Heading to Reykjavik for the first time? Then prepare for some action-packed thrills and spills. The capital of Iceland is jammed packed with activities, sights, and entertainment, leaving you with no shortage of things to do, see, and experience. Ever fancied trying fermented shark? Us neither, but if you have, this is the place to do it. How about checking out the Northern Lights? Touring the world’s first (and so far, only) Phallological museum? Or maybe you’d rather spend a wad of cash on Iceland’s priciest street, Laugarvegur? Whatever you do, and whatever you see, you’re guaranteed to leave with a lifetime of memories and a giant hole in your budget (yep, Iceland is Expensive with a capital E). If you need some help in planning your itinerary, don’t miss our round-up of the 20 best things to do in Reykjavik for first-time visitors.
20. Visit Grotta Lighthouse
Grotta Lighthouse is set in a nature reserve that offers some great views over Mt. Esja. Packed with hundreds of varieties of flora and fauna, it give a wondrous glimpse into the natural beauty that makes Iceland such a unique destination. Just be aware that come winter, the weather can be biting: prepare for the chill by wearing your thickest sweater and coat.
19. Hike Up Mt. Esja
Located just on the borders of the city, Mt. Esja is proof that you don’t have to venture far from the capital to enjoy some of the best natural attractions Iceland has to offer. On a sunny day, hiking to the top is one of the best ways to while away a day. Just be sure to bring a camera with you – the views are immense.
18. Experience the Secret Solstice Music Festival
Granted, this next one isn’t the kind of all-year-round attraction that most of our options are. But if you’re lucky enough to be visiting Reykjavik in June, the Secret Solstice Music Festival is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Featuring a great round-up of international artists and local legends, the billing is always top drawer… as is the unfailingly infectious party vibe. If you’re only interested in seeing a select few artists, bag yourself a day pass. Otherwise, experience the event in its glorious entirety by splashing out on a three-day pass.
17. Take a Dip at Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach
If you prepared to take on the bitterly cold waters that lap Reykjavik’s shores, go right ahead. If you’d rather treat your body to something a little more indulgent, head to Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach instead. With its naturally occurring hot geothermal tub, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a warming dip.
16. Treat the Kids to a Day at Laugardalslaug
Reykjavik isn’t just about culture, history, and sky-high prices. It’s about good old fashioned, family fun. Case in point: Laugardalslaug. This huge swimming complex is a favorite with locals, and represents some of the best value entertainment you can have in the capital. For no more than around $7-8, you’ll enjoy unlimited time in the vast swimming pool (complete with several kids slides) and numerous (and deeply relaxing) saunas and hot tubs.
15. Go on a Whale Watching Tour
Reykjavik might be a city, but it’s got a lot more to offer than just the standard array of bars, shops, and cultural venues. Nature is what Iceland does best, and nature is what you get to experience in all its wondrous glory by taking a whale watching tour. Best of all, you don’t have to venture out of the capital to enjoy the experience. Tours depart regularly from the very heart of the city, so be sure to bag yourself a spot on one before you leave. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some of the elusive puffins that make the shoreline their home between May and August each year.
14. Experience the Icelandic Punk Museum
Iceland’s capital isn’t short on intriguingly unique destinations. Take our next entry as a classic case in point. After all, where else could you find a museum dedicated to the history of punk music in Iceland? With mountains of fascinating memorabilia, one-of-a-kind exhibits, and, of course, some great music, it might not be big, but it’s got heaps to offer.
13. Take a Hike at Viðey
The island of Viðey forms a beautiful, calming oasis in the heart of Reykjavik. Loved by Icelanders for its breathtaking nature and tranquil vibe, it’s perfect for those afternoons when you want to escape the bustle of the city. Packed with historical sights and more hiking and biking trails than you can shake a stick at, you could happily spend your entire stay exploring its gorgeous terrain. Best of all, it’s a breeze to get too: simply hop on one of the regular ferries that depart from the Skarfabakki pier and the Ægisgarður harbor.
12. Shop Till You Drop at Laugavegur
Want to indulge in a little retail therapy while you’re in Reykjavik? Then be prepared to go home with a serious dent in your bank balance. Reykjavik is expensive, and nowhere is this more obvious than on its main shopping street, Laugavegur. But who says you actually have to spend any money to enjoy some casual browsing? Pop on your comfiest shoes and prepare for a day of window shopping, people watching and street performances – and once you’re finished, treat yourself to an ice-cold Icelandic brew at one of the many first-class breweries and bars dotted along the street.
11. Go Back in Time at Arbaer Open Air Museum
Reykjavik isn’t exactly short on museums. But before you get too weary of history, be sure to check out the Arbaer Open Air Museum. This fun venue gives visitors the chance to wander freely through a series of gorgeously restored traditional Icelandic dwellings. The costumed guides help take the experience to the next level, while the numerous traditional crafts and workshops do wonders at bringing the past to life
10. Visit the Settlement Museum
As one of Iceland’s best-loved attractions, the Settlement Museum is, as guidetoiceland.is rightly points out, a must-visit for anyone heading to the capital. With plenty to explore and enough interactive activities to keep the kids entertained for more hours than you can count, it’s a fantastic place for the whole family to enjoy. While you can’t go wrong with any of its exhibits, a special mention has to go to the wonderfully intact ancient Viking longhouse.
9. Sample Some Local Cuisine
One of the chief attractions of a vacation abroad is the chance to sample some local cuisine. As twomonkeystravelgroup.com rightly notes, fishing is one of Iceland’s main industries; regardless of whether you’re usually more of a turf than a surf person, not to try at least a couple of its fishy delicacies would be rude. That said, there’s a lot more to Iceland’s culinary scene than just seafood. Get things off to a rip-roaring start with Hákarl (fermented shark’s meat), before moving onto Lifrarpylsa (lamb liver sausage), Blóðmör (lamb blood pudding), and Hangikjöt (smoked lamb meat).
8. Admire the Sun Voyager
Annees-de-pelerinage.com thinks the Sun Voyager is one of Reykjavik’s best attractions. We don’t disagree. Located just a short walk from the Harpa (another must-see attraction, more on which coming up), the Sun Voyager is Iceland’s most well-known statue and something of a landmark in Reykjavik. Built to represent a ‘dream boat’, it’s what Instagram worthy selfies were made for.
7. Enjoy a Performance at the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre
If you fancy taking in a concert while you’re in Reykjavik, there’s only one place to head- the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre. The award-winning building is an architectural triumph, but it’s what goes on inside that really takes your breath away. With its regular roster of performances that span almost every musical and entertainment genre imaginable, it’s the perfect place to take a pew and soak up some first-class entertainment. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a show from the legendary Iceland Symphony Orchestra.
6. Take a Tour of the National Museum of Iceland
Reykjavik is the cultural highlight of Iceland. Where better, then, to learn about traditional Icelandic traditions, cultures, and history? At the National Museum of Iceland, you can enlighten yourself on all three… plus a whole lot more besides. With a range of exhibits that trace the development of Iceland from the late 800s all the way through to the here and now, it’s a fascinating place for the whole family to enjoy.
5. Join The Reykjavik Bar Crawl
Last year, wakeupreykjavik.com ranked joining the Reykjavik Bar Crawl as one of the best things to do in Iceland’s capital. A year on, and bar the slight dampner that social distancing has put on proceedings, it’s still an awesome way to spend an evening. Get to know the locals and enjoy some fine cocktails and authentic bar snacks (yep, fermented shark IS on the menu) in what’s guaranteed to be one of the highlights of your trip.
4. Visit a Hot Spring
Iceland is known for its extraordinary natural beauty. Where better to experience it in all its glory than at a hot spring? Hot springs are dotted all over the island, and believe it or not, even the capital has its fair share. Kvika in Grótta is small but mighty: best of all, it won’t cost you a fortune to visit.
3. See the Northern Lights at Aurora Reykjavik
Seeing the Northern Lights is something most of us dream of but never get to do. Which is what makes Aurora Reykjavik such a must-visit attraction. The interactive venue has harnessed the power of technology to bring the phenomenon to life. The Experience Room is where the magic happens (take a seat and enjoy the spectacle created by the huge HD projection), but there’s no shortage of things to see and do elsewhere either. On your way out, don’t miss picking up a memento of your visit at the beautiful little souvenir store.
2. Visit Perlan
The folks over at Trip Advisor rank Perlan highly among the things to do in Reykjavik. We don’t disagree. A must-visit landmark and nature exploratorium, Perlan brings the natural world to life. Don’t believe us? Then just check out some of the reviews of past visitors. “I booked the complete package which gave access to the Northern lights show, the Ice Cave, and the museum of geology. Informative and entertaining. Thoroughly recommend”, says one, while another adds to the positive feedback with “There are many shows in Perlan that is fun to go to, learn about volcanos, life in Icelandic waters (fish and bugs), ice-cave you can walk through and more. The view from the top is excellent. It is almost always quite windy up there, and yes you have to pay to go out on the scenery platform, but it is worth it. The forest around Perlan is also fun to visit, it has wild rabbits bouncing around, a small geyser and if you look closely there are a lot of WWII ruins.”
1. Visit Hallgrimskirkja
Regardless of what religion or denomination you are, don’t miss a visit to the majestic Hallgrimskirkja. As Reykjavik’s most popular and prominent landmark, it attracts scores of visitors every year… and for very good reason. Builders started working on the project in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1986 that they finally downed tools. The end result is, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the greatest works of art in Iceland. The wonder of the building is best appreciated from the outside, but if you do fancy taking a tour of the interior, be sure to check out the stunning organ at the back of the hall and the breathtaking views from the upper floor. The price of admittance may be steep at $15, but it’s more than worth it.