We LOVE Iceland. And we found Reykjavik to be an incredibly charming and cozy city. In this one day in Reykjavik Itinerary, we will show you how to make the most of your trip and fall in LOVE with this little nugget of a capital city! Read how to explore Reyjkavik in a day.
One Day in Reykjavik Itinerary – Preparing for your trip to Reykjavik in a day
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First of all yay! you are in Iceland and you will be arriving at the Keflavik Airport, located about 45 minutes away from Reykjavik. In order to arrive in Reykjavik book an airport transfer. Or if you are renting a car, drive away.
There are 2 types of airport transfers, one to the hotel area and one to the bus station in the downtown area. At the bus station, although cheaper, you will have to walk a bit to get to the hotels.
- KEF Airport to Reykjavik City Bus Transfer: This is one of the affordable transfer options from the Keflavik Airport to the bus station in the city center. You can also request drop-off at major hotels. Reserve your seat online here
- Keflavik Airport Private Transfer: You can also book a private transfer (in a car, for a group of 3 passengers). This is great if you have a lot of luggage or just want some privacy. Book your private transfer here
I am assuming that you will be spending at least one night in Reykjavik, before you head out to the wonderland of geysirs, chasing waterfalls and hiking or ice caving! So pick a hotel in downtown Reykjavik for accommodation.
- Room with a View (mid to budget) – Located in the heart of downtown Reykjavik and close to the shopping street of Laugavegur, the Room with a View is an apartment style living, with spacious rooms, a bathroom, and a kitchenette. We stayed at this hotel and will love to put up our nest again here. We recommend this hotel if you are renting a car and wish to explore Reykjavik. Or taking day tours to see the south coast and then Golden Circle plus northern lights, as we did. Check prices for Room with View hotel rates.
- Hotel Borg by Keahotels – Hotel Borg is a luxurious art deco hotel, located in the heart of Reykjavik. The property has trendy art decorations, and also includes spa facilities onsite. Check room rates for Hotel Borg by Keahotels
- Kvosin Downtown Hotel – Kvosin Downtown is an apartment-style hotel – with spacious rooms, great views, a kitchenette, and a wine bar. The property dates back to the 1900s and is set on a square behind Reykjavík Cathedral and the Icelandic Parliament. Plus the pretty Lake Tjörnin is just a minute’s walk away. Check room rates for Kvosin Downtown Hotel
Pro Tip: If you are arriving in Reykjavik in the early hours, and wish to visit the popular Blue Lagoon Spa, then book tickets for opening slots, like at 08:00 am. Spend 2 hours or so at the Spa, and then take the airport transfer to reach the heart of Reykjavik.
Blue Lagoon is located near the international airport, so it is best explored on your way in, or out of the country.
Otherwise, head straight to Reykjavik. You can pick and choose attractions to fit this Reykjavik one day itinerary into a full or a half sightseeing day.
Begin your day with breakfast at Mokka Kaffi in downtown Reykjavik
Mokka Kaffi is one of the places in Reykjavik that opens early for java and breakfast. It has warm cozy interiors and they serve some of the best mochas and sandwiches in town.
Address: Skólavörðustígur 3A, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Stroll the Reykjavik Harbour front
From the artsy lanes of downtown Reykjavik, you will see the waves of the Atlantic Ocean calling you. That’s the Reykjavik Harbourfront.
Head there and then begin your exploration. Oh, did we mention most of these things that we will capture here are also FREE!
The harborfront is a scenic place for a quick stroll and a sit-down. The mountains that you see from here are the Akrafjall (west) and Mount Elsa (east).
Continue walking towards a shiny glass- mosaic – mermaidy – building. This is the Harpa Concert hall – a recent addition to the Reykjavik skyline, and already quite popular with locals and tourists.
Admire the Harpa Concert Hall
The Harpa Concert Hall is located right by the waterfront. It is home to various music festivals and events in Iceland. Designed by two architectural firms one of Danish and another of Icelandic origin, the Harpa Concert hall is a delightful structure to look at.
It is free to enter the concert hall and explore.
Go on Hop on and off tour or a free walking tour
The area near the Harpa Hall and the waterfront is also a tourist spot, as most sightseeing tours and buses commence from here, including the hop on and hop off city tour.
If you are visiting Reykjavik in colder months, consider taking a hop on and hop off bus tour to explore the city. This bus tour is valid for 1 or 2 days and is perfect to check off the city highlights in a short period of time.
The bus route covers Harpa Concert Hall, the Old Harbour, Viking Maritime Museum, Laugavegur Shopping Street, Reykjavik Art Museum, Hallgrimskirkja Church, Perlan, Skarfabakki Harbour (summer only), Hofdi House and more.
This sightseeing tour is available all year round.
Alternatively, in the warmer months, you can also go on this introductory free walking tour of Reykjavik (History & Culture Walk – my favorite)!
Check out the Solfar Sun Voyager
The Solfar Sun voyager is a sculpture, presenting an ode to the sun. Designed by Jon Gunnar Arnason, this free to view sculpture is slowly becoming an iconic symbol to the city of Reykjavik.
Sun Voyager’s structure is like a boat pointing at the sky. The artist is signifying the travel to undiscovered lands – many new and unknown.
Take a light stroll around the Sun Voyager, or snap away pictures and pose – it is a unique sculpture that you will see in town!
Stop by the Hofdi house
This is the COOLEST thing in Reykjavik. I mean we love history and so finding a slice of cold war history in the Icelandic capital was amazing.
Although not open to tourists, Hofdi House was the place where Russian and US Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan met in 1960 during the cold war. There is a small plaque that showcases the historic room where the meeting took place.
Today, this site is only open for state or international officials and is used to host political guests.
Visit the National Museum
The National Museum of Iceland offers a thorough look at Iceland’s history. You can wind your way through the exhibits from the Viking settlement through the modern age. Iceland is part of Europe, but it also evolved its own unique culture.
National Museum of Iceland is the oldest exhibition place in the country (dates back to 1863). It holds temporary displays, and also has a permanent exhibition, ‘Making of a Nation’.
Lunch and stroll at the Laugavegur Street
Stop for lunch at the main shopping street of Laugavegur. This lane is lined with pretty cafes, bakeries and shops. The street is also very colorful with artwork on them! If you love to eat and drink coffee, this will become your favorite place in Reykjavik.
Joe and Juice is located here, so also many restaurants serving Scandinavian food. For lunch, we stopped at the Scandinavian, scooped up some delicious lamp soup and a Scandinavian sandwich. The interiors were beautifully decorated and it was lovely to sit down and relax after the walk in the city centre.
Address: Klapparstígur 35, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
After lunch, continue your 1 day in Reykjavik exploration, head to the City Hall area. While you march from Laugavegur Street to the city hall, stop by a Handicrafts Emporium if interested.
Along the way, you will also find cute street art and wall murals that you worth stopping by (and posing for).
Fríkirkjan – Green and white church in Reykjavik
As you near the Pond area in Reykjavik, you will see a pretty white and green church. It is called the Fríkirkjan, and dates back to 1902. The church is also known as the ‘Free Church’, as referred by the 600 people who once founded the church.
The Pond or the Lake Tjörnin
Tjornin or the Pond as the locals lovingly call it, is a beautiful oasis in the middle of downtown Reykjavik.
During summers, it is a lovely place to sit and relax, take a stroll after a heavy bowl of lamb soup or admire the pretty red houses and swans from the bank.
During winters, you may not be able to sit here for long, because it will be icy cold. But in the fall, we were able to go on a light stroll and see swans as well. You can do the same, weather permitting. And it is FREE!
Reykjavik City Hall or Ráðhús Reykjavíkur
Right close to the Pond, is the Reykjavik City Hall. The City Hall was constructed in 1988 and was opened for use in 1992. It houses all the political and municipal offices of the city.
The Lake Room or the Tjarnarsalur is the largest room in City Hall, and it is home to a large map of Iceland, which is open to visitors to check out.
After the city hall, you can either break for a hot cup of coffee or head to the highlight of the day – the tallest Hallgrímskirkja church.
Soak in city views from the Hallgrímskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja is the tallest building in Iceland, and the largest Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík. Standing tall at 74.5 metres high, the church is beautiful inside, and deserves a visit.
You can enter the church for free, and admire the stunning altar and the large pipe organ, which was created by the German organ builder Johannes Klais.
The coolest thing about the church is their observation tower. For 10 euros, you can take a lift to the viewing deck and soak in stunning views of Reykjavík and the surrounding mountains.
I am sure you have seen the iconic statue of explorer Leif Erikson (c.970 – c.1020) right in front of the church. Don’t forget to snap a photo of yourself with the statue and the church in the backdrop.
We left the church for the end as evenings are not super crowded for photos. Plus you can spend time at the observation tower as well. It is important to note that it is very windy up there!
Did you know? The statue of explorer Leif Erikson was a gift from the United States to Iceland, in honor of the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament at Þingvellir.
Dinner Options in Reykjavik
The city centre of Reykjavik has a lot of restaurants and cafes, from international cuisines, fine dining to vegan places to eat. We will provide you with some of the our favorites and some popular restaurants below,
- Icelandic Street Food: We visited the Icelandic Street Food cafe way too many times during our visit. It is a small restaurant, offering amazing Icelandic dishes (including grandma’s traditional lamb soup, served in a bread bowl – so hearty and filling!). Address: Lækjargata 4 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
- Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur: Love hot dogs? You must visit the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur aka the City’s best hot dog stand. It is located by the Reykjavik harbor and is quite a hit with locals and tourists alike (and is very busy at all times of the day). Address: Tryggvagata 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
- Aalto Bistro: Aalto Bistro offers a three-course vegan menu, in an awesome location. The views from the cafe are stunning. Just like most restaurants in Iceland, the Aalto Bistro also uses local produce (and they taste so delicious. Their salads are yummilicious!). Address: Sæmundargata 11, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
- Other vegan restaurants include Glo (chain cafe), Bike Cave, Gardurinn
If you prefer to ‘eat it all’ (yea, foodie lovers), then join a walking food and a brewery tour to enjoy the culinary delights that Iceland has to offer.
Grocery stores in Reykjavik
Don’t want to eat out? Head to any of the grocery stores in Reykjavik. You can definitely keep your Iceland trip costs low by cooking your own meals. We recommend stocking up when you are road tripping or embarking on day trips (as cafes and grocery options along the Ring Road and natural attractions are limited).
- BONUS grocery store is a popular budget shopping place. You can find a variety of perishable and non-perishable food items here, and at an affordable price. Pre-made salads, cup noodles, SKYR Icelandic yogurt are definitely worth trying
- KRONAN grocery store is another store in Reykjavik, with a wide selection.
- 10/11 is an expensive grocery store. We went in there one night when it was super late, and food items were pretty expensive and had a limited selection.
If you are planning to carry perishables on your road trips from Reykjavik, don’t forget to add a food jar and a cooler to your Iceland Packing List.
Other attractions to add to your Reykjavik one day itinerary:
Because we stayed in Reykjavik for more than a day, we have more recommendations for your one day itinerary. Feel free to swap them for any of the activities above,
- Perlan: The Pearl or the Perlan is a unique dome-shaped building that is located on the top of Öskjuhlíð Hill in Reykjavík. Being at an elevation (with forest surroundings), the Pearl can be viewed from many parts of the city. It is home to a museum and has a nice restaurant and a park area. You can get the best view of Reykjavik from their 360-degree observation deck. At the Perlan, you can visit the largest indoor man-made ice cave, you can grab tickets for the Wonder of Iceland tour here
- Museums to explore: Reykjavik Maritime Museum, Reykjavik Art Museum, Icelandic Phallological Museum. Many of the museums and sightseeing areas are included for free as part of the Reykjavik City Card, also available in 24 hours pass
- Parliament House – Alþingishúsið aka the Parliament House is a 19th-century building located on a sprawling area with a garden at the Austurvöllur in central Reykjavík. It is home to the Icelandic Parliament or the Alþingi.
- Flea Market – If you love collecting quirky things, head to the Flea Market. This is the only flea market in the whole of Iceland. They are on weekends only from 11:00 am to 05:00 pm. The flea market was set up on an abandoned coal mine, and hence it is called Kolaportid. From old books to fermented snacks, you will find some of the weirdest, but cool things here to take back home.
- Kringlan Shopping Mall – Kringlan is the largest shopping mall in Reykjavík, with over 150 shops, and eating areas. You can shop for souvenirs, Icelandic wear, and international brands here.
Day trips from Reykjavik Iceland: Tips on what to do in Reykjavik for a day or more
When we traveled to Iceland for 3 days (the first visit), we stayed in Reykjavik and took day tours to see the south coast and then Golden Circle plus northern lights. Here is a list of amazing day tours to take from Reykjavik on a short visit or a stopover experience!
- Classic Golden Circle Tour – One of the most popular tours is the Golden Circle tour. In this full-day tour, you can explore the Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and the stunning Gullfoss waterfalls. Many tour operators also offer this trip for a short 4 hours. Click to view this tour
- You can also add a snorkeling experience in Silfra along with the standard Golden Circle tour. Details here
- South Coast of Iceland Day tour – This is another popular day tour departing from Reykjavik exploring 2 waterfalls – Seljalandsfoss & Skógafoss, glacier snout of Sólheimajökull, and the southernmost village of Vik. Check out this epic day tour of south coast of Iceland
- Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik – If visiting in the late fall, and winter months, then you must add a tour of the Northern Lights with the experts. These tours take place at night, and last 2 to 3 hours. Click to view Northern Lights tour
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Full-Day Tour from Reykjavik – Jökulsárlón Glacier is an easy day trip idea from the capital city of Reykjavik. Book this tour here
- Full-Day Viking Horseback Riding Tour – Go horseback riding (managed by local businesses) near Reykjavik. Click to view Horse riding tour
Sightseeing Map of Reykjavik in one day
Is one day in Reykjavik enough?
In one day in Reykjavik, you can easily explore the city’s highlights, shop and eat. Many of the museums will only warrant 30 minutes to an hour, and you can easily pick and choose your favorites based on your interests.
Exploring the Laugavegur Streets, cafes and the Hallgrímskirkja can be done in a matter of a few hours. Many travelers to Iceland opt for a 4 hour (or a stopover) visit to Reykjavik before heading to other parts of the country. Note that Reykjavik is located 45 minutes away from the Keflavik Airport and Blue Lagoon.
Additional travel tips for spending one day in Reykjavik Iceland
Here are some quick tips to help you plan your trip to Iceland.
Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, and it is located in the south western part of the country.
Tourist Visa: For those traveling with the US or Canadian passport can visit Iceland without a visa for up to 90 days. If you require a visa to enter a majority of the European countries, then you have to apply for the Schengen Visa to visit Iceland.
Currency: Iceland is not a part of the European Union, so Euros are not accepted in most places. Icelandic Krona or ISK is the official currency.
Budgeting for Iceland: If you are visiting Iceland for a short trip, we recommend keeping Reykjavik as the base and then taking day tours (instead of renting a car). Choose a hotel with a small kitchenette so that you can cook meals or grab groceries.
Best time to visit Iceland: Iceland is an all year round destination. Summers are quite busy, and accommodation in Reykjavik will be expensive. We recommend visiting Reykjavik in the off-seasons like late spring or fall months such as September and Iceland in October.
Packing tip: Iceland is windy, and the weather is unpredictable. We highly recommend carrying/wearing waterproof shoes, lightweight jackets, and pants (in the winter). Plus don’t forget your universal adapter, power backup, and a Thermos (flask and food jar) to store food.
Don’t forget travel insurance to Iceland. We recommend World Nomads Insurance to insure your trip. You can add medical insurance, cancellation, and trip delays to your policy. Click to get free quotes here
So that’s a wrap. We hope you found our suggested way to spend a day in Reykjavik useful. If you only have one day in Iceland, you can spend a few hours in the capital city, and then add a half day Golden Circle tour, or just hang out at the Blue Lagoon Spa.