24 Hours In Reykjavik

Reykjavik Landscape

With a population of just over 120,000 people, Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and largest city. Surrounded by majestic mountains, glaciers and tranquil lakes, the city proves to be a popular destination for tourists. A walk around this city, taking in its beauty, culture and heritage is not something you should pass on if you ever have the opportunity. From a geothermal beach and a John Lennon commemoration to an unforgettable night life, I've explored the best of Reykjavik to keep you entertained from morning to night.

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Breakfast At Grai Kotturinn

Reykjavik is home to many, many little cafes, but I recommend starting your morning off with a scrumptious breakfast at this particularly quirky one. Grai Kotturinn, The Gray Cat, is open from 7am on weekdays and from 8am on weekends to serve you American pancakes, fresh bagels and of course the usual bacon and eggs. Make sure you get there early, as this cafe is fast becoming a very popular place to enjoy an early breakfast.

Culture House

Culture HouseImage courtesy of Culture House

Culture House is the place to go if you truly want to learn about Iceland. The museum hosts various exhibitions depicting the Icelandic national heritage. There are also many of the country’s national treasures on show, such as the Poetic Edda - a collection of poems depicting ancient mythology, preserved in their original manuscript. While some exhibitions are only short-lived, others are long-term and there are even permanent ones such as Millennium - Phase One, Medieval Manuscripts and the Nation and Nature film. Since 2011, there has also been an exhibition on Jon Sigurosson, Iceland’s national hero who led the independence movement in the 19th century.

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HallgrimskirkjaThe famous Hallgrimur's Church

If you feel like admiring some awe-inspiring architecture, Hallgrimskirkja, or Hallgrimur’s Church, is a must-see. This immense structure took 38 years to build and it holds the honour of being Iceland’s biggest church, with its tower standing at a whopping 239 feet high. Tourists from all over the world visit this famous church, often to hear the large pipe organ being played - which, by the way, consists of 5,275 pipes. One of the church’s main attractions is the observation deck. Take the lift to the top and see the breathtaking views of Reykjavik and the surrounding mountains.

Handy Tip: Find out from the locals when the organ will be played during your visit so that you can witness the beautiful sounds echoing through the church.

Reykjavik Free Walking Tour

Goecco ToursImage courtesy of Goecco

What better way to explore a foreign country than to go on a tour? Even better, a free tour. If you planned to be in Reykjavik in the summer (between May and September), make sure to go on the two hour walking tour of the city with Goecco. They offer free tours during the summer months to an unlimited number of people and walk you through the streets filled with rich Icelandic history. Not only will you be taken to all the main sights within the city, you’ll also get to experience the places people don’t usually go to. To top it all off, it’s a great opportunity to meet other travellers and discover a new city with them.

Lunch At Baejarins Beztu Pylsur

Baejarins BeztuImage courtesy of Baejarins Beztu Pylsur

Believe it or not, hotdogs are considered to be the Icelandic national food, so it would make sense to do as the locals do and treat yourself to a hotdog at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. The name translates to The Best Hotdogs in Town and established in 1937 it certainly has stood the test of time. It's been voted as the best hotdog stand in Europe and has even had famous visitors such as former president of the USA, Bill Clinton. If you can’t get to the most popular one on the city's busiest street, Tryggvagata, then make sure to eat at one of the other three stands around Reykjavik.

Handy Tip: If you want to taste the greatest hotdog, make sure to order one with "the works".

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Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach

When I think of visiting Iceland, the last thing that comes to mind is having a sun-filled day on the beach. Enter the Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach. With sand especially imported from Morocco and an artificial hot spring, it has become a place for tourists and locals alike to enjoy a day in the sun - in Iceland. Admission is free and there are also a couple of snack stands there should you feel peckish. Canoes and rowing boats are available for hire to enjoy a little adventure in the great North Atlantic Ocean.

Take a sneak peek at the beach in the video below:


PerlanImage courtesy of Perlan

Perlan, or The Pearl, is a remarkably unique building, in that the structure is built on top of six hot water storage tanks. The building is a landmark in Reykjavik and stands at about 88 feet high. Begin your visit by exploring the Winter Garden on the ground floor before making your way up to the fourth floor for a little indulgence. Perlan has three shops, a restaurant and a cafe with fantastic panoramic views of the city, although the sixth floor's observation deck really offers the best views. If you’re going to be visiting in December, make sure to take a look at their Christmas Land exhibition to get you in the mood for the festive season.

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Golden Circle Tour

Golden waterfallImage courtesy of Reykjavik Excursions

The Golden Circle Tour is undoubtedly Iceland’s most popular route and takes you to some of the most beautiful natural sights in the country. Reykjavik Excursions offers this tour all year round.

Visitors get to see the beauty of the Gullfoss, Golden Waterfall, a huge area covered by rough waters flowing through crevices and down cliffs. You will also be taken to see the Stokkur hot spring shoot 98 feet into the air every four to eight minutes, and then move on to see the first national park in Iceland, the Thingvellir National Park. This is a tour not to be missed.

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Dinner At Fishmarkadurinn

Fish Market RestaurantImage courtesy of Fishmarkadurinn

For a great dining experience, spoil your taste buds at Fishmarkadurinn, Fish Market Restaurant. The restaurant buys its fresh ingredients from local fishermen and farmers, so you know you’ll be getting top-notch, quality food.

The establishment serves everything from lamb to fish, and you can enjoy a cocktail or beer in the lounge to relax after your meal. Although it’s closed on Christmas day, they offer delicious lunch and dinner Christmas meal buffets around December, so make sure to book in advance.

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Harpa Concert Hall And Conference Centre

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference CentreImage courtesy of Harpa

Since opening in May 2011, Reykjavik’s Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center has welcomed about 1.3 million visitors and it’s fast becoming one of the most popular venues in Iceland. Entertainment-wise, you can’t go wrong with spending your evening here watching one of their great concerts in the huge auditorium.

In December, you'll have the opportunity watch shows such as Christmas At The Symphony, How To Become Icelandic In 60 Minutes as well as Iceland’s most popular Christmas show by the orchestra and singing group, Frostroses. The centre also boasts two shops, a bistro and a restaurant and bar.

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Imagine Peace Tower

Whether you are a fan of the Beatles or not, this inspirational monument is highly recommended for anyone visiting Reykjavik. Situated on Videy Island (just a short ferry ride away), the Imagine Peace Tower was erected in 2007 by Yoko Ono in honour of her late husband, John Lennon. The structure is a large wishing well with a bright beam of light shooting up into the sky. It’s a symbol of Lennon’s quest for world peace and it has the words Imagine Peace inscribed on the well in 24 different languages. The beam of light is naturally lit by hot spring water and it can be seen from the city of Reykjavik. You can see the beaming light from 9 October (Lennon’s birthday) until 8 December (the anniversary of his death) every year. It will also be lit from 21 - 28 December this year for the winter solstice. If you’re lucky enough, you can even see the Northern Lights dancing around this magnificent beam of peace.

Handy Tip: Remember to make a wish!

Learn all about Imagine Peace Tower is the video below:

Cafe Rosenberg

There’s nothing like a little evening entertainment with the locals to experience Reykjavik in an authentic way. Cafe Rosenberg is a fantastic joint often crowded with locals. Go to enjoy great food and live entertainment - from jazz gigs to acoustic sessions and even poetry, you’re bound to enjoy the atmosphere while meeting some interesting people.

Take a look at video below to see some live music performed at Cafe Rosenberg:


Viking BeerImage courtesy of Palthrow

Despite the London Underground sign above the entrance, Kaffibarinn is a great way to experience authentic Icelandic nightlife. Co-owned by Damon Albarn of 90s alternative rock band, Blur and the popular hip-hop collaboration, Gorillaz fame, this spot is frequented by celebrities, including Iceland’s very own songstress, Bjork. The cosy cafe serves no food, but is open during the day for a relaxing coffee and turns into the place to be once the clock strikes midnight. Dance the night away while sipping on some traditional Viking beer.

Handy Tip: Make sure to get here early. It gets so full at the weekend that the queue carries on down the street.

Volcano House

Volcano HouseImage courtesy of Volcano House

With a volcanic eruptions about every four years in Iceland, it seems fitting to have the Volcano House. Situated in the heart of Iceland, it houses a museum, cinema, shop and a late night cafe. The cinema runs two documentaries of the biggest volcanic eruptions in Iceland, showcasing some amazing effects on the big screen. Then you can make your way to the Geology Exhibition (free of charge) to see a large collection of the country’s minerals and semi-precious stones. The late night cafe offers stunning views of the city at night, a great snack menu and some wine and beers. Volcano House is a fantastic spot to spend your night learning more about the country you are visiting while sipping on an ice-cold beer.

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The Runter

Okay, so this isn't a specific place, but rather an activity that every party animal out there should partake in when visiting Reykjavik. The Runter is the name given to the city-wide pub crawl that happens on weekends. This is not for the faint-hearted though, so don’t make it your challenge to keep up with the Icelandic locals, because they really know how to party. A weekend tradition that lasts from dusk until dawn, The Runter is a great way to meet locals and other travellers to be taken around to the best nightclubs and bars in the city.

Handy Tip: This weekend party gets wild, so eat before you take on this adventure.

Lebowski Bar

Lebowski BarImage courtesy of Lebowski Bar

Inspired by the Coen brother's 1998 film, The Big Lebowski, this bar has the perfect American diner-style setting. Lebowski Bar opened in 2012 and is proving to be a place you won't want to miss out on visiting. The bar has lots of cosy booths and a jiving jukebox to make sure the great vibe keeps going.

Lebowski BarImage courtesy of Lebowski Bar

DJs keep the venue going until the early hours of the morning on weekends, and the bar offers 18 different White Russian cocktails - which was, of course, the drink of choice in the famous film. If you're not feeling like a cocktail at all, make sure to try out one of their 12 different milkshakes. With the extensive choice of drinks, food and entertainment, there's no question why the newly opened Lebowski Bar is already so popular.

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Last Updated: December 2012

Zoe Harrington

Zoe Harrington

After graduating with a degree in English Literature and a passion for writing, Zoe finally ended up at Essential Travel. An avid animal lover, Zoe is also an enthusiastic traveller and loves the richness it brings to one's life. Born in London, she has been to many European countries, the USA, Thailand and Singapore, making her always keen to inform others of the wonders of travel through her writing.