Reykjavik Tours

Reykjavik Tours | Guide to Iceland

Reykjavik Tours
Covering everything from horse riding tours and whale watching excursions to sightseeing trips and ATV rides, Reykjavik tours allow for in-depth visits to the most iconic landmarks and attractions of Iceland's charming capital, as well as the city's gorgeous surrounding countryside.

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A brief history of Reykjavik

According to the ancient Landnámabók, otherwise known as the Book of Settlements, the first permanent settlement in Iceland was established in Reykjavík (“Smoky Bay”), located on the island’s south-western corner.

Legend has it that Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian fleeing the tyranny of King Harald, chose his landing spot by flinging his two high seat pillars from his boat, then following them to shore—with the pillars finally taking their rightful place on each side of the chieftain’s high-seat, where he would sit within the household.

Today, there is some scepticism as to whether or not Ingólfur actually landed at the exact spot specified in the Book of Settlements. This is because of the low probability of the pillars landing where they did—given ocean currents and land’s distance from the boat—and the likelihood of Ingólfur having logically chosen to settle in close proximity to natural hot springs, knowing the importance of keeping his people warm during the harsh Icelandic winters.

Regardless, the settlement would begin to grow, with the early Norsemen quickly stripping the area for timber and pastures.

“Smoky Bay” implies an early confusion, at least linguistically, between the rising water vapour that emits from the geothermal hot springs so prevalent in Iceland, and smoke. Regardless, these billowing white clouds were enough to inspire the settlement’s name, with the original spelling using an extra ‘r’ (Reykjarvík) until it was abandoned in 1800.

Until the 18th Century, the area we know today as Reykjavík was little more than farmland, reflective of the rest of Iceland at that time. When the Danish monarchy took an interest in stimulating the region’s wool industry, however, a number of mills were built and Danes became the settlement’s primary employer for a number of decades. During this time, other industries such as fisheries and shipbuilding also began to make more of an economic impact.

Due to this development, the town was granted an official charter in 1786 after the Danish abolished their trade monopoly. This date is thus considered to be the city’s founding.

In the following years, Iceland’s capital would see a wave of independence movements, an invasion force, three ‘Cod Wars’, the 1972 World Chess Championships, and even the Reykjavík Summit in 1986, taking place between the U.S. and Soviet Cold War powers. Aside from all of that, the city has birthed some incredible artists over recent years, namely the experimental songstress, Björk, as well as bands such as Sigur Rós, Kaleo and Of Monsters and Men.

Those who visit Reykjavík today will discover a modern European capital that balances contemporary Nordic architecture with historic and traditional buildings.

Homing approximately two-thirds of Iceland’s entire population, guests unravel a city rich in artistic culture, community spirit, music, poetry and love, all the while surrounded by the glittering beauty of Faxaflói Bay and the towering mountain, Esja, that has always overlooked the capital. Many travellers choose Reykjavík as a base from which to explore South and West Iceland, for example by going on a day tour of the Golden Circle or Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Since 2010, urban development has been accelerating in line with the ever-growing influx of foreign visitors, meaning new hotels and accommodation, new planning projects, new tour operators. In short, Reykjavík is the beating heart of Icelandic culture.

Frequently asked questions

What are the most popular places to visit in Reykjavik?

The most popular landmarks in Reykjavik include Lake Tjörnin, Hallgrímskirkja Church and Harpa Concert Hall. Walking down the main shopping street, Laugavegur, to the old harbour is a good way of intimately getting to know the spirit of the city centre.

When is the best time to visit Reykjavik?

Reykjavík is bustling throughout the year but has its most popular events and festivals going on in July, August and November. It is also very festive throughout December for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The most popular music festivals in Reykjavík are Secret Solstice, Sonar and Airwaves. Reykjavík Pride, Culture Night, Food and Fun, the Reykjavík Fashion Festival and the Reykjavík International Film Festival are also top-rated events.

How much time should I spend in Reykjavik?

We recommend spending at least one whole day in the capital. If you plan to immerse yourself in the bustling city life and to visit the bars, pubs, restaurants and museums, you should at least spend between two and three days in Reykjavík.

What are Reykjavik’s main cultural sites?

Reykjavík is a city that dates back to the 9th century and is now home to a thriving cultural scene. There are many galleries, museums, art displays, architectural sites and historical places in Reykjavík where you can learn more about the culture of Iceland. Take a culture tour to immerse yourself in Iceland's rich culture and heritage.

Can I see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik?

Because of the city's light pollution, Reykjavík is one of the worst places in Iceland to look out for the Northern Lights. Sites such as Grotta lighthouse however, are often dark enough for a good display, and you may be able to see them clearly from dimly-lit streets and green spaces. Northern Lights tours are much more successful, and many bus, boat and jeep tours depart from the city. As they are a natural phenomenon, please note that sightings cannot be guaranteed.

Which activities can I partake in if I'm based in Reykjavik?

Numerous tours have a pick up location at one of the bus stops in Reykjavík so there is never a shortage of options. You can choose from a variety of activities, ranging from glacier hikes and whale watching excursions, to horse riding tours and helicopter adventures.

How close is Reykjavik to major natural attractions?

One can easily take a day tour from Reykjavík exploring the Golden Circle sightseeing route, Iceland's South Coast, or Snæfellsnes peninsula.

What is the best way to sightsee in Reykjavik?

Sightseeing tours of Reykjavík can be done by foot, bus, private car, bike, segway, and helicopter.

What are the best swimming pools in Reykjavik?

There are 18 swimming pools in the greater Reykjavik area. Laugardalslaug is Reykjavík's largest and most popular swimming pool. The city is also a good base from which to depart to the Blue Lagoon Spa on Reykjanes peninsula, Fontana Spa on the Golden Circle or the Secret Lagoon, near Gullfoss waterfall.

Do I need to book accommodation in Reykjavik in advance?

Yes, you do. Although the city is brimming with hotels, hostels and guesthouses, they are often fully booked, especially at peak times.

How far is Reykjavik from Keflavik International Airport?

It takes around 45 minutes to drive from Reykjavík to Keflavík International Airport. There are lots of bus transfers that will pick up and drop you off at Keflavik airport.

Can I fly from Reykjavik to other towns?

Yes, flights run regularly to Akureyri, Egilsstadir and Isafjordur.

How many people live in Reykjavik?

Reykjavík city centre itself is home to approximately 125,000 people, and the greater metropolitan area has a population of around 220,000.

What family-friendly activities can we do in Reykjavik?

Reykjavik is a very family-friendly city, with lots to do for both older kids and younger children. With 18 swimming pools and several animals that are unique to Iceland; there are plenty of activities suitable for children that can be explored in the capital.