Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, is a unique travel destination offering visitors the chance to take in natural wonders, historical and cultural attractions, a lively music and art scene, and many outdoor adventures easily accessible from the urban centre.
World famous for its hot springs, Reykjavik attractions don't stop there and you may be surprised to learn of the many fun things to do when you arrive, including food tours, museums, opportunities to take in the natural beauty, whale watching, and more.
Keep reading for the top 25 best things to do in Reykjavik.
What to consider when Travelling to Reykjavik
Iceland is a great year-round destination, and there are several things to consider when planning your trip to ensure you get the most out of your adventure when you arrive in Reykjavik.
First, the time of year you travel to Reykjavik can make a big difference on the type of trip you experience. Consider what you want to do, and then research to learn the best time of year for those specific activities.
It's also important to keep in mind that Iceland is known for it's unpredictable weather, so pack to be prepared to experience all types of Icelandic weather. Also keep in mind that you'll want to pack for the activities you have planned, so consider your chosen itinerary when packing.
Best time to travel to Reykjavik
The best time to visit Reykjavik largely depends on what you want to do when you arrive. For example, if you're looking to experience the Midnight Sun, there are only certain times of year to plan your trip to ensure you're getting to experience 24 hours of sunlight.
For many travelers, summer is the best time to visit Iceland.
If you're looking to experience all the Reykjavik has to offer, planning your trip for May or September could be the best time to travel for you. The warmer weather during these months allows for most mountain roads to open so you can enjoy the many surrounding hiking trails and the chance for you to explore beyond Reykjavik and see more of Iceland.
If you're dreaming of seeing the Northern Lights, consider the polar adventure Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland in September so you can visit two of the best places for your chance to see the Northern Lights. While it's true that seeing the Northern Lights can never be guaranteed, you'll want to avoid visiting during June and July when the Midnight Sun bathes Iceland in sunlight 24 hours a day so you can increase your chances of seeing Aurora borealis.
Do you want to save money on attractions and travel? Then booking your visit during the shoulder season months of May and September to avoid peak season might be of interest to you.
Is it important to you to avoid large crowds? Then avoid planning your visit to Reykjavik between June and August during the peak tourism time. May and September typically have fewer crowds while still offering many attractions.
How to get around in Reykjavik
Once you've arrived in Reykjavik, you'll realize that most of Reykjavik's attractions, main shopping streets and famous street art installations are within walking distance from the downtown core.
Reykjavik is also a common starting point for many Icelandic adventures so there are many organized driving trips that can take you out of the city center and into the surrounding mountains and Icelandic landscape.
If you're looking for an adventure that encompasses Iceland and other regions in the Arctic, consider Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland expedition or the Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland and Spitsbergen expedition. If you've got more time budgeted for your trip, there's the Four Arctic Islands: Spitsbergen, Jan Mayen, Greenland and Iceland expedition.
25 Best Things to Do in Reykjavik
1. Iceland's Glaciers and Ice Caves
Iceland is home to many glaciers.
In Iceland, you can see white, blue or even black ice glaciers so read tour itineraries and check out the photographs to ensure you're signing up to see the glaciers you're looking for.
Because natural ice caves are constantly changing, tours are highly dependent on the weather. Remember, it's unsafe to explore glacier ice caves on your own, and because they can be very dangerous, always explore ice caves go with an organized tour.
2. Whale watching tours
If seeing the whales of Iceland is on your list, then be sure to plan your trip when your chances of seeing them is the highest.
Reykjavik is one of the best places in Iceland to see whales in Faxa Bay, where whale species are known to gather in the summer. Throughout the year, more than 20 species of whales visit the bay with Minke whales and Humpback whales making up a large amount of the population.
3. Blue Lagoon
One of the most popular attractions in Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon natural hot spring should be near the top of your list of things to do when you're visiting.
Bathing culture and water in Iceland are important parts of many traditions and the mineral-rich, pristine waters of the Blue Lagoon are the perfect place to connect with others and relax.
It has been said that because the water is so high in minerals that the lagoons of Iceland have healing properties and the beautiful surrounding landscape of lava fields is something you'll never forget.
4. Sky Lagoon
Beyond Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik is home to many indoor and outdoor pools that are engrained in the Icelandic history and culture thanks to the island's geothermal activity.
At Sky Lagoon, you can enjoy a 7-step spa-like ritual to experience Icelandic relaxation and rejuvenation while enjoying breath-taking views.
5. Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Originally a fish freezing factory built in 1947, Reykjavik Maritime Museum is located at Reykjavik's Old Harbour and was converted to exhibit Iceland's sailing history in 2005.
You'll enjoy the "From Poverty to Abundance" exhibit that illustrates the impact of technological advances throughout the 20th century on the fishing industry in Iceland.
6. Icelandic Hot Dogs
You might be surprised to see hot dogs included on this list, but we're not talking about just any hot dog here.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsyr's hot dog stand, which translates to "the town's best hot dogs," has been serving hot dogs in Iceland for more than 80 years, and with five different locations in Reykjavik, it is said to have the best hot dogs in Europe
7. Saga Museum
Cultural and natural history buffs can spend hours at the Saga Museum that brings the history of Iceland to life in front of your eyes through wax figurines.
Guided by a multilingual audio guide, you can explore Iceland's settlement from the 9th century AD.
Tour the museum to understand the difficulties early Icelanders faced when settling on the island, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and disease. The interesting history is brought to life with amazing detail in the wax figures, clothing, and weapons.
8. Icelandic Food
Visiting Reykjavik is an excellent opportunity to enjoy Icelandic food.
Because Reykjavik is on the coast, you should expect to enjoy lots of seafood, and lobster soup is very popular. You'll also have the opportunity to try Icelandic rye bread, langoustine, horse and lamb.
9. Harpa Concert Hall
Home to the Icelandic Opera and Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, the stunning Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is located on the water at Reykjavik's Old Harbour.
Chances are good to see festival or show, as Harpa has a busy schedule but on a typical day you can still enjoy the impressive glass building's restaurant, shop, or cafe.
10. Mount Esja
While a hike to nearby Mount Esja takes you outside the city limits of Reykjavik, the views from the top of the mountain give an incredible view of the city below.
Only about 10 kilometres from the city, a hike of Mount Esja takes about 3 hours and is roughly 5 miles in length and offers a great chance to enjoy the fresh Icelandic air.
11. Imagine Peace Tower
Designed by Yoko Ono and built in memory of John Lennon, the Imagine Peace Tower is open all year and offers visitors an audio tour to understand its design and significance.
Every night until midnight the tower casts a stunning light along the skyline except on John and Yoko's respective birthdays, when the tower is lit all night long.
12. Hallgrimskirkja Church
The iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church took nearly 40 years to build, and the 244ft steeple is certainly a sight you won't want to miss while in Reykjavik.
Head up to the top of the steeple for fantastic views of the city and the surrounding natural beauty. It's definitely worth the visit.
13. Tour the Golden Circle
If you join an organized tour, or drive yourself out of Reykjavik, one of the most immersive and comprehensive tours is the Golden Circle route.
A popular tour for visitors, the Golden Circle offers a great chance to see the major sights of Iceland including Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir, and Thingvellir National Park. Plan to devote a day to this organized tour.
14. Explore the National Museum of Iceland
Take in the Icelandic history and more recent cultural pieces at the National Museum of Iceland.
You'll be able to learn so much about life in Iceland through exhibits that include Bjork's first album, as well as ancient Viking artifacts.
15. Visit Perlan Museum and Observation Deck
Exhibits featuring glaciers, ice caves, lava and water, at Perlan you can learn more about the natural forces that created the picturesque landscapes of Iceland.
Perlan Museum is dedicated to helping explorers understand the natural wonders of Iceland and you won't want to miss the 360° views of the city from the Perlan Observation Deck.
16. Omnom Chocolate and Ice Cream
You'll want to stop in and try the delicious treats at Reykjavik's Omnom Chocolate. In fact, in 2018, Omnom's Milk of Nicaragua chocolate bar was named the best milk chocolate bar in the world.
Stop in to try an assortment of chocolate, candies, and ice cream where toppings are made in house and can take your ice cream sundaes to the next level.
17. Street Art
Because Reykjavik's weather can sometimes be colorless, street artists have injected an array of bright colours to the streetscapes of the city. The street art in Reykjavik now ranks among the most popular street art in the world.
Art murals highlight parts of life in Iceland including the nature and culture of the island and you'll enjoy spending time walking through the downtown core hunting for street art along the way.
18. The Sun Voyager
The Sun Voyager sculpture was created to celebrate Reykjavik's 200th anniversary and has become a popular art installment for visitor photos ever since.
19. Whales of Iceland
Learn more about the many whale species in the Icelandic waters at the Whales of Iceland exhibition for your chance to "walk amongst the giants".
This museum made in collaboration between the Marine Research Institute of Iceland and a local whale watching company brings life-sized models inside so visitors can learn more and appreciate the whales that call the waters home.
20. The Settlement Exhibition
Learn more about Viking building methods and the lifestyle of Icelanders in the past when you visit this archeological site and see one of Iceland's oldest houses.
The ruins of the buildings date back to the 10th century, an estimation based on the ancient layers of ice.
21. Horseback Riding Tours
Horseback riding tours are offered outside of Reykjavik, but there are stables near the city that offer lessons, day trips and even adventures that take you out for a few days into the Iceland wilderness.
The Icelandic horse is the only horse breed in Iceland, and is known for it's pony-like appearance and full mane, as well as sheep herding, racing and their long life spans. And while they look small compared to many North American equine breeds, they are sturdy and spirited creatures.
Bringing in new horses to the country is illegal. Even once an Icelandic horse has left the country, it's not allowed back. Be prepared for the unique gait of the Iceland pony.
22. Night Life
Reykjavik nightlife is unlike any other in the world, and for locals, it's common practice to visit more than one bar when spending a night out on the town.
Most of the best places to visit on a night out are located in the city center making them easy to travel between, and most places you'll visit have an intimate and friendly atmosphere.
While alcohol in Reykjavik is expensive, the city is known as one of the best places in the world to spend an evening out.
23. Reykjavíkurtjörn (Tjörnin) Pond
Relax by the shore of Tjörnin pond in central Reykjavik.
You can feed the birds, and take some time to sit back and enjoy the beauty of the brightly coloured surrounding Scandinavian homes that create a small-town feel in the middle of the city.
Many bird species frequent Tjörnin pond and you might get to see Whooper Swans, geese, ducks, and Arctic terns during your visit.
24. Viðey Island
Take a ferry from Reykjavik to Viðey Island, home to many bird species including Iceland's famous puffins.
Tour the island trails on by bike or on foot and try to find one of the oldest churches in the country.
Viðey Island is also where you'll find the Imagine Peace Tour and well as the art installation Milestones on the west side of the island, an ode to Iceland's topography and geology.
25. Reykjavik Walking Tours
A great way to get to know a new city is to walk the area with a tour guide, and City Walk Reykjavik offers a wonderful two hour tour that shares the history of the island.
Starting on Laugavegur Street, you'll learn more about the city and fun facts about local culture while getting your bearings in a new city.