From a vibrant art and music scene to a treasure trove of world-renowned cultural and historical attractions, Reykjavik boasts endless opportunities for fun and adventure. But where best to start? Find out in our top 10 list of things to do in and around Reykjavik.
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Reykjavik (translated to "Smokey Bay") is the northernmost capital city of the world, comprising a population so minute that it hardly amounts to 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 for activity is truly plentiful. So plentiful, in fact, that no list could ever fully summarise 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. It is a list of personal recommendations from our local experts of 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 favourite pastime amongst Icelanders.
That passion results in 18 swimming pools being located in the greater Reykjavík area alone.
Some of these pools have both an indoor and an outdoor pool, a sauna and at least one hot tub (some even have as many as 7 or 8). 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 900 ISK, this might be the cheapest spa you've ever come across.
Additionally, if you're looking for something even more natural, there is the geothermally warmed up water by Reykjavík beach, Nautholsvik, and a small foot bath called Kvika, found by Grotta Lighthouse. Both of these small pools have free entry.
Photo from Reykjavik.is
If you're staying in central Reykjavík, the obvious choice would be to attend Sundhöll Reykjavíkur, situated only a few hundred metres behind the mighty Hallgrímskirkja Church.
This swimming pool, housed in a building dating back from 1937 (the oldest pool within Reykjavík) was renovated in 2017 with a brand new outdoor pool, hot tubs and a sauna.
Previously it only had an indoor pool and 2 outdoor hot tubs, but now has both an indoor and outdoor pool, 2 saunas, 3 hot tubs, one children's pool and a cold tub.
Another popular pool in central Reykjavík is Vesturbæjarlaug, the swimming pool in the west part of the city.
This is an outdoor pool with a few hot tubs and a couple of saunas; a popular hangout spot for locals and travellers alike.
There's also a lovely café situated right across the street from the pool, Kaffi Vest, that is perfect for a warming cuppa after relaxing in a hot tub.
A third one, and the largest pool in Reykjavík, is Laugardalslaug pool.
This one is situated within Reykjavík's recreational centre, 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 on offer here, Laugardalslaug is the perfect place to bring the whole family.
Read about: What to Do With Young Kids in the Reykjavík Area
Photo by Reykjavik.is
Given the sensibilities of our foreign guests, 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 strictly hygiene-related.
The showers are gender separated, but since there's a very low level of chlorine in the swimming pools, everyone is required to 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 they can be enjoyed all year round and in every type of weather.
You can perfectly enjoy a soak in an outdoor hot tub, even if it is -5°C outside and snowing.
Check out the map below to find your nearest swimming pool.
Towering over the centre of Reykjavík is Hallgrímskirkja Church, visible from almost every angle of the city making it very easy to find.
At the top of this 74.5m 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 services for mass.
This is an operating church so the tower may sometimes be closed due to services or concerts being held inside.
Entry to the top is 900 ISK for adults but 100 ISK for children aged 7-14.
Travelling 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).
Its architecture is inspired by the beautiful basalt columns at Svartifoss waterfall on the South Coast of Iceland.
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 tonnes. The building was 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 centre. 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. Such companies as 66° North, Zo-On and Ice Wear can all be found in this area.
You will also find Icelandic design to be extremely fashionable and there are many small boutiques selling these goods.
Away from the shopping, there are numerous other neighbourhoods 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 neighbourhood 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 a number of others.
You'll also find colourful houses, luscious gardens, plenty of street art and will most likely bump into one of the resident cats (cats are very common pets in central Reykjavík).
Reykjavík's city pond (Reykjavíkurtjörn, or for short Tjörnin) is popular with travellers, 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, 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 to be 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 and can walk along Ægissíða street and enjoy the stunning views; a sunset is particularly stunning from here.
Travelling 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 top of the Perlan viewing platform.
Alternatively, you could head further west towards Grótta. This area boasts a lighthouse, beach and scenic foot bath called Kvika.
Note that walking all the way 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, an excellent spot to gather with friends and family.
On sunny days, people come here to drink beer and sunbathe. During national celebrations, concerts and public gatherings are held here.
Indeed, when people are about upset political events, they come to Austurvöllur Square to protest the Icelandic parliament, located just by the square.
One side of the square is lined with cafés and shops and just behind the parliament building is Reykjavík's oldest church, Dómkirkjan.
Whilst strolling the city streets, why not head towards the picturesque Old Harbour?
Here, you can easily 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, an eclectic marketplace where you can buy a hand-knitted wool jumper (lopapeysa) – a must-have souvenir.
The flea market is located down by the Reykjavík harbour and has a lot of interesting items for sale, including many local delicacies. The shellfish is particularly delicious.
The atmosphere is lively and good bargains can be found between 11:00 and 17:00 on Saturdays and Sundays.
A little further ahead you can find Grandi, Reykjavík's 'fish packing district', 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.
Whilst 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 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 colourful and quirky city culture.
Reykjavík is a city of pleasant surprises. You can discover many of its hidden treasures on your own and it is the starting point for many 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 (only in summertime).
Depending on who you ask, the Reykjavik nightlife is either famous or infamous.
People party into the early hours and after closing, the streets will still be full of drunk party people, either trying to find their way home or to an after-party.
A number of bars and cafés offer live music at night, and the city is bustling 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 opening hours are typically reduced.
Weekly, there are live jazz sessions in a number of 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 public events, but also some private ones (such as weddings).
The public events range from live music, theatre or dance performances, music festivals 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.
Tjarnarbíó is a great venue for theatre, music and dance performances, located right by the side of the City Hall.
Þjóðleikhúskjallarinn or the National Theatre Basement is also the host of weekly theatre improv sessions, as well as cabaret performances.
Bíó Paradís is the city's art cinema, often screening classic Icelandic films with English subtitles, as well as 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.
Reykjavík has some truly outstanding local and international cuisine.
You can find restaurants that specialise in seafood or grilled meats and besides Icelandic restaurants, there are also great Thai, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Japanese or 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 savour 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, you won't regret it.
If you're into trying unusual foods, then why not check out some of the traditional Icelandic cuisine.
The most notorious food in Iceland is probably the fermented shark.
The shark is usually washed down with a shot of Brennivín, Iceland's own black death schnapps.
This is often seen as a sort of a rite of passage or proof of strength, and a particularly popular dare for Icelanders in regard to foreign visitors.
Find some fermented shark in the flea market Kolaportið, open every weekend.
One person's disgusting food may be the other's delicacy.
Most people on your travels will recommend that you grab an Icelandic hot dog.
The hot dog stand Bæjarins bestu ("The Town's Best'), near Reykjavík harbour, 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, just two of the stand's most well-known guests.
A classic is to get "eina með öllu" i.e. "one with everything". This includes a remoulade (a mayonnaise-based sauce), mustard, ketchup and a mix of both 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, Stofan for a cosy atmosphere, Kaffibrennslan for people watching, Babalú for a drink on the balcony, The Cuckoo's Nest for a weekend brunch, Svarta Kaffið for 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 harbour 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, as you might be able to see the Icelandic Symphonic Orchestra during a rehearsal or attend a concert with some of Iceland's most famous bands.
Multiple 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 have also been used in an interactive way. At different points in time, people have been able to control the lights by playing a light organ, splash a colour of their choice on to the lights through their phone or play the computer game Pong using the building as a monitor.
It's not just in Harpa and in the 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 close to Harpa Concert Hall with a fantastic view of Mt Esjan.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you will likely be able to spot a number of 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.
There are 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 along Grandi and visit the outdoor sculpture, Þúfa, a green circular hill that you can walk to the top of and get great views towards Harpa Concert Hall.
There are also dozens of art museums and smaller art galleries.
The largest ones are 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 dotted around 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, amazing street art has been blossoming in recent years, with mesmerising artworks taking over entire sides of buildings all over town.
If it's history and culture you're looking for or simply knowledge about Iceland's rich nature and wildlife, then you can also choose between a number of historical museums. The Saga Museum, the National Museum of Iceland and the Árbær Open Air Museum are all popular among visitors.
To learn about nature, visit the Maritime Museum, Whales of Iceland Museum or Aurora Reykjavík: The Northern Lights Centre.
Credit: Axel Kristinsson.
Public gardens in the city include Hallargarður and Hljómskálagarður, by the city pond, as well as Klambratún/Miklatún, surrounding the art museum, Kjarvalsstaðir.
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) in amongst the rocks by the seashore; the perfect spot to keep your feet warm whilst 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, as well as 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 is powered by 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 just in 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 that 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 colour 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.
In order 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 particularly nice. 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.
The Northern Lights can only be seen between late August and early May, so if you are here in the summertime, you can enjoy the midnight sun instead.
Image Credit: FlyOver Iceland
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.
Image Credit: FlyOver Iceland
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 be taken into a multi-projection experience that transports you through the creation of this island right through to the modern-day.
Image Credit: FlyOver Iceland
Then it’s time to take flight. In a comfortable seat, you sit in front of a 20-metre spherical screen.
The high definition film, mixed with movements of your seat create the complete 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 again and again.
Image Credit: FlyOver Iceland
We hope you enjoyed this list of the best things to do in Reykjavik. It is diverse in its scope and includes both indoor and outdoor activities, so you can enjoy the city regardless of the weather. Let us know in the comments what your favourite thing to do in Reykjavik is.