Despite being the world’s northernmost capital, Reykjavík is not only about icebergs, raw fish and hand-knitted wool sweaters.
Located in southwestern Iceland, it is the capital and admittedly the most popular tourist destination of Iceland, and that’s for a reason: Reykjavík is a perfect mix of nature, contemporary art and ancient history – a lovely and vibrant city full of life, culture, music and fashion, with just enough weirdness to spice up your journey around the Nordic countries a little.
Best Time to Visit Reykjavík
Forget about the idea of the harsh and dark winter days; visiting Iceland is always a good idea, no matter the season.
In winter, Iceland is a truly magical place to visit: you can spend your days chasing the Aurora borealis, hiking glaciers or dog sledding around the island but relaxing in Iceland’s most famous and popular geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon is something you wouldn’t want to miss either. In February, during the Winter Lights Festival the whole city lights up, magically breaking the regime of the long winter days of darkness. Some of Reykjavík’s most interesting festivals also take place during the winter months: Reykjavík Fashion Festival, Iceland Airwaves and Reykjavík International Film Festival are all worth visiting.
In summer, when the Midnight Sun season finally kicks in, picking berries at dawn in a nearby forest or taking a spontaneous road trip with your friends around the island could be one of the greatest adventures you’ve ever experienced. If you miss the inimitable atmosphere of summer festivals, there’s still hope for you: the Secret Solstice or Midnight Sun Music Festival takes place in Reykjavík during the summer months, where you can enjoy a glass of cold beer while partying to big names such as Die Antwoord or Radiohead.
Fun fact: the Iceland Airwaves is one of Reykjavík’s greatest annual music festival and its legendary after party, aka. the “Blue Lagoon hangover party” is worth visiting, too.
Top Things to Do in Reykjavík
Reykjavík is a vibrant city full of life and therefore there’s always someone or something new around to discover.
Guide to Iceland has a great list of Top 10 Things to do in Reykjavik that includes a lot of experiences you can’t miss in the world’s northernmost capital city. USA Today is another great source to find out the Best Things To Do in Reykjavik.
If you enjoy travelling off the beaten path and discovering hidden treasures of a certain area, you should consider hiring Auður, the lovely, enthusiastic and passionate tour guide behind I heart Reykjavík. She’s all about hidden gems and exciting new adventures that she’s eager to share with you, too.
If you happen to be fond of the iconic Finnish design products, be sure to visit Reykjavík’s unique design store called Suomi PRKL! (Laugavegur 27), where you’ll find the latest addition to your Moomin mug collection, an elegant, classic piece of marimekko clothing that never goes out of style or, if you have a serious sweet tooth, even a big bar of Fazer milk chocolate for pleasing your inner child.
No proper Icelandic tour is complete without visiting the Blue Lagoon, the country’s most popular geothermal spa that is located in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, and is surrounded by an ancient lava field. The average water temperature of the lagoon is usually between 37-39 °C (99–102 °F), and the entire setting is breathtaking, no matter the season.
Did you know that Reykjavík in fact has its own golden-sanded geothermal beach with an artificial hot spring? It’s located in one of Reykjavík’s small neighbourhoods, Nauthólsvík and attracts nearly half a million visitors each year from all over the world.
Where to Stay in Reykjavík
Reykjavík is famous for its youthful and vibrant hostel culture but if you no longer consider yourself a wild party animal, you’ll also find various accommodations around the city centre, ranging from cheap places with simple bunk beds to luxury boutique hotels.
Start by exploring Guardian’s List of Top 10 hotels in Reykjavik or About.com’s list of The Best Cheap Hotels in Reykjavik. To help you figure out the best areas to stay in the city, read this Q&A on the best neighbourhood for accommodation in Reykjavík
Find and book these hotels on our favourite accommodation search website: Booking.com
Here are some of my favourite hostels from around the city:
KEX Hostel (Skúlagata 28) is a cheap budget hotel & guesthouse situated in an old biscuit factory, very close to the city centre.
Bus Hostel (Skógarhlíð) is a friendly place with super comfy beds and a fun atmosphere, dedicated to travellers and backpackers from all over the world.
Loft Hostel (Bankastræti 7a) is a fun hostel in the downtown of Reykjavík and has a gorgeous rooftop view to the city that you’ll be admiring during your entire stay.
Downtown Hostel (Vesturgata 17) is a decent hostel with relatively fair prices and a great chance for you to see the northern lights!
Galaxy Pod Hostel (Laugavegur 172) is truly one of a kind: thanks to its trendy, futuristic atmosphere it offers high-quality accommodation for travellers with no ordinary expectations.
Airbnb and Couchsurfing are both good short-term options for breaking the airport-hostel-airport circle at least for a few nights during your stay. If you enjoy and your privacy and you’ve got enough money on your hands, rent a spacious, modern flat somewhere around the centre: prices range from 25 € to 115 € / night on average and if you find a perfect spot, the ocean view is just ahh-mazing!
Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and receive a discount to put towards your first Airbnb stay!
If you’re travelling on a budget, though, make the most out of Couchsurfing: crash at someone’s place for a night or two while making some friends and experiencing Reykjavík through the eyes of a local!
Where to Eat & Drink in Reykjavík
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that there’s nothing more to Reykjavík than eating fish from a sad little paper plate!
Hverfisgata 12, aka. ‘The Pizza Place with No Name’ is – no surprise! – a secret pizza place in Reykjavík’s downtown that is run by the owners of KEX hostel. Legend has it that they serve fried pig ears for starters, and their pizza is super delicious with quirky toppings you’ll not find elsewhere. The place is so hip it doesn’t even have a name – it was simply named after the street it’s located on. How cool is that?!
Omnom Chocolate is a sweet little confectionary shop offering Iceland’s first bean-to-bar, hand crafted chocolates. With their high-quality ingredients, unique flavours and names like Dirty Blonde (made with organic, unprocessed cacao butter, caramelised sugar and Icelandic milk powder), Omnom is definitely a must-try. The packaging of the chocolate bars is pure art, thanks to a South African designer who fell in love with Iceland after spending a few years travelling around the island.
If you have a great passion for lazy breakfasts and late brunches, you’ll definitely love Bergsson Mathús café and what’s best, your wallet will love it, too! This reasonably priced (breakfast $13.40, brunch $15.70), cozy little café is located in one of Reykjavík’s most diverse areas, district 101 and treats you with delicious meals at any time of the day.
Gló is one of the hottest and most popular vegan/raw food restaurants in Reykjavík, a real paradise for the lovers of healthy and organic food. It’s trendy, unique and hip – what else would you be looking for in your new favourite restaurant?
Want more advice on great restaurants in Reykjavik? Check out Food Republic’s suggestions of 10 Places to Eat and Drink Incredibly Well in Reykjavik, Iceland
How Much Time Do You Need in Reykjavík
Ideally, you’ll have at least a couple of weeks to discover Iceland, since its peculiar and unique beauty is a once in a lifetime experience for many. If you’re intended to stay in Reykjavík for the whole time, though, 4-5 days may be enough for you to take a short but sweet, truly memorable trip.
Here are a few great posts to help you plan your visit:
- 5 Ways to Make the Most of a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland
- Perfect 3 Day Itinerary & a Quick City Guide to Reykjavik
- How to See Iceland’s Most Awesome Sights in 3 Days
About the Author:
Nika is a professional copywriter/travel blogger and an aspiring digital nomad currently travelling in Europe with her boyfriend. She spends a great deal of her time smoking cigarettes and googling useless, weird stuff, and she’s admittedly a huge fan of Millennial marketing. She’s passionate about travel writing and Social Media marketing, so she’s recently launched her own travel blog, called thekaleidoscopecat.