Reykjavík is the bustling capital of Iceland and is usually the first stop after visitors have landed on the island. Not only is the city a mecca for dining and shopping, but it offers visitors so many things to do that Reykjavík can be a vacation on its own.
In this article, we give you the lowdown, so you can properly plan your upcoming trip.
Reykjavík, Iceland: What to Know About the City
As we already mentioned, Reykjavík city is the capital of Iceland. It is also the largest city on the island. The city sits on the coast in the southwestern part of the country. Reykjavík boasts a population of over 100,000 permanent residents, but this number can skyrocket during peak season when visitors flock to the island (recent statistics show an increase of up to 44%!).
Iceland weather in general can be pretty fickle. There is a reason why the local saying “you can experience all four seasons a day in Iceland” exists. But there is some confusion regarding the weather for those who visit Reykjavík.
In reality, Reykjavík’s weather is absolutely no different from the rest of the island. But the buildings do tend to offer some shelter against the elements. This means, whether you’re visiting Reykjavík in the summer or you’re stopping by Reykjavík in the winter, the city can feel warmer than right outside its borders.
However, anyone who has experienced the legendary winds of Iceland will know that it’s quite the force to be reckoned with. Whilst the Reykjavík buildings offer shelter against the elements, they can also serve as a channel for these cold winds to blow through the city. So, you need to ensure that you pack all the essentials so that you are prepared for whichever weather may come your way.
Where to Eat in Reykjavík
Reykjavík is known for its food and places serving extraordinary local cuisine. Here are a few must-visit places to eat whilst in the capital:
101 Reykjavík Street Food
101 Reykjavík Street Food is a cute little eatery that offers local cuisine at reasonable prices.
The Coocoos Nest
The Coocoos Nest is a family-owned restaurant. It has a footprint in Iceland as well as California and serves everything from sandwiches to tacos and burritos.
Flatey Pizza has kind of taken over the title of the best pizza in Reykjavík from Dominos.
Okay, so Bryggian Brugghus didn’t just make the list because of its delicious menu. They also offer some of the best craft beers you’ll ever taste in your life.
La Primavery Ristorante
La Primavery Ristorante is for those special nights out and not for just grabbing a quick bite. You’ll be paying a little bit of a premium for this outing. Yet, the exceptional regional dishes will have you wishing you could take a year’s worth of takeaways.
Where to Stay in Reykjavík
You’ll find plenty of accommodation options in and around Reykjavík. These are a few to consider:
Things to Do in Reykjavík
From Reykjavík City Center to the outskirts of the city, you will find a wide variety of attractions and activities. You’ll certainly find something that’s the right fit for you. Whether you want to party the night away or just lounge around in hot springs. Or, who knows, even take part in more adrenaline-pumping activities! Here are a few things that you can start looking forward to:
Get to Know Reykjavík One Step at a Time
The best way to discover a new city and get to know your surroundings is on foot. Reykjavík offers quite a few of these walking tour options to visitors.
Walking tours are done by local guides who will share the history of the city. If you take the renowned Reykjavík Food Walk, you’ll get all the facts about the capital whilst stuffing your face with some of the best local cuisine. Some walking tours charge a fee per person, whilst others merely request a donation. If you visit Reykjavík in summer, we highly recommend that you book your spot on one of these tours ahead of time.
Take a Dip in a Hot Spring
Iceland is filled with natural hot springs. This is due to all the volcanic activity that heats up the underground water resources. Two of the most notorious Iceland hot springs can be found near Reykjavík: Blue Lagoon and Sky Lagoon.
Blue Lagoon is about 20 minutes from Keflavik airport. That's why many choose to stop at the Blue Lagoon on their way to Reykjavík after landing or shortly before leaving the island. Sky Lagoon is just 7 minutes from Reykjavík’s downtown, so it’s super convenient to visit and you can even get your tickets online to skip the line.
Appreciate the Architecture
If you’re someone who can appreciate architecture, you are going to love Reykjavík! Whether you enjoy the architecture of “yesteryear” or modern architecture that draws inspiration from the island and its culture – you’re definitely going to find it here. Some of the absolute must-visit spots include:
- Harpa Concert Hall
- Nordic House
- The Einar Jonsson Museum
- The Red Pyramids
Go Whale Watching
Many Iceland whale-watching tours depart from Reykjavík. Luckily, whales can be seen all throughout the year. Still, we recommend you plan your trip during the whale season (April to September) if whale spotting is a particular item on your to-do list. That way, you can ensure that you also spot many of the migratory whale species that come to visit the island. Some of the whales you might be lucky enough to see are:
- Humpback Whales
- Blue Whales
- Minke Whales
- Orcas (even though they are not technically a whale)
- Fin Whales
Attend Events or Festivals
Reykjavík is a typical city that has a vibrant nightlife and offers visitors plenty of events and festivals to attend. You can visit Reykjavík and simply join in whatever celebrations are happening. You can also specifically plan your trip around an upcoming event. These are some of the most popular events and festivals in Reykjavík:
- Reykjavík Blues Festival (April)
- Reykjavík Arts Festival (May)
- Secret Solstice (June)
- Reykjavík Gay Pride (August)
- Reykjavík International Film Festival (September)
Visiting all the museums in Reykjavík can keep you busy for quite a few days. And the museums in the capital are definitely not the kind that will leave you snoring. Yet, many opt to save these visits for the days the fickle Iceland weather derails their plans. Some of the much-loved museums in the city are:
- The Saga Museum
- Reykjavík Maritime Museum
- The National Museum of Iceland
- The Icelandic Phallological Museum
- Aurora Reykjavík: The Northern Lights Center
Become a Viking
Okay, not really, but it certainly is close enough. At Mink Studio in Reykjavík, you can get dressed in your finest Viking gear. That includes getting accessorized with your Viking weapon of choice to get your Viking portrait taken! Since the photographer, Gudmann Por Bjargmundsson, worked on famous sets such as Game of Thrones, you can rest assured that the photos will be of the highest quality.
Go Horseback Riding
Iceland actually has its own breed of horse (not-so-creatively called the Icelandic horse). But despite the not-so-unique name, the breed is really quite something. Known for looking more like a pony than a full-grown horse, with its friendly nature and extra gait called the tölt, a visit to the island won’t be complete without an interaction with one of these magnificent creatures. If this is an activity you want on your Reykjavík itinerary, here are a few places to contact:
- Laxnes Horse Farm
- Ishestar Horse Riding Tours
- Alhestar Horse Rental and Tours
- Icelandic Riding
- Gray Line Iceland Icelandic Horse Riding Tours
What’s the use of a capital city if it doesn’t have a renowned retailer and shopping street? Well, Reykjavík does not disappoint. In Laugavegur, you can find some of the very best stores and restaurants the city has to offer. From clothes and jewelry to furniture, décor, and famous Reykjavik coffee shops you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for in Laugavegur. Some of the most popular stores to visit include:
Explore the Art Scene
Reykjavík has a very culturally rich art scene. Whether you enjoy strolling through art galleries or down the street admiring the street art – it’s all there in Iceland’s capital. So if you are an art lover, these are a few of the famous art spots you should visit in Reykjavík city:
- National Gallery of Iceland
- Reykjavík Art Museum. The museum actually consists of three different buildings situated across the city. Hafnarhus, Kjarvalsstadir, and Asmundarsafn.
- Living Art Museum
- Museum of Design and Applied Arts
- i8 Gallery
Do You Need Your Own Transport in Reykjavík?
Reykjavík as Iceland’s capital city has an excellent public transport system. For those who plan on just having a Reykjavík vacation, there are Reykjavík day tours available. This applies both to some of the attractions and activities on the outskirts of the city. If this suits your needs, there’s no reason to have your own transport.
But if you wish to explore the island any further, you’ll need your own vehicle. You need to remember that even though Iceland is a populated island, there are many remote regions. To make your trip even more budget-friendly, we’d recommend that you rent a campervan in Iceland to keep accommodation costs at a minimum. But whether you keep to the lively streets of Reykjavík or venture out to more rugged yet majestic landscapes on the island, you’re in for the time of your life and unique memories to cherish forever.