How do you spend 1 day in Reykjavik?
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the world and the largest city in Iceland on Seltjarnar Peninsular. From its white concrete church to the modern concert hall, there is plenty to see with just 1 day in Reykjavik. With its subpolar oceanic climate and proximity to the Arctic Circle, the city is characterized by extreme days and nights.
This city is surrounded by mother nature in all its beauty, yet offers tourists a place to recharge and relax.
Velkominn til Íslands or welcome to Iceland! Let’s dive in!
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Where is Reykjavik?
Reykjavik is in southwest Iceland which is characterized by peninsulas, coves, straits, and beautiful islands. The city’s landscape was formed during the last Ice Age and continued to be shaped by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
Reykjavik is an old Norse name that means “smoke bay” due to the steam rising from many hot springs in the region. Modern progress came during the 18th century with wool, shipbuilding, fisheries, and agriculture as the major industries.
Today, the city is Iceland’s important economic, financial, and literary center. With a subpolar oceanic climate, the city experiences extreme day and night. The midnight sun happens during the summer months.
Ingólfr Arnarson and Hallveig Fróðadóttir were the first people to have settled in Iceland with their families in 870 AD. Iceland’s Book of Settlements described how he used the traditional Norse method of placing his high seat pillars on a site that is now Reykjavik.
By 930 AD, the male descendants of Ingólfr and Hallveig’s family owned large amounts of land which were instrumental in creating the Alþingi. This is the Supreme National Parliament of Iceland which is also the oldest parliament in the world.
The area was an agricultural heartland until the 18th century when Sheriff Skúli Magnússon or the “Father of Reykjavik” opened wool mills to modernize the economy. Reykjavik Port grew significantly and the economy boomed by the mid-19th century.
On 17th June 1944, Iceland became independent from Denmark and was soon on the brink of a cultural, social, and economic expansion. After independence, the nation was at a crossroads.
While it was modern in appearance, the nation relied heavily on fishing and agriculture. Being in the middle of two superpowers, the USA and the USSR without an army of its own made its position vulnerable.
The US troops that were stationed in Reykjavik brought changes to the barren city. Bars opened and the isolationist mindset gave way to international culture and influences.
Today, Reykjavik is a city that is alive with musicians, comedians, a thriving art and architectural scene, and bustling concert halls and museums.
The city is both welcoming and safe while being the festival capital of the world.
To see if you need a visa to enter Iceland, visit the Directorate of Immigration Visa Checker website. Iceland is also a member of the European Union which means tourists have the option to apply for a Schengen Visa if they decide to visit other Schengen nations.
The Embassy of Iceland handles visa applications in five major cities: London, Moscow, Beijing, New Delhi, and Washington DC. The application process varies based on where you are applying from.
Hence, it is easier to use iVisa’s travel checker to determine and complete your visa application process.
How do you get around Reykjavik?
Reykjavik is twice as large as Paris and it spreads out with most of its urban areas located in low-density areas. This means that some areas are walkable while joining a tour may be your other best option.
The best way to get around Reykjavik is by foot. Our walkable guide takes you through the main sights of the city. Foodies would enjoy the 3-hour Foodie Adventure Walking Tour or the Icelandic Food Tour with stops at a legendary hot dog stand, a visit to the oldest restaurant in Reykjavik, and tasting authentic Icelandic dishes.
This is the latest, most efficient, and most affordable way to get around Reykjavik. The two major e-scooter providers are Hopp and Zolo. Just download their app and pay a minimum of 1000 krona ($7.45) for rides within the downtown area.
The second best way to get around Reykjavik is by car. All United States driver’s licenses are valid in Iceland. The Icelanders drive on the right side of the road. Drivers must be 20 years and above to drive in Iceland while distances are measured in kilometers.
Fuel is available by the liter and road signs are in Icelandic, although popular tourist destinations would have an English translation. Join the Golden Circle Tour In A Tesla or take the Full-Day Jeep Tour as you drive across the roof of Iceland.
To see the best of Reykjavik and Iceland, you might want to consider joining an organized tour. Join the Golden Circle Full Day Tour With Kerid Crater or the Reykjavik City Sightseeing Tour By Minibus or take the Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik with a free entrance to the Aurora Museum.
Taxis are an expensive way to get around the city and are available 24 hours a day. The rates are metered and start at 630 kronor ($6) with an additional fee of 250 kronor ($4) for every mile traveled.
You can only hail taxis from the designated taxi cab queue. Ride-sharing is illegal in Iceland which means you won’t find any Uber within Reykjavik.
The easiest way to get an airport transfer from Keflavik Airport to your hotel. Choose either a Shared Minibus Transfer, Economy Bus Transfer, or Gray Line Bus Transfer. As the airport is about 45 minutes from the city, why not enjoy the scenic views as you rest on your way to your hotel.
Is 1 day enough in Reykjavik?
Yes, 1 day is enough to see the best of Reykjavik as highlighted in our 1 day in Reykjavik guide. Take a day trip and extend your stay in Iceland to see more of the beautiful country.
If you want to see every museum, and architectural building, or a day trip to Blue Lagoon, 2 to 3 days would be sufficient.
We start our 1 day in Reykjavik at the Sun Voyager, a dreamboat and an ode to the sun. The artist, Jón Gunnar Árnason intended the sculptor to convey the message of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress, and freedom.
As the sculpture faces the majestic Mount Esja, the Sun Voyager is a perfect place for photography, any time of the day. The Sun Voyager was the winning piece of an art competition by the district association of west Reykjavik.
Sun Voyager is made from stainless steel and stands on a circle of granite slabs, surrounded by concrete. Although the sculpture was meant to face west towards the setting sun, it is, in fact facing north.
When was the Sun Voyager built?
The Sun Voyager was built in the late 1980s and was unveiled on 18th August 1990 to mark Reykjavik’s 200th birthday. In the author’s words, the concept for the Sun Voyager was his uncanny feeling that he had traveled to Iceland from Mongolia, hundreds of years ago.
Can you see the Northern Lights from the Sun Voyager Iceland?
Yes, you can see the Northern Lights only if the lights come from the north. The Sun Voyager and Harpa Concert Hall are near the coast which makes it easier to view the lights. If the northern lights are from the south, they would seem unimpressive.
Is there any entrance fee to see the Sun Voyager?
No, there is no entrance fee to see the Sun Voyager as it is located on a waterfront within walking distance of the Harpa Concert Hall.
Harpa Concert Hall
Our second stop in our 1 day in Reykjavik is the Harpa Concert Hall which is about 550 meters or an easy 7-minute walk from the Sun Voyager. This concert hall is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera, and the Reykjavik Big Band.
The unique feature of the hall is the glass facade that resembles the crystallized basalt columns found all over Iceland. The name itself is an Icelandic word that refers to a time in early spring. It is also the name of a month in the Old Nordic calendar.
Is Harpa concert hall free?
Yes, entrance to the Harpa concert hall is free.
What is the purpose of the Harpa concert hall?
Harpa Concert Hall is a concert hall and conference center. It is now a place that hosts cultural events, meetings, and festivals. It also houses the Icelandic Opera offices and a center for Icelandic culture and art.
How many seats are there in the Harpa concert hall?
There are at least 3,195 seats in the Harpa Concert Hall if the building is at full capacity. In the main hall, the Eldborg can seat 1,800 people while Norðurljós can seat 450 people. Silfurberg can seat 750 people while the last hall, Kaldalón can seat 195 people.
Next in our 1 day in Reykjavik is Hallgrimskirja which is about 700 meters or an easy 16-minute walk from the Harpa Concert Hall. Hallgrimskirja or Church of the Hallgrimur is the largest and the tallest church in the country.
This Lutheran church is visible throughout the city. It resembles the rocks, mountains, and glaciers of Iceland. The church is also an observation tower as there is a lift to take guests up to the viewing deck with stunning views of Reykjavik and its surrounding mountains.
Why is Hallgrimskirkja famous?
Hallsgrimskirkja is famous for being Iceland’s tallest church and the country’s sixth-tallest building. The church is also an important symbol of Iceland’s identity.
Do you have to pay for parking at Hallgrimskirkja?
No, you do not have to pay for parking at Hallgrimskirkja. As parking is limited, arrive early. Alternatively, you can park within the city center or Laugavegur and walk to the church.
The fourth stop in our 1 day in Reykjavik is Hofdi House which is a mile or an easy 15-minute walk from Hallsgrimskirja. This quaint whitewashed building is along the scenic shores of Reykjavik and is historically important.
It was in this house that United States President Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev during the 1986 Reykjavik Summit which was considered to be the first step that ended the Cold War between the two nations. The flags are cross-hung within the house to commemorate the event.
The statue you see at the side is that of Einar Ben, Iceland’s most prominent lawyer and poet who lived in Hofdi House for 12 years. Before the house was built, the site was where Iceland’s first telecommunication was made to the outside world in 1905.
And, if local legends are to be believed, the house is said to be haunted by a woman or a bunch of spirits who love to raid the liquor cabinet. Another account mentions that the house sits on an ancient Viking burial site.
Whether you are there for the history, the legends, or to simply admire the view, a visit to Hofdi House is a must. While the building is not open to the public, you are free to walk the grounds and take photos of the interior of the building.
Laugavegur Shopping Street
The fifth stop in our 1 day in Reykjavik is Laugavegur shopping street which is just 400 meters or an easy 10-minute walk from Hofdi House. This is one of the oldest streets in Reykjavik.
Laugavegur means “water road”. In the old days, women used to wash their laundry in the hot pools along this road. Today, the road is one of the liveliest and also the best places to stay in Reykjavik.
With bars, restaurants, and high-end boutiques, shopping here is a must during your 1 day in Reykjavik stay. For those on a budget, you can find vintage and second-hand shops along the road.
Our sixth and last stop in our 1 day in Reykjavik is Grotta Lighthouse. This lighthouse is about 4 miles or an easy 10-minute drive from Laugavegur shopping street. Grotta Lighthouse is at the tip of the Seltjarnanes Peninsula and is a tied island.
This means that you walk to the lighthouse during low tide which gives visitors a window of about 6 hours to visit the lighthouse. Grotta is a nature reserve and it is forbidden to visit during the nesting season of the various birdlife found here.
Can you see the Northern Lights from Grotta Lighthouse?
Yes, you can see the Northern Lights from Grotta Lighthouse as it has very little light pollution. The area is one of the popular spots to view the Aurora Borealis on a clear night. However, you may need to find your transport as these lights appear around midnight.
Can you walk to Grotta Lighthouse from Reykjavik?
Yes, you can walk to Grotta Lighthouse from Reykjavik. The walk takes about an hour to complete and is best done as a stroll. The scenic walk takes you through the city and ends at the public parking at the lighthouse.
After all the walking, soak your feet at the Kvika Footbath, a natural hot pool that is big enough for one person and overlooks the lighthouse.
Day Trip: Langjökull Glacier
The perfect day trip after our 1 day in Reykjavik is the Langjökull Glacier. Langjökull is an Icelandic word for “long glacier” and is located on the western interiors of Iceland. This glacier is the second largest in the country.
The glacier runs parallel to the country’s active volcanic zones and is about 31 miles long and about 13 miles wide. Although there are two or more volcanic systems below this glacier, this region is relatively quiet when compared to the other regions in Iceland.
Can you go to Langjökull glacier by yourself?
No, you can’t go to Langjökull glacier by yourself. The best option would be to join a tour group. You can either join the Langjökull Glacier Snowmobile Tour, the Ice Cave and Glacier Tour of Langjökull Glacier, or the Glacier Snowmobile Tour with a Guide.
Alternatively, you can join the 4-Day Blue Ice Cave and Northern Lights Tour and visit Gullfoss Waterfall, travel along the Golden Circle and explore the Southern Coast and visit the famous black sand beach of Iceland.
What are the best places to stay in Reykjavik?
The best places to stay in Reykjavik are the Downtown area, within Laugavegur street, and near the Old Harbor. These are our curated choices for the best places to stay in Reykjavik where we chose the best in terms of convenience and ease of walking to the major tourist sites.
Our first choice for 1 day in Reykjavik is the Canopy by Hilton which is a 112-room hotel in Reykjavik’s city center. The hotel prides itself on using local materials and design. All rooms have free WiFi, a hairdryer, and other modern amenities.
Guests loved the excellent location which is within walking distance of the Laugavegur shopping street, the Sun Voyager, Hallsgrimskirkja, and the Settlement Exhibition. Guests also loved the helpful staff and the great buffet breakfast selection.
Our second choice for 1 day in Reykjavik is the Reykjavik EDITION which is a 253-room hotel located within the city center, a few steps from the Old Harbor Port, Harpa Concert Hall, and Laugavegur shopping street.
All rooms were designed to be cozy while maintaining a clean and minimalist vibe. With floor-to-ceiling windows, Le Labo toiletries, custom-made Italian furnishings, and stunning views, your stay here would be a memorable one.
Guests loved the comfortable beds, the friendly and helpful staff, and the stunning rooftop bar. Other reviewers loved the big and clean rooms, the spa facilities, and the staff who make you feel at home.
Our third choice for 1 day in Reykjavik is the Reykjavik Saga which is a 130-room hotel within walking distance to Downtown Reykjavik. The hotel is close to Hallsgrimskirkja, the National Museum, and the Sun Voyager.
All rooms come with a safety deposit box, a minibar, a hairdryer, and free WiFi. Guests loved the comfortable beds, the clean rooms, and the helpful staff. Guests also loved the daily cocktails at the lobby and the excellent location of the hotel.
Our fourth choice for 1 day in Reykjavik is the ION City Hotel which is an 18-room hotel in the heart of Reykjavik. This hip urban retreat has panoramic views of the mountains with bathrooms studded with Iceland’s volcanic lava stones.
All rooms come with free WiFi, a balcony, a safety deposit box, a minibar, and ironing facilities. While the lower floored rooms look out to the Laugavegur shopping street, the rooms on the higher floors have harbor views. Other rooms look out to the street behind the hotel.
Guests loved the excellent location that was near the many bars, restaurants, and tourist sites. Reviewers also loved the helpful and friendly staff, and clean and comfortable beds with powerful showers.
Our fifth and last choice for 1 day in Reykjavik is the Black Pearl Apartment Hotel. This 22-room suite that is fitted with comfortable beds and a fully equipped kitchen. All apartments come with a Nespresso machine, bathrobes, and slippers.
The Deluxe rooms come with high-quality sofa beds, private lift access, a washing machine, and tumble dryers. Guests loved the very clean rooms, the convenient location, and the warm and friendly staff. Reviewers also loved the spacious rooms and the modern apartments that come with touchscreen control for heating and lighting.
Frequently Asked Questions on Reykjavik
The best month to visit Reykjavik for ideal weather is during the summer months from June to August when Iceland is at its warmest. Rain and intense winds can happen and with more than 20 hours of sunlight, you will not see the aurora borealis.
If you want to see whales, dolphins, humpbacks, and minkes, the best months are from June to July. If you are lucky, you can see blue whales in the summer.
The greatest chance to view the aurora borealis is during the winter months from November to March. You might have to deal with frequent rain, long nights, and cold temperatures which may make your trip worth it.
During the fall months from September to October, room rates may drop significantly and tourist areas are less crowded as the summer crowd would have left.
The spring months of April and May would still see some snow and with temperatures rising while the days become longer, the prices for flights and accommodation may not be so high which makes this an ideal time to travel minus the crowds.
Yes, the people in Reykjavik speak English although the Icelandic language is the official language of the country. English is taught as a second language in schools and most Icelanders speak either Danish, French, German, or Spanish.
No, there is no Uber or Lyft in Iceland. Iceland has a reliable public transportation system and honest taxi drivers which are all metered. While you can take a taxi within the city center, it is best to avoid the taxis at Keflavik Airport whose charges are exorbitant.
Yes, you can see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik. The best places to see the lights are the Grandi area, the Old Harbor, Grotta Lighthouse, the Sun Voyager sculpture, Perlan, and Öskjuhlid Hill.
Reykjavik is known as the largest and is the capital city of Iceland. The city is also the northernmost capital in the world and is known for its culture, history, and natural landscapes which are a combination of glaciers and volcanoes. The landscape is how Iceland got its nickname as the Land of Fire and Ice.
Halló is how you say hello in Iceland. Although the greeting is similar to the English phrase, it is pronounced “hah-lo” with an emphasis on the second syllable. Other simple greetings are já which means “yes” and nei which means “no”.
Takk fyrir means “thank you” and is used to show gratitude. It is one of the other useful phrases worth knowing when in Iceland.
You do not tip in Iceland because gratuity and service charges are already included in the final bill. Although tipping isn’t customary or mandatory, tips are always appreciated and are entirely up to you.
Yes, you can use US Dollars in Iceland although the official currency is the Icelandic króna (ISK). Cash is also not necessary as everything can be paid using either a credit or debit card. The other currencies that are accepted in Iceland are Canadian Dollars, Euros, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish currencies.
Yes, a trip to Reykjavik is worth it. Here is why you must make a trip to the Land of Ice and Fire at least once:
1) Northern lights. This is an obvious one. Reykjavik is the only other city where you can see the lights. The best times to see the lights are between September to April. Head to Grotta Lighthouse and the Sun Voyager for some of the best views of these beautiful lights.
2) Black beaches. A 2-hour drive from Reykjavik takes you to Reynisfjara, Iceland’s most beautiful black beach. The magical views would transport you into a beautiful dream with mists, sand, and sea.
3) Whale watching. While whale watching can sometimes be a hit or miss in other places, it is not so in Reykjavik. Join a whale watching tour from a luxury yacht or watch these beautiful creatures from Iceland’s largest whale watching ship, the choice is yours.
4) Midnight sun. Reykjavik is one of the few places that experience the midnight sun and it peaks during the summer solstice. Join a whale watching and puffin tour or the midnight sun ATV tour and enjoy the spectacular views.
5) Golden Circle. From geysers to waterfalls, the Golden Circle is Iceland’s popular sightseeing trail. Visit the Gullfoss waterfalls, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and the Thingvellir National Park all in one day.
You can join a full-day Golden Circle & Kerid Crater Tour, the Golden Circle & Northern Lights Tour, the Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon Tour, and the Golden Circle & Blue Lagoon Tour where you can end your day relaxing at these healing waters.
With a walkable city center, Reykjavik has many tourist attractions which are within walking distance from one another. There is a scenic pathway for walking and cycling that circles the city. From parks to museums, there is a lot to do in this city.