Reykjavik is the starting point for most Iceland adventures. All too often though, people are on their way before really taking the time to see the city. That’s a big mistake. If you don’t spend at least a couple days in Reykjavik, you’re missing out. Reykjavik may be small and a bit quaint for a capital city, but it is full of interesting places and unique exhibits if you take the time to look around. Really, how many places were settled by actual vikings? There’s no way for this city not to be amazing with stories like that!
On my stopover in Iceland, I spent a couple of days just exploring Reykjavik. On the first day I went on the City Walk, an excellent free walking tour put on by locals, and walked around to see some of the city’s iconic landmarks. My second day in the city, I purchased the Reykjavik City Card. A day using the City Card turned out to be a great way to experience Reykjavik.
Reykjavik is pretty under-appreictaed in the travel sphere these days, in my opinion. On a sunny day, it’s an absolutely beautiful city and even when the clouds roll over, it’s got some of the most interesting history around. If you’re yearning for Iceland history and culture, read on to learn more about the Reykjavik City Card!
Reykjavik City Card: What’s Included and How It Works
The Reykjavik City Card gets you a combination of free admission to many museums, pools, and attractions. You also have access to great discounts at restaurants and on various services, and you can make the most of it all with free busing around the city for day. The are 14 museums / exhibits available on the pass, and 7 local pools. Reykjavik is a small city, so moving between attractions does not take long. With a plan, you can cover a lot in a day!
Find the full list of what’s included and what discounts are available here.
The are multiple places to buy a Reykjavik City Card, including many hotels and Reykjavik City Hall. Once you have a card, all you have to do is show it at the attractions you want access to, or on the city bus. Buy a card that is valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours depending on how much you want to see. You don’t need to order ahead or book any attractions in advance, so just pick one up when you’re in Reykjavik.
The Perfect One-Day Reykjavik City Card Itinerary
While I was in Reykjavik, I purchased a one day city pass. My itinerary was based on recommendations from my Airbnb host, and the tour guide from the Reykjavik Free Walking Tour on my first day in the city. Overall, I was able to use my pass for 4 attractions, and use the free busing. Here’s the itinerary that I followed that day!
1. National Museum of Iceland
Begin your day at the National Museum of Iceland. This museum is massive, and it brings you from the beginning of Iceland’s history right up to the present day. There are hundreds of interesting artifacts. The permanent exhibit, Making of a Nation, is the one that I most recommend seeing. It takes you on a journey through Iceland’s history, learning about how settlers first came to Iceland and what life was like for them. The exhibit contains 2,000 objects and a combination of text, audio, and video.
The museum opens at 10AM, and I recommend about 1.5-2 hours here. If you’re really enjoying it, you can absolutely spend longer. There’s no shortage of things to see here! If you’ve got the explore jitters like me and want to keep moving though, 2 hours is plenty of time to get really familiar with Iceland’s history and see some really interesting artifacts.
The National Museum of Iceland is only 700 m / 0.5mile walk from City Hall, along the edge of Tjörnin pond. The locals just called it “The Pond,” and you can’t miss it when you’re exploring downtown Reykjavik.
Reykjavik Travel Tip: The University of Iceland is right next to the National Museum of Iceland. Their cafeteria has the cheapest hot lunch you’ll find in Reykjavik, so stop in when you’re done at the museum.
2. The Settlement Exhibition
The next stop on your Reykjavik City Card adventure is the Settlement Exhibition. One of the most unique things you will see in Reykjavik, this museum was build around a archeological site. Construction was under way for a different project when the remnants of a long house, estimated to have been built in the year 871, were discovered. Construction halted and the site was preserved and studied by archaeologists. The city then decided to build a museum around it.
Now, you can go in and see the long house (or at least what’s left of it!) for yourself. Don’t expect to find a full standing house, but it is still very cool to see the base of the house, the layout and structure. Videos and simulations along the walls help you visualize what the house would have been like when it was in use over a thousand years ago.
The Settlement Exhibition doesn’t take long, plan for about 45-60 minutes here. This will also put you in Reykjavik’s downtown, a great place to pick up Iceland souvenirs.
3. Ferry to Videy Island
If you’ve got a nice day, take the ferry to Videy Island and have a look around. On the ferry ride over you have a beautiful view of the Harpa from the water, and great views of Reykjavik from the island.
On Videy Island, there’s a lot to find. The oldest Church in Iceland is there, and Videy House was the first building in the country. Other things to look for included the Imagine Peace Tower, a work of art by Yoko Ono, a shipwreck, inscribed stones, and an area called “Thor’s Headland.” There is also a protected bird area on the island, and you might be lucky enough to spot some puffins depending on what time of year you’re visiting!
Make your way to Videy island anytime. The last ferry back leaves at 6:30PM, make sure you’re on it! Got a not so great weather day? Check out the Maritime Museums, or one the Art Museums available on the City Card.
When you get back on land, use your Reykjavik City Card to score a discount on dinner (or check out this list of cheap places to eat in Reykjavik).
4. Reykjavik Thermal Pools
The last item of the day is a soak in one of Reykjavik’s many thermal pools. There’s no shortage of quality, naturally heated water in the city so take you pick. I went to Vestubaejarlaug, a favourite for the locals. Wherever you’re staying, there will be a pool within walking distance. The thermal pools are the main after work hang out for the locals. Places like the Blue Lagoon and other more photogenic and tourist-oriented locations are a lot of fun. I had a great time at the Blue Lagoon, and highly recommend it, but these aren’t really the pools that residents of Reykjavik use themselves. The Reykjavik city pools on the other hand, are packed with locals every evening.
When visiting the thermal pools, there are a few things you should know. It’s a good idea to bring your own lock, and a pair of flip flops for walking too and from the shower. Everyone is expected to shower without your bathing suit on before entering the pool. When the leaving pool, be sure to dry off completely so as not to track water in to the change rooms.
Is The Reykjavik City Card worth it?
Now that you’ve got an amazing itinerary, if I may say so myself, you might wondering about the value of the Reykjavik City Card. It’s actually a really good deal if you follow this itinerary. I was impressed when I figured it out! The cost of the one day itinerary in this post without the city pass is 6,050 ISK ( ~ $60-65 USD). That’s not including the added bonus of a bus pass for the day. The 24 hour Reykjavik City Card… only 3,700 ISK ( ~ $35 USD). Prices correct as of 2018.
It works out to almost half the price for one day, and as for the activities available, it’s a great way to see Reykjavik. There’s not much that’s not on the card, either with free access or a discount.
Have you been to Iceland yet, and did you spend time in Reykjavik? If not, are you planning to go sometime soon? Let me know below!
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