The capital and largest, most populated city in Iceland, Reykjavik is Iceland’s cultural hub. You can feel it when you walk the streets, past buzzing cafés and bars, well-kept parks and gardens, and historic landmarks. A rich art and music culture lights up the the city, waiting for visitors to discover what Reykjavik has to offer. This 24 hour itinerary will help you make the most of your visit to Iceland’s famous capital.
Early morning: Get the best views of Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja
There is a time old adage about the “early bird getting the worm.” Well, we implore you to find the truth in that on your first jam packed day in Reykjavik with an early morning start to Hallgrimskirkja. Visible from almost everywhere in the city, Hallgrimskirkja’s 74.5-meter tower reigns powerfully over Reykjavik as one of its most visited and photographed sites. The Lutheran parish is still an active place of worship and the site of several musical performances during the biannual summertime Festival of the Sacred Arts. Inspired by basalt columns from cooling lava, Architect Guðjón Samuelsson designed the concrete structure to honor Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes and rugged natural forces. Inside, Iceland’s largest pipe organ occupies the entire wall opposite the altar, weighing in at 25 tonnes with 5,275 pipes (some as tall as 10m). For a fee, you can take the elevator to a viewing platform high up on the tower; enjoy panoramic views of Reykjavik and its beautiful surroundings of coastline, ocean, and mountains.
Morning: Learn about Reykjavik’s history Sólfar (Sun Voyager)
Not a viking ship as many may assume, Sólfar honors the sun and commemorates dreams and possibility in journeys to come. A forceful presence on Reykjavik’s scenic seaside walking/cycling path, the Sun Voyager aims outward with venerable purpose. Gleaming against striking mountains and an expansive ocean backdrop, Sólfar is great for mesmerizing photo ops at all hours of the day.
Lunch: Picnic in one of Reykjavik’s beautiful city parks
Despite being a busy urban center, Reykjavik has wonderful green spaces in its many city parks. Wrapped around the southern end of Lake Tjörnin, Hljómskálagarður brings lush greenery to the heart of downtown Reykjavik. Colorful gardens, grassy picnic areas, and art installations bring the park to life, and public benches and barbecue facilities provide the perfect opportunity for a lakeside picnic. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to watch the many bird species who roam by the lake year-round.
Reykjavik also has beautiful botanical gardens, with 5,000 collections of native and exotic botanical species spread across 8 different sections. For your picnic spot, you can choose between rose gardens, mountain herbs, hot spring flora, and northern-belt woods. The unique vegetation is part of what makes Iceland’s landscapes so sensational, and is definitely worth seeing in Grasagardur’s artful arrangements. In summer, when most of the flowers are in bloom, the gardens are especially inviting.
Afternoon: Head for a dip in a geothermal pool
One of the most authentic things you can do in Reykjavik is go to the local swimming pool. A year-round staple in Icelanders’ recreation, geothermally heated swimming facilities can be found in nearly every town and city around the country. Pools all around Reykjavík feature a variety of facilities, including indoor and outdoor lap-swimming pools, various temperatures of hot and cold tubs, children’s pools, and steam rooms. It’s easy to spend hours getting pruny in rooftop hot pots, decompressing in saunas, and resetting in cold tubs in between.
Evening: Dine on the famous Laugavegur street
Named after the famous trek up the country’s rugged interior, Laugavegur is Reykjavik’s main city street. Here, you’ll find restaurants, cafés, and food stands to satisfy any craving, from fried fish and chips to brick oven pizza, to hot sandwiches, salads, and desserts. Many restaurants here offer authentic Icelandic cuisine, like roasted sheep’s head, while others have classics from all origins. The street also has lots of shops, tour booking services, and museums to explore before or after you eat. This is also the main strip for bars and clubs, where you’ll find nightlife for any taste, from comedy bars to microbreweries and late-night dance clubs.