Have One Day in Reykjavik? Here’s What to See, Do, and Eat!
Are you heading to Reykjavik and only have a day to explore? There is loads to do in the Icelandic capital city! Reykjavik is a popular stop for many travellers – especially those on an Icelandic stopover flight going to or coming from Europe.
Regardless of how long you have – from a few hours or a day to kill in Reykjavik – it’ll be easier if you have a plan. This is where we come in. Eric has been to Reykjavik numerous times – and owes many of his best experiences to staying with his local Icelandic friends.
From walking tours around the Reykjavik city centre to places to eat and drink and even a few potential trips (to the famous Blue Lagoon, perhaps?), here is a complete guide on how you could spend a day in Reykjavik. Of course, we give a few different options and ideas for things in case you have less time or different interests!
If you are planning a trip to Iceland, we’ve got a bunch of other posts that you might be interested in:
Breakfast at Prikið
If you’re starting off early and you’re right in the heart of Reykjavik (or heading there), we’d suggest breakfast at Prikið. Located on a main street which you will explore – Bankastræti – this unique place is a bit of a local watering hole that also does food right.
Eric was brought here for brunch by a local friend and got a tasty, filling meal before heading out on a wander. They have loads of different breakfast options – from classic bacon, eggs, and pancakes to vegan options.
Truthfully, Eric also went out here at night later that weekend – but for now let’s start with breakfast. You can learn more about Prikið here.
Address: Bankastræti 12, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Getting To/Around Reykjavik
Flying from abroad, you will land at Keflavík International Airport which is located about a 45 minutes drive from Reykjavik. Read up on how to get from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik.
There are a number of ways to get into the city centre but if you are short on time, a fast and (more) affordable way is via direct buses.
This is how Eric has gone each time and it’s easy with the bus right outside the terminal. You can check here for FlyBus tickets to Reykjavik. You will be brought to the BSI Bus Terminal and from there it’s a 20-minute walk to downtown Reykjavik.
In short, Reykjavik (the city itself) is very small and compact. It is very walkable with a few hillier areas near Hallgrimskirkja (the big church) and flatter areas near the water/harbour area.
The Reykjavik transit system is made up of buses. It’s a pretty good network for such a small city. Eric has ridden it a few times and it’s quick and reliable (from our experience). The system is called Strætó and you can check for information on fares and routes here.
If you are short on time and want to see many things in a few hours and/or you have limited mobility, there are a number of great tour options that you can look into to explore Reykjavik
Morning Activity: Explore the City Centre
Now that you have had a full breakfast, it’s time to get exploring Reykjavik. Just so you know, we’re writing this day itinerary as if you have a full morning, full afternoon, and even an evening to spend in Reykjavik.
So, for mornings, we think it’s a great idea to explore the city you’re in and learn about its history, culture, and people – and then move onto other sights or activities in the afternoon, if desired.
That said, despite Reykjavik being smaller there is no shortage of things to do and places to see. Here is a short section with a number of places to visit and explore. You most likely won’t be able to see all of them, so just have a read through and pick the ones you are interested in. They are all within a short walk from one another so you won’t waste much time going from place to place.
Known as the main shopping street and a lifeline that runs through the capital, Laugavegur is basically the same street you had breakfast on.
Laugavegur is lined with everything from shops and galleries to cafes, bars, and even street art. If you’re a visitor with limited time, you should walk this street (away from the city centre) until it hits Snorrabraut.
Walking the other way – towards the Old Town/Harbour from where you had breakfast – the street turns into Bankastraeti, and then into Austurstraeti as you walk past the shops and bars in the heart of the city centre/old town. You will eventually hit a main square (Ingólfur Square) with food, hotels, and other things to see.
If you are sticking to this itinerary, don’t walk the whole length of Laugavegur into the Old Town because there is a stop you need to make close by to where you had breakfast: Hallgrimskirkja. As one of the tallest things in the entire country, you can’t miss it – literally!
Named after a famous Icelandic poet and clergy person, this famous concrete church was actually completed in the mid-1980s – taking just over 40 years to complete. Today, it is a fully operating parish church. You can wander in during visiting hours to have a look (it’s very simple but calming).
One of the highlights for visitors is no doubt that fact that you can take an elevator to the top of the tower (for a fee) for panoramic photos of the city and surrounding landscapes. Down on the ground, you can also see the statue of the famous explorer Leif Erikson! You can learn more about visiting Hallgrimskirkja here.
Address: Hallgrímstorg 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Icelandic Phallological Museum
You don’t have to follow this itinerary word for word but – if you are – the next stop is the Icelandic Phallological Museum.
This museum, as its name suggests, houses close to 300 penises and penile parts of different species (including most of the land and sea mammals native to Iceland).
You can wander about the museum (with or without audio tour) and can also explore the artwork on display which is related to the theme.
All in all, it’s a unique way to spend some time in Reykjavik! You can learn more about visiting the Icelandic Phallological Museum here. Oh, and good news: there is a gift shop!
Address: Kalkofnsvegur 2 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
The Sculpture & Shore Walk
If you don’t want to visit the museum above – or you did and are done there – you should head towards the waterfront closest to you. From there, you can walk northwest towards the city centre along the Sculpture & Shore Walk.
This waterfront path that hugs the shoreline is a great way to experience a bit of raw nature (wind, water, mountains) from the city centre. As you look across the water, you will no doubt see Mount Esja (photographed by Eric above).
Keep walking towards the Harpa Concert Hall and you will pass other artwork like the famous Sun Voyager – a steel sculpture made to resemble a boat. With the mountain behind this makes a great photo to snap to remember your time in Reykjavik.
Of course, if you want to visit the Harpa Concert Hall, you can do so when you walk by at this time. The modern building is known for the coloured glass and performances – and they even offer different guided tours during the day. You can learn more about a visit to Harpa here (or come back later to see a performance at night)!
Weather Tip: If you visit in the winter, be sure to be bundled well because the wind can be quite chilly. In fact, the wind can even make you cooler in the summer months!
Address: Sæbraut, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
The Settlement Exhibition
After you walk the path past the Concert Hall, you will end up in the historic centre of Reykjavik. We’d suggest that you stop following the harbour walk and cut left (south-ish) right into the city toward Austurvöllur (a main square/park). You’ll pass a number of things along the way so feel free to stop at a shop or cafe (but there is time for that later).
Once you get to Austurvöllur, you will be looking at the Parliament House and will be very close to your next stop – The Settlement Exhibition. Known as Landnámssýningin in Icelandic, this popular museum is a great way to learn about the history of the city – from well over 1000 years ago during the Settlement Age!
You can see the remains of a Viking long house and other objects from that era, too. It’s not huge but packed with information so it makes a nice little stop. They also have guided tours and audio guides if you are interested. You can learn about visiting the settlement exhibition here.
Address: Aðalstræti 16, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Lake Tjörnin and City Hall
Close to The Settlement Museum is Lake Tjörnin and City Hall where you can find a lovely water walk with lots of swans, ducks, and other birds. They generally make an appearance near a statue called the Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat.
If you follow the lake to the other end from City Hall along Tjarnargata street (it’s not too far and is a lovely walk), you will end up at the National Museum of Iceland. This is another very popular museum where you can learn more about the history of Iceland from The Settlement Age until present day, told through a timeline and over 2000 objects.
You will walk back to the city centre for lunch so you can walk back on the other side of the lake if you choose. This other side (along Fríkirkjuvegur street) has the National Gallery of Iceland (shown above) if you are into art!
Lunch at Icelandic Street Food or Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Now that it’s lunchtime and you are back in the city centre of Reykjavik, you have two options for lunch: Icelandic Street Food or a famous hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur!
If you want more of a sit-down lunch, head for Icelandic Street Food. This popular place has become a staple for visitors since it’s great value for your money and you leave with a full belly! Known for their warm soups, delicious seafood, hearty breads, and great desserts – there’s probably something you’ll enjoy. Oh, and they do free refills on soups! Check out their Facebook Page or just pop in.
Address: Lækjargata 8, 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
The other option for a very Icelandic bite to eat is the little hot dog stand run by Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur close to the harbour! This popular stand has been serving hot dogs (said to be the national food of Iceland) since 1937.
Today, it’s a popular spot to get a delicious Icelandic hot dog which is made from a unique blend of meats native to Iceland. Eric has eaten here many times and can vouch that it is delicious. Be sure to order it with “the works” which means everything on it: ketchup, sweet mustard, crispy onions, raw onions, and remolaði!
The hot dog itself is good but maybe get two if you are hungry. Depending on the season you visit in, the line up can get pretty long – but it moves relatively quickly. You can learn more about this famous hot dog stand here.
Address: Tryggvagata 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Afternoon Activity: Explore Outer Reykjavik
After lunch – wherever you ended up eating – you will want to get moving again. For the afternoon, we wanted to give you the chance to get out of downtown Reykjavik and see the outer areas or explore the city from the water. So, our suggestions for afternoon activities are: visit Perlan or go on a Puffin Watching Boat Tour.
If you are wondering “what about the Golden Circle?” we’d say skip it because you need a full day (6 to 7 hours) to do a proper Golden Circle Tour. Of course, if you want to do that then make that your whole day in Reykjavik but know that this will be the only thing you get to do basically.
In case you want to spend the afternoon going to the Blue Lagoon, this is a much more manageable journey that is doable in an afternoon. You can read our guide on how to get to the Blue Lagoon (and back) if you’re interested.
Whatever you do, just be back in the city centre hungry for an authentic Icelandic dinner experience later (outlined below)!
The first option we have would be to make a visit to Perlan. Located just a few minutes driving from downtown, this functional structure (the city’s hot water tanks) sits high upon Öskjuhlíð Hill overlooking the city centre and the surrounding nature.
Aside from the giant glass dome (hence the name like a “Pearl”), Perlan is known for its incredible exhibits like The Wonders of Iceland which is dedicated to learning about Icelandic nature: water, wildlife, glaciers, and more. Onsite there is an observation deck, planetarium, and even a restaurant/cafe. They even have a man-made ice cave that you can walk through!
Eric’s local buddy actually brought him to Perlan to see the city and surrounding areas from the top observation deck. It was definitely worth it! You can check for your Perlan exhibition ticket here (which includes access to the observation deck). If you want to watch a show in the planetarium, you can witness the Northern Lights from the comfort of your seat in Perlan with this combination ticket.
The nice thing about Perlan is that there is a free shuttle bus (for those with pre-booked tickets to Perlan) that leaves from near the Harpa Concert Hall and also stops near Hallgrimskirkja, too. You can also buy a ticket for just the observation deck when you catch the bus if you don’t already have one. Learn more about visiting Perlan here.
Address: Öskjuhlíð, 105 Reykjavík
Puffin Watching Boat Tour
If Perlan doesn’t interest you and/or you want to get off the land for a little bit, you’ve got a number of great water-based tour options to choose from. One that fits this itinerary nicely is about experiencing Icelandic wildlife on a short boat tour to see one of the cutest native bird species: puffins!
This Puffin Watching Tour leaves right from the Old Harbour and you are then taken to some nearby islands where the puffins (and a number of other birds) make their home.
In addition, you get a knowledgeable guide who can tell you loads of information – and enjoy Iceland from a different perspective. It’s a short little tour but great for photos and the suitable if you’re only spending one day in Reykjavik!
This tour is also good because they operate a number of mid to late afternoon slots so that you can go get out on the water and still be back in time for a cafe break and then head for dinner in good time (according to this itinerary).
Address: Reykjavik’s Old Harbourfront (on Ægisgarður)
Alternate Afternoon Idea: If you did just grab a hot dog for lunch you could head right for an early afternoon Puffin Tour and be back in time to explore the Whales of Iceland Exhibition and spend a few hours learning more about the sea-based wildlife. That timeline would also bring you into the coffee break perfectly and/or you can just skip the coffee break and be ready to go for dinner (see below).
Address: Fiskislóð 23-25, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Early Evening Break at Café Babalú or Iðnó
Depending on where you end up in the afternoon, you have a number of options for a quick drink or coffee break once you are back in the heart of city centre. You should be here anyways to be ready to go for dinner. So, for an early evening coffee break, you have two options: Café Babalú or Iðnó.
The first option is to head for Café Babalú which is down the street from Hallgrimskirkja. This popular cafe is colourful, quirky, and cozy and is a good option if you came back from Perlan on the shuttle bus and got dropped off at the church, for example.
They are known for their coffee and their crepes, among other things. You can learn more on their Facebook Page.
Address: Skólavörðustígur 22, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
The other option for a coffee break (if you went on the puffin tour and stayed close to the city centre) would be to head back to Lake Tjörnin and have a seat at Iðnó. With a changing menu and a creative atmosphere, this is a great place for coffee or a drink (or even a light snack).
Once again, you are treated to great views of the lake and the wild birds just hanging out. They also have indoor and outdoor seating for all seasons so cafe Iðnó is a great option at any time. You can learn more about cafe Iðnó here.
Address: Vonarstræti 3, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Dinner: Icelandic Cuisine Tour
Now it’s dinner time and with all this moving you must be hungry. Since Iceland can be very pricey, we did not want to suggest a pricey place for dinner. Instead, we thought it would be a great idea to end off your day by trying some Icelandic cuisine. And what better way to do this than by experiencing it with a local guide!
You might have heard of some of the things you can try like Harðfiskur (dried fish), Hangikjöt (smoked lamb), Súrir hrútspungar (ram’s testicles) and the famous Hákarl (fermented shark). Be sure to wash it down with a shot of Brennivín (known as “The Black Death”).
Eric has actually tried all of these – and a few more items on the Icelandic menu – and honestly enjoyed most of them. Understandably they aren’t for everyone! In any case, there are lots of different things to try out while you visit because food is a wonderful way to learn more about a country.
So, if you want to experience Icelandic cuisine with a local who knows all about it, you’ve got loads of great options. Just be sure to choose the later time slot to make it a dinner tour.
- If you want to explore more, you can sample 8 local dishes at various places around the city on this Icelandic Food Walking Tour.
- If you’d like to sit down for once and have the food brought to you, perhaps this Beer Tasting and Tapas-Style Icelandic Cuisine Tour is for you!
Evening Activity: Drinks, Harpa, or Icelandic Nature Tour
Finally, it’s night time in Reykjavik (depending on the time of year the sun might still be up) and if you have any energy left, there are lots of great options for things to do in Reykjavik at night!
For this itinerary, as always, we like to give different options for different interests. So, you can choose between: drinks in downtown Reykjavik, a show at the Harpa, or one final Icelandic nature tour!
Drinks in City Centre Reykjavik
If you are just looking to have a drink or two before calling it a day well-spent, then you’ve got some good options in the heart of Reykjavik. Scattered throughout the centre are a number of different places to go for drinks to suit all different interests. Just keep in mind that drinks can be pricey in this city!
For a great craft beer place in/close to the Old Town, head for Skúli Craft bar. Eric went here and really liked the vibe and the beer! If you are looking for live music and a good atmosphere, you can check out Gaukurinn (been here, nice time).
Address for Skúli Craft bar: Aðalstræti 9, 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
In the other end of the city (closer to the church), you can find Dillon Whiskey Bar for those into whiskey and Vedur for great cocktails. Lots of places offer a “happy hour” to try to help offset the high prices so be on the watch for those.
If you are ever unsure, a good place to start looking for a place to go is right on Austurstræti. Here you can find a number of popular and admittedly tourist spots like American Bar (been here too, not bad).
If craft beer is your thing, check out the Icelandic craft beer scene with a Icelandic beer tour.
Harpa Concert Hall
Once again, we mention the famous Harpa Concert Hall because they offer a number of performances throughout the year. From orchestra to opera and even stand-up comedy, there is usually something going on which might interest you. You can look into the Harpa performance schedule here.
Address: Austurbakki 2, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Northern Lights or Whale Tour
Lastly, if you thought the evening meant you were done with tours you are mistaken! There are a number of great guided evening tours that you can embark on to end your day.
Depending on the season you visit Reykjavik, you’ll have the option of exploring the water for whales, dolphins, and puffins in the summer on a boat tour or chasing the famous northern lights in the winter.
- For an adventure out on the water, you can look into this Midnight Sun Whale and Puffin Boat Tour in the summer.
- For a land-based winter experience, check out this Northern Lights Hunt on a Minibus.
- To see the Northern Lights from the water in winter, head out on a Northern Lights Luxury Yacht Tour.
If you do end up looking into an evening tour, be sure to try and book in advance because the popular choices can and do fill up in the busy season!
And there you have it – a complete guide on spending one day in Reykjavik! In the end, there are loads of other things to see and do in the city. However, we think this guide gives you a great place to start planning a day in the Icelandic capital. Have fun exploring Reykjavik in whatever season you visit in!
As always, Happy Reykjavik Day Waddlin’,
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