There are a lot of interesting and unique things to do in Reykjavik, and yet Iceland’s capital is often overlooked by visitors. If you’re in to history and getting familiar with local culture, then at least a day in Reykjavik is a must. The cool thing about Reykjavik is that unlike some other capital cities around the world, the things to do in Reykjavik are things you can’t do anywhere else. There’s no traditional science centre or natural history museum – instead, there are Vikings, heated streets, and unique landmarks.
On my trip to Iceland I was amazed by how many cool things there were to do in Reykjavik, and decided to spend two days exploring the city. Here are the things to do in Reykjavik that belong on your itinerary!
Things to do in Reykjavik
This famous Church in Iceland might already be on your radar because of the incredible view of Reykjavik from the tour. It’s one of the top-rated and most popular things to do in Reykjavik.
Go in to Hallgrímskirkja Church free of charge and take a look around. The building was designed in 1937 and construction finished in 1986. It’s an impressive work of architecture. If you want to go up the tower to the lookout, there is fee of 900 ISK (about $8 USD).
The Reykjavik Free Walking Tour
Of all the things to do in Reykjavik this was definitely my favourite and the one I recommend if you’re short on time. If you want to see and learn a lot in just a few hours, this is the perfect activity.
The free walking tour is the perfect way to get familiar with Reykjavik and learn the history from a local. Our guide told us all kinds of fun things that we never would have known otherwise, and gave us great tips on other places to check out and cheap places to eat. Please note that “free” means “by donation.” This is a 3 hour tour, and it’s excellent. Please tip well! Details and times here.
Austurvöllur and Parliament
The Iceland Parliament, Althing, is one of the oldest Parliament’s in the world and the first in Europe. The current Parliament building was built in 1881 and is located by Austurvöllur in the centre of Reykjavik.
Austurvöllur is a beautiful park and on sunny days, it’s a popular picnic location. The park looks towards Parliament, and it’s worth a walk by because it’s so different from other Parliament’s around the world. There are guided tours offered from time to time, so you can pop by and see if one is running during your visit.
A visit to the Harpa is a must-do. This stunning opera house has become one of Reykjavik’s best-known landmarks. Catch a show if you can, or go ahead and explore the building for free.
I highly recommend being at the Harpa around sunset! The glass dome and geometric shapes that make up the glass exterior look amazing as the sun goes down.
The Sun Voyageur
The Sun Voyager is a famous sculpture in Iceland created by sculpture Jon Gunnar Árnason. It’s an ode to the sun, created to represent hope, progress, and freedom.
There’s a Sculpture and Shore Walk that goes past the Harpa and includes the Sun Voyager (which is East of the Harpa). There are other sculptures along the way to, and a nice view out over the water.
There’s a huge, 3D printed map of Iceland in City Hall that is worth seeing on your way by. City Hall is the home of a huge 3D printed map of Iceland on the ground floor. The building itself is really beautiful, and looks out over The Pond (I’ll explain in a moment!) and you’re likely to see swans and geese nearby.
Tjörnin (The Pond)
The locals all call it “The Pond” and you’ll know it right away. The Pond stretches through Reykjavik and if you happen to be there on a sunny day, it’s the perfect place for a walk.
Keep your eye of for the Hafmeyjan mermaid. The Pond itself it’s necessarily somewhere that I suggest going out of your way to go, but it’s a nice walk between the National Museum of Iceland and downtown Reykjavik.
*Please don’t feed the ducks!*
The National Museum of Iceland
The National Museum of Iceland brings you from the beginning of Iceland’s history up to the 21st century. I recommend the permanent exhibit Making of a Nation. It tells Iceland’s history and the stories of Viking settlers, and contains over 2,000 objects. It takes about 1.5 hours to 2 hours to go through this exhibit.
The museum opens at 10AM and is included on the Reykjavik City Pass, a great option if you’re thinking of visiting a couple of museums.
Hop the ferry over to Videy Island for a couple of hours for beautiful landscapes and a view of the Harpa from the water. The ferry runs all day, with the last one coming back to the mainland at 6:30 PM.
There’s a lot to discover on Videy Island including Iceland’s oldest church and the Imagine Peace Tower, a work by Yoko Ono. There’s a protected bird are on the island too, and you may spot some puffins!
Laugavegur Shopping Street
Laugavegur is Reykavjik’s main shopping street, and if you’re looking for things to do in Reykavjik on a Friday night it’s also the place to go for nightlife. We went shopping for some shoes after discovering that even city walking in Reykavjik requires hiking shoes (to avoid more surprises, check out this Iceland Packing Guide.
Laugavegur isn’t far from Hallgrímskirkja Church or Austurstræti, the Iceland Parliament.
Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Once Reykjavik’s Old Harbour fish freezing factory, the Maritime Museum will take you through the history of Iceland’s fishing industry. There’s a great exhibit about sailing in Iceland throughout history, and you’ll see the reconstructed deck of the MV Gulfoss (a ferry that once operated between Iceland, Denmark, and Scotland) and a coast guard vessel that was essential in the “Cod Wars.” Yes, Cod Wars. There were points in the 1960’s and 1970’s when Iceland was fending off fishing nets from the UK.
Pronounced “th-oo-fha.” Just to be completely honest – I didn’t know what this was when I saw it and had to look it up after. Þúfa is an outdoor art installation, visible from the harbour by the Harpa. Walk through the harbour to reach it yourself. This public art installation is a small but steep hill with a spiralled path leading up to the top, for a great view of the Harpa and the mountains.
The Settlement Museum
The Settlement Museum is a really neat exhibit. The space where the museum now stands was being excavated to build something else, when they discovered the remnants of a long house estimated to have been built in 871. Construction stopped and the site was preserved, and a museum built around it.
It’s not a full standing house, but it’s still very cool. The museum helps you imagine what a long house would have been like – and it’s amazing how many people and animals fit in a surprisingly small house!
World’s Best Hot Dogs
There are world renowned hot dogs in Reykjavik, and you can’t leave Iceland without trying one. This is one the essential things to do in Reykjavik. If Bill Clinton and Kim Kardashian have said it’s the best hot dog in the world, it’s got to be true, right? Plus, it’s one of the cheaper meals you will eat in Iceland!
Reykjavik Swimming Pools
Relax like the locals after a long day of exploring. Reykjavik residents love to hang out at the many thermal pools located around the city at the end of their work day. There’s no shortage of hot water in Reykjavik because of the natural hot springs due to the volcanos, so there’s plenty of hot tubs to go around. The pools are similar to city pools you find in Canada and the USA, not the extravagant experience of the Blue Lagoon (also worth a visit). Reykjavik swimming pools are accessible using the city card, and they’re all over the city so there will definitely be one near you.
If you decide to go, check out this post for more details on what to expect. Some pool practices are a little different from elsewhere.