Top 10 things to do in Reykjavík
The colourful and cosmopolitan Icelandic capital has experienced a surge in popularity over the past few years, thanks to an increase in convenient flight routes connecting Reykjavík with the rest of the world.
City slickers and outdoors enthusiasts alike can’t fail to be charmed by Reykjavík. Nestled in a sheltered bay in southwest Iceland, with a dramatic mountain view to the north and the sleekly designed Harpa music hall dominating the harbour Reykjavík offers all the delights of a vibrant city break along with the chance to experience Iceland’s natural wonders like the enchanting Northern Lights.
With a reputation for culinary creativity, world class festivals, and an excellent art and design scene, Reykjavík combines the contemporary cool of a cutting-edge city with unparalleled access to Iceland’s natural attractions.
1. The Northern Lights
One of the biggest draws to Iceland is the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, a striking natural phenomenon that causes the sky to light up with streaks of dancing colors. The effect is caused by solar particles ionizing in the Earth’s atmosphere and while green is the most common color spotted in the sky, you could be lucky enough to see purples, reds, pinks, oranges and blues take over the heavens too. The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is between September and April on a dark and cloudless night. You’ll want to escape from the light pollution of Reykjavik but tours can easily be arranged from the city.
2. The Golden Circle
A popular sightseeing route within easy reach of Reykjavík is Iceland’s Golden Circle, a tour of some of the best attractions in the southwest of the country. Famous sights such as the historical Þingvellir National Park, the awe-inspiring Geysir Geothermal Area and the mighty Gullfoss waterfall are all situated on this route - none are further than a two-hour drive from the capital. Whether you choose to rent a car and enjoy a self-guided adventure or sign up to a tour to learn as much as possible about the region, the Golden Circle makes for a memorable and scenic road trip in Iceland.
There’s no better place to book a whale-watching tour than Reykjavík; boats leave daily from the old harbor, just minutes from the center. The main types of whales that are usually spotted in Faxaflói Bay are minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, humpback whales and harbor porpoises - sightings of these majestic creatures are most likely during the summer months. The best whale-watching tours in Iceland are small, personable and follow the IceWhale’s code of conduct for responsible whale-watching: let the animals approach rather than the other way around. Spotting these beautiful mammals in their natural habitat is a truly humbling experience.
4. The Blue Lagoon and geothermal hot springs
Some say that no trip to Iceland is truly complete without a dip in the healing waters of a geothermal hot spring. Just a 30-minute drive from Reykjavík, the world famous Blue Lagoon doubles up as a spa, consisting of warm, mineral-rich seawater that reportedly does wonders for the skin. Contrary to popular belief, the Blue Lagoon is no natural phenomenon but formed back in the 1970s from the excess water of a power plant, designed to drill for steam and hot water. However, the water is clean, natural and as it is constantly streaming into the lagoon, completely replenished every 48 hours. The geothermal pools of Reykjadalur, or ‘Steam Valley’, can also be found near to Reykjavík, while Gamla Laugin, otherwise known as ‘The Secret Lagoon’, is a 90-minute drive from the capital.
5. A helicopter tour
Fancy viewing the glorious landscapes of Iceland from the air? A helicopter tour from Reykjavik provides a magnificent bird’s eye view of the craggy mountain peaks, volcanic craters, steamy geothermal zones and cascading waterfalls that surround the Icelandic capital. Whether you opt for a 20-minute experience or a two-hour tour with sparkling wine, you can choose from a selection of specially designed trips to ensure you take in all the top sights on your must-see list.
6. Icelandic horse-riding
The hardy Icelandic horse is a unique breed of smaller-sized equines that arrived in the country with the first settlers from Norway 1100 years ago. A variety of horse-riding tours can be booked from Reykjavík, from those which require a higher level of skill to those for complete beginners. Ride through the mysterious lava fields, tour the glorious countryside or head to the hot springs on horse-back – you’ll never want to drive again!
One for the adrenaline junkies yet simultaneously a calm and serene experience once in the air, paragliding in Reykjavik allows you to see Iceland from a new and exhilarating perspective. Even those with no prior experience can enjoy this dynamic activity – just opt for a tandem flight with a qualified instructor. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
8. The viewing deck of Perlan
Take your camera to the viewing deck where you can enjoy a full panoramic view of the greater Reykjavík area and save some time for the Glaciers and Ice Cave Exhibition at the new Perlan Museum.
9. A dip in a local swimming pool
Make like the locals and spend a morning, afternoon or evening relaxing and socialising at one of Reykjavík’s excellent swimming pools. Icelandic public pools are first rate with an assortment of hot tubs, steam rooms, saunas and even water slides for the young at heart. Laugardalslaug is the largest pool in Reykjavík and located a short walk from Grand Hotel Reykjavík, while Vesturbæjarlaug, repeatedly voted ‘Iceland’s best pool’ by locals, is just a 10-minute drive or 30-minute walk from Fosshotels Baron and Lind.
10. The tower of Hallgrímskirkja
The Lutheran parish church Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most iconic landmarks of Reykjavík – its unique spire can be spotted from almost anywhere in the city. Designed by the late Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937, who found inspiration in the fascinating shapes created by molten lava as it cooled into basalt rock, this visual spectacular is also the largest church in Iceland at 74.5m high. Visitors can take an elevator up into the spire to admire the views, but to reach the highest platform, you need to climb the last 30 steps of so.
Book tours and activities
Find amazing things to do in and around Reykjavík all year around.
Our partner, TourDesk, offers a comprehensive tour-booking service aimed to simplify the booking process.
Our hotels in Reykjavík: