An introduction to the land of fire and ice
Reykjavik may be a compact city but the world’s most northerly capital still packs a punch, thanks to innovative museums, arresting public art, prime shopping, lively nightlife and a thriving foodie scene. It’s a colourful place with a big personality, best seen from the perspective of one of the city’s many viewpoints or you can embark on a thrilling sea tour from its harbour. It’s also the perfect hub from which to venture out and explore the country’s many natural wonders.
Shoppers are well catered for in the capital. From bookstores and vintage shops, to luxurious Arctic wear and The Little Christmas Shop (open all year), the city has a quirky selection of shops. Check out the main downtown shopping street, Laugavegur, as well as Skolavordustigur and Hverfisgata for all your retail desires. Check out designer stores like Kronkron, where international high fashion brands sit beside popular Scandi designers. 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.
Take a 5-minute ferry trip to the uninhabited island of Videy, home to a stately 18th Century mansion that’s now a cafe and Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower. Visit the hipster-centric Grandi fishing district where you can pop into the Living Art Museum and the Reykjavik Maritime Museum before treating yourself to an ice cream from Valdis and scaling Thufa to check out Olof Norda’s outdoor sculpture. Fancy a bracing dip? Swing by one of the city’s public swimming pools, such as the beautifully designed Sundhollin with its outdoor hot tub and diving boards. Book your flights to Reykjavik today.
Carefully selected Reykjavik hotels
Best hotels in Reykjavik for all types of traveller
We have a fantastic range of quality hotels in Reykjavik to recommend.
CenterHotel Arnarhvoll offers stunning views of the Harpa concert hall and relaxation in its spa’s Turkish bath and Finnish sauna. CenterHotel Laugavegur has a welcoming bar and dual aspect rooms, some with private balconies. CenterHotel Midgardur has a secluded garden with a hot pool. CenterHotel Thingholt offers relaxation in its Isafold Spa, while Fosshotel Reykjavik is Iceland’s largest hotel, with an inviting beer garden. The Grand Hotel Reykjavik offers Nordic cuisine in its elegant Grand Brasserie and a lounge bar with a daily happy hour. Reykjavik Centrum is a romantic hotel on one of the city’s oldest streets. Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel is a stylish four-star property in the centre of town with its own traditional bathhouse.
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Reykjavik holiday FAQs
Make the most of your Reykjavik holiday
Reykjavik is a city that knows how to get into a festive vibe. Key annual events include Culture Night, which is celebrated each August with the Reykjavik Marathon – it’s followed by locals inviting you into their homes for waffles before a huge fireworks display. There's also Reykjavik Pride – including one of the world’s largest Pride parades – a film festival and the Iceland Airwaves music festival.
What are the best places to visit in Reykjavik?
- The imposing Hallgrimskirkja church’s stepped concrete facade makes it a key modernist building that echoes Iceland’s natural landscape. This stunning Evangelical-Lutheran church is named after the 17th Century clergyman Hallgrimur Petursson, author of the Passion Hymns. Admission is free or you can climb the tower for a small fee.
- The capital’s most photographed landmark is Solfar, or the Sun Voyager sculpture. Designed in the mid-1980s by artist Jon Gunnar Arnason to commemorate the city’s bicentenary, the elegant steel structure resembles a Viking ship in a nod to Iceland’s proud seafaring history. Take your shot and on a clear day you may even be able to catch the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the distance.
- The Harpa concert hall and conference centre is one of the city’s key landmarks. This leading social and cultural centre has won various awards and has welcomed millions of visitors since it opened in 2011. Besides a lively performance programme, it offers outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and the North Atlantic Ocean.
- Perlan Museum resembles a giant domed pearl on top of Reykjavik with stunning views of the surrounding forested Oskjuhlid hill and cityscape from its 360-degree viewing platform. The museum’s wealth of attractions includes a real indoor ice cave, a re-creation of Europe’s largest bird cliff and an exhibition on Iceland’s geology, while an immersive planetarium show captures the magic of the Northern Lights. There’s also an ice cream shop, a lovely cafe, bouncy castles and more.
- Constructed in 1885, Laugavegur is one of Reykjavik’s oldest streets and is where women used to bring laundry to be washed in nearby hot pools. Today it’s one of the capital’s leading shopping streets and is packed with hip boutiques, tourist shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. It’s also home to two fascinating museums – the Phallological Museum and the tiny Icelandic Punk Museum housed in a former underground toilet.
What to see in Reykjavik?
Iceland is 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 the wonder of the Aurora Borealis casting its magic, you’ll treasure the moment forever.
Set off from the capital on an adventure around Iceland’s famous Golden Circle. The journey begins with a stop at Thingvellir National Park, a stunning scenic area on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where two tectonic plates meet. Next up, visit the striking Gullfoss Waterfall. In summer you can get close to the thundering waters, while 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 into the sky.
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.
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 to enjoy white silica face masks and 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 Reykjavik holiday, to guarantee a break where you can truly unwind in the tranquil pools. Rejuvenate in the spa restaurant or cafe, where you can select items from the all-day menu.
You can experience a unique bathing adventure at the Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths, deep in the Golden Circle around 55 miles east of Reykjavik. Rejuvenate yourself with a dip in its refreshing interconnected geothermal pools, take a splash in ice-cold Laugarvatn Lake, then warm up with a trip to its natural hot spring and steam baths and afterwards enjoy a tasty bite from its very own geothermal rye bread bakery. The bread is served with Icelandic butter and fresh smoked trout. There are three mineral baths that vary in depth, size and temperature, plus a Finnish-style sauna with temperatures reaching 80-90C and views of the lake. It’s a tranquil spot far away from the tourist crowds.
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 – the bar is renowned for its master mixologist – and happy hour from 15:00 – 18:00. Alternatively, check out the Micro Bar, where you’ll find international and Icelandic beers. For a late night in Reykjavik, choose Paloma. The venue packs out at midnight, and you can dance until dawn with the locals.
Iceland is full of black-sand beaches due to its volcanic landscape. World-famous Reynisfjara Beach is located just beside Vik I Myrdal, a small fishing village at the southernmost tip of the mainland, around 115 miles from the capital (2.5 hours by car). With its towering basalt columns, roaring Atlantic waves and stunning panoramas Reynisfjara is widely considered the country’s most beautiful black-sand beach. You’ll immediately notice the rocky sea stacks offshore, whose origin has been the subject of many folk stories, such as a tale claiming they were trolls frozen to stone for killing a local woman.
Many bars and clubs around Reykjavik offer happy hour with special deals on alcoholic drinks which traditionally takes place from 16:00 – 19:00 but can sometimes stretch as late as 01:00 depending on the establishment. It’s an especially convivial time when locals and visitors often gather to embark on a pub crawl of participating venues to load up on cheap deals in a country not generally known for affordable boozing. Many places now offer daily happy hours and over 50 bars now participate, but times do vary from place to place, so it’s best to check before you set out for the night.
When does it snow in Reykjavik?
Iceland has a sub-polar climate with winters that are long and cold. Snow can fall from October through to May and there can be up to a foot of snow on the ground in Reykjavik throughout this period.
Can you see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik?
Yes, it’s quite possible to see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik although it can’t be guaranteed. Light pollution and the city skyline tend to diminish its impact. For the best chance venture out beyond the city’s suburbs to areas such as the Grotta peninsula and Raudholar.