Learn about the best free and cheap things to do in Reykjavik, as well as what to do at night. Vibrant streets and booming culture surrounded by magnificent landscapes characterize the world's northernmost capital, which has an abundance of fun things to do for the budget traveler. Read on to learn how to get the most bang for your buck in Reykjavik on a budget.
Everyone has heard about the costs of visiting Iceland. From accommodation to eating out, Iceland has a reputation for being an expensive destination to visit.
No need to worry, though - there are plenty of cheap and free things to do in Reykjavik. In fact, the majority of the free and cheap things to do in Iceland are found in the capital. Despite being a small city with less than 130,000 people, Reykjavik is a vibrant place with a young and artsy spirit, and finding creative ways to save a few dollars is an Icelandic specialty.
From hikes to free museums and other cool attractions, Reykjavik's budget-friendly side often surprises first-time visitors. Some of the city's best experiences are also some of its cheapest.
Here are 13 useful wallet-friendly things to do in Reykjavik on a budget.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Meltwaterfalls. No edits made.
Thanks to the country's abundance of geothermal energy, you can cheaply swim outdoors all year round in any of Reykjavik's swimming pools. Swimming is a public activity fundamental to Icelandic culture and one of the most popular activities in Reykjavik. In fact, Iceland has the highest ratio of swimming pools, per capita, in the world. Outdoor public bathing is a tradition that dates back to the earliest days of Iceland's Viking settlement.
Today, public bathing is much more than a recreational activity. The swimming pools are civic centers to which Icelanders of all creeds, ages, and professions flock to meet friends or total strangers, recover after a hard day's work, or rejuvenate after a particularly raucous evening.
The majestic Mount Esja, peaking at 2998 feet (914 meters) above sea level, is a distinctive feature to the greater Reykjavik area and beyond. It's part of a volcanic mountain range made of both basalt and tuff-stone.
It has been claimed that it's impossible to circle the mountain - that it never really ends. Comedian and former Reykjavik mayor Jon Gnarr once joked that when he tried doing this, he ended up in Akureyri.
At any rate, this mountain affords excellent (and free!) hiking opportunities and is easily accessed by bus or bicycle. It's one of the most popular things to do near Reykjavik. The summits, Thverfellshorn and Kerholakambur, offer particularly great views of the Greater Reykjavik area.
Nautholsvik beach, centrally located southwest of Oskjuhlid hill, is one of the most popular resorts in Reykjavik. It is probably the only geothermal beach you'll ever experience.
Hot water is pumped into the man-made lagoon, making it a pleasant place to swim year-round, with temperatures reaching 64 F to 68 F (18 C to 20 C). Nautholsvik is one of the few beaches in Iceland where sea temperatures allow for swimming without protective gear.
The beach is serviced and offers great opportunities for sunbathing, swimming, volleyball, and sea sports. There's even a steam bath and hot tubs available.
Admission to the beach costs around 5.50 USD. For those staying longer in Reykavik, 10-entry passes are available, bringing the per-entry price down to about 3.50 USD. Opening hours vary seasonally.
Partaking in Reykjavik's nightlife is infamously neither cheap nor free, although it's unquestionably one of the most popular things to do in Reykjavik at night. But people watching on a Saturday night as thousands of revelers of all ages celebrate in the normally quiet streets of central Reykjavik will most certainly provide one with an experience that is both memorable and free of charge.
However, most clubs don't charge an entry fee, so you're welcome to just come in and enjoy the vibe. If you're an extrovert, you might also introduce yourself to locals and ask about after-parties, which are a huge part of Icelandic nightlife culture.
Keep in mind: The most party-hungry Icelanders are likely to attend pre- and after-parties. Being invited to one is a huge privilege and a fantastic way to end the night.
The lunar landscapes of Modrudalur and the Lake Myvatn area in North Iceland were used to train the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission for the first moon landing. However, not many people know that Reykjavik has its very own otherworldly landscapes, which could easily be used as training grounds for a future Mars landing.
The Raudholar (Red Hills) are easily accessible by bus, car, or bicycle from central Reykjavik. These 5,200-year-old scarlet remnants of a cluster of pseudo-craters are part of Reykjavik's nature reserve Heidmork and a popular refuge for locals seeking temporary peace and stillness.
The Raudholar are ideally situated the perfect distance away from the hustle and bustle of Reykavik's city streets.
Home to over 3,000 plant species, the Reykjavik Botanical Garden is located at Laugardalur Park and is another place in Reykjavik that you can visit for free. It's an ideal place to spend an afternoon lazing about surrounded by beautiful greenery.
The garden was founded in 1961 for educational purposes and is a popular place among locals. In addition to the rich flora, there's a pond and a good deal of birdlife. The local cafe is open from May to the end of August and serves food with ingredients from the garden.
The botanical garden offers a free guided tour in English on Fridays in June, July, and August. The tours start at 12:40 p.m. at the main entrance.
CityWalk Reykjavik provides a free walking tour (tipping optional) of Reykjavik. It's very similar to the free walking tours offered in other international cities around the world. What makes this tour stand out from others are the raving reviews on TripAdvisor of the guides who make this a fantastically informative and enjoyable experience.
The tour includes not only the classic stops and stories but also the hidden treasures of the city and some funny cultural facts about Iceland.
The tour starts at the Austurvollur public square near Reykjavik's city center, which is one of the most popular gathering places in Reykjavik. Around the square, you'll find a long list of cafes, clubs, shops, and hotels, as well as the house of parliament (Althing) and the charming Domkirkjan church. At the center of the square is a statue of national hero Jon Sigurdsson. This same square was also central to the protests of 2009 in response to the economic crash.
Guides will be waiting for you at that square with a sign, so they're easily found. The tour finishes by the city pond, Tjornin, where you'll have a nice view of the old houses of the west part of town and can greet the many birds that frequent the pond.
In winter, Tjornin is a popular spot to go ice skating. When the temperature drops to certain levels, you will often see families walking across - and even cyclists! If you're not too tired after the tour, then you can continue strolling to the south end of the pond, where you'll find the Hljomskalagardur garden. This is an ideal place to relax.
Along with its vegetation, this beautiful garden has a play area for children and a small music house where there are sometimes concerts. The two statues you will see in the park are of sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and poet Jonas Hallgrimsson.
Getting lost in the streets of Reykjavik can also be fun (it's possible, even though it's small!). East and west of the pond, you'll find some of the oldest houses in Reykjavik.
Walking the main streets of Laugavegur, Austurstraeti, and Skolavordustigur is also recommended, particularly in summer, as interesting street performances often take place there. The Vatnsmyrin wetland, near the university, is also a very pleasant spot to go for a walk. However, be mindful not to disturb the wildlife there and keep to the pathways.
In the far west part of Reykjavik is the Aegissida shore. We also recommend visiting the old Reykjavik Harbour and the Grotta island at Seltjarnarnes, with its rich birdlife and charming old lighthouse. This site also happens to be one of the best spots inside the Reykjavik area to catch the northern lights.
It's located on the end of the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, providing enough darkness to see some beautiful aurora borealis displays between September and April.
The street art scene in Reykjavik is massive, and many buildings are covered with cool graffiti and colorful murals. Many places have commissioned graffiti murals from renowned artists both from Iceland and abroad. You can start your street art "hunt" at places like Bar Ananas, UglyBrothers, and Freddi Arcade.
Hallgrimskirkja church is Reykjavik's most iconic landmark and the sixth tallest structure in Iceland, standing 245 feet (74.5 meters). Construction of Reykjavik's postcard-perfect monument began in 1945 and was only finished 41 years later.
The church design was inspired by the basalt columns around the Svartifoss waterfall. It was also designed to resemble Thor's hammer. Politiken, one of Scandinavia's most respected newspapers, put it in second place in their list of the most interesting churches in the world.
You can visit Hallgrimskirkja church for free, but there is a fee of around 6.90 USD to take the lift to the top of the tower. The church is open to visitors all year round, and from its tower, one can enjoy an impressive view of the entire Greater Reykjavik Area.
The Harpa Concert Hall is located right by the sea and first opened its doors in 2011. Designed by Olafur Eliasson, this glass building is an architectural wonder.
It is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera. Entry to the premises is free. Harpa Concert Hall usually hosts art exhibitions (also free). However, if you want to attend a concert, ticket prices vary.
There are also gift shops and a restaurant where you can just sit and enjoy the views while having a coffee or bite to eat.
The sculpture garden of The Einar Jonsson Art Museum, right beside Hallgrimskirkja church, is a perfect place to enjoy a picnic. Whether you are alone or with friends, you are in good company, as the sculptures are amongst the most fabulous examples of Icelandic art history.
The architecture of the house is interesting in its own right. It rises from a heavy pedestal as if it were itself a sculpture and is often said to look a bit like a fortress. Sadly, the exact style of the house is difficult to pinpoint as it is indeed a confluence of many different architectural styles and design ideas.
There is no admission fee, and the garden is 24 hours a day, 356 days a year.
Besides the aforementioned Hallgrimskirkja, which rises to 246 feet (75 meters) from the top of Skolavorduhaed hill, Perlan, on Oskjuhlid hill, offers another great viewing point of Reykjavik and is one of the city's most distinctive landmarks.
A view of Reykjavík from Hallgrímskirkja Church.
This building is a rotating glass dome built on four tanks that are used to store the city's water supply. Oskjuhlid hill is a popular resort. Over 176,000 trees have been planted there, and there are many good pathways for biking or walking. The area was used by the US military during WWII, and remnants of an old bunker can still be found there. This lends the whole area some atmosphere, but nowadays it is a peaceful one.
Every night in Reykjavik has the potential for a beautiful (and free) display in the sky. Whether it's the vivid colors that come about due to the midnight sun or the ethereal aurora borealis dancing above, the skies in Iceland are the perfect freebie.
The midnight sun, the phenomenon in which the sun never sets, only actually occurs the week before and after the summer equinox on June 21. However, from the start of May until the middle of August, the sun will not get far enough below the horizon for the night to properly become dark. This means that you have a long, beautiful "golden hour" for photography all around the country and vivid, dusky colors in the sky that last until morning.
This is also the perfect time to explore Reykjavik and the rest of Iceland since you will have 24 hours of daylight and more sightseeing opportunities. Why not check out the sites of Reykjavik in the middle of the night - minus all the crowds?
The northern lights, on the other hand, can be seen between September and April, whenever the sky is clear and dark enough with sufficient solar activity. If you're planning on hunting for the aurora within the capital, it is important to locate places where the light pollution from the city won't limit your viewing. Great spots include Grotta lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula and Laugardalur Park.
When hunting for the northern lights, be sure to wrap up warm, as Icelandic nights are cold even on the cusp of summer. You don't want your enjoyment of a spectacular display of nature to be cut short by frostbite!
We hope our guide helps you find the best cheap things to do in Reykjavik and make the most of your trip to Iceland. We'd love to hear any questions or your experiences in the comments below!