Reykjavik: The Ultimate City Guide

I have professed my love for Iceland on numerous occasions, and for anyone that has been lucky to visit the incredible island nation, it isn’t hard to see why so many people are falling under an Icelandic spell.

For anyone who is travelling to Iceland in the near future, here’s a little guide to help you make the most of your time in the truly kooky capital city of Reykjavik.


WHEN TO GO

When you should visit Reykjavik (and Iceland in general) depends on what kind of experience you are dreaming of. Iceland is amazing all year round, so realistically, one could visit any time of year and fall head over heels in love with the place.

However, if you are looking to see the Northern Lights – a trip between September and March will be your best bet. If you want to spend your time in a more temperate climate and to get the maximum amount of daylight hours, the summer months of May to August will serve you better.

Personally, my favourite time to visit Iceland is in February/March, for me, the colder the weather, the happier the traveller!

reykjavik-glacier-hike-iceland

HOW TO GET THERE

Getting to Reykjavik is insanely easy.

IcelandAir fly directly into Keflavik international airport from all over Europe and the US and will often offer a free multi-day layover for those travelling from the US to Europe via Iceland.

If you are on a tighter budget, WOW Air is Iceland’s budget airline. It is certainly a no frills kinda flying experience, and you need to double check that everything you could possible need (luggage, meals, etc.) is booked online, otherwise prepare to pay through the nose at the airport, but if you are good at planning and also at sticking to a strict luggage allowance, it is a way to get to Iceland cheaply.

Once you have landed into Keflavik, there are a few ways to get into the city centre.

The FlyBus+ and the Gray Line Airport Express are some of the most efficient ways to get from the airport directly to your hotel or hostel. Costing approx 2900ISK each way (approx $35) these buses may seem expensive, but compared to the cost of a taxi (well over 5000ISK) it is a good budget option.


WHERE TO STAY

Budget: Loft Hostel

Located in the heart of downtown Reykjavik, Loft Hostel has an awesome community vibe, a great bar, comfy beds and is within stumbling distance of both some fantastic bars and also the best hotdogs in Europe – a perfect combo right there! Dorm beds start at $40/night.

Click here for more information.

Mid-Range: 101 Reykjavik Apartments

These beautiful apartments are located not far from the city centre of Reykjavik, and are within walking distance of the BSI bus terminal, the domestic airport and many of the most popular spots in all of Reykjavik. Apartments start at $160/night.

Click here for more information.

Luxury: 101 Hotel Reykjavik

Located literally across the street from the stunning Harpa, this luxury hotel may cost around what a kidney goes for on the black market, but if you have the money to burn, it would be well spent here. A standard room starts at $550/night.

Click here for more information.

Hanging out on the Reykjanes Peninsula - an easy day trip from Reykjavik
Hanging out on the Reykjanes Peninsula – an easy day trip from Reykjavik

HOW TO GET AROUND

If you are planning to mostly stay within the city centre of Reykjavik, you don’t need to worry too much about organising transport. The entire city is incredibly walk-able – and you can get to almost everything on foot.

If you want to do a couple of things that require getting out of the city, there are a tonne of day trips and day tours that can prove a cost effective way to see what has caught your fancy.

However, if you plan to spend most of your time outside of the city adventuring off to other locations, renting a car might be a better idea. Just make sure you get decent insurance!


WHAT TO SEE

Harpa

Harpa is a concert hall and convention centre servicing Reykjavik. While that may sound like a dull place to visit, the reality is that some genius architecture makes a visit to Harpa anything but boring.

Photo Credit: Sara Ackerman

So Much Street Art

Reykjavik is home to countless statues, monuments, murals and pieces of politically charged artwork. Art enthusiasts could easily spend days (or weeks) in Reykjavik just exploring this art.

Kolaportið

Kolaportið is a little flea market sitting pretty much adjacent to Harpa. Open on weekends between 11am and 5pm, you never know what this little flea market will hold. With everything from clothing and jewellery to records and books, a visit to Kolaportið is an easy way to spend a few hours on a lazy morning!

Just be aware that most vendors only accept cash (a rarity in Iceland) and that the one ATM in the building doesn’t always work and/or accept foreign cards. Bring cash in advance.

Hallgrímskirkja

Another architectural marvel, this Lutheran church is one of the most memorable buildings in all of Iceland. Oh, and the views from the top are second to none.

Reykavik-Travel-Guide-City-Iceland

Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden

Another one for the art lovers – or for anyone running low on money and looking for a free way to spend a few hours! The Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden is open all year round and is full to the brim of some seriously interesting sculptures.

The Blue Lagoon

Is a visit to the Blue Lagoon touristy? Yes. Is it overpriced? You bet. Should you absolutely still go? Heck yes!

Many people prefer local swimming pools for a more authentic experience, but the appeal of the Blue Lagoon still cannot be denied. The milky blue water, the black volcanic rock surrounding the water, the Skyr smoothies and the endless plumes of steam all combine to make the Blue Lagoon just a little bit magical. Maybe it isn’t the sorta place to visit regularly, but if you are going to visit Reykjavik – you should visit it at least once.

Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Blue-Lagoon-Reykjavik-Iceland

The Pearl

Dining at this futuristic looking glass domed restaurant is by no means a budget experience, however the viewing deck offers some truly outstanding views of Reykjavik. Check it out here.

Laugardalslaug

Laugardalslaug is one of Reykjaviks many local pools. A firm favourite amongst locals and foreigners alike, an evening spent at one of these pools is something you must do while in Reykjavik, and as an added bonus, these thermally heated pools are much cheaper than the Blue Lagoon!

Icelandic Phallological Museum

Want to spend a solid 45 minutes giggling your ass off at a ridiculously comprehensive museum of anything and everything related to the male genitalia? Of course you do!

The Icelandic Phallological Museum consistently features on lists of the worlds strangest museums, and the specimens from whales are so alarmingly enormous that you really should see them for yourself.

Icelandic-Phallological-Penis-Museum-Reykjavik-iceland

Nauthólsvík

This geothermal beach is free to enter during the summer months. While it may not be as warm as a swim in Greece or Croatia – it is certainly an experience that one should not miss.


GO ADVENTURING

Dog Sledding

If you are visiting Reykjavik in the colder months, then do not miss the opportunity to get out on a nearby glacier and experience the true amazingness that is dog sledding. There are several Reykjavik based outfitters offering such trips – but be prepared, they don’t come cheap.

Dog-Sledding-Reykjavik-Iceland

Glacier Hiking

If you can’t afford to get on a dogsled but still want to experience one of Reykjaviks nearby glaciers, then get ready to don your crampons and get hiking! There are a tonne of hikes available to suit every fitness level and these trips are fairly affordable.

glacier-hiking-reykjavik-iceland

Aurora Hunting

If it is on your bucket list to see the Northern Lights – then Iceland is a great place to do so! The Northern Lights can be seen all over Iceland during the autumn and winter months. Be prepared to drive out of the cities to minimise light pollution and rug up – you might be waiting hours before the Aurora makes an appearance.

reykjavik-iceland-ellen-burne-northern-lights

Volcano Exploring

Most volcanoes fill up with magma after they have erupted and become more like hills (like Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh), but every once in a while, nature decides to go and create something amazingly unique.

Not too far from Reykjavik, a dormant volcano exists that is completely concave. Elements exposed to extreme heat when the volcano last exploded have left the walls inside splashed with incredible colours that have to be seen to be believed. Click here to learn more.

inside-volcano-iceland

Swim Between Continents

There are a bunch of places in the world where you can stand in multiple countries at once, but being able to snorkel between two entirely different continental plates? Well that’s an experience you can only have in Iceland.

Silfra continental fissure is located within Þingvellir National Park. There are several diving outfitters running snokelling or scuba diving trips to this geological paradise – which offers the chance to touch both continents at once and also the opportunity to snorkel or dive in some of the clearest waters you could ever imagine.

Check out dive.is to learn more.

silfra-continental-fissure-snorkelling-reykjavik-iceland

EASY DAY TRIPS

Reykjanes Peninsula

If you are looking for geothermal hotspots, mud craters, black sand beaches and some stunning cliffs, then a trip to the Reykjanes Peninsula would be just the ticket.

reykjanes-peninsula-Krýsuvík-iceland-reykjavik

South Coast

If waterfalls are more your bag – then a day spent driving along the South Coast would be well spent.

Make sure to check out Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss for some exceptionally stunning examples – and if you find yourself wanting even more Icelandic waterfalls – check out this map to help aid you in all your waterfall chasing glory.

skogafoss-iceland-south-coast-reykjavik

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle would be hands down the most well beaten tourist track in Iceland – but rest assured that this is for a good reason.

The Golden Circle is home to the famous Gulfoss waterfall, the incredible Strokkur Geysir, Þingvellir National Park and Kerið Crater Lake. The area is very easy for self drivers, but if you are flying solo or not renting a car, day trips to this amazing region are abundant.

Geysir-Strokkur-Golden-Circle-Iceland-Reykjavik

Jokusarlon

Getting to Jokusarlon Glacial Lagoon is a fair trek. Driving to and from this lagoon takes about 12 hours, but luckily, the drive is incredibly scenic. If you intend to do this trip on a group tour, fork out the extra few dollars and go on a smaller bus – the bigger buses will make you feel like cattle.

jokusarlon-glacial-lagoon-iceland

WHERE TO DRINK

Kaldi Bar

Kaldi Bar is micro-brewery with an enormous range of beers – make sure to turn up during happy hour – 700kr beers are about as cheap as it gets in this Icelandic capital.

Kafiibarinn

Your experience at this cozy Icelandic establishment will depend on when you go. If you visit on a Monday – expect a chilled vibe, candlelit tables and the perfect place to get a quiet drink. But if you visit on a Friday or Saturday – be prepared to fight the crowds as this place gets packed.

Lebowski Bar

The scene of one of my favourite nights out in Reykjavik. If you want things to get wild, take a spin on the wheel behind the bar. If you win the grand prize of 10 pints, you are sure to be well on your way!

Photo courtesy of Leigh Thomas
Photo courtesy of Leigh Thomas

Kiki Queer Bar

Hands down the most colourful and most fun bar in all of Reykjavik – Kiki Queer Bar may be a ‘gay bar’, but it welcomes anyone and everyone – regardless of their sexual preference. The place is friendly, cheerful and oh so inviting.


WHERE TO EAT

Cafe Loki

If you want to get a taste of some traditional Icelandic cuisine (fermented shark anyone?) then this popular local cafe is one you won’t want to skip. Plus, it is located adjacent to Hallgrímskirkja – so you can’t miss it.

cafe-loki-reykjavik-iceland

Noodle Station

If you are on a budget but don’t feel like cooking, Noodle Station is about as budget friendly as a restaurant in Reykjavik gets. Plus the food is delish, which is always a bonus.

Reykjavik Roasters

Hailed as the best coffee in the entire city, Reykjavik Roasters has become nothing short of an institution. Come here for an early morning brew before a big day of exploring.

The Fish Market

For more upmarket fair and some of the best seafood you’ll ever taste, don’t miss the Fish Market. Just be prepared, this menu doesn’t come cheap.

fishmarket-iceland-reykjavik-sashimi

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

Famed for being the best hotdog stand in Europe (yep, this is legitimately a thing), these hotdogs don’t look like much, but holy shit are they tasty. The lines can be long so once you get to the front, just go ahead and buy two – you’ll inevitably want a second one, but lining up twice is a pain in the arse.

Bonus Supermarket

If you are on a super tight budget, Bonus supermarkets are the cheapest supermarkets in Iceland. Get your grub here and prepare your own food in your hostel kitchen.


WHAT TO ‘GRAM

The Sun Voyager

The Sun Voyager is the most photographed sculpture in Reykjavik. It isn’t all that special, but it does overlook an exceptionally good looking stretch of coastline.

sun-voyager-reykjavik-iceland

Reykjavik From Above

To get this picture, head to the top of Hallgrímskirkja and give your camera one helluva workout.

reykjavik-hallgrimskirkja-iceland

Posted by

20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

32 thoughts on “Reykjavik: The Ultimate City Guide

  1. My coworker and I were just discussing a potential trip to Iceland in our futures. Probably not soon, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless!

  2. Are you sure your photos are from the same trip? It looks like the middle of winter in some pictures and springtime in the others! I’ll have to plan a trip in March like you to get the best of the seasons. 🙂

  3. We were Reykjavik in 2015! But only for 2 days so only went around the golden circle and hung out in the city. It’s definitely a place we want to go back to! It’s so amazing there.

  4. Last summer my wife and son had an 18 hour layover in Iceland. Perfect time to rent a car and do a quick tour on our own. There are several “loop” roads that you can try to see some of the sites. The price was around $115 USD for the day – much cheaper than some of the bus tours. We were able to visit Rekjavik, a couple of waterfalls, some gorgeous coastline and the Blue Lagoon. Filling the gas tank was a bit of a shock by the airport…like Ellen said, Iceland is VERY expensive. Paris seemed like a bargain in comparison.

  5. Great write up, me thinks I will need some time there as all of these suggestions sound wonderful to see. I see at least a 2 week adventure coming.

  6. This post came to me at exactly the right time! I’m heading to Iceland in 2 weeks and I cannot wait! I’ll be there 8 days and I’m definitely going to get good use out of this guide! I am so excited to explore the street art! I have to say that I’m nervous about the cold weather, as this is my first winter trip (I usually travel somewhere warmer in winter)! But I’m hoping for the best! Thanks for sharing! Xx

  7. You forget the Americn-Europe bridge 😉 it is also in the neibourhood of Reykjavik. If you have the time, you should do a a round trip of Iceland, the North is also very beautifull. (been there twice :).

  8. We too are among the number of readers who have an Iceland trip coming up soon (2 weeks from now). As we cannot drive, we’re planning a tours to see a bit of the country. We’re currently debating between Snaefellsnes Peninsula & the pricier but better looking Kerlingarfjoll highland paradise. Do you have any words or advice?

  9. I’ve seen a lot of people I know going here lately. It looks like so much fun! Must I point out that I would have to see the phallological museum and spin the wheel at the Lebowski bar!

  10. Weirdly wonderful place.. lots of natural wonders within a days drive of the city – there is some funnily named business like the Chuck Norris grill!

  11. Iceland is awesome – one of my all time favorite locations to go to. We stayed at an AirBnB place in the suburbs of the capital and it was well worth it – we went to the local geothermal heated community pool multiple times and got to know some of the locals who gave us some great advice. Plus we got to see some things wouldn’t have seen if we stayed closer to the capital. He staying in Hafnarfjörður and found the town to be really nice.

  12. My favourite travel destination. Been three times but last time was the best. Drove round the whole island. Best place by far was the Westfjords but be warned the roads are pretty scary especially when it’s foggy.

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