Best things to do in Reykjavik

Reykjavik is the tourist destination for those who want to do outdoor activities while enjoying amazing icy and warm landscapes. I tell you what to see and do in the Icelandic capital during your visit.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

13 min read

Best things to do in Reykjavik

Reykjavik | ©Yanshu Lee

Reykjavik is known by many as the city of ice and fire, as it has a high level of volcanic activity, but at the same time, impressive icy landscapes, which include icebergs and glacial lakes, among others. In addition, every year, the Icelandic capital is the site of a natural phenomenon unique to these latitudes: the aurora borealis.

The beauty of Reykjavik lies mainly in the natural monuments within its coasts: mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, beaches, glaciers, geothermal pools and lagoons. All of them, magical destinations for any tourist. Therefore, if this Icelandic city is among your travel options, you will be interested in knowing what to see and what to do in Reykjavik.

1. Explore the streets of Reykjavík and immerse yourself in the Nordic history of the Icelandic capital

Walking around Reykjavik| ©jordi Doria Vidal
Walking around Reykjavik| ©jordi Doria Vidal

Reykjavik is a colorful city dominated by low-rise architecture, pitched roofs, traditionally timber-framed and mostly clad in corrugated metal.

Its streets are usually easy to walk through, without having a specific route marked, since the main attractions are just a few minutes away from each other. However, if you want to make the most of your time and learn about the history of the city as you walk through it, you might want to join one of Reykjavik's guided tours.

Walking tour

With the walking tour you will get to know the whole city center of Reykjavik together with a native guide, who will tell you about Icelandic mythology, the history of the Vikings and how they settled in this region.

In addition, he will guide you through the emblematic and visually appealing places such as the Harpa Concert Hall, which has an impressive geometric design.

You will also pass by the Hallgrímskirkja church, the parliament building, the pond, museums, markets, etc. Keep in mind that there are other routes, but it all depends on the tour you book.

Bicycle tour

Reykjavik bike tours offer a different perspective of the city streets and therefore the buildings, monuments and other attractions. You can move freely on two wheels through the city center, the old town and other hidden places, which you will discover together with a specialized guide.

The tour goes through the Old Port, with its impressive panoramic view of the sea and the beach. You will also pass by the University of Iceland, the Parliament, the Nordic House and the pond, among other places of interest, depending on the selected route.

Undoubtedly, this is a good option if you do not know what to do in Reykjavik in summer.

But you also have other options such as: touring Reykjavik by bus or discovering the city on the best boat tours.

Book a guided tour of Reykjavík

2. Get to know the gastronomy of Reykjavik

Minke whale meat| ©enigmabadger
Minke whale meat| ©enigmabadger

During your visit to Reykjavik you can visit the restaurants and cafes of the city to get to know its gastronomy. In this way, you will discover surprising recipes that initially might seem a bit exotic, but in reality, they are part of the Icelandic tradition, which dates back to the time of the Vikings.

You will also find recipes that demonstrate the ingenuity of the Icelanders, such as hot dogs with lamb sausage and delicious sauces.

You can venture out on your own. However, ideally you should book one of the best food tours in Reykjavik through the city center.

This way, you will have a specialized guide by your side who will take you directly to the best restaurants, which will allow you to save time. In addition, this person will teach you the history behind each preparation and some curious facts that hides the Icelandic cuisine.

Among other dishes, you will be able to taste Minke whale meat, fermented shark or hákarl.

Also, you will often have the opportunity to taste an exquisite lobster soup or Icelandic lamb soup, which are meals usually consumed during the winter season to warm up the body.

Also, taste the rye bread ice cream and the famous Skyr, which is a cream cheese made with skimmed milk, used in many desserts such as blueberry pie.

Book a gastronomic tour in Reykjavik

3. Discover the glacial lagoons around Reykjavík

Blue Lagoon| ©Jim Nix
Blue Lagoon| ©Jim Nix

There are many glacial lagoons surrounding Reykjavík. All of them offer truly amazing landscapes, such as the glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón, Sólheimajökull and Fjallsárlón.

Similarly, highlights the hidden lagoon in the Golden Circle and the hot springs of Mývatn. All of them with crystal clear, calm waters and floating icebergs. It is a series of icy natural spaces that you can visit through different excursions and getaways from Reykjavik:

To enjoy the scenery or kayaking

Take a guided walking tour of the glacial lagoons from Reykjavik and navigate its calm waters in a kayak or a zodiac boat, are usually quite popular activities. You can also practice snorkeling.

During the same you can enjoy privileged views from different perspectives of the region explored.

Therefore, if you are interested in this type of experience, you should not worry about having little free time in your itinerary. You will be able to choose between several options regarding the duration of the tour, being able to spend from six hours to two or more days in contact with nature.

To take professional photographs

Iceland's glacial lagoons are a mandatory destination for professionals or photography enthusiasts, as these imposing sceneries offer different perspectives according to the light projected on the water, icebergs and ice walls during the day.

Therefore, an excursion to visit these types of lagoons from Reykjavik is a good opportunity to take advantage of the natural filters that you will only find in this part of the world.

In addition, because these visits usually last for more than two days, you will have the opportunity to take pictures at night.

Book a tour to the lagoons in Reykjavík

4. Visit the hot springs of Reykjavik and relax for a few hours while watching an amazing natural landscape

Mývatn thermal lake| ©Kimtong21
Mývatn thermal lake| ©Kimtong21

Iceland is known for its popular thermal baths and in Reykjavik you can find many of these geothermal pools. Some of them have been dammed by man and others are completely natural formations.

Whatever the case may be, you will be able to immerse yourself in the steaming waters and relax while enjoying a splendid natural view.

On your visit to Reykjavik you will have several options. For example, the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, considered a must for hundreds of tourists. This spa is located just 30 minutes from the city center and 15 minutes from Reykjavik airport, making it a place of quick access.

In fact, you will find many tours to the Blue Lagoon from Reykjavik that you can book during your stay.

You can also choose to go to the Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths , the Hidden Lagoon pool on the Golden Circle route, the small Hrunalaug thermal pool an hour from the city, Seliavallalaug on the South Coast, just two hours away from Reykjavik and the Krossneslaug thermal pool on the North Coast, that is, just over 4 hours away.

I leave you our post dedicated exclusively to the best thermal baths in Iceland in Reykjavik.

Book a tour to the Golden Circle from Reykjavík

5. See the Northern Lights and enjoy an amazing natural spectacle.

Aurora borealis from Reykjavik| ©Alexandro Lacadena
Aurora borealis from Reykjavik| ©Alexandro Lacadena

The northern lights are a natural phenomenon that can be observed every year in the Icelandic capital during the month of September and until March. However, the city's light pollution can play against you and prevent you from seeing the northern lights clearly.

Despite this drawback, the chances of enjoying this spectacle are quite high, but you must have the guidance of an expert on the subject.

Reykjavik City Tour

Seeing the Aurora Borealis from Reykjavik is not an impossible task if you are in the right place at the right time. For example, the Sun Voyager minutes from the city, the viewpoint at the Perlan revolving restaurant or Öskjuhlíð hill.

These are usually the main destinations incorporated into the city tours, where you will be accompanied by a specialized guide for approximately three hours, which is the established time for this type of tour.

Tour to the outskirts of Reykjavík

If you want to enjoy all the splendor of the northern lights from a natural and unforgettable atmosphere, you will have to go to the outskirts of the city.

For this, it is best to book a tour that will take you to a remote place such as Jokulsárlón lagoon , Skógafoss waterfall near Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Kirkjufell mountain , Reynisfjara black sand beach, Stokksnes or Goðafoss waterfall , among other scenarios.

You can discover the best time to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland from Reykjavik with a professional guide, who will tell you about this natural phenomenon and help you take the best pictures. You may also be interested in my article about the best tours to discover Iceland's volcanoes from Reykjavik.

Book a tour to see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik

6. Hop on an Icelandic horse to ride through some of Reykjavik's natural scenery

Reykjavik Horseback Riding Tour| ©JJThomps
Reykjavik Horseback Riding Tour| ©JJThomps

Horseback riding tours through the natural scenery of Reykjavik are quite popular activities among tourists, as they allow you to get different perspectives of the landscape.

In addition, you will be able to connect with Iceland's historical past, as you will not only see ancient natural monuments, but also ride on a breed of steeds brought by the Vikings in the 10th century.

These horses are robust and quite gentle with people, characterized by a four-stroke gait, which is more comfortable for inexperienced riders.

You can ride through the famous lava fields and learn about the rock formations of that region, get close to the main volcanic lakes or ride through the countryside of Hafnarfjordur and admire the Bláfjöll Mountains in the distance.

You will also walk through mountains, moors, green fields, waterfalls and even the black sand beach. In fact, there are many tours organized by the city's riding houses and aimed at both enthusiasts and professionals of the sport.

All tours are guided and offer different schedules throughout the day. In addition, before starting the activity, the trainers evaluate your riding level (low, medium, intermediate). In this way, they select a trail whose difficulty is adapted to your needs.

They also offer some basic recommendations and help you to relax your horse, so that you do not have any inconveniences during the route.

Book a horseback riding tour in Iceland from Reykjavik

7. Take an aerial helicopter tour of Reykjavik and its surroundings

Helicopter over Reykjavík| ©Shadowgate
Helicopter over Reykjavík| ©Shadowgate

With the aerial tours over Reykjavik you will enjoy a wide panoramic view of the Icelandic capital in a maximum of one hour, which is quite convenient if you have little time to visit Reykjavik during your stay.

You will be able to see from the heights the colorful city center to the most imposing natural monuments, which are located in the surroundings of this region.

In addition, you will get close to places that could be inaccessible or even too dangerous on foot, thus obtaining truly privileged views.

Panoramic flight over the city

On this flight you can see the city of Reykjavik from a unique perspective. As you leave the airport you will begin to observe how the houses and buildings get smaller and smaller until they form a huge blanket of colorful roofs, a view worthy of a postcard.

Next, the helicopter flies over the surroundings of the Icelandic capital, showing you an amazing contrast between the urban space and the surrounding natural landscape.

Afterwards, it usually lands on one of the nearby mountains and offers free time to contemplate the city of Reykjavík and take pictures.

From there you can try to identify some representative attractions of the city: the Lutheran church Hallgrímur, which stands out for its futuristic look or the Harpa concert hall, whose geometric structure does not go unnoticed.

Geothermal scenic flight

This flight offers you several routes. For example, you can choose to fly over the city' s geothermal power plants and, thanks to the pilot's commentary, learn about this type of renewable energy and how it benefits Iceland.

You can also observe the region's bubbling and steaming hot springs, and then land on a mountain to enjoy the scenery from another perspective.

You can also choose to fly over the Fagradalsfjall volcano and see up close the boiling lava of this famous active crater, whose last eruption was in 2021. After this amazing adventure, you usually fly over Faxafloi Bay, Mount Esja and the city center.
and the city center.

8. Take a tour of the locations where some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed

At Háifoss, location where GOT was filmed.| ©James Petts
At Háifoss, location where GOT was filmed.| ©James Petts

If you are a fan of the fantasy novel Game of Thrones, by writer and screenwriter George R. R. Martin, you will know that this epic adventure was made into a TV movie.

Several scenes from the second, third and fourth seasons of the story that tells how several noble families dispute the Iron Throne to control the Seven Kingdoms, were filmed on the shores of the Icelandic capital.

It is a series of natural scenery that you can explore with an experienced guide, who will tell you some secrets about each landscape and the filming.

Reykjavík North Coast Tour

Game of Thrones tours in Reykjavik along the North Coast will take you through the famous Lake Myvatn. This is a place noted for its amazing lava formations and some of the highest volcanic activity in the region.

In addition, it was the landscape that stood out in season 4 of Game of Thrones, when Ygritee and Snow march to reach the Wall. Likewise, the majestic Godafoss waterfall was present for much of this season.

Reykjavík South Coast Tour

You can take a tour of Skaftafell National Park on Reykjavik' s South Coast in winter and see this snow-covered scenery, just as it appears in scenes from Game of Thrones.

In addition, this type of excursion usually includes a visit to several monuments, which also served as a backdrop for the filming of the series. Such is the case of the Vatnajökull glacier, considered one of the largest in Europe and the Myrdalsjokull glacier, which covers the active volcano Katla.

Afterwards, you will walk through the legendary Viking village where one of the bloodiest massacres of the series was filmed and, additionally, the guide will tell you the history of the Viking settlement in Iceland and its importance for the growth of the country.

9. Embark on a tour from Reykjavík harbor to see whales and other species

Whale and sun| ©Friðþjófur M.
Whale and sun| ©Friðþjófur M.

Whale watching on the south coast of Reykjavík's Faxaflói Bay is a fascinating tourist activity, which will allow you to learn about the behavior of these mythical cetaceans up close.

In addition, you can enjoy an amazing panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and, in turn, see other marine animals characteristic of this region: dolphins, porpoises and seabirds. Undoubtedly, a unique experience that you must live during your trip to the Icelandic capital.

You can join one of the whale watching tours in Reykjavik any day of the year, as these excursions are available in both the cold and warm seasons, with a high chance of success (80% in winter and 95% in summer).

However, you should keep in mind that you will not always get to see the whales on the surface at the first opportunity. In that sense, you should not be discouraged.

The team of professionals in charge of this type of tours has studied the behavior of the whales in this region for years, which will help you to get the sighting before the tour ends.

Whale watching is usually done aboard a motorboat, yacht or cruise ship. Whatever the option, you will have the opportunity to see any of the three types of whales (humpback, Minke and Orca) of the North Atlantic and other amazing marine animals.

Although you can also hire one of the puffin watching cruises in Reykjavik, another highly recommended activity, especially if you travel with your family to the Icelandic city, since you will learn from the crew about the fascinating oceanic life of this island country.

Book a whale watching tour in Reykjavík

10. Ride a snowmobile and tour the glacial landscapes from Reykjavík

Snowmobiling on the Langjökull Glacier| ©Haukur Herbertsson
Snowmobiling on the Langjökull Glacier| ©Haukur Herbertsson

The glaciers around Reykjavik are the best place to enjoy a snowmobile tour, while contemplating an unparalleled landscape. This is an almost mandatory destination for lovers of icy scenery and snowcross enthusiasts.

Without a doubt, snowmobile tours in Reykjavik tend to be a very popular activity on the South Coast of the Icelandic capital.

You will find several tours, which in addition to taking you snowcrossing on the Mýrdalsjökull or Langjökull glacier, also include complementary destinations to explore on foot.

Such is the case of Thingvellir National Park, lava fields, geothermal areas, Seljalandsfoss and Gullfoss waterfalls. Therefore, each route can vary with respect to the length of time (from six hours to a full day).

In either case, you will enjoy a snowmobile ride through a couple of splendid natural phenomena: the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, with different ice formations that make up a truly extravagant landscape; and the Langjökull glacier, considered the second largest in Iceland and where you will slide through a series of icy tunnels until you reach an impressive cave.

Similarly, you can review the post how to visit the best glaciers in Iceland and get more ideas for your snowmobile tour, the one about the best waterfalls in Iceland or this one in which I tell you which are the best ice caves near Reykjavik.

Hire a snowmobile tour in Reykjavik

Tips for a perfect trip to Iceland

Trekking boots| ©Baihaki Hine
Trekking boots| ©Baihaki Hine

Finally, my advice for your trip to the capital of Iceland is to choose the best time to visit the city, because, although the short summer can be more expensive in the city, it will allow you to access more places than in winter.

But do not overlook that the long Icelandic winter will leave you with spectacular views of the northern lights or the activity of the great geyser. Anyway, the best advice I can give you is that, whenever you go, take warm clothes.

Also, I recommend you to plan your transfers from Reykjavik airport, so that, together with the language and the cold you will find upon arrival to the unique country, it will not be an obstacle to get to your hotel.