The Best Things to Do in Reykjavik in Winter

The Best Things to Do in Reykjavik in Winter

Verified Expert

Building in Reykjavik in winter.

Find the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter. Whether it’s city sightseeing on the hop on hop off bus tour or heading out on a whale watching tour, there are plenty of things to do in Reykjavik during the colder months.

Visiting Reykjavik in winter is a fantastic opportunity to discover how Iceland celebrates Christmas and other winter festivities. There are also plenty of indoor and outdoor activities to take part in.

Many famous spots are still easy to visit, even though the temperatures are colder. From the many museums and parks to heading off on a northern lights tour, there are lots of places waiting to be explored.

Fewer people visit the city during winter, so most places are less crowded. This means you’ll have more freedom to explore Reykjavik in your own time.

Hateigskirkja Church and the rooftops of Reykjavik.

 

If visiting the city for the first time, finding the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter can be a little daunting but with this guide discovering the best winter activities and places to visit is easy. Read on to find out how to spend your time in Reykjavik in winter.

City sightseeing in Reykjavik in winter

Hallgrímskirkja Church in winter in Reykjavik.

The days may be short in Reykjavik in winter but the city has plenty of sights for you to explore in both daylight and once it gets dark.

There’s no better way to explore Reykjavik’s top attractions than to go sightseeing in the city. Sightseeing allows you to learn about the city’s history and culture while discovering new places. You can go city sightseeing on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour or a guided walking tour, to visit attractions that interest you, or just explore the city by yourself.

The Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Center is a great place to make your first stop. You get to see the magnificent concert hall, which houses the Iceland Opera and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. You could also check here if there are any concerts that you’d like to go to here and book them for later.

The design of the building itself is also very interesting. It’s worth seeing from the outside, even if you don’t venture inside. The architecture was a collaboration between Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Elisasson and Henning Larsen Architects.

 

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik.

Hallgrimskirkja church is an eye-catching church with a 245 feet (74.5 meters) high spire whose design was inspired by basalt lava columns. It’s the tallest building in Reykjavik and the second tallest building in Iceland.

The observation tower of the church can be accessed via a lift and offers stunning panoramic views over the city. There is a small fee for this which goes towards the upkeep of the church.

Don’t miss Austurvollur Square, a popular meeting place in the center of Reykjavik. Around the square you’ll see the Icelandic parliament building as well as cafes, shops, hotels and bars.

At the center of the square there is a statue of Jon Sigurdsson, the leader of the 19th century Icelandic independence movement and a national hero.

A boat departs from Reykjavik harbor on a whale watching tour.


Photo from Reykjavik Whale Watching Tour


Reykjavik Old Harbor is the departure point for whale watching tours and northern lights cruises but the harbor itself is also worth a visit. From here you’ll get spectacular views of some of the natural landscapes surround Reykjavik, including Mount Esja, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Also at Reykjavik’s coast is the Sun Voyager sculpture, one of Iceland’s most famous artworks. It is one of the most visited sites in Reykjavik and represents a vessel of dreams including hope, progress, and freedom.

The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik in winter.

If shopping is part of your travel itinerary when visiting Reykjavik, head to Laugavegur street. The city’s main shopping street is dotted with renowned boutiques, bars, and restaurants. You can buy clothes, jewelry, antiques, and much more. Many tourist shops also sell books, fridge magnets, stuffed animals, and souvenirs for you to take home to your friends and family.

You can also pop into one of the two museums near Laugavegur street. The Phallological Museum is a favorite among visitors. It started as an eccentric Icelander’s hobby but is now recognized as the world’s only museum dedicated to understanding animals’ male genitals.

The second one is the Icelandic Punk Museum. The museum building used to be public toilets, with each stall recording specific pieces of history of the punk and new wave movement in Iceland.

The Best Tours in Reykjavik in Winter

The northern lights in Iceland in winter.

If you're looking to join a tour in Reykjavik in winter, then there are some wonderful choices available.

You can’t afford to miss out on a northern lights tour, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The northern lights are a natural phenomenon where lights appear in different colors when gaseous particles collide with charged particles from the sun.

The northern lights appear in the winter months between September and April, during the hours of darkness. Reykjavik is a great base from which to embark on a guided northern lights tour.

Based on meteorological data, weather websites, and internal communication, the tour operators know the darkest spots and where they’re most likely to appear. You can book a bus tour, a private tour, a minibus tour, or a boat tour, depending on how you’d like to see them.

 

Whales swimming near Reykjavik Harbor.


Photo from Reykjavik Whale Watching Tour


Iceland is known for its rich marine life, and whales is one of the species that can often be seen off its coastline. Iceland is home to more than 20 whale species, including the minke and the humpback whales, and a whale-watching tour from Reykjavik harbor is the best way to get a close view of the animals.

If you’re visiting in winter, you may be able to see white-beaked dolphins, as well as porpoises and the occasional great whale or orca.

Whale-watching tours in Reykjavik depart from the Old Harbor. Be sure to take a camera on the tour with you so you can get some pictures of the sea life you spot.

The city of Reykjavik as seen from above in a helicopter.


Photo from Reykjavik Helicopter Tour with Mountain Summit Landing


Want to enjoy a birds’ eye view of Reykjavik city? Go on a helicopter tour with a mountaintop landing. You’ll get to view the stunning city skyline and Reykjavik’s unique features from above.

This exciting tour also lets you view famous tourist attractions like the Harpa Concert Hall and the Hallgrimskirkja church from above. Some say that this view of Reykjavik looks like a giant patchwork quilt because of the colorful tin roofs.

You can even combine a helicopter flight with a whale-watching adventure if you want to tick two experiences off your bucket lift.

Outdoor activities in Reykjavik in winter

Laugardalur Park in Reykjavik in winter.

You don’t have to pass up on some favorite outdoor activities like swimming just because it’s winter. Communal swimming and bathing in geothermal waters are part of Icelandic culture. The geothermally heated pools allow you to swim while relieving your stress and soothing any aching muscles.

One great place to take a dip in is the Sky Lagoon. The Sky Lagoon has a geothermal pool with natural hot water running through pipes, mixed with cold water, and then piped into the lagoon.

The water temperature in the Sky Lagoon is around 100 to 104 F (38 to 40 C). It has a seven-step spa experience to help you to relax and unwind. First, take a dip in the lagoon, then drop yourself in the cold plunge at the lagoon's edge before spending five to ten minutes warming up in the ocean-facing sauna.

Head back to the lagoon for a body scrub and proceed to the steam room before taking a shower. What makes the lagoon stand out from other thermal spas is that it can accommodate up to 12 guests, including kids aged 12 to 14 years under adult supervision. The best way to enjoy this is by booking premium admission to Sky Lagoon.

Laugardalur Park in Reykjavik in winter.

Reykjavik is home to some beautiful parks which are great for wandering around in winter. Start with Laugardalur, an area well known for its recreational activities. It is home to an adjoining swimming pool called Laugardalslaug, the largest in Iceland.

The swimming pool has a water slide and geothermal pools, making it the perfect place to relax and unwind in the warm waters. You can take part in or watch sporting activities at the park if you don’t want to get wet. Popular sports here include handball, basketball, and football.

Hljomskalagardurinn is another park worth visiting. Located beside Tjornin pond, it’s the perfect family-friendly park. It’s a great place for spotting freshwater birdlife. It’s also one of the city's busiest parks, but sees less visitors in winter, so you won’t be overwhelmed by summer crowds. During winter it’s also dark enough to see the northern lights, if the weather conditions are right.

Klambratun is another park worth exploring. Located close to the downtown area of Reykjavik, it’s a favorite spot for locals due to its vast size, a wide range of facilities, and residential setting. It has a playground for kids and courts for football, basketball, and ultimate frisbee. The park's center is Kjarvalsstadir Art Museum, one of three buildings that compose the Reykjavik Art Museum, showcasing the country’s best sculptors and painters.

Cultural activities in Reykjavik in winter

Reykjavik Art Museum, available to visit with a Reykjavik city card.


Photo from Reykjavik City Card - 72 Hours


There are plenty of cultural activities all year round in Reykjavik. Be sure to buy a Reykjavik city card which grants you access to the city’s top museums and galleries for a discounted price. You can book a 24-hour, 48-hour, or 72-hour card.

A trip to Reykjavik isn’t complete without visiting the Perlan Museum. Also referred to as the Wonders of Iceland Museum, the building sits atop Oskjuhlid hill, the city’s highest hill, giving you a birds’ eye view of the entire city. You can also view the northern lights from the museum. 

Perlan’s Ice Cave and Tunnel is a man-made ice cave which is part of the museum’s exhbition. A walk inside the 330-foot ice tunnel feels like walking in a glacier. With colored lighting illuminating the cave, the 10-minute walk is simply breathtaking. Be sure to wear warm clothing when visiting the cave as the temperature drops as low as -15 C. 

Christmas activities in Reykjavik

An outdoor Christmas tree with decorative lights in the center of Reykjavik.


Photo from Christmas Walking Tour in Reykjavik


If you’re visiting Reykjavik in December then chances are that you want to see how the city celebrates Christmas. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the festive season here. Christmas in Reykjavik kicks off as early as the 11th December extending all the way to 6th January. 

Colorful lighting and decorations are used to decorate the city at Christmas. Joining the Christmas Walking tour is the best way to soak into the festive atmosphere and Iceland’s traditions.

There are also Christmas markets taking place throughout the season. One of these is the Christmas village in Hafnarfjordur which is 20 minutes away from the city center in the village of Hafnarfjordur.

Best Things to Do in Reykjavik in Winter in Bad Weather

Snow in Laugardalur Park in Reykjavik.The weather can get rough during winter, causing tour operators to cancel outdoor activities, but it shouldn’t deter you from exploring the best of Reykjavik. These indoor activities should make up for any canceled trips.

In addition to bursting with many tourist attractions, Reykjavik is a culinary capital. Many of the city’s best restaurants serve delicious local produce while others have high-end fine dining options for you to choose from.

From the no-frills hot dog to exquisite Nordic menu options, you’re spoilt for choice. Alternatively, you can explore some of Reykjavik’s bars while sipping your favorite wine.

Laugavegur, the city’s main shopping street is where most travelers start when they want to hit the stores. However, if that isn’t enough shopping for you, head to the Kolaportid flea market, Kringlan shopping mall, or Smaralind shopping mall.

City center of Reykjavik as seen from the harbor.


Photo from Guided Walking Tour of Reykjavik's Landmarks


Kolaportid flea market is an indoor flea market selling many souvenir items, including frozen lava from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, vintage threads, and jewelry.

Smaralind Shopping Mall is the largest shopping mall in the city, making it a great place to visit when the weather is bad. It has a wide variety of shops, a cinema, and places for you to dine.

Alternatively, head to Kringlan Shopping Mall, another large shopping center with an excellent selection of renowned labels. It also has a cinema and a library so you can relax here with a movie or a good book.

When the weather is too bad to be outside, catch up on the latest movie at the cinema. Sambio, Smarabio and Haskolabio cinemas all play a selection of the latest and most popular releases. If you’re after something a little quirkier, you can visit the arthouse cinema Bio Paradise which shows a selection of independent movies.

Best Winter Attractions Near Reykjavik

Blue Lagoon, a geothermal pool in Iceland, in winter.

Reykjavik certainly has lots of attractions worth exploring, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to winter tours in the city. The city is located within easy access of a range of some of Iceland’s most famous natural attractions.

The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most popular geothermal spa, famous for its steamy blue waters and beautiful surrounding landscapes. The water heats up to a temperature of 100 F (38 C), and the waters are rich in sulfur and silica which it’s thought may have beneficial properties.

The Blue Lagoon is close to central Reykjavik, around 31 miles (50 kilometers) from the city. However, you may opt for a Blue Lagoon transfer to avoid the hassle of driving yourself.

 

The Reykjanes peninsula in Southwest Iceland during winter.

Alternatively, go on a day tour to Reykjanes. The Reykjanes peninsula, where the Blue Lagoon is located, is the first attraction people see upon landing in Iceland because Keflavik International Airport is just a few miles away. The endless lava fields covered in green and gray moss provide a picturesque landscape many guests come to see.

A day trip to the Golden Circle is another way to explore some of Iceland’s most famous landmarks. It’s a 190-mile route of Iceland’s most visited attractions, Thingvellir National Park, the two-tiered Gullfoss waterfall, and the bubbling pools at the Geysir geothermal area. A Golden Circle tour is a great way to explore these spectacular places while learning more about Iceland’s cultural history.

The South Coast of Iceland is home to some of the country’s most gorgeous waterfalls, glacier lagoons, black sand beaches, and epic hiking trails. Your first stop should be at Seljalandsfoss or Skogafoss, two of the best-known waterfalls in Iceland.

Seljalandsfoss is one of the few waterfalls you can walk behind and has the most breathtaking views, especially on a sunny day. Just don’t forget to bring your waterproofs!

 

Skogafoss waterfall in South Iceland.

Then proceed to Skogafoss waterfall, another underrated experience. You can pull up to it, right from the Ring Road itself. The waterfall is also accessible through the Skoga trail, starting at Skogafoss and following the Skoga River for around five miles (eight kilometers). 

The shorter South Coast tour will take you down to Reynisfjara and back. A longer South Coast tour is a great way to discover other regions of the South Coast, like Jokulsarlon and Reynisfjara beach. Both tours have transfers from Reykjavik, so you don’t need to worry about getting there by yourself.

Jokulsarlon is a must-see to all visiting Iceland. The ice lagoon is offset with a stunning black stone beach. You can watch the free-flowing icebergs as they drift through the lagoon, which is a unique color thanks to the mesh of fresh and saltwater. You can see the seals near the mouth of the lagoon, catching fish.

Located on Iceland’s western coast, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula boasts the most dramatic landscapes, glacier, waterfalls, and fishing villages. It’s also referred to as Iceland in miniature due to its spectacular scenery and culture. It’s a great place to go on a solo trip or take a Snaefellsnes tour if visiting the area as a group. 

Reykjavik city center and the trees on the outskirts of the city in winter.

Reykjavik is a fantastic city to visit during winter as there is so much to see and do which isn’t necessarily weather-dependent. Whether you want to catch a glimpse of the famous aurora borealis, enjoy the festivities over Christmas, or discover some cultural activities, there’s something in the city for everyone.