Reykjavík Travel Guide
Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland and the northernmost capital of any sovereign state in the world.
Browse a large range of Reykjavik tours to learn more about the city.
Despite a small population (approximately 120,000, with just over 200,000 in the Greater Reykjavík area), it is a vibrant city that draws an ever increasing number of visitors every year. It is the financial, cultural and political centre of Iceland, and has a reputation of being one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world.
The city of Reykjavík is located in southwest Iceland by Faxaflói Bay. Throughout the ages, the landscape has been shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the area is geothermal; after all, its name translates to ‘Smoky Bay’.
Much of the current city area was subglacial during the Ice Age, with the glacier reaching as far as the Álftanes peninsula, while other areas lay under the sea. After the end of the Ice Age, the land rose as the glaciers drifted away, and it began to take on its present form.
The coastline of Reykjavík is set with peninsulas, coves, straits and islands, most notably the island of Viðey, and seabirds and whales frequent the shores. The mountain ring as seen from the shore is particularly beautiful.
Mount Esjan is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavík and the most distinctive feature of the coastline. This majestic summit is also highly popular amongst hikers and climbers. Other notable mountains that can be seen from the seaside are Akrafjall and Skarðsheiði.
The largest river to run through the city is Elliðaá in Elliðaárdalur valley, which is also one of Iceland’s best rivers for salmon fishing.
There are no trains or trams in Iceland, but most people travel by car. The city also operates a bus system. There are two major harbours in town, the old harbour in the centre and Sundahöfn in the east.
The domestic Reykjavík Airport is located at Vatnsmýrin, not far from the city centre and close to the hill Öskjuhlíð and the restaurant, vantage point and exhibition centre Perlan. The international Keflavík Airport at Miðnesheiði heath then lies around 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the city.
Cars, jeeps and bicycles can be readily rented in the city and many organized tours are also being offered. It is, however, quite easy to walk between the major sites.
What to See & Do in Reykjavik
Major events taking place in Reykjavík include Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavík Pride, RIFF (The Reykjavík International Film Festival), The Reykjavík Literature Festival, Culture Night, the Reykjavík Arts Festival, Food & Fun, the Reykjavík Fashion Festival and the Sónar music festival.
Those eager to soak up the local culture should visit the city’s many museums, exhibitions and galleries, and check out live music at the cafés, bars, and concert venues dotted around. You could look at the programmes of what’s on at the Harpa music hall or the theatres, or else plan a few hours at the lighthouse at Grótta, the shopping street of Laugavegur, or the old harbour and the flea market.
Make sure to visit the public square of Austurvöllur, one of the city’s most popular gathering places, where you’ll also find the national parliament, the Alþingi, as well as the state church, a statue of independence hero Jón Sigurðsson, cafés, bars and restaurants.
Austurvöllur was central in the protests following the banking collapse of 2008, along with Lækjargata, home to the House of Government. You are also not likely to miss the great church of Hallgrímskirkja that towers over the city from the hill of Skólavörðuholt, from which you’ll get a great view of the city.
Try a walk by the city pond, Tjörnin, to greet the many birds that frequent the area and to visit the city hall, stationed by its banks. A beautiful park lies by the pond, ideal for a nice walk, and sometimes concerts get held there.
Further off is the campus of the University of Iceland, the Nordic house and the Vatnsmýrin wetland, a particularly pleasant place, but be mindful to not disturb the wildlife there by keeping to the pathways.
For a nice swim on a warm day, we particularly recommend Nauthólsvík beach, which is heated with geothermal water. Those who love a dip should also visit the Laugardalur valley, home to one of the city’s best swimming pools, which sits a short walk away from Ásmundarsafn gallery, a beautiful botanical garden and a domestic zoo.
A walk by the Ægissíða beach, with its old fishing sheds, in the west part of Reykjavík also holds a particular charm. From there, you can see all the way to president’s house at Bessastaðir, which is also a historical site in its own right, having been the educational centre of Iceland for centuries.
Another place that offers one of the city’s best views is Perlan, up on Öskjuhlíð hill. The hill itself is a popular place to spend a few hours, with over 176,000 trees and great opportunities for walking and cycling. Perlan also has and observation deck with great views, a café and an exhibition centre.
Furthermore, the city is a short drive from many of Iceland’s major attractions, most famously the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. In close vicinity you’ll also find the Heiðmörk preservation area, a favourite local site of the people of Reykjavík, as well as the Blue Mountains, one of Iceland’s best skiing venues.
Finally, we’d like to stress that these are only some suggestions of the many things you might check out in Reykjavík. Whatever you choose to do, we hope you’ll be able to make the most of your visit and we wish you a pleasant stay in our capital.