Reykjavík City Pond and City Hall

Top 10 Things to Do in Reykjavik

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Read about the best things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland's capital city. Reykjavik has endless opportunities for adventure, from a vibrant art and music scene to a treasure trove of world-renowned cultural and historical attractions. Read on to learn about Reykjavik's top places to visit, fun things to do, and must-see attractions.

Reykjavik (which means "Smokey Bay") is the northernmost national capital globally, comprising one of the smallest populations of any capital city. Home to under 150,000 inhabitants, Reykjavik has a wealth of sights and activities that will appeal to culture, nature, and nightlife enthusiasts alike.

What Is There To Do in Reykjavik?

Welcome to Reykjavik, Iceland

For a small city, there are many reasons to visit Reykjavik. One of the best reasons to visit is that the city is easy to explore on foot, and its small size means you don't have to worry about getting around.

There are plenty of Reykjavik attractions to occupy your time, from wildlife experiences to admiring unique architecture to dining on world-class cuisine to hunting for street art across the city. For English speakers, Reykjavik is easy to navigate as almost everything is accessible in English, and most people also speak English. 

How to Get to Reykjavik

Exploring the best things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

As Iceland is an island, there are limited ways to reach it - the primary method being by air. There are many small airports in Reykjavik. However, international flights from North America and Europe arrive at Keflavik International Airport. The airport is 31 miles (50 kilometers) from Reykjavik, but travelers can reach the capital easily by taxi or bus. 

Ferry service to Iceland is also available. Once a week between April and October, you can sail from Hirtshals in Denmark and Torshavn in the Faroe Islands to Seydisfjordur in Iceland. You'll then need to take a bus, taxi, or drive to reach Reykjavik on the other side of the island. 

Top 10 Best Things To Do in Reykjavik

Reykjavik skyline view

There are lots of fun things to do in Reykjavik. It wasn't easy to narrow it down, but we've put together this list of the best things to do, places to visit, and must-see tourist attractions in Reykjavik for you to enjoy during your stay.

10. Visit Reykjavik's Swimming Pools

Laugardalslaug is the popular popular pool in Iceland's capital.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Meltwaterfalls. No edits were made.

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. So it makes sense that one of the top things to do in Reykjavik involves 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 and saunas) is very cheap, making it a favorite pastime among Icelanders. It's also one of the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter as many have heated water, making them accessible year-round.

There are 18 swimming pools located in the greater Reykjavik 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). Think of Icelandic swimming pools as more like a luxury spa than your everyday communal pool at home. 

For the entry price of only around 8 USD, this might be the cheapest spa you've ever come across. 

If you're looking for something even more natural, there's the geothermally-heated water by Reykjavik beach, Nautholsvik, and a small foot bath by Grotta Lighthouse called Kvika. These small pools are great examples of free things to do in Reykjavik.

If you're staying in central Reykjavik, the obvious choice would be to attend Sundholl Reykjavikur, Iceland's oldest public bath, situated only a few hundred meters behind the mighty Hallgrimskirkja Church

This swimming pool is housed in a building that dates to 1937 and 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 Reykjavik is Vesturbaejarlaug, a swimming pool in the city's western area. Vesturbaejarlaug 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 cafe right across the street from the pool, Kaffi Vest, perfect for a warming cup of tea or coffee after relaxing in a hot tub.

The largest pool in Reykjavik is the Laugardalslaug pool

This pool sits within Reykjavik's recreational center, Laugardalur, where you can also find all of the following: 

  • Sports hall
  • Botanical garden
  • Family park and zoo
  • Sculpture museum
  • Large gym (world-class)
  • Spa (Laugar Spa)
  • Ice skating rink

Given the range of attractions offered here, Laugardalslaug is the perfect place to bring the whole family.

Something to be aware of is that you'll be required to get naked with the locals before entering the pools. This is not some peculiar ritual but is strictly hygiene-related. Showers are separate by gender, but as the chlorine levels in the swimming pools are very low, everyone must wash thoroughly before taking a dip. If you try to avoid it, you'll likely be reprimanded by a local or one of the bathing guards. 

Perhaps the best thing about Reykjavik's swimming pools is that you can enjoy them year-round and in every type of weather.

You can easily relax with a soak in an outdoor hot tub, even if it's 23 F (-5 C) outside and snowing. This is one of the fun things to do in Reykjavik for visitors of all ages. 

Check out the map below to find your nearest swimming pool.

9. Visit Hallgrimskirkja Church

Towering over the center of Reykjavik is Hallgrimskirkja Church, which is visible from almost every angle of the city, making it very easy to find. Of the many places to visit in Reykjavik, this is one of the most well-known. 

At the top of this 244-foot (74.5-meter) tall expressionist-style building is a viewing platform boasting 360-degree views of the entire city. 

Along with the view from Perlan on Oskjuhlid hill, this is probably the best view you'll get of the city. 

The tower is open daily, except on Sundays, when there are mass services. 

Hallgrimskirkja is an operating church, so the tower may sometimes be closed due to services or concerts taking place inside. 

Entry to the top is 7 USD for adults but less than 1 USD for children aged 7-14. 

Traveling to the top is free for younger children.

Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík

The largest in Iceland, this church is named after pastor and poet Hallgrimur Petursson.

The beautiful basalt columns at Svartifoss waterfall on the South Coast of Iceland inspired the church's architecture. 

The building was designed by Gudjon Samuelsson and opened in 1986. Samuelsson is one of Iceland's most well-known architects, and the church houses the largest concert organ in Iceland at 50 feet (15 meters) tall with 5,275 pipes and a weight of 25 tons.

Also, take note of the beautiful entrance door and glass art designed by local artist Leifur Breidfjord. 

In front of the church is a statue of Leif Eriksson, considered one of the first Europeans to visit North America in 1000, more than 500 years before Columbus.

Visiting Hallgrimskirkja church is one of the top things to do in Reykjavik

8. Things To See in Reykjavik: Explore by Foot

Many of the best places to see in Reykjavik can be found simply by walking, and this is one of the advantages of having a small capital city. 

From Hallgrimskirkja church, you'll want to explore the nearby streets of Reykjavik'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, Bankastraeti, Austurstraeti, Laekjargata, and Skolavordustigur. These are all easily accessible in the central area of Reykjavik.

Reykjavik is easy to walk around due to its size.

We heartily recommend the many outdoor clothing chains selling extreme wear and outdoor gear if shopping is your thing. You can find such companies as 66° North, Zo-On, and Ice Wear in this area. 

You'll also find many small boutiques selling goods with fashionable Icelandic designs. 

Aside from the shopping, there are numerous other neighborhoods in Reykjavik that are worth exploring. 

The Neighbourhood of the Gods (Thingholtin) is a good example. These are the residential streets between Hallgrimskirkja Church and Tjornin, a well-known lake in Reykjavik.

The names of the streets in this neighborhood all stem from Nordic religion. You can find Odin's Street (Odinsgata), Thor's Street (Thorsgata), Loki's Path (Lokastigur), Freya's Street (Freyjugata), and several others. 

You'll also find colorful houses, beautiful gardens, plenty of street art and will most likely bump into one of the resident cats (cats are common pets in central Reykjavik).

Reykjavík City Pond and City Hall

Reykjavik's city lake (Reykjavikurtjorn, or Tjornin for short) is popular with travelers, especially bird enthusiasts. The area is home to a bevy of swans and a raft of ducks.

In winter, the lake sometimes freezes, allowing people to cross on foot, ice skate, or even make a slippery football field. 

Next to the lake is Reykjavik City Hall and a large and informative 3D map of Iceland.

South of Tjornin, one will find the Nordic House and the University of Iceland. 

The Nordic House is Reykjavik'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 can walk along Aegissida street and enjoy the stunning views of the North Atlantic. Sunsets are particularly spectacular from here.

Traveling east and you'll pass the domestic airport. Continuing this way, you'll head towards Nautholsvik beach and the forested Oskjuhlid hill. From here, there's an excellent vantage point of the city from the top of the Perlan viewing platform. 

Alternatively, you could head further west towards Grotta. This area boasts a lighthouse, beach, and scenic foot bath called Kvika. 

Note that walking to Grotta is rather long and laborious - you might want to cycle, rent a Hopp scooter, or set aside a whole day for your exploration.

Austurvollur Square is just north of Lake Tjornin and is an excellent spot to gather with friends and family. 

It's a popular spot if you're looking for things to do in Reykjavik in the summer. People come here to drink beer and sunbathe when the midnight sun is out in force. The city holds concerts and public gatherings in this square during national celebrations. 

When people are upset about political events, they also come to Austurvollur Square to protest the Icelandic parliament, located just by the square. 

Cafes and shops line one side of the square, and just behind the parliament building is Reykjavik's oldest church, Domkirkjan.

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 Reykjavik happens to include a weekend, you could also visit the city's flea market, Kolaportid. This is an eclectic marketplace where you can buy a hand-knitted wool sweater (or "lopapeysa") – a must-have souvenir. It's one of the lesser-known Reykjavik places to visit for those who aren't local.

The flea market is located by the Reykjavik harbor and has many interesting items for sale, including several local delicacies. Local shellfish is popular and delicious. 

The atmosphere is lively, and you can find good bargains between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

By the harbor is the Harpa Concert Hall, another of the great things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

A little further along in the Old Harbor, you can find Grandi, Reykjavik's fish packing district. Old fishing factories and boat repair shacks have been turned into trendy shops, cafes, start-up companies, museums, restaurants, and breweries. 

Grandi is an example of the city's ever-changing face. While here, stop in at Valdis 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 Reykjavik Museum. Look out for the stunning street art on Vesturgata and visit the grassy hill, Thufa, an outdoor art piece by Olof Nordal.

If you'd rather have a little help exploring Reykjavik, go on a walking tour to explore this colorful and quirky city.

7. Book Local Reykjavik Activities To Fill Your Day

A whale breaches before a whale-watcher's camera.

Reykjavik 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.

In addition to everything in the city, there are also many things to do near Reykjavik on a half-day or full-day tour. 

If exploring by foot isn't for you, take a scenic helicopter ride over the city where you make a sightseeing stop on top of one of its surrounding mountains, Mt. Esjan, for unparalleled views.

Other popular tours in and around the city include whale watching and puffin tours or horseback riding tours

The most commonly sighted whales in the Faxafloi Bay next to Reykjavik are minke whales, humpbacks, porpoises, and dolphins.

Another option is one of the tours that visit Videy, the most famous island off the Reykjavik shore. Videy is home to the Yoko Ono Imagine Peace Tower, erected in memory of John Lennon. 

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).​​​​​​ There's no shortage of things to do around Reykjavik! 

6. Experience Reykjavik's Nightlife

The nightlife in Reykjavík is inviting and lively.

When looking for what to do in Reykjavik, don't forget to add activities after nightfall. Depending on who you ask, 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 an after-party.

When looking for things to do in Reykjavik at night, keep in mind several bars and cafes offer live music at night. The city bustles with all sorts of live entertainment, be it stand-up comedy, theatre, opera, jazz, drag shows, cabaret performances, musicals, and even poetry brothels. 

From Sunday to Thursday, many venues are open until 1 a.m., but on Friday and Saturday nights, many venues stay open until 5 a.m. Please note that these opening times may differ in the winter season when venues typically reduce their hours.

Mulinn Jazz Bar at the top of Harpa Concert Hall is worth checking out. 

IDNO is a venue that has events almost every night of the week. Many of these are public events, but IDNO also hosts private events, 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 the venue of choice for the local drag scene, Drag-Sugur.

Drag is increasingly popular in Iceland.Photo from The Drag Scene in Iceland

Tjarnarbio, located next to City Hall, is an excellent venue for theatre, music, and dance performances. 

Thjodleikhuskjallarinn, or the National Theatre Basement, hosts weekly theatre improv sessions and cabaret performances. 

Bio Paradis is the city's art cinema, often screening classic Icelandic films with English subtitles and weekly party screenings of international classics.

There are two film festivals in Reykjavik: the Reykjavik International Film Festival (September/October) and the Stockfish Film Festival (February/March).

Besides these regular events, there are endless amounts of one-off nights out.

5. Try the Local Cuisine in Reykjavik

Laugestine is called lobster in Iceland.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Benreis. No edits were made.

Reykjavik has some genuinely outstanding local and international cuisine. Why not make one of your activities in Reykjavik exploring the food scene?

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, explore Reykjavik's food scene and savor some of the country's most delicious delicacies.

Local cuisine focuses heavily on seafood and lamb. You can never go wrong by ordering the fish of the day in one of Reykjavik's restaurants. 

One of the most popular dishes at Matur og Drykkur, a restaurant specializing in modern Icelandic cuisine, is the cod's head cooked in chicken stock. Try it, and you won't regret it.

Icelandic food is unusual but creative.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Tom Bennett. No edits were made.

If you're into trying unusual foods, why not check out some traditional Icelandic cuisines such as sour ram's testicles or sheep's head.

The most notorious food in Iceland is probably the fermented shark. You'll want to wash the shark down with a shot of Brennivin, Iceland's "black death" schnapps. This 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 Kolaportid, which is open every weekend.

Traditional Icelandic food can be quite off-putting to foreigners, but you still have to try it!Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by the Blanz. No edits were made.

Most people you'll meet on your travels in Reykjavik will recommend that you grab an Icelandic hot dog. 

The hot dog stand Baejarins Bestu ("The Town's Best"), near Reykjavik harbor, has a reputation for selling the most delicious hot dogs in Iceland. 

There's usually a long line there, particularly in the afternoon and on weekends, but most foreign visitors claim these sausages to be the best in the world. Just ask President Bill Clinton and Metallica's James Hetfield, two of the stand's best-known guests. 

The classic option is to get "eina med ollu" 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, this is the place to go if you like a good hot dog, and it won't break the bank.

As for good cafes and coffee shops, there are far too many to list them all.

A few to check out include Kaffi Vinyl for records and vegan food, Cafe Loki for traditional Icelandic food, Cafe Rosenberg for a cozy atmosphere, Kaffibrennslan for people watching, and Babalu for a drink on the balcony.

Or you could try the Cuckoo's Nest for weekend brunch, Svarta Kaffid for the tasty soup served in a bread bowl, Peterson Suite or Loft Hostel for the views, or Reykjavik Roasters for some of the best coffee in town.

Your trip wouldn't be complete without trying fresh cinnamon buns from Braud&Co bakery.

4. Visit the Harpa Concert Hall and Old Harbor

Harpa Concert Hall in the city center is one of the must-visit places in Reykjavik

Harpa Concert and Conference Hall is an impressive glass building near the old harbor of Reykjavik. 

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.

Be sure to check out what's taking place in the Harpa Concert Hall during your stay in Reykjavik. 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 occur in the building, and at night, it's lit up with moving LED artwork by Olafur Eliasson. 

The lights on the facade of the building are sometimes used interactively. At different times, people have been able to control the lights by playing a light organ, splashing the color of their choice on the hall through their phone, or playing the computer game Pong using the building as a monitor.

3. Immerse Yourself in Icelandic Art and Culture

Sólfarið, or the Sun Voyager, is a sculpture by Reykjavík's coastline

It's not just in Harpa and the local live performances that you can find Reykjavik'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 Esja.

If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll likely be able to spot several other sculptures around town.

The two largest sculpture museums are the Einar Jonsson Museum (next to Hallgrimskirkja Church) and Asmundur Museum in Laugardalur recreational area.

A sculpture of Tómas Gudmundsson poet by Reykjavík's City Pond

You can find a few smaller sculpture museums around town as well.

You could also take a stroll down Grandi and visit the outdoor sculpture, Thufa. This is a green circular hill that you can walk to the top of and get great views facing Harpa Concert Hall.

There are dozens of art museums and smaller art galleries. The largest ones are the Reykjavik Art Gallery, Kjarval Museum, and the National Gallery of Iceland. 

The newest member of this institutional family is the Marshall House.

Smaller venues include Mengi, Berg Contemporary, i8, Art Gallery 101, ART67 Gallery, Gallery Fold, and Gallery List, just to name a few.

Fantastic street art has been blossoming in recent years, with mesmerizing artwork adorning 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 Arbaer Open Air Museum are popular. 

Visit the Maritime Museum, Whales of Iceland Museum, or Aurora Reykjavik: The Northern Lights Center to learn about local nature.

2. Explore the Public Gardens and Parks

There are numerous green areas and parks you can visit in Reykjavik. While most people know of the natural sites outside the city, these parks are an excellent example of lesser-known Reykjavik tourist attractions.

Public gardens in the city include Hallargardur and Hljomskalagardur, by Lake Tjornin, and Klambratun/Miklatun, which surround the Kjarvalsstadir Art Museum.

These are popular areas for outdoor games throughout the summertime.

Another popular destination all year round is Grotta, with its iconic lighthouse and views over Faxafloi bay and Reykjavik's signature mountain Esjan and Snaefellsjokull glacier on clear days. 

You can even find an artificial, thermal 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.

Botanical garden in Reykjavík during winter

If you want to submerge yourself in water inside the city limits (but still maintain a view towards the ocean), head towards Nautholsvik beach. 

There's 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 Nautholsvik beach comes from Iceland's hot springs. Iceland's most famous hot spring can be found at the Geyser geothermal area on the Golden Circle.

Changing facilities and a cafe serving light snacks and drinks are on-site.

Next to Nautholsvik is Oskjuhlid hill, where you can walk among the remains of old bunkers, found between two forest trails. 

Then there's Ellidaardalur, in the middle of the city, where you can fish or have a picnic by a small waterfall. Ellidaardalur is popular with locals who go jogging or cycling through this inner-city paradise.

Venture a little further out of town into Reykjavik's outskirts, and you'll find Raudholar (Red Hills) and the nature reserve, Heidmork. The red and black hills of Raudholar have beautiful color contrasts, and you can go on a volcanic landscape horse riding tour through this beautiful area all year round. 

Heidmork is a nature reserve filled with greenery, caves, and secluded BBQ picnic areas. 

To reach Heidmork or Raudholar, you need to take a bus from downtown, rent a car, or go on a long bike ride.

1. A Reykjavik Must See: The Northern Lights

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights, and they're certainly one of the things to see in Iceland that everyone wants to experience. 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, a township just outside Reykjavik.

There, you'll be away from the street lights and be able to take in the full majesty of the experience.

Witnessing the Northern Lights over Grotta Lighthouse is one of those priceless Reykjavik moments

For the best chance to see the northern lights, get as far away as possible from the city's light pollution 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, enjoy the midnight sun instead.

Learn About More Reykjavik Attractions 

There are so many things to do in Reykjavik that you'll want to come back again and again. Discover Reykjavik tours, cheap things to do in Reykjavik, secret spots in Reykjavik, or iconic sightseeing spots in the Icelandic capital

The only challenge you'll have is how long you can stay!

Bonus Activity: FlyOver Iceland

FlyOver Iceland is a fascinating experience that combines cinema, storytelling and technology.Photo from Incredible 30 Minute FlyOver Iceland Experience in Reykjavik

One of the newest attractions in Reykjavik and should be on your list of Reykjavik things to do 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'll see two pre-shows before taking the flight.

The viking longhouse at FlyOver IcelandPhoto from Incredible 30 Minute FlyOver Iceland Experience in Reykjavik

The first is called the Longhouse, where you'll 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'll then move into a multi-projection experience that transports you from the formation of this island right through to today.

The projection experience at FlyOver Iceland.Photo from Incredible 30 Minute FlyOver Iceland Experience in Reykjavik

Then it's time to take flight. You sit in front of a 65-foot (20-meter) spherical screen in a comfortable seat. 

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.

A view from behind a group experiencing the thrill of the flight.Photo from Incredible 30 Minute FlyOver Iceland Experience in Reykjavik

We hope you enjoyed this list of the best things to do in Reykjavik. It's 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.