Gray Line Iceland - Top things to see in Reykjavík

Posted by Admin on 22 Apr 2024

24 Things to See and Do in Reykjavík 

 Sunset over the harbor in Reykjavik

Welcome to the Northernmost capital of the world!

You may have come to Iceland to explore its natural marvels and spectacular scenery, catch a glimpse of the Northern lights, bask in the Midnight Sun, or go whale watching and puffin spotting.

But while you’re here, take some time to stroll the streets and discover the treasures of Reykjavík, the world’s most northerly capital.

Get ready to be surprised at just how much there is to do here! 

Powered by a vibrant artistic community, Iceland’s capital is a creative haven, offering visitors an astonishing range of cultural attractions. 

Choose from a world-class selection of immersive visitor experiences, fascinating museums, entertaining exhibitions, and art galleries, and admire Reykjavík’s unique architectural style and marvelous multi-colored buildings.

Take a virtual walk with us along the city’s pretty streets and see how many of Reykjavík’s highlights you can visit!

1. The Rainbow Street Skólavörðustígur

Let’s start with one of Reykjavík’s most famous roads - the Rainbow Street. 

Leading uphill to Hallgrímskirkja, Rainbow Street is a colorful introduction to 101, the local nickname for the city center.

The street is actually called Skólavörðustígur (School Cairn Street), and it’s lined with classy coffee houses, eclectic design and souvenir stores, cute cafés, and the famous Handknitting Association of Iceland store.

First painted with rainbow colors to celebrate Reykjavík Pride in 2015, it’s now a permanent fixture, drawing visitors to one of the city’s most lively areas to grab an incredible Instagram image!

2. Hallgrímskirkja Hallgrímstorg 1

Once you arrive at the top of the hill, you’ll be at the highest point in the city!

Look up at the towering statue of the Icelandic explorer Leifur Eiríksson, who sailed to America centuries before Columbus, and behind it, the rocket ship-shaped church called Hallgrímskirkja.

Dominating the skyline of Reykjavík and the largest church in Iceland, Hallgrímskirkja is the iconic symbol of the capital.

Its grand concrete facade pays homage to Iceland’s beautiful basalt formations, while its impressive interior contains an enormous church organ with 5275 pipes!

Take a trip in the elevator for uninterrupted panoramic views of the city’s multi-colored rooftops and the surrounding mountains.

You might be surprised to learn that Leifur Eiríksson’s statue was erected in 1932, long before Hallgrímskirkja was completed in 1986.

3. Sundhöllin Barónsstígur 45a

Directly behind Hallgrímskirkja lies Sundhöllin, a beautiful white-walled Art Deco-style building containing one of the city’s most popular swimming pools.

Once you’ve changed and showered, you can choose from a vast outdoor pool, a rooftop hot tub and sauna, or a large indoor swimming pool.

Locals love it here, and it’s much cheaper to take a dip here than some of the more famous geothermal spas. 

4. Laugavegur 

Walking downhill to the left of Hallgrímskirkja soon brings you to Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s most walked street.

Home to countless bars, cafés, restaurants, upmarket boutiques, thrift stores, souvenir shops, and hotels, a stroll down Laugavegur from Hlemmur Square to Bankastræti will take you right through the heart of the capital city.

You’ll often find yourself on this street during your time in Reykjavík, and there’s so much to discover here.

In earlier times, the locals walked uphill along Laugavegur (Wash Street) to Laugardalur (Pool Valley) on Laugardogum (Pool Days) to clean themselves and their clothes in the hot springs.

5. Harpa Austurbakki 2

Harpa concert hall in reykjavik

Following Laugavegur downhill to Lækjargata, you’ll soon see the gleaming opera hall Harpa on the right. 

The jewel in Reykjavík’s crown, Harpa is a multi-sensory treat for visitors, inside and out.

Constructed during the 2008 economic crisis, it’s now Iceland’s most majestic architectural achievement, a marvelous mix of glass and steel.

At night, its glass cells light up in dazzling displays, while sunlight dapples magically through them during the day.

Home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, Harpa’s incredible interiors resemble a real-life Escher drawing.

You’re welcome to visit for free, so take a tour of its grand staircases and enjoy the unbeatable views across Faxaflói Bay to the distant Mount Esja.

6. The Old Harbor

old harbor in Reykjavik

You’re now entering Reykjavík’s historic Old Harbor area, the heart of the city and the focus of its fishing industry for centuries.

The excellent natural harbor was ideal for the trawler fleet, protecting the ships from rough seas and fierce winds.

Now, it’s home to the capital’s whale watching tours and a tremendous selection of restaurants, cafés, bars, museums, and more.

Take a moment to enjoy the fabulous views from here. The only railway train in Iceland is on display here, too!

7. The Icelandic Phallological Museum Kalkofnsvegur 2

If you’re in the mood for a unique museum experience, cross over the main road for a peek at the Icelandic Phallological Museum.

Describing itself as the world’s most extensive collection of male members, you can browse samples of phalluses from every Icelandic animal (including whales!) and more than a hundred other organisms.

And if you’re peckish after your visit, you can grab a penis-shaped waffle from the Phallus Café & Bistro or a memorable souvenir from the gift shop!

8. The Maritime Museum Grandagarði 8

Walking to the far side of the harbor and into the Grandi district brings you to Reykjavík’s Maritime Museum, which offers a fully rounded review of how Icelanders harvested the sea from one age to the next.

Dozens of fascinating photographs, artifacts, fishing equipment, and machinery are beautifully displayed alongside gigantic AV screens portraying the extraordinary task of feeding the nation from the sea. 

Outside, you’ll see a traditional fishing vessel and Óðinn, a former Coastguard vessel that helped defend Icelandic waters during the Cod Wars. 

9. Grandi

Formerly filled with fishing warehouses and shipbuilding yards, the Grandi district has been redeveloped recently.

Now, it’s lined with boutique clothes shops, artisan design stores, restaurants and cafés, ice cream parlors, specialist chocolate shops, and more.

Grandi is now one of the most exciting areas in the capital, a magnet for innovators, with FlyOver Iceland and the Lava Show adding to its attractions. 

But it still holds its old dockside charm, and you can grab lunch at  Kaffivagninn, the oldest restaurant in Iceland, or choose from the selection at the Grandi Mathöll food hall.

10. FlyOver Iceland Fiskislóð 43

If you want to see the best of Iceland’s astonishing natural wonders without driving around the country, FlyOver Iceland is the place to go!

All of Iceland is displayed in an immersive indoor virtual reality experience, which gives you the sensation of flying over the country’s most stunning natural marvels.

Sit back and enjoy a bird’s eye view of Iceland as its lush landscapes dance across a 20-meter screen.

FlyOver Iceland gives you the unforgettable experience of feeling like you’re flying through the clouds, visiting 30 locations all around the country. It’s an unmissable treat for all the senses!

11. Whales of Iceland Fiskislóð 23

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching, with at least 23 species following the Gulf Stream north to feed in its nutrient-rich waters every year. 

If you want to learn more about these marvelous mammals, Whales of Iceland contains impressive lifesize silica models of every single species of whale found in Icelandic waters.

There’s a well-paced audio guide with admission, interactive displays, informative films, and a great café.

12. The Lava Show Fiskislóð 73

Iceland is famous as the “Land of Fire and Ice,” covered in lava fields from dozens of active volcano systems, and it’s the perfect place for you to learn more about lava!

The Lava Show on Grandi offers you the chance to witness real lava, recreating a volcanic eruption with superheated molten rock pouring into a room right before your eyes! 

Using environmentally friendly methods to heat up the lava, the Lava Show entertainingly illustrates Iceland’s fiery history with informative commentary and fascinating facts in a unique setting.

13. Þúfa Norðurslóð

If you’ve enjoyed the views of Esja and Faxaflói from Reykjavík’s Old Harbor, you might have noticed an odd grassy mound in the distance over the left.

It’s called Þúfa, and it’s one of the country’s most significant artworks!

More than four thousand tons of gravel has been beautifully arranged into an accessible grassy dome, topped off by a traditional fish-drying hut.

Adding to the attraction, you can walk a spiral stone path to the top (8 meters) and enjoy beautiful city views, including Harpa.

The name translates as “tussock” or a small hill.

From Grandi, let’s return to the city center to discover more of Reykjavík’s museums and attractions.

14. The Settlement Exhibition Aðalstræti 16

Just off the edge of Ingólfstorg Square, this intriguing museum skilfully integrates a genuine archaeological site with a clever interactive exhibition that helps to paint a vivid picture of life in Iceland following its first settlement in 874 AD.

Centered around an excavated 9th-century hall, the Settlement Exhibition showcases the tools and methods of farming, cattle-raising, fishing, and hunting used here in Iceland’s earlier times.

Connected to the Settlement Exhibition is Aðalstræti 10, the oldest wooden building in Reykjavík, displaying an extraordinary range of photographs and artifacts covering the development and history of the capital.

15. Grjótaþorpið

Just around the corner, you can take a stroll through the historic Grjótaþorpið neighborhood, a collection of 19th-century and early 20th-century wooden houses considered its first suburb.

Look for Aðalstræti (the oldest street in the city), Túngáta, Garðastræti, and Vesturgata, and wander the pretty streets, once home to its wealthiest merchants and traders.

16. Austurvöllur, Parliament House and Tjörnin

tjornin pond in Reykjavik

Close by is Alþingishúsið, Iceland’s Parliament building, which overlooks Austurvöllur, a beautiful green space in the center of the city.

Icelanders often come here to sunbathe in good weather, protest against their government, and sometimes even throw pots of skyr if they’re really unhappy with the people in charge!

Tjörnin (the “Pond”) is just around the corner, where you’ll find flocks of geese, swans and ducks. Tjörnin freezes over in the winter, and the locals love skating here.

Hot water is piped into one corner to keep the birds happy, and you can feed them if you like! Don’t worry about falling in – it’s less than a meter deep.

17. The National Gallery Fríkirkjuvegi 7

If you’re a modern art fan, visit the National Gallery (Listasafn Íslands), which nestles next to the lovely Fríkirkjan church on the north side of Tjörnin.

Opened in 1884, you can browse a varied collection of 19th and 20th-century works from Icelandic artists in a bright and airy space, covering a significant range of artistic styles and media.

18. The National Museum Suðurgata 41

Þjóðminjasafn (the National Museum) offers a treasure trove spread over two floors that wonderfully illustrates the country’s development, from early settlement to the modern day.

Thousands of artifacts are carefully arranged and beautifully displayed in chronological order, giving an insight into the challenges and achievements of Icelandic life.

All conceivable aspects of society are detailed, including Iceland’s dependence on fishing and agriculture, the impact of volcanic eruptions, the long path to independence, and modern culture – even football and feminism!

19. The Shoreline Walk, Sólfar and Esja

A shoreline walk from Harpa to the Sun Voyager is a highlight of any trip to Reykjavík.

Unveiled in August 1990, Sólfar (the Sun Voyager) is a shimmering steel sculpture of a boat that echoes Iceland’s Viking explorer past and one of the most popular photo stops in the city.

Walking to it allows you to soak up the spectacular views of Esja and Faxaflói. But, also look out for a couple of secret treats hidden amongst the giant boulders. The first one is quite close to Harpa, a tribute to the first geocache in Iceland.

The second is perhaps much less known, and you’d be forgiven for missing it entirely.

Fjöruverk (Shore Piece) is a work by the revered Icelandic artist Sigurður Guðmundsson. A collection of highly polished rocks offers an intriguing contrast to the rough boulders on either side.

It’s a magical sight worth the extra few minutes to walk beyond Sólfar to find it.

20. Viðey

Just a short ferry ride from the Old Harbor or Sundahöfn a little further along Sæbraut, the island of Viðey is an oasis of calm, away from the city’s bustling streets.

An open-air museum, there are preserved historic farm buildings, a range of modern art sculptures by Richard Serra, including the Peace Tower tribute to John Lennon, a tiny church, and a fine café.

In addition, it’s a haven for wildlife, with birds and bees providing the only noise.

21. Perlan Öskjuhlíð

The perfect wet weather location, Perlan’s primary purpose is the towering geothermally-heated hot water tanks that warm the residents of Reykjavík and beyond.

But this iconic domed building on Öskjuhlíð Hill is also home to the “Wonders of Iceland” nature exhibition, the country’s only planetarium, a Northern Lights cinema show, and a 100-meter artificial ice cave and glacier experience.

In addition, Perlan offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the city skyline and a splendid restaurant, and you can explore relics of Iceland’s experience during the Second World War.

22. Sky Lagoon Vesturvör 44-48, Kársnes Harbour, Kópavogur

Just a short drive from the city center, Sky Lagoon offers an unforgettable geothermal spa experience with incredible Atlantic views from a 75-meter infinity pool.

Enjoy a soothing dip in the warming waters, order a refreshing drink at the swim-up bar, and revel in the glorious luxury of one of Iceland’s finest spas.

Take the Seven-Step Ritual, an authentic Icelandic bathing experience with wet and dry steam rooms, cold mist showers, and exfoliating scrubs.

Designed for relaxation and calm in a gorgeous setting, you won’t want to leave!

23. Nauthólsvík Ylströnd

For an even more “Icelandic” bathing experience, take a trip to the other side of the city to Nauthólsvík, where you’ll discover a rare sight in this country – a white sand beach!

The white sands were imported to make it look like a Mediterranean resort beach, but the temperatures are slightly cooler! Don’t worry - the seawater is geothermally heated, like Sky Lagoon and Blue Lagoon!

This is a favorite for the locals who come all year round to soak in the open-air pools here.

24. Grótta 170 Reykjavík

If there’s a good Northern Lights forecast and you’re in the city, head for the lighthouse at Grótta on Seltjarnarnes, just a short drive from the city center.

It’s a popular spot, with sweeping ocean views of Esja and the city, but it’s also far enough away from the bright city lights to improve your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis.

Look for the red-topped lighthouse and watch the skies!

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