If you’re visiting or staying in Reykjavik and want to know the best places to visit, you’ve came to the right place. After spending 4 days in this quaint and colourful capital city, we’ve assembled a complete Reykjavik sightseeing guide to give you a sample of what’s on offer. Note down the sites you like the sound of best and explore at your own leisure!
You’ll discover a plethora of museums, trendy shops, bars and restaurants, and unique Nordic architecture that you won’t find anywhere else. Be sure to let us know if we’ve missed anything in the comment section below. 😊
A difficult name to pronounce but an insanely cool structure to admire, Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutherian (Church of Iceland) church that stands 74.5m tall. It also has a somewhat ominous appearance, dominating the skyline of Reykjavik city centre. As the top Reykjavik sightseeing idea on our list, it’s a must see for any visit.
Admire the structure from afar and then walk through the entrance to see the interior design and unique ‘basalt-column’ organ. You can also ascend to the top of the church tower if you wish. The lift to the summit will cost you 1000 ISK per person.
The colourful streets of Laugavegur
One of our favourite sightseeing experiences in Reykjavik was simply wandering the Laugavegur area of the city centre, just down from Hallgrímskirkja Church. The streets are home to a colourful array of buildings, including cafes, shops and trendy restaurants. Outer walls of building have creative murals and characters. Some buildings are decorated top-to-bottom in wild colourful designs.
We recommend spending a couple of hours walking through this area of town and stopping for a drink in the equally as quirky Babalu café. Lebowski Bar (themed on the Big Lebowski movie) is another great spot if you fancy a more exciting drink.
The Sun Voyager sculpture
Another iconic Reykjavik sightseeing opportunity is a unique sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, which was created to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city. It features a simplistic, modern design of a traditional Viking ship, looking out at the sea.
The Sun Voyager stands proudly on the long promenade on the edge of the city centre, providing a nice long walk with a view of the ocean. It’s worth stopping by for a quick glance at this work of art, which has now become a recognised symbol of Reykjavik.
Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall
A 5-minute walk from Sun Voyager, you’ll find the impressive and ultra-modern façade of the Harpa Reykjavik concert hall. The outside of the building has an array of reflective glass panels that resemble the basalt rock columns throughout Iceland. Inside, the equally as impressive glass design is a marvel to look at. Stop by for a glimpse of this unique building whilst you’re in the area.
Alternatively, why not book tickets for an opera or live performance? You can view the latest events schedule on the official website here.
Visit the National Museum of Iceland
For all the museum lovers out there, the National Museum of Iceland should be top of your Reykjavik sightseeing list. It’s a modern building that is dedicated to the world of art and history. It hosts a variety of intriguing exhibits that are constantly changing, so you can visit each trip and see something different each time. Browse the museum’s official website here to get a sample of the type of events and exhibitions on offer.
Perlan Exhibition Centre
Known for its huge dome shape in the south of the city, Perlan is a futuristic complex for dining, learning and exploring what Iceland is all about. You’ll find man-made ice caves, nature exhibitions, interactive theatres and other cool attractions. They all take you on a journey into Icelandic culture. It’s also the perfect place to visit on your first day in Iceland. You can learn about the sites before you venture off and see them in person!
In addition to the interactive attractions, it also has a fine dining restaurant with a glass dome roof, plus a viewing deck with fantastic views of the city. Visit the official Perlan website here for more information.
Located just outside of the city centre, Grotta Lighthouse is one of the best Rekyjavik sightseeing opportunities for witnessing the elusive Northern Lights. Many tourists flock here on an evening in the winter for a chance to see the aurora. As there’s often less light population and cloud cover away from the city, Grotta provides better conditions and cool surroundings to capture this stunning phenomenon.
You may also wish to visit Grotta Lighthouse during the day, where you’ll get nice views of the coastline and can walk out to the lighthouse platform.
Take a stroll down to Reykjavik harbour to witness a variety of fishing vessels coming into port, some nice walkways that look out at sea, plus a wide array of bars and restaurants. This area of the city is full of trendy food courts and cafes and is where the locals go to eat whilst all the tourists flock to the town centre. It’s also a great area for a long scenic walk! We personally recommend checking out Grandi Matholl food court.
Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Whilst in the harbour area of the city, be sure to stop by Reykjavik Maritime Museum. With a modern façade much like the rest of Iceland’s museums, it provides an insight into the country’s seafaring past. It boasts everything from classic fishing equipment, to boat models, educational exhibits and plenty of memorabilia from the past. Entry costs around 1,950 ISK per person.
Everyone has heard of Iceland’s iconic Blue Lagoon spa, but the recent attraction that’s thrilling visitors is Sky Lagoon. The man-made luxury spa is located in the south of Reykjavik, providing stunning views of the landscape as you bathe in a thermal spa. It doesn’t have the milky blue water of Blue Lagoon, but some people prefer it to its sister spa, as you have the freedom to swim.
Spend a morning or afternoon at Sky Lagoon and wind down after a busy few days of sightseeing. It has a number of spa treatments, hot/cold therapy rooms and a scenic pool area.
The Icelandic Punk Museum
If you’re a fan of punk rock, the small and unassuming Icelandic Punk Museum is a great Reykjavik sightseeing opportunity. We actually stumbled on its unique subway entrance whilst walking around and couldn’t help but take a look. It’s home to memorabilia, clothing, instruments and countless other collector items for punk rock bands from past decades. Pop your head in for a quick browse and chat to the museum creator.
See what’s on at Ingólfur Square
Ingólfur Square is a central meeting point in Reykjavik. It’s surrounded by hotels, cafes and restaurants, and there’s always something going on. At Christmas-time, it hosts market stalls and an ice rink, summer is home to a number of performances and live events, and it’s also the gathering point for big sports events such as the World Cup. Stop by during your visit to see what’s on. It’s a central Reykjavik sightseeing spot and great for soaking in the local atmosphere.
Visit a local geothermal swimming pool
If you’re staying in Reykjavik for an extended period of time, or simply want to enjoy city life like the locals, you have to check out one of the many geothermal swimming pools. Swimming and thermal spas are a pivotal part of Icelandic culture. It’s the perfect way to wind down after a spot of Reykjavik sightseeing and the locals pools are accessible no matter where you’re staying. We personally recommend checking out the following:
- Laugardalslaug – A large complex of outdoor geothermal pools.
- Árbæjarlaug – Indoor and outdoor pools on the edge of town.
An off-the-beaten-track Reykjavik sightseeing idea is Viðey Island. The island is accessible by ferry from Reykjavik cruise terminal and is highly popular with the locals on weekends. It’s home to a number of old buildings, scenic nature trails and a collection of modern art installations. We recommend the island is you’re staying in Reykjavik for an extended period and fancy something different to the usual tourist sites. For keen hikers, it’s one of the best spots near the city.
Situated in the heart of the city, Tjörnin Lake is a nice place to go for a walk to escape the hustle and bustle. It also makes a great picnic spot in the summer and there are plenty of park benches with a view. The lake is fairly small but provides fantastic scenery, with a mirror-like image of the surrounding buildings on the surface of the lake. Bring a snack or drink along and enjoy Tjörnin Lake alongside the locals.
Whales of Iceland Museum
It’s no secret that whale watching is a hugely popular activity whilst visiting Iceland, with sightseeing boats leaving the harbour area every day. If you plan on venturing out to sea to see these magnificent creatures, why not stop off at ‘Whales of Iceland Museum’ first? This nearby exhibit takes you on a journey into the world of the world’s largest mammals. It has ocean-like décor, with life-size whale models and plenty of information exhibits.
Join a whale watching tour
Most, if not all of Iceland’s whale watching tours all start in Reykjavik. It’s an insanely popular activity for any trip and is best enjoyed in the warmer months of April – September. Board a tour boat at Reykjavik harbour and head out to sea for a chance to see some amazing scenery. And if you’re lucky, some magnificent whales! The arctic waters around Iceland are home to countless species of these beautiful creatures and we highly recommend booking a tour if you have space in your itinerary.
Fly Over Iceland Virtual Experience
Another Reykjavik sightseeing attraction that’s perfect for your first or last day in the country is the ‘Fly Over Iceland Virtual Experience’. It’s an immersive ride where you hang in the air from a glider-like seating platform. A giant projector screen then illuminates and you’re whisked away across a series of beautiful Icelandic landscapes. Wind effects, scents and cinematic music all set the scene for this fun, visual guide, to some of the country’s best sites.
It’ll give you plenty of inspiration for attractions to visit during your stay and is a great activity for families.
Explore the local food and drink scene
We were amazed by the sheer amount of restaurants and bars in Reykjavik, but also the quality of them. You’ll find everything from Asian inspired burger bars, to grand Viking beer halls and Icelandic fine dining. There’s something to fit the tightest of budgets, so whilst it can be tempting to cook in your apartment to save money, we highly encourage you to eat a few meals out in the city. It comes alive on an evening and has a great nightlife scene too! We personally recommend checking out the following venues:
- Yuzu Burger
- Icelandic Street Food
- Grand Mattholl Food Court
- Skúli Craft Bar
Stop by The Settlement Exhibition
Iceland was a land of Vikings and you’re no doubt going to want to learn about them during your visit. If so, The Settlement Exhibition museum is the place to go. It’s an interactive exhibit in the city centre, showcasing stories, artefacts, old buildings and other interesting items from Iceland’s Viking past. It’s also built around the ruins of a Viking longhouse – very cool! Entry costs 1950 ISK per person and we recommend stopping here for an hour or so whilst visiting other nearby sites.
Relax by Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach
A beach – you say? In Iceland? Nauthólsvík isn’t like any other beach… It’s a long sandy shore near Reykjavik Airport that happens to have a thermal pool. Locals and tourists unite for a relaxing day on the beach in the warmer months, whilst it’s a great place for a long walk in winter. Swim in the freezing cold sea and then retreat to the warm pool for some hot-cold therapy. It’s a unique place to visit and the surrounding scenery is beautiful.
Are you a lover of whisky? Then you’re going to love this Reykjavik sightseeing idea! Eimverk Distillery is a craft whisky distillery just south of Reykjavik. They offer frequent distillery tours and have a wide selection of spirits to buy. What makes the distillery so unique is that it creates all of its spirit 100% using Icelandic barley. Intrigued at what it tastes like? Book a tour and head on down.
Einar Jonsson Museum
For those with an interest in art, consider stopping by the grand entrance of the Einar Jonsson Museum. Einar Jonnsson was Iceland’s first sculptor and this entire building is dedicated to his work, which has a very unique appearance. If you’re a fan of the sculptor or fancy browsing an interesting array of art on a rainy afternoon, we highly recommend it. It’s located right next to Hallgrímskirkja Church so you can visit both attractions at the same time.
Great places to visit just outside of Reykjavik
All of our above Reykjavik sightseeing ideas are located within the city centre or outskirts. However, the city is also well located for a number of cool nearby attractions. You can reach all of the following amazing places in less than a 1 hour drive from Reykjavik.
The Golden Circle
There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of the iconic ‘Golden Circle’. It’s the name given to the circular sightseeing route just outside of Reykjavik. This popular tour and self-drive road trip features a stunning national park called Thingvellir. This is the only place in the world where you can see a continental plate divide up close! It also has a number of waterfalls, thermal geysers, amazing natural scenery and a volcanic crater.
As the start of the Golden Circle route is only a 1 hour drive from Reykjavik, it’s a great full day excursion when you’re staying in the city. View our Golden Circle guide here for more information.
We’ve already mentioned the new and trendy thermal spa in Reykjavik, Sky Lagoon, but its sister and world famous Blue Lagoon is also worth visiting. It’s only a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik and coach transfers operate from the city centre throughout the day. When you arrive at Blue Lagoon, you’ll witness milky-blue pools with warm temperatures, plus a luxury spa experience. We personally recommend visiting both Sky Lagoon and Blue Lagoon if you have time.
Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel
A relatively new and super cool attraction that’s only a 30-minute drive from Reykjavik is Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel. This one hour tour plunges you into the depths of a colourful lava tube. Deep caverns, unique rock formations and lava markings can all been seen on the tour, with the guide giving a good background of Iceland’s volcanic composition. Tours are all organised, you’ll need to wear safety equipment, and they have to be booked in advance. This is a great Reykjavik sightseeing activity for all the adventurers out there!
Where to stay in Reykjavik
If you’re searching for things to do in Reykjavik, you’re going to need a central base that’s within a short walk of the attractions. Browse our accommodation recommendations for every budget below.
- Reykjavik Residence Hotel (Luxury)
- Skuggu Hotel by Keahotels (Mid-range)
- Downtown Reykjavik Apartments (Affordable)
For more suggestions, browse our complete Reykjavik accommodation guide.
We hope we’ve inspired you with plenty of Reykjavik sightseeing ideas! Whilst it’s a small city compared to other European capitals, there’s no shortage of great things to do and amazing places to visit. And that’s just Reykjavik! You’ll definitely want to explore more of what Iceland has to offer. Browse our other travel guides below for inspiration.
By RickyAuthor bio:
An adventurer at heart that loves anything outdoors. Beaches, mountains and amazing scenery is everything I love about travel! I also enjoy home comforts and need a nice place to relax and re-charge after every trip.