Reykjavik is the vibrant capital city of Iceland. All of 273 square kilometers and a population density of 451.5 people living per square kilometer, the city of Reykjavik presently surprised us on our recent trip to Iceland. We stayed in Reykjavik downtown for 5 days and explored pretty much the entire city. This list of 20+ free things to do in Reykjavik Itinerary is perfect if you are spending one day in Reykjavik or more or if its just your stopover destination. We created this handy list of free things, so that you can budget well and save money. And may be splurge on activities like the classic golden circle tour, snowmobile tour or glacier lagoon tour to explore the beautiful Icelandic countryside.
Iceland Tours from Reykjavik
One day in Reykjavik Itinerary – Free Things to do in Reykjavik
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, I may receive a small commission (for which I am very grateful for) at no extra cost to you.
Airport Transfer – Keflavik to Reykjavik Return
But first things first, lets get you the airport transfer to Reykjavik. If you are flying to Iceland, you will be arriving at the Keflavik airport, which is located 45 minutes away from the capital city of Reykjavik. Whether it’s a layover or one day Reykjavik itinerary, book your return trip to Reykjavik from Keflavik airport.
Extending your stay in Reykjavik?
Staying longer then a day in Reykjavik and need accommodation?
Reykjavik Meaning – What does Reykjavik mean?
The word Reykjavik means ‘smoky bay’. It originated from Old Norse word ‘reykja’, for “smoke” and vík meaning “bay”.
Free & Best Things to do in Reykjavik Itinerary
Reykjavik city is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean with a scenic harbor front. Located on the southwestern part of Iceland, Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital of the world (and also the windiest place which is also habitable). Reykjavik is situated on the southern shore of Faxa Bay. It is located 37 meters above sea level.
The mountain views that you see from the harbor front are – Akrafjall (on the western side) and Mount Esja (on the eastern side). Most Reykjavik sightseeing tours and buses start at the harbor front including hop-on and hop-off tours. You can also start your walk from the harbor front and then continue in the walking path and you will most likely find all the tourist stops that Reykjavik is popular for.
Tallest Church Hallgrímskirkja Tower
Hallgrímskirkja church is one of the iconic landmarks of Iceland. Located in Reykjavik downtown area, Hallgrímskirkja church is the tallest church in the country and its towers can be seen from most parts of the city. Icelandic population follow Lutheranism and hence this is a Lutheran church. One of the unique features of the church is the gargantuan pipe organ that is located inside, which stands at 15 meters tall and is stunning to look at. Entry to the church is completely free.
On the exteriors, the church is designed in a very simple way – high ceilings, tall and airy. The church is supposed to bring in light and wisdom, hence the simplistic design. Standing in front of the church is the statue of Leifur Eiriksson, who was the first European to discover America. Records suggest that Leifur Eiriksson landed in the Americas about 500 years before Christopher Columbus did.
The church has impressive towers. Although the entry to the church towers is not free ($10.00 USD per person), it is worth taking a ride to see the cityscape of Reykjavik from above. An elevator takes you up to the observation tower, which has small windows and you can see the colorful houses of Reykjavik from up there. Reykjavik Iceland is windy, so some days you can expect strong winds when you are up there. (We did too)
The church has different operating hours for summer and winter seasons. During summer months (May to September), tower access is available from 09:00 am to 09:00 pm. During winters (October to April), tower is open from 09:00 am to 05:00 pm. The church is closed on Sundays from 10:30 am – 12:15 pm, due to mass.
If you would like to photograph the Hallgrímskirkja church, head there in the morning hours (08:00 am or before), when streets are empty and take shots from across the road or from Café Lokii.
Einar Jónsson Art Museum Sculpture Gardens
Reykjavík also showcases some amazing sculptures for free. The sculpture garden of The Einar Jónsson Art Museum highlights some of the best pieces of Icelandic art history. This museum is located right beside Hallgrímskirkja church, and is completely free to visit. It is also open all 365 days of the year. The actual museum is not free and there is an entry fee of 600 ISK. The Einar Jónsson Art Museum building is definitely unique and deserves a visit. The gardens are located behind the museum, at the back.
Harpa Concert Hall
The Harpa Concert hall is a stunning glass building located by the Reykjavik waterfront. This is the first planned concert hall built in Reykjavik to host various music events like the Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavik Midsummer Music, Reykjavik Arts Festival, Reykjavik Jazz Festival, Dark Music Days, etc. The Harpa Concert hall and Conference Center is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera and the Reykjavik Big Band.
The designers of the Harpa Concert Hall are two architectural firms – Henning Larsen Architects (Danish) and Batteríið Architects (Icelandic). The construction of the building began in 2007, but was delayed completion due to the financial crisis of Iceland. The concert hall was officially open in 2011. You can enter the Harpa Concert Hall for FREE and admire the architecture. Concerts, however, are not free.
Solfar Sun Voyager Sculpture
The Solfar Sun Voyager is a stunning steel structure designed by Jon Gunnar Arnason, by the harbor in Reykjavik. The structure is a boat, pointing to the sky – in an ode to the sun. The artist reflected that it’s like traveling to undiscovered lands, from Mongolia to Iceland, some hundreds of years ago. The sun-ship, according to the artist, signified the promise of new and unknown territory.
It is an amazing experience to walk by the harbor front in the early morning/dawn or dusk hours and truly capture the beauty of the Sun Voyager.
Reykjavik Flea Market – Kolaportið
Can you believe Iceland’s only flea market is located in Reykjavik? It is situated near the Old Harbor front and operates on weekends only (open from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, covered marketplace). The flea market is called Kolaportið, because it was originally set up on a land that used to serve as a coal processing plant. This flea market is not too old, only 30 years or so. Kolaportið translates to “coal yard”.
At the flea market, people sell second hand fermented shark and other snacks, old books, clothes and more. Due to the fermented snacks, you will be welcomed with a “weird” smell. Strange, but this flea market also sells some of the quirkiest things in Reykjavik. And at this market, you can bargain (haggle a bit), which you can’t anywhere else in Iceland.
Tjörnin or Reykjavik Pond
Located in the heart of Reykjavik is the Tjörnin or the pond, as locals lovingly call it. The word Tjörnin is derived from the old Norse and it literally means “mountain lake”. True to its name origins, the Tjörnin is not a pond actually, and is actually made up of 5 different water bodies. The pond is also known as Reykjavíkurtjörn.
It is a beautiful oasis in the middle of downtown and is perfect for a stroll, to watch and feed birds or just to relax. In winters, you can also skate on this pond (it is very shallow). From the street or from the walkway, you can see the beautiful red roofs, and ducks, swans and many other water creatures enjoying the pond. It is a real treat to the eye. Bird-watching and walking are the main reasons why this oasis was preserved for a long time.
The Pond had undergone several ecological changes over the years. There is a city hall located near it, the University of Iceland extends to the pond, the Reykjavik airport is on its southern side – so you get it, it is located in a prime spot, but is not ecologically friendly.
Reykjavik Free Church
Just on the banks of the Pond, you will see a beautiful mint green building, it’s called the Free Church of Reykjavik aka Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík. This church was set up in the late 19th century, as a community building initiative rather then a religious organization.
Reykjavik City Hall Exhibits
The Reykjavik city hall is located near the Pond – Tjörnin. The city hall has an amazing exhibit of Reykjavik history and nature in its lobby. Entry is free, and worth visiting if you are at the Pond.
We found a slice of modern history in Reykjavik – the Höfði house. Höfði house is on the historical map as the meeting place of the presidents of Russia (Mikhail Gorbachev) and USA (Ronald Reagan) to end the Cold World War (meeting was called the Reykjavik Summit). The location of the house is interesting and is placed at the backdrop of the scenic Reykjavik waterfront.
This house was created and designed in Norway and then brought to Iceland (around 1909). The purpose of the Höfði house was to serve as the office of the French Consulate. Over the years, this house welcomed big political names like Sir Winston Churchill, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan and also several British officials.
The Höfði house is not open to public, but you can explore the house from the outside. If you walk behind the house, you will see the window where the historic Reykjavik Summit took place. The house is currently used for official receptions and meetings only.
Popular legend has it, that this place is haunted with the spirit of a young girl. Some believe, spirits of vikings frequented this place, as the site of the house is on a burial ground.
Free Walking Tour Reykjavik
If you wish to explore and learn about Reykjavik’s history and culture in 2 hours or so, then reserve your spot for a free walking tour online
These tours are a great way to orient yourself about the city of Reykjavik and hear stories from local guide themselves.
Explore Laugavegur Street -Shops & Restaurants
Laugavegur Street is a popular street in Reykjavik. Our hotel in Reykjavik was located on Laugavegur Street, making it super easy for us to access transportation, restaurants and sightseeing. Explore this street to experience the hip and vibrant Icelandic capital – enjoy their delicacies, shop or window shop for souvenirs, check out book shops, etc. The street comes alive when stores close in the evening, making it one of the popular “party” places here. There are close to 100 bars and restaurants located in Laugavegur Street alone. And in the evening, the bars fill out fast and it is crowded, but pretty hip and vibrant at the same time.
Reykjavik Tourism Office is located at Laugavegur 5.
Hand-knitting Association of Iceland in Reykjavik
If you want to explore Icelandic textile, like their popular sheep knit-wear with patterns, then head to the hand-knitting association of Iceland in Reykjavik. Located at Skólavörðustígur 19, the association was started about 4 decades ago, when a few Icelandic women joined to form a unit to promote and grow Icelandic knitting business. Although a store, this association gives you an insight into the popular textile of Iceland and for FREE. (purchases additional)
Admire Reykjavík’s Street art & murals
Reykjavík’s lanes and walls are painted in beautiful murals and tags. We learnt that the graffiti and the murals are actually commissioned and locals really enjoy them. True to that, as tourists we actually enjoyed Reykjavik’s street art, it didn’t seem like a property abuse, like it does in other cities.
The murals added a hip and a vibrant feel to this capital city. Some of our favorites include
- Street in front of Joe and Juice at Laugavegur street
- Wall by Ice Mart Souvenir Store at Laugavegur
- Braud & Co bake shop at 16, Frakkastigur
- C is for Cookie at 8, Týsgata Reykjavik
Austurvöllur Public Square (parliament building square/gardens)
Austurvollur is a large public square located in Reykjavik Iceland. This is also called the Parliament Square Park for a reason. Not only is it centrally located at 101 Reykjavik, this was also a seat of Iceland’s parliament, the Alpingi.
If you are taking any guided walking tours, you will most likely explore the square. Since time immemorial and leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, the Austurvollur has played an important role in providing a stage for Icelanders to express their opinions.
The square is a favorite with the locals for sunbathing, picnic or just relaxing. Every year a huge Christmas tree is lit at the square to welcome the holiday season.
Elliðaárdalur Valley Park
Elliðaárdalur valley is a little oasis, located a few minutes outside of Reykjavik downtown. Elliðaárdalur is a perfect spot for light outdoor activities like biking, walking, enjoying a picnic or reading a book in nature’s lap. The Elliðaárdalur valley gets its remarkable serenity due to the river Elliðaár that runs through the valley, creating multiple waterfalls.
Midnight Sun or Northern Lights in Reykjavik
You can witness two of the beautiful natural phenomenon in and around Reykjavik for free.
The Northern Lights can be seen in Reykjavik and other parts of Iceland from October to February. Locate a spot, away from the city lights and dark, preferably between 11:00 pm to 02:00 am, to see the northern lights. As you will be chasing these lights in winter time, make sure you are bundled up. As northern lights are a natural phenomenon and weather dependent, if it is raining or snowing, you won’t see any dancing green lights in the sky.
If you prefer to do it in a tour, just outside of Reykjavik,. then you can book a Northern Lights Tour. Tour operators normally carry binoculars, cameras and tripods and they are for 3-4 hours in duration.
If you are visiting Reykjavik in summer, you will most likely see the Midnight sun. You are more likely to see and experience midnight sun then northern lights in the middle of the city. Midnight sun is a natural phenomenon, which refers to the consecutive 24- hour periods of sunlight experienced in the Arctic and south of Antarctic circle. During summer solstice from late May to July – the sun in Iceland is visible for almost 24 hours (sun sets after midnight and sunrise occurs just before 03:00 am). Longer summer hours mean you can stay out exploring late into the night in Reykjavik.
Read more about the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland activities for October
Admire the Perlan – The Pearl Reykjavik
Perlan or the Pearl is one of the stunning landmarks of Reykjavik Iceland. It is a dome shaped planetarium and exhibit hall. It is located on a hill top – Oskjuhlid and offers great views of the city. The Perlan is popular for its Wonders of Iceland exhibition- that showcases real Icelandic (man-made) ice caves. There is an entry fee for the exhibit hall (3500 ISK) and the observation deck (460 ISK). But it is FREE to admire the Perlan (as an architectural marvel) from the outside. You can also view the Pearl from the near Hotel Icelandair Natural.
The Pearl is not located in the Main Street of Reykjavik, but you can take a FREE shuttle from Harpa concert hall to arrive at the Perlan.
Grotto Reykjavik Lighthouse
Grotta Lighthouse is a beautiful spot, located about 10-15 minutes outside of downtown Reykjavik. It is a stunning place to be in, at sunset and capture some amazing pictures of the lighthouse. The Grotta Lighthouse is located on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula. This place is a nature’s paradise close to downtown, and quite frankly a bit deserted too.
Hafnarfjordur Reykjavik Museum Village
Hafnarfjordur Museum is sort of like a “living” museum which showcases artefacts and photographs of the town of Hafnarfjordur (settlement exhibition of the town). The museum items and display is house in 6 different homes within the town. These houses are
- Pakkhúsið (history and toy exhibition)
- Converted House,
- Siggubær (fisherman’s maisonette)
- Beggubúð, (merchant house)
- Strandstígur (merchant house)
- Bookless Bungalow (showcases maritime history)
This museum village is located about 15 minutes outside of Reykjavik City and entry to the homes is free. The museum is open all days during summer from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (Jun- Aug). In winters, they operate only on weekends from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (Sept through May)
Free W’s – Wifi and Water
These two items are free, and they are essential for surviving in a modern city. Wifi and water (well, this one is not so modern)
So, Reykjavik has many hot spots in the city. So don’t pay for internet card or wifi, if you are just in town. Hotels and restaurants will have free wifi too. Water is pure and can be directly consumed. You don’t have to spend money on buying bottled water.
Ideas for One day in Reykjavik Itinerary – Cheap Things to do in Reykjavik
So, these were some cool and free things to do in Reykjavik. There are a few more exciting things that you can do in Reykjavik, however they are not free. We will list them out here for your reference
- If you are staying for more then one day in Reykjavik, definitely take a day tour to explore the countryside. Most popular ones are Golden Circle (6 hours) and South Coast Tour (8-10 hours)
- National Museum of Iceland – National Museum of Iceland is the oldest museum in Iceland (created in 1863). It houses Icelandic legendary carvings, including artefacts (an anti-aquarium was set up in 1911). Entry to the museum is 2000 ISK per person. Guided tours available or take FREE audio tours with the entry fee.
- Phallus Museum – The Icelandic Phallological Museum aka the Penis museum is one of the quirkiest things we have seen in Iceland. This museum showcases over 215 species of phallus, including that of homo sapiens (aka humans). Entry to the museum is 1700 ISK.
- Other Museums in Reykjavik – If interested, visit the Reykjavik Maritime Museum, National Gallery of Iceland, Nordic Culture House (includes some FREE exhibitions), Museum of Rock n Roll Iceland, Reykjavik Art Museum (contemporary art)
- Reykjavik City Card is a good option for you, if you are planning to visit multiple attractions. Reykjavik City Card will provide you with discounted passes and tickets. Click here to get your Reykjavik City Card
- Reykjavik swimming pool Laugardalslaug – This is the largest swimming pool in Iceland, located in Reykjavik with world class facilities. Free entry with the Reykjavik City Card.
- If you cannot venture on an “ice cave” adventure due to time constrains, visit the Perlan – Wonders of Iceland. It is a man-made ice cave exploration. Click here to book your Perlan – Wonders of Iceland tour.
- Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach – Skipping Blue Lagoon Spa? Then head to Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach – one of its kind in the world. The bathing area is FREE for use in summer time. Winter time swimming is not recommended, as change rooms may or may not be available. (although swimming in cold water is considered good for you!) Email them to confirm the timings or visit their website. There is a sailing club included at the beach area and an entry fee of 650 ISK. (must do in Reykjavik in summer)
- Whale Watching tour – Many group tours like Whale watching tours can be taken from Reykjavik – they are short tour of 3 hours duration
- Book an Iceland Reykjavik city tour + Northern Lights tour (in the winter)
- Day trips from Reykjavik – If you are in Iceland for a short duration, consider taking a day tour from Reykjavik. Many Iceland Reykjavik tours start at $45 USD+.
Food & Restaurants in Reykjavik Downtown
Food and restaurant eating is a tad expensive in Iceland. For reference, a bowl of soup in North America will costs you around 8-10 USD. It is about $16 USD in Iceland. But if you are spending a day in Reykjavik, there are some delicacies that you gotta try. We have included some cheap eating out options.
- Icelandic Street Food – Our favorite restaurant in Reykjavik Iceland – the Icelandic Street Food is an “all you can eat” place. This is the only place we found, where traditional lamb soup is offered at half the price (soup cup) for around 860 ISK. Bowl of soup (in a bread bowl) is about 1950 ISK – pretty standard price (as compared with other restaurants). But this is an all you can eat – so you can keep eating as much as you can!
- Braud & Co bake shop at 16, Frakkastigur – Best place to try Icelandic baked goods is at the Braud & Co Bake Shop.
- Hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – The Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is an 80 year old Icelandic hot dog place is a must visit for the food lover in Reykjavik. Try their lamb hot dog, add some fried onions and hot sauce. You will mostly see a line up at most times, but be patient – as it is worth the wait!
- Valdis – Although not a cheap option for ice-cream, but Valdis have a great variety of ice-creams in Iceland. This place is very Instagram-worthy!
Grocery stores in Reykjavik carry some of the local delicacies that are worth trying in your day itinerary. Some of the options include – dark rye bread, Icelandic chocolate, SKYR (try their vanilla or chocolate flavor), fermented shark (if you are into that) or veggies (organic). Grocery stores located in downtown Reykjavik include 10-11, Kronos and Bonus.
Best Hotels in Reykjavik Iceland
If you plan on extending your stay in Reykjavik, here is a list of accommodation options for you. During our trip to Iceland, we stayed at an apartment hotel – Room with a View. It is located in downtown Reykjavik and our stay averaged $95 USD a night. Rooms were spacious and had a kitchen and attached bathroom. Detached washrooms were cheaper. Check prices for Room with a View hotel rates.
Luxury Hotels Reykjavik Iceland
Looking for luxury in Reykjavik? Here are some Reykjavik hotels for you to consider
- Hotel Borg by Keahotels – Luxury hotel with trendy art decorations, includes spa facilities. Check room rates for Hotel Borg by Keahotels
- Kvosin Downtown Hotel – Apartment style hotel – with spacious rooms, great views, kitchenette, wine bar. Check room rates for Kvosin Downtown Hotel
Budget/Cheap Accommodation Reykjavik
Here are some budget options for Reykjavik accommodation
- Capital Inn – The Capital Inn hotel is a basic hotel, in a great location close to popular sight-seeing spots in Reykjavik capital city. Check room rates for Capital Inn Hotel
- Bus Hostel Reykjavik – Located near BSI terminal (central bus depot) in Reykjavik, the Bus Hostel is a budget option for accommodation. Easily avail bus tours and other downtown Reykjavik tourist attractions. Check room rates for Bus Hostel Reykjavik
- Galaxy Pod Hostel – A pod style hostel in Reykjavik – ideal for solo or couple travelers. Check room rates for Galaxy Pod Hostel
Additional Reading for Things to do in Reykjavik Itinerary
- Learn about Iceland – Essential Books to read on
- Here is an essential travel guide for Iceland trip – includes all seasonal tips, apps to include, best time to visit, etc
- Check out our Iceland Itinerary, with a day in Reykjavik
- Tours are a great way to explore Reykjavik and beyond and avoid car rental altogether. Get the guide to all tours in Iceland
Last Update: January 10 2019
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, I may receive a small commission (for which I am very grateful for) at no extra cost to you.
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