Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland with a population of 131,136 (01. January 2020). Iceland’s total population is 364,134 (01. January 2020), meaning that more than one-third of Iceland’s total population lives in the capital. While Reykjavík is not a big city compared to other worlds capitals, you can find everything your heart desires right in the city center. In this post, we tell you about 7 exciting things you can do in Reykjavík.
1. See Reykjavíks top landmark: Hallgrímskirkja
Yes, we admit, that sounds touristy. But why? Because everyone is doing it? We can assure you that both locals and visitors enjoy the sight of Hallgrímskirkja. You don’t have to be Christian to enjoy looking at an astonishing building.
Bonus: You can invest 1.000 ISK to take the elevator up to the viewing platform which offers you the most incredible 360° view all over Reykjavík, including the colorful houses.
Did you know? Hallgrímskirkja is a very young building. Building work started in 1945. In the year 1948, the first staged was completed until in 1974 a new area n the southern part of the tower base was built.
2. Check out Iceland’s first settler: Leif Erikson
While you are walking around Hallgrímskirkja, check out the statue of Leif Erikson. The statue is located in front of the church, impossible to miss.
It was a gift from the United States in honor of the 1930 Althing Millenial Festival. According to the Icelandic Sagas, where the name is spelled Leifur Eiríksson, he was an Icelandic explorer and is regarded as the first European to land in North America nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus.
3. Walk down rainbow road: Skólavörðustígur in Reykjavík
If you walk straight down from Hallgrímskirkja you will reach the part of the street that was painted permanently in rainbow colors as part of the Gay Pride celebration in 2019. Along Skólavörðustígur you can find a few souvenir shops, cafés, restaurants, and Icelandic Design stores.
Only window shopping is allowed! Because you don’t want to spend any money, right?
4. Walk along Reykjavík’s ocean side and look at Mt. Esjan
While you are downtown, take a walk along the ocean side. You can either start at Hlemmur bus station, walk down to the ocean, and in the direction of Harpa Concert Hall. Or you can walk from Harpa further up to the new Lighthouse. Whatever fits best in your plan.
On the way, you can look and take some photos with our sun voyager/ Sólfar in Icelandic. It resembles an old Viking ship. According to the artist Jón Gunnar “the sun ship symbolizes the promise of new, undiscovered territory.”
If the weather allows, you will have a spectacular view of our beloved Esjan or Mt. Esja. The mountain range, made from basalt and tuff, is a popular hiking location amongst Icelanders. My (Steffi) fitness level must be too low as I always start breathing heavily and barely make it to the famous “Steinn” point.
If you walk a bit further you can admire the new yellow lighthouse (opened in 2019) and enjoy views over the Faxaflói Bay. After all, breath in and enjoy the fresh ocean breeze, no matter in which direction you are heading.
5. Check out Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavík’s architectural masterpiece
Harpa Concert Hall is now Iceland’s largest concert hall and a place for music, conferences, and performing arts. It is a place to stop by to admire the crystalline structure and reflecting pieces in the ceiling.
It is free to walk around but fighting with a large number of visitors, people had to pay a fee of 300 ISK for some time to use the restrooms. According to Harpa’s PR representative, it was difficult to offer free public toilets in a building that had received architectural awards.
The building is used for various events like graduations, company parties, theater, and in the past Harpa hosted part of the Iceland Airwaves Festival. I (Steffi) have great memories of seeing amazing artists in halls like Kaldalón and Norðurljós.
6. Just around the corner: The old harbor in a new style
You can take the wooden path behind Harpa to walk towards the old harbor. Watch the fishing and whale watching boats while strolling through the turquoise-colored houses. While you are there, consider getting the “best lobster soup in town”.
If you are hungry, check the menus outside of the little houses. The old harbor is famous for tradition seafood. You can’t go wrong with your choice, but prepare for a medium to high-prices lunch and dinner.
Not far from the old harbor you can find Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, the famous hot dog stand downtown Reykjavík. A must-visit on your Iceland trip. And a good place for a budget lunch.
7. Visit Reykjavík’s famous pond: Tjörnin
Our little pond is such a perfect place to rest if the weather is good. Watch seabirds gathering on the small island in the middle. Maybe you spot our favorite swan “Silly Neck” with a crooked neck, he/ she is always a bit away from the big bird crowd.
Locals love to feed the birds but be aware of the signs and that feeding is not recommended in the summertime. If you love coffee, check out the beautiful Idno, hopefully, to be open again soon.
While you are there, check out the city hall. Inside the building you can find large scale relief map of Iceland, if no other events are held. At the entrance you can find another small pond surrounded by a moss-grown wall.
8. The Parliament House at Austurvöllur square
From there, you can walk in into the center with several bars, restaurants and shops. Who knows, maybe you spot our local celebrity: Baktus the Cat.
If you are not tired yet of looking at the historical building, you can walk over to the Parliament House, also called Althingi (Alpingi). The building is pretty unassuming but has a beautiful garden in the back. For tours, you have to book ahead of time.
If the weather is good, you can also catch some sunshine at Austurvöllur square. And this finishes our little walking tour in downtown Reykjavík. We hope you enjoy your stroll in Iceland’s capital and have a great experience exploring all those places.