The Top 10 Things to See and Do in Reykjavik

The Top 10 Things to See and Do in Reykjavik

James Taylor James Taylor
3. May 2023 ∼ 8 min. read

Exploring Reykjavik: The Best Things to do in Iceland’s Capital

Embark on a captivating exploration of Iceland's vibrant capital with our guide to "The Top 10 Things to See and Do in Reykjavik." To make the most of your time in this dynamic city, consider the convenience and flexibility of renting a camper van in Iceland. Renting a camper van allows you to seamlessly navigate Reykjavik's cultural hotspots, from the iconic Hallgrímskirkja to the bustling streets of Laugavegur, with the added benefit of having a comfortable mobile base. Explore the unique charm of Reykjavik at your own pace, ensuring you don't miss any of the city's must-see attractions.

Before or after your campervan trip in Iceland, you might be looking to spend some time in Reykjavik. The capital of Iceland is a vibrant and colorful place, with a population of around 130,000 people. 

Despite its relatively small size compared to European or North American cities, visitors will find plenty of things to do in Reykjavik. From the famous landmarks to the city’s swimming pools and feisty nightlife, there’s no shortage of things to keep you busy for 1–2 days. 

Below, we’ve rounded up what we think are the 10 top things to do in Reykjavik. 

1. Visit Hallgrímskirkja Church

Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik

One of Reykjavik’s most famous sights is the church, Hallgrímskirkja. This impressive structure towers above downtown Reykjavik, and is one of the tallest buildings in the country.

It was designed by one of Iceland’s most famous architects, Guðjón Samúelsson, who also designed the church in Akureyri and several other buildings around Reykjavik and Iceland. The design is inspired by the basalt columns found around Iceland (like at Reynisfjara or Stuðlagil Canyon), and also resembles an erupting geysir as it flow upwards. 

Entering Hallgrímskirkja is free, although if you want to take the elevator to the top of the tower there is admission. Also make sure to check out the statue out the front of Leifur Eiriksson, a Viking explorer who is said to have been the first European to discover and explore the North American continent.

2. Join a Whale Watching Tour

Iceland is one of the best places in the world for whale watching, and for those who didn’t jump on a tour from Húsavík, then Reykjavik also offers a great chance to join a tour.

There are several whale watching tours that leave from Reykjavik’s old harbor that you can consider. Whisking you out onto the water, you might see humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins, puffins, and other marine life splashing about off the coast. 

The tours are led by experienced guides who provide fascinating insights into the behavior and biology of these incredible creatures. It’s also a good chance to see Reykjavik from a different angle. 

3. Soak in the Sky Lagoon

A couple in the Sky Lagoon: famous luxury spa resort in Reykjavik in winter sunny day

One of the newest and most exciting additions to Reykjavik's attractions is the Sky Lagoon. This stunning geothermal spa offers visitors a beautiful hot spring experience, with an outdoor infinity pool offering incredible sea views. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Reykjavik. 

Although technically located in the city of Kópavogur and not Reykjavik, the Sky Lagoon is only a few minutes’ drive from downtown. The hot spring is famous for its 7-step ritual, where visitors go through several different areas to cleanse, nourish, and invigorate the body and mind. For more information about what’s involved, we’ve gone into more detail on the Sky Lagoon in this article.

4. Jump on the Reykjavik Food Tour

Dish with langoustine on salad with sauces in restaurant in Iceland

Icelandic cuisine is known for its fresh seafood, hearty meat dishes, and unique flavors. Lately, the country has shrugged off its reputation as a foodie backwater, which was mostly brought about by the weird traditional foods historically eaten by Icelanders back when it was necessary to dry, ferment, and pickle almost everything for the winter.

For a whirlwind taste of the new Icelandic cuisine, the Reykjavik Food Tour is an excellent choice. This highly-rated tour lets you sample such famous dishes such as smoked salmon, lamb stew, and skyr (a type of Icelandic yogurt) as well as traditional drinks. 

The tour has become so popular that it regularly ranks as one of the best tours in the world on TripAdvisor. Plenty of food and a lot of fun – what’s not to love? 

5. Discover the National Museum of Iceland

For those interested in Icelandic history and culture, the National Museum of Iceland is a must-visit. As the country’s national museum, it’s obviously one of the most celebrated institutions in Iceland. 

The museum features exhibits on Iceland’s settlement and Viking heritage, as well as its more recent history and modern culture. Visitors can see artifacts such as ancient weapons, traditional clothing, and even a replica of a Viking longhouse. It’s a great way to get a grasp on Iceland’s history from settlement to modern day. 

6. Marvel at the Northern Lights

Northern light above a straight road

One of the most famous natural wonders of Iceland is the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. These stunning displays of light are caused by solar particles colliding with the Earth's atmosphere and can only be seen in certain parts of the world, including Iceland. 

If you didn’t see the northern lights while exploring Iceland in your campervan, then there’s always a chance that they will appear above Reykjavik. Although the light pollution often makes it difficult to see, if it’s a particularly strong aurora, then you can see the green lights waving above the city. 

To see the northern lights, you’ll need to be visiting Iceland between August and April. This is when the skies get dark enough at night for the human eye to see the northern lights. Otherwise, the long days of summer make them impossible to see. 

7. Admire the Views from Harpa Concert Hall

Another one of Reykjavik’s famous landmarks is the Harpa Concert Hall. This stunning and modern building sits on the waterfront of Reykjavik, perched right next to the old harbor. The building is made up of thousands of glass panels in various shades, reflecting the ever-changing light conditions that sweep over Iceland. 

One of the best parts about visiting Harpa is admiring the views from inside. Entrance is free, and you can wander around to the side that overlooks the water. From there, you can enjoy incredible vistas out over the sea toward Mt. Esja, and on a clear day, you might even be able to see the Snæfellsjökull glacier. 

8. Shop and Dine on Laugavegur

Laugavegur reykjavik from the church

Reykjavik is a great place to shop for souvenirs and unique gifts. The city has a wide range of shops, from high-end boutiques to quirky Icelandic design stores. Visitors can find everything from handmade woolen sweaters and Icelandic chocolates to lava rock jewelry and Viking-inspired home decor.

The main street that runs through Reykjavik is Laugavegur, and this is where you’ll find most of the action. It’s also home to plenty of great restaurants as well. While in town, it’s likely that you’ll do a few laps up and down this iconic street. And if you’re visiting in summer, almost the entire thing is turned into a pedestrian zone.

9. Visit one of the City's Swimming Pools

A woman in a swimming pool in Iceland

A big part of Icelandic culture is visiting the swimming pools. Using the geothermal energy that brews underneath the surface of the country, all the swimming pools in the country enjoy heated water. There are hot pots to soak in at the swimming pools as well, where things get even warmer.  

Visiting an Icelandic swimming pool is a unique and relaxing way to spend some time in Reykjavik. One of the easiest to reach from downtown is Sundhöllin, located on a quiet street behind Hallgrímskirkja. Another popular option is to walk to Vesturbær, where the local swimming pool is immensely popular with locals. 

10. Experience the City's Nightlife

The final point on this list of things to do in Reykjavik is to sample its lively nightlife. Known across Europe for its eclectic mix of bars, pubs, and club to choose from, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to a night out in Iceland’s capital. 

Visitors can enjoy live music, DJ sets, and dancing, as well as sample the city's famous craft beers and cocktails. And in summer, the endless daylight creates a special atmosphere that is unlike anywhere else you might not want to go home.  

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