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How to Spend the Perfect One day in Reykjavik Itinerary

Last Updated on 27th February 2023 by Sophie Nadeau

Are you planning on visiting Reykjavik during a wider Iceland trip? The capital of Iceland is brimming with cultural attractions and a plethora of history, all just waiting to be tapped into. Here’s how to spend the perfect one day in Reykjavik itinerary, as well as what to know before you go. 

While most people’s Iceland adventures focus on the country’s phenomenal nature (and it should – the waterfalls, beaches and glaciers are otherworldly!), there’s plenty to do in Reykjavik as well. 

I recently spent a few days in Reykjavik, and I highly recommend adding at least one day onto your trip to the country to enjoy all of the capital’s highlights!

Reykjavik/ VicPhotoria/ Shutterstock

Suggested itinerary for one day in Reykjavik

Sunrise at the sculptures and shore walk

Whether you’ll be able to catch the sunrise at the Sculptures and Shore Walk largely depends on what time of year you’re visiting Reykjavik. 

However, if you’re visiting Iceland in the winter months, sunrise will be as late as 11:00 am in late December and early January – and one of the best places to catch the sunrise is the Sculptures and Shores Walk. 

This is a short, flat stroll along Reykjavik’s coastline, where you can take in various notable statues. Most famous is the Sun Voyager, a statue of a boat that represents a homage to Iceland’s sun.

Sun Voyager monument
Sun Voyager monument/ Anastasiia Skorobogatova/ Shutterstock

Climb to the top of Hallgrimskirkja

Once the sun has climbed over the horizon, head to Hallgrimskirkja. It’s a  15 minute walk between the two attractions; pass by Lake Tjörnin if you want to see Reykjavik’s glimmering city centre waters. 

If you walk past Lake Tjörnin, make sure that you walk up Rainbow Street, one of the most instagrammable places in the capital city! It was painted to support Reykjavik’s LGBTQIA+ community, taking inspiration from Seyðisfjörður in West Iceland, where there’s another rainbow road. 

This road is lined with cosy cafes and independent shops, and Hallgrimskirkja sits at the end. There’s also lots of fantastic street art in this area. 

Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutheran church, dating back to 1986. It’s supposed to represent the fire and other elements of Iceland and some have also said that it symbolises Thor’s hammer. 

You can enter the church; it’s quite bare compared to the intricate Catholic churches in Southern Europe, but there is an impressive organ. 

From the church’s ground floor, you can ascend in a lift to near the top, then there are stairs going up to the viewpoint. From the top of the Hallgrimskirkja, you can take in incredible views spanning over Reykjavik, including the waters of Faxaflói Bay and the surrounding mountains.

Hallgrimskirkja/ RPBaiao/ Shutterstock

FlyOver Iceland experience

From the church, you can walk to Bíó Paradís and then the 14 bus to Grunnslóð, which is right by FlyOver Iceland. FlyOver Iceland is an immersive virtual flight experience where you’ll take in the wonders of the country in all seasons.

The immersive flight only lasts ten minutes, but you’ll visit some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Iceland; some local people have visited the attraction and have come out crying because they didn’t know their country was so beautiful!

Your entrance ticket also includes a display of a traditional Icelandic house and an immersive exhibition detailing Iceland’s ogres. 

Saga Museum

If you want to visit a museum on your day in Reykjavik, the Saga Museum is nearby and details the story of Iceland’s first settlers – the Vikings – through their fascinating stories. 

It’s an immersive museum that’ll help you learn all about the origins of the country, depicting how the first settlers came to Iceland, how the first Viking parliament was formed and how the country’s culture was formed on sagas (Viking stories). 

Maritime Museum

You might not have time to visit both museums, but if you’re more interested in the ocean rather than Icelandic history, head to the Maritime Museum. 

Being an island, Iceland has an intricate connection with the water around it; and you can learn all about this in the maritime museum, which boasts a display of boats, information about fishing and the marine life that you’ll find in the water. 

Afternoon whale-watching tour

From Reykjavik, you can partake in a whale-watching tour to see some of the best beasts in the ocean. 

You can go whale watching any time of year – while they’re more common in the spring and early summer months, the waters around Reykjavik are so abundant with minerals that whales feed throughout the seasons!

Dinner at Dill’s Restuarant

Icelandic cuisine has a bit of a reputation for being rather pricey, but it’s worth visiting one of Reykjavik’s top restaurants if you’re into gastronomy!

Dill’s Restaurant is one of the highest-rated in the country; it’s earned a prestigious Michelin star. They serve fresh Icelandic fish, lamb that the country is known for and some vegetarian specialties. 

Seasonal evening activity

Your evening activity will depend on what time of year you visit. If you’re in Reykjavik in the winter months, you might have a chance of seeing the northern lights, as the sun sets as early as 3:30 pm and the nights are very dark. 

Or, if you’re in Iceland during the summer, it’ll stay light until extremely late (and in June, the sun doesn’t even really set!), which means that you’ll enjoy daylight in the Blue Lagoon! 

Option 1: Northern lights tour

The Icelandic northern lights are at their best in January and December, which are the darkest months of the year. 

However, if you’re visiting any time from October to April, you could be in for a chance of seeing this solar spectacle; they light up the dark horizons of the sea and countryside around Reykjavik most nights in the winter (although it’s never guaranteed that you’ll see them!). 

You can either do a northern lights boat tour or a bus tour to some of the best northern lights-watching spots in Iceland’s countryside. 

Option 2: Blue Lagoon trip

If you’re visiting Iceland in the summer, you could spend the evening soaking in one of the country’s best attractions – the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. 

The Blue Lagoon is open in the winter, but in the summer months, it stays open until midnight, giving tourists the unique opportunity to bask in the midnight sun!

Iceland is renowned for its warm geothermal waters, and the Blue Lagoon especially is said to have numerous health benefits thanks to the presence of minerals within the water. Soak in the spa, apply a silica face mask or enjoy drinks at the bar – your first drink is included in most packages! 

You can visit the Blue Lagoon independently if you have a hire car; simply self-drive the 45 minutes from Reykjavik and park right outside. Or, if you aren’t hiring a car while in Iceland, there are plenty of tours that include transport from the capital such as these ones.

blue lagoon iceland
Blue Lagoon/ Puripat Lertpunyaroj/ Shutterstock

Where to stay in Reykjavik

Reykjavik Lights Hotel is a chic place to stay, with minimalist yet stylish rooms, beautiful mountain views and a great breakfast buffet served each morning. It is about a half hour walk to the city centre from here, but frequent buses connect it with the rest of Reykjavik. 

For a city centre residence, check out Foss Hotel. This hotel has modern bedrooms with comfortable beds and contemporary furniture, a large lobby with a restaurant and bar and a fitness centre. 

Other things to do in Iceland

After you’ve spent your day in Reykjavik, there’s plenty to do in the surrounding countryside too! In fact, many tourists opt to spend a day in the capital before enjoying some other tours around Iceland. They include: 

Golden Circle

Named so because it features all of Iceland’s best natural phenomena in a small route (waterfalls, geysers, craters and more!), the Golden Circle is the must-visit trip that you need to do when visiting Iceland. You can hire a car and visit on an independent road trip, or there are a few tours bookable on Get Your Guide

Great Geysir exploding in the Golden Circle
Great Geysir exploding in the Golden Circle/ Ash Zombola/ Shutterstock

Southern Iceland 

Southern Iceland is home to dramatic waterfalls, black sand beaches and the picturesque town of Vik. Highlights include Reynisfjara, with jagged stacks leading out into the sea and Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls. Again, you can tour Southern Iceland independently or book a tour on Get Your Guide. 

Reynisfjara/ Andrey Bayda/ Shutterstock

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Known as “Iceland in miniature”, Snæfellsnes Peninsula boasts fjords, a craggy coastline and dramatic mountains. Most famous is Mount Kirkjufell, which soars 463 metres and has a dramatic waterfall in front.

It’s thought to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland, and it’s beautiful across the seasons! Tours are also available on Get Your Guide. 

Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Snæfellsnes Peninsula/ Gianfranco Vivi/ Shutterstock

Tips for visiting Reykjavik

Here are some tips to make the most out of visiting Reykjavik! 

  • Save money where you can: If you’re travelling on a budget, you can save money by not drinking (alcohol is expensive!), making your own sandwiches where possible and making the most of free activities. 
  • Check the weather: The weather in Reykjavik can range from -15°C to 10°C in the winter months, and 5°C to 25°C in the summer, but it can really vary with rain, snow and everything in between! Pack accordingly, with coats and rain gear when necessary. 
  • You don’t need cash: You can pay for everything in Reykjavik on card, including attractions, shops and taxis! You’ll only need cash if you’re venturing to more off-the-beaten-track Iceland. 
Reykjavik/ BBandSIRI/ Shutterstock

Are you ready to spend 24 hours in Reykjavik?

One day in Reykjavik isn’t quite enough to see all of the Icelandic capital’s best attractions, but you’ll love exploring this charismatic Nordic city, whatever the season. 

With ample museums, immersive experiences and plenty of culture, this city has something for every season. If you have rainy days while you’re in Iceland, then you might want to see Reykjavik on this day – but it’s well worth spending a day in the capital city even if you have wall-to-wall sunshine. It’s the kind of place that’s perfect for any weather!

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Claire Martin is a travel blogger and freelance writer who specialises in overland adventures. She’s drove around Australia, travelled from Bali to London without flying, lived in Mexico and has spent many months exploring Europe. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Claire’s Footsteps

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