Updated: Jul 21, 2022
Visiting the Land of Fire and Ice is an experience like no other. Visitors traveling to Iceland are likely to enter the country via the capital city of Reykjavik. And while it may be tempting to immediately grab your rental car and hit the road on an epic Icelandic adventure, a stay for a few days in Reykjavik is a great way to start your trip. For travelers staying in Iceland on a short flight layover, an exploration of Reykjavik is a great way to fill your time. So before you head off to volcanic fields, glacier lagoons, and majestic waterfalls, check out these ten things to do in Reykjavik.
How Long Should You Spend In Reykjavik?
If you are visiting just Reykjavik and seeing the sites within the city, you can easily see all you need in two days. However, if you want to do extra excursions close by to the city, you could easily extend your stay to three or four days. Personally, I spent my first two days in Iceland just exploring all of the sites listed below and then rented a car for another seven days to drive the Ring Road. However, I have had friends and family members who stayed in Reykjavik for four or five days, using it as a home base, and then booked guided tours to nearby waterfalls, glacier lagoons, and blowholes to mix into their Reykjavik itinerary.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Reykjavik?
When planning your visit to Iceland, you should consider a few things. Firstly, in the summertime, there is sunlight almost all day long. This can be great for extending the hours you can spend exploring. However, if you’re planning on camping in a tent, it might be difficult to fall asleep in full sunlight. Additionally, the extended daylight means more visitors will flock to Iceland. Similar to other popular travel destinations, the months of June, July, and August are some of the busiest tourism months. Prices will drastically increase (which can greatly impact your budget as Iceland is already so expensive!) and hotel availability decreases as more people come. If you want to travel in the off-season, you must be careful not to book your trip during the dead of winter. Many campsites and stores will close and roads will be impossible to drive on due to weather. If you are hoping to do a big road trip after exploring Reykjavik, the months of November, December, January, and February are not ideal. I visited Iceland at the end of September and found it to be the optimal time to visit. In September and early October, the weather is still decent (we did get a few rainy days), although if you are tent camping, you will need to bundle up once the sun goes down. Campsites are still open, although some will start to close, so book ahead of your stay. Plus, you have a higher likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights during this time.
➡️ Pro Tip: Plan your ultimate Iceland road trip with our Iceland Ring Road Road Trip Guide.
What Are The Best Things To Do In Reykjavik?
Whether you are in Reykjavik for a day or a week, the following sites are must-sees while exploring Iceland’s charming capital city.
Eat The Best Cinnamon Roll In The World
I considered saving this as a “best for last” type of suggestion, but quite frankly when I think back on my time in Iceland, my visit to Brauð & Co stands out so strongly in my mind that I just simply cannot wait to the end of this article to gush about it. My friends and I found this bakery by chance as we were strolling through the streets of Reykjavik. The sweet sugar and cinnamon scents wafted down multiple blocks of streets which we followed sniffing like a dog until we smelt our way into heaven. If I could convince you to do anything while you’re in Iceland, this is definitely it. Years later the cinnamon rolls from this bakery still rank in the top five things I have ever eaten, and I have eaten a lot of great food around the world! Fuel up for all your Icelandic adventures with a warm and gooey fresh-made cinnamon roll. I promise you won’t regret it and you will definitely be returning every day for your morning pastry.
Climb To The Top Of Hallgrimskirkja Church
Located just three blocks from Brauð & Co, yes I still want to continue to convince you to go to this bakery, Hallgrimskirkja Church sits boldly watching over the city of Reykjavik. As you are walking about the city, you will likely see this church hovering above the rest of the buildings. When I got stuck navigating my way back from the rental car pick-up place alone and without a GPS, I used this church in the distance to get me back to my hostel safely. The small fee to climb to the top of Hallgrimskirkja Church is definitely worth it for the panoramic views of Reykjavik.
Go To A *gulp* Penis Museum
Yes, you did indeed read that right, sorry mom! The Icelandic Phallological Museum is a museum like no other and provides exactly what it sounds like it does. So to stop my mother from calling me up to yell at me from across the ocean, I’ll let you use your own imagination. Let me tell you, when jetlag hits and you have the sleepy giggles, this is definitely the perfect place to stop with your friends.
Search For Trolls
Icelandic people take their “hidden people” very seriously, so you are likely to see troll and elf paraphernalia throughout Reykjavik. While wandering through the streets of Reykjavik, keep an eye out for the famous troll sculptures hidden about the streets.
Harpa Concert Hall
The striking exterior of Harpa Concert Hall makes for the perfect backdrop for some Icelandic photographs. It is free to explore the exterior and interior of the concert hall. Additionally, they put on many events each month that you’ll love listening to during your visit. For architecture and art lovers, the Harpa Concert Hall is a great spot to stop and explore while in Reykjavik.
➡️ Pro Tip: Iceland is one of the safest places for women to travel to. Find out what other spots are the Safest Places For Female Solo Travelers.
The Perlan Museum sits at the top of the highest hill in Reykjavik providing amazing views of the city. This museum has many cool exhibits, of which the real ice cave was one of my favs. For those traveling with children, this museum is an excellent spot to take your little ones. With interactive exhibits like a 4k planetarium and nature exhibition, both children and adults are sure to stay entertained.
Eat A Hot Dog At Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
I have been a vegetarian for two decades now, but occasionally when traveling I will break my no meat rule to experience something unique to the country. And while you might not think a hot dog is that unique, so many locals told us we must go eat at this famous hot dog stand, and it did not disappoint. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur has welcomed tourists and celebrities, including President Bill Clinton, for many years. Be prepared to wait in line to get your hot dog, but it is worth the wait!
Go On A Bar Crawl
During my time in Reykjavik, my friends and I noticed our beer tasted like bananas! Apparently, this flavor comes from a byproduct of the yeast used to make the beer and it definitely made for a unique drinking experience. If beer isn’t for you (or even if it is), you should definitely try the famous Icelandic vodka. Iceland vodka producers use potatoes as a part of their recipe and filter their vodka through volcanic rock, making a product that tastes like nothing else in the world. Of course, always be safe when drinking while traveling, but a visit to a bar or ten is a great way to experience the unique alcohol products Iceland makes. My favorite bars included Vedurbar, Kaffibarinn, and Kex Hostel Bar (which is also where I stayed during my visit and highly recommend!)
Visit The Blue Lagoon
While there are plenty of natural hot baths throughout the wilds of Iceland, many visitors will opt to instead go to the manmade Blue Lagoon. Although this destination is touristy, it is popular for a reason. I recommend heading straight to the Blue Lagoon from the airport before heading to Reykjavik. Give your body a much needed soak after sitting for many hours in an airplane and make sure to rub the lagoon silica mud onto your skin and face to purify your pores.
Shop For The Perfect Wool Sweater
Whether you need an extra layer to bundle up during your Iceland camping adventure or want to find the perfect souvenir to take home to your loved ones, while walking down the main street of Reykjavik, Laugavegur, go shopping for the perfect Icelandic wool sweater. The price of the sweater is well worth the investment and it will keep you warm even in the coldest of weather.
A trip to Iceland is like no other and the capital city Reykjavik offers many exciting adventures to enjoy. Before you head out to all the other top waterfalls and scenic views Iceland has to offer, spend some time exploring all the unique sites that make Reykjavik so special.