Reykjavík: Iceland’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
Whether you prefer colorful northern lights, exciting museums, or fantastic festivals – you can experience them all in Reykjavík. We’re here to show you what Europe’s northernmost capital has to offer. To do so, we’ve collected the basic facts about the city and listed its 10 most exciting sights. After reading this article, you’ll be well-prepared for your trip to Reykjavík and ready to book your flights.
Reykjavík in a Nutshell
As the largest volcanic island in the world, Iceland looks quite isolated on a map. Although it’s in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, however, its size makes it hard to miss. Due to its unique location, the volcanic activities, and the warm ocean currents, the Icelandic climate is rather mild.
The capital Reykjavík is located in the southwest of the country. It’s the island’s oldest permanently inhabited city and has a population of almost 130,000 people. The area is famous for the steam rising up from hot springs under the earth, which gave rise to its nickname “Bay of Smokes”, or Reykjavík.
June, July, and August are the best months for a trip to Reykjavík, because this is when it rains the least. Keep in mind, however, that the Northern Lights are most frequent between September and March. But no matter what time you decide to visit Reykjavík, you’ll always be able to try the Icelandic national dish, Hákarl. We recommend only trying this delicacy if you have a strong stomach, however, because it’s made from fermented Greenland shark.
The Food and Fun Festival in March is a great opportunity to experience Iceland’s other culinary treats. Don’t miss this chance to try meals prepared by the best chefs in the city. If you’re a fan of music, we recommend visiting the Dark Music Days in January. They take place in the middle of winter, and give contemporary Icelandic artists a stage to perform their songs. In November, when the nights are particularly long, you can also visit the Winter Lights Festival. This is when Reykjavík shines in the most beautiful colors, and the city’s museums and thermal pools put on special events. Although these three festivals are our favorite ones in Reykjavík, there are, of course, many other exciting events to experience in the Icelandic capital.
There are no train lines in Reykjavík. This does not mean, however, that you have to rely on a car. You can easily get around the city by bus or on foot. You will probably arrive at Keflavík airport, from where you can easily get a bus to the city center.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Reykjavík
Now that we’ve covered the basic facts about the Icelandic capital, we want to introduce you to some of the exciting sights you can see during your time here. No matter which ones you decide on visiting, we can guarantee that you’ll never be bored in Reykjavík!
We should warn you, however, that there are two brands you won’t find in Iceland. Both Starbucks and McDonald’s don’t have any stores here. We’re sure you’ll still manage to find some delicious coffee and burgers in Reykjavík, though. Now that we’ve got this warning out of the way, let’s get started on our list with the 10 most exciting sights in the city!
If you want to learn about the history and landscape of Iceland, you should visit Perlan, Reykjavík’s hot water reservoir. The “Wonders of Iceland” museum is also located here. You can admire an artificial glacier as well as walk through an ice cave here – isn’t modern technology just amazing? Don’t forget to visit the impressive planetarium as well.
You can also find a restaurant here in case you get hungry. The restaurant is an attraction in itself, because it revolves and therefore allows you to have a spectacular view over all of Reykjavík. In addition, you can try many different local delicacies here.
Perlan is just a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, especially on a rainy day!
The Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík
The Hallgrímskirkja is well worth a visit, mainly because of its impressive architectural design. The stepped walls of Iceland’s largest church look like they almost lead straight to the heavens. The cathedral also houses a German organ, whose beautiful melodies you can hear during a church service. For a small entrance fee, you can also visit the church’s tower. You will have a magnificent view over the city from up there.
The statue in front of the church depicts Leif Erikson and was a gift from the United States of America. The Icelandic adventurer was the first European visitor to the American continent.
Whales of Iceland
You love the sea and are fascinated by the giant whales that live in it? Then the “Whales of Iceland” museum is the perfect place for you. Here, you will not only learn exciting facts about these impressive mammals but also see true-to-life models of them. Don’t miss out on the exciting opportunity to follow the real-time movements of some Icelandic whales through GPS tracking!
There is also a great app to guide you through the museum. After your visit, you can get a souvenir from the gift shop or have a drink at the museum’s café.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum
In Reykjavík, you will also find some bizarre museums, such as the one dedicated to the genitalia of male animals.
In total, there are over 300 exhibits in this museum from a variety of animal species, most of which are mammals. You will probably never forget this experience, and it will definitely make a great story to tell your friends at home.
After visiting the Phallological Museum, take a stroll through the nearby shopping street Laugavegur. You can make your way through the many small souvenir stores, try out one of the fantastic restaurants, and experience Reykjavík’s nightlife in the many bars and clubs here.
Laugavegur is named after its historical function. The street leads to the hot springs where people used to wash their laundry, which is why the street is called “Washing Road.”
Imagine Peace Tower
The Imagine Peace Tower is a column of light that reaches up to four kilometers into the sky. It’s a memorial to John Lennon and is meant to remind people all over the world that love and peace is what ties us together. That’s why it has “Imagine Peace” written on it in 24 languages.
The tower is located on the small island of Viðey, which we also highly recommend visiting. With a bit of luck, you can even see the monument surrounded by colorful auroras. But in any case, it’s always an experience that is guaranteed to give you goosebumps!
The Sun Voyager
You don’t have any plans for the evening and want to admire the sunset? Then visit the Sun Voyager! This sculpture was made in 1986 by the Icelandic artist Jón Gunnar Árnason. It depicts a Viking ship, and its steel material shines wonderfully in the light of the setting sun. But, of course, it looks great in photos no matter the time of day!
Reykjavík also has its own small beach, Nauthólsvík. It’s filled with warm thermal water, which has a temperature of 15 °C to 19 °C in summer.
The water temperature may still seem a little cold, but this is supposed to be good for the immune system. However, you should know your limits and never go swimming there on your own. For some people, such low temperatures can actually be dangerous. If it’s too cold or risky for you, you can also just get into a warm whirlpool or relax in a sauna. In the summer, you can also go sailing here.
Interestingly, the sand on the beach is not from Iceland but from Morocco. Despite this slightly unexpected feature, a trip to Nauthólsvík is always well worth it.
The Botanical Garden of Reykjavík
Reykjavík’s Botanical Garden gives you the opportunity to relax and admire the flora of this Nordic country. The park opened in 1961 and is home to 3,000 different species of plants. If you’re here in the summer, we highly recommend taking part in a guided tour through the garden. Why not finish your visit here with a coffee break at the Flóran Café? Whether you want to walk around and explore or just sit down and relax, you’ll always have a wonderful time at Reykjavík’s Botanical Garden!
The Golden Circle
If the weather is perfect for a day trip into the countryside, then we recommend following the “Golden Circle”. It’s 45 minutes by car from Reykjavík, but it’s definitely worth the drive! It allows you to visit three different yet equally beautiful places.
The first stop is the Thingvellir National Park, where you can see the full force of the Eurasian and North American continental plates. They are continuously drifting apart, creating a majestic canyon in the process. You can also go diving in the park. The crystal clear water makes this a truly unforgettable experience.
The next stop is the “Great Geysir”. Unfortunately, its eruption is a somewhat rare sight, but when it does happen, it’s also incredibly impressive – in 2000, the Geysir reached a height of more than 120 meters. If you really want to see a geyser in action, check out nearby Strokkur. It spews water up to 35 meters into the air every couple of minutes.
The last stop on your adventure will be Gullfoss – also called the “Golden Falls”. This waterfall consists of two levels, with the water falling over 21 meters down into a gorge. Don’t miss out on this absolutely spectacular sight!
Europe’s northernmost capital is definitely worth a visit. There are all kinds of fantastic sights to discover here. Are you in the mood for some exciting events? No problem – check out the Dark Music Days and the Winter Lights Festival! If you’d rather try Iceland’s national dish, then the Food and Fun Festival is the place for you.
That’s not all, though! Reykjavík has so much more to offer. In this city, you can immerse yourself in many different worlds. Explore Iceland’s natural world, which you can admire in both Perlan and the Botanical Garden. If you’re an animal lover, then the Whales of Iceland museum is the place for you. A visit to the Phallus Museum is also always a memorable experience.
If you ever grow tired from all the museums and sightseeing, don’t worry, because Reykjavík also offers plenty of opportunities for you to relax. The artificially created thermal bay Nauthólsvík or the Imagine Peace Tower, for example, are ideal for spending a day away from the busy city center. If you want to venture further into the countryside, we recommend driving along the “Golden Circle”. After all, no visit to Iceland is complete without seeing some spectacular geysers and waterfalls!
As you can see, we love Reykjavík – and we’re sure that you will too! There is so much to discover in the Icelandic capital, and you can be sure to have an unforgettable time here. So, what are you waiting for?