There is no doubt that Iceland is exploding with popularity and there are a hundred reasons why. From the cheap flights to the stunning landscape, Iceland is toppling many travellers’ wish lists. Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, is one of those reasons. I’ve rounded up some of the best of Reykjavik, including eating, seeing and touring. And yes, this list is totally subjective, so please comment below about your favourite place in the city!
This hip, Nordic city is clustered with vibrant colours, rich history and modern cafes. It’s easy to see why so many people love it.
This city, situated at 64 degrees north, is a cultural and economic hub of Iceland. Its parliament buildings are also located here. It is the northernmost capital in the world and has a population of around 123,000.
Best places to see
The easiest way to see the city is to walk and use the bus system.
Just a note about the bus system. Unlike other large cities around the world, no big busses are allowed in the older part of Reykjavik. Instead, if you go on any tours, many operators will pick you up in a smaller vehicle at one of the “drop off/ pick up” zones in the city. All are numbered, so many sure you know where the closest one to your hotel or hostel is.
Best view of the city
To get the best of Reykjavik, you’ll need a map, as the streets don’t follow a grid pattern and it’s easy to go in circles or get turned around altogether.
Your first stop should be to the Hallgrimkirkja, a church on a hill that has a tall, eye-catching tower. Don’t miss stepping into the church where you can see the impressive organ and head up the elevator to find a best of Reykjavik: the view.
For 900ISK, about ($12 CAD) take the elevator up to the very top then climb the rest of the stairs to give you a wonderful 360-degree view, and you’ll know why people call it the Rainbow City. On your way out of the church, take a closer look at the massive doors.
Next, head over to the parliament buildings and (public square) Here there are benches and statues to marvel at.
Best of Reykjavik city life
Get the best of Reykjavik through street art along the way. See how many pieces you can spot. Some of my favourites include the murals of ghosts near Gamla Bio, Zombie and girl near Laugavegur 66 and the whole damn house at Laugavegur 23. If you’re looking for more street art, graffiti and murals, I highly recommend I heart Reykjavik street art tour; you can check it out here.
Take a walk down Austurstræti for all the best cafes, shopping and more in Reykjavik, Austurstræti is where it’s at. Start at Bakarabrekka park and end up in the Ingólfur Square, a public square featuring art, music, skating and more throughout the year.
Next head down to the Reykjavik harbour to see views of the Greenland Sea as well as museums and exhibits.
Walk along the harbour then stop at Harpa, Reykjavik’s concert hall. It’s a striking building that changes colour and catches the sunlight just right to make it sparkle.
If you keep walking along Reykjavik’s coastal pathway, you’ll come across the Sun Voyager, a sculpture installation right on the coastline. The side of it is pretty impressive, and once you see it, you’ll be in awe of its size and how it catches the sunlight.
Best Reykjavik exhibits
Reykjavik is a hub of exhibits and museums. There’s the Viking Museum, Saga Museum, Volcano House, Aurora Reykjavik, Reykjavik City Museum, Settlement Exhibition and Phallological Museum.
We stepped in a few while touring the city, but the best of Reykjavik is definitely the Whales of Iceland Exhibit in the harbour.
Stand among giants in this impressive place. Get up close to these underwater creatures like never before and hear their song.
I don’t know about you but whales are hella cool creatures, and being this close to life-size replicas and being able to learn about the different species was an incredible experience.
I want to give a runner’s up mention in this best of Reykjavik list to Aurora Reykjavik. We missed out on seeing a great show of Northern Lights, while there, but by seeing the lights at Aurora Reykjavik was almost as cool.
Related: Experience Iceland in a campervan
Best places to eat
There is a lot of variety to the cuisine offered in Reykjavik, from an English pub to fine dining and traditional fare. I’ve broken this list down into some my favourite haunts while touring the city
Best place to relax
The best cafe in Reykjavik, hands down, is Te & Kaffi, a chain cafe in Iceland. My particular favourite was the one located on the third floor of a bookstore (Penninn Eymundsson on Austurstræti) It even had a balcony/ patio to sit in the sunshine while you drink your tasty coffee or Swiss Mocha (seriously tasty).
There are not many places open in the early morning hours, but Sandholt Bakery (Laugavegur 36) is one of them. It’s an excellent spot for catching some breakfast while watching the bakers make fresh bread and pastries. Don’t be surprised if there’s a line; it’s a popular place!
Best place to eat
What’s better to eat in Iceland than some fresh fish and chips? I don’t think we could leave Iceland without trying some of its fish. At Icelandic Fish and Chips (Tryggvagata 11), right in the heart of Reykjavik, you can try the catch of the day with whatever side and dip you fancy. It was hearty and delicious after a rainy day walking around.
Best place for drinks
I have some big love for the Lebowski Bar in Reykjavik (Laugavegur 20b). We met new friends here, and the drinks and food were surprisingly inexpensive (compared with many other places.)
Cult classics were playing while we were there including, Beverly Hills Ninja and Supertroopers. It had a great atmosphere, and the staff were very friendly to us rowdy group.
Best place for a quick bite
If you want a quick bite to eat (because you’re so busy touring around the city), then you’re going to want to dig into Iceland’s famous hot dogs. Check out Hlöllabátar in the Ingólfur Square. Made famous by an American president, hot dogs are all the rage for tourists in Iceland. Get it with everything, meaning raw and fried onions and three sauces. I only just found out what they were: ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep and remoulade (a sauce made from mayo, capers, mustard and herbs). It was quite tasty!
Related: Top 12 things to do in Iceland
While I’m sure much of your time in Iceland will take place outside of the city – and for a good reason, there’s a lot to see – why not take a tour in the city too!
If laughing your ass off and getting kind of tipsy is your thing, then a Taste the Saga tour is just for you.
My friend and travel partner’s birthday fell during our trip, and so we surprised her with this tour of Ölgerðin Brewery. It. Was. Amazing.
First of all, our host was incredible. She had to be a stand-up comedian because she has us laughing our heads off as she told us the story of alcohol in Iceland. And what a tale it is.
I won’t give it all away, but beer was only allowed back in Iceland in 1989, which gave way to some pretty creative means around the prohibition.
Iceland is a pretty fantastic place and lived up to all the hype I heard about it. Reykjavik was a comfortable and calm city that easily fell into the top five places I’ve been. If you’re headed to Iceland, keep this best of Reykjavik list and don’t miss out on exploring this beautiful city.
Inspired? Pin it: