10 Things You Really Should Do in Reykjavik

Things to do in Reykjavik

It’s often said that the best things come in small packages, and Reykjavik is a perfect example of this. For such a small city with a population of only 120,000 it’s surprisingly cosmopolitan and offers a throng of unforgettable activities to do, ranging from the adventurous to the downright strange. That’s the brilliant thing about Reykjavik; it’s as diverse and unique as the Icelandic landscape that surrounds it, filled with bubbling calderas and volcanic activity.

 

1. Visit Harpa Concert Hall

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik
You don’t have to be interested in Scandinavian architecture to find this building impressive; its ‘honeycomb’ structure consists of a steel framework clad with geometric shaped glass panels of different colours. It’s difficult to gauge how large each glass panel is so I stood inside one in order to provide a perspective. Harpa is a multipurpose building that has four large concert halls, a café, design shop, bar and lounge and open spaces to hold a variety of cultural functions (I was lucky enough to be there at the Reykjavik Chess Open 2013).

 

2. Visit the World’s only Penis Museum

Penis Museum
This is what I was referring to when I said there are some ‘downright strange’ things to do here. It’s not a place any visitor will forget anytime soon and showcases the humorous side that Icelandic people are noted for (the ex-Mayor of Reykjavik, Jón Gnarr, is also a comedian and actor!). This is one of my all-time favourite museums, not just because it’s filled with over 280 penises but because the owner happens to be an ex-school teacher(!). You couldn’t make this story up. The collection grew from a joke, as the school teacher let slip to his colleagues that he used a bull’s penis to whip cattle as a young boy. A sneaky peek inside the museum shows off a humongous whale penis, giraffe penis, and  lamp shades made from bull’s scrotum, but for a more detailed account read my earlier post here.

 

3. Head up to Hallgrímskirkja Church for a Bird’s-Eye View of the City

Hallgrimskirkja Church
Colourful buildings in Reykjavik
After visiting the Penis Museum you might want to repent at Hallgrímskirkja Church, but since I’m sure none of you lovely people reading this actually require a trip to confession then you should head straight up to the top of the church for a bird’s-eye view of the city. This view is the best way to see how quirky and colourful Reykjavik really is. Compact corrugated iron houses nestle next to large futuristic glass buildings to make it look as though Reykjavik was modelled from the buildings found on the Monopoly board – and an upgraded version of the game can explain any new and modern architecture.

Fact: Did you know the unique basalt columns at Svartifoss inspired the architect who made Hallgrímskirkja church? To learn more about these unique rock formations check out my other post: Geology Rocks! Basalt Columns in Iceland.

Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik

 

4. Have Lobster Soup at Sea Baron

The Sea Baron Restaurant in Reykjavik
If you’re into seafood then Sea Baron located by the harbour is the place to go, I highly recommend the Lobster soup accompanied with a few slices of bread dressed simply with butter. At 1500 ISK (Icelandic Kroner) which equates to approximately £6 it is priced very reasonably, considering anything with lobster in the title of an English menu usually comes with a heavy price tag.

 

5. Search for Street Art

Graffiti, street art in Reykjavik
Searching for street art (or graffiti – where does the line between graffiti and street art begin and end?) was one of my favourite things to do in Reykjavik. Actually, you don’t even have to go searching for it because it’s so prolific that you’ll end up stumbling across a decent amount just by wandering around the city.

 

6. Day Trip on the Golden Circle Tour

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Many people who go to Reykjavik do so because it acts as a point of base to explore more of Iceland, and the perfect excursion for this is the Golden Circle Tour. On this tour you’ll experience some of Iceland’s most famous sights – Thingvellir National Park, The Great Geysir as well as Strokkur geyser (The Great Geysir usually lies dormant, but Strokkur erupts every 4-7 minutes so you’re guaranteed some excellent action shots) and finally the almighty Gullfoss waterfall.
Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland

 

7. Reykjavik Art Museum

Reykjavik Art Museum, Gallery
Whenever I’m in a new city I always try and go to at least one art gallery, and Reykjavik was no exception to this rule. The modern art gallery located near the harbour is home to the largest art collection in Iceland, focussing on Icelandic artists as well as contemporary art by young, international artists. Benefiting from the city’s small population, I can almost say for certain that you’re never going to find this museum overcrowded, and taking advantage of this, Alex and I got up to a bit of mischief by manipulating some of the film installations that were on display when no one was watching….
Reykjavik Modern Art Museum

 

8. Go to the Rooftop of the Perlan (& the Revolving Restaurant)

The Perlan, Reykjavik
The Perlan is a quirky looking building, and from a distance looks a bit like a UFO but it’s actually a revolving rooftop restaurant sitting atop five huge water tanks. If you have money to splurge then the word on the grapevine is that the food is superb, however, if you’re a budget traveller like me then you should go to the Perlan for its panoramic views for the city. The view is not as ‘perfect’ as the ones from Hallgrímskirkja but it does come for free (heading up to the top of Hallgrímskirkja sets you back approx. £3.50). I went through the day, but I imagine it would be a good place to come on an evening for a chance to enjoy the bar and see what the city lights look like at night.

 

9. Take a Trip to the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Forty minutes away from Reykjavik, you’ll find The Blue Lagoon in Grindavik, it is Iceland’s number one tourist attraction so try and get there either early in the morning or in the evening to avoid turning what should be a therapeutic experience into something more chaotic. It’s opened 10am-8pm from Sept to May and 9am-9pm from June to August, so any time after 5pm should guarantee enough time and space to overload on relaxation thanks to some unique geothermal energy.

 

10. Rummage Through the Shops

Shopping in Reykjavik
I usually avoid visiting shops when I travel but Reykjavik has some really stylish places selling a variety of new and old objects that prove difficult to resist. It’s easy to whittle away the time by admiring all the design shops and studios scattered along Laugavegur, the main shopping street, but my weakness lies in rummaging through second-hand tat in vintage shops which are found dotted around the city. You never know what you might find! Music aficionados will appreciate the selection of good quality record stores, something that can be difficult to find in a world that’s converting everything into digital formats.
Design shops in Reykjavik
Vintage shops in Reykjavik

Have you been to Reykjavik? Can you add anything else to this list?



A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.


'10 Things You Really Should Do in Reykjavik' have 34 comments

  1. January 1, 2014 @ 4:55 pm Stefania

    How cute this city is. I loved how you compared the houses to Monopoli ones! And it looks like Reykjavik holds a couple of good day trips. The blue lagoon is fascinating, I’d love to try the geothermal energy!

    Reply

    • January 2, 2014 @ 5:47 pm admin

      Reykjavik is sooo cute Stefania! Partly because it’s very small with a cosy feel, but also because of the colourful and cheerful buildings. Funnily enough, I could really go for a game of Monopoly now :)

      Yes, Reykjavik is a perfect city for day excursions, during winter I would also suggest a Northern Lights tour!

      Reply

      • February 14, 2016 @ 4:52 am candice

        Hi, I am going to Iceland next week and I have a query about dress code. I wondered when people go into shops where do they put their snow boots and/or jackets? And do people carry around ‘summer’ shoes to wear in the shops or do they wear their socks around while browsing?

        Reply

  2. January 1, 2014 @ 6:21 pm Mike

    Penis museum…it just gives me the giggles! Oh my gosh The Blue Lagoon sounds absolutely perfect right now. From the picture it looks like you have room to yourself without feeling crowded. Very appealing to me. Look at all those pretty colors of the houses from the church! The mischievous photo that Alex took of you at the Art Museum rocks, Shing! Lobster soup…yes please! Reykjavik…sign me up. Fantastic post. Ya know, have you thought about being a tour guide? I know you’ve worked so hard in school but…seriously. You would by a dynamite hit! Happy New Year to the two of you and your families! :)

    Reply

    • January 2, 2014 @ 6:03 pm admin

      Haha the Penis Museum cracked me up Mike! It’s surprisingly ‘museum-like’ too, nothing at all like a tacky sex museum in Amsterdam, instead you feel like you’re having a bit of a biology lesson.

      Yes, definitely, if you get the timing right, the Blue Lagoon can be very relaxing and therapeutic but I imagine in peak season and in peak hours it can have the adverse effect.

      I bet it would be a great experience to be a tour guide for a while, but I’ve got a strong type of accent that even English people find difficult to understand let alone a non-native speaker so I wouldn’t make a very good guide! Thanks for the compliment though 😀

      Reply

  3. January 1, 2014 @ 7:30 pm Mike | Earthdrifter

    I’ve wondered about this natural art inspiration (like how the basalt columns inspired local architecture) while seeing astonishing nature recently.

    Reply

    • January 2, 2014 @ 6:21 pm admin

      It’s great to know the inspiration behind architecture. The natural landscape seems to be taken into consideration a lot where Scandinavian architects are concerned.

      Reply

  4. January 2, 2014 @ 5:01 am memographer

    I’ve never been to Reykjavik, but, would really love to visit. Thanks for sharing the list. The design of the Concert Hall is amazing! Love the shot of your silhouette in its cell.
    Happy New Year full of great adventures!

    Reply

    • January 2, 2014 @ 6:36 pm admin

      Scandinavian architecture is my favourite! (I know Iceland isn’t technically Scandinavia but it’s still seen as part of the club :))

      Happy New Year to you too, I hope 2014 is filled with plenty more adventures!

      Reply

  5. January 2, 2014 @ 7:51 am Mary {The World Is A Book}

    Love these pictures, Shing! It brought back great memories and glad you made it to the Sea Baron too. Now, you make me want to go back. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the penis museum in fear of traumatizing the kids :) Great wrap-up!

    Reply

    • January 2, 2014 @ 6:40 pm admin

      I want to go back too Mary! I’m going to try and get there during the summer and experience the Puffin season like you did!

      Hahahaaaah the Penis museum is strictly adults only! 😀

      Reply

  6. January 2, 2014 @ 12:05 pm Edna

    Super handy list — I’m in Reykjavik right now! Was looking for a good food rec :)

    Reply

  7. January 2, 2014 @ 6:53 pm admin

    Glad I could help Edna! Sea Baron is a tasty and cheap place to grab lunch, but if you’re looking for dinner then Gamla Vinhusid is a decent restaurant that offers a wide variety of steaks (assuming you’re not a veggie) at a reasonable price.

    I saw that last night had strong Aurora activity so I hope you manage to see it! Enjoy Iceland!

    Reply

  8. January 2, 2014 @ 6:56 pm Colleen Brynn

    This is a great list!!! My boyfriend and I managed to do just about all of this while we were there this summer, so it’s nice to see someone else was on the same page. Loved your photos too! x

    Reply

    • January 3, 2014 @ 6:13 pm admin

      Glad to hear you mirror my choices Colleen! I would ,love to go back in the summer!

      Reply

  9. January 3, 2014 @ 8:18 pm Richard

    Bookmarking that lobster soup place for if I ever make it to a place that’s been at the top of my bucket list for too long now.

    Just an idea, but could that travel company you work for give away a competition prize of a trip to Iceland?

    Reply

    • January 6, 2014 @ 12:16 pm admin

      Haha, we should actually hold more competitions! If we do, I’ll let you know!

      Alternatively, have you checked out Icelandair’s 3 night holiday breaks which are often fairly priced? Also, if you book everything separately, you can find cheapish flights with EasyJet, I got my flights for £75 (Hmmm, I’ve just checked their website and the prices have gone up now, so Icelandair appears to be a better deal as it includes accommodation, breakfast and one excursion).

      Reply

      • December 7, 2014 @ 8:48 pm Richard

        It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally taken your advice and booked flights (Icelandair launch a Birmingham service in Feb, so I’ve managed to get returns for £170 each).

        I definitely fancy a Golden Circle day trip, a climb to the top of that church and some lobster soup. Might give the penis museum a miss, though! Any decent bar tips for me?

        Reply

        • December 28, 2014 @ 12:16 pm admin

          No, you should go to the penis museum Rich!! Don’t be a party pooper 😉
          I don’t really have any bar tips I’m afraid, but you won’t have a problem finding a pint! There are lots of cool, little cafes dotted about the city too.

          Reply

  10. March 23, 2014 @ 2:47 am Agness

    Amazing list sweetie. I liked the way you mixed different activities up to see the best of Reykjavik. I would definitely go for a stroll across the street in search of graffiti, head up to Hallgrímskirkja Church for a Bird’s-Eye View of the City and of course dig into some local dishes!

    Reply

    • March 23, 2014 @ 7:25 am admin

      I love your plan Agness – I’d do the same! Reykjavik and the rest of Iceland awaits you!

      Reply

  11. March 23, 2014 @ 5:04 pm Charlie

    Great blog post! I visited Reykjavik years ago on a geography school trip, so we only got to look at landforms and waterfalls – which was amazing! but of course it meant we didn’t see any of the cultural side of Iceland. Looks like there’s quite a few interesting things to do.

    Reply

    • March 26, 2014 @ 8:43 am admin

      Wow you went to Reykjavik for a school trip? You must have gone to a good school, the best we ever got was a trip to a nearby park. The landforms and waterfalls are my favourite – I hope you saw Gullfoss, that blew my mind! Yes, for such a small city there is a surprising amount of things to do, definitely worth a trip back Charlie!

      Reply

  12. August 27, 2014 @ 10:13 pm Ahmed

    It really nice place and wonderful pictures
    I would like to go there one day
    great work

    Reply

  13. December 19, 2014 @ 1:09 pm Michael Rossiter-Eaglesfield

    Loved the post. I went January 2014 nd fell in love with the short days – sunrise 11am / sunset 3 pm.
    The pond at both them times was like a fairytale.
    My partner and i loved it so much we had out honeymoon their in September and hired a car and did Gulfoss the geysir etc.
    Didnt think it was possible but fell for Iceland evenmore.
    Heading back in March 2015 and cannot wait.
    Great post!!!!!

    Reply

    • December 28, 2014 @ 12:34 pm admin

      Ahhh we feel exactly the same way about Iceland! Amazing to read that you had your honeymoon there too, it’s not a traditional place but one that makes complete and utter sense because Iceland is out of this world, and that’s exactly what a honeymoon should be!!!

      Hope your trip in March brings more surprises!

      Reply

  14. January 24, 2015 @ 10:28 am Samantha

    Thinking of making a side trip to Iceland [thanks to inspiration from Walter Mitty!] during trip to Northern Europe in may/june this year. Only have a couple of days free, and have been researching for a while – have to say this is the most useful post ive found on what to do/where to go/how to do it in the month ive been looking! Must be a Yorkshire thing [Im from Sheffield, now living in Sydney] lol Keep up the travel posts! thanks :)

    Reply

    • January 30, 2015 @ 5:35 am admin

      Hello lassy!! Sheffield to Sydney? Two places that couldn’t be further apart, how exciting! What do you miss about Yorkshire? 😀

      Haha, Walty Mitty is a big incentive to go to Iceland! And did you know that nearly all of the scenes that were supposed to be in Greenland were really shot in Iceland? Same applies for the shots in the Himalayas and Afghanistan!

      I hope you make the trip, May and June is a really good time to go (puffin seasons begins at that time too!). Give me a shout if you have any questions!

      Reply

  15. March 24, 2015 @ 4:41 am Breanna Wilson

    What a perfect list! I’m heading to Reykjavik next week and am just starting planning. Did you use a tour company to go to the Golden Circle?

    Reply

    • May 13, 2015 @ 11:28 am admin

      Hi Breanna, I’m so sorry I missed your question! I hope you had a fantastic time in Reykjavik and managed to do the Golden Circle.

      Reply

  16. May 12, 2015 @ 4:32 pm Phil

    Looking forward to my visit to Iceland soon and a great read .
    Only comment is about the soup!
    2000 Icelandic Krona = £9.64
    Expensive bowl of soup .

    Reply

    • May 13, 2015 @ 11:41 am admin

      The krona has got stronger in the last two years! Thanks for pointing this out Phil, I’ll probably make an update! I hope you enjoy Iceland as much as I do, let me know if you have any questions!

      Reply

  17. August 17, 2016 @ 4:22 pm Joseph

    Don’t forget to go to the Museum of National History. It was so fascinating and you will learn so much about the nation, it’s viking history and so much else. I could have spent the entire day in that place. It’s NOT to be missed!

    Reply

  18. September 15, 2016 @ 8:59 am Kishor

    Great pictures, looks like you had a great time there. I am adding this list in my bookmark. Great work.

    Reply


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