What To Do on a City Break in Reykjavík

17 Nov 2021

The Icelandic capital of Reykjavík is a perfect short break destination. It's packed full of things to see and do, including museums and galleries, wildlife spotting boat trips, and innovative restaurants, and whether you're travelling solo, in a couple, or as part of a group, it's a welcoming place for visitors.

It's also a compact city that's easy to explore on foot, and because the surrounding area is full of awesome natural wonders like glaciers, waterfalls, and volcanic landscapes, you can add on some unforgettable day trips, too.

Here are our deal experts' tips for the best places to visit on a city break in Reykjavík.

Start your visit by taking in the views across the city to get your bearings. One of Reykjavík's most distinctive buildings is Hallgrimskirkja, a church that stands almost 75 metres tall. You can climb its tower for views across the city's colourful rooftops. Head down to the waterfront and you’ll encounter Thufa, which from a distance might look like a mound of earth, but it is in fact an installation by artist Ólöf Norda. You can walk up the spiral path to the top — which stands eight metres above the surrounding harbourside — where there's a wooden frame for drying fish and great views of the city's waterfront.

Hallgrimskirkja

For a unique view of Reykjavík, head to the Perlan – Wonders of Iceland museum, where you can take a 230-metre zipline ride across the surrounding parkland. Perlan itself is a fascinating place where you can learn about the flora, fauna, and geology of the country, visit an indoor ice cave, and explore the heavens in the state-of-the-art planetarium. The museum is on top of a hill, and has a platform with 360-degree city views.

Perlan museum

Reykjavík is home to many other museums and galleries. The Saga Museum tells the story of key moments in Icelandic history — you can even have your photo taken dressed as a Viking — while the National Museum of Iceland offers a glimpse into the country's 1200-year history. There's also the National Gallery of Iceland and the Reykjavík Art Museum Ásmundarsafn, whose collection of modern art and sculptures is housed in an impressive building shaped like an observatory.

It's easy to travel between the city's tourist sites on foot, but if you don't fancy walking, buses are frequent (and if you buy the Reykjavík City Card you get unlimited bus travel — as well as entry to many museums, galleries, and swimming pools).

Downtown Reykjavík has plenty to offer shoppers. For something unique, head to Kolaportid, an indoor flea market with everything from souvenirs to Icelandic jumpers, antiques, and food. The city’s main shopping street is Laugavegur, where you can browse the stores for handmade clothing and local artwork. While you're in the area, take a break by visiting Sólfar, aka The Sun Voyager, an impressive sculpture resembling a Viking ship on the waterfront.

Solfar

One of the main reasons Iceland is popular with visitors is its steaming thermal baths. The most famous of these is the Blue Lagoon, about 50 kilometres from Reykjavík. But there are much closer — and less crowded — places where you can experience the bliss of soaking in naturally heated water. At Sky Lagoon, which opened in 2021 about 10 minutes’ drive from the city centre, you can soak in the lagoon and take in views of the sea.

Blue Lagoon

Iceland might not seem the perfect place to swim in the ocean, but you can at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, in the south of the city centre, where artificial walls create a lagoon, allowing cold sea to mix with hot geothermal water. The beach is close to Reykjavík Airport, so you can watch the planes take off and land.

About 100 kilometres from Reykjavík is Secret Lagoon Iceland, the oldest thermal swimming pool in the country. It's very much day-trip territory, and is often a stop on tours of the Golden Circle. These tours tend to take in spectacular natural wonders including Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and the Haukadalur geothermal area, which includes the Geysir and Strokkur geysers.

Another popular tour from Reykjavík is Into the Glacier, during which you visit the Langjökull Glacier for a guided walk through a man-made tunnel through the ice, as well as travel on a specially modified vehicle on the surface of the glacier.

Langjökull 

Sitting just south of the Arctic Circle, Reykjavík is the world’s northernmost capital city, so has almost-endless daylight in summer, while in the ample darkness of winter, there are plenty of chances to spot the Northern Lights. October to April is the best time, and you can book tours that use up-to-date weather and solar-activity reports to assess the chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis. Aim to book a trip for your first night in Iceland: if it's overcast, or the conditions aren’t right for the lights, you can usually rebook to go the following night for free.

Northern Lights

Reykjavík is a great base for wildlife tours too, with whale-watching and puffin-spotting boat trips available from the harbour. But you don't even have to leave the city centre to get a glimpse of the country beyond. Head to FlyOver Iceland, a virtual tour during which you sit suspended in front of a huge spherical screen that shows a film of an exhilarating flight around Iceland's natural wonders, complete with special effects such as wind, mist, and scents.

With so much sightseeing to do, you’ll need to refuel, and Reykjavík has some great places to eat. Our deal experts recommend Braud & Co on Frakkastígur for a budget-friendly breakfast or lunch that includes delicious pastries. If you're on a stricter budget, you could stock up on snacks from branches of Bónus supermarket.

There are lots of independent eateries housed in little units on Grandagardur by the harbour — we like The Coocoo's Nest for its brunch menu and sourdough pizzas — or the nearby Grandi Mathöll offers plenty of options. The central Laundromat Café is another good choice for brunch and, as its name suggests, you can even do your washing while you eat. Nearby, you can grab lunch on the go at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, a hot dog stand that has been in the city since the 1930s and whose customers have included Bill Clinton and Kim Kardashian.

Food in Reykjavík

For a special evening meal, there are some excellent choices, and if seafood is your thing, you won't be disappointed with the local catch. Fiskfélagid, on Vesturgata, serves a 7-course set menu in which local fish and meat are used in dishes influenced by cuisine from around the world. There’s also Fiskmarkadurinn, a stunning restaurant that merges Icelandic and Japanese cuisine, while if you're feeling adventurous, head to Tapas for its Icelandic Gourmet Feast, which includes tapas made with ingredients including puffin, lobster, and Arctic char.

Reykjavík is famous for its nightlife, but because drinking in the city is expensive, and things never really get going until after midnight, a good idea is to eat late and perhaps have one or two drinks at your hotel bar before heading out. Many bars stay open all night, so there's no rush. The area around Laugavegur is great for pubs and bars — wherever you go, be sure to try a shot of brennivín, a strong local spirit whose nickname is the Black Death (although the drink itself is colourless).

Reykjavík is also a great city for live music. There are venues all over town, from small pubs and cafés to Harpa, a stunning glass concert hall that's home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera. Arguably the city's biggest music event is the Iceland Airwaves festival, which takes place in early November. A festival pass allows you to see local and world-famous acts across several official venues, while many pop-up shows take place in settings such as cafés during the event and are free to the public.

Find great deals now for hotels in Europe, holidays in Iceland, or city breaks.

Further reading

Visitor information from Visit Reykjavík
Visit Iceland official site
Reykjavík public bus services

Emily Heath, Laura Summers, Susanne Lettenmeier, Nick Elvin, and Jon Kissack contributed to this post.

Related offers Related offers & more

Popular pages