Reykjavik is by far the largest municipality in Iceland and the capital city of the country. The capital area has about a total of 60% of Iceland’s population, which is about 360.000 people. It is also the northernmost capital in the world. Despite the fact that it is not as large as many other capitals, the city is thrumming with life. It has a very interesting art scene, as the many famous Icelandic bands and artists can testify. In addition, there are many superb museums and attractions you can visit. The city is colorful and the people are certainly warm and welcoming.
When I was planning for our trip to Iceland, I purposefully left Reykjavik out and kept it as a fallback plan should the weather turned out bad. And it actually did! Instead of spending few days in Snaeffelsness Peninsula and takes tons of pictures of Kirkjuffel mountain, from Borgarnes we had to drive back to Reykjavik as there was going to be a snow storm in the Peninsula.
However like the quote said when one door closes, another door will open, our misfortunate actually gives us another surprise. Staying in Reykjavik gave us opportunity to hunt for Northern Light (read our post here) and explore the city.
Top Things to Do in Reykjavik
Dine in at Saegreifinn
Saegreifinn, or Sea Baron, is the best informal place in town to find a particular local specialty and owned by a retired fisherman named Kjartan Halldorsson. It only has two menus: lobster soup and seafood skewer. Each of us ordered both and they were all delicious! The freshness of the fish and tasty ingredients combined with the cold weather made us starving. We were given a complimentary whale steak to try. I have never eaten a whale before and to my surprise it tasted more like beef instead of fish. That was when my teenager Son then reminded me that whales are mammals not fish 😝
Visit Hallgrimskirkja Church
Hallgrímskirkja stands guard over Reykjavík. The church is both a parish church and a national sanctuary in Iceland. Its stepped concrete facade is an ode to modernism and a reminder of the Icelandic landscape. The church is named after the 17th-century clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson, author of Hymns of the Passion. Hallgrímskirkja is an Evangelical-Lutheran church and is a part of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Iceland. Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most visited places by tourists in Iceland. Every day thousands of people visit the church. Admission to the church is free. Admission to the tower is ISK 1000 – ISK 100 for the children (7-16).
Hallgrímskirkja is an active church, so due to activities and concerts it needs to close the church and tower without notice.
The Sun Voyager (Sólfarið) is a large steel sculpture of a ship, located on the road Sæbraut, by the seaside of central Reykjavík. The work is one of the most visited sights in the capital, where people gather daily to gaze at the sun reflecting in the stainless steel of this remarkable monument.
This sculpture serves as an ode to the sun where it gracefully faces north across Faxaflói Bay. A popular misconception is that the Sun Voyager represents a Viking Ship. However, that is not quite the case. According to the sculptor’s vision, the piece rather accounts for a vessel of dreams. In his own words, the artist says that the sculpture represents, “the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.”
The sculptor is Jón Gunnar Árnason, who described his vision as one of the possible origins of the Icelandic people. When Jón visited the island of Bockholm in Finland, he claimed to have experienced an uncanny feeling that he’d been there before, many centuries ago.
Opera House – The Harpa
The Icelandic opera was founded in 1980 and was housed in Reykjavík’s old cinema, Gamla Bíó, before it moved to Harpa in 2011. The Icelandic Opera has acquired an important place in the nation’s cultural life and received numerous awards and recognition for its outstanding operatic productions. It regularly stages high-quality and varied operas, both from the traditional repertoire and new. Thousands of spectators attend the Opera’s events every year and the company’s international profile has grown substantially in recent years.
Every season, the Icelandic Opera puts on at least two operas, in addition to its educational activities, collaboration projects and concerts. Kúnstpása are monthly lunchtime concerts in Norðurljós, which are open to everyone free of charge. They feature some of the country’s best-known talents, in addition to young singers making their debut on the opera stage. Icelandic artists are normally at the forefront of Icelandic Opera productions, although foreign guests are regularly invited to take part as well.
Strolling thru Laugegavur street
Laugavegur is one of the oldest streets in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. Its name roughly translates to ‘the Water Road’, as it was up and down this area where women used to bring their laundry to be washed in the hot pools. Laugegavur streeet was properly constructed in 1885.
The road begins in the east at Kringlumýrbraut, near the mall Kringlan and the town’s largest park Laugardalur, and runs west to Bankastræti, which leads into the downtown area. It is about two kilometres long.
Nowadays Laugavegur is the main shopping street in Reykjavík, renowned for its boutiques, restaurants, and bars. The popular shopping stretch of the street starts at the city’s bus centre, Hlemmur, and continues to Bankastræti; west of here is the economic district.
Try Iceland Lamb Soup
Another restaurant that we like which also sells Icelandic food is Reykjavik street food
An interesting museum we think is worth seeing, especially if you are stuck with bad weather is Perlan Museum. There is something for everyone to do and enjoy in any weather condition. Perlan houses a modern nature exhibition, a real indoor ice cave, a 4K planetarium, a 360° viewing platform, an ice cream shop, a lovely café, bouncy castles with fun trials, and more. Perlan Museum opens from Monday to Sunday from 9am to 9pm.
Perlan’s nature exhibition brings the wonders of Iceland alive for anyone to experience and learn about. It features cutting-edge technology, spectacular photography, and fun activities for everyone. You experience the forces of volcanoes and Iceland’s geological history, explore life in a realistic replica of Europe’s largest bird cliff, see the oceanic wonders of Iceland, and more. There is even a 100m long real ice cave where you get a magical glacier experience.
The National Museum of Icelandic Nature has a fun exhibition at Perlan, called Water in Icelandic nature. There, you discover the mysteries and nature of water through activities, technology, texts, and imagery.
If you missed the chance to see Aurora or came in the summer, Perlan host an award-winning planetarium show, where you can learn about Northern Light. You will experience a show where the northern lights dance all around you. They come alive through science, art, technology, stories, and music by beloved Icelandic musicians. You virtually travel through space and time to see how they are formed and experience them in new ways.
Under Perlan‘s glass dome on the 5th floor, you will find Perlan‘s café. It is perfect for enjoying the views in good company, with a drink of choice and a snack or something sweet. You can also go to the rooftop and see the 360 view of the city. Just beware of the very strong wind when you are up there.
Experience Fly Over Iceland
If you don’t have time to explore the length and breadth of Iceland in reality, FlyOver Iceland offers the next-best thing. Settle into your seat and enjoy the sensation of flying through the air as you take off on an exhilarating journey across the country.
Fly over Iceland combines cinema, storytelling and state of the art technology to bring its visitor an interactive experience that will transport you to the skies above the land of fire and ice. You will hang suspended with feet dangling before a 20-metre spherical screen. Feel the thrill of flying while film whisks you away on an exhilarating journey across Iceland. Wind, mist and scents, combine with the ride’s motion create an unforgettable experience as you experience the magic of flight.
The ground floor of FlyOver Iceland is also home to Kaffi Grandi, the perfect place to grab a bite and beverage.
Take a dip in Blue Lagoon or the new Sky Lagoon
Another activity you should not miss to kill time is of course taking a dip in the famous Blue Lagoon, if you haven’t got a chance to try Iceland natural thermal bath. I recommend to go to Blue Lagoon at the end of your journey to soothe your sore legs and back from all that walking and driving with the relaxing hot water before flying home. Read our post on blue lagoon here
In the late spring of 2021, Iceland has a new Thermal Spa located in Reykjavik called Sky Lagoon. Sky Lagoon is a direct competitor to the Blue Lagoon, though a lot smaller its location gives its visitors much more beautiful views, and the lagoon is based between the rocks, creating a much more calming atmosphere. The offer four packages with the most simple package start from ISK 6,990.
Where to Stay
Reykjavik has abundant accommodation options from Hotel to Apartments. Food is also fairly easy to find so you don’t need an apartment with kitchen if you are only staying for 2-3 days. We chose to stay at Luna apartment in Laugegavur area. We got a two bedroom apartment with a sofa converted into bed for Fabio, kitchen and most importantly a washing machine. Luna Apartment is nicely located in Laugegavur area.
How to get to Reykjavik and around
Reykjavik is located 48km from Keflavik airport and if you are not renting a car here’s the public transportation option
- Take the Flybus. It is the easiest and most reliable way to get to Reykjavík. Run by a private company in partnership with the airport, it leaves every 35 to 40 minutes from right outside the arrival terminal building. The journey from the airport to Reykjavík takes around 45 minutes, and it stops at almost all the major bus stops, hotels, hostels and guesthouses in the Reykjavík area. Wifi is available on the bus. You can book your ticket in advance or buy your ticket at the Flybus stand in the arrivals hall. A single ticket from Keflavík to Reykjavík on the Flybus costs 3499 ISK and 6499 ISK for a return. Children 1-5 years travel free and between 6-15 years get 50% discount. Earliest bus leaves the city centre around 4am, so this option is great if you’ve got an early flight to catch on the way back.
- Airport Direct Bus. The bus runs between Keflavík Airport and the Airport Direct traffic center, Reykjavik Terminal, which is located at Skógarhlíð 10, 105 Reykjavik. The bus stops once on the way, in Hamraborg, Kópavogur. It is possible to add connections to hotels and bus stops where passengers are picked up or shuttled to the hotel of their choice. Airport Direct also offers a service that runs on 8-person buses. Tickets can be purchased at the Airport Direct ticket office, which is located in the arrivals hall directly in front of you when exiting through the customs gate. One way ticket cost ISDK 2999 and another ISK 1000 for additional hotel connection.
- Take Public Bus. This is the cheapest, but also the slowest way to travel from KEF to Reykjavík city centre. The no.55 bus leaves from behind the airport departures hall. The journey takes around 90 minutes, with several stops along the way, ending up at BSI, Reykjavík’s main bus terminal. During peak hours, it’s sometimes difficult to get a seat on the #55 bus as it’s also a popular route connecting the outskirts of Reykjavík to the city centre – therefore this option might not be ideal if you’ve got a lot of luggage. The first #55 bus from KEF leaves at 6.35am and the last bus leaves at 11.55pm. The price of a public bus ticket from Reykjavík to KEF is 1920 ISK per adult. You can find more information and the bus schedule at straeto.is
- Taxi, the most convenient but also the most expensive. There are usually plenty of taxis waiting directly outside the arrivals hall. If you’re a small group or you’ve got a lot of luggage then it might be a good idea to book in advance. There are two main taxi operators in the Reykjavík area – Hreyfill Bæjarleiðir and BSR. To order a taxi with Hreyfill Bæjarleiðir, call +354-588-5522, and for BSR call +354-561-0000. A trip from KEF to Reykjavík city centre in a 5-seater taxi will cost around 15,000 ISK or 20,000 ISK for a larger 8-seater taxi.
How to get around
Reykjavik is pretty compact so you can walk from the Hallgrímskirkja to Grandi harbour area in about 30 scenic minutes! It is a great city to stroll around. Reykjavík’s public transit is also budget-friendly. Their local buses are called Strætó in and around Reykjavík. If you’re planning on riding them frequently, consider picking up at Reykjavík City Card for unlimited travel within a 24-, 48- or 72-hour time frame. It also includes discounts on restaurants and some local attractions.
Our Video recap in Reykjavik