Reykjavik is the capital and largest city in Iceland. It sits on the southeastern side of the island on the waterfront, and has seen a large influx of tourists in the last couple of years. This is due to Iceland’s tourism sector booming, with people catching on to all the magical and mysterious things there are to discover in this fascinating country!
Many people flying across the Atlantic Ocean stop in Reykjavik for a layover, and may have 24 hours in Reykjavik (or less!) to spare before their next flight. Others may be heading to explore the Golden Circle, the Snaefellsnes peninsula or the Westfjords, like I did. Whatever your reason for visiting this northernmost capital in the world, there is much to do in one day in Reykjavik.
We arrived in Reykjavik in the afternoon of our penultimate day, so we got to spend 24 hours in the city before setting off again after lunch the next day. In this time I toured around the city as much as possible, seeing all the main highlights and must-sees of Reykjavik. In this guide I’ve outlined the top sights and things to do during your one day in Reykjavik, and helpful tips like where to stay, where to eat and what to pack!
- 1 Getting around Reykjavik, Iceland
- 2 Where to stay in Reykjavik
- 3 My favourite places to visit in Reykjavik in one day
- 4 Ideas for a second day in Reykjavik
- 5 Packing tips for one day in Reykjavik
Getting around Reykjavik, Iceland
So, you’ve arrived at Keflavik Airport, and need to get to Reykjavik? No problem! It’s easy to book airport transportation in advance through Flybus by specifying the date of arrival, and the buses depart every 35-40 minutes after any flight arrival. You can also book the bus at the airport when you arrive, and enjoy a coffee while you stretch your legs and wait for the next bus.
Another option is to rent a car, which may be useful if you are planning on heading further afield than Reykjavik to explore the many treasures of majestic Iceland! Reykjavik itself is a very walkable city, and if you are centrally located you’ll have no problem exploring the best of Reykjavik in one day on foot.
Where to stay in Reykjavik
If your time in Reykjavik is limited to one day, it’s definitely best to stay somewhere centrally located. The city is small, and so anywhere in the city will be close enough to get to all of the best attractions in 24 hours in Reykjavik.
I’d recommend staying somewhere close to Laugavegur Street, as it has many bars and restaurants and is where you’ll find the main shopping area. It is also a short distance from the waterfront and from the best spots that we visit in this guide. I stayed at the Fosshótel Rauðará which was simple but also very cosy, and a short walk away from all the main attractions.
My favourite places to visit in Reykjavik in one day
Reykjavik was the starting and ending point of our Iceland 7-day trip. It’s the capital of Iceland, with two-thirds of the population living there. We didn’t get the opportunity to visit the city at the start of the trip since we landed late at night and set off early in the morning.
On the way back from the Westfjords we did a bit of a tour of the Snæfellsnes peninsula and stopped at some of Iceland’s most iconic landmarks and points of interest! We then got to spend a day in Reykjavik, exploring all the must-see places in the city that I recommend in this one day Reykjavik itinerary!
Perlan Science Museum with 360° views
Our first stop was Perlan, the latest science museum, which has some spectacular exhibitions. Perlan also has an the observation deck, with the most incredible 360° view all over the rooftops of Reykjavik. Perlan is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. It stands 61-metres above sea level on the top of Öskjuhlíð Hill in the heart of Reykjavik. This landmark building is made out of an immense glass dome that sits on six hot water tanks and is now home to the largest exhibition of Iceland’s natural wonders.
Scientists and artists have used technologies to recreate the natural wonders of Iceland and educate visitors about Iceland’s glaciers, volcanoes, oceanic wonders and unusual life forms. Here you’ll find a real man-made indoor ice cave that is the very first of its kind in the world! It’s quite a feat and fascinating to see, spanning over 100 metres and made from 350 tons of snow from Icelandic mountains!
Harpa Concert Hall
Next, we headed to the waterfront and came across the prominent Harpa Concert Hall. It’s amazing just to look at even from the outside, made up of three-dimensional glass panels that are created in the same hexagonal shape as Iceland’s basalt rocks. The concert hall was opened in 2011 and has quickly become one of the most famous Reykjavik attractions! It glistens with the light that is reflected from the sea and the sky by day and is lit by colourful lights at nighttime.
You should definitely pop in for a visit to to fully appreciate it. There’s also a bar, restaurant and a gift shop with a terrace that offers amazing views of the harbour and surrounding mountains. The concert hall is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and offers a rich programme of events, so if you have two days in Reykjavik it may be something worth checking out!
Walk along the harbour
I was there on a sunny day so it was lovely simply strolling along the scenic harbour admiring the views of the distant mountains across the water. You’ll also find an iconic sculpture along the edge of the water called Sólfar, or Sun Voyager.
It is created as an ode to the sun, and to the promise of undiscovered territory and freedom. The sculpture is one of the most iconic sculptures in Iceland. It resembles a skeletal Viking ship and is simple but striking, set in front of the Atlantic with incredible snow-capped mountains as its backdrop.
If you get there just before the sun sets, it also creates a beautiful photograph with the silhouette of the sculpture standing against the changing colours of the sky!
Eat at Svarta Kaffid
I had lunch at a place called Svarta Kaffid, which claims to be the best soup in Reykjavik, and it really was awesome! They only serve two soups, a vegetarian one and a meat one, and it comes in a bowl made of bread, which you can then also eat. There was a considerable queue when I arrived but it goes by quickly and was definitely worth the wait! I highly recommend it.
Hallgrimskirkja is a 75-metre church that towers above all other buildings in Reykjavik. It’s built from white concrete and was created by the state architect Guðjón Samúelsson in the 1940s.
Inspired by Iceland’s geology (like many attractions in Iceland), the Church has columns on each side, with the front of the structure seeming to flow downwards towards the ground like a waterfall, and the kind of rock formations you get when lava cools. I found it rather interesting that because the design was controversial at the time, it took 38 years to complete!
You can also choose to buy a ticket for the elevator that takes you to the top of the tower to get another great view of the cities colourful rooftops from the 6th tallest structure in Iceland!
Laugavegur is Iceland’s main shopping street and a great place to check out the cool clothing and homewares, and maybe get some souvenirs to take home with you from the gift shops. I loved the lopapeysa (cosy Icelandic woollen jumpers) and lava rock jewellery.
Grab a coffee or a freshly squeezed juice and then spend some time admiring the street art and the colourful houses of Reykjavik! The locals are very creative people and the city has a great focus on design, and you’ll find some really amazing buildings that have become a blank canvas for street art!
The works of art are often commissioned or granted permission from the owner so these large murals cover the sides of buildings and walls at city parks, and give the city character and life through all the vibrant colours!
Ideas for a second day in Reykjavik
If you’re staying in Reykjavik longer than one day, there are loads of day trips from Reykjavik that will take you to some incredible places. Having seen all of the main highlights on your first day, these are some cool spots outside the city that you can explore if you have to days in Reykjavik.
Blue Lagoon Thermal Pools
If you’re spending another day in Reykjavik, you can visit the Blue Lagoon thermal pools! These are possibly the most famous hot water lagoon in Iceland, and the perfect place to relax and unwind after all the exploring and sightseeing! The locals will tell you its over hyped and over priced, but with its steaming blue waters and beautiful scenery, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular!
They are located about 45 minutes from Reykjavik in the direction of the airport, so you could even stop off there on the way to or from the city, or even book a return trip from Reykjavik. Just make sure you make a booking for the pools in advance as it can get quite busy!
Þingvellir National Park
A bit further afield, you’ll find the Þingvellir National Park, which makes an awesome day trip from Reykjavik! with stunning landscapes and incredible walking routes around the park. Get up close to the spouting geyser at Strokkur and hear the thundering roar of the Gullfoss Waterfalls. You can also get in the freezing waters found between the two tectonic plates if you’re feeling brave, or simply relax in the geothermal baths!
Packing tips for one day in Reykjavik
Even if you’re visiting Iceland in the summer months, it can get pretty chilly! Be sure to pack warm clothes to bundle up as cool temperatures and freezing winds can pick up at any time of the year! There’s a popular saying in Iceland that says; “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait 10 minutes”, that gives you an idea of just how variable it is!
If you’re planning on making the most of the geothermal pools, pack a swimsuit. Bring sunglasses for driving with the low sun in the sky, and a water bottle to refill on the go, tap water is drinkable in Iceland and even the locals recommend it, it will save you money and reduce single use plastic consumption! For more Iceland packing advice check out my full Iceland summer packing list.
Final thoughts on one day in Reykjavik
Iceland is an amazing and intriguing place that appeals to the curious and adventurous travellers. There is such a big focus on the natural wonders of Iceland that few people stop to really explore the fun things to do in Reykjaik. Reykjavik often exceeds the expectations of many visitors, even the ones who only have time to explore it all in one jam-packed day!
I loved walking around the city looking at the stereotypical coloured houses, and perusing the small shops and restaurants that are dotted all around. Spending one day in Reykjavik allowed us to explore and feel the vibrant atmosphere of the small city.
It’s also a great starting point to a longer trip driving around the Ring Road, as we did. I hope you have found this guide useful in helping you plan what to do in Reykjavik for a day! I want to return to Iceland, maybe in winter next time, to see the northern lights, to discover the many more amazing natural wonders and explore more of the colourful streets of Reykjavik.
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