Top things to do in Reykjavik

Amy Rosoman

Title photography by Anna Gorin

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The natural wonders of Iceland are bountiful, and Reykjavik is a captivating capital, just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle. Stroll along the coastal paths and take in the spectacular scenery anytime of year. Embark upon sightseeing extravaganzas and tuck into Icelandic comfort food in this ethereal city.

See the Northern Lights

There are many reasons why tourists flock to Iceland every year – it’s an island bursting with mountains, volcanoes, glaciers and waterfalls. This island is also one of the few places in the world where you can watch the Northern Lights flit across the skies. The best time to catch this natural phenomenon is between September and April, during the darkness of night when cloud coverage remains low. It’s impossible to guarantee a sighting, but if you’re lucky enough to witness this wonder, you’ll treasure the moment forever.

Top tip: You can check the aurora forecast to see when weather conditions are best before joining an excursion from Reykjavik.

Book a Northern Lights Cruise

In summer you can get close to the thundering waters – and during wintertime, it becomes a frozen paradise.

Venture across the Golden Circle

Set off from the capital on an adventure around Iceland’s famous Golden Circle. The journey begins with a stop at Þingvellir National Park, a stunning scenic area that borders the Mid-Atlantic Ridge tectonic plates. Next up, visit the striking Gullfoss Waterfall. In summer you can get close to the thundering waters – and during wintertime, it becomes a frozen paradise. The third and final Golden Circle stop is the mesmerising geothermal area of Geysir, where you can watch the famous Strokkur geyser erupt high in the sky.

Top tip: Pack snacks and drinks for the road, it’s a full day out and about. Return to your Reykjavik hotel to relax and browse through your photos from your expedition.

Book a Golden Circle tour

  • Hallgrímskirkja church from above, Reykjavik. © flydragonfly.

    A city masterpiece

    Inspired by Iceland's natural wonders, the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church is a must-visit. Pay to go up to the top of this landmark and admire the mesmerising views of Reykjavik – on a clear day, gaze across to the volcanoes and glaciers beyond the city.

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Reykjavik sightseeing

You’ll find plenty of curiosities when you roam around the streets of Reykjavik. Make your way to the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church, admiring it from the outside before you step inside this architectural wonder. Other unique city sights include the Sun Voyager sculpture, the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall (which regularly hosts symphonies, operas and theatre shows) and the lovely Lake Tjörnin. If you are a nature lover, you’ll especially enjoy visiting the dome-shaped Perlan Museum for superb exhibitions about the nation’s natural wonders and astounding sights from the observation platform. While you’re here, the Planetarium is a must-visit.

Top tip: Ready to kick back? Make tracks to one of the outdoor pools. Seltjarnarneslaug and Vesturbæjarlaug are both popular with locals with reinvigorating waters in both hot and cold tubs.

Book a Reykjavik sightseeing tour

Winter whale watching

Start your day with a visit to the Whales of Iceland exhibition and learn about an array of underwater creatures with its virtual reality experience, life-like models and interactive exhibits. When you’re ready, join an afternoon whale watching experience out on the North Atlantic Ocean. Keep your eyes peeled, as experts leading the excursion ferry you to find the best wild animal spots – where there are frequent sightings of porpoises, dolphins, humpback whales and orcas during winter.

Top tip: Get your tickets ahead of your trip to Reykjavik to make the most of your holiday. Be sure to wrap up warm and pack extra layers before you head out to sea.

Book a winter whale watching tour

  • Interior of Dill Restaurant. © Dill Restaurant.

    Michelin-star dining

    After spending thrilling days out and about, book ahead and treat yourself to a taste of sensational Icelandic cuisine.

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  • Finnish-style Sauna at Laugarvatn Fontana. © Laugarvatn Fontana.

    Hot springs and geothermal pools

    Let your body ease into full relaxation, with a visit to the Laugarvatn Fontana. With its outdoor pools, steam rooms and sauna, this place is perfectly tucked away in beautiful surroundings.

  • Mixologist at Slippbarinn. © Slippbarinn.

    A Scandi night out

    Ask for a cocktail with a dash of Iceland's unsweetened schnapps in – brennivín. For the gin fans out there, it doesn't get much better than an Icelandic gin and tonic. Their version of martini is pretty spectacular too.

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Visit the Blue Lagoon

You’ve seen it on Instagram and in magazines; now it’s time to experience the Blue Lagoon for yourself. Make your way west from Reykjavik on a day trip and enjoy white silica face masks, luminous blue, mineral-rich waters and bask in the enchanting natural geothermal pools, surrounded by lava fields. Book your Blue Lagoon ticket in advance of your Iceland holiday, to guarantee a break where you can truly unwind in the tranquil pools. Rejuvenate in the spa restaurant or café, where you can select items from the all-day menu.

Top tip: Visit in the chill of winter, when the contrast of the steaming water against the snow-powdered backdrop will help you to fully appreciate the geothermal phenomenon.

Book flights to Reykjavik

Reykjavik’s culinary culture

Reykjavik may be known for its unusual delicacies, but Iceland’s capital is a culinary hotspot, with an abundance of cafes and restaurants. Many of the hotel restaurants offer Icelandic meals on the menu and lavish dining experiences. From the attentive service to the hand-chosen ingredients of the eateries, you will relish every mouthful. For Michelin-starred Nordic cuisine, dine at DILL. You can treat yourself to the five-course or seven-course tasting menu, optionally paired with wine. The restaurant is only open Wednesdays to Saturdays at 6pm, so be sure to reserve a table in advance.

Top tip: If you are on the lookout for traditional delicacies, such as brauðterta ‘sandwich cake’, you can find it here.

Book car hire

  • Áróra - Northern Light Show at Perlan, Wonders of Iceland. © Perla norðursins.

    An interactive indoor Northern Lights experience

    If you visit in the summer, spotting the flickering aurora-borealis can be tricky. Don't miss out – buy tickets for a chance to see a Northern Lights show, across the breathtaking landscape Iceland, at the Perlan museum.

    Book your stay

Discover Laugarvatn Fontana

Head east from Reykjavik, to the heart of the Golden Circle, and explore the geothermal baths of Laugarvatn Fontana. The peaceful natural hot springs, away from the crowds, offer a little taste of heaven. Take a dip in a choice of interlinking outdoor mineral pools, each a different temperature and size. Relax in the steam room, then pop into the beautiful Finnish-style sauna which overlooks the lake – if you’re brave enough, quickly plunge into the cold lake.

Top tip: For an additional cost, you can try the rye bread baked in the hot sand, served with Icelandic butter and fresh smoked trout.

Scandinavian style

Savour a variety of shopping as you breeze around Reykjavik. From book stores and vintage shops, to luxurious arctic wear and The Little Christmas shop (which is open all year), the city has a quirky selection of shops. Make a move to the main shopping area downtown, Laugavegur street, as well as Skolavordustigur and Hverfisgata for all your retail desires. Designer stores sit around Kronkron, where international high fashion brands sit beside popular Scandi designers.

Top tip: Venture to the Kolaportid Flea Market over the weekend; there’s a bustling atmosphere around the harbour-side industrial building. Arrive early for the best finds and be sure to bring cash.

Reykjavik nightlife

The capital oozes with cool vibes, as cafes evolve into bustling bars and packed dance venues. Pop into the Slippbarinn for a tantalising choice of cocktails, a bar renowned for their master mixologist and happy hour is 3pm - 6pm. Alternatively, check out the Micro Bar for beers, where you’ll find international favourites, as well as Icelandic flavours. For a late night in Reykjavik, choose Paloma. The venue just fills up at midnight, and you can dance until dawn with the locals.

Top tip: There is a strand of bars to explore in Laugavegur, where everything is close together for a stress-free night out.

Where to stay

CenterHotel Midgardur

Take a break at this four-star retreat in the heart of Reykjavik – the hotel’s serene spa is the perfect place to unwind after adventurous days out.

Book a stay at the CenterHotel Midgardur

Radisson Blu Saga

Just a 10-minute walk from the best city sights and a 5-minute walk from the ocean, this four-star hotel offers gourmet dining in the Grillið restaurant, paired with captivating panoramic views.

Book a stay at the Radisson Blu Saga

Canopy by Hilton

Choose this luxurious hotel for your time out in Reykjavik, with its stylish boutique design and tantalising, old-fashioned Geiri Smart restaurant.

Book a stay at the Canopy by Hilton