Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, is one of the most interesting and unique travel destinations in all of the Nordic countries. It may be small, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with plenty of charm and character. If you’re planning on spending 2 to 3 days in Reykjavík, then you might be wondering what the must-sees that you should include in your Reykjavík itinerary are.
If so, then read on! In this article, I’ll be covering Reykjavík’s highlights, as well as some attractions that, despite being off the beaten path, are very much worth checking out.
How Many Days in Reykjavik?
When planning a Reykjavík itinerary, the first thing many people ask themselves is how long they need to spend in the city in order to get the most out of their trip.
In terms of major tourist sites and attractions, Reykjavík has a handful of them, many of which are on the smaller side and within easy walking distance of one another. As a result, you can easily spend 2 days in Reykjavík and come away from your trip with a great feel for the place.
However, I’d recommend that you give yourself 3 days in Reykjavík, if possible. The Icelandic capital has such a unique kind of charm and atmosphere, and once you’re there, you likely won’t want to leave anytime soon!
And, naturally, having 3 days to spend in the city also gives you more flexibility if you want to go on a day trip or explore the surrounding countryside. There’s an absolute wealth of stunning natural landmarks a couple of hours away from Reykjavík, so a 3-day trip over a 2-day one will give you the greatest possible opportunity to see what might just be some of Earth’s most stunning and unique landscapes.
It’s also worth noting that Icelandic weather can be turbulent and unpredictable at the best of times, so the more time you give yourself on your trip, the less likely it is that you’ll have to force yourself to spend the day outside in gale-force winds and torrential rain because you’re heading back home the next day.
Getting To & Around Reykjavik
Keflavík Airport is just over an hour away from Reykjavík, and, being Iceland’s largest airport, serves the greater Reykjavík area, as well as much of the south of the country.
It’s easy to get from Keflavík to Reykjavík – both private taxi transfers and bus transfers are available from Keflavík Airport to downtown Reykjavík. Note that the bus services will generally terminate at the BSI bus terminal, which is about a 15-20 minute walk from the city centre.
Downtown Reykjavík is, itself, very compact, and generally highly walkable. In this part of the city, much of what you’ll likely be planning on seeing will be at most a 10-15 minute walk away, no matter where you are!
Having said that, the wider Reykjavík area is spread out across a number of neighbourhoods, some of which are a bit of a trek from one another. Public transport in the city is provided by the Strætó bus network; tickets can be purchased via the Strætó app or from the driver once you board the bus.
It’s also possible to purchase 24-hour and 72-hour bus passes known as ‘Klapp’ cards, which are sold by various vendors around the city.
The Strætó app also has a journey planner, but it can be a bit confusing to navigate, especially if you’re trying to get somewhere outside of central Reykjavík and need to transfer buses at some stage. I would highly recommend making sure your mobile data is working properly and you can navigate on your own somehow in case you miss your bus transfer.
It’s worth noting here that, while reliable, clean, and very safe, Strætó buses don’t operate as regularly or as late as public transport in most capital cities. This is especially relevant if you’re not staying in downtown Reykjavík; you might find that the bus route taking you into and out of town stops running around 10pm or so!
While the Strætó app does have a journey planner, it can be a bit confusing to navigate, especially if you’re trying to get somewhere outside of central Reykjavík and need to transfer buses at some stage. I would highly recommend making sure your mobile data is working properly and you can navigate on your own somehow in case you miss your bus transfer.
Because of this, if you’d like the freedom to explore Reykjavík without relying on the buses too much and are planning on going on a day trip or two while you’re in Iceland, renting your own car for the trip will likely be worth considering, especially if you’ll be staying somewhere outside of the city centre. You can browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices across the major companies in Iceland.
2 to 3 Days in Reykjavik Itinerary
Day 1 – Reykjavik City Highlights
The first day of your Reykjavík itinerary will see you exploring the highlights of the city, as well as some lesser-known local spots. If you want to learn more about the history of the city, you can take a city walking tour or a folklore walking tour.
The modern, distinctive Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland. Its interior is quite spacey and futuristic, making it an interesting place to visit as you explore the city.
The Sun Voyager
Another of Reykjavík’s most recognisable landmarks is the Sun Voyager sculpture, which you’ll find by the sea just down the road from the Harpa Concert Hall. Not only is the Sun Voyager a beautiful piece of art in its own right, but, on a clear day, you’ll often have a stunning view of Mount Esja from this spot.
Harpa Concert Hall
Harpa is Reykjavík’s iconic, distinctive, and ultra-modern concert hall; built in the wake of the devastating financial crisis that shook the country to its core in 2008, for years, Harpa was the only building being constructed in the whole of Iceland!
Located just off one of Reykjavík’s many harbours, Harpa is definitely worth checking out for its incredible architecture and design.
Exploring Central Reykjavík
Once you’ve reached the city centre of Reykjavík, I suggest you head out for a walk to acquaint yourself. The area is nice and compact, and you can sample charming, traditional Icelandic architecture for yourself.
The National Gallery of Iceland (Listasafn Íslands)
With a collection focussing on 19th and 20th-century artworks, Iceland’s National Gallery is well worth a visit. In addition to the permanent collection, there are often rotating, seasonable exhibits that are worth checking out here, too.
The Icelandic Punk Museum (Pönksafn Íslands)
Located down a flight of stairs in a former public toilet, Iceland’s Punk Museum is certainly housed in an appropriate venue. The museum itself is very small, but it’s filled with interesting stories and anecdotes; well worth checking out while you’re in downtown Reykjavík if you’re a music enthusiast.
Kolaportið Flea Market
Reykjavík’s characterful flea market, Kolaportið, is only open on weekends, but it’s an absolute must-see if you enjoy getting a more authentic look at different cultures and cuisines.
Vendors at the market sell all manner of things – you can pick up liquorice, fermented shark, secondhand clothes, or even traditional Icelandic ‘lopapeysa’ sweaters if you’re lucky.
Hlemmur Food Hall (Hlemmur Mathöll)
Conveniently located just next to the main bus depot in Reykjavík, Hlemmur Food Hall is a fantastic and highly convenient place to grab a bite to eat. Home to a variety of vendors, the selection of food at Hlemmur Food Hall is surprisingly diverse; more importantly, though, it’s all fantastic.
If you’re interested in learning more about the food culture in Iceland, consider taking this food tour.
Day 2 – Golden Circle, Mount Esja or Hveragerði
Seeing Reykjavík in 2 days? I would suggest using the second day of your trip to explore some of the natural landmarks in and around the greater Reykjavík area.
Golden Circle Day Trip (Þingvellir, Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall)
The so-called Golden Circle is probably one of Iceland’s best-known attractions (likely after the Ring Road that encircles the entirety of the country). If you have a hire car, then you can easily visit the Golden Circle without one; doing so isn’t really feasible via public transport, though.
Otherwise, there are plenty of tour operators that run Golden Circle day trips out of Reykjavík. Some options include this full-day tour that also visits the Kerid Crater and this full-day tour that also visits the Blue Lagoon
You’ll visit the national park of Þingvellir, which, in addition to being Iceland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated on the divide between two tectonic plates.
You can also expect to visit the mighty Gullfoss, which is one of the largest in Iceland, as well as the Strokkur Geysir Geothermal Area, which is home to – you guessed it – a bunch of geysers. It’s also possible to tack on a visit to the iconic Blue Lagoon if you’d like some relaxation at the end of your day.
While these attractions do have their own amenities selling food and so on, I generally found it to be incredibly expensive and limited in their selection, so I would recommend bringing your own food for the day trip if possible – a good tip if trying to limit your overall Iceland trip cost in general!
Mount Esja Hike
Mount Esja is one of Iceland’s most famous mountains, thanks to its close proximity to Reykjavík. If you aren’t sure which mountain it is (and fair enough, because Iceland does have a lot of them), Esja is the one that seems to always be looming in the distance when you’re in downtown Reykjavík.
And, it can be climbed! Note that, to reach the summit of the mountain, sections of the hike will require some mountaineering experience. However, if you’d prefer to stick to hiking, you can climb the trail up to a marker called Steinn; up to this point of the walk, no mountaineering is required.
You can take the bus from the bus station Ártún to Esja; the route from Reykjavík to Akureyri stops at Esja’s hiking centre, which is where you’ll want to disembark.
Note that the weather in Iceland can change abruptly and thick fog is often present in the summer, so please do be careful, stay away from any steep edges, and make sure to bring a buddy with you!
Day Trip to Hveragerði (Reykjadalur Hike, Hellisheiði Power Station)
It might not look like much on paper, but Hveragerði is a small town with gorgeous scenery and plenty of charm. Nearby, you can hike through the valley of Reykjadalur up to a natural hot spring, which can be enjoyed at any time of year!
Do note that, while this hike can be accessed at any time of year, it’s probably best done in the warmer months. During the winter, parts of the trail can become totally covered in slippery sheet ice, and, in places, the hike is quite steep with no safety rails… so, not the best combination.
A little further afield is the Hellisheiði Power Station, which is the eighth-largest geothermal power plant in the world. Here, you can learn about how volcanic activity is harnessed to create renewable, clean energy to power the city of Reykjavík.
Day 3 – South Coast, Snæfelsness Peninsula or Vestmannaeyjar
Seeing Reykjavík in 3 days? If so, I suggest heading out on one of the following day trips today.
Day Trip to the South Coast (Vík, Vatnajökull, Jökulsárlón)
If you decided to rent a car for your trip to Iceland, then you may want to spend the last day of your trip exploring some of the highlights of the country’s south coast.
The village Vík í Mýrdal is home to the famous black sand beach of Reynisfjörður, as well as the sea stacks of Reynisdrangar. Note that Reynisfjörður beach can be prone to massive, unpredictable waves, so please take care not to get too close to the water!
You can also visit Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. It covers 10% of the country and is the second-largest ice cap in Europe. The nearby glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón is also beautiful and very much worth checking out.
Day Trip to Snæfelsness Peninsula
Western Iceland’s Snæfelsness Peninsula is one of the most popular attractions in the entire country, thanks to its incredible natural landmarks and diverse wildlife.
Exactly what you see will depend on your day trip provider (or if you make your own way to Snæfelsness), but expect to spot glaciers, cute seals, sea stacks, and the iconic hill of Kirkjufell. Some tour options include this full-day tour and this small-group tour.
Day Trip to Vestmannaeyjar
The Vestmannaeyjar archipelago has something of a mythical status among Icelanders, and for good reason; these beautiful and beguiling isles have plenty to offer visitors. And, what’s more, during the summer, they make for a fantastic day trip from Reykjavík!
A number of tour operators organise day trips from the capital to Heimaey, the largest island in the Vestmannaeyjar. If you’re going in summer, though, you can easily make your own way to Landeyjahöfn on the mainland; from there, the ferry trip takes 30 minutes or so.
Once you’ve arrived, you can visit a Beluga whale sanctuary (yes, really), the Eldheimar museum, which is dedicated to the catastrophic volcanic eruption that took place on Heimaey in 1973, go on a number of hikes, and visit the local The Brothers Brewery.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
Reykjavík Treasure B&B – Mid-range visitors to the Icelandic capital will love this cosy bed and breakfast. They have a number of rooms available and there’s also a fantastic breakfast on offer each morning. Click here to check availability
ION City Hotel – This chic and modern hotel makes for a great base for exploring all that Reykjavik has to offer. There are a number of clean, spacious and comfortable rooms available and there is also a breakfast option in the morning. Click here to check availability
Loft HI Hostel – Those visiting Iceland on a budget or travelling solo will love this highly-rated hostel in the heart of Reykjavik. They have both dorm and private rooms available, a large common room and even have Happy Hour specials. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Reykjavik
Taking the time to explore Reykjavik and using the Icelandic capital as a base for exploring some of the incredible natural sites that this Nordic nation has to offer is never a bad idea. There are so many things to do in Reykjavik and its surroundings that it’s very much worth spending time here.
Are you planning on visiting Reykjavik? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!