Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, is a unique, artistic, whimsical, and relatively quiet place. With its vibrantly colored houses, charming downtown streets, and Viking history, Reykjavik is an interesting city just waiting to be explored. While the major highlights of Iceland require an excursion out into nature, there are still plenty of things to do in Reykjavik.
A monument to Hallgrimur Petursson, a famous Icelandic poet, Hallgrimskirkja Church is one of Reykjavik’s most prominent buildings. The church took over 40 years to build. Take the elevator up the tower for 360-degree views of the city. While it’s free to visit the church, there is a fee for the elevator ride. Outside Hallgrimskirkja Church is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson.
The Sun Voyager Sculpture
Located along the waterfront of Reykjavik, the Sun Voyager Sculpture, or “Solfar,” is a beautiful metal sculpture resembling a viking warship. Around sunset is the best time to view the sculpture. Icelandic sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason built the famous Sun Voyager Sculpture as an “ode to the sun,” symbolizing hope and light. Head east from the Harpa Concert Hall to reach this interesting sculpture.
Whale Watching Tour
It probably comes as no surprise with Iceland being surrounded by the ocean, but Whale watching is one of the most popular things to do among tourists. There are many excursions to choose from for a hopeful whale encounter, with several tour companies departing from Reykjavik’s Old Harbour.
The Blue Lagoon
While technically not located in Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon is close enough to be included in this list of things to do in Reykjavik. This man-made and extremely popular heated lagoon is around an hour outside the city. Situated near Keflavik International Airport, it’s good to visit the Blue Lagoon on your way from or to the airport.
Visit The Old Harbour
The Old Harbour of Reykjavik has become a popular spot for people to eat and hang out. Mount Esja can be seen in the distance from the boardwalks. Small shops now occupy many of the colorful old sheds and the local marina serves as a dock for whale-watching tours, yachts, and fishing boats. The Old Harbour is also home to the Viking Maritime Museum and Kaffivagninn, the oldest restaurant in Iceland.
Eat Icelandic Hot Dogs
Icelanders definitely love their hot dogs, and fair warning, you may not be able to enjoy hot dogs as much back home once you try an Icelandic hot dog. If you’re going to get a hot dog in Reykjavik, be sure you get one at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which boasts the title of “best hot dog stand in Europe.” Order your hot dog with “the works” (ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion and relish).
Go on a Food Tour
One of my favorite ways to get a better idea of the culture of a new country is to do a food tour. For Iceland, I highly recommend Your Friend in Reykjavik. The tour included several food stops (including a stop at the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand) and I definitely left feeling full. I definitely wouldn’t plan on a full dinner afterwards.
Be sure to plan some time to explore downtown Reykjavik. You’ll find unique stores selling volcanic rock pottery and Icelandic wool clothing. There are also plenty of great restaurants to choose from in the downtown area. Take a walk along the waterfront walkway to view the city’s architecture and some of its art, as well as feel the breeze from the ocean.
The Saga Museum
The Saga Museum is the place to go to learn about the interesting viking history of Iceland. Some of the country’s most important historical moments have been recreated throughout the museum using life-like wax figures. Explore the exhibits to find what life was like for Iceland’s first settlers and end your tour with a photo of yourself in viking clothing.
Harpa Concert Hall
Harpa Concert Hall may just be the coolest looking building in the city. Made entirely of glass, it reflects the Icelandic landscape, sky, and ocean off its geometric design. The impressive building is home to the Icelandic Opera and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and at night, the moving multicolored lights make the place come to life. Even if you’re not attending a concert here, just walking around the Harpa Concert Hall is worth the time.
Try Some Fermented Shark
One of the most traditional foods you can try during a visit to Iceland is fermented shark. The idea of eating this stinky food dates back to when food was hard to come by and people ate whatever was they could find. While fresh Greenland shark meat is poisonous, fermenting the meat for a certain period of time makes it “edible.” While you can eat fermented shark, it isn’t the most enjoyable experience but it’s something you need to try. It’s usually served with Icelandic schnapps known as “Black Death” to wash it down. I’d recommend Cafe Loki for trying fermented shark.
National Museum Of Iceland
The National Museum of Iceland features two floors of more than two thousand artifacts discovered around Iceland. See how the country’s first settlers once lived, including boats they used and a typical home from the time. Fortunately, the museum typically isn’t very crowded, which makes it one of the best things to do in Reykjavik when it’s raining or cold
Street Art Hunting
One of the best free things to do in Reykjavik is hunting for street art. Graffiti and street art murals can be found all over the downtown area of the city, with the majority of it being part of the Wall Poetry project. Several of the streets also feature artwork as well, such as a rainbow, a snake, hopscotch, and more.
Free Reykjavik Walking Tour
A free walking tour is not only one of the best things to do in Reykjavik, it’s often one of the best things to do in any city. A walking tour is especially helpful to get your bearings in a new city. I recommend City Walk Reykjavik’s two-hour free walking tour. You can learn about Iceland’s history, the local culture, and many quirky details about the city. While this tour is technically free, the idea is usually that you tip what you think the tour is worth.
Kolaportið Flea Market
Located in Reykjavik’s harbor area, the Kolaportid Flea Market is an old warehouse packed full of all kinds of used books, souvenirs, clothes, and numerous other items. It’s worth spending just a little bit of time wandering through the flea market to find a good deal, chat with locals, or simply do some people watching.