I visited Reykjavik in September last year. To me, it is the perfect little city. It reminds me of a ski resort village, with the added bonus of excellent food and beautiful museums. Amongst the souvenir shops, you can find little gems selling local crafts and gifts. Street art abounds. While the Golden Circle is the most popular attraction in the country, if you take the time to visit Iceland, you can’t miss a day in this unique city. Read on to find a guide to Reyjavik, Iceland!
WHAT TO DO
You can’t miss this. The most visible landmark in Reyjavik, you can visit Hallgrímskirkja Church for free, or pay a small fee to go up in the tower (1000ISK/35AED). It’s well worth paying to go up – the view of the colored roofs from the top are spectacular. Designed in 1937 but not finished until 1986, you should also check out the giant pipe organ inside.
Whales of Iceland Exhibit
I haven’t actually visited, but if you’re into whales, you’re in luck. 23 different whale models are located in this unique, cetacean themed Whales of Iceland Exhibit, which opened in 2015. Adult tickets are 2,900ISK (102AED), and you can also arrange whale watching tours through the exhibit.
Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Also located in the Old Harbour area, where else are you going to find out about the infamous cod wars? Yes, they were actually a thing. The Reykjavik Maritime Museum is actually very interesting, and you can also see the old Coast Guard vessel Óðinn moored alongside. An adult ticket costs 1,600ISK (57AED).
The Northern Lights Centre
If you’re wondering what exactly the Northern Lights are, The Northern Lights Centre will provide you the answer! It includes interactive displays and screens, which are particularly interesting if you visit at a time of year when the lights aren’t visible. An adult ticket costs 1,600ISK (57AED). Alternatively, if you want to take a tour to find the lights, I’d highly recommend chasing the Northern Lights with Happy Tours.
National Museum of Iceland
With over 2,000 artifacts collected from all over Iceland, The National Museum of Iceland can help you to gain an understand of the past, present and future of the country. One of the most popular exhibits is the Valthjófsstadur door, featuring engravings depicting scenes from the legendary 12th century knight’s tale Le Chevalier au Lion. Adult tickets are 2,000ISK (70AED).
WHAT TO SEE
The Sun Voyager
The Sólfarið Sculpture (known as the Solfar Sun Voyager) is a beautiful sculpture, set in the perfect place to grab a photo of the waterfront of Reyjavik (including Mt. Esja, if you’re lucky). While it resembles a viking ship, the sculpture by Jón Gunnar Arnason is apparently a dream boat and ode to the sun. The sculpture is located just outside of the city, and if you walk along the waterfront, you’ll come to the Harpa Concert Hall.
Reykjavik has a lot to offer when it comes to street art. Some of the work is commissioned by the city for specific artists, while others are part of projects or have been created by anonymous, silent artists. I’m not a fan of traditional arts, but I loved wandering the streets and finding new murals or hidden gems. Whats On Reykjavik has an extensive guide (and map) of some of the best pieces of street art in Reyjavik.
If you want to understand why a volcano eruption in Iceland can disrupt European air traffic, the Volcano House in Reyjavik displays two films describing the turbulent geological history of the country. The documentary/video viewing costs 1,790ISK (63AED), but you can view some of the exhibitions in the house for free.
This pretty pond, right near the City Hall, looks particularly beautiful at sunset. It is beautifully framed by Reykjavík City Hall and many pretty little colored cottages. It’s resident ducks, swans and geese stick around all year, thanks to a little geothermal heating.
WHERE TO EAT
Icelandic food runs right through from completely delicious to downright terrifying. While some outlets tout ‘tourist’ menus of puffin and minke whale dishes, there are many other places to eat that offer cozy, delicious foods (without destroying the more appealing elements of the Icelandic wildlife). The main street for restaurants is Laugavegur, and you can explore the many arteries off this street, too. Though I didn’t check it out, Reyjavik has a pretty intense nightlife scene, too.
A fifth generation bakery, originally started in 1920. Visit for delicious treats and hearty rye breads. There is nothing like delicious toast on a cold day in Reyjavik!
The Laundromat Cafe
Offers a range of goods including delicious desserts, healthy juices and coffees. And fantastic pancakes, though they’re a little bit on the smaller side. Stacked high, though.
Relaxed setting with French cafe food, with outdoor seating if it’s not blowing a gale outside. The meal pictured above was purchased from Cafe Paris. Yum.
Saeta Svinid Gastropub
Tasty pub grub with an Icelandic twist, and a range of craft beers. Check out the happy hour deals! We ate here several times, enjoying a hearty dinner.
Sandholt – 36 Laugavegur. +354 551 3524. 7am-9pm Mon-Sat.
The Laundromat Café – 9 Austurstræti. +354 587 7555. 8am-11pm Mon-Thu; 8am-12am Fri; 9am-12am Sat; 9am-11pm Sun.
Cafe Paris – 14 Austurstræti. +354 551 1020. 9am-1am Sun-Thu; 9am-2am Fri-Sat.
Saeta Svinid Gastropub – Hafnarstraeti 1-3. +354 555 2900. 11.30am-11.30pm 7 days.
WHERE TO SHOP
For such a small city, Reyjavik has some very cool shops – particularly if you’re into knitwear and Scandinavian design. Like the eateries in Reyjavik, shopping is mainly concentrated around Laugavegur, but you can sneak down the little side streets to find more delightful shops as well.
A high-end design store located inside Reykjavik’s oldest still-standing house, which dates to 1752. Visit to find glassware, jewelry, and home goods.
These guys make rugged, stylish outdoor wear, particularly knitwear and wet weather gear. Like most of the clothing in Iceland, its expensive, but it’s good quality.
If you’ve read about the quality (and breadth!) of Icelandic literature, Eymundsson – a great little bookshop – is a must visit. For a more cultured selection, try Mál og Menning.
I bought several postcards and prints from this store, which is a treasure trove of well designed gifts. Look out for their Puffin inspired art.
Kraum – 7 Bankastraeti. +354 517 7797. 9am-6pm Mon-Fri; 10am-6pm Sat; 11am-6pm Sun.
66° North – 5 Bankastraeti. +354 517 6020. 9am-9pm Mon-Sat; 10am-9pm Sun.
Eymundsson – 18 Austurstræti. +354 540 2130. 9am-10pm Mon-Fri.
Hrím – 25 Hönnunarhús Laugavegi. +354 553 3003. 10am-6pm Mon-Sat; 1pm-5pm Sun.
Iceland is a very, very windy country. Be really careful opening your car doors, including in the city. Make sure you take some sort of wind-breaking jacket. The wind funnels up Skólavörðustígur something fierce.
Parking is quite hard to find in the city. We had success parking near the City Hall. There is a very useful guide to parking in Reyjavik at the I Heart Reyjavik website.
There is really no need to stay in the city to see most attractions in Iceland, and you’ll find it easier to get a car park with your accommodation if you stay out of the hotel. Accommodation will likely be a bit cheaper, too.
Just outside the city, you will find the Grótta Lighthouse, which is an amazing photography location (and less visited than many other sites in the city). It’s well worth a look if you’re wanting to add to your Instagram feed.
Tourism in Iceland is hotting up. I found very few people visited the city, but the most ‘touristy’ sites are starting to get very busy. If you are looking for a ‘get away from it all’ holiday, it may no longer fit the bill. However, I still loved it. Don’t give up on Iceland just yet!