Reykjavik is not the biggest nor the flashiest city in the world, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in atmosphere. The architecture is interesting, the people are welcoming, the nightlife is wild, and the sights are amazing… what’s more to desire? Despite the compact size, the attractions of Reykjavik can rival those from the bigger metropolises – Hallgrímskirkja, one of the most iconic churches you’ll find anywhere in the world, being the prime example. But there is more – the National Museum, situated in Old Reykjavik, will please even the most seasoned museum-goers. Then, there is the futuristic concert hall Harpa and other equally beautiful buildings. And what’s outside of Reykjavik is perhaps even more interesting than the city itself, as the area surrounding the city is just perfect for hiking or observing wildlife. After all, it is Reykjavik where people go to observe the humpbacks and blue whales, among other fascinating animals. All in all, a city break to Reykjavik is nothing like a city break to any other, more popular city in the world, and that’s what makes it so intriguing and interesting!
Top 10 Things to See and Do in Reykjavik
Golden Circle Classic Day Trip
This whole-day trip will allow you to see some of the gorgeous landscape of Iceland, located in the volcanic vicinity of Reykjavik. You will see the best highlights of the Golden Circle, including some of the famous spots used in movies, all without the hassle of having to arrange your own transportation.
Small-Group Golden Circle and Secret Lagoon Trip
Not only will this trip take you along the sights of the Golden Circle, taking you between its natural landmarks, but you will also be able to enter the Secret Lagoon with a skip-the-line ticket. In there, you will have plenty of time to relax and unwind after hiking in the thermal hot springs of the lagoon.
Southern Iceland Glaciers, Waterfalls and Beaches Day Tour
This day tour starts right from the centre of Reykjavik and will take you along several of the most famous sights of Southern Iceland. A local guide will show you the sights and tell you their history as you visit such renowned sights as the Seljalandsfoss and Skogafass waterfalls, as well as glaciers and beaches.
Puffin Express Cruise to Akurey from Reykjavik
This one-hour cruise will show you the natural habitat of the native species of Iceland, including puffins and other seabirds. A guide will show you along the way, as he tells you the facts about the birds. The trip also has an additional option to provide a hotel pickup and drop-off, for a very reasonable price.
Whale Watching Tour
Take the opportunity of having the unique experience of watching live whales on a trip which starts right from the centre of Reykjavik. An educated guide will tell you facts and stories about the local marine life, as you visit indoor and outdoor viewing areas to see the whales and other wildlife of the ocean.
Silfra Snorkelling Tour
This four-hour trip will take you to the rift of Silfra, which is a renowned snorkelling spot in Iceland. You will be provided with professional equipment and an instructor to help you get started, as you snorkel through the crystal-clear waters of the Silfra rift, where you can see the local water creatures yourself.
Game of Thrones Filming Locations Tour
Just like many other famous TV-series and movies, the Game of Thrones was also filmed partly in Iceland. This tour will take you along the Thingvellir National Park, as well as the Lake Thingvallavatn, as a well-accustomed guide tells you some trivia about the show as you see the gorgeous Icelandic landscape.
Icelandic Horseback Riding Tour
If you are in for an unusual attraction, try this four-hour tour which will take you on a horseback ride through the landscapes of Iceland. As you ride through lava fields, mountain ranges, and lakes, an instructor will show you how to ride a horse properly, and you can even choose a difficulty level.
Northern Lights Tour from Reykjavik
This evening tour will give you the best possible chances of seeing the famous Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, while you travel to the countryside of Iceland by night. A professional guide will show you the best spot to notice the natural phenomenon, and if you do not manage to see the lights – you can come again for free.
One-Hour Small Group Raufarhollshellir Tour
The Raufarhollshellir is a famous lava tunnel, located not far off from Reykjavik. This tour ensures you get a free spot at a preferred time slot, allowing you to choose from a few departure times through the day. With a small group of visitors, you will go through the tunnels while a guide gives you a geology lesson with information on the tunnel.
Other Things to See and Do
Being one of the most frequently visited tourist attractions in Reykjavik, the Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutheran church located in the centre of the city. The church is relatively new, as it was commissioned in 1937, and is said to resemble the glaciers and mountains of Iceland’s landscape, giving it a unique shape.
If you are looking for a spot to take a romantic evening stroll or a place to jog, make sure to visit the Grotta seaside. Not only is this spot filled with beautiful, natural scenery with little man-made objects, but there is a small footpath where locals often relax, as well as a small lighthouse not far off.
Reykjavik Art Museum
While not exactly free to visit for everyone, the Reykjavik Art Museum provides free entrance to children under the age of eighteen and students, but adults can visit all three establishments that belong to the museum with a single ticket, gazing at the large collection of visual arts.
The lake Tjornin is a very popular place to go for the older locals of Reykjavik, as they spend their afternoons feeding the birds and watching the calm water. You can even ask a local bakery for some free old bread to feed the birds, but be sure to take note of the signs as it is not always allowed to feed them.
Called by many the Icelandic Copacabana, this artificial beach is filled with hot tubs and heated water and is often an even more relaxing experience than natural beaches. Make sure to come a bit earlier, as the beach often gets crowded on sunny days during the afternoon, and if you’re feeling bold, swim in the cold water with the locals.
While dining at the Perlan restaurants will, of course, cost you some money, and a lot of it at that, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the landscape of Reykjavik for free from its viewing deck. The design of the building itself is a sight worth seeing, and there is even an artificial water geyser right next to it.
Make sure to arrange some free time in your schedule to come to this unique flea market, where you can easily make friends and socialise with the locals, who come to the market to sell their handmade products. Take in the sights and smells of the market, with unusual delicacies and beautiful craftwork.
Located still in the city of Reykjavik, this outdoor recreation area provides the perfect retreat for an afternoon walk to relax when surrounded by nature. The area is filled with rivers, forests, waterfalls, and local wildlife, and the area is so big that there is a very small chance of even running into somebody else.
If you dream of climbing the Mount Everest but are too afraid of the hard and dangerous journey, visit the Mount Esja near Reykjavik instead. The mountain is 914 meters high, and its slope is just enough to provide a demanding workout while not being too dangerous and difficult. Make sure to take some pictures at the top.
As is customary with Icelandic cities and monuments, this one too has an impossible to pronounce name, but do not let that discourage you. The Þjóðarbókhlaðan is the National Library of Iceland and is a must-see if you are interested in the culture of the nation. Moreover, there are often free exhibitions of various artifacts and art.
There is a wide range of geothermal pools, both natural and artificial, located in and around the city of Reykjavik. Most of those pools are free, so do not let yourself be persuaded by the flashy advertisements of the paid pools. Relax in the hot tubs or take the challenge of swimming in unheated water.
Hit the beach
The beach of Reykjavik is one of the most popular spots in all of the city, attended both by locals and tourists alike. Interestingly, the beach of the city is one of the few places where the temperature of the water is high enough to allow swimming without protective gear. Take a note that it is still quite cold!
Since the nightlife in Reykjavik is expensive, and so are the drinks, people have taken advantage of the empty streets of the city during the night. There are a lot of parties, festivals, music concerts and so on taking place right in the middle of the streets, where you can see the locals have fun on their own, unique way.
Take a hike to the highest positioned farm in Iceland, located over four hundred and fifty meters above the sea level. It is only a short ride from the city of Reykjavik and is definitely a place worth visiting, as it provides you a unique view of the landscape of Iceland, along with mostly untouched, tranquil terrain.
Being one of the most gorgeous lakes in all of Iceland, the Myvatn Lake also has a number of small islands on it, which contain volcanic geysers and craters with thermal hot tubs. While the hot tubs are definitely not safe to swim in, they are still a great sight, and the local birds that live there are a nice bonus.
Free walking tours
There is a number of free walking tours in Reykjavik which you can attend without any admission fee. One of such tours is the City Walk, which has one of the best reviews on Tripadvisor when it comes to attractions. A local guide, who is also a history graduate, will take you along the city with a lot of trivia to tell.
The city square of Austurvollur is one of the most popular spots attended by the locals, where they gather with their friends and go out to have fun. The square is surrounded by a number of cafés, small-time shops, and cosy clubs, and there is even the parliament building right next to it.
Even if you are not planning on doing any major shopping, it is still worth it to visit the Laugavegur Street in Reykjavik. It is the main shopping street of the city, located right in the centre of the city. The street is filled with local shops and stalls, which present souvenirs and handmade memorabilia, which are free to look at.
See the Northern Lights
While there is a bunch of paid tours which will show you the best spots in the city to see the Aurora Borealis, you can go to such places on your own without having to pay anything. One of the best spots in all of Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights is the old harbor to the far west, as well as the Grotta island.
The Einar Jonsson Art Museum
Filled with gorgeous sculptures showcasing the art history of Iceland, the Einar Jonsson Art Museum is a place worth visiting. The architecture of the building is beautiful on its own, looking as if it were a sculpture itself, and the museum and the surrounding gardens are free to visit every day of the year.