35 Awesome Things to Do in Reykjavik, Iceland

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While Iceland is full of incredible natural landscapes, there are plenty of cool things to do in Reykjavík as well! Iceland’s pint-sized capital city is a quirky, colorful place.

I’ve been to Iceland three times, and on all three trips, I spent a lot of time in Reykjavík. (That’s why you’ll see me with three different hairstyles in the photos in this post!) By now, I know the city pretty well.

If you’re planning a short trip to Iceland, like a long weekend or extended layover, Reykjavík makes the perfect place to stay. And if you’re planning a longer road trip around Iceland, you should take at least one full day to explore the city.

Let’s dive into what makes Iceland’s capital so great — the things to do in Reykjavik!

The view above Reykjavik: lots of colorful metal-sided houses with trees, the pointy church in the distance, and mountains further behind it.
Reykjavík, as seen from the Grandi Hotel

Best Things to Do in Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavík has quite a bit going on for a small city. Despite having a population of about 133,000 (or 233,000 if you include the surrounding suburbs), the cultural outfitting here are more in line with those of a larger city.

In Reykjavík you’ve got everything from thermal baths and architectural marvels to quirky local businesses and strange niche museums.

There are two categories for things to do in Reykjavik: things to do within the city, and day trips outside the city. I’ve separated them into two sections to make things easier to navigate.

Reykjavík FAQ

What are some of the best things to do in Reykjavik Iceland?

Spend an afternoon at the local swimming pools, giggle at the Icelandic Phallological Museum, visit Flyover Iceland and the Sky Lagoon.

What are some good things to do in Reykjavik with kids?

Whales of Iceland is a must for a whale-loving kid, and Perlan is a fantastic introduction to the wonders of Iceland that both kids and adults will love.

What are some cheap and free things to do in Reykjavík?

Get a hot dog for under $5, then walk along the waterfront to admire Harpa Concert Hall and the Sun Voyager before heading up to the Rainbow Street for photos.

What are some good day trips from Reykjavík to do?

My top recommendation is a South Coast day trip, but snorkeling Silfra and the Golden Circle are two other popular options.

A street painted in rainbow stripes leading up to the pointy gray church.
Enjoy every color of this wonderful city.

Stroll Through Colorful Downtown Reykjavík

You’ll fall in love with Reykjavík right away — but if you want to get to know the city, I highly recommend taking a tour of some kind so you can learn a bit of history and culture, and learn the stories behind the street art. There are many, including the popular free walking tour.

The free walking tour of Reykjavík departs every day from Austurvöllur, the Parliament building. At the end of the tour, you tip what it’s worth. (ALWAYS tip generously on a free tour. Tour companies charge the guides based on how many people show up, even if they don’t all tip.)

You can also take a city tour with a Viking tour guide, who will treat you like a newfound friend while showing you around the city’s best attractions.

Finally — are you a cat person like me? There is a cat-themed walking tour of Reykjavík, including a visit to a cat café! I need to do that on my next visit!

Kate smiles in the gray misty water of the Sky Lagoon. She wears a black and white patterned bathing suit top. Behind her you see gray rocks and a stormy gray sky.
I loved every minute at the Sky Lagoon!

Luxuriate at the Sky Lagoon

One of the newer attractions in Reykjavík is the Sky Lagoon, a high-end geothermal spa that is one of the best places to treat yourself in Iceland. There’s nothing like luxuriating in the warm water while sipping a glass of champagne, gazing past the infinity pool and enjoying expansive views across the sea.

What makes the Sky Lagoon extra special is the seven-step ritual, which takes you from the lagoon into a cold plunge, sauna, cold mist, salt scrub, steam bath, and shower before returning to the lagoon, your skin softer and silkier than ever before.

To make the most of your visit, I recommend the Pure Pass — this includes the seven-step ritual, but doesn’t include access to the fancy private changing rooms, which I don’t think are worth the extra money.

The Sky Lagoon is a 15-minute drive from downtown Reykjavík and it’s well worth spending a full morning or afternoon there. And don’t be afraid if it’s a gray, drizzly day — this is some of the best weather for hot springs.

You can book a Pure Pass at the Sky Lagoon here, or book a Pure Pass with a transfer from Reykjavík.

Read More: Is the Sky Lagoon Worth It? A look inside.

A hand holds up a hot dog covered in various sauces in front of a metal and red and white little kiosk selling hot dogs. Lots of people waiting in line.
Lunch, dinner, or late-night snack of champions!

Visit Iceland’s Most Famous Hot Dog Stand

If there’s anything Icelanders truly love, it’s thermal springs, Eurovision, the stories of Snorri Snorrelsen — and hot dogs. Oh, they LOVE their hot dogs! And the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland is Bæjarins beztu pylsur, or “the best hot dog in town,” located in the heart of downtown Reykjavík.

This hot dog stand is an unassuming metal shack next to some high tops and picnic tables — but people come here for the simplicity of it all, and the hot dogs are as popular with visitors (including Bill Clinton) as locals. It also helps that it’s open until 2:00 AM on weeknights and 4:30 AM on the weekends.

Go for one with everything — fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard, and remoulade. A hot dog will run you 600 ISK, or just under $5 USD. Standing next to your table, licking the extra remoulade off your finger, you’ll be glad you stopped here.

Good luck finding another meal in Iceland for that cheap!

Hallgrimskirkja Church, pointy and gray, in the front, surrounded by the colorful small buildings of Reykjavik (and several tall condo buildings on the waterfront).
Hallgrímskirkja overlooking colorful Reykjavík, via Shutterstock

Take in the View from Hallgrímskirkja

You know Hallgrímskirkja before you see it — it’s the pointy church on top of a hill in Reykjavík, a monument that dominates everything. This Evangelical-Lutheran church’s unusual design is based on Svartifoss, a waterfall that pours over black basalt columns in Skaftafell, and a statue of Leif Eriksson looms before it.

Inside, you’ll see an enormous organ measuring 15 meters high and weighing 25 tons! The church is free to visit, but you can get some of the best photos in town by climbing to the bell tower. It costs 1000 ISK for adults ($7.50 USD) for adults and 100 ISK ($0.75) for children.

The church hosts several concerts throughout the year. Come here to enjoy the fabulous acoustics and the best musicians Reykjavík has to offer.

Don’t miss photographing Hallgrímskirkja from the base of the rainbow street leading up to it!

Four oversized cottages with red and black roofs in front of a lake. On the lake is an island where a white swan and several ducks are hanging out.

Stroll Around Tjörnin Lake

You can’t miss Tjörnin — it’s the lake in central Reykjavík, though locals refer to it as a pond. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the city and is edged with lovely colorful buildings. Walking paths run alongside the lake.

On the northern end you have Reykjavík City Hall and the tongue-in-cheek Monument to the Bureaucrat, with the Reykjavík Cathedral nearby; to the south you have Hljómskálagarður Park, another lovely place for a walk.

Several dozen species of birds call Tjörnin home, from Arctic turn and mallard ducks to the famous whooper swans. Many locals like to feed the birds, but opt for seeds rather than bread.

And if you’re visiting during the winter, Tjörnin freezes over and becomes an ice rink!

An outdoor complex with a swimming pool where people are swimming laps, a long rectangular-shaped hot tub, and a small shallow pool with kids and adults lying down in it.
Anyone care for a dip?

Visit a Reykjavík Swimming Pool

If you’re looking to join locals in a true Icelandic activity, skip the fancy spas and head to the public baths. Bathing is an important part of Icelandic culture, and while Icelanders go somewhere like the Sky Lagoon for a special occasion, most of the time they hit up the public baths and swimming pools.

Virtually every town in Iceland has a heated outdoor swimming pool and accompanying hot tubs. Locals go here to catch up with their friends, unwind, and enjoy a warm soak. And don’t let the weather sway you — you’ll find Icelanders in the pool 365 days a year, even when it’s freezing, dark, and raining.

I headed to the most central swimming pool, the Reykjavík Sundhöllin, which you can walk to from downtown. For an entry of 1,100 ($8 USD) for adults (kids are cheap and seniors are free!), you can stay as long as you like. Bring a towel or you’ll have to pay to rent one.

There are rules, of course: everyone is required to shower naked beforehand in communal shower areas, and soap up well before rinsing. You’re not allowed to have your phone by the pool, so don’t expect to get content. Keep everything in a locker. Bathing caps are not necessary.

Swim laps, lie down in a shallow warm pool, or head to one of the hidden hot pots on the second floor behind the outdoor pool. There’s also an indoor pool.

Laugardalslaug, a bit further east in Reykjavík, has waterslides and a small zoo, while the West town swimming pool (Vesturbaejarlaug) is a local favorite close to the University of Iceland. Whichever one you choose, this is one of the best things to do in Reykjavik to get to know the local culture.

Harpa: a tall light blue glass building with walls that look like honeycomb-shaped panels of glass layered on top of each other.
Harpa is just as stunning from the inside as it is on the outside.

Visit Harpa

Easily one of the most stunning buildings in Reykjavík, Harpa Concert Hall is a behemoth of glass and steel, all set on the edge of the harbor. Harpa (not THE Harpa, just Harpa), designed by Ólafur Elíasson and Henning Larsen Architects and completed in 2011, is Reykjavík’s concert hall.

Harpa is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera — as well as a variety of theater and comedy shows, conferences, and art installations. You don’t need tickets to a show to enjoy it, as there’s a restaurant, some shops, a children’s area called the Hljóðhimna.

Even if you just stroll in to take a few photos of that honeycomb-like pattern from the indoors, you’ll be captivated by the design of this soul-stirring building.

A yellow house with two brown doorways side by side. Between them sits a rag doll cat, cream-colored with a dark face, standing like she owns the neighborhood.
Technically not a museum photo, but this cat was awesome.

Visit Reykjavík’s Best Museums

Reykjavík has several excellent museums worth exploring on your visit to the Icelandic capital.

If you’re planning on visiting museums, you should consider getting the Reykjavík City Card. It gives you admission to several of Reykjavík’s museums for free, including the National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavík Maritime Museum (excluding special exhibitions), National Gallery of Iceland, Árbaer Open Air Museum, and Reykjavík Museum of Photography.

The Reykjavík City Card also gives you access to the public buses and local pools, and discounts at other attractions, shops, and restaurants. As always, add up the cost of what you’re planning to do and see if it’s worth it.

Personally, I think the Reykjavík City Card is worth it if you’re planning to visit several of the included museums, but otherwise it’s cheaper to buy bus tickets and pool admission on your own. You can learn more about the card here.

The National Museum of Iceland tells the history of Iceland from settlement through the present day, and it’s a good primer in learning how Iceland became what it is. Most famous is the Valþjófsstaður door, with a dragon-slaying knight carved into it.

The Reykjavík Maritime Museum is stunning inside and out and focuses on all things seafaring, from traditional boat building to the history of fishing.

The Settlement Exhibition is housed in an archaeological site dating back to the 10th century, preserved by a volcanic eruption, and focuses on how the first Vikings lived in Iceland.

Saga Museum also focuses on Vikings — and this one uses wax statues to tell stories of the island’s first inhabitants.

The National Gallery of Iceland is Reykjavík’s primary collection of modern art — think primarily Icelandic and Nordic, from the 20th century onwards. One of the smaller museums in town.

The Reykjavík Museum of Photography features a mixture of contemporary and historic photography, along with an extensive digital gallery of vintage photos.

The Árbaer Open Air Museum is a collection of turf houses outside Reykjavík where you can learn how Icelanders lived and worked centuries ago.

The Icelandic Punk Museum is an offbeat delight — a tiny underground space devoted to punk music. A great space for photos, and you can even play the drums!

Oh, and the Iceland Phallological Museum is the zaniest museum of all and has its own entry on this list a bit further down.

Another view of the rainbow-painted street leading up to Hallgrimskirkja Church. Some boutiques on each side of the street and some graffiti.
íThe corner of Laugavegur and Rainbow Street in Reykjavík

Shop for Souvenirs on Laugavegur

If you’re looking to bring home the perfect Icelandic souvenir, Reykjavík is the place to find it. And the main shopping street in Reykjavík is Laugavegur, filled with interesting shops and boutiques.

So what should you get? Skip the kitschy stuff made in China and find yourself a high quality piece made by locals.

The iconic Icelandic souvenir is a sweater — specifically, a lopapeysa, the traditional Icelandic sweater with a diamond pattern around the collar. These sweaters are amazing for photo ops around Iceland!

If you’re not a sweater fan or don’t want to spend that much money, you can buy a locally made wool hat, mitten, or socks.

There are lots of nice jewelry shops on Laugavegur, too. I have a pair of silver and bright blue stud earrings I got in 2015 that still look fresh and unique today.

If you like outerwear, stop by 66 North. This is one of Iceland’s most famous brands, selling excellent (and very expensive) outerwear. Nothing in that store was on my budget, but I drooled over the designs nonetheless.

And don’t miss Skólavörðustígur, also known as Rainbow Street. This colorful painted street intersects with Laugavegur and has even more cute shops and boutiques. It’s a great spot for a photo.

People riding the FlyOver Iceland ride and enjoying the view of a glacier on screen.
What you experience at Flyover Iceland, via Pursuit

Feel Like a Bird at Flyover Iceland

Imagine flying over Icelandic mountains, lava-spewing volcanoes, and iceberg-filled lagoons. Imagine soaring through canyons and past waterfalls. FlyOver Iceland is an immersive experience where you fly on a ride while watching Iceland on a spherical screen.

This is the kind of experience that will make you fall in love with Iceland, even just after arriving. Yes, you’ll hopefully be seeing the landscapes yourself, but you will not be able to see anything in the way this movie was filmed. It will make you believe in the magic of this country!

FlyOver Iceland makes a terrific rainy day activity in Reykjavík, and I think it works better at the beginning of your trip, so you get excited for everything that’s coming next. And don’t forget to explore the surrounding Grandi Harbor District, another of the best things to do in Reykjavík!

You can book Flyover Iceland here.

Read More: Is Flyover Iceland Worth It? An Immersive Experience

A whale's tail sticking out of the water as a group of people on a wooden boat photograph it.
If you’re lucky, Icelandic whale watching can look like this! Via Shutterstock.

Go Whale Watching

So many travelers come to Iceland with one goal in mind: seeing whales. Whale watches are one of the most popular things to do in Reykjavík, with tours taking in sightings of minke whales, humpback whales, and if you’re REALLY lucky, a blue whale. This can be a fun, thrilling, and deeply moving activity.

Unfortunately, seeing whales is not a guarantee (though most tour companies will give you a voucher for another tour if you don’t see any). And I’ve known several people who were disappointed by a whale-less boat ride in Reykjavík.

Another option is Whales of Iceland, the largest whale exhibition in Europe! Located in the Grandi Harbor District, this museum features life-size models of different whales, including a sperm whale, a beluga, and a 25-meter blue whale, the world’s largest mammal. And you can touch all of them.

This is one of the best things to do in Reykjavík with kids — and kids under seven get in for free. You can also combine Whales of Iceland with a whale watching tour.

Finally, if you’re driving the Ring Road or visiting North Iceland, don’t go whale watching in Reykjavík — you should go whale watching in the northern town of Husavík instead. The whale watching in Husavík is the best in the country with a near-guaranteed chance of seeing whales. Akureyri also has high quality whale watching.

This three-hour whale watch in Reykjavík takes place on a superyacht with three different levels of viewing areas to get great photos.

Kate stands next to an enormous sperm whale penis encased in glass, holding a hand up as if to say "Can you believe this?" at the Icelandic Phallological Museum.
Me posing with a sperm whale peen at the Phallological Museum back in 2012.

Laugh Your Head Off at the Phallological Museum

If there’s such thing as a cult attraction in Reykjavík, it’s the Iceland Phallological Museum. This museum is filled with a collection of…phalluses. Penises. Peens galore. The museum contains more than 280 penises and penile parts!

There are even penises from characters from Icelandic folklore, like elves and sea-howlers. Most memorable is the enormous whale penis, which demands a selfie. There are even sculptures of the penises of the 2008 Icelandic Olympic Handball Team, cast in silver to honor their silver medal.

Oh, and if you were wondering, there is a HUGE collection of penis swag that you can buy and take home with you, from keychains to t-shirts. What else can I say about this place? If you’re into it, you’re into it!

A yellow and black building with picnic tables outside in the industrial chic Grandi Harbor District of Reykjavik.
Outside Omnom Chocolate in the Grandi Harbor District.

Explore the Grandi Harbor District

The Grandi Harbor District is located on the northwest edge of central Reykjavík, a short walk from the city center. This neighborhood has been “up and coming” for the last several years — by now I think it’s officially here! This is an industrial area that has been made over to include shops, restaurants, museums, and galleries.

Don’t miss Omnom Chocolate, whose delicious chocolate bars you can find all over Iceland. But at their flagship shop in Grandi, you can enjoy an inventive collection of chocolate-covered ice cream treats.

Farmers Market carries high-end Icelandic fashion, accessories, and home decor, while Soley Organics has a wonderful collection of skincare products. Bókabúð Forlagsins is a must for any bookstore lover.

And don’t miss lunch at Grandi Mathöll, where food stalls dish up cuisine from Iceland and around the world. It’s the perfect lunch stop when exploring the area.

A large golden sandy beach on a sunny day. In the water are a few people; in the water is a large ring filled with hot water with people inside it. On shore is a gray building with a long rectangular hot tub in front, several people inside it.
Yes, you can have a lovely day at the beach in Reykjavík!

Soak Up the Sun at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach

How warm does it have to get for Icelanders to head to the beach? Not as warm as you think! Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, located in the south of Reykjavík, has a lagoon where hot geothermal water is pumped in to mix with cold seawater, making it a surprisingly nice place to take a dip. Icelanders constructed it by building sea walls and importing tons of golden sand.

On my last visit to Reykjavík in late May, it was 52 F (11 C) and sunny, and the beach was full of people in their bathing suits! With volleyball nets and dandelion-topped hills, this felt like the ultimate summer weekend destination. It was a popular spot for groups of teenagers (I actually followed them from the bus).

If you’re not up for getting into the ocean, there is a hot pool on shore, along with changing and showering facilities. The whole area is free to visit between May 15 and August 15; admission is 740 ISK ($6) the rest of the year.

Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach is located south of the city, so I recommend taking the bus if you don’t have a car. If it’s a nice day and you don’t mind a long walk, there is a beautiful running and biking path along the coast that curves along chi-chi waterfront mansions before leading back to the city.

Perlan: a building made of tall gray cylinders with a glass dome on top. It's surrounded by pine trees and in the background are lots of apartment buildings and a view of mountains.
Perlan, with Reykjavík in the background, via Shutterstock

Visit Perlan, Wonders of Iceland

Perlan is far more than just a museum. Located on a hill just outside central Reykjavík, with a free shuttle bus from Harpa included in your ticket, Perlan displays the natural wonders of Iceland in one place.

Want to experience the Aurora Borealis? They have a 22-minute show that simulates it. Want to get into an ice tunnel? They have one of those. Want to learn about volcanoes? Glaciers? They have outstanding displays on both.

Don’t miss the views of Reykjavík from the viewing platform on the observation deck. This one of my favorite views of the city! And Perlan is a great place to bring your kids.

You can book your ticket to Perlan including the Northern Lights Áróra Show here.

A metal sculpture shaped like a Viking long boat standing next to the shore. It's glinting in the late night sunlight.
The Sun Voyager is especially stunning at sunset.

Visit the Sun Voyager

Located along Reykjavík’s waterfront near Harpa, the Sun Voyager is the most famous piece of art in the city. This steel sculpture created by Jón Gunnar Árnason resembles a Viking longboat looking toward the sun, conveying a promise of exploration, hope, progress and freedom.

Then again, like all art, it’s open for interpretation. It reminds me of a herd of reindeer.

This is a popular place to photograph at sunset — or sunrise, if you’re visiting during the winter months and able to get up “early” enough for it.

Two shelves of really nice gins in a Reykjavik bar.
A wide array of gins on display at Kaldi Bar in Reykjavík.

Enjoy Reykjavík Nightlife

If the beer prices don’t scare you away, you will LOVE a night on the town in Reykjavík! Icelanders really know how to party. Here’s it’s not unusual to pregame (it’s almost like going back to college), and pub crawls are standard — people go out to a bar, have a drink, and move on.

I enjoyed the excellent gin selection at Kaldi Bar, a more-than-meets-the-eye bar set behind a red barn-like wall.

If you’re up for well-crafted drinks, head to Jungle Cocktail Bar, where you’re surrounded by lush greenery and some of the best libations in town.

And of course, there’s Lebowski Bar, based on The Big Lebowski. If ever there were an excuse to get a White Russian in Iceland, here’s your chance.

If you want to dance, head out to Austur or Paloma Club for a night you won’t be forgetting anytime soon! And on the weekends, Reykjavík’s bars and clubs stay open as late as 5:00 AM. Though it’s easy to lose track when you’re under the midnight sun.

The pale blue water of the Blue Lagoon, a few people swimming in it, underneath a white and blue sky.
It’s not in Reykjavík, but you can’t miss the Blue Lagoon.

Soak in the Blue Lagoon

Finally, there’s the Blue Lagoon — which it technically not within Reykjavík, but a 45-minute drive away in Grindavík, near the airport. But I’m including it on the list of things to do in Reykjavík because many people visit the Blue Lagoon from Reykjavík, either on its own or as part of a combination tour.

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland — a spa of milky blue water, heated by geothermal activity bubbling beneath Iceland’s surface. It’s one of the iconic places to visit in Iceland, and one of the best Instagram spots, too.

If you REALLY want to splurge out, head to the Retreat Spa. For something special but a little less expensive, get an in-water massage, surrounded by that lovely blue water.

I recommend visiting the Blue Lagoon either right after you land or right before you depart, as it’s close to the airport. But if not, you can book the Blue Lagoon with a shuttle from Reykjavík.

Read More: Things to Know Before You Go to the Blue Lagoon

Kate stands in front of Gulfoss waterfall in Iceland, wearing a leather jacket and grinning.
Enjoying a visit to Gulfoss Waterfall, Iceland.

Best Day Trips from Reykjavík

There are SO many different day trips you can take from Reykjavík! This might be one of the best cities in the world to use as a base!

If you’ve rented a car, you can do any of these excursions independently on your own. If you don’t have a car, you can book any of these tours with pickup from Reykjavík.

South Coast

This Reykjavík day trip is for people who love dramatic scenery. If you’re looking for ultra-dramatic Icelandic scenery, this is the best day trip from Reykjavík. The South Coast is home to some of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls, as well as the black sand beaches of Vík, glaciers, and more.

The South Coast is my top recommendation if you only have time for one day trip from Reykjavík.

This 10-hour South Coast tour from Reykjavík includes Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, the black sand beaches of Vík, and the glacier snout of Sólheimajökull.

If you’re okay with a VERY long trip, this 14-hour South Coast tour from Reykjavík takes you all the way to Jökulsárlón and back, plus the black sand beaches of Vík and some waterfalls if you have time.

Golden Circle

This Reykjavík day trip is for people who want to hit the major highlights in an easy way. The Golden Circle is the classic day trip from Reykjavík.

The three main destinations the Golden Circle tour takes in are Þingvellir National Park, Gulfoss waterfall, and Geysir. Some tours include Kerid Crater as well; others throw in a visit to one of the thermal baths.

This is a basic Golden Circle tour that takes in the three attractions.

This tour includes the three attractions of the Golden Circle plus Kerid Crater and the Blue Lagoon.

This tour includes the three attractions of the Golden Circle plus Kerid Crater and the Secret Lagoon.

Three snorkelers in dry suits and flippers swimming in the bright blue waters of Silfra.
Snorkeling in Silfra, enjoying the magical blue waters!

Snorkeling or Diving Silfra

This Reykjavík day trip is for adventure travelers who a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Silfra is where two continental tectonic plates break apart — the North American plate and the European plate — and you can snorkel or dive between them.

Underwater, it’s bright shades of teal fading into dark indigo. It’s clear and glorious. And the dry suit keeps you in good condition throughout the experience.

I snorkeled Silfra in 2012 and it’s one of the most badass things I’ve done anywhere. If you enjoy adventure in the slightest, this is one activity you’ll never forget. And the photos you get at the end of the tour are amazing!

This 5-hour Silfra snorkeling tour from Reykjavík is with the same excellent tour company I snorkeled with in 2012. They also have a diving Silfra option for certified divers.

Snaefellsness Day Trip

This Reykjavík day trip is for off-the-beaten-path travelers who love doing things a bit differently. The Snaefellsness Peninsula, north of Reykjavík, is referred to as “Iceland in miniature.”

It’s got a bit of everything, from volcanoes to waterfalls to cool beaches — but it’s much less crowded than the Golden Circle or the South Coast.

This 10.5-hour Snaefellsness Peninsula tour from Reykjavík includes Borgarnes, Berserkjahraun lava field, Kirkjufell waterfall, Saxholl volcanic crater, Djupalonssandur, Arnastapi, the black church of Budakirkja, and the golden seal-filled beach of Ytri-Tunga.

Kate smiles and pets a horse that is bending its head down to drink.
Horseback riding with a new furry friend near Reykjavík Iceland.

Horseback Riding Near Reykjavik

This Reykjavík day trip is for horse people, animal lovers, and people curious about Iceland’s special horses. Icelandic horses are a special breed: short, squat, shaggy, and very different to horses you’ve seen elsewhere.

You can go horseback riding with these wonderful creatures all over Iceland, and there are several stables close to Reykjavík that take you on rides through the volcanic landscape.

Note that Iceland does not allow riders from other countries to use their own riding gear, even if it’s been cleaned. This is to protect the horses.

This 2.5-hour horseback riding tour from Reykjavík includes 1.5-2 hours of riding through lava fields.

Northern Lights Tour

This Reykjavík day trip is only available during the winter months, and there’s no guarantee of seeing them, but if you’re lucky,

My big tip: if the Northern Lights are high on your list, book a tour, but don’t make your whole trip about seeing them. I’ve had multiple friends plan weeklong Northern Lights-centric trips to places like Finland and Alaska without seeing them once.

This Northern Lights tour from Reykjavík takes you into the countryside where it’s easier to see the Northern Lights.

You can also see the Northern Lights from Reykjavík by boat, but keep in mind this makes photography much more difficult.

Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik, pointy and gray, and dark green shapes dance behind it (the Northern Lights).
If you’re VERY lucky, you’ll get to see the Northern Lights in Reykavík! Via DepositPhotos.

How Much Time to Spend in Reykjavík

How much time do you actually need in Reykjavík? It depends on what kind of Iceland trip you’re planning.

If you are planning a short Iceland trip — five nights or less — I think it makes sense to base in Reykjavík the entire time and do a few day trips from the city, like the South Coast, Golden Circle, or Snaefellsness.

There are so many cool day trip options that you can have a diverse, interesting Iceland trip while coming back to the same accommodation every night, not having to unpack and repack.

If you are planning a longer trip to Iceland, like a Ring Road road trip, I think one full day of exploring Reykjavík is sufficient. Perhaps two if you want to do a lot of sightseeing. Prioritize what’s important to you, but make sure you include that day in Reykjavík.

Several sailboats docked in a calm harbor, as seen from inside Harpa. You are looking through several windows shaped like elongated hexagons fitted together.
The view from inside Harpa.

Best Time to Visit Reykjavík

In Iceland, most tourism organizations refer to “summer” and “winter” as the two seasons. Summer is roughly from mid-May to mid-August (or occasionally mid-September), but anything between October and April is definitively the winter season.

Most visitors tend to recommend visiting Reykjavík during the summer months, when you have the warmest temperatures and longest days of the year (including hardly any darkness close to the summer solstice).

Summer in Reykjavík is the busiest and most expensive time of year. Lots of events and festivals take place and it feels like the city is buzzing. And Icelanders are overjoyed when they can be outside without a winter jacket!

Winter in Reykjavík can be tough if you’re not used to days of darkness, but this is when you can experience the Northern Lights. While Iceland is not a cheap country, you often find lower rates on winter accommodation.

If you’re planning a winter trip to Iceland, you might prefer staying in Reykjavík and doing organized day trips so you don’t have to deal with winter driving.

A walking path through dandelion-strewn hills, a woman walking her dog on a leash, and in the background are brightly colored houses.
The walking path back to downtown Reykjavik from Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach

How to Get to Reykjavík

What many travelers don’t realize is that Reykjavík is a 45-minute drive from the airport. If you don’t have a rental car, you’ll need to take the Flybus.

The Flybus leaves regularly from Keflavík Airport and you can either take it to the BSI Central Bus Station or pay a bit extra to switch to a van at the bus station that will drop you at your hotel. You can book your Flybus transfer here.

As for getting around Reykjavík, the best way to get around is on your two feet, as most of the city center is walkable. If the weather is nice, Reykjavík is a lovely place to explore by bicycle, even if you’re a bit leery of city biking like me. You can rent bikes from Iceland Bike.

For places further afield like Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, you can take the bus. You can buy tickets with the Straeto app, or with cash. They do not take card payments on the bus.

(During my most recent visit the Straeto app wasn’t working, so it’s a good idea to have some small change just in case.)

Parking in central Reykjavík can be a pain, so if you have a car, you’ll want to keep it parked unless you’re leaving the city.

A cozy hotel lobby with mid-century modern sofas and chairs in shades of yellow and navy, leading to an open fireplace surrounded by more chairs.
The cozy lobby at the Grandi Hotel Reykjavík.

Where to Stay in Reykjavík, Iceland

On my most recent visit to Iceland I stayed at the Grandi Hotel, a stylish hotel that straddles the line between mid-range and luxury. My favorite thing? The views from the room, which overlooked the colorful buildings, Hallgrímskirkja, and mountains in the background.

Best Reykjavik Hotels

All of the following hotels are located within Reykjavik’s city center or a short walk away.

Best Luxury Hotel: Sand Hotel — Immaculate, gorgeous, and brimming with textured amenities, all set in the heart of downtown Reykjavik, steps from everything. Artsy Icelandic touches in all the right places. Truly outstanding.

Best Mid-range Hotel: Grandi Hotel — Warm and modern with a cozy lobby, simple but good-sized rooms, and a great location not quite in the heart of downtown but a 10-minute walk away, close to Grandi Harbor.

Best Budget Hotel: Igdlo Guesthouse — A warm and welcoming family-run guesthouse with both private rooms and dorms available, plus access to kitchen, barbecue, and laundry to keep costs down even further.

Best Hostel: KEX Hostel — One of the coolest and hippest hostels in the Nordics, featuring a gorgeous lounge area, a nice restaurant, and both dorms and private rooms.

Best Reykjavik Apartments

All of the following apartments are located within Reykjavik’s city center or a short walk away.

Best Luxury Apartments: House of the Snowbird — Two gorgeous apartments in a cheery red house that feels like a piece of art. Filled with hand-carved furnishings, comfy robes, and pieces of Icelandic artwork. Feels almost like a retreat hotel. Unforgettable.

Best Mid-Range Apartments: Island Apartments — A minimalist Scandinavian paradise in the absolute heart of downtown. Everything you need in a very convenient spot.

Best Budget Apartments: Stay Apartments Einholt — Simple, clean, high quality apartments at a low price by Reykjavik standards. Simple kitchen facilities and access to laundry machines.

Find deals on Reykjavik hotels here.

People sitting on the lawn in front of a tall white building in Reykjavik, enjoying the summer sun.
Sunny days in Reykjavik are pure bliss.

Don’t forget travel insurance for Iceland

Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world, and the country has a robust healthcare system. Do you even need travel insurance.

You do. It’s vital to get travel insurance before any trip, but especially somewhere with lots of hiking and adventure activities in remote areas. It will help you if you break your leg while hiking, or get something like appendicitis while you’re in Reykjavík.

And if you get seriously injured and require an air ambulance home, it could save you literally hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I recommend World Nomads for trips to Iceland. Take a look and see if they’re right for you.

A white building with a curvy red door, surrounded by tulips and other flowers in pots everywhere.
I loved this garden house so much!

Is Reykjavík Worth Visiting?

You might have an image of Iceland before your trip, picturing nothing but wide open spaces and natural wonders. Yes, Reykjavík is a city, but I promise you that it’s a truly special place and worth adding to your Iceland trip.

In fact, don’t be surprised if you like Reykjavík so much, you contemplate coming back for another trip — or even a long-term stay! This city has that kind of effect on you.

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