There are many things to do in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Although this city has nothing in common with other European capital cities, since you’ll only find small houses here, it also has no need to envy other great metropolises. Reykjavik allows you to enjoy nature, visit museums, see the northern lights, take whale-watching tours, and more. In short, this is a city with a thousand things to do and some of the best restaurants in the country.
However, before I tell you what tourist places to visit in Reykjavik, I would like to let you know that we are extremely lucky. Since we run photo tours in Iceland, we visit this island every year and always spend at least a day or two in the capital city. In fact, discovering the charming city of Reykjavik is one of the best things to do in Iceland, so pay attention if you don’t want to miss any of its most outstanding tourist attractions.
If you don’t want to rent a car on Iceland, I recommend getting the City Card, which gives you unlimited use of public transport in the metropolitan area. (The transfer from/to the airport is not included, but you can book it here).
In addition, the City Card allows you to take the ferry to Viðey Island, one of the main tourist attractions in Reykjavik that I will talk about later, and enter several geothermal pools and most of Reykjavik’s museums for free.
At the end of this guide, you’ll find a map so you can quickly locate all the following tourist places to see in Reykjavík.
1. Hallgrímskirkja, the main tourist attraction in Reykjavík
Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most iconic buildings to visit in Reykjavík. It is a Lutheran church that is downtown and can be seen from various points in the city and from several miles away. The bell tower is almost 246 feet tall!
The church was built between 1945 and 1986 and was designed by the architect Guðjón Samúelsson, who was inspired by the basalt columns that are so common in Iceland, such as those of the Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell. Although its exterior facade is very striking, its interior is very austere. In fact, the most remarkable thing is its organ with more than 5,000 tubes.
Visiting the church is one of the best free things to do in Reykjavik, but if you want to go up to the tower to enjoy the 360º views, you will have to pay 1000 ISK (approx. $7.30). Anyway, I think it’s a great thing to do in Reykjavik, since the views from the tower are beautiful. You can check schedules, updated prices, etc. here.
2. Perlan, one of the most popular places to visit in Reykjavík
Perlan is one of the best places to visit in Reykjavik. This building is on the outskirts of the city, specifically on the highest hill in Reykjavik, Öskjuhlíð, but you can get there for free using the City Card. From there, you will have incredible panoramic views of the entire city and its surroundings.
There, you will find the Perlan Museum, which is dedicated to the geography of Iceland and where volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs play a special role. I definitely recommend stopping by this museum to learn all about the fascinating nature of Iceland. In addition to a 360º observation deck, in the museum, you will find an artificial ice cave and a planetarium where you can see a simulation of the northern lights. Access to the planetarium is optional, but I recommend booking it when you buy your ticket here, as it is very worth it.
Perlan is one of the main parts of Reykjavík sightseeing. It also has the most important haute cuisine restaurant in Iceland. Their dishes mix local products, such as fish and lamb, with a French touch, since Stefan Stefansson, the chef, studied in France. But the most impressive thing about this restaurant, in addition to its dishes, is that it’s inside the glass dome of the building and is revolving, so you will get fabulous views of all of Reykjavík. In fact, many consider it the most impressive spherical restaurant in the world. You can check its menu here.
3. The Sun Voyager, a must-see place in Reykjavík, Iceland
The Sun Voyager (Solfar in Icelandic) is the most famous sculpture to visit in Reykjavik and one of the most photographed places in the city.
The sculpture is located north of Reykjavik, right on the seafront. It was designed by Jón Gunnar Árnasson in the mid-80s for the bicentennial of the city’s constitution.
If you look closely at the sculpture, you will see that it’s a kind of Viking ship skeleton. Apparently, the artist designed it as a ship of dreams and an ode to the sun, hope, progress, and freedom.
In addition to the meaning of the sculpture, I love its location, by the sea and overlooking the snowy mountains. If you can visit at sunset, I definitely recommend it. For all this, the Sun Voyager is a must-see in Reykjavík.
4. See the northern lights, a spectacular thing to do in Reykjavík in winter
Seeing the northern lights is the best thing to do in Reykjavik in winter. We are fascinated by this natural phenomenon, so if you have the opportunity to travel during the Northern Lights season in Iceland, don’t miss the chance of seeing them.
If this is your first time in Iceland and you don’t know how to forecast Northern Lights, risk it! Here is our selection of the best tours to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavík. Of all the options out there, this is undoubtedly my favorite, since your guide will take you wherever is necessary and take the weather conditions that night into account, so you can see the northern lights. Also, if you aren’t lucky, you can repeat the tour for free as many times as you want, so I recommend booking it for the first night of your trip. That way, you will have time left in case you need to retake the tour.
Are you traveling to Iceland in the summer? Then I recommend stopping by The Northern Lights Center, a museum to visit in Reykjavik that focuses on the northern lights where you can enjoy simulations. Although it is obviously not the same, the quality of the projections is quite good.
5. Laugavegur & Street Art, one of the best free things to do in Reykjavík
I admit that I knew little about Reykjavik Street Art when we first visited the city, but exploring every street and looking for the best murals is a fun thing to do in Reykjavik for me.
Street art has become a symbol of the city. You will find murals in practically all corners of Reykjavik. However, my favorite street to walk in search of these murals is Laugavegur, a street with incredible nightlife that is full of bars and cafes. Without a doubt, one of the coolest places to visit in Reykjavik. Here, you will also find the curious Phallological Museum, which I recommend you visit if you have time.
The other street that stands out for its fun atmosphere and street art is Skolavordustigur, which intersects with the previous one. In addition to murals, if you get lost in Reykjavik’s most alternative neighborhood, you will find impressive facades, where the drawings intermingle with the structure of the buildings to create spectacular effects. I recommend dicovering them for yourself, although if you want a little help finding the most popular murals, check out this map.
This area is also one of the best places to stay in Iceland, so if you find a good hotel in this area, book it!
6. National Museum and National Gallery of Iceland in Reykjavík
The National Museum of Iceland and the National Gallery of Iceland are two very important museums in Reykjavik. And if you have the City Card, you can access both for free.
The National Museum of Iceland has three floors where more than 2,000 pieces and works of art are exhibited that cover all of Icelandic history from the 9th century A.D. to the most recent decades. You can see everything from Viking objects and utensils to photographs that were taken throughout the 20th century.
The National Gallery of Iceland, meanwhile, exhibits works of art that mostly belong to Icelandic artists. For this reason, I recommend it, especially to people who are very fond of art.
Personally, if you only have time to visit one museum, I recommend you prioritize the National Museum of Iceland since it’s more general. However, the National Gallery is better located, on the banks of Lake Tjörnin, which I will tell you about next, where you have beautiful views of the gallery with the Hallgrímskirkja in the background.
7. Tjörnin, an unmissable place to visit in Reykjavík all year
Tjörnin is an incredible lake that is in the historic center of the city. It has beautiful views, especially from its west bank, so for this alone it’s one of the best Reykjavik sights. However, what makes this lake special is that it’s one of the best places to visit in Reykjavik for bird watching.
Up to 40 different species of birds have been counted there, among them swans, ducks, and geese. But whether or not you are interested in seeing the fauna, I also recommend visiting this place because from here, you can enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes in the city.
In winter, the low temperatures cause the lake to freeze and become a skating rink. However, a part of this lake is partially thawed because the government provides it with geothermal water so the birds can continue to live there. Definitely, a must-see in Reykjavik.
8. Árbæjarsafn, a historical museum to go to in Reykjavík, Iceland
Árbæjarsafn, also known as the Árbaer Open Air Museum, is one of the museums to visit in Reykjavik that I recommend. It is about 5 miles from the city, in an old farm, so the most convenient way to get there is by car or by using the City Card.
This card, in addition to allowing you to take public transport to Árbaer for free, includes admission to the museum, which is why I consider it one of the best free things to do in Reykjavik.
Visiting Árbæjarsafn is like traveling back in time, as they have managed to perfectly recreate Icelandic houses, farms, workshops, and other small buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Inside each of these buildings, you can see objects and tools from that period, which will give you a very detailed view of how the Icelanders lived in the past.
This museum is one of the best places to visit in Reykjavík in summer, as more exhibitions and events are held at that time. Although in winter, when it’s snowy, it’s also worth it.
9. The Settlement Exhibition, an interesting place to visit in Reykjavík
The Settlement Exhibition is a museum that I recommend visiting in Reykjavik. The most striking feature of this exhibition is that it’s interactive, so even if you don’t usually like museums, you’ll probably like this one. In fact, it is an excellent thing to do in Reykjavik when it rains.
The museum was built around the ruins of an old Viking house, and through holographic tricks and other ways, you can get an idea of what life was like in Iceland during the Viking era.
Some people get disappointed by this museum because they expect to see some great Viking ruins. Not so, but this doesn’t make it any less interesting. This museum is also included in the City Card, so you can enter for free if you get the card.
10. Reykjavík Maritime Museum and Old Harbour, things to see in Reykjavík
The Maritime Museum is a must-see in Reykjavik that is also included in the City Card. During your visit to the museum, you will learn about the maritime history of Iceland, which was crucial for the development and survival of the country.
If I consider it one of the most important places to visit in Reykjavik, it’s because through real photographs, models, maps, and other objects you can get an idea of how fishing, boats, and techniques to survive on the high seas have evolved. In addition, the Oðinn boat is exhibited, which is on the pier but is included in the visit to the museum. This boat, as a curious fact, survived three cod wars against England.
In addition to visiting the museum, I recommend you visit the picturesque area where it is located, the Old Harbour, an essential place to visit in Reykjavik even if you have no intention of entering the museum. This is one of the most authentic areas of the city and one of the best places to eat in Reykjavik. In addition, the whale watching tours and the ferries to Viðey Island depart from here, which I will talk about next.
11. Viðey Island, one of the most interesting things to do near Reykjavík
The island of Viðey is one of the places to see near Reykjavik that I recommend. You can get to the island by taking a ferry in the Old Harbour. It takes only about 10 minutes, and the journey is included in the City Card.
The Imagine Peace Tower is the main attraction of this island. Yoko Ono dedicated this place to John Lennon, and it consists of a light tower that lights up between October 9, the day on which John Lennon was born, and December 8, the day of his death. The light is projected vertically from a monument made of white stone where the words “Imagine Peace” are carved in 24 languages.
On this island, there is also a wide network of trails that you can walk or bike and from which you will have incredible views of the Snæfellsnes peninsula or of the island in general, depending on the path you choose. For all this, I consider this to be a place to visit if you are looking for things to do near Reykjavik.
12. Whale Watching tour, a great thing to do in Reykjavík in summer
The most popular whale-watching tours in Iceland depart from Húsavik. However, you can also take this tour from Reykjavik, and I assure you that it doesn’t disappoint at all.
Whale watching is one of the most popular activities to do in Reykjavik in the summer, the time of year when cetaceans get closer to the island to look for food. In particular, you can see humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins, porpoises, and, if you’re very lucky, maybe killer whales.
Of all the tours you will find, I recommend this one since you can redo it if you don’t see any whale. Please bear in mind that they are wild animals and their movements are unpredictable, so I recommend booking your whale tour for the first day of your trip, leaving room to repeat it if necessary (most people see whales on their first tour).
You also have the option of taking a whale and puffin watching tour. This tour is available from May 15 to approximately August 15, the date when puffins nest in Iceland. It will take you to areas where whales are sighted and will also approach the famous puffin island, where you can see these tiny, pretty birds.
Another option is taking a midnight sun whale watching tour. This tour, which I recommend booking here, is only available during the dates close to the summer solstice, when the sun is visible almost 24 hours a day.
If you don’t know what to do in Reykjavík in summer, any of these three tours is a very good option. You can learn more on our guide to whale watching tours in Iceland.
13. Harpa, a peculiar building to see in Reykjavík
Harpa is one of the most emblematic buildings in Reykjavík due to its futuristic architecture, created by Olafur Eliasson, which was full of controversy. Hence, it is considered one of the most popular places to see in Reykjavik.
This building serves as a conference and concert center, but it has bars, restaurants, an exhibition area, and shops, so you can just go sightseeing there. It’s also in Old Harbor, another reason to consider it one of the main tourist attractions in Reykjavík, Iceland.
It has four rooms, each of which represents one of the four elements. The Eldborg concert hall is inspired by the volcanic activity on the island, making it the representation of fire; the recital hall, Norðurljós, is inspired by the northern lights, so it represents the air; the conference room, Silfurberg, is inspired by calcite crystals, which represent the earth; and the fourth room, Kaldalón, is inspired by the lagoons and represents water. Even so, the views from outside are already impressive, as its glass design emits beautiful colors when it reflects the sunlight.
14. Blue Lagoon, a place to go near Reykjavík, Iceland
Visiting the Blue Lagoon is one of the top things to do near Reykavik that you’ll find in any travel guide. This place is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, and personally, I am not surprised.
It is a spa with intensely blue waters in the middle of a spectacular black volcanic landscape. The waters of this lagoon, at 104 ºF, contain a large amount of silica and sulfur, which apparently helps to calm some skin diseases.
However, despite being considered one of the 25 natural wonders of the world by National Geographic, and one of the best 10 spas in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the lagoon was created artificially. Yes, the water heats up naturally thanks to volcanic activity, but the place itself was created to take advantage of the hot water waste from the geothermal power plant next door.
In any case, it is a spectacular place that I recommend visiting at least once in a lifetime, since it’s the best thing to do in Reykjavik and surroundings. If you are traveling during peak tourist season, you must book your ticket well in advance, since, as a popular place, they usually sell out quite quickly. The Blue Lagoon is 45 minutes from the city center, so you cannot use the City Card to get there. However, here you can buy the ticket + transfer from Reykjavik.
15. Golden Circle, one of the best routes to do from Reykjavík
Of all the routes to take in Reykjavík, the Golden Circle of Iceland is undoubtedly the most important.
The Golden Circle is a circular route of about 186 miles that starts from Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, and goes into the interior of the island. Some essential stops along this route are the Haukadalur Valley or Valley of Geysers, the Gullfoss waterfall, the Bruarfoss waterfall, Thingvellir, and the Kerid Crater. All of them are essential places to go near Reykjavik.
The ideal way to take this route is by renting a car, (no 4wd is needed). Although if you don’t want to drive, don’t worry. There are a lot of tours from Reykjavik that take you to the main tourist attractions of the Golden Circle.
Of all the options, this basic tour is the most popular, since it has a great price and you visit all the essential places in the Golden Circle. However, you can also combine your visit to the Golden Circle with the Secret Lagoon on this tour, or with the Blue Lagoon on this other tour. You can even take a tour like this one to combine your visit to the Golden Circle with a snorkeling excursion in the Silfra Fissure. As you can see, there are infinite options and all of them are great things to do in Reykjavik.
You can check here the best Golden Circle tours from Reykjavik.
16. Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, a popular tourist attraction in Reykjavík
Bathing at the geothermal beach of Nauthólsvík is one of the things you cannot miss in Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s in the Nauthólsvík neighborhood and has a hot tub by the sea and a warm water pool, as well as toilets, showers, a sauna, and a small cafe.
During the summer months, from May 15 to August 15, admission is free. For the rest of the year, you have to pay an entrance fee, and the opening hours are shorter. If you want to visit, I recommend checking the opening hours and prices on its website. The temperature of the hot tub ranges from 86 to 102 ºF. And the sea, which is right next to it, can reach 59 to 66 ºF.
Like the Blue Lagoon, this place is quite busy, especially in summer, so it isn’t the ideal place to go for a quiet dip to relax. Despite this, it’s one of the main tourist attractions in Reykjavík.
17. Volcano House, another museum to visit in Reykjavík
Volcano House is an essential museum to visit in Reykjavík city if you have a special interest in geology. The exhibition, which you can access for free, introduces you to the geological history of Iceland and its volcanic system. However, if you want to watch any of the two documentaries that play in this museum, you will need to pay a fee.
This museum is not a place I would go to if it’s your first time in the city, since the Perlan Museum gives you a much more general overview of this subject. But, as a free option, it is a good place to visit in Reykjavik.
18. Thrihnukagigur Volcano Tour, an awesome thing to do near Reykjavík
If you would like to experience volcanoes for yourself, then I recommend visiting the dormant volcano Thrihnukagigur, one of the most impressive things to do near Reykjavik.
The Thrihnukagigur crater was opened to tourists in 2012, and since then, its interior can be visited. It is 35,000 square feet and has a depth of 700 feet, although visitors can only descend about 400 feet, which is still quite a lot. Of course, to live out this experience, you will need to book this tour since you need a harness and a helmet to enter the volcano.
The first part of the excursion was impressive to me because you hike through lava fields for about 40 minutes until you reach the crater. Once there, you descend into the earth in groups of 4 or 5, always accompanied by your guide and following their safety recommendations. You will have approximately 1 hour to explore the interior before returning to the surface.
This is definitely the best activity to do near Reykjavik, although I don’t recommend it if you suffer from vertigo or have mobility impairments. The volcano is located half an hour from the city center, but the tour also includes the transfer from your hotel.
19. Whales of Iceland, one of the best things to do in Reykjavík with kids
Whales of Iceland is one of the most recommended museums to visit in Reykjavik with kids. One of the things that I liked the most about this museum is that there are no real animals exhibited, neither stuffed nor alive, so it is totally respectful toward fauna and cetaceans in particular.
This museum is dedicated exclusively to the 23 cetacean species that inhabit the country. The pieces on display are life-size replicas that were made by hand and are very detailed. It also has an exhibition where you can learn the song of the whales, all within an underwater environment achieved through interactive technology. In the Fin Whale Room, you can learn about all the dangers whales face and the ways they have to protect themself.
This is certainly one of the best things to do in Reykjavík, especially if you cannot take a whale watching tour but want to know everything about these incredible animals. You can buy the entrance to the museum here.
20. Elfschool, an unusual thing to do in Reykjavík, Iceland
Spending a Friday afternoon at Elfschool is quite possibly the “weirdest” thing you’ll find on our Reykjavik to-do list. But how can I not include it if it may be one of the best experiences I have had on the island?! Or at least the funniest.
In case you didn’t know, Icelanders believe that elves live in their lands to protect nature. Curious, isn’t it? Well, if you want to know more about the history of the 13 different species of elves that “live” in Iceland and you don’t feel like asking a local you meet on your trip, then I recommend going to Elf school.
Magnus, the headmaster of the school, will teach you all about Icelandic folklore while you spend a hilarious afternoon, accompanied by delicious pancakes. During the class, Magnus will delight you with tons of stories about elf encounters and will bring you closer to Icelandic culture than you can imagine. Without a doubt, the price is well worth it. The school opens on Fridays at 3 pm, and classes last until 7 pm or so, although if you cannot attend that particular day of the week, you can call the school to do a special session (although the price is more expensive unless you are a group of more than 5 people).
For me, it is one of the top things to do in Reykjavík.
21. Mount Esja, one of the top things to do in Reykjavík, Iceland
Mount Esja, which is actually a volcano, stretches along the Kjalarnes district in Reykjavik. Many of the most interesting hiking trails in Reykjavik are concentrated here.
If you have time to get close to Mount Esja, there is a circular trail, about 52 miles, where you will get incredible views of Reykjavík and its surroundings. It is only recommended to do it from May to September, and it is rated difficult, so I only recommend it if you are already used to this type of hiking. All the information about this trail is here.
We haven’t had the opportunity to hike this trail yet, despite having been in the area on numerous occasions, so we hope to do it next time.
22. Reykjavík Art Museum, the largest visual art institution in Iceland
The Reykjavík Art Museum includes three museums, which is why it has become the largest art institution in Iceland. These museums are the Hafnarhús, the Kjarvalsstaðir, and the Asmundarsafn, and they are places to visit in Reykjavík city if you are an art lover.
The Hafnarhús museum is mainly dedicated to temporary exhibitions of local and international artists. This means that if you visit Iceland multiple times, you will never see the same exhibition, except for the one dedicated to Erró, a pop art artist, which is permanent.
Kjarvalsstaðir, meanwhile, exhibits works by renowned and influential Icelandic artists, such as Jóhannes S. Kjarval. This museum also stands out for its architecture.
And finally, the Asmundarsafn exhibits sculptures and drawings by Ásmundur Sveinsson, an Icelandic artist.
I recommend this type of museum exclusively to people who are art lovers and, especially, fans of Icelandic art. If you have the City Card, the entrance to all three museums is free, so if you have time, you can visit them and learn a little more about the artistic side of Iceland.
23. FlyOver Iceland, fun stuff to do in Reykjavík
Many travelers make stopovers in Iceland on the way from Europe to America or vice versa. Unfortunately, most connections leave no time to explore the island in depth. If you are going to spend less than 24 hours on the island, then go directly to FlyOver Iceland, the best thing to do in Reykjavik if you’re in a hurry.
This attraction consists of a simulator that will show you Iceland from a bird’s eye view. The technology that has been used tries to bring the passenger closer to an experience that’s as real as possible including special effects, wind, fog, odors, and other sensations.
In just 35 minutes, you can taste the best of Iceland, so instead of waiting at the airport for your next flight, book this experience and your transfer to the city center, and enjoy one of the things to do in Reykjavik that you cannot miss.
24. Höfði House, a historical place to visit in Reykjavík
If I have added the Höfði house to this guide, it’s because it’s one of the places to visit in Reykjavik that I recommend for its historical value. This is where Presidents Ronald Reagan of the United States and Mikhail Gorbachev of the former USSR met in 1986 to end the Cold War.
The house is in front of the seawalk, a 10-minute walk from The Sun Voyager, another of the main tourist sights in Reykjavík that I have already mentioned. Although you cannot visit the inside of the Höfði house, I recommend seeing it from the outside, as it is very beautiful. It was built out of wood in 1909 in a beautiful setting, and initially, it served as a residence for the poet and businessman Einar Benediktsson.
25. Best tours from Reykjavík for not driving in Iceland
If you don’t want to drive during your trip but you also don’t want to miss the wonders that are hidden outside the capital city, I will recommend you the most popular day trips from Reykjavík. I have already told you about the different tours to the Golden Circle, but to explore further, I recommend the following tours in order of importance.
The first and essential thing is to explore the south of Iceland by booking this day tour in which you will walk behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall and visit Skógafoss, the Sólheimajökull glacier, and the black sand beach of Vík. Can you spend a little more time in Iceland? Then, I definitely recommend this two-day tour including accommodation in which, in addition to the above, you will visit Skaftafell National Park, with the famous Svartifoss waterfall, and go to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach. Without a doubt, the best thing to do from Reykjavik in two days.
The next excursion that I recommend taking in Reykjavik is the one that goes to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. On this tour, you will discover the amazing Kirkjufell mountain, the impressive cliffs of Arnarstapi, the black beach of Djúpalónssandur, and some awesome lava fields.
Another 1-day tour that I recommend is the one that take you to Landmannalaugar, the imposing colored mountains of the Icelandic Highlands, although if you want something even more remote, I recommend Kerlingarfjöll. This tour combines the Golden Circle with this area of the Highlands of Iceland that will leave you speechless.
As you can see, it is not necessary to drive to discover Iceland. In addition to all the things to visit and do in Reykjavik, there are plenty of tours that depart from the city. The ones I mentioned in this article are just a few, but you can check our article on the best tours from Reykjavik here.
Map of the best things to do in Iceland
Now that you know the best things to do in Reykjavík, Iceland, on the following map, you can quickly locate where each of them are.
In addition, here you can download all our maps of Iceland so you can always have them on hand to make sure you don’t miss the tourist attractions of Reykjavik, even if you are offline.
And now I wish you a happy trip through the capital of Iceland, a country that we love. Happy travels!