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With easy access to the country’s main attractions, Reykjavik makes a wonderful launching point for your Iceland explorations or a destination unto itself. Although Reykjavik is by far Iceland’s largest city, in geographic size it’s just 1.5 square miles (3.9 square kilometers). Nearly all of this walkable city’s 150,000 residents are able and happy to speak English with visitors from around the world, too. From modern attractions like FlyOver Iceland and a Lava Show to natural wonders like northern lights and geothermal sights, read on to discover the 18 best things to do in Reykjavik!
Thank you to Pursuit Collection for hosting my visit to Reykjavik. All opinions are mine, as always.
1. FlyOver Iceland
Kick off your explorations with a visit to FlyOver Iceland to get a glimpse of the whole country from the heart of Reykjavik City. You’ll fly over glaciers, past rivers and waterfalls, and through fireworks in Iceland’s capital. This attraction will give you chills and might just bring tears to your eyes.
Do you like Disney’s Soarin’ Around the World? Then you’ll LOVE FlyOver Iceland. Created by the same former Imagineer, this 8-minute ride (38-minute experience) takes passengers to the most remote, unreachable, and prettiest parts of Iceland.
SúVitra the Troll
Elves and trolls are an important part of Icelandic folklore. FlyOver’s narrator is a female troll named SúVitra, which means “Wise One” in Icelandic. This strong female character is an example of Iceland’s strong ties to its heritage and the country’s belief in equal rights for all.
Pop into the FlyOver Shop to pose for a photo with a statue of SúVitra. Then peruse a fun selection of Icelandic artwork and souvenirs. Kids will especially love adorable troll-shaped stuffed toys.
After your FlyOver flight, pull up a chair at the onsite coffee shop, Kaffi Grandi. Quench your thirst with yummy coffee drinks, hot chocolate, and other beverages like juices and even wine or beer. Tempting pastries and other snacks are available for purchase, too.
Book FlyOver Iceland Tickets
Purchase your tickets in advance to secure your preferred flight time and receive a 10% discount. Riders must be 40 inches tall to ride and children need to be accompanied by an adult or teen aged 14+. Wheelchair users are welcome and accommodated.
2. Geothermal Pools
Iceland is one of the most volcanically active places on the planet, creating naturally heated waters just below the ground perfect for hot springs and geothermal pools.
Opened in the spring of 2021, Sky Lagoon is a new and luxurious geothermal pool just outside Reykjavik. This outdoor pool was designed to feel at one with nature. It was built into volcanic rock formations with waterfalls and tunnels for exploring. An infinity edge overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
Iceland’s most famous geothermal pool, Blue Lagoon, opened to the public in 1987. It is heated by run-off water from a nearby geothermal energy plant. The Blue Lagoon features the milky blue water you know and love from Instagram photos and bucket lists in glossy magazines.
But which Icelandic geothermal pool is better? Find out in my in-depth Sky Lagoon vs. Blue Lagoon comparison. (Yes, I pick a winner!)
3. Walking Tour of Reykjavik
A walking tour of city center with CityWalk Reykjavik is the best way to get your bearings in the country’s capital and learn about Iceland from a knowledgeable local. As you stroll through Reykjavik’s main streets, you may view such landmarks as the Alþingi Parliament Building, City Hall, Laugavegur shopping street, the Old Harbor, Lake Tjörnin, and some impressive street art.
What’s more, CityWalk offers 2-hour tours of downtown Reykjavik free of charge. That’s right. There’s no fee to attend! Do keep in mind, however, that it’s customary to provide a tip to the tour guide afterward as a token of your appreciation. (Typically, $10 to $20 per person.)
Book a paid VIP Walking Tour for small groups for a more in-depth and customized experience. Private Walking Tours with food tastings are available as well. (Fermented shark, lobster soup, or cinnamon and licorice buns, anyone?) Choose tours in English or Icelandic.
4. Hallgrimskirkja, Church of Iceland
During your Free Walking Tour of Reykjavik, you will get a glimpse of the city’s most famous church, Hallgrimskirkja. Standing 244 feet tall (74.5 meters), this Evangelical-Lutheran church is one of the tallest buildings in the whole country.
Commissioned in 1937, it took 38 years to build this striking place of worship. Icelandic Architect Gudjon Samuelsson designed the church to resemble the country’s shards of basalt lava rock.
Admission to Hallgrimskirkja is free but there is a small charge to reach the observation deck via steps or elevator. The tower entrance fee is well worth the sweeping views of Reykjavik’s colorful metal-corrugated buildings, surrounding mountains, and Atlantic Ocean.
5. Rainbow Street
Skólavörðustígur Street was painted like a rainbow for the first time back in 2015 to celebrate Gay Pride and has since become a permanent art installation. Iceland is a very open-minded nation where folks of all stripes are welcomed. The country officially celebrates Gay Pride during the second weekend in August each year.
Look for lots of cute shops and art galleries surrounding this proud street in the heart of the capital of Iceland. Shop for original artwork, woolen socks and sweaters, handmade jewelry, chocolates, and lots of puffin-shaped stuffed toys. At the top of Rainbow Street, you’ll find Iceland’s most famous church, Hallgrimskirkja.
6. Lava Show
Despite Iceland’s small size, it ranks among the top 10 countries in the world with active volcanoes, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program. Furthermore, the educational website, Learnz.org states, “Since the Middle Ages, a third of all lava that has covered the earth’s surface has erupted in Iceland.”
Still, it isn’t always possible to view lava flowing in Iceland. Or is it? For a truly unique experience, reserve a seat at the Lava Show in Reykjavik. You’ll witness real 2000°F (1100°C) lava oozing into a showroom and learn about Iceland’s volcanoes from a volcanologist.
7. Harpa Concert Hall
Admirers of unusual architecture (like me!) will love Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center. It’s free to enter and take a peek at this geometric glass and steel wonder. Better yet, sign up for a guided tour of Harpa Concert Hall.
Best of all, buy tickets to attend a music concert or other live event at Harpa during your Reykjavik vacation. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera, and Reykjavik Big Band among other performers entertain crowds in the 1,800-seat concert venue.
8. Sun Voyager
Not far from Harpa Concert Hall, you will find the iconic Sun Voyager sculpture along the Old Harbour. Sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason designed this waterfront steel monument to represent, “the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress, and freedom.”
9. Northern Lights
From spring to fall, Iceland transforms into the Land of Northern Lights, a scintillating reason to visit Reykjavik. Travelers from around the world flock to this Nordic country to view the aurora borealis from September to April.
These lights are created by energized particles from the sun, which are reflected by the Earth’s magnetic field near the North Pole. The polar light displays dazzle observers with streaks of neon greens and purples as well as pinks, reds, blues, and even yellows.
Winter offers longer periods of darker skies, making for more viewing time. Plus, Reykjavik ranks among the best places in the world to celebrate a white Christmas.
But you can expect better weather conditions near the spring and fall equinoxes. The milder weather and clearer skies along with increased magnetic flow between the Earth and the sun at these times provide the best chance for a remarkable aurora borealis display.
Even with city lights, the northern lights can be seen nearly anywhere in Reykjavik, with Perlan Museum providing a particularly pretty perspective.
10. Midnight Sun
In summer months, Iceland becomes part of the Land of Midnight Sun. Milder temperatures and plenty of sunshine make it easy to explore the city of Reykjavik and the nation’s natural wonders. Average summer temperatures in Iceland range from about 50 to 59°F (10 to 15°C).
Expect 24 hours of sun throughout the month of June. The peak of midnight sun occurs on the summer solstice in mid-June. That’s when the sun travels the farthest distance in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere, providing the longest day of sunshine.
Outdoor festivals in Iceland celebrating music, art, athletics, and more abound during summer. The most important festival of the year, National Day of Iceland, takes place on June 17 with joyous celebrations in Reykjavik and throughout the country. This holiday celebrates the day Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1944.
All of this sunshine and celebration comes at a cost, though. Expect higher prices and fewer vacancies in hotels in the summertime. The best time to visit Reykjavik depends on desired weather and light conditions as well as which attractions and cultural experiences you seek.
11. Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is an absolute must when you visit Iceland! A guided tour is a great way to see all of the best places along the country’s most famous and scenic route in one day.
You can rent a car to explore on your own but I liked learning about the Land of Fire and Ice from an entertaining (and singing!) local guide during a GetYourGuide Golden Circle minibus tour. Besides, you can enjoy the scenery of Iceland’s south coast without having to worry about navigating to find each amazing stop along the way. All entrance and parking fees are included.
Below are the attractions you can expect to visit during a Golden Circle Small Group Tour when you book with GetYourGuide. (Not suitable for children under age 5.)
Thingvellir National Park
A UNESCO world heritage site, Thingvellir National Park is a geological wonder. It straddles the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate. That means you can walk on two different continents at this national park! Plus, the divide between these two plates has created beautiful gorges to explore from hiking paths.
Thingvellir National Park is also historically significant. One of the world’s oldest surviving parliaments, the Althing, was established here in 930 AD. Not long thereafter, this sight is also where paganism was abolished and the country adopted Christianity as Iceland’s national religion. Christianity remains the dominant religion in Iceland today, but freedom of religion was granted in 1874.
Meaning “Golden Waterfall” in Icelandic, Gullfoss inspired the name of the famous Golden Circle sightseeing route. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one or more rainbows at the top, created by the fall’s abundance of mist. I was not so lucky, but I found the massive rushing waterfalls to be breathtaking nonetheless.
Formed during the last Ice Age, Gullfoss features two drops, which total 105 feet (32 meters) in height. It’s not the tallest waterfall in Europe but it may be the biggest by volume.
Geysir Hot Springs
The next stop on the Golden Circle tour is the Geysir geothermal area in the Haukadalur Valley. The largest of the geysers here is called the Great Geysir, and was the inspiration for the English word “geyser.” In recent years, it has remained mostly dormant but this geyser erupted for two days straight following an earthquake in 2000, reaching heights up to 400 feet (122 meters).
There are 20+ active and dormant geysers in this area. The most active, named Strokkur, erupts every 3 to 10 minutes, with the boiling water reaching heights up to 98 feet (30 meters). Gather with the crowds to watch nature’s explosive display. Be sure to stay on marked paths for safety’s sake.
The Geysir Center is home to an expansive gift shop plus a sit-down restaurant and fast food outlet. This makes a good place to pause for lunch during a Golden Circle day trip. If you’re touring on your own, then you could also book an overnight stay at the onsite Hotel Geysir.
Surrounded by red volcanic earth, Kerid Crater is filled with an otherworldly, bright aquamarine lake. Geologists believe the crater formed 6,000 years ago when a magma chamber collapsed following a volcanic eruption. Today, the volcanic lake is dormant but fascinating to view.
Swimming is not allowed in Kerid Crater Lake, but you can hike down to its shores and touch the chilly water in summer. In winter months, the lake freezes over, and intrepid travelers can walk across the ice.
The Kerid Crater Path encircles the lake. The loop trail is less than 1 mile in length (1.4 kilometers) and should take about 25 minutes to complete.
12. Whale Watching
Iceland ranks among the best places in the world for whale watching. The cold Atlantic Ocean water surrounding the country provides an ideal environment for various whale species. April to September is the best time of year to spot these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat in Iceland.
Sign up for a whale-watching boat tour from Reykjavik’s Old Harbour with our trusted partner, GetYourGuide, for an opportunity to see humpback whales, minke whales, and other wildlife like dolphins and puffins. If someone in your family suffers from motion sickness, then be sure to take precautions before setting sail.
For a chance to see the world’s largest ever-living animal, the blue whale, book a whale-watching tour from Húsavík Harbor in Northern Iceland Skjálfandi Bay. A haven for around 1,000 of these elusive and massive 160-ton animals, this remote area has earned its reputation as the whale-watching capital of Europe.
13. Whales of Iceland
Even if you can’t get out on the water, you can still get up close to cetaceans in interactive exhibits at Whales of Iceland. This unique museum is home to 23 life-sized models of Icelandic whale species from the beluga all the way up to the sperm whale and even the blue whale. Audio guides are available in 17 languages.
Attend a live guided 30-minute tour of Whales of Iceland at 11 am or 3 pm at no extra cost. Each guided tour takes about 30 minutes.
Additionally, the Fin Whale Theatre shows a documentary on a large cinema screen about whales and what we humans can do to help conserve these fascinating animals.
14. Perlan – Wonders of Iceland
I visited Reykjavik with my friend and fellow travel writer, Kim Tate, editor of Stuffed Suitcase. We split up to explore different attractions and, apparently, I really missed out by skipping Perlan Museum. Kim says, “For natural science lovers, the Perlan Museum is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Reykjavik.”
She continues, “Located about five minutes outside of the city center, the observation deck of the distinctive glass dome overlooks the city, giving clear 360-degree views of the city and surrounding area.
Inside, the museum features exhibits that tell the story of Iceland through its nature, history, and culture. One highlight is the man-made ice cave, where visitors can see carved sculptures lit with colored lights.
The Northern Lights planetarium show is also amazing. You get the chance to see dazzling videos of the aurora borealis projected overhead on the building’s dome.”
15. Reykjavik City Museum
Reykjavik City Museum consists of five museums, each with a unique focus and different location in the city. Visit whichever captures your interest or go to all five if you have the time.
Árbær Open Air Museum
Step back in time at Arbaer Open Air Museum on the outskirts of Reykjavik. Originally a working farm, today more than 20 restored historical buildings form a make-believe 20th-century village including a town square, church, and farm. Interact with costumed characters who perform handicraft demonstrations. Children will especially like seeing Arbaaer’s domesticated animals like chickens, sheep, pigs, and Icelandic horses.
The Settlement Exhibition
Visitors go below the city to view the archeological remains of the first human inhabitants of Reykjavik at The Settlement Exhibition. You’ll see a 10th-century Viking longhouse and other finds dating back to 871 AD.
Reykjavik Maritime Museum
This museum explores the city’s crucial relationship with the sea and fishing industry. Reykjavik Maritime Museum‘s permanent exhibition, Fish & Folk covers 150 years of Icelandic fisheries from rowboats of the 19th century through the more modern fishing methods of the 21st century. Located at the Old Harbour, visitors also get a chance to step on board a 900-ton coastguard ship.
Escape the city with a 20-minute ferry to Videy Island. Enjoy expansive views of the city, nature hiking and biking trails, and one of the country’s oldest churches. Ferries run daily in summer but on weekends only during winter.
Once the site of a now long-abandoned 13th-century monastery, the small island is now best known as the home of the Imagine Peace Tower. This outdoor art structure was created in John Lennon’s honor by Yoko Ono. “Imagine peace” is written in 24 languages on the outside of the tower. Every year, a blue light viewable from Reykjavik is emitted from the tower, beginning on John Lennon’s birthday on October 9 through the day he was killed on December 8.
Reykjavik Museum of Photography
With photographs dating from 1860 through 2014, the Reykjavik Museum of Photography displays approximately 6 million photos in total. The primary focus is on Icelandic photography with professional as well as amateur works in the collection.
16. Phallological Museum
This institution was erected to study and present penises of all sorts. You’ll see the world’s largest collection of animal phalluses as well as depictions of male genitalia in artwork. The educational yet giggle-inducing Phallological Museum makes a good choice to visit with juvenile boys and juvenile boys at heart, according to esteemed author of travel guidebooks, Rick Steves.
In Rick Steves Iceland, he says, “You’ll see more wieners than you can shake a stick at — preserved, pickled peckers floating in jars of yellow liquid. You’ll see a seal’s schlong, a wolf’s wang, a zebra’s zipper trout, a fox’s frankfurter, a giraffe’s gherkin, a dog’s dong, a badger’s baloney pony, a squirrel’s schwanz, a coyote’s crankshaft, a horse’s hardware, a reindeer’s rod, an elephant’s equipment, and lots of whale willies. If you can’t get through this description without giggling, maybe you should visit.”
17. Reykjavik’s Famous Hot Dogs
Where to go after visiting a Phallological Museum besides Reykjavik’s best hot dog stand? Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur’s original fast food joint in the center of the city has been operating since 1937.
The popular spot became famous after a visit from U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2004. Since then, the brand has expanded to several locations in Iceland.
These are not your standard wieners. Made with a blend of lamb, pork, and beef — the sausages are traditionally topped with ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crispy fried onions, and raw onions. If you want to dine like a president, order a “Clinton” to get your dog topped with mustard only.
18. National Museum of Iceland
Experience Iceland from the Settlement Age when Vikings first came to the country in medieval times around 850 AD to the present at the National Museum of Iceland. Look for rotating art and cultural exhibits as well.
The Making of a Nation permanent exhibit includes 2,000 archeological objects like swords and drinking horns plus over 1,000 photographs from the modern era. Most famous is the Valþjófsstaður Door, an intricately carved church door depicting a knight slaying a dragon.
Save Money on Your Reykjavik Vacation
Get discounted admission to the National Museum of Iceland, all the Reykjavik City Museums, Reykjavik City Bus access, and entrance to several other Reykjavik attractions with the Reykjavik City Card. Buy yours now!
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Keep These Top Things to Do in Reykjavik
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Which of these amazing things to do in Reykjavik would you like to experience? Let us know in the comments below!
A Note from The Travel Mama: Pursuit Collection hosted many of my experiences in Reykjavik, including FlyOver Iceland and Sky Lagoon. I did not receive any monetary compensation related to this article about must-see Reykjavik attractions. Regardless of who’s paying, I always share the truth with readers.
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