Reykjavik: The ultimate guide to the capital city of Iceland
As you already know, Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, but you probably ask yourself: Where is the city? Or, what to do there?
If you’re are planning for a stay in this city for a few days, you will more than likely be eager to visit the most popular destinations within the city. Don’t worry, there are plenty of local attractions to experience during your stay!
Our hope is that by reading this post, you’ll have a better understanding of the capital city and the people living here. Some history tid-bits here and there, places that sell excellent food, travel tips... And above all, an open door for you to get out and be adventurous.
That is, after all, why you’re planning on visiting Iceland, right?
So without further delay, join us as we explore the city !
ABOUT THE CITY
Before we go on to what to do and visit, I want to tell you some fact that will make you understand better this city.
- You may want to sit down because I am going to tell you the Reykjavik population. This will probably leave you speechless: in the metropolitan area we are approximately 220 000 inhabitants. Huge right?
- Our mayor is Dagur B. Eggertsson, useless to know you may say... But it is always good to tell your guests about this fact during your high-class dinner parties.
To make things easier for you, we made a Reykjavik map with all the places we are going to talk about here. Yeah, it’s impressive, we know that!
This map includes all major landmarks, tourist attractions,and activities to do for a perfect stay in Reykjavik.
WHAT DO DO IN REYKJAVIK?
BARS AND CLUBS
There are so much bars in Reykjavik that we can talk about, and we could make an entire article just about them. Most of the bars are located in the very center of the city, in the streets of Laugavegur, Bankatraeti and Austurstraeti.
Photo: Austurstræti street
They serve both local and international beers, at a price for a pint of around 1200 ISK (about €8). But during happy hours, you can get a drink for half the price.
If you want to know about happy hours schedule for each bar, I invite you to download the app called "Appy Hour". Then you'll know where and when you can buy beers for cheap!
Every bar has its own atmosphere and soul, and there must be one that you’ll love!
The Drunk Rabbit Irish Pub
This bar is simply a must, located in Austurstræti street in the heart of the city. The atmosphere is warm with a resolutely Irish theme.
Photo: Drunk Rabbit storefront in Reykjavik
An acoustic concert is regularly given in the evening, with covers of current and somewhat older titles.
The happy hour is from noon to 7:00pm, you will pay half the usual price between these hours, you will pay:
- 600 ISK for a pint of Viking (approx. €4)
- 800 ISK for a glass of wine (approx. 5.3€)
- 800 ISK also for a Guinness
- 1000 ISK for an Irish Coffee (approx. €6.5)
As in some other bars, there is a wheel that you can spin for 2000 ISK and try to win beers or shots.
In short, if you want to have a drink with friends or for a date while listening to good music, this is the perfect place.
Another bar not to be missed in the capital, this hotel is located in an old biscuit factory. The factory had to close due to the financial crisis of 2008.
Today it is a trendy hotel / bar / restaurant with terrace. Yes, it does a lot at the same time but believe me it is worth the detour.
But here it is the bar part that interests us, the happy hour is from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. They can serve you among others craft beers for 750 ISK (less than €5), and the same for a glass of white or red wine.
So do not hesitate to go for a drink in this refined and pleasant atmosphere!
RESTAURANTS / STREET FOOD
101 Reykjavik Street Food
It is a really good place that serves simple dishes that will delight your taste buds for sure. Three different appetizers are offered, the lobster soup, the seafood soup and the famous traditional lamb soup. We talk about that last one in another article by the way!
As main course, they have fish & chips, the traditional Icelandic fish stew and noodles, beef or chicken. As I said before, the cuisine here is simple, but it is so delicious!
If you’re vegan, don’t panic, they don’t let anymore starving. If for you meat is only a bad memory, you can just pick their vegetable noodle soup!
Finally, the desserts, they did it local. They will serve you a genuine skyr, which is the typical Icelandic yogurt. It looks and tastes like a Greek yogurt and it is high protein. You can choose between blueberry, vanilla, crème brulée flavor or strawberry cake.
One thing is certain, you will not be ruined at 101 Reykjavik Street Food. Entrees and dishes are all at 1650 ISK, that is to say slightly less than €11 and the dessert is at 300 ISK or approximately €2.
To feast for not too expensive in the northernmost capital of the world, there is nothing better!
To get to one of the restaurants:
Lækjargata 8, 101 Reykjavík
Laugavegur 85, 101 Reykjavík
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
This hot dog stand is just cult, it is to Reykjavik what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. President of the United States Bill Clinton even went there in 2004. According to legend, he claimed that it was the best hot dog he had eaten in his life. Thanks Bill!
Photo: The best hod dog stand in Reykjavik
In Reykjavik the population has known these hot dogs for a very long time since the stand has existed since 1937. It is the visit of celebrities and especially the American president who made it famous to tourists.
It will cost you around €5, it is quite affordable. In addition, they are open at night, here are their opening hours:
10a.m. - 1a.m.
10a.m. - 1a.m.
10a.m. - 1a.m.
10a.m. - 1a.m.
10a.m. - 4:30a.m.
10a.m. - 4:30a.m.
10a.m. - 1a.m.
This restaurant, located on Lauavegur Street, will serve you great soups served in a bowl of bread. Yes yes, a bowl made with bread. So you will have as a plate a ball of bread dug with a tasty soup inside. They leave on the side of the plate the crumb that has been removed and that you can dip in your soup.
Several kinds of soups are available, including the famous lamb soup, which is excellent!
At 1650 ISK the soup, about 11 €, is a very good way to enjoy yourself without breaking the bank!
I'm sure you believed it! Calm down, there is no McDonald's in Iceland and the last one closed more than 10 years ago. The fault of the economic crisis of 2008 and the collapse of the Icelandic Krona.
But hey, it's a bad for a good and Icelanders do not miss McDonald's anyway!
Cafe Loki Restaurant Reykjavik
This restaurant serves typical Icelandic food and bar snacks. It is a very good place to discover the gastronomy of the country. And it's in the very heart of the capital!
In addition, while you enjoy your fish, black bread with butter or other mutton soup, you can enjoy the breathtaking view of the Hallgrimskirkja church.
They offer tasting trays for lovers of culinary discovery. For example, the "Icelandic Plate Loki" in which you can taste dried fish, smoked sheep, black bread and the very famous fermented shark for ISK 3,300 or about €22.
We also talk about Icelandic gastronomy in this article, do not hesitate to take a look, you might be surprised!
It is never too cold for an Icelandic ice cream! And here you can find so delicious ice creams. From gelato ice cream to ice cream cups, you can make your own by adding toppings on it. The number of flavors available is incredible and possibilities are endless as it is for the number of ice cream shops here!
Photo: Iceland Ice Cream Shop in Mall - Kevin Hale - Flickr
You want to know where you can find the best ice cream in Reykjavik? Follow this link to read our article about it. We explain there more deeply how Icelandic ice cream is made and where you can find the best of the best!
NIGHT LIFE IN THE CITY
Photo: Reykjavik Nightlife
This city is well known for its nightlife. And even if this city is not the biggest one in the world, I can assure you that Icelandic people knows how to party.
They don’t go out very early, and the streets can be very calm in the late evening. But when they arrive, you know it. It is a ballet of people singing in their cars, arriving in taxi or by feet, always well dressed.
Speaking about clothes, be careful. Even if there is no specific nightlife dress code, we want to let you know the people here really like to dress. And bouncers will not hesitate to turn you away if they think that you’re not dress properly.
It may be surprising in the beginning to see how many people are dressed with costumes and girls with nice dress, but you get use to it very quickly.
So, to be sure that you can go into every bars/nightclubs be sure to bring with you your best outfit, the one that will impress everyone.
We’ll make very soon a full article about the nightlife in the capital city of Iceland. Just to give you more info about how to have your best parties, where to go, etc.
SHOPPING AND LOCAL MARKETS
There are plenty of shops here. You can find traditional shops, souvenirs shops and more international shops. The main shopping street is called laugavegur.
If you wanna go for Reykjavik shopping, here are examples of what you can find:
They sell typical Icelandic sweaters among others.
Adress: Austurstræti 5, 101 Rvk
From Monday to Sunday: 9a.m. to 10p.m
They sell traditional Icelandic sweater but also a small range of bags and jackets for hiking:
Adress: Laekjargata 2, 101 Rvk
From Monday to Friday: 9a.m to 10p.m
Satudray and Sunday: 10a.m to 10p.m
There is also the Kolaportið flea market in Reykjavik, this is the only one flea market in Iceland. Here you can find various products, some vendors sell secondhand clothes, others sell antiques.
Some vendors sell small rocks or bracelets as souvenirs for tourist. Just avoid them it is just a tourist trap and won’t last you long!
Kolaportið is also a fish market, you will find inside a part reserved for the market. There are all kinds of fishes here, and you can try the very famous fermented shark here!
Be careful, it is only open during the week-ends.
Adress: Tryggvagötu 19, Old Harbour Grófin Rvk Kvosin, 101 Rvk
Saturday and sunday: 11a.m. to 5p.m
PLACES TO VISIT
We know you’re wondering what are the things to do in the capital of Iceland? Or what to see? Here are some examples of what are me most famous places that you can enjoy.
This steel sculpture was installed there in 1990 and is designed by Jón Gunnar Árnason. It is located on the Sæbraut road, not far from the port.
Photo : Waterfront sculpture called the "Sun voyager" or Sólfar in Icelandic.
You have probably already seen this sclupture, it is the most photographed spot in the capital. It recalls the silhouette of a Viking cattle. However, this was not the will of the author, who sees his work more as a dream vessel, an ode to the sun.
In any case, I strongly advise you to go there to enjoy the beauty of the structure.
Photo : Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, the biggest church in Iceland
This is the first thing you’ll see when you’ll be here. You can go up to the tower for 1000 ISK (less than €7). And you’ll sure have a breathtaking view of the colorful houses and the old harbor.
The architecture is inspired by the basalt columns that you can find across the country. This includes the black sand beach of Reynisfjara and the Svartifoss waterfall.
Harpa Concert Hall
It is the largest set of concert and conference halls. Located on the port, it is visible from a distance and we recognize it by its very particular architecture.
Photo: Harpa Concert Hall - biggest concert halls in Iceland
Located in the city center, it hosts the mayor's offices but also sometimes exhibitions and concerts. You can also find an impressive 3D map of Iceland there.
Picture: Reykjavik City Hall and Ducks! - Richard Eriksson - Flickr
If you’d like to freshen up on some history of the first Icelandic people, you can visit the Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavík. The museum has on display hundreds of artifacts and ruins of houses dating back to the age of the vikings.
Photo: Iceland exhibition, the settlement
According to the Reykjavik Museum's website: “The exhibition is based on scholars theories on what the heritage sites in central Reykjavík can tell us about the life and work of the first settlers. The focus of the exhibition is the remains of a hall from the Settlement Age which was excavated in 2001.”
Imagine peace tower
This tower is a memorial for John Lennon, it has been created by hiw widow, Yoko Ono.
Form October 9th to December 8th, you can see in the Icelandic sky a huge light going straight up. Just look by yourself:
Photo: The Imagine Peace Tower lights up the sky every winter in Iceland
ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES IN ICELAND
Whale Watching Reykjavik
Yes yes you can go whale watching from the city. A few companies there offer you tours to see one of the most majestic creature in the world.
Photo: Humpback whale in the Icelandic shore
Prices start at approximately 70€ for a 3/3h30 tour on genuine Icelandic whale watching boats.
Unforgettable experience, trust me. If you want to know more about whale watching, and go to one of the best whale watching tours : Whale Watching in Iceland : The Handy Guide
Hiking the Esja Mount
If you are more into sports and mountain adventures, then you can think about a mount Esja hike.
Photo: Breathtaking view from Perlan
The mountain range Esja is located nearby the city on the North East. There are several trails of different difficulties from beginner to confirmed.
From the top of the mountain, you can enjoy an incredible view of the city.
THE EXPERIENCE: THE MIDNIGHT SUN SUMMER AND NORTHERN LIGTHS WINTER
These two natural phenomenons are a must to see in the capital city.
Picture: Midnight sun in Dalvík - Gudny Olafsdottir - Flickr
In summer the sun doesn’t set, and you can still see it at the horizon at midnight. Now you get it, this is exactly why we call that the midnight sun! Even the sun is Kuku in Iceland!
Photo: People admiring northern lights
In Rekjavik northern lights can be seen if the sky is clear, at night. To see them, you can go to Perlan, it is 20mins walk from downtown. Or you can also go to the Grótta Island Lighthouse, that you can access with public transportation.
Why those places? Simply because light pollution is lower in these parts of the city. So you will have more chances to see northern lights!
Want to know more about that? Find all information and advice to increase your chances to see northern lights by reading this article.
NEW EXHIBITION 2020: FLYOVER ICELAND
FlyOver Iceland is a new attraction in the city, in which you will literally fly over Iceland without leaving your seat!
It is an immersive experience where you will discover Iceland by “flying over it”. The truth is that you’ll be comfortably installed on a moving seat. The wind and scent effects will make your experience even more realistic.
This is a really good way to discover something new and to see Iceland from a new angle!
You can enjoy nature spots here in Reykjavik, if you want to take a break from buildings, streets and concrete. Here are some places you can go to if you need a time off.
Photo: Perlan and its park
It is first of all a museum and it is located the Öskjuhlíð hill which is a park where you can walk in the nature. You will find here pedestrian trails or mountain bike paths and jumps.
Many exhibitions can be found there:
- Látrabjarg Cliff
- Underwater Journey
- Glaciers exhibit
- Perlan Planetarium
and so on...
Photo: Reykjavik city seen from Perlan
But Perlan is also composed by hot water tanks that can contain a huge amount of water. On top of them, there a glass dome that is visitable! Around the dome, you can go to the observation deck to get an incredible view of Reykjavik and its surroundings.
This is definitely the perfect place to go for day trips!!
You can also go for a fishing tour, reveal your inner fisher and impress your friends and family.
Photo: Sea angling
Here you can fish salmon, cod fish, mackerel and so on…
The Park and Zoo
We have a zoo in Iceland! This small animal parc is made for kids and families who wants to have a good time walking and discovering animals that can be found all around the country.
Photo: Lake in the Reykjavik park and zoo
Come here to make you and your kids have fun discovering wildlife of Iceland!
EXPRESS TRIP TO BLUE LAGOON
When you’re visiting the capital city, you must try the blue lagoon. This naturally warmed up swimming pool will enchant you by its relaxing power. Those milky blue waters will take you for a trip far far away from your problems. Believe us, once you get in there, you never want to go out!
Photo: Blue and white waters of Blue Lagoon
Ok ok we must confess, Blue Lagoon is not REALLY in Reykjavik. But still, it is a must to do and very accessible from the city.
The waters are full of silica, which gives it its color, silica is also really good for your skin, among others!
To know everything about Blue Lagoon and how to go from Reykjavik to Blue Lagoon, click here!
If you’re looking for indoor or outdoor pools, you won't be looking for a long time. In Iceland swimming pools are everywhere, including the capital city.
Here are some of the Reykjavik pools:
This swim park is one of the most amazing to visit in Iceland and offers lots of ways for you to relax with heated waters all year round. Water slides for the kids, Volleyball, hot tubs and much more! Unlike some lagoons, this one is actually very affordable, and costs about $10 per person.
A lot of visitors like to visit this pool to rejuvenate themselves after arriving in Iceland. Sometimes the long flight and getting settled can be stressful events.
Stopping by the public pools to soak your body in the warm waters is a great idea before you begin traveling to see the other parts of Iceland!
Adress : Sundlaugavegur 105, Rvk
Adress : Nauthólsvegur, 101 Rvk
Adress : Hofsvallagata, Rvk
Photo: Juliette Rowland - Flickr - No changes were made
Adress: Barónsstígur 45a, 101 Rvk
What you will do here in Iceland really depends on your budget. Unfortunately, Iceland is a pretty expensive country and you’ll have to pay for almost everything here.
So the best is to prepare in advance what you plan to do to have a good idea of how much you’ll spend here.
If you’re coming in Iceland on a budget, then it would be good if you stick to certain things. Like having a walk in the city, enjoying a swimming pool, rent a campervan and see the nature of Iceland.
Don’t worry there is so much to see here, and thank god, enjoying the nature is still free!!!
But I you saved a lot for that trip then you can go whale watching, have all the beers you want and try whichever restaurant you want! You can take a helicopter tour, go snorkeling, snowmobiling, skiing and even dog sledding, whatever you want!
Don't buy water in bottle, tap water in Iceland is one of the best!
When landing on Keflavik ariport, do forget to stop at the duty free to get alcohol for cheap ;)
WEATHER AND TEMPERATURE
The Reykjavik weather varies from season to season. Here are graphs about the average temperature depending on the season:
Temperatures in Spring:
|Month||Average temperature (°C)||Rain|
|March||4° / -2°||14 days|
|April||6° / 1°||11 days|
|May||10° / 4°||10 days|
Temperatures in Summer:
|Month||Average temperature (°C)||Rain|
|June||12° / 7°||9 days|
|July||14° / 9°||9days|
|August||14° / 8°||11 days|
Temperatures in Autumn:
|Month||Average temperature (°C)||Rain|
|September||11° / 6°||13 days|
|October||7° / 2°||13 days|
|November||4° / -1||12 days|
Temperatures in Winter:
|Month||Average temperature (°C)||Rain|
|Décember||3° / -2°||14 days|
|January||3° / -3°||13 days|
|February||3° / -2°||13 days|
So as you can see the average Reykjavik temperature doesn’t change a lot from season to season. But more than the temperature, it is the wind that can make you really cold!
WHERE TO STAY WITH YOUR KUKU IN THE CITY?
I have really good news for those who rented a campervan and want to stay for a bit in the capital city: we have a campsite in the city!
It is the Reykjavik Laugardalur campsite, and it is situated near to the Laugardalslaug swimming pool, in the Laugardalur valley. You’ll find anything you want in this campsite. The night costs approximately €15 (2400 ISK) per people.
This is the perfect place to park your campervan and enjoy the city. Once it’s done, just hop in your van and visit the other parts of the country!
Adress: Sundlaugavegur 32, 105 Rvk and it is open 24/7!
If you want to know more about campsites in Iceland it's right here : Camping Advices
AFTER VISITING THE CITY
As you are wrapping up your urban visit, it will be time to hit the open road to see some of the most beautiful places on the planet. To do that, you’ll want to stop by and rent a car Kuku camper for your trip.
We like to call our Kuku Camper Vans ‘Hotel on Wheels’ because it’s literally like being in the comforts of a hotel room, but getting to travel anywhere you want!
We have everything you need, from solo travelers to small groups!
A few benefits our vans offer that our happy customers enjoy are:
- Free mileage
That’s right, unlike some Iceland van rental companies, we don’t charge you extra for the miles you drive. That means you can take a trip on the Ring Road and go in circles until you get dizzy and become sick. Whatever you want to do!
- No extra insurance fees
Your Kuku camper van is covered in the case the wind blows you off the road at no extra cost to you. Everything is included in your affordable amount!
- Amazing interior amenities
Our campervans come equipped with all the comforts of home. Including things like a kitchen table to sit at, cooler to keep your food cold, a gas stove to cook fresh and delicious meals, dishes, pots and pans and utensils. And even power outlets to charge your electronic devices with!
Before you travel the great landscapes of Iceland make sure you’re driving your next adventure - don't check other car rentals, just drive a Kuku Camper Van!
Happy trip to Iceland!