If you’ve decided to come camping in Iceland, chances are you’re going to spend some time in the country’s main city, Reykjavik. Our international visitors usually fly into Keflavik International Airport (KEF) and spend a day or two in the capital and then head out on their trip around Iceland’s Ring Road. So if you’ve got 24 hours in Reykjavik, what is there to see and do? What are some sightseeing destinations and other hotspots to include on your itinerary? From Laugavegur street to Sandholt bakery to Hallgrímskirkja church, There are several places of interest you absolutely don’t want to miss while exploring the streets of this contemporary Scandinavian town. So whether you’re here for a quick stopover before starting or ending your Iceland trip or you simply have a 24-hour layover before heading to another destination, here’s how I recommend spending 24 hours in Reykjavik.
Morning in Reykjavik: Breakfast and Sightseeing
When spending a day in Reykjavik, there are several things to check off your to-do list. Start the morning off right with a freshly baked pastry from one of the city’s many cafés and bakeries. Bonus points if you find a shop selling kleina. These tasty, fried strips of dough sprinkled with powdered sugar are Iceland’s version of the donut. Except, they’re much yummier. Some of Reykjavik’s best bakeries are Brauð & Co, Sandholt bakery, Passion Reykjavik, and Bernhöftsbakarí.
After picking up a cup of coffee and a delicious baked treat, you’re now fueled up and ready to begin your day. It’s time for a quick sightseeing walk around Reykjavik. You can either sign up for one of the free city tours or do it yourself. Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran church sits atop a small hill and gives you a great view of the colorfully painted houses and rooftops that Reykjavik is so well known for. Be sure you stop by the Sun Voyager statue along the city’s waterfront. Harpa Concert Hall and its futuristic architecture are also must-sees. The WOW Citybikes are another great option for exploring.
Other Morning Activities: A Whale Watching Tour
Lastly, if you’re here during the summer, take advantage of the nice weather and head out on a boat into Reykjavik’s Faxa Bay. The gentle giants of the water and multiple marine species create a magical experience for seasoned and beginner whale watchers alike. While tour operators in Iceland’s capital have whale watching excursions year round, your best bet is to try to spot them between the months of April and October. Peak whale watching season happens during the summer months of June, July, and August.
After exploring in the morning, be sure to grab a bite to eat before continuing with your day. Hlemmur food hall has ten vendors with all different types of food. Everything from Vietnamese cuisine to Mexican tacos to Danish open-faced sandwiches. Or make like the locals and grab a hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, the famous chain of hot dog stands. Be sure to ask for “ein með öllu” (one with everything) when ordering.
Afternoon in Reykjavik: Shopping and Museums
You’ve spent the morning doing some of the more traditional tourist activities. Now it’s time to hit Laugavegur, also known as Rekyavik’s hippest street. This trendy thoroughfare serves as both the daytime heart of the city’s shopping district as well as the epicenter of its cracking nightlife. The eclectic collection of stores runs the gamut from vintage shops to Scandinavian design to bookshops and stores filled with knick-knacks. Favorite stops include Mál og Menning, Spúútnik, Kiosk, and Hrím.
After you’ve shopped till you dropped, it’s time to get to know the cultural side of Iceland. There are a plethora of museums here, and you’ll definitely find something for everyone. If you’re interested in Iceland’s Viking past, then Viking World, the Saga Museum, and the Settlement Exhibition need to be on your radar. Between these three locations, you’ll find lifelike displays of how people lived back then, Viking costumes that you can try on, and even a 9th-century Viking ship that you can climb aboard. Immerse yourself in the history of the Vikings.
You’ve also got the Reykjavik Art Museum, the Punk Rock Museum, the Phallological Museum, the National Museum of Iceland, the Maritime Museum, the Whale Museum, and a dozen more.
Evening in Reykjavik: Dining and Nightlife
Now that you’ve had a lovely morning and afternoon in Reykjavik, let’s head out once more. It’s time to participate in two things the city is well known for: fine dining and legendary nightlife. Downtown Reykjavik has tons of great dining options, including Dill, the first restaurant on the island to receive a Michelin star. And of course, you know there are tons of wonderful locales for seafood. Fish Company and Fish Market are particular favorites. If you’re looking for traditional Icelandic food, sometimes with a twist, head to Grillmarkaðurinn, Kopar, or Kol restaurants.
Finally, finish up your day in the city by enjoying some of Reykjavik’s renowned nightlife. Things start late here, usually around 1 a.m., so be prepared for a long night. You’ll be spending most of your time on Laugavegur and the surrounding streets of Bankastræti, and Skólavörðustígur. Some of Reykjavik’s best bars and clubs are the Lebowski Bar, Islenski Barinn Icelandic Bar, Kaffibarnin, and Húrra. Other options are Ölstofa, Gaukurinn, Micro Bar, Kaldi Bar, and Skuli Craft Bar.
Another nighttime option is viewing the Aurora Borealis. If you find yourself in Reykjavik from mid-September to mid-March, think about taking a Northern Lights excursion.
24 Hours in Reykjavík: A One-Day Itinerary
Wow! It’s been a jam-packed 24 hours in Reykjavik. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed your day experiencing all the best that the capital has to offer. If you have a flexible schedule before hitting the road, it’s always good to spend a little bit more time here. But if you’ve got a bit of a time crunch, this itinerary should suit you just fine. Let us know about your day out and if you have any suggestions for travelers visiting.