Most of those who visit Iceland stay at least one day in Reykjavik. This renowned capital of Iceland is about 40 minutes’ drive from Keflavík airport and has a lot to offer both tourists and locals. For many, Reykjavik stands for a unique culture, arts, town life, shopping, nightlife, and food culture.
Reykjavik and its neighbors
Not everyone who comes to Reykjavik may know where Reykjavík ends and where other municipalities in the vicinity of the city begin. This could all be Reykjavik, for that matter, but the capital area is made up of five municipalities. Reykjavík is the largest but around Reykjavik, you can find Kópavog, Gardabaer, Mosfellsbaer, Hafnafjörður, and Seltjarnarnes. This division may be more important to the local people. Most travelers who visit Reykjavik make little distinction in these places and needless to think much about it. Just a fun fact! However, if you are in search of cheap accommodation, looking at the nearby municipalities might be a good idea as prices tend to be the highest in Reykjavik, especially at the downtown area.
Dine out in Reykjavík
If you plan to dine out in Reykjavik you are surely in for a treat. Reykjavik has many great restaurants offering a variety of cuisines and different styles. Iceland is a major fishing nation and it is not surprising that you can find many restaurants in Reykjavik that offer a variety of fish dishes. What is surprising to many, however, is the wide variety of restaurants in Reykjavik. Everything from Italian restaurants to sushi and steak. Whatever you are looking for, you will certainly find something to your liking while dining out in Reykjavik.
Read our restaurant guide and pick your favorite.
Attractions in Reykjavik
Certainly, many travelers who visit Iceland want to see all the major attractions the country has to offer and most of them are located in the countryside. So a lot of people choose to stop only briefly in Reykjavik and spend more time exploring the countryside, which is understandable. However, Reykjavik has many things to offer you might want to explore and see for yourself, for example:
Hallgrímskirkja church is Reykjavík’s main landmark and its tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. Construction of the church began in 1945 and ended in 1986. Hallgrimskirkja is magnificent in every way and if you head to the tower at the top you will enjoy fantastic views over the whole city.
Solfar Sun Voyager
There are many beautiful places to stop and admire the scenery on these coastal paths, which are very popular with joggers and cyclists, however there is one well-photographed spot which has the added charm of being home to the striking Sun Voyager – a massive steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Arnason which may resemble a Viking ship, but in fact, a dreamboat and ode to the sun.
Harpa Concert Hall
Harpa is one of the main landmarks of Reykjavik and is the center of culture and life in the heart of the city center, where it stands gracefully at the harbor bank. Harpa is a tourist destination and award-winning work of art that 10 million people have visited since its opening on May 4, 2011. The Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center in Reykjavik offers the best facilities for concerts and conferences in Northern Europe. Harpa has received countless awards and was chosen one of the best concert halls of the new millennium by the renowned music magazine Gramophone magazine and was voted best event house in 2011 by Travel & Leisure magazine. You can visit harpa.is for information on concerts, shows, and exhibitions that happen frequently at Harpa.
Laugavegur is the main shopping street in downtown Reykjavik. The street is home to a number of shops, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, bars, and various service companies, as well as apartments. It is the street that connects different parts of the downtown area and a great place to start your downtown route.
Laugardalur recreation area
The Laugardalur valley is undoubtedly the most popular outdoor area of Reykjavik, as the area is particularly suitable for outdoor activities, sheltered and luxuriant with well-organized hiking and biking paths. Laugardalur is also one of the main centers of sports activities in Reykjavik, and there are sports facilities such as Laugardalshöllin, Laugardalsvöllur football stadium, Reykjavik‘s biggest swimming center, and an ice-skating center. At Laugardalur you will also find the Botanical Gardens in the heart of the valley. The Laugardalur Family and Livestock Park is popular with children and family members and contains all Icelandic domestic animals and major wildland mammals such as foxes and reindeer as well as seals.
The heated beach in Nauthólsvík has truly established itself as a paradise in the city, which attracts both domestic and foreign visitors. Mighty revetments give shelter to a beautiful lagoon where cool sea and hot water blend into one. Inside the beach, golden shell sand has been added and these conditions are more reminiscent of the coastal Mediterranean coast than in the northernmost capital of the North Atlantic. This is the place to be at on a sunny day in summer.
Go for a swim or relax in the hot tubs – in Reykjavik
It is somewhat unique to visit the local swimming pools in Reykjavik, and, you can find fun pools and swimming centers in all the districts of the city, variously large but all with a charm of its own. All the pools are heated with geothermally heated water and almost all the sites offer swimming pools, pools for children, hot tubs, steamers, saunas, water slides, and sunbeds during the summer. The swimming pools in Reykjavik are perfect for the family as well as for those who want to spend quality time in the hot tub with the locals, talking about politics, sports, daily life and everything in between. We recommend Laugardalslaug, Sundhöll Reykjavíkur, Árbæjarlaug and the swimming pool at Seltjarnarnes.
Shopping in Reykjavik
In Reykjavik, you will find two medium-sized shopping malls, which are usually the go-to place for shopping in the capital area. One of them, called Kringlan, is about 2-3km away from the city center and is easily accessible by bus from Hlemmur Square. Also, various smaller shops are located in the center of Reykjavik, where Icelandic design can be enjoyed in combination with other stores in the area.
For shopping at Kringland and location – please visit www.kringlan.is
For shopping at Smáralind shopping mall in Kopavogur – please visit: www.smaralind.is
The nightlife in Reykjavik
The nightlife in Reykjavik is an attraction in itself, and many people who visit the city often want to experience it. On weekends, when it gets dark, the center of Reykjavik turns into one big nightlife scene where every club, bar, and restaurant offers fun drinks and music that attracts thousands of people who come to have a great time with their friends and colleagues. Most places are open until 4 a.m and you can expect to be somewhat, to say the least, hungover the following morning.
Public Transportation in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has no subway but the bus system in Reykjavik is pretty good and has been improving for the last couple of years. The bus system connects the suburbs with the downtown area and offers frequent time table. For more information on routes and timing, please visit: www.straeto.is
Events and Festivals in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has so much to offer when it comes to fun events and festivals taking place. The city offers numerous smaller events all year round, such as art exhibitions, concerts, performances, lectures, conferences and so on. Then some big festivals take place throughout the year. including:
Food and Fun – February
an internationally renowned gastronomical festival that attracts chefs and guests from all over the world to Reykjavik to join up with the local restaurant scene and participate in a cooking event.
Design March – March
DesignMarch is Iceland’s annual design festival. It will take place for the twelfth time on 25–29 March 2020 transforming the most northerly capital in the world into one big venue for design. From fashion to furniture, architecture to the environment, food to product design, the festival showcases the best of the local design scene alongside exciting international names
Reykjavik Fashion Festival – March
Reykjavík Fashion Festival was formed in 2009 and is a great venue for Icelandic fashion designers to exhibit their work and show their designs. The goal of RFF is to draw attention to Icelandic design and the ongoing evolution of the Icelandic fashion industry
National Day of Iceland – June
The Icelandic National Day celebrations in Reykjavík take place annually in the city center on June 17th from 10:00 in the morning until 19:00. The program includes family-oriented entertainment with street theatre and a variety of wonderful activities, followed by a concert at Arnarhóll and an accordion ball at City Hall.
Reykjavik Arts Festival – June
Reykjavík Arts Festival is a biennial multidisciplinary festival with a special focus on new commissions and the creative intersection of the arts. It presents, to the widest possible audience, exhibitions, and performances of contemporary and classical works in major cultural venues and unconventional spaces throughout the city.
Secret Solstice – June
Secret Solstice is an Icelandic music festival in it’s the sixth year that will take place on the 21st – 23rd of June 2019. It showcases both established artists as well as exciting up-and-coming talent over three days in the 24-hour midnight sun during the summer solstice. The festival is themed after the Norse religion and mythology of old and along with our side-event it’s been described as “one of the most unique events in the world”.
Reykjavik Pride – August
This colorful event brings tens of thousands of people into the city center every year to show solidarity and to have fun with the LGBTQ community in Reykjavik. People of all genders, friends, relatives, and a fast-growing number of tourists, all come together to celebrate and support universal human rights.
Culture night – August
Reykjavík Culture Night will be held for the 24th time on the 24th of August 2019. The event, which is both created and enjoyed by city residents, takes place all across Reykjavík with celebrations in city streets and squares, in museums, businesses and even in residential gardens! The event’s slogan “come on in!” is a reference to those good old fashioned customs of hospitality. With about 100.000 guests Culture Night is the biggest and most popular festival in Iceland. The program offers a cross-section of all things culture, with a host of events ranging from musical performances to exhibitions of art and architecture, all delivered by the city’s budding talent.
All festival events are offered free of charge, meaning everyone can take part and make the most of it together with their nearest and dearest.
Reykjavik International Film Festival – October
RIFF – Reykjavík International Film Festival – is one of the biggest and most diverse cultural events in Iceland. RIFF is an independent non-profit organization. Our staff works all year round to organize the festival but we couldn’t do that without the help of volunteers from all over the world that come to Reykjavik every year to help out.
Iceland Airwaves – November
Iceland Airwaves Festival is the world’s most northerly music showcase and industry festival, situated halfway between North America and Europe. Iceland Airwaves brings together the country’s brightest emerging musical talent and forward-thinking international acts. Each November for four days and nights, downtown Reykjavík comes alive, filled non-stop with music, with performances hosted everywhere from tiny record stores and art museums, to cool bars and stately churches, to nightclubs and large scale venues.
December in Reykjavik
Our wonderful Holiday season, crowned regularly with displays of enchanting Northern Lights, is one of the city’s main winter attractions; however, it’s not just those otherworldly illuminations and extravagant decorations getting all the attention. Reykjavík’s growing reputation as an alternative Christmas destination has exceeded all expectations, attracting much international media attention and a record number of visitors to the city.