Reykjavik boasts endless opportunities for fun and adventure, from a vibrant art and music scene to a treasure trove of world-renowned cultural and historical attractions. Although COVID-19 has impacted local businesses, there is still a lot to see and do in the world’s northernmost capital. But where best to start? Find out in our top 10 list of things to do in and around Reykjavik.
Reykjavik (translated to "Smokey Bay") is the northernmost national capital globally, comprising a population so minute that it hardly amounts to being a city.
Despite being home to under 200,000 inhabitants, Reykjavík presents a wealth of sights and activities that will appeal to culture, nature, and nightlife enthusiasts alike.
As with any city, the choice of activity is plentiful. In fact, so plentiful that no list could ever fully summarize all of the experiences on offer.
The following list is recommended for those looking to relax, soak up the Icelandic culture and make memories to last a lifetime. Although COVID-19 has impacted Iceland in many ways, there are still a wide variety of memory-making activities to experience.
We know that COVID-19 has changed the way most people think about many experiences. However, Iceland is still open to visitors from approved countries and has worked hard to contain the virus’s spread by creating community guidelines.
Although these guidelines have impacted almost every business in Iceland, they have adapted well and are working to keep everyone safe. A few examples of these changes are that fewer people are allowed to gather at one time, and masks have to be worn when a distance of 2 meters cannot be maintained between people.
It is essential to note the added benefit that the smaller groups provide. Giving visitors a unique opportunity to take a tour with fewer people than ever before. This will give you the chance to learn more from your guide, as more questions, and experience Iceland without a large group of strangers.
What Activities are Affected the Most During COVID-19?
Indoor activities such as dining in a restaurant or dancing in a nightclub, or visiting the local swimming pools have been more impacted than the outdoor ones. You will see signs and stickers reminding you to keep your distance, as well as more restaurants offering take-out to avoid anyone missing out on their delicious cuisine.
The northernmost capital in the world doesn’t fit the typical capital city model. With such a small population, it is possible to explore this city and take in the sights without getting up close and personal with dozens of people.
You can easily keep your distance and explore the city on foot. Just remember to carry your mask in case you want to check out a shop or cafe. Wandering around the public gardens and strolling in between the colorful traditional houses will give you a magical taste of Iceland’s capital.
By following the community guidelines, you will be able to explore this exciting capital city safely. Here is a list of our local experts’ recommendations on the top things to do in Reykjavik.
From the mighty glaciers to the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean to the steaming geothermal pots, Iceland is a land that, in many ways, is defined by water.
What better way to connect to Icelandic culture than emulating the locals and visiting one of Reykjavik's local pools?
Thanks to Iceland's renewable energy policies, the use of water in large capacities (i.e., for swimming pools/saunas) is very cheap, therefore making it a favorite pastime amongst Icelanders.
This passion results in 18 swimming pools located in the greater Reykjavík area alone.
Some of these locations have indoor and outdoor pools, a sauna, and at least one hot tub (some even have as many as seven or eight). Thankfully, the pools have heated water, making them accessible all year round.
Think of Icelandic swimming pools as more like a luxury spa than your everyday communal pool at home.
For the entry price of only 1030 ISK, this might be the cheapest spa you've ever come across.
If you're looking for something even more natural, there is the geothermally-heated water by Reykjavík beach, Nautholsvik, and a small foot bath by Grotta Lighthouse called Kvika. Both of these small pools have free entry.
If you're staying in central Reykjavík, the obvious choice would be to attend Sundhöll Reykjavíkur, situated only a few hundred meters behind the mighty Hallgrímskirkja Church.
This swimming pool, housed in a building dating back to 1937 (the oldest pool in Reykjavík), was renovated in 2017.
Previously it only had an indoor pool and two outdoor hot tubs, but now has an indoor and outdoor pool, two saunas, three hot tubs, one children's pool, and a cold tub.
Another popular pool in central Reykjavík is Vesturbæjarlaug, the swimming pool in the city's western area.
Vesturbæjarlaug is an outdoor pool with a few hot tubs and a couple of saunas and is a popular hangout spot for locals and travelers alike.
There's also a lovely café situated right across the street from the pool, Kaffi Vest, perfect for a warming cuppa after relaxing in a hot tub.
A third one, and the largest pool in Reykjavík, is Laugardalslaug pool.
This pool sits within Reykjavík's recreational center, Laugardalur, where you can also find: a sports hall, a botanical garden, a family park & zoo, a sculpture museum, a large gym (World Class), a spa (Laugar Spa), and a skating rink.
Given the wealth of attractions offered here, Laugardalslaug is the perfect place to bring the whole family.
Read about: What to Do With Young Kids in the Reykjavík Area
Given our foreign guests’ sensibilities, one thing to be aware of is that you will be required to get naked with the locals before entering the pools. This is not some peculiar ritual but is strictly hygiene-related.
The showers are gender separated, but since there's a very low chlorine level in the swimming pools, everyone must wash thoroughly before taking a dip. If you try to avoid it, you will most certainly be told off by a local or even one of the bathing guards.
Perhaps the best thing about Reykjavík's swimming pools is that you can enjoy them all year round and in every type of weather.
You can easily relax with a soak in an outdoor hot tub, even if it is -5°C (23°F) outside and snowing.
Check out the map below to find your nearest swimming pool.
Towering over the center of Reykjavík is Hallgrímskirkja Church, visible from almost every angle of the city, making it very easy to find.
At the top of this 74.5-meter expressionist-style building is a viewing platform boasting 360° views over the entire city.
Along with the view from Perlan on Öskjuhlíð hill, this is probably the best view you will get of the city from the land.
The tower is open daily, except on Sundays, when there are mass services.
Hallgrímskirkja is an operating church, so the tower may sometimes be closed due to services or concerts taking place inside.
Entry to the top is 900 ISK for adults but 100 ISK for children aged 7-14.
Traveling to the top is free for younger children.
The church, the largest in Iceland, is named after pastor and poet Hallgrímur Pétursson, author of the Passíusálmar (The Passion Hymns).
The beautiful basalt columns at Svartifoss waterfall on the South Coast of Iceland inspired the church’s architecture.
The building was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, one of Iceland's most well-known architects, and houses the largest concert organ in Iceland.
The concert organ is 15m tall, has 5275 pipes, and weighs 25 tons. The building opened in 1986.
Also, take note of the beautiful entrance door and glass art, designed by local artist Leifur Breiðfjörð.
In front of the church is a statue of Leif Eriksson, who discovered North America in the year 1000, more than 500 years before Columbus.
See also: Sightseeing in Reykjavik
From Hallgrímskirkja church, you'll want to explore the nearby streets of Reykjavík's city center. These are best explored on foot or by bike.
To truly soak up the culture, you'll want to make sure to visit the main shopping streets, Laugavegur, Bankastræti, Austurstræti, Lækjargata, and Skólavörðustígur. These are all easily accessible in the central area of Reykjavík.
If shopping is your thing, I heartily recommend the many outdoor clothing chains selling extreme wear and outdoor gear. You can find such companies as 66° North, Zo-On, and Ice Wear in this area.
You will also find many small boutiques selling goods with extremely fashionable Icelandic designs.
Away from the shopping, there are numerous other neighborhoods in Reykjavík that are worth exploring.
The Neighbourhood of the Gods (Þingholtin) is a good example. These are the residential streets between Hallgrímskirkja Church and Tjörnin, the city pond.
The names of the streets in this neighborhood all stem from Nordic religion. You can find Odin's Street (Óðinsgata), Thor's Street (Þórsgata), Loki's Path (Lokastígur), Freya's Street (Freyjugata), and several others.
You'll also find colorful houses, luscious gardens, plenty of street art and will most likely bump into one of the resident cats (cats are common pets in central Reykjavík).
Reykjavík's city pond (Reykjavíkurtjörn, or for short Tjörnin) is popular with travelers, especially bird enthusiasts. The area is, after all, home to a bevy of swans and a raft of ducks.
In winter, the pond sometimes freezes over, meaning people can cross on foot, go ice skating, or even make a slippery football field.
Right by the city pond, there is City Hall and, as well as a large and informative 3D map of Iceland.
South of the city pond, one will find both the Nordic House and the University of Iceland.
The Nordic House is Reykjavík's only building designed by an internationally famous architect, Finnish-born Alvar Aalto.
You'll often find exhibitions and live music at The Nordic House, as well as a tasty restaurant.
Further south, you'll come to the sea, where you and can walk along Ægissíða street and enjoy the stunning views. Sunsets are particularly spectacular from here.
Traveling east, you will pass the domestic airport, heading towards Nauthólsvík beach and the forested Öskjuhlíð hill.
Here, there is an excellent vantage point of the city from the Perlan viewing platform's top.
Alternatively, you could head further west towards Grótta. This area boasts a lighthouse, beach, and scenic foot bath called Kvika.
Note that walking to Grótta is rather long and laborious - you might want to cycle, rent a Hopp scooter, or, at the very least, set aside a whole day for your exploration.
Austurvöllur Square is just north of the city pond and is an excellent spot to gather with friends and family.
On sunny days, people come here to drink beer and sunbathe. The city holds concerts and public gatherings in this square during national celebrations.
When people are upset about political events, they come to Austurvöllur Square to protest the Icelandic parliament, located just by the square.
Cafés and shops line one side of the square, and just behind the parliament building is Reykjavík's oldest church, Dómkirkjan.
While strolling the city streets, why not head towards the picturesque Old Harbor?
Here, you can learn about Iceland's marine life and even book a whale watching trip.
If your stay in Reykjavík happens to cover a weekend, you could also visit the city's very own flea market, Kolaportið. This is an eclectic marketplace where you can buy a hand-knitted wool jumper (or 'lopapeysa') – a must-have souvenir.
The flea market is located by the Reykjavík harbor and has many interesting items for sale, including several local delicacies. The shellfish is particularly delicious.
The atmosphere is lively, and you can find good bargains between 11:00 and 17:00 on Saturdays and Sundays.
A little further ahead, you can find Grandi, Reykjavík's 'fish packing district.' This is where old fishing factories and boat repair shacks have now turned into trendy shops, cafés, start-up companies, museums, restaurants, and even breweries. Grandi is an example of the city's ever-changing face.
While here, you could visit Valdís for one of the best ice-creams in town or have a locally brewed beer at Bryggjan Brewery.
You could also check out the Marshall House, the Whales of Iceland Museum, or the Aurora Reykjavík Museum.
Also, look out for the stunning street art on Vesturgata and visit the grassy hill, Þúfa, an outdoor art piece by Ólöf Nordal.
You can also choose to go on a walking tour to explore this colorful and quirky city culture.
Reykjavík is a city of pleasant surprises. You can discover many of its hidden treasures on your own, or you can take advantage of it as the starting point for several guided tours.
The most commonly sighted whales in the Faxaflói bay next to Reykjavík are minke whales, humpbacks, porpoises, and dolphins.
Various seabirds also frequent the shore and the islands, such as gannets, gulls, cormorants, the arctic tern, and of course, the puffins (though only in summertime).
Depending on who you ask, the Reykjavik nightlife is either famous or infamous.
People party into the early hours, and after the bars and clubs close, the streets will still be full of drunk party people, either trying to find their way home or to an after-party.
Several bars and cafés offer live music at night. The city bustles with all sorts of live entertainment, be it stand-up comedy, theatre, opera, drag shows, cabaret performances, musicals, and even poetry brothels.
From Sunday to Thursday, many venues are open until 1 am, but on Friday and Saturday nights, places stay open until 5 am. Please note that these opening times may differ in the winter season when venues typically reduce opening hours.
There are weekly live jazz sessions in some cafés around town.
Múlinn jazz bar at the top of Harpa Concert Hall is also worth checking out.
IÐNÓ is a venue that has events almost every night of the week. Many of these are public events, but IÐNÓ also hosts some private ones, such as weddings.
The public events range from live music, theatre, or dance performances to regular poetry brothel nights.
Gaukurinn has a weekly stand-up comedy show in English on Monday nights and is also the venue of choice for the local drag scene, Drag-Súgur.
Photo from The Drag Scene in Iceland
Tjarnarbíó, located next to City Hall, is a great venue for theatre, music, and dance performances.
Þjóðleikhúskjallarinn, or the National Theatre Basement, is also the host of weekly theatre improv sessions and cabaret performances.
Bíó Paradís is the city's art cinema, often screening classic Icelandic films with English subtitles and weekly party screenings of international classics.
Besides these regular events, there are endless amounts of one-off night outs.
See also: Top 10 Festivals in Iceland.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Benreis
Reykjavík has some genuinely outstanding local and international cuisine.
You can find restaurants that specialize in local seafood or grilled meats. Besides Icelandic restaurants, there are also excellent Thai, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, and even Ethiopian restaurants to be found within the city.
To taste the best of Icelandic cuisine, you could, for example, explore Reykjavík's food scene and savor some of the countries most delicious delicacies.
Local cuisine focuses on seafood and lamb. You can never go wrong by ordering the fish of the day in one of Reykjavík's restaurants. Delicious!
One of the most popular dishes at Matur og Drykkur is the cod's head cooked in chicken stock. Try it, and you won't regret it.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Tom Bennett
If you're into trying unusual foods, why not check out some of the traditional Icelandic cuisines.
The most notorious food in Iceland is probably the fermented shark.
You’ll want to wash the shark down with a shot of Brennivín, Iceland's 'black death' schnapps.
The combination is often seen as a rite of passage or proof of strength and is a popular dare for Icelanders with foreign visitors.
You can find some fermented shark in the flea market Kolaportið, which open every weekend.
One person's disgusting food may be another person's delicacy.
Most people you'll meet on your travels will recommend that you grab an Icelandic hot dog.
The hot dog stand Bæjarins bestu ("The Town's Best'), near Reykjavík harbor, has a reputation for selling the most delicious hot dogs in Iceland.
There is usually a long queue there, particularly in the afternoon and on weekends, but most foreign visitors claim these sausages to be the best in the world.
Just ask Bill Clinton and James Hetfield, two of the stand's most well-known guests.
A classic is to get "eina með öllu" or "one with everything.” This order includes a remoulade (a mayonnaise-based sauce), mustard, ketchup, and a mix of crunchy and raw onions.
Whatever your preferences, if you like a good hot dog, this is the place to go, and it won't break the bank.
Photo by Visit Reykjavík
As for good cafés and coffee shops, there are far too many to list them all.
To name a few, check out Kaffi Vínyl for records and vegan food, Café Loki for traditional Icelandic food, Café Rosenberg for a cozy atmosphere, Kaffibrennslan for people watching, Babalú for a drink on the balcony.
Or you could try the Cuckoo's Nest for a weekend brunch, Svarta Kaffið for the tasty soup served in a bowl made of bread, Peterson Suite or Loft Hostel for the views, or Reykjavík Roasters for some of the best coffee in town.
Your trip wouldn't be complete without trying the cinnamon buns from the bakery Braud&Co.
Harpa Concert and Conference Hall is an impressive glass building situated by the old harbor of Reykjavík.
It's worth visiting this iconic building for its architecture alone, as you'll be able to admire it both from the outside and inside and get some great pictures.
It's also worth checking out what's taking place in the Harpa Concert Hall during your stay in Iceland. You might be able to see the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra during a rehearsal or attend a concert with some of Iceland's most famous bands.
Several multicultural celebrations take place in the building, and at night, it's lit up with a moving LED artwork by Ólafur Elíasson.
The lights on the façade of the building are sometimes used interactively. At different points in time, people have been able to control the lights by playing a light organ, splash the color of their choice on the hall through their phone or play the computer game Pong using the building as a monitor.
It's not just in Harpa and the local live performances that you can find Reykjavík’s art scene.
Take your pick of museums, galleries, outdoor sculptures, and street art, which are all widely available.
The sculpture, Sun Voyager (pictured above), is a popular attraction, nestled along the seaside. It's close to Harpa Concert Hall and has a fantastic view of Mt Esjan.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you will likely be able to spot several other sculptures around town.
The two largest sculpture museums are the Einar Jónsson Museum (next to Hallgrímskirkja church) and Ásmundur Museum in Laugardalur recreational area.
You can find a few other smaller sculpture museums around town, such as Hallstein's park (Hallsteinsgarður) in Gufunes, and in Hólmasel in Breiðholt.
You could also take a stroll down Grandi and visit the outdoor sculpture, Þúfa. This is a green circular hill that you can walk to the top of and get great views facing Harpa Concert Hall.
There are also dozens of art museums and smaller art galleries.
The largest ones are the Reykjavík Art Gallery, Kjarval Museum, and the National Gallery of Iceland.
The newest member of this institutional family is the Marshall House.
Besides these larger institutions, you can also find smaller venues such as Mengi, Berg Contemporary, i8, Art Gallery 101, ART67 Gallery, Gallery Fold, and Gallery List, just to name a few.
On top of all that, fantastic street art has been blossoming in recent years, with mesmerizing artworks taking over entire sides of buildings all over town.
Whether it's the history and culture you're looking for or simply knowledge about Iceland's rich nature and wildlife, you can choose between several historical museums. The Saga Museum, the National Museum of Iceland, and the Árbær Open Air Museum are all popular among visitors.
To learn about local nature, visit the Maritime Museum, Whales of Iceland Museum, or Aurora Reykjavík: The Northern Lights Center.
Public gardens in the city include Hallargarður and Hljómskálagarður, by the city pond, as well as Klambratún/Miklatún, which surround the Kjarvalsstaðir art museum.
These are popular areas for outdoor games throughout the summertime.
Another popular destination all year round is Grótta, with its iconic lighthouse and views over Faxaflói bay and Reykjavík's signature mountain Esjan (and even Snæfellsjökull glacier on clear days).
You can even find a foot bath (Kvika) among the rocks by the seashore, making this the perfect spot to keep your feet warm while sipping on a drink (BYO) and watching the Northern Lights.
If you want to submerge yourself in water inside the city limits (but still maintain a view towards the ocean), then head towards Nauthólsvík beach.
There is a warm wading pool by the sand and a warm tub by the sea. If you're brave enough, you can go for a swim in the ocean. The heat at Nauthólsvík beach comes from Iceland’s famous hot springs. The most famous hot spring in Iceland, of course, can be found at Geyser geothermal area on the Golden Circle.
Changing facilities are on-site, as well as a café serving light snacks and drinks.
Right next to Nauthólsvík is Öskjuhlíð hill, where you can stumble across some remains of old bunkers, found between two crooked forest trails.
Keep an eye out; you might even see a rabbit or two.
Then there's Elliðaárdalur, right in the middle of the city, where you can try your hand at fishing or have a picnic by a small waterfall.
Elliðaárdalur is popular with locals who go jogging or cycling through this inner-city paradise.
Venture a little further out of town into Reykjavík's outskirts, and you'll find Rauðhólar (Red Hills) and the nature reserve, Heiðmörk.
The red and black hills of Rauðhólar have beautiful color contrasts, and you can choose to go on a volcanic landscape horse riding tour through this beautiful area all year round.
Heiðmörk is a nature reserve that's filled with greenery, caves, and secluded BBQ picnic areas.
To reach these two locations, you will need to take a bus from downtown, rent a car, or go on a long bike ride.
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to experience the rare and gorgeous Northern Lights. Take a Northern Lights tour to hunt this natural phenomenon with the help of an experienced guide.
You may be able to spot them from downtown Reykjavik, but the best place to see them within the city limits is by the seaside at Seltjarnarnes.
There, you will be away from the street lights and be able to take in the full majesty of the experience.
The area of Grótta is charming. Many birds nest there, and there is also a charming old lighthouse, perfect for photography enthusiasts.
Anywhere you can get as far as possible away from the city's light pollution is a good location, so make sure to pick your spot with this in mind and look to the north.
You can only see the Northern Lights between late August and early May, so if you are here in the summertime, you can enjoy the midnight sun instead.
One of the newest attractions in the city of Reykjavík is FlyOver Iceland.
In this immersive experience, visitors get the chance to take a flight over Iceland without needing to hop on a plane.
Located in the Grandi area of Reykjavik City Centre, FlyOver Iceland combines storytelling, technology, and cinema to give visitors an exhilarating experience.
When you arrive, you will see two pre-shows before taking the flight.
The first is called the ‘Longhouse,’ where you will see a house reminiscent of the early settler’s dwellings here in Iceland. This settlement exhibition is a truly unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the history of Iceland.
You will then move into a multi-projection experience that transports you from the formation of this island right through to the modern-day.
Then it’s time to take flight. In a comfortable seat, you sit in front of a 20-meter spherical screen.
The high definition film visuals, mixed with the movements of your seat, will give you the sensation of soaring above the land of fire and ice.
FlyOver Iceland is an unforgettable experience that both visitors and locals praise, saying they would happily do it again and again.
We hope you enjoyed this list of the best things to do in Reykjavik. It is diverse in its scope and includes indoor and outdoor activities so that you can enjoy the city regardless of the weather. Let us know in the comments what your favorite thing to do in Reykjavik is.