Things To Do in Reykjavik
Known for being the world’s northernmost capital, Reykjavik has witnessed an influx in tourism over recent years. Discover the scenic wonders, history and culture of the city with the world’s leading operator to Iceland and choose from a whole host of holidays. Here’s our pick of 13 top things to do in and around Reykjavik…
When you’ve got an itinerary quivering with the prospect of waterfalls, volcanoes, icecaps and wild coasts, you’d be forgiven for wanting to sidestep Reykjavik. Iceland’s capital can sometimes be seen as an unnecessary urban diversion by those desperate to run straight into the arms of Mother Nature. It’s for this very reason that many of our itineraries do not feature a stay in the city. That’s not to say, however, that Reykjavik has nothing of interest. Far from it. If you are into museums, art galleries, restaurants and nightlife, Iceland’s capital can keep you busy for days. Our advice would be to prioritise ‘Natural Iceland’, then consider adding Reykjavik to the start or end of your holiday if you have a spare night or two. Our Iceland Travel Specialists can help you plan the best way of doing this.
Step into Reykjavik’s Old Town, the heart of Iceland’s art scene, to experience the city’s unique character and charm. Wander its sculpture-lined cobbled streets with brightly coloured houses decorated in corrugated iron to protect them from the elements. Admire the mosaics and plaques depicting the city’s maritime life and visit the old bakery and woollen shops for a taste of the city’s history. In the centre lies Austurvöllur Square, which buzzes during the warmer months when the surrounding cafés fill up with locals and tourists enjoying the weather.
Despite its largely trading heritage, Reykjavik’s old harbour has become one of the city’s main tourist attractions. The museums tell stories of the city’s fishing past, an alluring array of restaurants serve up Icelandic cuisine, and the harbour itself sees regular whale-watching excursions. The atmosphere is vibrant to say the least – relax in one of the many cafés or restaurants and watch the local fishermen manage the port and grapple with the day’s catch. For a true experience of Reykjavik nightlife, join the Cheers to Reykjavik tour in the heart of the Old Harbour, which offers an introduction to typical Icelandic cuisine and ales.
The National Museum
The National Museum of Reykjavik celebrates and commemorates the history and culture of Iceland through its collection of artefacts dating back to Viking days. One of the museum’s main features is the Valthjófsstadur door, with medieval engravings depicting scenes from the legendary 12th century knight’s tale.
Reykjavík’s coolest shops and bars line this street, including Kiosk for cutting-edge fashion, Spútník for vintage treasures and Hrím for stylish accessories. Keen shoppers should also head to Ingólfstorg square where Kraum features work from over 70 Icelandic designers. In central Reykjavík, Gallerí List is one of the city’s finest art galleries.
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre
Reykjavik is now internationally recognised for its music and arts scene. Music is said to be the backbone of Icelandic culture; bars and clubs in Downtown Reykjavik put on regular shows and record stores are keen to showcase the works of the country’s musicians. The newly built Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera, and hosts many of the city’s music festivals. One of the city’s distinguished landmarks, the striking glass façade reflects the light of the sky and lively city around it.
Inspired by the geometric shapes often created when lava cools, Reykjavik’s striking cathedral wasn’t completed until 1986. You can admire an impressive 5,275-pipe organ and take an elevator to the top of the 74.5m-tall tower. An imposing statue of Viking Leifur Eiríksson – the first European to discover America – stands proud outside.
Arbaer Open Air Museum
A sanctuary for historical buildings relocated from central Reykjavik, Arbar is a time capsule where visitors can appreciate the architecture and lifestyles of the ‘old city’. Based around a town square, village and farm (complete with a turf-roofed homestead), the museum is brought to life by costumed actors and domestic animals.
The spectacularly tranquil lake of Tjörnin, known locally as the ‘Pond’, lies at the centre of Old Town Reykjavik. It is framed by Reykjavik’s City Hall, colourful houses and sculpture parks like Hljómskálagarður to its south. The lake is home to a handful of birdlife that keeps families entertained while they casually stroll its border. When the lake freezes over in winter, brave locals and tourists transform it into an outdoor rink.
Crowning huge geothermal-water tanks on Öskjuhlíð hill, about 2km from the city centre, the mirrored dome of Perlan offers panoramic views across Reykjavík and Faxaflói bay. Following a new makeover, the interior will feature an ice cave, nature exhibition and planetarium.
A looming presence when you drive north to Hvalfjörður or east to Þingvellir, this 914m-high volcanic massif is just 20km from central Reykjavík. Several hiking trails scale Esja, providing far-reaching views of the city and beyond. The final 200m to the summit requires a challenging climb.
Set on a field of black basalt lava on the Reykjanes Peninsula is one of Iceland’s chief attractions, the Blue Lagoon. Aside from its obvious aesthetic appeal, the mineral-rich waters and spa facilities attract visitors each day. The geothermal waters with algae, silica and minerals are said to have therapeutic qualities as well as health benefits for particular conditions.
One of the great things about Reykjavik is its proximity to an abundance of scenic wonders. Even if you settled on a city break, you can still venture beyond the city to experience the peninsula’s natural beauty. The hills surrounding Reykjavik offer spectacular views of the Reykjanes and Esja mountains and beyond. Being in the southwest corner of Iceland, Reykjavik sees extended days under the midnight sun, and with it, more chances of seeing the northern lights. Go in search of the stars and constellations as you wait patiently for the aurora to make an appearance. For the serious aurora hunter, we strongly recommend a short break based in the Icelandic countryside – where you can minimise your viewing potential.
Christmas and New Year
Christmas and New Year are the most magical times of year, and Reykjavik is a special place to celebrate them. To say that New Year’s Eve celebrations in the capital have become legendary is something of an understatement. The city transforms into a glowing spectacle of lights, music and festive feasts, which can be enjoyed independently or as part of a guided tour. With tailor-made holidays and excursions on offer, you are guaranteed to give your celebrations a memorable touch.