Before heading out of Reykjavik to chase waterfalls, walk on black sand beaches or hike on glaciers, make some time to explore our favourite little city. Although quite small in size, there is a lot to see, drink and eat in Reykjavik! This Reykjavik Guide covers all that you need to really get to know Iceland’s capital city.
Our Complete Reykjavik Guide, covers transportation within the city (most notably, walking), places to see in Reykjavik, experience and where to wind down for a glass of wine or dining after a day of exploring. Take a day or two at the start of your Iceland holiday to get to know our favourite little city a little bit better before setting off to explore the countryside.
As the world’s most northerly capital, Reykjavik has recently become a popular little city: it’s clean, green and compact. With a progressive culinary scene, museums, surprisingly lively nightlife (during non-pandemic times that is) and a hint of Nordic cool, this city has unique personality despite the cold.
GETTING AROUND REYKJAVIK
Reykjavik city centre comes in a compact flat pack. It’s easy to navigate and the below listed places are all more or less within walking distance from one another. We recommend taking your time as you get between places, but if you are in a rush to get to the bar before happy hour is over, you can hop on one of the electric scooters from Hopp or Wind and quickly make your way to the next destination. The public bus Strætó can also utilised if visiting locations that are a bit further between. Get the app which helps you find your route, live timetable and buy your ticket.
As mentioned above, Iceland is a rather compact little city so most points of interest within the city are within walking distance from one another. Below you’ll find some of the most celebrated sights in Reykjavik as well as a few good parks if you are in Iceland during the warm summer days and just want to kick back and relax for the day. There certainly are a number of fantastic sights, but these certainly underline the highlights.
Hallgrímskirkja church is one of Reykjavík’s most iconic buildings. Towering just over 74 metres high, it’s also one of the countries tallest buildings which is emphasised as it’s positioned on top of the hill. The building of the Lutheran church was completed in 1986 after 41 years of construction! You can visit the church for free and take in the vast hall, enormous organ and art. But for a small fee you can go take the elevator to the top of the church tower and get a 360 view over the entire city.
The Einar Jónsson Museum Sculpture Park
The Einar Jónsson Museum opened back in in 1923 and is dedicated to the art of Iceland’s first sculptor, Einar Jónsson (1874 – 1954). The small museum showcases close to 300 art works spanning his 60 year career. A beautiful garden adorned with 26 bronze casts of the artists works is located behind the museum and open to the public.
Hljómskálagarðurinn & Tjörnin (The Pond)
After visiting Hallgrímskirkja Church and Einar Jónsson Museum Sculpture Park make your way down to Hljómskálagarðurinn. The sculptures in Hljómskálagarðurinn park were all produced by women, five of whom were Icelandic and one was Danish. The park is a popular site to unwind after a day of shopping, particularly in summer. Great for adults and kids alike as there is also a playground on site.
The park is situated around the freshwater Tjörnin pond there are plenty of birdlife that frequent the area. During the winter months, Tjörnin becomes a popular spot for locals that take advantage of the winter cold when the pond often freezes over, dusting off their ice skates to glide over the pond! A magical experience that has become a tradition for the residents of Reykjavík.
Alþingishús (The Parliament House)
The Parliament House is a classical 19th century structure built in 1849 by Austurvöllur park, centralising power in Iceland in Reykjavík after it had existed in Þingvellir National Park within the Golden Circle for over seven centuries. The Parliament House is now one of the oldest stone buildings in the country and is made out of hewn Icelandic stone designed by the Danish architect Ferdinand Meldahl. Behind the Parliament House is a small garden, which is the oldest public garden in Iceland. Alþingi is the longest-running parliament in the world, and you can often see the forces of democracy still at work here.
The Sun Voyager
When visiting The Sun Voyager then take a walk besides Sæbraut street along the seaside until you come out to the voyager as it looks out from the city, across to Faxaflói bay to Mount Esja. The Sun Voyagers design is intended to symbolise the desire for adventure and discovery and our need to move forward. Described as an ‘ode to the sun’, it is Reykjavík’s most famous sculpture.
Grandi Old Harbour Area
The harbour area has slowly but steadily transformed over the last couple of years, from an industrial fishing area to a melting pot of food, arts and culture. Make a half-day of it and find the best of what Grandi Harbour area has to offer. Here you can also find the Hidden Iceland office, come by for a chat and coffee! Afterwards you can say hello to our neighbouring chocolate makes Omnom, visit The Marshall House, be thrilled by FlyOver Iceland and walk out to Þúfa outdoor installation then check out some of the wonderful restaurants and shops on the strip.
Join a food tour!
You could look to join our friends from Wake up Reykjavík for their Reykjavík Food Walk. This is a great way to get to know the culinary culture of Reykjavík as well as getting to know the city better. The 3.5 hour tour includes all food from 5 restaurants in Reykjavík. You won’t walk away from this tour feeling hungry!
REYKJAVIK GUIDE TO COFFEE
It’s necessary to fuel up with a good cup of coffee while strolling through the city streets. We for one, love a good cuppa. It would seem most of Iceland does too, being the 3rd largest coffee consumers per capita in the world and enjoying some 9 kg of coffee yearly! Despite that, you won’t find a single Starbucks or Costa while in Iceland. Instead, you’ll stumble upon many independent, boutique coffee houses crafting the perfect cup of coffee. You will come across an Icelandic chain coffee house along the way too, such as Te & Kaffi and Kaffitár. Both making a great coffee, but those listed below have our coffee loving hearts.
Kaffi Ó – Le
There is a new brewery in town, and it immediately became a new favorite. Located right in the heart of the city in the same building as Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel and another newcomer Brút Restaurant. Kaffi Ó – Le is the creation of Tom, the former manager of Reykjavík Roasters (see below). Together with Kaffibrugghúsið, a speciality roster located in Grandi Harbour Area, you’ll have a choice between various flavours in whatever form you prefer; slow pour over, espresso, cold brew. They have it all. If you’re hungry their almond croissants are the talk of the town, as are their sando sandwiches.
Location: Hafnarstræti 11, 101 Reykjavík
Their boutique roastery and coffee shop can be found in a couple of different locations just off of one of Reykjavík’s main shopping street. I can guarantee you’ll get a fantastic cup of coffee crafted by their baristas, many of whom have won the Icelandic Barista Championship several times.
This Bistro is a Norwegian style café hidden inside the uniquely designed Kjarvalsstaðir Art Museum. This isolated café is right at the edge of a tranquil, open park where the locals are found walking their dogs and playing frisbee golf. Once you are done with your coffee and / or lunch then be sure to take in impressive Art Museum, honouring Kjarval; one of Iceland’s most revered artists. Afterwards have a wander around the park and people watch.
The Kaktus Espressobar is a lovely new café in Reykjavík coffee house flora. Run by two Icelandic friends serving you with high quality Italian coffee in a cozy setting. In addition to coffee, they offer soup of the day (for under 1,000 ISK), tasty sandwiches and delicious cakes.
REYKJAVIK GUIDE OF EXPERIENCES & ACTIVITIES
If your trip happens to coincide with one of the many events that occur throughout the year, then be sure to allow time to get involved. The City of Reykjavik hosts many wonderful events each week, as well as bigger annual events like the Winter Lights Festival in February and The Culture Night Festival in August. There are also some fantastic annual music events like Iceland Airwaves each November. Check out Visit Reykjavik for some great insights as to what is happening each season, as well as info on all the services provided by the city, like museums, pools and attractions.
Reykjavik Art Museum
Entrance to Reykjavík Art Museum can keep you busy all day as it gives you admittance into their three museums; Hafnarhúsið, Kjarvalsstaðir and Ásmundarsafn. Bargain! Perfect things to do in Reykjavik on gloomy weather days. These three spectacular buildings are in different areas of the city so you’ll get a great sense of Reykjavík’s layout, as well as its culture.
Location: Tryggvagata 17 (Hafnarhúsið), Freyjugata (Ásmundarsafn), Flókagata 24 (Kjarvalsstaðir)
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Another fun option is FlyOver Iceland, a new and exciting activity in the Grandi area. Not only recommended in stormy weather, the exhilarating experience makes for a perfect stroll by the old harbour and away from the city centre. You will be taken on a flight across the diverse landscape of Iceland to angles and places not easily accessible. The immersive experience, including wind, mist and scents, combined with the ride’s motion is the perfect fun city activity.
The Marshall House was built in 1948 as a fish meal factory. After serving its purpose as such it was re-designed and renovated in 2017 and turned into a hub of museums and housing La Primavera restaurant. The house is home to three independent institutions; The Living Art Museum, Gallery Kling & Bang and Studio Ólafur Elíasson who has a permanent exhibition in the building.
Location: Grandagarður 20
The National Museum
The National Museum is a great museum and covers the history of Iceland from settlement until present day. Access to this museum also grants you entrance to The Culture House who hold the exhibition ‘Points of View’ which talks about the more contemporary natural history of Iceland, in one of the most stunning buildings in Reykjavík (in my humble opinion).
Location: Suðurgata 41 (The National Museum) and Hverfisgata 15 (The Culture House)
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Perlan Wonders Of Iceland Museum
This luxurious café is on a rotating glass dome on top of a 4 story science and natural history museum covering all the Icelandic elements and wildlife throughout history. Do I need to go on? How about the breathtaking view? Their rotating café and restaurant gives you a 360 degree view of Reykjavik on a clear day. Catch the free shuttle from Harpa Conference Hall and take in the view!
Local swimming pools and lagoons
Swimming or just hanging out in a sauna or warm outdoor hot tub is definitely the national pastime in Iceland and we know nothing better than relaxing in the hot tub, whatever the weather. This is both the best place to engage in conversation with random strangers or to be alone with your thoughts. There is just something about it! Recently re-opened Sundhöll Reykjavíkur, Icelands oldest public swimming pool with it’s original charm is a great one to visit, as well as Vesturbæjarlaug, a small and friendly neighbourhood pool within walking distance from the city centre. If you’re travelling with children Laugardalslaug has plenty of activities and kid friendly zones, as well as the adjoining petting zoo to fill up the day. A visit to the pool is never complete without replenishing at the nearest ice cream shop, bakery or hot dog stand!
If you are in for more of a treat, then the newly opened Sky Lagoon geothermal spa is the one for you. Combining natural heat with modern luxury and incredible views, and only a short 15 minute drive from the city centre. Their unique 7-Step Ritual will leave you invigorated and relaxed in equal doses. You won’t even notice the hours disappear as you make your way through their plentiful premises.
Norðurflug Helicopter Tours
Want to view Reykjavik from a different angle, whilst ticking off one of the bucket list items from your list. Iceland looks incredible from the air, and our partners from Norðurflug will ensure you see some of Iceland’s most incredible sights and a perfect experience. Their base is located just behind Perlan, near Öskjuhlíð, so the adventure begins right in Reykjavik.
REYKJAVIK GUIDE TO SHOPPING
Reykjavík is dotted with good places to shop at. You’ll be able to come across some of the larger shops like H&M and COS while making your way through the newly built Hafnartorg shopping centre. But there are many independent and unique numbers to be found on the main shopping street, with a mix of Icelandic design as well as a selection of curated international brands.
Talk about good home inspiration, Mikado hits it way out of the park. Mikado is a concept store and creative space that opened their doors just before Christmas 2020, in collaboration with Pastel flower studio. The shop has a strong atheistic with a curated selection of home-wear items from Iceland, Japan and Scandinavia, focusing on design and print.
Andrá Reykjavík is a women’s boutique clothing store, stocking international brands such as Stine Goya, Rodebjer and Agolde, as well as local Icelandic design. The brand they carry produce high quality clothing, who’s ethical and environmental ethos are at high standards.
Our new neighbours! Kiosk is a co-op shop owned by a few Icelandic fashion designers, founded back in 2010. Some of whom sell their work exclusively here in the shop, but all of them take turns manning the floor. The labels that are sold in their new store in Grandi are Magnea, Anita Hirlekar, Bahns, Eyglo and Hlín Reykdal.
HAF Store and HAF Studio is founded and run by the husband and wife duo Hafsteinn Júlíusson and Karitas Sveinsdóttir and are one of the most sought out interior designers in Iceland. You are likely to spot their interior design in various spaces in Reykjavík, most notably at the reception of Reykjavík Residence, Yuzu Burgers, Mat Bar, Húrra Reykjavík and many more locations. The duo also run HAF Store where you’ll be able to purchase some of their unique design from their studio as well other handpicked products from abroad. Anything from ceramics, lights, furniture to cosmetics. This is yet another treat for the design enthusiast.
It wouldn’t be a complete Reykjavik Guide if it didn’t cover where to drink. After a bit of shopping and sightseeing it’s time to rewind after a good day around town. Settle in at one of these wine bars that have become our favourite for a glass (or two) before going out for a nice dinner in the city!
A welcome newcomer located in the same building as NORR11 on Hverfisgata, right across the street from Safnarhúsið Museum. During lunch you can head there for a soup and sandwich combo, but in the afternoon visit Mikki Refur for their unique variety of natural wines and coffee.
Vínstúkan 10 Sopar
The basement bar focuses on natural wines ands wines from smaller producers and lesser-known regions. A charming little place also offering a menu of Spanish cuisine under the direction of the great chef results in the most wonderful combination.
Port 9 Wine Bar
It’s charming and tucked away, a little secret getaway from the main street feels like you are traveling from the streets of downtown Reykjavík to Barcelona. Truly a hidden gem, offering a great selection of wine and delicacies.
REYKJAVIK GUIDE TO DINING
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, despite enduring some of the toughest trading conditions, the Icelandic restaurant scene kept it’s course and some new places opened their doors to hungry guests. The list certainly doesn’t end here, as there are plenty of incredible restaurants to choose from. Restaurant prices tend be on the higher end, but we hear from our guests time and time again that they’ve not had a single disappointing meal while in Iceland. The stakes are high, but these restaurants always deliver.
This restaurant continues to be one of our go-to restaurants for catching up with friends, date nights and special occasions. An intimate, atmospheric setting with traditional Italian cuisine from the freshest ingredients available, designed to share with your partner and friends alike. Great cocktail and wine menu, followed by even better food. There is no wonder we continue to visit and we hope you’ll go find out for yourself why.
Dragon Dim Sum
Hats off to anyone brave enough to open a new restaurant in the midst of a global pandemic. A pet project of some of the chefs from Mat Bar, infused with Makake and you have Dragon Dim Sum. Tucked away in a first come, first served setting just off the Laugavegur main shopping street, Dragon Dim Sum offer some of the best dumplings around. They continuously continue to evolve and improve it’s delicious menu of dumplings, steamed buns, pickles and meats, served with a selection of Asian beers.
The restaurant arrived like a breath of fresh air, this secretive gem is one to try if you’re looking for a real treat. This intimate 11 guest restaurant is hidden within another restaurant. Óx takes a good look at what’s available close to home as the restaurants engaging chefs take you on an adventure of Iceland flavours that you never knew existed. Aided by free flowing wine, the fourteen bite sized courses becomes the setting for friendship building before long.
Hósiló was founded in late 2020 by three mates that had carried their dream of opening a restaurant together for far too long. The restaurant is one for the weekender, as this little nook is only open during weekends. With a small, ever rotating menu—consisting of a meat dish, a fish dish, a vegetarian dish, ice cream and cheese—that changes weekly as they work with local vegetable and fish suppliers for the freshest ingredients available, Hósiló keeps us excited and wanting to come back for more.
One of our neighbourhood favourites Coocoo’s Nest keep us happy for brunch, lunch and dinner. A cozy family run restaurant has become known for their delicious pizzas wholesome food and friendly atmosphere using the best available ingredients on their rotating dinner menu. Visit its next door sister, Luna Flórens for unique cocktails and aperitivo for the perfect end to a day trip to Grandi.
Location: Grandagarður 23
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GET AWAY FROM THE CITY LIGHTS
Beyond the popular destination of Reykjavík, there are plenty of things to do in Iceland at all times of the year. After spending time in the city, and completing our Reykjavik Guide, it’s time to make your way away from the city lights and find some adventure. Chase the midnight sun during summer and explore the inner workings of the glacier ice caves during the darker winter months. The possibilities are endless and can sometimes seem overwhelming, but that’s why we are here for. Get in touch with our Hidden Iceland team and we’ll help you and your group come up with the perfect Iceland itinerary that takes you beyond the city lines. Be it private tours, which small group tour to join or simply a question about what’s possible, we’ve got you covered.
Hi, I’m Dagný Björg, Hidden Iceland’s CEO and one of the co-owners. Reykjavík-dweller by day and adventure seeker by night. I spent my summers growing up camping with my family all around the incredible country that is Iceland. Now, I do my best to ensure that everything within Hidden Iceland keeps running smoothly and my local knowledge is put to good use when creating all your fantastic itineraries.