Welcome to Reykjavik, world’s northernmost capital
Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland and it boasts all the features of a European capital, but on a much smaller scale.
Located on the south-west coast of the island, Reykjavik is the centre of the country’s government, economic and cultural activity. UNESCO City of Literature since 2011, Reykjavik offers a lively art scene and a great range of cultural events throughout the year.
Unlike most capital cities, Reykjavik and the surrounding region can be visited far and wide in just about 3 days, making it a great stop on your visit to Iceland, without taking too much time out of your schedule.
Regardless of the season you choose to visit Iceland, Reykjavik is always fascinating and the many cultural and lifestyle attractions are open year round.
Here is our suggested itinerary for a 3-day visit to the capital area packed with sightseeing, delicious food and local favorites.
Day 1 – Things to do in Reykjavik
The most popular landmarks in Reykjavik are located in the city centre, a.k.a. Downtown.
Your first day can start with a walk on Laugavegur, the main shopping street, and the surrounding streets and alleys where you will have the chance to admire the cute traditional houses and pop in to the several art galleries and artisan shops that dot the streets.
From Laugavegur, you can easily reach and visit the following points of interest.
Reykjavik cathedral towers on top of a hill right in the heart of the city center. This Lutheran church was designed by architect Guðjón Samúelsson and it reflects the typical Icelandic landscapes of basalt columns, glaciers and cliffs.
It can be visited inside and out and you can also climb up the tower to take in one of the most beautiful sights of the city.
The square and public park lie in the middle of the city centre and they are adjacent to the Parliament building.
In the spring and summer months, the public park blooms and is a favorite spot for locals to enjoy the sunshine and warmer days of the year.
The city pond is just around the corner from the Parliament building and it’s a great spot to sit and relax, while watching the ducks, geese and swans enjoying the water. The pond is surrounded by a small, yet beautiful park and this scenic area is a perfect place to take a break from all the sightseeing.
The National Museum of Iceland
Just a few minutes away from the pond, a visit to the National Museum of Iceland is the best way to understand Iceland and its inhabitants. The museum showcases reproductions, photographs and original artifacts from the early days of the settlement and it explains the history and heritage of this enigmatic country and how it came to be the great nation it is today.
Not too far from the National Museum and reachable by car or bus, you will find Perlan. The old town reservoir has recently been turned into a beautiful museum where you will find a bountiful amount of information about Icelandic nature, all displayed in a captivating and engaging way. Here you can also take a guided tour through a stunning and very realistic artificial ice cave.
The rooftop terrace offers what is probably the most beautiful 360° view of the city and the surrounding mountains and fjords.
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre
Go to the old harbor and you will find yourself in the presence of one of the latest additions to the Reykjavik skyline: Harpa Concert Hall.
This magnificent glass building attracts hundreds of visitors each day, foreigners and locals alike, who want to enjoy the stunning architecture or catch a performance (the former even more often than the latter).
The beautiful glass design becomes even more fascinating when hit by the sun rays during the day, or even at night, when the mesmerizing neon lights displays bring it to life.
The Sun Voyager
From Harpa, you can stroll along the shore, breathe in the fresh sea air and make your way to this steel sculpture, perfectly located on the waterfront. Shaped like a Viking longship, this is one of the most popular subjects for photos in town.
The sea, the sky and the mountains in the distance make it an ideal spot to watch the sunset at the end of a long day of sightseeing in Reykjavik.
Day 2 – Take it easy
After a long day of walking, we would suggest that you take the second day in town to relax and do something that the locals love: go to the pool! Going to the swimming pool is the Icelandic equivalent of going to a bar. Just pack your swimsuit and towel and head to one of the many swimming pools in town. There’s basically one in each neighborhood.
Our favorites are Vesturbæjarlaug, Sundhöllin and Laugardalslaug. All three of them are very well equipped, they all have free shampoo and body wash in the showers, outdoor hot pots at different temperatures as well as a competition pool, a sauna and a steam bath.
Vesturbæjarlaug is rather small and intimate, Sundhöllin is right in the city centre and it’s the oldest swimming pool in Reykjavik (recently renovated from top to bottom). Laugardalslaug is the largest pool in town and it has a great gym and a very nice spa attached. Entrance to the gym and spa are not included in the day pass for the pool.
Going to the pool is an actual ritual and we recommend getting there early in the morning (they open at 6:30) and spend a few hours soaking in the hot pots and relaxing.
After a relaxing morning, you could resume your shopping for souvenirs.
If you are into flea markets, you are in the right place! Second-hand markets are very popular in Reykjavik and you can find several in the city centre. Look up Kolaport (open only on weekends), Spuutnik (more on the expensive side), Fatamarkadurinn, Hertex and the Red Cross stores around town.
If you have a more expensive taste, you can find Icelandic design stores and luxury items on Laugavegur, the main shopping street and Skólavörðustígur, both at the heart of the city center.
Day 3 – Get out of town
On your third day in the Capital area, we would recommend that you go on the Golden Circle drive, the most popular sightseeing route of the South coast of Iceland.
Of course the most perfect activity to do while you self-drive the Golden circle is snorkeling in Silfra. ;)
This is a condensed guide of the main things to do and see in Reykjavik, but many more attractions couldn’t fit in it. Feel free to contact us with any questions you might have, we’ll be happy to help you out!
Where to eat in Reykjavik
After all this walking around and taking in the sights, you must be wondering where and what to eat while in Reykjavik. Well, fear not! We have compiled a list of our favorite restaurants, with tips on how to eat like a local. Click here to find out where to satisfy your cravings!