The Ultimate Guide to Reykjavik
Updated: Jun 7
There are numerous reasons to visit Reykjavik, despite its small size. One of the best reasons to see it is that the city is easy to explore on foot, and its small size eliminates the need for transportation. Numerous Reykjavik attractions keep you busy, ranging from wildlife encounters to admiring unique architecture to dining on world-class cuisine to hunting for street art throughout the city. Reykjavik is easy to navigate for English speakers because almost everything is available in English, and most people also speak English.
Discover with us:
What not to miss?
Hallgrimskirkja Church, which towers over the center of Reykjavik and can be seen from almost every angle of the city, is easy to find. This is one of the most well-known places to visit in Reykjavik. A viewing platform with 360-degree views of the city is located at the top of this 244-foot (74.5-meter) tall expressionist-style building. This, along with the view from Perlan on Oskjuhlid hill, is the city's best view. Except on Sundays, the tower is open daily during mass services. Because Hallgrimskirkja is an active church, the tower may be closed due to services or concerts taking place inside.
Aside from the Hallgrimskirkja church, the most well-known structure in Reykjavik is the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center. This building is a showpiece for the country, occupying prime waterfront real estate downtown at the harbor. This building, designed by Henning Larsen Architects in collaboration with Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, is truly a work of art. It was built between 2007 and 2011 (with a brief break due to the Icelandic financial crisis) and is now one of the most popular Reykjavik attractions.
Laugavegur (the street where bars/shops/restaurants are)
The best place to begin a sightseeing tour in downtown Reykjavik is on Laugavegur, considered the city's main street and one of its oldest. It is lined with shops selling handmade woolen sweaters, locally crafted jewelry, and volcanic rock pottery. When you get hungry, there are numerous restaurants to choose from, as well as museums to visit.
Allow your stroll to take you to the waterfront walkway, where you can enjoy the ocean breeze while admiring the city's fine art and architecture. Position yourself near the waterfront Solfar sculpture in the late afternoon to witness one of Iceland's most spectacular sunsets.
The Pearl in Skjuhl is the city's other viewpoint. The city's old water towers have been converted into a cultural center with both permanent and temporary exhibits. The wonders of nature in Iceland and a planetarium presentation on the Northern Lights are examples of such exhibits. Most people, however, come to The Perlan for the city views. This is an excellent vantage point for viewing the Hallgrmskirkja church, the rest of the city, and the mountains in the distance. The best part is that it can be done as a quick stop to or from the airport.
The Sun Voyager (or Solfarid) sculpture is near the top of your list of things to see in Reykjavik. Every visitor to Iceland, it appears, must take a selfie in front of this sculpture. There is, however, a far more moving story here. Sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason designed and built the work to commemorate the city's 200th anniversary. He created and produced the sculpture, but he never saw it installed. He died of leukemia before the result could be finished.
The Sun Voyager looks like a Viking longship, but it was not designed to represent the Vikings. It is, instead, a "dream boat" intended to "convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress, and freedom." The Solfar, or Sun Voyager, sculpture is especially lovely at sunset with Mt. Esja in the background or early in the morning with the sun at your back.
What else to visit?
National Museum of Iceland
The National Museum of Iceland is a world-class cultural institution and one of the most popular attractions in Reykjavik. It includes both significant historical objects and iconic pieces from more recent times. In adjoining rooms, you can see ancient Viking implements or Bjork's first album from 1977. The Icelandic National Museum provides an excellent overview of the country's distinct history and culture, unlike anywhere else on the planet.
Join this whale-watching tour to see the incredible wealth of marine wildlife off the coast of Reykjavik. You'll travel to the famous Faxafloi Bay in search of these fantastical deep-sea creatures. This 3-3.5 hour trip departing directly from the capital city's Old Harbour is a must for nature lovers and fits perfectly into a busy vacation. This Classic Whale Watching tour sails all year and is one of Iceland's most significant whale-watching boats. On board, there is a great educational and interactive focus where you can learn more about the whales. If you'd rather sit back and relax before venturing outside for a look, the ship has a great cafe with a variety of drink and snack options.
Sky Lagoon, located only 10 minutes from downtown Reykjavik, is a luxurious hot spring option for those who want to stay close to the city. You can relax in the springs or go all-in on The Ritual, a 7-step circuit with hot and cold pools, a sauna, a scrub, and other amenities. The water in the lagoon is comfortable 100-104° F (38-40° C) all year, so you can stay warm even if it snows. The pools are man-made, but they are designed to blend into the landscape and provide sweeping ocean views. Sky Lagoon has a popular swim-up bar and restaurant. We enjoyed our visit and will most likely return, but it's worth noting that the lagoon can be a little rough.
Bars (Kaffibarinn, Prikið, Lebowski Bar)
Reykjavik's bars and lounges are ideal for a night out. They are open until late (like 4:00 or 5:00 am). There are no admission fees. There are no velvet ropes or bouncers, and there is no elitism. There are tasty drinks available (albeit pretty expensive). And all of the bars in Reykjavik are central, so you can quickly move between them. The bar scene is constantly changing, with places coming in and out of favor. We loved the Jungle Cocktail Bar and its craft mixology. And, for a touch of pop culture, don't miss a White Russian at the famous Lebowski Bar.
How to travel there?
Because Iceland is an island, there are only a few ways to get there, the most common being by air. Reykjavik has numerous small airports. On the other hand, international flights from North America and Europe land at Keflavik International Airport. The airport is 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Reykjavik, but travelers can easily reach the capital by taxi or bus.
There is also a ferry service to Iceland. From April to October, you can sail from Hirtshals in Denmark and Torshavn in the Faroe Islands to Seydisfjordur in Iceland once a week. You'll then need to take a bus, or taxi, or drive to the other side of the island to get to Reykjavik.
When to travel there?
June to August is the best time to visit Reykjavik. Not only will you be able to enjoy the balmy temperatures (at least for Iceland), but you will also have long days (think: up to 21 hours of sunlight – a phenomenon dubbed "midnight sun"). If you want to save some Icelandic króna, you can do so in the winter; however, those suffering from seasonal affective disorder should reconsider: the sun only shines for four or five hours between December and February.
Reykjavik costs between 80€ and 120€ per day for budget travelers. These prices are based on what you'll need to visit the city on a tight budget. If you want to upgrade your accommodations, add 80€-200€/night depending on the length of your stay. These prices exclude big nights out at the bar/pub, club entry fees, souvenir/clothing shopping, tours, random purchases, more excellent food, and so on.
The actual draw of Iceland is its breathtaking natural wonders, but visiting can be expensive. The National Museum of Iceland costs 16€, Hallgrimskirkja (church) costs 8€ to take the elevator to the top, and the Open-air Folk Museum costs 14€.
When it comes to food, Reykjavik is pricey. You have to look around to find something reasonably priced. For whatever reason, Reykjavik is famous for its hot dogs, which are always a good value. Breakfast in Reykjavik costs between 5 - 12€. Lunch should cost anywhere between 5 - 20€. Dinner is the most expensive, and a good dinner should cost between 15 - 25€.
Where to eat & drink?
Icelandic Street Food is the best option for cheap local fare if you're wondering where to eat in Reykjavik. The claim to fame of this laid-back Reykjavik restaurant is that it was the first to serve traditional Icelandic food in a fast-food style. The menu is simple, but you can't go wrong with anything you order. The delicious traditional lamb and shellfish soup are served in bread bowls, making them filling meals. You can also order their delicious fish stew with rye bread on the side, which is as Icelandic as a dish can get.
The Food Cellar, or Matarkjallarinn, features a lounge-style bar, dining area, and live music every night on a gorgeous rosewood grand piano from 1890. This is a brasserie with a menu that combines seafood and lamb with vegetarian options and focuses on Icelandic ingredients. Choose from a six-course surprise menu or order a la carte. Matarkjallarinn is located at Alstraeti 2, 101 Reykjavik.
Noodle Station is a popular stop for visitors and locals, serving large and inexpensive portions of one of Asia's signature dishes, noodle soup. Above all, Noodle Station is an authentic, family-run restaurant owned by Charin Thaiprasert, who is of Thai descent. According to legend, his noodle soup recipe has been passed down through the family for generations.
Nightlife & drinks
Bravo is at the top of the list. Why do you inquire? For the simple reason that this bar has the city's most extended Happy Hour. Apart from that crucial fact, the bar has an affluent atmosphere; the cozy darkness, the gentle ambient lighting, and the soft-patterned cushions lining the room all contribute to a venue that lends itself to a long session sipping the golden nectar.
Kaffibarinn is instantly recognizable from the street; a significant London Underground symbol rests over the entrance of this hip bar against the maroon, corrugated iron. On weekends, expect a struggle to get in; the bar is frequently packed to the brim.
For coffee lovers
Café Babal is easily identified by its bright orange paint job and first-floor balcony along Skólavörustgur, the road leading directly to downtown from the Lutheran Church, Hallgrmskirkja. Glenn Barkan established the restaurant in 2004 after relocating to Iceland to marry his long-term boyfriend.
Stofan Café is a cozy, well-known café in central Reykjavik. Stofan is one of those perfect, romantic cafés that combines all the right ingredients: great coffee, comfortable seating, a good selection of books, board games, and good company. Stofan's menu is standard, serving sandwiches, paninis, vegetarian soups, and cakes.
If you're a coffee connoisseur, Reykjavik Roasters is your best bet for tasting some of the country's most valuable coffee. The café was founded in 2008 as Kaffismija islands but underwent a rebranding in 2013, reappearing as Reykjavik Roasters. They are now a coffee retailer, cafe, and educator.
The Reykjavik Art Festival
The Reykjavik Art Festival takes place in Iceland's capital from May 18th to June 3rd. It was first held in 1970 and celebrated music, visual arts, dance, literature, design, and other disciplines, emphasizing innovation. The festival has featured some of the world's most well-known artists. Among them are Led Zeppelin, Nina Simone, Andy Warhol, Jaqueline du Pré, Bob Dylan, Goran Bregovic, Ingmar Bergman, Benny Goodman, Mstislav Rostropovich, Luciano Pavarotti, Human League, Doris Lessing, The Shadows, Leonard Cohen, Pulp, Madness, The Stranglers, Björk, Sigur Rós, Björk, Sigur Rós, David Bowie Those who enjoy art in any form will find a plethora of cultural activities to enjoy throughout the festival.
The Iceland Airwaves festival, Iceland's largest showcase of musical talent, takes place in October. Almost every music writer has praised it, with Rolling Stone magazine calling it "the hippest long weekend on the annual music-festival calendar." As a result, it attracts more and more international attention each year. Events are taking place both 'On Venue' and 'Off Venue,' with the former being exclusive to Airwaves ticket holders in specific venues such as Harpa and the bar Gaukurinn, which have limited entry all weekend, and the latter taking place everywhere else. This is not limited to bars and clubs; performers can be found in cafés, restaurants, record stores, the streets, and even people's homes.
The Food and Fun Festival
The Food and Fun Festival is an annual event held in February or March where you can enjoy your meals. Many of the world's greatest chefs visit Iceland to work with Reykjavik's finest restaurants to create inventive dishes that delight the taste buds of those in attendance. Each chef is assigned to one of the participating restaurants, where they create a menu inspired by their own international travels and make it with Icelandic ingredients and products.
We've reached the end of the article about Reykjavik. This city has a fantastic atmosphere, and we believe you will love it as much as we did! In the meantime, you can read other articles on our blog. Still thinking about what to buy for Christmas? Check out our article, which will help you out. You can explore what to do in Oslo or Tromsø. Do not forget to follow us @thewalkingparrot to be continuously updated on the new releases. We will be back soon with a new article!