Inhale the distinct smell of salty sea air and cast your eyes across rainbow-hued houses surrounding a bustling harbour, set against a backdrop of snow-dusted mountains. Welcome to Reykjavík.
Tucked away on the south-west coast of Iceland, spread across a peninsula, this is the world’s most northerly capital city. While the island’s culture is anchored in the earth and the sea, there’s a cosmopolitan feel to the city, with museums and galleries galore. Foodies are in luck too, with a smorgasbord of restaurants to dine out at, along with cosy bars and underground music venues.
Many use the capital as a springboard for exploring the natural wonders of Iceland but make sure you squeeze the most out of your visit to the city before you leave.
Tick off these nine things to do in Reykjavík:
- National Museum
- Settlement Exhibition
- Old Town
- Laugardalur Park
- Eimverk Distillery
- Reykjavik Art Museum
- Thermal baths
Make a beeline for Hallgrímskirkja – one of Iceland’s top architectural triumphs. The jagged white-concrete church pierces the island’s skies at 73 metres, making it the largest of its kind in the country. It’s free to enter Hallgrímskirkja but if you want to take a trip up the tower you’ll have to pay a small fee. The panoramic views from the top are worth it!
2. National Museum
To get a better idea of Iceland’s history, pop into the National Museum. Here you can learn about the country’s timeline from settlement right up until the present day through a series of objects and photographs. Don’t miss the Valthjófsstadur door – this extraordinary artefact dates back to the 13th-century and features elaborate medieval engravings.
3. Settlement Exhibition
More Icelandic history can be uncovered at the Settlement Exhibition. Built around the remains of a 10th-century Viking longhouse, this unique museum walks you through an important era in the country’s past. The technological exhibits provide an intriguing and immersive experience – one not to skip while in the capital.
4. Old Town
One of the top things to do in Reykjavík is to simply stroll through the Old Town. You’ll find it nestled between the harbour and Lake Tjörnin. Begin your adventure through this historic district at Aðalstræti, the city’s oldest street. Pass by colourful corrugated iron buildings and seek out Austurvöllur Square, the true heart of Reykjavík.
5. Laugardalur Park
Venture out of the city centre to discover Laugardalur Park, a lush oasis of green. The botanical gardens are the perfect place for an afternoon stroll, while there’s an ice skating rink as well as a petting zoo if you’re in the city with little ones. Minks and arctic foxes are among the animals that call Laugardalur Park home.
6. Eimverk Distillery
Peel off from the city’s main drag and head south to experience this family-run distillery. Icelandic spirits are its focus, with their line-up including whisky and gin. Take a tour to learn more about the production process and sample nine different drinks to get a true taste of Iceland.
7. Reykjavik Art Museum
One museum, three locations – there’s plenty of contemporary art to absorb at this brilliant complex! Hafnarhús has six galleries to explore, with works from local and international artists on show including pop artist Erró. Kjarvalsstaðir meanwhile focuses on one of Iceland’s most famous artists, Jóhannes S. Kjarval. Complete the trio at Ásmundarsafn, where sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson’s works are on show alongside other modern artists.
The glistening façade of this music hall makes a powerful statement along the waterfront. Come here to marvel at the incredible views of the harbour and to watch a memorable show. Performances at Harpa range from operas and orchestras to stand-up comedy and pop concerts. There are also two restaurants onsite if you fancy sampling seafood or sipping cocktails pre-show.
9. Thermal baths
Muscles aching from all that walking and sightseeing? Turn your attention to the city’s collection of thermal baths. There are 16 peppered throughout Reykjavík, where you can unwind in the hot bubbling waters. Laugardalslaug is a local favourite, with thermal pools, hot tubs and facilities for kids.
Whether you’re in town to experience the magical Northern Lights or visit the stunning national parks, make sure you tick off these top things to do in Reykjavík first.
Posted: 16th Jan 2023. Updated: 20th Nov 2023.