Small, colorful, and remote, the city of Reykjavik is the perfect destination for a two-day vacation. This capital city offers a lot of attractions and activities to all visitors. Here, we have gathered for you the 10 best things to do in Reykjavik.
Best things to do in Reykjavik
While Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, it has a very distinctive, small town vibe to it. The houses are wooden, shops are packed with local designs, restaurants serve aromatic dishes, and cafes are mostly owned by families. All of these are built around a working harbor.
That being said, this small city has an edge. Reykjavik is full of culture, creativity and brilliant architecture. In addition, the country of Iceland is blessed with amazing nature which is the home of different spices.
Weather in Iceland
The weather in Reykjavik is mostly cold. The country of Iceland has very long winters and barely existing summers. In winter, the average weather is around 33° to 35° F (1° to 2° C). However, on rare occasions, the weather could drop to as low as 14° F (-10° C).
In summer, the temperature is usually around 50° to 57° F (10° to 14° C). While this is the usual weather, sometimes the temperature goes up to 77° F (25° C). The weather during the season is usually cool and cloudy.
The perfect time to visit the city depends on the things to do in Reykjavik that interest you. So, if you are looking for some summer activities, plan your visit to fall within the months from June to August. Moreover, the rest of the year is perfect for winter activities.
Hallgrimskirkja Church is the first attraction to catch your eye in Reykjavik. The church is visible from anywhere in the city which makes it very easy to find. The Hallgrimskirkja Church is located at the center of Reykjavik.
This well known church was opened in 1986 after being under construction for more than 40 years. It is the largest church in the whole of Iceland. The famous church of Hallgrimskirkja was named after pastor and poet Hallgrimur Petursson.
Gudjon Samuelsson, the architect that designed Hallgrimskirkja, was fascinated by the shapes of the basalt rock columns surrounding Svartifoss Waterfall. Thus, the style of the building is inspired by Icelandic nature.
The church features a gargantuan pipe organ, designed and constructed by the German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn. The organ weighs over 25 tons. It is 15 meters tall. The organ is quite powerful and capable of filling the huge space of the church.
While the church itself is a sight to behold, most visitors come to the church to climb its tower. The tower is over 74 meters high. It offers an amazing view of the whole city. We really advise you to go up there and experience the breathtaking view.
The Hallgrimskirkja Church is an operating church. However, it is still open to the public to visit. The opening hours differ according to the season in which you visit the church. In winter, from October to April, the church opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. The tower closes a bit earlier at 4:30 p.m.
In summer, from May to September, the church opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. The tower closes at 8:30 p.m., making it a perfect spot for seeing the cityscape covered by soft light from the sunset.
There are no entry fees collected to enter the church. However, if you wish to visit the church’s tower, an entry fee is required. The ticket for adults is for ISK 900, and for children, it is for ISK 100.
The Saga Museum tells the early history of Iceland. It gives a full account of the story of the early settlers. From the late 800s until the 1550s, the museum shows the history of the Saga Age in Iceland.
The museum is the perfect place to learn more about the captivating history of the Viking. The Saga Museum recreates the significant moments in history with wax figures. The museum offers audio guided tours.
Throughout the tour, visitors are able to touch the life-like figurines. The audios in the tours tell the stories that are depicted in the wax figures. During the tour, you are encouraged to snap some pictures of the scenes and figures in the museum.
Another attraction in the museum is the silent movie that is playing in the museum’s entertainment area. The movie shows the story of how the museum came to life by its owner, Ernst Backman.
The entertainment area also features a dress-up space where you can try on authentic clothing. On the other hand, children can enjoy their time as well, playing with wooden swords and shields.
The Saga Museum is open daily from 10 am to 5:00 pm. Tickets vary in price. An adult ticket is around $21, children, on the other hand, have a reduced fare of around $8 for a child ticket. Seniors and students also get a discount. They pay around $17 for a ticket.
National Museum of Iceland
Check 1,200 years worth of history at the National Museum of Iceland!
The National Museum of Iceland is located in old Reykjavik. The collections at the museum have been collected since 1863. It was moved to its current location in 1950. The building at which the museum is located is rather nondescript which makes the marvels inside come as a surprise.
The National Museum of Iceland is a 2-story museum that houses 2,000 antiquities that were found all over the country. The different exhibits at the museum provide a superb overview of the history and culture of the country.
The museum offers a rich experience to its visitors by having free smartphone audio guides. These audio guides give a thorough account of the details found at the museum. You can check the audio guides on the museum’s website.
The National Museum of Iceland encompasses various sections. The most interesting section in the museum is the one describing the Settlement Era. It is found at the first story and includes the introduction of Christianity and the chieftans rule. This section also has on display swords, drinking horns, silver hoards and a powerful bronze figure of Thor.
The most precious artefact in the museum is found on this floor. This is the 13th century Valþjófsstaðir door. This church door is very famous for its carvings of the story of the knight, its loyal lion, and a group of dragons.
The second floor of the museum houses collections from 1600 to today. These collections show the struggle of Iceland under the foreign rule. It also gives an account of how the country has finally come to gain its independence. Simple objects are displayed for visitors. These include gaming pieces made from cod ear bones, and the wooden doll that doubled as a kitchen utensil.
The National Museum of Iceland is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Tickets are available at the front desk. The ticket for adults costs ISK 2000 ($ 15.31). Children under 18 years can access the museum for free.
One of the most magical things to do in Reykjavik is to visit Viðey Island. It is a very small island that only covers around 1.7 square km. The entire island can be easily explored in only a few hours.
Viðey island is where history and art come hand in hand. On the island, you will be able to check Iceland’s oldest churches. Investigations have found evidence that the island has had settlers since as early as the 10th century.
The Viðey island has the first building to be constructed of stone in the whole of Iceland. This is the Viðey house. The house is considered one of Iceland’s oldest buildings. Make sure to buy a visit to the house to enjoy the special atmosphere it has.
While Viðey island holds a historical importance, its popularity among tourists is largely due to the Imagine Peace Tower. This amazing art piece was conceived as a memorial of the great singer, John Lennon. The monument symbolizes both peace and joy. On the tower, the phrase “IMAGINE PEACE” is written in 24 languages.
Every year, the tower is lit on John Lennon’s birthday, Oct 9th, and until the day of his death, Dec 8th. Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow and the one who gifted him this power, visits the island annually to light the tower and celebrate John Lennon’s memory. When the tower is lit, it sends its beautiful lights to the sky, creating a breathtaking view that can be seen all the way from Reykjavik.
To reach the island from Reykjavik, you will have to take a ferry from the city. You can catch the ferry from Ægisgarður Harbor and the Skarfabakki Pier during the summer. The island can be explored on foot or by bike due to its small size. The island has well marked paths that help visitors to discover the islands easily.
Kolaportið Flea Market
One of the great things to do in Reykjavik is to get a look at Iceland’s only flea market!
Kolaportið is a flea market that is located in a big warehouse near Reykjavik’s old harbor. The market has a vintage vibe to it. Most local visitors go to get good deals on different items. For tourists, the market is a great place to mix with locals and maybe practice some of their haggling techniques.
The market will amaze you with the great collection of things it sells. You can buy different things; from vintage fashion items to various Icelandic goods. Other items sold at the market include fresh licorice, classic Icelandic wool sweaters, affordable souvenirs, and others.
The market is also known for used books and decorative pieces. It also sells traditional dishes, including dried fish and fermented shark. Your Icelandic experience would never be complete without trying these famous traditional delicacies.
The Kolaportið Flea Market opens only on the weekend; Saturday and Sunday, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. The earlier you go, the better are your chances to avoid the crowds. One thing to keep in mind is to carry cash with you since market vendors do not accept credit cards.
Natural beauty is another thing that Reykjavik enjoys. Right outside the city of Reykjavik is located the Rauðhólar (the red hills). These are remnants of a cluster of pseudo craters that are about 5200 years old. A visit to the Rauðhólar is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Reykjavik
The existing Rauðhólar is only a part of the original 80 craters that were there. The gravel from those was taken and used in construction. Some of the famous construction done using that gravel is the Reykjavik airport and some other road building done around World War II.
These uses of the gravel resulted in decreasing its amount. Since the year 1961, the Rauðhólar has been protected against such uses. The security was further increased a couple of years after that to ensure that the Rauðhólar is safe and protected.
To get to the Rauðhólar, just venture a bit to the outskirts of Reykjavik and to Heidmork Nature Reserve. The reserve can be reached by taking a bus from the downtown area. You can also rent a car or go on a long bike ride. Inside the nature reserve is the distinctive Rauðhólar. They have beautifully contrasting red and black colors.
The nature reserve is a perfect place for a picnic or even a nice cook out. The spot is also very suitable for a walk. And if you are into more physically challenging activities, you can go on a volcanic landscape horse riding tour that is offered by different tourism companies.
Go on a hunt to discover the beautiful street art of Reykjavik.
While most cities around the world consider street art a type of vandalism, Reykjavik has street art as one of its distinctive features. The art pieces that cover the streets of Reykjavik started to appear in the 1990s. Over the years, the art has increased and taken a totally new dimension.
Some of these art pieces are very apparent and can be easily spotted once you enter the street. Others are not as much and require you to walk in different directions to spot it.
The art on the streets of Reykjavik are of two types. The first is the bright colors, complex murals that are usually commissioned. The other type is the earthy colored, story telling tags that are done by different graffiti artists without commission.
What brings these two types together is the fact that they both have the city walls as their canvas and the city as their exhibition. Both types are really beautiful and have their own unique vibe. You will enjoy looking at all the art pieces.
So take the time to go on a hunt to see the different murals and tags around the city. This hunt is one of the unique things to do in Reykjavik.
Attend Elf School
At the center of the modern city of Reykjavik is located the school that tells the story of Iceland’s biggest myth, elves. Whether you are a believer of the magical elves or think they are a mere myth, the elf school should be on your list of things to do in Reykjavik.
Magnus Skarphedinsson, the founder and director of the school, has spent around 30 years studying these hidden creatures in Iceland. To get a clear account of the elves, Skarphedinsson has interviewed more than 1,400 people, locals and foreigners, who have encountered the magical creatures.
Through all of the interviews, Skarphedinsson managed to collect 1,400 stories. That made him an elf expert. Based on these interviews and all of his studies, Skarphedinsson opened the elf school to teach others about elves.
Contrary to popular belief, elves do not resemble Santa’s helpers in any way. However, there are around 15 types of elves. While the school has a full curriculum, you can still learn about elves in the three-hour session the school offers for visitors.
The school also offers five-hour classes for curious travelers which include a tour of hidden folk habitats and ends with coffee and pancakes with the school’s headmaster. The school is in session on Friday afternoons in Reykjavik and costs $64 per person (with tea & pancakes included).
The Blue Lagoon
Enjoy relaxation and rejuvenation at Iceland’s blue lagoon!
The Blue Lagoon is a manmade hot spring that is right outside the city of Reykjavik. The spring is an outdoor spa that is visited by people from around the world. The water is always warm/close to hot at 39° c.
This outdoor spa offers a number of services that help you relax and wind down. From different massages to soulful cocktails, the blue lagoon will give you the relaxation you deserve.
The secret to enjoying the Blue Lagoon is choosing the right time to visit. The Blue Lagoon is open daily from around 8:00 am and closes at around 9:00 pm, opening hours vary depending on the season. The best time to go is hours before the closing time. This is the time at which the spa is the least crowded.
However, even if you did not choose to go at the last 4 hours before closing time, the spa is never too crowded to be enjoyable. The number of people at the lagoon is always monitored and limited to ensure that the water is sanitary.
Make sure to book your spot at the spa weeks before you go. Once you have secured your spot, make plans to spend at least four hours at the lagoon. This way you will be able to relax at the spa, allowing yourself time to go through all of the procedures before entering the water and having your own “me” time.
The prices of the different spa packages range from $57 to $80, based on the treatments and amenities you choose. This is for adults. Kids under 13 years old can enjoy the spa free of charge. If you bring your kids with you, make sure to follow the spa’s rules regarding them. These rules are not strict, yet are very important to ensure that all visitors, adults and kids alike, have a good time.
Kids rules at the spa are very simple. First, no kids under 2 years old are allowed. Second, for safety reasons must be monitored by an accompanying adult. Each adult cannot monitor more than two children. Lastly, children must be respectful towards all present visitors, so everyone can have an enjoyable, relaxing experience.
For bookings and the exact opening hours, check the Blue Lagoon’s official website. Make sure to book ahead and do not miss the coolest things to do in Reykjavik!
The Northern Lights
We have saved you the best for last!
The Northern Lights are one of Iceland’s defining characteristics. This magical phenomenon is on most people’s bucket lists. So, if you are in Iceland, do not waste this one in a lifetime experience. It is one of the most magical things to do in Reykjavik.
And while Iceland is a country that believes in magic, the Northern Light has a scientific explanation. These are electronically charged particles from the sun that collide with the upper atmosphere.
There are different reasons that make the lights visible clearly. The first one is having a clear sky. Then, you need to go away from the city lights. Also, it needs to be nighttime, so the sunlight does not compromise your sight.
If everything goes your way and you are in the right place, at the right time, you will be treated to one of the great natural spectacles. The lights are breathtaking to say the least. They are swirling bands that range from pale green to pink, yellow and blue.
One last note, the lights appear in the sky from mid August to early may. So, avoid going to Reykjavik in the summer if you want to behold this amazing sight. Most travelers plan their travels around this natural phenomenon.
For an even more magical experience, plan your Blue Lagoon spa visit at the same time of the Northern Lights. This will guarantee that you will watch the lights at the same time you are enjoying a relaxing spa.
Not to Miss While in Reykjavik
One of the things to do in Reykjavik is taste the famous Icelandic hotdogs. These are one of Iceland’s most famous dishes. While hotdogs might be famous in other countries around the world, the Icelandic ones are the most delicious.
Another thing that you should not miss while you are in Reykjavik is the Sun Voyager Sculpture. It is a metal sculpture that is located next to the Sæbraut road in Reykjavík. This art piece looks a lot like a viking war ship even though it is not. The sculpture is actually built by Icelandic sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason as an “ode to the sun”, symbolizing light and hope.
Your visit to Reykjavik would never be complete without going to the Phallological Museum. Yes, as its name suggests, this museum is a penis museum. The museum has on display 282 penises from 93 different species of animals, including humans. The museum is a mix of scientific studies and humorous puns. Your visit to the museum will be one of the weirdest yet most fun things to do in Reykjavik.
Another dish to try in Reykjavik is Hákarl. It is fermented shark meat that might be a bit (or a lot) stinky. You might not like this dish but it is the seal that stamps your Iceland visit “authentic”.
Well, this is your ultimate guide of the most amazing things to do in Reykjavik. Do you think it is time to plan your itinerary to visit the magical city?
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