As many of you may know, Iceland has quickly become one of my favorite travel destinations. There is something truly magical about Iceland. Its remoteness, its incredible landscapes, its culture, the people, and its food all make this small but fascinating country one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. For a good reason. I have now been to Iceland on two separate trips.
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of the world but has surprisingly mild weather thanks to the Gulf Stream. Below you will find my recommendations for things to see, eat and do. This guide is great both if you have lots of time or limited time in the city. You will find that Reykjavik is relatively small and easy to navigate. Happy trails!
What to See
Hallgrímskirkja church - Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland. This is a pretty hard one to miss, honestly. It is the tallest structure in the city and one of the best-known landmarks in Iceland. Leif Eriksson is situated outside of the church. You can go up to the top to overlook the city which I have yet to do. You can go inside for free which I would recommend as the architecture is quite different from traditional churches; the organ is quite impressive in and of itself.
Harpa Concert Hall - Harpa is quite beautiful to look at from both the outside and the inside. The geometric framework is stunning. You can walk around inside as there are gift shops and cafes but I would suggest going in just to see the windows. You can also check the schedule and see if the orchestra is playing while you are in town.
Solfar (The Sun Voyager) sculpture - Solfar is situated on the waterfront just down from Harpa. This waterfront is one of my favorite views in the city. The artist intended this sculpture to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.
Graffiti Art - As visitors to Iceland are sure to have noticed, several large and elaborate murals adorn the walls of buildings in and around Reykjavík’s center. These pieces are intricate, beautiful and well worth taking the time to see. There are murals on every street, some small and some elaborate. Most of the street art you will see is commissioned art but there are also tags and bubble graffiti around as well. You could spend an entire day just strolling the city looking for street art!
What to Eat
If you are a vegan that will be traveling Iceland soon, read my blog post about all of our favorite restaurants and tips to save money. It includes restaurants that we found while traveling Ring Road.
Kaffi Vínyl - We had their sandwiches last time we were in town which were amazing! This time, we opted for the soup of the day (sweet potato) as well as the nachos and the breads & spreads appetizer. I have to admit I was kind of disappointed in the nachos. They were good, but not great. The breads & spreads were pretty amazing though! As was the soup. I would also highly recommend their house kefir (kind of like kombucha).
Gló - We visited this restaurant twice on our last trip to Iceland. It is a great choice for vegan options. They have at least two locations, one is centrally located downtown and the other is on the outskirts of the city. They have a great lunch special where you can get an option with 3 of their salad sides. The lasagna is amazing!
Passion Reykjavik - I don't have any photos from the inside of Passion, but take my word for it that it is worth stopping by if you have a sweet tooth. They have a small selection of vegan pastries but I would highly suggest that you stop in to sample one of each. It was quite busy with locals stopping in for their morning pastry and coffee, but the wait time was not bad. It is decorated quite elegantly and the pastries speak for themselves.
Íslenska Flatbakan - I dreamed of these cheesy bread sticks since the last time that I was in Iceland. This is a small chain pizza restaurant that serve up craft pizzas and beer. Danny and I both would absolutely recommend you stop in, especially if you are a pizza lover. They have a handful of vegan options to choose from, as well as the vegan cheese sticks. This last time I also got the spicy vegan pizza and unless you absolutely LOVE spicy things, avoid this one! My mouth was dying and I could barely taste the pizza itself. They have a pretty decent selection of Icelandic beer as well.
Reykjavik Roasters - This is a well-known coffee spot very centrally located in downtown Reykjavik. It seems that there are equal parts locals and tourists every time I have stopped in. All of Reykjavik has a very hipster vibe and Reykjavik Roasters is no exception. It feels more like a large living room than an establishment. It is quite cozy, eclectic and the staff are always warm and friendly.
What to Do
Visit Reykjavik's Museums - There are many museums throughout the city! Admittedly, I have spent more time wandering around searching for street art and setting out into the countryside than I have in the museums. Just another excuse to go back, right? This past trip we visited Reykjavik Art Museum. The cost of admission actually gets your entrance into two other art museums in the city, but we didn't have enough time to make it to those. If you do plan to visit museums while you are in the city, consider getting the City Card to save yourself some money. From Maritime museums, art museums to Icelandic history, you are sure to find at least one museum that suits your fancy. There is even a phallological museum, yep that means penis. Next on my list is the Reykjavik Museum of Photography!
Self-Guided Walking Tour - Truthfully, Reykjavík is a city that is best enjoyed by foot. You could pay someone to take you on a walking tour, or you could save yourself the money and and do it yourself. The parking for Reykjavik is split into 3 levels. P1 is the most centrally located parking and will cost you the most and is followed by P2 and P3 parking. Find a spot to park and start walking! You can't really get lost in this city and you are sure to find cultural and historically significant locations at every turn.
Opt for a Day Tour - There are many, many tour companies to choose from in Iceland. Most of these offer free pickup in Reykjavik. If you will be spending more than a day or two in the city, you might want to consider booking a day tour! We used Tröll Expeditions for a day tour to Snæfellsnes Peninsula. One of the stops is at Kirkjufell mountain which was the site of a couple of Game of Thrones episodes as well as the inspiration for Journey to the Center of the Earth. Troll picked us up near our Airbnb and we spent a full day exploring this beautiful western part of the country. We had Maggie as our tour guide and I could sing her praises all day. The Peninsula is not as "touristy" or as well-known as the Golden Circle or the South Coast of Iceland. Tröll has day tours to see those areas as well, and their South Coast tour is very well reviewed on Trip Advisor. I can't tell you which I would choose if I could only choose to see one. Iceland's landscapes are so different and vast that honestly you need to see them all. This is (one of the reasons) why I keep going back.
Relax by Tjörnin Pond - Tjörnin Pond is a tranquil area right near the City Hall. The lake is alive with swans, ducks and a variety of other birds and is great for people watching. This past time, we enjoyed watching teenagers try to make it across the ice to the little island in the middle of the pond.
Enjoy the Nightlife - What makes partying in Iceland different to anywhere else in the world? I can't exactly tell you, but I can tell you that the nightlife in Reykjavik is not to be missed. The nightlife is all centered in one place, all within easy walking distance from another, and rarely require an entrance fee. You will want to leave your hiking boots at the hotel and opt instead for a nicer outfit. You will find that there isn't much of a dress code but Reykjavik is a metropolitan city and they dress as such. I have never felt scared or threatened while in Iceland so no worries about safety! There are many bars and events and I could probably do an entire blog post just about our favorite spots. (If you would be interested in that, drop a comment!) I would recommend checking Gaukurinn's page for events while you are in town, having a specialty cocktail at Slipbarinn and grabbing a flight or two of Icelandic beer at Micro Bar.