As the capital city of Iceland, it should come as no surprise that one can find plenty of things to do in Reykjavík. The odds of you finding yourself in the capital at least once during your trip to the island are good.
It is usually visitors’ first stop after landing at Keflavik Airport and before heading out to road trip the rest of Iceland. And, in some instances, visitors actually make the capital their base and simply do day trips whenever they feel like it.
If you’re going to be making Reykjavík a stop during your trip to Iceland, this is the article for you. We will be highlighting some of the must-visit places, exciting activities, and best things to do in Reykjavík.
What to do in Reykjavík
Whether a culture fanatic or an adrenaline junkie, you'll find the perfect things to do for you below. We've included both attractions and activities that you won't want to miss!
This will always claim one of the top spots when it comes to must-visit attractions in Reykjavík. Hallgrimskirkja is the architectural brainchild of Gudjon Samuelsson and took 41 years to make. Although technically a church, don’t expect the usual cathedral-like building one gets used to around Europe. Gudjan took his inspiration from the Land of Fire and Ice itself.
When one looks at Hallgrimskirkja it may look surprisingly similar to a church organ. However, that’s not where this church-building vision comes from. It comes from Svartivoss Waterfall with its magnificent backdrop of black basalt columns. Although visiting Hallgrimskirkja is free, a small fee will allow you to go all the way up the tower. There, you'll get to experience breathtaking views over the city.
2. Reykjavík Maritime Museum
As a nationality embedded in the fishing industry, it would be odd not to have some ode to Iceland’s seafaring years. The Reykjavík Maritime Museum is quite an impressive display that truly takes you through history to what seafaring in Iceland looks like today.
You can look forward to things such as walking on the reconstructed deck of the MV Gullfoss. It was a ferry that traveled between Denmark, Iceland, and Scotland in the mid-20th century. Or viewing the ICGV Odinn which is a coast guard vessel that played a part in all three Cod Wars during the 60s and the 70s.
You can take also a look at the Trawl Warp Cutter that was tasked with destroying the nets of UK trawlers who dared trespass into Icelandic waters.
Perlan is one of the must-visit attractions in Reykjavík for anyone that will be sticking to the boundaries of the city. Perlan will essentially give you an authentic Iceland experience without having to go anywhere else on the island.
View the Icelandic mountains and volcanoes on the observation deck, or walk through a real ice cave. It is one of the few ice caves in Iceland that you will find open throughout the year. Perlan truly brings the wonders of the Land of Fire and Ice to life.
4. Saga Museum
This is definitely a favorite amongst history lovers and families with kids. The Saga Museum is essentially Madame Tussauds meets Nordic storytelling. Here you will find all sorts of wax figures depicting important events and stories of the Icelanders throughout the ages. More than a millennium, in fact!
Take a look at how they crafted everything from jewelry to weapons. You'll see how they navigated disease and faced everything the Land of Fire and Ice could throw at them. From earthquakes to volcanic eruptions and much more. Visiting the museum is in a sense always a guided tour, but without the actual guide. Visitors each gets a multilingual audio guide that will relay and explain each scene in detail.
5. Sun Voyager
This is one of the best things to do in Reykjavík if you consider yourself an art lover. The Sun Voyager is a stainless-steel sculpture that depicts a ship. It was erected in 1990 in honor of the city’s 200th anniversary. It’s quite a haunting work of art, as the artist, Jon Gunnar Arnason, took on this project whilst nearing the end of his life.
Even though he managed to complete it, he never saw the day it was officially unveiled. The “ship” points towards the north, and the initial thought was to have it “greet the sunset”. What makes this sculpture so special is not so much the actual structure itself, but the way shadows and lights play off of it.
6. The National Museum of Iceland
The National Museum of Iceland is the best place to go if you want to get the lowdown on the country, past to present. But this two-story exhibition doesn’t just relay historic facts, it also includes impressive objects such as the Valbjofsstadur door dated to the early 13th century, a longboat, thousands of photographs, and much, much more. This is definitely one of the most tangible history lessons you’ll ever receive.
7. Arbaer Open Air Museum
The Arbaer Open Air Museum also teaches you a lot about the past, but by essentially placing you back in time. Many historic buildings and structures in Reykjavík were not demolished, but simply got moved to Arbaer.
That means that you can literally take a walk through the past and see how locals used to live. From homes to crafts – you’ll find it all in this living museum. Set aside about 1–2 hours to properly explore everything the museum has to offer.
If you enjoy waterparks, then this is one of the best things to do in Reykjavík. Laugardalslaug boasts a wide variety of hot and cold pools where you can swim, soak and just relax. There are also plenty of waterslides to keep both young and old entertained.
And if you’ve had enough of just lazying about, you can grab a group of friends and challenge them to one of the outdoor activities, such as volleyball. This is definitely a fun-in-the-sun outing suitable for couples, a group of friends, and families.
9. FlyOver Iceland
Okay, not really. But this “ride” is one of the perfect activities in Reykjavík for those with very limited time on the island. The ride allows you to virtually fly over some of the most spectacular and unique landscapes the Land of Fire and Ice has to offer.
The ride has the whole shebang. Not only does it feel like you’re flying across the country, but you’ll also experience various tactile senses such as mist, winds, and smells. And if you feel like you want more after this ride, there are two further experiences that you can choose from: The Well of Time and the Viking Long House. The entire FlyOver Iceland experience takes about 35 minutes.
10. Take a Dip at Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach
Swimming in the icy Icelandic water is nothing strange here on the island. But if you’re looking for something a few degrees warmer, Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach should be your go-to.
The beach can be found just south of the university and the airport and was established in 2001 by building walls to create a lagoon. The beach is still being fed by the actual ocean, so don’t expect a hot spring experience. Still, the geothermal waters do heat the waters up pretty nicely, and it can reach temperatures of up to 19 degrees Celsius in the summertime.
11. Turn Yourself into a Viking
If you’ve ever wondered what you would’ve looked like as a Viking, this is your opportunity. MINK Studios allows you to dress up in the best Viking garb and gear (and, yes, that includes some epic Viking weaponry). You can then play Viking for about an hour whilst renowned photographer, Gudmann Por Bjargmundsson takes your picture. He has worked on sets such as Game of Thrones!
But it gets even better! Not only will you be getting 20 photos from an internationally renowned photographer and expert on Viking culture, but you can have the pictures printed on mugs and other accessories. This is one of the most recommended activities in Reykjavík.
12. Shop till You Drop
Step aside Saks 5th Avenue and Oxford Street, Iceland has Laugavegur street where many a credit card has been pushed to its limit. Here you will find shops that will ensure you find the perfect souvenir or leave the island with a uniquely Iceland item (such as our woolen sweaters).
Some of the shops that are absolute must-visit shops are Icewear. Especially if you’re planning on doing some outdoor activities and had limited packing space. Shopicelandic (for all your souvenir needs), and Vinberid (a chocolate shop for those with a sweet tooth amongst us).
13. Have a Hot Soak at Sky Lagoon
Sky Lagoon is one of Iceland’s famous geothermal pools and is conveniently located in the heart of the capital. There are multiple packages available, ranging from just entry and a soak in the warm waters to entire wellness experiences.
So, you can pick the one that suits your preferences and your pocket. And if you start feeling a little peckish, don’t worry – you can grab a bite at the café and get a drink at the bar. Just take note that no children under the age of 12 are allowed.
14. Take a Walk and Appreciate the Art
When walking the streets of Reykjavík, especially the Old Harbor and Grandi, you’ll be met with the most amazing street art. And no, it is not the work of very talented vandals. The Iceland Airwaves Music Festival has actually collaborated with the Berlin-based Urban Nation Art Initiative to create these jaw-dropping murals.
These murals are referred to as “Wall Poetry” and their inspiration lies in songs. Some have even been created by the street artist along with the actual musician. It’s definitely a must-see and worth a few social media shares.
15. Go Whale Watching and Puffin Spotting
These are seasonal activities on the island. However, if you consider yourself an animal lover, we highly recommend that you plan your trip between April and September. Whilst whales can be spotted on the Iceland coast all throughout the year, there are certain migratory species that only call the island home during the breeding season.
Some of the whales one can spot include the Blue Whale and the Humpback Whale. But they’re not the only ones who make Iceland their home during the breeding season. The Iceland Puffins can also be found all over the island, bringing their little Pufflings into the world. These penguin-like birds with their colorful beaks are truly a sight to see, and their mini-me versions are a serious cuteness overload.
16. Ride on an Authentic Icelandic Horse
For those who may not know, the island boasts its own breed of horse, quite unimaginatively, called the Icelandic Horse. But although the name might not sound very impressive, the breed definitely is. These horses have a short stature that would rather remind one of a pony than a full-grown horse. They’ve been credited with incredibly friendly personalities and can even perform an extra gait called the tölt.
The tölt is said to be such a smooth gait that it has inspired a local activity called the beer tölt. During a beer tölt, a rider is given a pint of beer and challenged to do the tölt without spilling a drop.
Although you won’t be able to ride Icelandic Horses during your shopping spree down Laugavegur, you’ll find plenty of riding tours departing from the city and other riding activities and breeding farms right on the outskirts of the capital city and many visitors name this as one of their favorite activities in Reykjavík.
Plenty of Things to do in Reykjavík
As you can see, there’s no lack of things to do and see in the capital city. And what we’ve mentioned is merely the tip of the iceberg. There’s still the Reykjavík Food Walk where you can explore the city whilst feasting on local cuisine and craft beer. Or appreciating the magnificent architecture of the Harpa Concert Hall.
Or simply enjoying the insane nightlife the city has to offer young people, not to mention special events and festivals. And then there are all the sights and activities lying just on the outskirts of the city that one can visit via guided tour or by renting a car in Reykjavík and making a day outing of it.
Reykjavík isn’t the capital city for nothing, and whenever you visit and whatever you choose to do, you are guaranteed to have the time of your life!