that include a big Viking boat, and ice tables and benches. Even the glasses are made of ice. Collecting your bright blue welcome drink from the bar, you can admire the art around the bar with a cocktail in hand.
The Magic Ice Bar is straightforward to reach. It is located just off the famous Rainbow Street in central Reykjavik. It is wise to book in advance, but there is usually space for walk-ins.
Best day trips from Reykjavik
Now that we’ve covered all the best things to do in Reykjavik let’s look at the best day trips from Reykjavik. Being based in the city center is not only fantastic for attractions on your doorstep; Reykjavik is a brilliant place for day trips.
You can rent a car and drive to some of these destinations or book guided tours from Reykjavik city center – the choice is yours.
Complete the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is considered the ultimate road trip in Iceland and is a feasible day trip from Reykjavik. The route is approximately 190 miles and takes around three hours to drive. You can rent a car and drive it or book an organized tour. The route includes Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir geothermal park, Kerid Crater, and Langgacier glacier. This tour leaves right from Reykjavik and is one of the most popular.
Go horseback riding on an Icelandic horse
Icelandic horses are exceptional. They are one of the only breeds in the world with five gaits and the ability to tölt, which to non-equestrians looks a lot like a speed walk. You can book a horseback riding trek in many scenic places in Iceland, including on black sand beaches and volcanic landscapes.
Snorkel between the tectonic plates at Silfra
Feeling brave? Book a day trip to snorkel between the tectonic plates at Silfra. It has some of the most transparent waters in the world and dramatic views of the crack between the plates. You don a thermal underlayer and a (slightly ridiculous) dry suit to survive the cold.
Relax at hot springs and lagoons
The Blue Lagoon and Sky Lagoon aren’t the only lagoons and hot springs to enjoy around Reykjavik. You can also take a day trip to places like Hvammsvik Hot Springs, Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal Baths, and Laugarvatn Fontana.
Drive the South Coast
The Golden Circle is a great day trip from Reykjavik, and the South Coast is a close runner-up. Again, you can drive the route with a hire car or take a full-day guided tour. You’ll pass Selfoss waterfall, the Caves of Hella, LAVA Centre, Skogar Museum, Solheimasandur Plane Wreck, Halsanefshellir Cave, and a black sand beach at Vik. Vik is a great place to end your trip, and Reykjavik to Vik is five hour return drive.
Visit the Imagine Peace Monument
The Imagine Peace Monument was created by Yoko Ono as a memorial to John Lennon. The monument is located on an island just off Reykjavik’s coast, and you’ll need to catch the Videy ferry to get there. It is an adventurous day trip from Iceland if you are interested in John Lennon and architecture and want to get off the beaten track. This is a great tour to take.
Best foods to try in Reykjavik
This section is dedicated to the best foods you can try in Reykjavik. What more enjoyable way to appreciate a culture than through its cuisine? From stews to hot dogs, these are all the dishes for your must-taste list. We recommend jumping on a Food Tour to get the most out of the Icelandic cuisine experience.
Plokkfiskur – Fish stew
Fish stew is one of those all-year-round dishes that become favorites in winter. This hearty dish is made with freshly caught fish, mashed potatoes, and onions. It is a staple dish in Icelandic households.
Pylsur – Icelandic hot dogs
Hot dogs are popular Icelandic street food and, as we mentioned earlier, are mostly made up of lamb. Occasionally, meat is mixed with pork and beef. It is served in a bap with your sauce of choice.
Svið – Sheep’s head
As you may have guessed, this dish is not for the faint-hearted. You’ll have to be an adventurous eater to manage this one. The sheep’s head is typically boiled or smoked and is served whole – usually at banquets and special occasions.
Skyr – Yoghurt
Skyr yogurt is an excellent option if you want a more entry-level option. Skyr is technically a soft cheese, but it has the exact taste and consistency of yogurt and is consumed as such. It is similar to Greek yogurt and often comes in flavored pots or is served with berries.
Got some burning practical questions? These are the top FAQs for visiting Reykjavik, providing you with the essential information.
How to get to Reykjavik Iceland
International visitors fly to Reykjavik and land at the primary international airport Keflavik Airport. You can then rent a car, book a slot on a shuttle bus (Flybus is the most popular), and reach Reykjavik city center in around one hour.
If you are already in Iceland, you can take a road trip to Reykjavik or catch a domestic flight to Reykjavik Airport. Fancy something more adventurous? Take the ferry to Iceland from Denmark, which stops over at the Faroe Islands on the way. This is ideal if you have more time and want to combine Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Denmark into one holiday.
Getting around Reykjavik
Getting around Reykjavik is a dream. Just pack a good pair of walking shoes – Reykjavik is a very walkable city. Even if you are heading to the opposite side of the city, you can rent bikes or jump on one of the straeto buses. The bus system is well-connected, and services are very regular.
Best time to visit Reykjavik Iceland
Generally, the best time to visit Reykjavik Iceland is September or March – both are off-season, have slightly warmer temperatures, and are great for spotting the northern lights. However, when you should visit Reykjavik massively depends on what you want to do.
Much like the rest of Iceland, Reykjavik operates in seasons – so do you want the humpback whale season, the northern lights season, or the hiking season? Hopefully, now that you’ve figured out the best things to do in Reykjavik, you should have your list of must-do attractions. Keep those in mind for this section.
June to August is when Reykjavik experiences the midnight sun. Temperatures are at their warmest, hiking trails are open, and road-tripping the country is at its easiest with excellent ice-free roads. You’ll spot the whales of Iceland during this time and can take riding tours on Icelandic horses. September and October are when Reykjavik starts to get a little colder and darker, and these shoulder months are good for spotting the northern lights.
November to February are Reykjavik’s coldest and darkest months, and you’ll experience 24 hours of total darkness during this period. These months are prime northern lights-watching periods. March to May is another shoulder season, and apart from the Easter holidays, it tends to be a bit quieter, and daylight hours return to being fairly typical.
Accommodations in Reykjavik Iceland
So, now that you are inspired and informed about your trip to Reykjavik, where should you stay? These are our top recommendations.
Budget: Eric the Red Guesthouse
Eric the Red Guesthouse is a brilliant budget-friendly accommodation choice located right in Reykjavik’s center. The property is family-run and friendly. You can choose between rooms with shared bathrooms or ensuites; each room has its own kettle and tea-making facilities. The property’s complimentary breakfast buffet is a great way to save money – especially considering Iceland’s expensive food prices. There’s also a communal terrace, perfect for watching the night sky for any signs of the northern lights.
Mid-range: Kvosin Downtown
Kvosin Downtown is a contemporary four-star hotel next to Tjornin Lake and Reykjavik City Hall. The hotel offers a range of apartments, each featuring kitchenettes, espresso machines, a tv, and a wine bar. The decor is comfortable but tasteful and has an upscale but homely appeal.
Sold? You should be. Kvosin Downtown is a luxurious place to stay on a mid-range budget. Plus, the kitchen facilities mean you save on eating out, which quickly adds up in Iceland.
Luxury: The Reykjavik EDITION
The Reykjavik EDITION is a beautiful, luxurious place to stay in Reykjavik. The property is on the harbor front in central Reykjavik. Select rooms and suites feature views over the Atlantic Ocean. The range of rooms and suites caters to most tastes, whether you want floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean or a terrace to privately watch out for the northern lights.
The Reykjavik EDITION’s interior is dotted with flashy artwork and faux fur rugs. The hotel facilities include a 24-hour gym, spa with hot tubs, onsite bakery and cafe, restaurant, and two bars. It is an ideal luxury base to explore Iceland’s capital city.
Reykjavik is a brilliant place to visit and has thousands of things to do in and around the city center. You are guaranteed a packed itinerary, from the northern lights to fascinating Icelandic history, whale-watching tours, and endless foods to try. And, if by some miracle you find an extra day, there are plenty of brilliant day trip destinations accessible by rental car or shuttle. The capital city is an exciting city break, and we hope you have a wonderful time.
For more inspiration, you can check out this photo essay on experiencing fire and ice in Iceland and our guides on the best places to visit and things to do in Iceland.