9 Best Things to See and Do in Reykjavik in 1 Day

When you’re visiting Iceland you’re likely to want to see erupting volcanoes, frozen glaciers, the…

When you’re visiting Iceland you’re likely to want to see erupting volcanoes, frozen glaciers, the highest waterfalls, whales and birds in their natural habits, and the dancing Northern Lights. But your visit to the land of fire and ice also probably starts at the capital Reykjavik, and the best things to see and do in Reykjavik are often overlooked!

We spent our first day in Iceland exploring this very cool city, and these are our best things to see and do in Reykjavik in 1 day…


Experience the best of Iceland at Perlan Museum

With so many amazing sights to see in Iceland, starting your visit at a museum may not sound like the most exciting thing to do. 

But the state of the art interactive museum is a great introduction to Iceland, showing you everything you can hope to see for real during your trip, and giving all the interesting explanations behind it all.

Our visit starts with an 8k display of the Northern Lights, seeing some beautiful displays of the lights over Iceland and learning about how they’re formed by the sun. 

We see a volcano show of a huge eruption from 2021, with close camera footage of the lava spewing from the crater which is really cool to see (although the video would be better with a voiceover to explain some of it). This is followed by a volcano exhibit though so you get to learn everything there is to know! 

There’s a replica of Látrabjarg Sea Cliff complete with life-size models of numerous seabirds, and a section showing the marine life we could see by taking a boat or diving tour.

On the roof of the museum is an observatory with great views over Reykjavik, the sea, and the surrounding mountains. 

But the best part of the museum is where we get to walk through an ice cave and enter the glacier exhibition… 100 metres long and kept at a constant -15°C! 

TrovenTrippers Tip... is it worth going to Perlan Museum?

We enjoy our visit and it's one of the most immersive and interactive museums we’ve been to.

If you want to know the information behind Iceland’s unique landscape and natural phenomena then you’ll love the museum. But the tickets are pretty expensive, so if you’re not that interested in the reasons behind it all and are just looking to visit for a quick look around, we’d say save your money and head straight into the city instead.

To book tickets & for more info... Perlan Museum Website

Have a traditional lunch at Café Loki

We head into the city from Perlan to visit Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, but finding it closed for lunch, what better time for us to stop and try our first Icelandic food.

Café Loki is on the corner opposite Hallgrimskirkja, giving great views of the church and serving traditional Icelandic food… perfect!

We go all in and order the Hákarl and Brennivin shot (fermented shark and schnapps), along with the traditional meat soup and Baldur (herring and mashed fish on rye bread) with Loki’s unique rye bread ice cream. Sounds interesting!

The Hákarl takes us back to our visit to the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, and Sneha doesn’t think the herring is much better either! The meat soup and ice cream are good though, as is the strong coffee.

We definitely pay a premium for the views of Hallgrimskirkja with the bill coming to £64! (Tables upstairs with the views seem to be for tourists, whereas tables downstairs seemed to be full with locals. Maybe there’s a cheaper menu available if you sit downstairs?)

TrovenTrippers Tip... trying Hákarl and Brennivin in Reykjavik

Only try the Hákarl and Brennivin if you're feeling brave... there's a reason we saw them in the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö! And be prepared to pay a hefty price for the 'privilege', it was 2,500ISK / £14 for a few small bites and a shot!

Visit Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral… Iceland’s tallest church

Hallgrimskirkja is quite a sight to see, and it’s hard to miss, being visible from almost anywhere in the city!

That’s because it’s Iceland’s tallest church, and Iceland’s 6th tallest building overall, so it literally towers over the rest of the close-by buildings in the city centre.

It’s also a very unusual shape, being inspired by the basalt stacks and lava flows which can be seen on Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and around the rest of the country.

Inside the church is stunning… the vaulted ceiling looks even higher than it does from the outside, the large organ above the door is one of the biggest we’ve seen, and the stained glass windows are stunning. 

But what really strikes Paul is the simplicity of it all. Cathedrals are usually so intricately carved and decorated. But in true Nordic style this is clean, simple, and almost minimalist for the most part. Very different, and very cool!

Shopping in Reykjavik on Laugavegur & Rainbow Street

Regular readers of our blogs will know how we like to shop when we visit new places. But this time Paul is forced into it, after forgetting his coat in the car back at Edinburgh airport. Not ideal when we’ve got a few days of exploring Iceland in freezing Spring temperatures coming up!

Luckily our apartment is on the main shopping street Laugavegur, with loads of shops selling outdoor clothes along with everything else you could want. Less luckily, the expensive Icelandic prices continue, so looks like it’s going to be a costly mistake by forgetting my coat!

After spending a little more than I wanted to on a fleece from 66°North (they may be expensive, but I can fully recommend them for warmth!), we have a look around some of the other shops and check out Rainbow Street, colourfully decorated for Reykjavik Pride and giving a great leading view up the street towards Hallgrimskirkja.

TrovenTrippers Tip... Shopping in Reykjavik

Don’t forget to get your tax reclaim receipt when shopping, as you can then claim your VAT back at the airport. The girl in the shop told me about this, and I got back over £30!

Eat Hot Dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

We’re not sure if it's due to the small lunch or the shock Paul had buying his new coat, but we’re feeling quite hungry again as we’re looking around the streets.

Close to the harbour and Harpa Concert Hall is Iceland’s most famous street food truck, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, serving up the best hot dogs in town since 1937. 

There's quite a long queue when we get there but they're fast at serving so it goes down quickly, and the hot dogs are definitely worth the wait! We order them with everything on, and the sauces they add really add to the flavours and taste. Very very good!

TrovenTrippers Tip...

The legendary food stall is a must visit when you're in Reykjavik… the hot dogs are super tasty, and they're really good value too if you're trying to find food at a more pocket friendly price!

Have an unusual & unique 1 hour at the Penis Museum

Probably the most unusual and unique thing to do in Reykjavik is to visit the Icelandic Phallogical Museum... a museum dedicated to penises!

We have a very weird but fun time and it’s a good way to spend an hour in the city, check out our full blog for more details…. Visiting the Weird & Unique Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik

See the Waterfront with Harpa Concert Hall & Sun Voyager Sculpture

Harpa Concert Hall is a striking building on the waterfront and well worth a visit, even just to see it from the outside. But you can also go inside and have a walk around the entrance foyer, with some shops and a café in there too.

Further along the waterfront from Harpa is the Sun Voyager sculpture, and it’s a perfect photo stop for us.

The steel sculpture glistens in the late afternoon sun as we pose for some pictures, and the views are amazing. Looking out to sea we can see the volcanic ridge Mount Esja in the background. And looking along the coast we can see Harpa too. A super location! 

The boat looks like a Viking long ship, but it’s actually a ‘dream boat’, an ode to the sun to represent hope and progress.

Enjoy local food & drink in Reykjavik

Reykjavik has a growing culinary scene and a reputation as quite the party city!

Our experience of Hákarl and herring at lunch hasn’t put us off trying more of the local food, so Sneha does her usual hunt, and as always finds a great place for us to eat… Islenski Barinn.

Islenski Barinn

Islenski Barinn is an Icelandic bar and restaurant aimed more towards tourists than locals, but for us it still gives a local restaurant feel rather than feeling like a tourist trap. And it doesn't have over-inflated prices either (eyes on you Cafe Loki!).

It’s worth calling out at this point if you have a problem with eating some non-conventional and perhaps controversial meat, then this place may not be for you. But if you want to try something unique and very Icelandic, then there is nowhere better. Read on to see what we mean…

The menu looks very interesting and a few dishes catch our eye, particularly the small tasting plates. Smoked lamb on Icelandic flatbread. Dung smoked salmon on Icelandic rye bread. And fin whale or puffin on Icelandic crumpet… wait, what?!

Yes that’s right… fin whale and puffin! After a little deliberation we decide to go for it… puffin to start, and fin whale and lamb shank for main courses. And accompanied by a local Einstock berry ale and an Icelandic gin.

The puffin is interesting, not like we expected at all! It’s quite rich and gamey tasting. And the fin whale is similar to a steak, whereas Paul expected it to be like fish! The lamb is also really good… a huge shank, which the meat just falls off the bone and melts in the mouth. All highly recommended!

Reykjavik Street Food

If trying some of the more ‘out-there’ food isn’t quite your thing, or if you want something a bit more budget friendly, then Reykjavik Street Food on Rainbow Street is a great option.

More like a fast food café but still with a cool vibe, it has a small but excellent menu, and is super cheap compared to most of the near-by restaurants.

On another night of our trip we go there and have Plokkfiskur, a traditional fish stew, and lobster soup. And if you get a seat in the window, it’s also great entertainment watching everyone outside on Rainbow Street get their obligatory Instagram photos and videos (and of course we have to go and join them afterwards!)

Sæta Húsið Sweet House

For dessert, head to Sæta Húsið (Sweet House in English) for some amazing Ice Creams!

We didn’t realise Iceland was so famous for its ice creams, but even if its cold you need to try some!

We get a huge bubble waffle cone and it’s delicious, and the building is really cool too… a cute wooden hut from 1871, and is the second oldest building on Laugavegur.

Einstok Bar & Hús máls og menningar

You don’t have to look far to find a bar to get some drinks, Laugavegur and the streets leading off it are full of pubs and bars.

Having been up since 3am this morning to travel to Iceland, and with another early morning alarm set for tomorrow for our South Coast Adventure, we’re not after a big party night though!

Einstok Bar is from local Icelandic brewers Einstok, and serve all of their own brews and have a huge range of spirits too (imagine an Icelandic BrewDog if you’re from the UK). Paul enjoys a very tasty (and strong!) porter, while Sneha has a cocktail.

Hús máls og menningar is a live music bar underneath our apartment, so it would be rude not to stop there for a drink too. It’s a really cool place… as well as having live music every night, it’s also a large bookshop / library.

Get Breakfast in Reykjavik from Brauð & Co & Te & Kaffi

If you have one too many beers the night before you may be in need of some good coffee and pastries to get you ready for another day of exploring Iceland.

Before we leave Reykjavik and go to the Golden Circle, we definitely do!

Brauð & Co have us covered for pastries, and Te & Kaffi for coffee, with us getting takeaway so we can enjoy breakfast with the final view from our apartment.

Having read claims online that Brauð & Co sell the best pastries in Iceland, and Te & Kaffi serve the best coffee in Iceland, we had to try them. And while we didn’t try any rivals to compare, we can certainly believe both claims!

The pecan karamellusnudur and Icelandic marriage cake from Brauð & Co are both delicious. And the coffee from Te & Kaffi is great, very strong and gives us the kick-start to the day we need!

Reykjavik Street Art

Another of the cool and unexpected things we see in Reykjavik is the street art and architecture, some are very cool and interesting!

Where to stay in Reykjavik for great views… Room with a View!

We stayed at Room with a View apartments located right on Laugavegur. The location couldn’t be better, and the views we had from our apartment and huge balcony would be hard to beat to! And best of all it was very reasonably priced compared to most hotels we saw in Reykjavik, with us paying £150 a night for the stay.

What is the weather like in Reykjavik?

Mixed! No matter what time of year you visit Reykjavik, you should be prepared for all sorts of weather. During our day we had warm sunshine, wind, rain, hail, pretty much everything apart from snow! And we visited in May! It did give us some really cool views of how quickly the weather changes from our apartment though, check out this time-lapse of the rain rolling in and clearing…


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