Reykjavik is the largest city in Iceland. The capital of the country, this southwestern city sits right on the water. The population of Reykjavik is just over 122,000 individuals but sees a large influx of tourists every year. Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world and the status of a cultural hub in which tourists can truly feel the Viking spirit. As a stop on the Ring Road, which can be driven on around the entire country, Reykjavik is a great place to spend an entire trip or a wonderful starting point for longer-term travelers.
GUEST POST BY JESSICA LYNN
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What’s the best time to visit Reykjavik?
Tourists will enjoy visiting Reykjavik year round, although the best time to visit depends on what one is looking to do. For travelers looking for slightly warmer weather (50-60F), the summer is the time to go. Summer in Iceland boasts the option to explore under the Midnight Sun; visitors will experience nearly 24-hours of sunlight. Iceland National Day, Secret Solstice and other festivals will also take place during the summer. This is also a perfect time to go hiking.
For those who are more interested in hiking, snowmobiling on glaciers, or in seeing the Northern Lights, the months of September through March are much better times to travel. Although the weather will be colder, darker and icier, those who are chasing the beautiful natural phenomena will get their fix at this time.
a Few Facts about Reykjavik
Reykjavik is full of culture and history, so it is a wonderful place to learn about the Vikings. But if you’re looking for some more quirky things to do, you can check out the museum of phalluses (with over 200 specimens), grab a beer and wonder how it was illegal in Iceland until the end of the 1980s, or examine some of the street art. Just don’t go to Reykjavik expecting to grab a Starbucks coffee or anything from McDonalds – it’s the only Western European capital that doesn’t have either.
One Day in Reykjavik Itinerary
Reykjavik has a multitude of activities you can plan to take on throughout the day without having to travel around much! Reykjavik is an easily walkable city, so you don’t have to stress too much about public transport. It is easy to book a transfer between the airport and city center or hotels/hostels. Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Reykjavik.
Start your day off by grabbing breakfast at The Laundromat Cafe before heading into Reykjavik to explore. One sight to see is definitely Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran church that is one of Iceland’s tallest buildings.
The architecture of the church was modelled on Iceland’s many waterfalls, with the front of the structure seeming to flow downwards towards the ground. For just a few kronas, you can buy a ticket to take the elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja for a stunning look at Reykjavik from above.
Afterwards, head to Laugavegur, Iceland’s main shopping street. It boasts a variety of clothing and gift stores, bars, and restaurants. Grab a cup of coffee or some freshly-squeezed juice and take a gander at the colorful street art that decorates many of the buildings.
At lunch, stop by Sægreifinn for fresh seafood. If you’re a fan of lobster, order their lobster bisque – it is a well-known fan favorite. You can also head to Islenski Barinn for a fried langoustine, hardfiskurr, or – if you’re feeling daring – some hákarl, fermented shark. If the flavor leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you can always chase it down with Iceland’s caraway-flavored alcohol, Brennivin.
After lunch, take a break from the ordinary by examining the collection at the Icelandic Phallological Museum (phallus.is), which houses the world’s greatest collection of phalluses.
If that’s too odd for you, you can always check out the National Museum of Iceland, take a photo in the honeycomb shaped windows at Harpa, or even head to the harbor for a whale-watching tour.
Of course, no visit to Reykjavik is complete without a visit to the Blue Lagoon. Buy your tickets ahead of time and be prepared for lines. If you want to take photos, cameras are permitted, so bring along a waterproof phone case. The warmth, beautiful blue water and the stunning terrain surrounding the Blue Lagoon leads to a relaxing and unique experience.
For dinner and drinks at night, head back towards Laugavegur. Reykjavik may not offer a lot of nightclubs, but there are a good number of bars that you can hop between. The nightlife in Reykjavik tends to be perfect for night owls, as many people do not go out until way later in the evening. Natives tend to dress well when out, so remember to bring some nice clothes to go out in!
Where to stay in Reykjavik, Iceland?
Galaxy Pod Hostel
Laugavegur 170, 105 Reykjavík
Located fairly close to the airport, the Galaxy Pod Hostel is unlike anywhere you’ve ever stayed before. The hotel pods, with their bright and colorful lighting, are spacious and clean. The pods feature a shared bathroom, as well as a shared kitchen. The Galaxy Pod Hostel is known as one of the best value hostels in the area and is close to the city center, so you will not be missing out on the action.
Storm Hotel by Keahotels
Thórunnartún 4, 105 Reykjavík
Storm Hotel by Keahotels is a great option as well, especially for couples. Experience stunning views of the sea, private bathrooms, and clean, spacious rooms. Laugavelar, the main shopping street, is less than ¼ mile from this hotel, so travelers will be right in the center of the city.
Day trips from Reykjavik
Iceland is an absolutely incredible country. Fortunately, it’s not that big, so you can see a lot on your day trip from Reykjavik. And you really should set up one of these because the options you have are simply spectacular.
Water is one of the defining features of Iceland, and this Golden Circle tour will show you why. Prepare to see fantastic hot springs in Geysir, visit the Gullfoss Waterfall and end your day in Þingvellir National Park, a place where two tectonic plates are drifting apart. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was incredibly important to the Vikings, so you can be sure you will have your hands full on this day trip.
Summer is the best time to go and watch whales. These magnificent creatures love the waters around Iceland, so the chances are that you will see them. As a matter of fact, you will probably get tickets for another whale watching trip for free if none of them appear! While this is not exactly a day trip because it only lasts about three hours, the chance to go see whales in their natural habitat should not be missed. Of course, dolphins and other animals are sure to be there, too.
Not so much a day trip as an evening trip from Reykjavik, going out of the city to watch the Northern Lights is just about the best trip you can make. Seeing this awe-inspiring sight on the sky above you really puts things in perspective. Unlike the whales, though, this incredible show is best seen in winter months. Mind you, there is also a museum dedicated to this phenomenon in the city, so go to Aurora Museum if you want to learn what exactly is going on above you while the lights are dancing.
Snorkel in Silfra
Yes, Iceland’s water and nature are quite incredible, and you can see all of that firsthand if you dive into Silfra, the rift formed between American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Just the thought of it seems surreal, but when you get there you will encounter incredibly clear waters and fascinating colors. A unique experience, no doubt about that, and the nature around the diving site is quite fascinating, too. All equipment will be provided.
Southern Iceland is where the nature of this country really is at its very finest. Absolutely incredible waterfalls, huge glaciers, the fascinating columns of Reynisfjara, black sand beaches… all absolutely pristine and unspoiled. And the visit to the village of Vik is also something to consider because you get the feeling the whole place is somehow perfectly in tune with the nature around it. If you want to get to know Iceland better, this is where you need to go.
Extra Tips for visiting Reykjavik:
– Reykjavik is an absolutely gorgeous city – but make sure to prepare for adverse weather conditions. Icelandic weather can change on a dime. While it may be sunny one moment, it could be raining the next, then back to sunny, and so on and so forth. Ensure that you pack clothes – some waterproof – to prepare for Icelandic weather.
– Also, while Reykjavik nightlife is extremely fun, drinks can be somewhat expensive. Take advantage of happy hours across the city. You can also buy your alcohol duty-free at the airport for much cheaper.
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Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.
Jessica Lynn hails originally from New Jersey. She currently works as the Marketing Manager at Classic Travel & Tours in Richmond, VA. She is passionate about writing and travel, and has so far been to 8 countries (and counting), most of which were solo trips! She loves new experiences and crazy food (hakarl, anybody?) - and hopes to vacation to Prague, Italy, or Costa Rica in 2018. She loves telling others about her travel experiences in the hopes of enriching their journeys as well.
I absolutely loved Iceland but have to admit I didn’t spend long in Reykjavik, I should definitely go back! So many fun things to do also in the city!