What you need to know about Reykjavik

Is Reykjavik Worth Visiting?

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Are you planning a trip to Iceland and wondering how much time you need in Reykjavik and if Reykjavik is worth visiting? Or maybe you’re wondering if Iceland is worth the hype? This article should answer these questions.

First, let’s make one thing clear – Iceland is so much more than Reykjavik. So if you stumbled upon this post wondering if Iceland is worth visiting, then my answer is YES, absolutely. Iceland is one of the most beautiful and unique places on our planet and it’s definitely worth a trip.

If anyone tells you that Iceland is boring, then they just don’t know how to appreciate natural beauty… We have been to Iceland many times and here you can find lots of inspiration and information for visiting Iceland.

Now that you know that Iceland is well worth a trip, let’s get back to the topic of this article – is it worth visiting Reykjavik and what you should know before planning your trip. Find out!

Is Reykjavik worth visiting - what to know about Reykjavik, how long to stay, and what to see
 

Things to Know About Reykjavik

We’ve been to Iceland several times and have seen Reykjavik change a lot. The first time we visited, back in 2006, we found it a really boring city – there was not much happening, the shops looked like out of a pre-war movie, and there was hardly anything to do for tourists… We really had difficulties to fill a day and a half we had in Reykjavik.

I’ve been back to Reykjavik several times after that and every time, I find a different place. You’ll be glad to know that Reykjavik has changed beyond recognition. It’s now a bustling city full of trendy cafes, cozy restaurants, nice shops, and quite a few interesting tourist attractions….

There are now so many more reasons to visit Reykjavik than ever before! However, Reykjavik is still a small city and you can’t compare it to visiting London, Paris, or New York…

Below you can learn what there is to see in the city, how much time you need in Reykjavik, and some practical tips for your visit. Read on!

View from Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik Iceland
Reykjavik city as seen from Hallgrimskirkja
 

How Much Time Do You Need in Reykjavik

When planning your trip to Iceland, you will certainly want to visit Reykjavik. Maybe you have read about how strikingly cosmopolitan the city is and how it’s famous for its nightlife, excellent museums, and funky bars and cafes. Well, it is. But… I am talking as a tourist now, and from a touristic point of view, you don’t need more than half a day to a day to see the best of Reykjavik.

The city center of the world’s most northerly capital city is very compact. You can see the best that Reykjavik has to offer for tourists in a few hours. In addition, you can take some amazing half-day tours from Reykjavik, visit Perlan Museum, or the Blue Lagoon.

So if anyone asks me how much time they should spend in Reykjavik, I usually recommend a day. One day is enough time to see the best of Reykjavik.

Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik
Hallgrimskirkja church is one of Reykjavik’s main landmarks
 

What to See in Reykjavik

There are basically two main streets that are worth visiting in downtown Reykjavik – Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur. It’s where most shops, restaurants, and cafes are located.

Start your day with a stroll around the city center and check out some shops. Make sure to visit the Hallgrímskirkja church and go all the way to the top for the best views in Rekjavik. Stop by for a coffee at one of the many cafes or head to the Reykjavik Lake and feed the ducks.

Birds in Tjörnin lake, downtown Reykjavik Iceland
Birds in Tjörnin lake, Reykjavik

Walk towards the Harbor where you can visit Harpa – the beautiful modern Reykjavik concert hall. Don’t forget to take a picture of the Sun Voyager – the steel boat sculpture beside the sea. That’s pretty much it. Unless you also want to visit some museums, of course.

If you visit just one museum in Reykjavik, I highly recommend Perlan. It’s not really a museum, more an interactive place to get acquainted with all the natural wonders of Iceland. You can walk inside a real ice tunnel, see the Northern Lights, and so much more.

In my opinion, Perlan is now one of the must-see places in Reykjavik. Here you can find more inspiration and tips for visiting Perlan.

There are many nice restaurants to go to for dinner in Reykjavik. Keep in mind that it can get very busy on the weekends, so make reservations or go early to avoid disappointment.

Visiting Perlan Museum is one of the best things to do in Reykjavik
Ice tunnel at Perlan
 

Should You Stay in Reykjavik

You should know that Iceland is not a short stopover destination and you cannot see all of Iceland from Reykjavik. While you can do a lot of excursions and day trips from Reykjavik, only some of them are really doable as a day trip. So if you have more than 3 days in Iceland, I recommend renting a car and exploring beyond Reykjavik.

If you already take time and trouble and travel all the way to Iceland, do yourself a favor and get out of the city so that you can see at least some of this beautiful country. Here you can find some Iceland itinerary suggestions and here you can find the most detailed Iceland 4-day itinerary that brings you to the very best places in a short time.

That being said, Reykjavik is a good base for a short stay in Iceland. Good thing is that now you also have a big selection of shorter, half-day trips from Reykjavik that you can do in any season.

TIP: If you visit in winter months and don’t feel like driving in Iceland in winter, then Reykjavik is a good base for winter excursions in Iceland. Winter is the only time when I would consider staying in Reykjavik for a longer time and doing day trips. But even then, organized multi-day trips might be a better idea… Otherwise, you’ll spend so much time driving and so little time exploring…

Harpa Music Hall - Reykjavik Iceland
Harpa Music Hall in Reykjavik
 

So, this is our short guide that should give you a better idea if Reykjavik is worth visiting. If you are planning your trip to Iceland, at least now you know what to expect.

I would say Reykjavik is worth it, but do not stay in Reykjavik any longer than necessary. There are so many truly beautiful unique places in Iceland that are worth your time more. Take a look at some of our other articles that will hopefully inspire you to see more of Iceland, beyond Reykjavik.

More tips for your trip to Iceland:

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Things to know about Reykjavik Iceland
 

Comments

  1. Jurga–Thank you for your blog! I’m finding the informtation very helpful. We have a very short layover coming up in April. Our flight arrives at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, and we have to be back to the airport by 3pm the next day. We are trying to decide between staying in Reykjavik and enjoying a leisurely morning seeing the city, or should try to take in an excursion or perhaps staying at the Blue Lagoon and visiting more of Iceland on a future, longer trip. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Author

      Hi Diana, I think that Blue Lagoon is a nice excursion to do e.g. on the day of your arrival (you can go there straight from the airport, they even have luggage lockers) – just book in advance. Afterwards I’d definitely go to Reykjavik. You can have nice dinner in the city and then the next morning visit the main highlights (view from the church tower is not to be missed, maybe also try Perlan) in town. If you decide to stay at the Blue Lagoon hotel, what will you do there the next day – it’s in the middle of nowhere. Unless, of course, you don’t mind soaking in the geothermal waters for hours on both days :).
      You could even opt for a short half day trip something like horse riding in lava fields or similar, but that would probably be too stressful taking into account that you have to leave for the airport in time.
      Hope this helps.

      1. Hi Jurga,

        Thanks for the reply. It helps quite a lot with planning. We don’t normally plan so detailed when we travel, but with such a short stay, this is an exception and we want to do as much as possible during our time.

        Thanks again and Happy New Year!

  2. Hi Jurga,
    I am planning a trip for seven days and planning not to stay Reykjavik, We are a family of 4 with two preteen kids. Should we go for guided tours for all ? Could you please let me know which are the guided tour we must do so we are not wasting time. I am planning to visit in mid August.
    Thanks
    Ria

    1. Author

      Hi Ria, if you have 7 days in Iceland and are traveling in summer, then you best rent a car and explore on your own. Check this for Iceland itinerary suggestions.
      Some tours are well worth doing, e.g. glacier hiking, whale watching, puffin tours, silfra snorkeling, etc. Here you can find our suggested Iceland tours.
      One thing to keep in mind is that if you haven’t booked your accommodations yet, then you really better hurry. I’m afraid it will not be very easy to find a lot of affordable accommodations on such a short notice. Here you can find some suggestions on where to stay in Iceland. I’d just try using Booking.com and their extremely handy map function and see what’s still available for your dates.
      Iceland is very popular at the moment and definitely in summer. So make sure you book everything (car rental, accommodations, tickets to places like the Blue Lagoon, tours, etc.) asap.
      Enjoy you trip!
      P.S. If you are looking for more specific recommendations, feel free to join our Iceland and Scandinavia travel Facebook group – many people ask and answer questions there and share their travel experiences and tips.

  3. Hi Jurga! We are going to Iceland for seven days in August and have booked an Airbnb apartment for a week in Reykjavik. We will have our two young children with us- 18 months and 3.5 years old. Based on a few articles I’ve read here it sounds like we should rent a car? And explore as much as we can while getting back to the city by 7 pm to put the kids to bed. Any itinerary suggestions for seven days from Reykjavik with little ones? Thanks so much!!

    1. Author

      Hi Jenny, yes, definitely rent a car (check here for the best deals). You can’t do much without a car in Iceland and guided tours will cost you a lot and aren’t ideal with kids.
      As you can probably already tell from this article, staying in Reykjavik is actually not ideal at all if you have more than 2-3 days in Iceland. Much too much driving up and down and definitely if you want to be back at your accommodation to put the kids to bed on time. If you can, I’d try to change accommodation and stay somewhere along the South coast for at least a few nights. It will allow you to see more beautiful places and drive less.
      Check this itinerary for some ideas of the places not to miss in the South. It’s meant for winter when the days are short, but obviously you can do most of it in summer in even less time. Use Google Maps to check driving distances and times.
      Another place that you can do from Reykjavik is Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but again, it’s a long drive just to get there; you won’t have much time to do sightseeing if you have to be back in Reykjavik so early…
      One thing that can be really nice to do with kids in Iceland is going to the thermal pools. Blue Lagoon is obviously the most known (and super expensive). Cheaper and less busy options include a swimming pool of Hveragerdi, Secret Lagoon, and Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths.
      Sorry, I can’t help you much more. I’m sure there are some playgrounds and other kid-friendly things to do in and around Reykjavik, but taking into account the cost of traveling to Iceland, I’d try to see as much of the country as you can, even if it means more driving.
      Have a nice trip! PS I run two travel groups on Facebook where you can maybe get some answers to your questions – one is specifically for Iceland and Nordic travel and the other one is for (adventure) family travel. Feel free to join if interested.

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