Welcome to Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, home to the majority of Iceland’s population. This small but vibrant city packs a big punch, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
In this post, we’ll take you on a journey through the best things to do in Reykjavík, Iceland, from exploring the city’s colorful streets to soaking in hot springs or even marveling at fascinating museum exhibitions. These Icelandic favorites are sure to make your trip to Reykjavík unforgettable.
Visit Hallgrimskirkja church
No visit to Reykjavík is complete without a visit to its most iconic landmark, Hallgrimskirkja church. This towering structure, reaching up to 74.5 meters high, dominates the city skyline and you can see it from almost every corner of the city.
The church’s unique and striking design, inspired by the basalt columns found in Iceland’s nature, is the work of architect Guðjón Samúelsson. In front of the church you’ll find a statue of Leif Erikson, the first European to land in North America – something I found very interesting as I love Viking history.
Continuing inside, the church’s interior is equally as impressive. I was moved by its simple yet striking beauty. This church is undoubtedly the most unique church I’ve visited in Europe.
You’ll also find a grand pipe organ that boasts 5275 pipes. This huge organ instantly caught my attention, and I was lucky enough to hear it playing. Its sound was so beautiful.
The church is free to enter. If you like, for a small fee (about €6.50), there’s an elevator to the top of the church’s tower for a breathtaking view of the city and the surrounding mountains.
Tip: If you’re lucky enough to be in Reykjavík during the winter months, don’t miss the chance to see Hallgrimskirkja church in all its festive glory, as it’s lit up by a stunning light display during the Christmas season.
Explore Kolaportið market
For a true taste of Reykjavík’s local culture, you should head to Kolaportið, the city’s largest flea market. Located in the city center, this bustling market is a popular weekend destination for locals and visitors, with over 100 stands selling everything from vintage clothes and books to Icelandic delicacies and handmade crafts.
During my visit, I really enjoyed looking through the wide variety of locally made products. I noticed woolen sweaters, hand-carved wooden items, and even Icelandic music albums.
If food is your thing, there’s so much to try. I tasted the traditional Icelandic dish of fermented shark for the first time, and it was surprisingly good. I also tried some smoked lamb, and homemade rye bread. There were also plenty of sweet treats to indulge in, like the famous Icelandic “kleina” pastries and freshly baked cinnamon buns.
Keep in mind that Kolaportið is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11am to 5pm.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to haggle with the vendors – it’s part of the market’s culture.
Try out Icelandic food
With several restaurants and cafes, Reykjavík is perfect for trying out some signature Icelandic food – from hearty stews to fresh seafood and game meat. There’s no shortage of delicious and authentic options to choose from.
One popular spot is Þrír Frakkar, a cozy and charming restaurant that has been serving traditional Icelandic food for over 30 years. Here you can enjoy classic dishes like “Plokkfiskur” (a creamy fish stew with mashed potatoes) and “Svið” (sheep’s head) in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Another place you could try is Fiskmarkaðurinn, which specializes in fresh seafood. Their menu features local catches like cod, langoustine, and arctic char, all expertly prepared and presented.
If you’re looking for a more affordable option, head to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a hot dog stand that has become a beloved institution in Reykjavík. Their famous hot dogs, made with Icelandic lamb, have been enjoyed by locals and visitors for over 80 years.
Tip: Keep in mind that traditional Icelandic food can be quite rich and filling, so be sure to bring your appetite and pace yourself. And don’t forget to pair your meal with a glass of Icelandic beer or schnapps for the full experience!
Be amazed at Harpa Concert Hall
If you’re a fan of music or architecture (or both), you won’t want to miss a visit to Harpa Concert Hall. This stunning building, located on the waterfront in Reykjavík, is a masterpiece of modern design, with its sparkling glass façade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. Inside, you’ll find four concert halls, as well as a variety of conference and exhibition spaces.
In addition to hosting a wide range of concerts and events, Harpa is also home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera. Visitors can take a guided tour of the building to learn more about its history and design, or simply wander through its public spaces to admire the intricate details of the architecture.
Harpa concert hall is open every day 10am to 6pm, and closes slightly later at 8pm on Saturdays. General entry is free, though tickets for events can cost €20 and upwards.
Tip: Check the Harpa website for upcoming events and ticket information, and be sure to book early to get a good seat. And don’t forget to take a stroll along the waterfront after your visit to enjoy the beautiful views of the harbor and mountains.
See the Sun Voyager Sculpture
Not far from Harpa is the Sun Voyager (Sólfarið), Reykjavík’s iconic sculpture. Located on the waterfront, this striking piece of public art is a stainless steel representation of a Viking ship, with its prow pointed towards the sea. The sun shines on various parts of the steel throughout the day, giving off beautiful reflections.
It’s undoubtedly a photogenic spot to add to your walk with fresh air and great views of the harbor and ocean. There are plenty of benches nearby to relax and take in the scenery.
Tip: If you’re visiting in the winter months, be sure to bundle up and visit the Sun Voyager at night, when it’s illuminated by spotlights creating a magical atmosphere.
Visit the Icelandic Phallological museum
For a truly unique and offbeat experience, check out the Icelandic Phallological Museum. This is the world’s only museum dedicated to the study of penises and related organs.
A fun place to visit, the museum contains over 280 specimens from over 90 different species, including whales, seals, bears, and even humans. Yes, you read that correctly!
This museum originally started as a strange hobby for a collector named Sigurður Hjartarson, an Icelandic history teacher. He was given a dried bull’s penis as a joke, and this started his unique collection.
Today, the museum takes a scientific and educational approach, with exhibits and displays that highlight the diversity and complexity of phalluses across the animal kingdom.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the museum, which includes everything from preserved specimens to artwork, photographs, and oddities like a cast of a famous Icelandic penis.
Admission costs about €18 on entry, and the museum is open every day from 10 to 7pm.
Tip: If you’re looking for a unique souvenir, the museum’s gift shop offers a variety of phallic-themed items, from keychains to wine bottle stoppers.
Visit Perlan Museum
One of the most impressive and modern attractions in Reykjavík is the Perlan Museum, located on a hilltop with stunning views of the city.
In museum you’ll find a variety of interactive exhibits that show the natural wonders of Iceland, including glaciers, volcanoes, and geothermal energy. The museum sits in a huge geothermal water tank, with an enormous glass dome.
One of the highlights of the museum is the Glacier and Ice Cave exhibition. I remember going on a virtual journey through an icy wonderland, with sounds, lights, and even an ice cave. Another popular exhibit is the Wonders of Iceland, where I learned about the geological and environmental diversity of the country.
In addition to the exhibits, the Perlan Museum also features a planetarium, a restaurant with a revolving glass dome, and an observation deck with telescopes and binoculars for viewing the aurora borealis.
Tickets for Perlan can be booked in advance, costing about €32 for adults. There’s also family tickets available. The exhibits are open every day from 9am to 10pm.
Visit Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach
Thinking of sunbathing in Iceland? Head to Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach! This man-made beach is heated by natural geothermal water, making it a warm and inviting spot to swim and sunbathe, even on chilly days. Located just 900 meters from Perlan museum, here you’ll find golden sands and clear waters.
The beach is open from 11am to 7pm on weekdays, with reduced hours at the weekend. The admission fee is about €5, which includes access to changing rooms, showers, and a hot tub. Towel, swimwear, and locker rental is also available.
Tip: Be sure to pack both sunscreen, and warm clothing, as the weather in Iceland can be unpredictable. The official Nauthólsvík website gives the current water and air temperatures – so check ahead.
Visit the National Museum of Iceland
For a deeper dive into Icelandic history and culture, you should head to the National Museum of Iceland. In the heart of Reykjavík, the museum offers an overview of the country’s past, from Viking settlement to modern times. Through a range of artifacts, interactive exhibits, and multimedia displays, you can learn about the language, art, religion, politics, and everyday life of the Icelandic people.
Some of the highlights of the museum’s collection include the famous Viking Age silver hoard, the medieval church carvings, and the traditional Icelandic costumes and crafts. You could easily spend several hours exploring the museum.
An admission ticket costs about €16.50 for adults, and is free for children under 18 years old. You can book a ticket online. The museum is open from 10am to 4pm, and closed on Mondays.
Tip: To avoid the crowds and get a more personalized experience, try visiting the National Museum of Iceland during the off-season or on weekday afternoons. And be sure to check the museum’s website for special events and lectures.
Explore street art
One of the most vibrant and unexpected aspects of Reykjavík’s cultural scene is its street art. You can find several arrays of murals and graffiti on Laugavegur street, and on many other buildings and alleys in the city.
While some of the street art in Reykjavík is allowed by the city, much of it is the result of guerrilla tactics by local and international artists. This means the street art scene in Reykjavík is constantly changing and expanding, with new works appearing and disappearing regularly.
Tip: To explore Reykjavík’s street art, it might be a good idea to take a guided tour, which can offer insider knowledge and access to some of the city’s lesser-known corners.
Visit Grasagarður Botanical Garden
If you’re looking for a peaceful and picturesque escape from the city, you should give Grasagarður Botanical Garden a visit. Founded in 1961, the garden covers over 3 hectares and features a wide variety of plants and trees, both native to Iceland and from around the world.
One of the highlights of the Grasagarður Botanical Garden is the large collection of Arctic plants, which have adapted to the harsh and changeable Icelandic climate. There’s also a range of greenhouses, where you can see more exotic and delicate plants, such as cacti and succulents.
It’s free to visit, and the the garden is open year-round from 10am to 10pm in the summer, and 10am to 3pm in the winter. There’s a nice cafe and restaurant, if you need some caffeine and a pleasant lunch.
Join the vibrant nightlife
When the sun goes down in Reykjavík, the city comes alive with one of the best nightlife scenes in Europe. Whether you’re looking for a cozy pub, a trendy cocktail bar, or a pulsing dance club, Reykjavík has something for everyone. And due to the city’s compact size, it’s easy to walk around and find the perfect spot.
The most popular areas for nightlife in Reykjavík is Laugavegur street. Here you’ll find everything from traditional Icelandic pubs like Kaffibarinn and English Pub, to more modern spots like Pablo Discobar and Prikið.
Tip: Reykjavík’s nightlife can be quite expensive, with high prices for drinks and cover charges at some venues. However, many bars and clubs offer happy hour specials and other deals, so with a little research beforehand you can save money.
Relax at Austurvöllur park
In the heart of Reykjavík, Austurvöllur is a pretty little park with well-maintain gardens. On sunny days, you’ll find many locals enjoying the sunshine on the green lawn.
Austurvöllur also boasts a number of notable landmarks. One of the most impressive is the statue of Jón Sigurðsson, an Icelandic independence hero and leader of the 19th-century Icelandic independence movement. The statue is a popular spot for photos, and you’ll see it adorned with Icelandic flags during national celebrations.
Austurvöllur is also home to a number of cafes, restaurants, and bars, making it an ideal spot for a leisurely afternoon or evening out. Nearby, there’s the Parliament House, the Domkirkjan – the city’s oldest church, and the Hotel Borg – a historic Art Deco hotel.
Relax at Blue Lagoon
The best way to finish your Iceland trip is with a trip to the world-famous Blue Lagoon. Located just a short drive outside the city, this geothermal spa is known for its crystal-clear, mineral-rich waters and luxurious spa treatments.
The Blue Lagoon is set against a stunning backdrop of rugged volcanic landscapes, with steam rising from the warm, turquoise waters. The water is rich in silica, algae, and other minerals, and is believed to have a range of healing and restorative properties. Here, you can take a dip in the lagoon, or even float on a raft.
The Blue Lagoon also features a number of restaurants, bars, and shops, so everyone will be happy. Be sure to pack your swimsuit and towel!
The base package costs about €60, including a mud mask and free drink. You need to book ahead.