The Best Things to Do in Reykjavik in Winter

The Best Things to Do in Reykjavik in Winter

Verified expert

Buildings in Reykjavik in winter.

Find the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter. From city sightseeing on a hop-on hop-off bus tour to heading out on a whale-watching tour, there are plenty of things to do in Reykjavik during the colder months. Read on to discover top attractions, tips, and more.

Visiting Reykjavik in winter is a fantastic way to discover how Iceland celebrates Christmas and other winter festivities. There are also plenty of indoor and outdoor activities in which you can participate.

Although the temperatures are colder, the famous spots are still easy to see. From visiting the various museums and parks to heading off on a northern lights tour, many places are waiting to be explored.

Fewer people visit the city during winter, so most places are less crowded, meaning you’ll be free to explore Reykjavik in your own time.

Hateigskirkja church and the rooftops of Reykjavik.

When visiting the city for the first time, finding the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter can be a little daunting. However, with this guide, discovering the best winter activities, Reykjavik tours, 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

The Hallgrímskirkja Church in winter in Reykjavik.

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

There’s no better way to explore Reykjavik than sightseeing in the city. Visiting the most famous sights allows you to learn about the city’s history and culture while discovering new places. You can go city sightseeing alone, on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, or on a guided walking tour.

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

The design of the building itself is fascinating. It’s worth viewing it from outside, even if you don’t venture indoors. The architecture was a collaboration between Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Henning Larsen Architects.

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik.

The Hallgrimskirkja church is an eye-catching building with a 245-foot (74.5-meter) spire inspired by basalt lava columns. It’s the tallest building in Reykjavik and the second-tallest in all of Iceland.

Visitors can access the church's observation tower via a lift. It offers stunning panoramic views over the city, so it's well worth a visit. There's 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, cafes, shops, hotels, and bars.

At the center of the square, you'll see 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

The Reykjavik Old Harbor is the departure point for whale-watching tours and northern lights cruises, but the harbor itself is also an excellent place to visit. You'll see incredible views of the natural landscapes surrounding Reykjavik, including Mount Esja, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Also near the Old Harbor is the Sun Voyager sculpture, one of Iceland’s most famous artworks. It's 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. It’s the city’s main shopping street, full of 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 to take home to your friends and family.

You can also pop into one of the two museums near the 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 male animals’ genitals.

The second is the Icelandic Punk Museum. The museum building used to be a public toilet block. Now, each stall records 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, some wonderful choices are available.

You can’t afford to miss out on a northern lights tour during your trip — it's a once-it’s-lifetime experience. The northern lights are a natural phenomenon where different colored lights appear in the sky, caused by gaseous particles colliding with charged particles from the sun.

The lights of the aurora borealis appear in the winter months (from September to April) during the hours of darkness.

Reykjavik itself is often too lit up to see the northern lights, but it's a great base from which to embark on a guided northern lights tour.

The tour operators look at detailed meteorological data, precise weather predictions, and internal communications to determine the darkest spots where the lights are 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 are 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. Taking 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 also be able to see white-beaked dolphins, porpoises, and the occasional great whale or orca on your whale-watching adventure.

Whale-watching tours in Reykjavik depart from the Old Harbor. Be sure to take a camera with you to get some pictures of the sealife 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 bird’s-eye view of Reykjavik? Go on a helicopter tour with a mountaintop landing. You’ll get to see the stunning city skyline and Reykjavik’s unique features from the sky.

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 list.

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 stress and soothing any aching muscles.

One great place to take a dip in soothing waters 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 (about 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, then proceed to the steam room before taking a shower. The lagoon stands out from other thermal spas because it can accommodate up to 12 guests, including children aged 12 to 14 years (if 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 that are great for exploring, even in winter. Start with Laugardalur, an area well known for its recreational activities. It's home to an adjoining swimming pool called Laugardalslaug, the largest pool 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 participate 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 an excellent place for spotting freshwater birdlife. It’s also one of the city's busiest parks, but it sees fewer visitors in winter, so you won’t be overwhelmed by summer crowds. During winter, it may also be dark enough to see the northern lights if the weather conditions are right.

Klambratun park is also a nice place to visit and is a favorite spot for locals thanks to its vast size and residential setting. It's located close to downtown Reykjavik and has many facilities.

You'll find a playground for kids and courts for football, basketball, and ultimate frisbee. At the park's center is the 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. A Reykjavik city card grants visitors 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. The building sits atop Oskjuhlid hill, the city’s highest hill, giving you a bird’s-eye view of the entire city. You might also catch a glimpse of the northern lights from the museum.

Grab an admission ticket to the museum's Wonders of Iceland Exhibition and step into the Perlan Ice Tunnel, a man-made ice cave where you'll feel like you're walking in a glacier. With colored lighting illuminating the cave, the 10-minute walk is breathtaking. Be sure to wear warm clothing when visiting the cave as the temperature drops as low as 5 F (around -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, chances are you'll want you’ll how the city celebrates Christmas. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the festive season here. Christmas in Reykjavik kicks off as early as December 11 and extends all the way to January 6.

Colorful lighting and decorations adorn the city at Christmas. Joining a Christmas Walking tour is the best way to soak into the festive atmosphere and learn about Iceland’s traditions.

There are also Christmas markets taking place throughout the season. You can browse locally made gifts and buy thoughtful presents for your friends and family back home.

Best Things To Do in Reykjavik in Winter in Bad Weather

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

In addition to its various tourist attractions, Reykjavik is a culinary city. Many of its best restaurants serve delicious local produce, and there are several high-end fine-dining options for you to choose from.

From no-frills hot dogs to exquisite Nordic menus, visitors are spoiled for choice. Alternatively, you can explore some of Reykjavik’s bars — sip your favorite wine or discover the city's craft beer scene.

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.

The city center of Reykjavik as seen from the harbor.

Photo from Guided Walking Tour of Reykjavik's Reykjavik’s

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

Smaralind Shopping Mall is the largest shopping mall in the city, making it one of the best places to visit when the weather is bad. It has a wide variety of shops, a cinema, and plenty of dining options.

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 — why not relax with a movie or a good book to escape the cold?

Other cinemas in Reykjavik include Sambio, Smarabio, and Haskolabio. They 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

The 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. Reykjavik is within easy reach of several of Iceland’s most popular natural attractions, still accessible during winter.

The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most famous geothermal spa, known for its steamy blue waters and beautiful surrounding landscapes. The waters heat up to 100 F (about 38 C) and are rich in sulfur and silica. Many believe these minerals to have beneficial properties.

The Blue Lagoon is close to central Reykjavik, just 31 miles (about 50 kilometers) from the city. However, you can opt for a Blue Lagoon transfer if you want 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 iconic landmarks. It’s a 190-mile (roughly 305-kilometer) route of Iceland’s most famous 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. It has utterly breathtaking views, especially on a sunny day. Just don’t forget to bring your waterproofs!

Skogafoss waterfall in South Iceland.Next, proceed to Skogafoss waterfall. You can pull up to it right from the Ring Road itself, so it's easy to visit even if you're hiring a car and traveling around Iceland independently. The waterfall is also accessible through the Skoga trail, which starts at Skogafoss and follows the Skoga River for five miles (about eight kilometers).

shorter South Coast tour will take you down to Reynisfjara and back. A longer South Coast tour is a great way to discover other sights around the South Coast, like the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and the Reynisfjara black-sand beach. Both tours include a transfer from Reykjavik, so you won’t need to worry about getting there alone.

Jokulsarlon is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Iceland. A stunning black-stone beach surrounds the ice lagoon. You can watch the free-flowing icebergs drift through the lagoon, whose waters are a unique color thanks to the mesh of fresh and saltwater. You might also see seals catching fish near the mouth of the lagoon.

Located on Iceland’s western coast, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula boasts some of the country's most dramatic landscapes, glaciers, waterfalls, and fishing villages. It’s often referred to as "Iceland in miniature" due to its spectacular scenery and culture. It’s a great place to go on a solo trip, but you can also take a Snaefellsnes tour if you want to visit the area as a group.

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

Reykjavik is a fantastic city to visit during winter because there's so much to see and do that isn’t dependent on the weather. If you want to catch a glimpse of the famous aurora borealis, enjoy the festivities over Christmas, or discover some cultural activities, you'll be able to do it all in Reykjavik.

Link to appstore phone
Install Iceland’s biggest travel app

Download Iceland’s biggest travel marketplace to your phone to manage your entire trip in one place

Scan this QR code with your phone camera and press the link that appears to add Iceland’s biggest travel marketplace into your pocket. Enter your phone number or email address to receive an SMS or email with the download link.