Are you on a visit to Reykjavik (translated: Smokey Bay) on a stopover/layover and are looking for points of interest to see and things to do? Or maybe you just want to see the city quickly on a longer trip.
Either way, having spent a week in Reykjavik this is what I can recommend to do in one day.
The weather in Iceland can be very changeable, and it also depends on what time of year you visit to what activities may be available. For example in summer you will have 24 hours of daylight giving plenty of time to explore. But in the middle of winter you will average around 6 hours.
I recommend getting the Lonely Planet Iceland (Travel Guide) before going.
One Day in Reykjavik
The Morning in Reykjavik.
Reykjavik is a small city and most things you will want to see and do are downtown and by the harbour.
Go to the main shopping street Laugavegur where you can find a number of coffeehouses and bakeries. Grab some breakfast at one of these eateries before continuing to the end of the street and reaching the old historical area.
Around there you will find a square with Iceland’s first ever statue, donated by Denmark. In the same square is the Icelandic parliament building called Alpingi, although you wouldn’t think it given its size.
It was in this square where the Icelanders came to protest against the government during the economic crash.
There are plenty of small statues spread out all over downtown Reykjavik to keep an eye for when walking around.
The Afternoon in Reykjavik.
Head down to the harbour and walk around the docks for a bit before booking a whale watching tour (weather dependant).
You can find some really good street art in the area just south of the harbour that’s worth a look if you like that kind of thing, so wander there for a bit before having some lunch at one of the fish restaurants by the boats.
There is the popular Sun Voyager sculpture on the waterfront near the old harbour near the Harpa Concert Hall (see if there is any performances going on there you may be interested in).
If you’re in Reykjavik over the weekend you can visit the flea market by the old harbour.
It’s up to you whether you want to try eating whale or not. Just bear in mind that it’s only really the older generation that still eat whale, the industry these days is mostly geared towards curious tourists wanting to try it. So it’s not really a cultural thing anymore. But you can find some really good lobster soup.
If the whale watching isn’t on then you can do the golden circle tour. It lasts around the same time as whale watching and takes you to some classic Iceland scenery, including a big waterfall, geysers, and a beautiful lake.
If you don’t want to do any of that then wander around some more and take in the lake and park behind the government house mentioned earlier and explore the neighbourhood up on the hill by the side of the main shopping street and visit the Hallgrimskirkja Church.
Or take a trip out to the Blue Lagoon which has a well known reputation.
The Evening in Reykjavik.
In the evening you can spend an hour or two of pure leisure taking in one of the thermal pools in the city centre itself, which is cheaper and more convenient than going to the blue lagoon although not as scenic.
There are 3 pools to choose from and they will be marked on the tourist map you should have been given by your hotel or hostel.
Here you pay only 650 kronor to have access to outside hot-tubs where if the weather is bad you can appreciate being super hot and happy while the cold rain or snow lashes down. I had a huge snow storm hit when in one and loved it.
This is a national past-time for the locals so it’s good to go and join in.
The Night in Reykjavik.
The people of Reykjavik are known for there drinking and party attitude, maybe because of all that cold weather and dark winters.
Grab some dinner first, again in one of the many restaurants around the main street. Naturally there are restaurants in other places, but this is the main area where they are concentrated. If you feel like it you can try some of the local specialities such as puffin and rotten shark (ugh).
Again in the same area, even maybe in the same place you ate, you can try some of the local beer, or whatever takes your fancy. I personally loved the organic pilsner.
There is a great bar scene, and if you are lucky enough to be there from Thursday through to Sunday you will see how hard the Icelanders party. In the middle of winter with freezing winds you can see the girls in mini-skirts only and men with just a light top on.
A hardy bunch.
Most people start on the main shopping street drinking and slowly make there way from bar to bar towards the area around the main square where many other watering holes await.
I personally enjoyed drinking in the bars around, and including, the Glaumbar.
There is also a really good live music scene in Reykjavik and many bars will have bands playing.
Grab one of the famous hot-dogs at the hot-dog stand down by the waterfront area to help soak up some of that beer (ask a local, they will know what you are talking about).
If you feel like a more relaxed night and are not there in summer, and don’t want to join in the famous Reykjavik drinking scene, then book a tour to go in search of the northern lights.
Again this is weather dependent as if there is any cloud cover you will not be able to see them. You can’t see them in summer due to the 24 hour daylight.
Enjoy One Day in Reykjavik
Although Reykjavik is not bursting at the seams with sites and attractions, it is more than made up for by the warmth and hospitality of the Icelanders. I could have easily stayed longer than a week enjoying it.
And just in case you didn’t know the j in Reykjavik is a silent j, in case you were having problems pronouncing it!
Interested in Arctic travel the take a look at this post about what it’s like living in the Arctic by 4 people that live up in Svalbard in the Arctic Circle.
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