One Day in Reykjavik: Top Things to Do and See

When planning a trip to Iceland, you probably want to visit Iceland landscapes, amazing waterfalls, volcanoes and some of the most unique places on Earth. Flying to Reykjavik is the easiest way to get to this island in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Reykjavik city centre 

Some people might choose to start road tripping around Iceland as soon as they land in the country, but we didn’t, we decided to spend a day in Reykjavik instead. I highly recommend you to do the same and stay for at least a night in the capital.

If you still have some doubts about visiting Reykjavik city centre, here are some of the things you should know about this city. Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world and it is the only capital city with a puffin breeding colony. Pretty cool, huh?

Reykjavik has a population of a little over 130,000 and is Iceland’s centre of culture and economy. Reykjavik is also the country’s largest city, but it is still very small compared to other European capital cities. This means, if you have just one day or even half a day, you are still able to see the best of the city.

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How to get to Reykjavik from the airport

There are two airports that serve Reykjavik. Reykjavik Airport located just 2km from the city centre serves mostly domestic flights and a few international flights to Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The majority of international flights arrive at Keflavik International Airport located 50km southwest of Reykjavik.

There are several transport options available and it is more convenient to book before your arrival.

Renting a vehicle is a good idea if you are going to travel outside the city of Reykjavik during your stay in Iceland. Some of the car rental companies have offices in the airport and some offer free transport to the city.

Reykjavik

If renting a car is not an option, taking a bus is the easiest and most affordable way to get to the city. Flybus is the main airport shuttle service and it departs from the airport around 35 to 40 minutes after the arrival of each flight. These buses usually terminate at the bus terminal in Reykjavik which is only a ten-minute walk from the city centre, where most hotels are. You can book the Flybus transfer between Keflavik Airport and Reykjavik in advance.

Costing somewhat more than the bus transfer, a minibus shuttle will transfer you directly to your hotel. You can pre-book the Direct Bus Transfer between Keflavik Airport & Hotels and your driver will be waiting for you at the airport.

Top things to do in Reykjavik

Reykjavik is famous for its colourful buildings, distinctive architecture, unique churches and nightlife. Here is the list of the best things to do in Reykjavik.

Stroll around Laugavegur Street

Laugavegur is the main street in Reykjavik city centre and it is actually one of the oldest shopping streets in Iceland. By strolling around the street you will see some of the coolest and most artistic Icelandic shops, bars and restaurants.

Laugavegur Street

Laugavegur means “wash road” since in the past, it was a route to the hot springs in Laugardalur where residents could do their laundry. Here is not a long street but since it is full of colourful buildings and unique attractions you need at least one hour.

Climb to the top of Hallgrímskirkja

Visiting church Hallgrímskirkja, the most unique church in the city, is a must-do when you are in the city. It is hard not to notice the impressive style of the second tallest building in Reykjavik. This church was built in white concrete between 1945 and 1986 dominating the skyline of the city and can be seen from up to 20km away.

Hallgrímskirkja

The tower stands 74.5 metres high and you can go to the top by using the lift. At the top of the tower, you will have a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and beyond. The ticket is ISK 1000 (around £6) and you can buy it in the church shop.

The view at the top of Hallgrímskirkja

In contrast to the exterior design, the interior is quite plain with its best feature being the vast pipe organ, consisting of 5275 pipes, which was installed in 1992. During the early years of its construction, the radical design caused some controversy and its architect Guojon Samuelsson died in 1950, a full 36 years before his masterpiece was completed.

Go on a fun tour in Reykjavik

When you are in Reykjavik, you probably end up exploring the city by walking around. This is the best way to see the city and learn about local life. You can join a walking tour of the city or just book a fun walking tour.

Since Reykjavik is a special place, the walking tours in the city are quite unique and fun. You can book the 3-Hour Sea Angling Gourmet Experience Tour, where you will have to go on the sea and fish your own lunch. If fishing is not your thing, you can book a 3-Hour Food and Beer Walking Tour to try some traditional Icelandic food and sample some local beer.

Visit the National Museum of Iceland

Iceland’s National Museum is also close to the city centre. This superb museum offers excellent displays of the history and culture of the island nation. Exhibitions include the Settlement Era which covers the periods of chieftains and the arrival of Christianity and includes weapons, drinking horns and a figure in bronze of Thor.

The National Museum of Iceland

A highlight of the museum is the 13th-century church door of the Valbjofsstaoir which I carved with the story of a knight, his faithful lion, and dragons.

The displays from the year 1600 through to the modern-day illustrate how Iceland struggled under foreign rulers and its gaining independence. Exhibits include game pieces made from cod ear bones, a wooden doll that is also a kitchen utensil and simple objects used to utilise every scrap of materials available.

Keep in mind that every Saturday at 11 am there is a free guided tour and you don’t need to book in advance.

Go to the Old Harbour

Reykjavik’s Old Harbour was built between 1913 and 1917 for the purpose of trading and fishing. But, this area has been transformed massively, and It is now one of the city’s most visited areas full of art galleries and museums.

Reykjavik

From here you can hop on a boat to go watch whales and puffins, but make sure to book the tour in advance. If you don't have time for a half a day tour, you can book a 3-hour Whale Watching Tour or 1.5-Hour Puffin Watching Tour.

Visit Harpa Concert Hall

Reykjavik’s concert hall is both beautiful and functional, sitting on the water’s edge as a testament to Nordic design and Icelandic innovation.

The facade is a complex multi-layer of glass panels that give the appearance they are shimmering in the light. Inside the structure are boutiques, a quality restaurant as well as the concert halls that are home to the Iceland Symphony and Icelandic Opera. During the excellent guided tours visitors can sometimes find performers rehearsing.

Enjoy the Icelandic Coffee

Iceland has a unique coffee culture, and Reykjavik is the best place in the country to experience the culture. You will find quirky crowded cafes full of people drinking coffee all across the city. Many of these cafes become bars later into the evening.

Have fun in Laugardalur

Laugardalur is the place where the locals in Reykjavik come to play. The biggest attraction of the park is the vast swimming pool complex.

Laugardalur

It boasts both indoor and outdoor pools and water slides. There are several species of animals on display at the Reykjavik Zoo located inside the park. The park is also home to Reykjavik’s colourful Botanic Gardens with its Cafe Flora located inside a greenhouse.

Go to the Reykjavik Art Museum

The city’s art museum is located over three sites and showcases the best of Iceland’s art. Contemporary art is displayed in the city centre Hafnarhus building that encompasses the vast steel and concrete space.

Kjarvalsstaoir hosts the rotating displays of modern art and in particular works by the former fisherman Johannes Kjarval. The third building, the somewhat tranquil Asmundarsafn hosts a collection of playful sculptures by Asmundur Sveinsson.

Travel back in time at the Settlement Exhibition

Visiting the Settlement Exhibition takes you back to the Viking Age when the first men settled in Iceland. The museum is based on the archaeological excavation of a 10th century Viking longhouse, which gives you a glimpse into the early life in Iceland.

There are artefacts from the earliest known days of the city including great auk bones and an inscribed spindle whorl. Imaginative displays through audiovisual re-creations display the lives of the earliest settlers to Iceland in addition to a high-tech fly-through of each of the major eras in Icelandic history.

Last but not least, if you have a few days in Iceland, you can make Reykjavik your base and take a tour outside of the city or go on a day trip from Reykjavik. 

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