We all love free activities when visiting a new city and Reykjavík is no different. Iceland seems to have a reputation for being an expensive place to travel to. And don’t get me wrong, yes it is expensive. But I’ve asked a few Iceland experts who’ve found some free things to do in Reykjavík during your stay. Plus a few paid for activities and things to do (sorry not everything in life is free!) Remember you are on holiday so why not treat yourself, I missed out visiting the Whale Museum last time but now I wish I had just paid to go!
Table of Contents
- 1 Free Things to do in Reykjavík
- 2 Things to do in Reykjavík (Up to 1000 ISK/ £7/ $10)
- 3 Things to do in Reykjavík (Up to 3000 ISK/ £20/ $30)
- 4 Day Tours from Reykjavík
Free Things to do in Reykjavík
Discover Reykjavik’s Street Art
By Kerri at Beer and Croissants
When I came to Iceland, I knew I would be impressed by the natural landscapes and all that Mother Nature had on offer. I didn’t, however, expect to see so much colour and vibrancy in the capital Reykjavík. The city is awash with the bright colours of the buildings, especially along the main street of Laugavegur. It provides a lift to a city environment that could otherwise be very dull, especially during the grey winter months.
Reykjavík is at the heart of a thriving street art scene, making itself known in what has become a growing global culture. It is along Laugavegur that you will first notice the impressive street art, covering sides of buildings, and in some instances, the entire building provides the backdrop for incredible street art.
It’s on fire hydrants, the fronts of shops, in tunnels and in hidden alleys. But done in such a beautiful way that it couldn’t be called anything but art.
Whilst there is plenty to see in the main streets, I highly recommend getting into the back streets. Here incredible murals covering entire walls and buildings fast became my favourites.
Take a Walk around the Harbour
Ok so I’m a bit of a boat geek and I love nothing more than wandering around a harbour looking at the cool boats! From the huge navy ships that you’ll something see in the harbour to some rather retro looking boats like the one above!
One of the great things is that you can stretch your legs and escape the city, whilst still have it in your sights! Looking across the water you can see the Harpa and Hallgrímskirkja Church.
And on the way back after all that exercise you can stop off and the Traditional Fish and Chip stand for a treat. Like anywhere in Iceland they accept card payments and I thought 1,590 ISK for my dinner was a bargain (in Iceland!)
Visit the Harpa
By Taryn at Happiest Outdoors
Cost: Free (or Guided tour 1,500 ISK)
No visit to Reykjavík is complete without a visit to Harpa, the city’s convention centre and concert hall on the harbour. The design was inspired by Icelandic nature. From a distance, the building looks like a giant glass rectangle. But once you get close and go inside, you will see that the geometric mirrors and crystalline glass panels mimic the shapes of the volcanic basalt rock columns you can find all over Iceland.
Explore the atrium and balconies to really appreciate the architecture from a few different vantage points. It’s a great place to take photos! Make sure you stop into Epal on the first floor. This great boutique sells contemporary Icelandic housewares and gifts that make great souvenirs.
The building itself is open to the public from 8 am until midnight every day and admission is free. If you are looking for more things to do you can go inside any of the performance spaces you can take a guided tour for ISK 1,500 (only offered in the summer). Or you can buy a ticket to attend one of the many music performances or comedy shows in both Icelandic and English. Visit Harpa’s website or the box office on the first floor to buy tickets.
Visit the Sun Voyager
By Bertaut & Alexis at World Travel Adventurers
One of the things to do in Reykjavík that is free and open 24 hours, is to visit the Sun Voyager sculpture. It is located a short walk from Harpa Concert Hall on the Sculpture and Shore Walk, 101 Reykjavík.
Admire the amazing view of the fjord Kollafjorour with Mt. Esja in the background as you walk along the ocean. Make sure to snap a photo of this famous sculpture that has become one of the best-known landmarks in Reykjavík.
This steel sculpture by Jon Gunnarsson of a Viking ship symbolizes the Viking past of the Icelanders, reminding visitors of when the first Viking settlers came sailing to Iceland with the hope of a better future. It is meant as an ode to the sun, a dreamboat taking you to a new world. Its artist intended to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom. Now that’s what travel is all about for us!
There are other sculptures along the shore walk, but this one is our favourite. You could easily spend a few hours strolling leisurely along the path. If you come at sunset you can capture gorgeous photos!
Go on the Free Walking Tour of Reykjavík
By Becky from Becky the Traveller
Cost: Free (Tip welcome)
In most big cities when looking for things to do you’ll find companies that organise ‘Free Walking Tours’. The concept is that you meet at a designated point each day, join the tour and if at the end you enjoyed then you leave a tip. I recently did a couple on my trip to Budapest and they were amazing.
The tour lasted about 2 hours and was a great way to orientate myself in the city, plus learn a few facts too! Did you know 3 out of 4 people in Iceland live in Reykjavík! You can find more information and book your tour here with Reykjavík City Walk
Check out my budget saving tips here – 15 ways to save money in Iceland
Things to do in Reykjavík (Up to 1000 ISK/ £7/ $10)
Visit Baejarins Beztu Pylsur for an Icelandic Hot Dog
By Eric and Lisa at Penguin and Pia
Cost: 490 ISK
When visiting Reykjavik, there’s an Icelandic delicacy that you just have to try. Don’t worry, it’s not fermented shark (hákarl). It’s the Icelandic Hotdog. The most famous version can be consumed in one place in Reykjavik: Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.
For a tiny hot dog stand built in 1937, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur has created quite the sensation over the decades. Built very close to the Harpa Concert and Conference Centre, this unassuming stand’s name means “the best hot dogs in town”, and has served locals, tourists, and celebrities alike.
Hot dogs in Iceland aren’t just good because they are a novelty – they are actually more delicious than what you might be accustomed to eating. It all begins with the meat. The Icelandic Hot Dog is made of lamb, then mixed with beef pork. The natural vegetation and cleaner environment are reflected in the meat’s flavour.
As for toppings, the standard order is “the works” or “eina með öllu” in Icelandic. This includes ketchup, sweet mustard, crispy onions, raw onions, and remolaði which is a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. Your hot dog will come on a warm bun that’s been steamed to perfection! One of these delicious snacks will cost you 490 ISK. So don’t forget to bring smaller bills (although you can pay on card)! Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is open daily from 10:00 am to 1:45 am.
Public Thermal Pools
By Inma at A World to Travel
Cost: 980 ISK (Children 6-17 years 160 ISK)
As stunning as this country is, and probably led by the strong will to see and do as much as possible within a week or 10 days on a classic Iceland road trip, I am pretty sure most tourists and visitors end up skipping one of Reykjavik’s hidden gems: its public thermal pools!
Run by the city of Reykjavík itself, there are a bunch of public sundlaugar – aka public thermal pools – that run with geothermal water in Reykjavík. They usually offer different steam baths, jacuzzi, saunas, and hot tubs and experiencing them – for a small fee – is a must.
Be aware though, that most of them will need you to shower fully naked ( in the changing room and showers area ) before going in the pools; what might come as a shocker for some people (like it did to me!). However, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Nudity is seen as natural and I can guarantee you no one will pay special attention to you.
Try an authentic Icelandic bakery
By Verity at Veritru
Cost: From 350-500 ISK
Located opposite the Hallgrímskirkja, Braud & Co is an authentic Icelandic bakery with a beautiful feel to it and a penchant for promoting local and Icelandic. Inside you can see up close and personal the bakers make their products, you practically feel like you are in making it with them you’re that close. Part of its charm is found before you even walk through to front door. As street art is commonly found in the city of Reykjavik, the building is covered in the most beautiful abstract graffiti in bright colours that hypnotise you into wanting to enter!
Here are some of our favourites from our time in Iceland.
- Snúður, a giant cinnamon roll type pastry that you can see being made in the photo.
- Vínarbrauð, a Danish type pastry, we had a range of them filled with apple, pears and nuts.
- Kleina, a fried pastry which is a bit like a doughnut with a twist, quite literally.
- They also bake a range of rye bread and sourdough bread which smell and taste divine!
Just whatever you do, do not leave with a snúður!
Hallgrímskirkja Observation Tower
By Catherine at We Go With Kids
Cost: 1,000 ISK (Children 7-15 years 100 ISK)
When visiting a new city, we always look for an opportunity to get a bird’s-eye view of the area. Hallgrímskirkja is Iceland’s largest church and one of its best-known landmarks. It is in the centre of Reykjavík and visible throughout the city. And the (239 ft/ 73 m) observation tower offers a perfect 360-degree panoramic view of the Reykjavík and its harbour.
Most cathedrals we have visited were built well before elevators were invented, and if you want to get to the tower, you need to climb many flights of narrow stairs. However, Hallgrímskirkja is a modern structure completed in 1986 and includes the convenience of elevators.
There is so much adventure in riding an elevator, but it is definitely more efficient. There were still a few steps to climb before you reach the viewing platform. Our kids really enjoyed checking out the view from each window. The view from the Hallgrímskirkja Observation Tower was our favourite view of Reykjavík.
There is no fee to enter Hallgrímskirkja itself, but admission to the tower and observation deck.
Things to do in Reykjavík (Up to 3000 ISK/ £20/ $30)
Icelandic Phallological Museum
By Robin Harwick & Stan Reed at LETgo:Grab Opportunity
Cost: 1500 ISK (1000 ISK for concessions)
For travellers looking for unique experiences, Iceland does not disappoint. The Icelandic Phallological Museum at Laugavegur 116 in Reykjavík is possibly the only museum in the world dedicated to phallic specimens. The museum is open daily from 10 am – 6 pm.
The founder Sigurður Hjartarson (born 1941), opened the museum in Húsavík in 1997. He is a fascinating man – a historian, retired principal and teacher. Hjartarson wrote and translated over 20 books, including textbooks, primarily on Latin American History. His son, Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson, relocated the museum to Reykjavík and has been the curator since 2011.
The museum has more than 250 penises and penile parts from land and sea mammals including whales, a polar bear, and human. There are also around 350 “artistic oddments and practical utensils.” A visitor to the museum learns that penises truly come in many shapes and sizes!
Visit Reykjavik’s Whale Museum
By Laurence at Finding the Universe
Cost: 2,900 ISK (Children 7-17 years 1,500 ISK)
One of the most popular day trips from Reykjavik is whale watching, but if you don’t have the time to do a trip or the weather means it’s not possible, then the next best thing you can do is visit the Whales of Iceland exhibition in Reykjavík. This is the largest exhibition of its kind in the world, and features life-size models of all the whale species found off the coast of Iceland – 23 to be exact!
As you are probably aware, whales are quite big, and to see all the species in their actual size as you walk around the cavernous exhibition space is quite jaw-dropping. In particular, the full-size model of the blue whale – the Earth’s largest animal – is very impressive. The models are all hand painted, and given features to make them as realistic as possible.
As well as the huge whale models, the exhibition also has a number of interactive panels so can learn about the whales of Iceland, an audio guide, an interactive VR experience and a number of short films about whales.
Indoor Ice Cave in Reykjavík
By Tim at Universal Traveller
Cost: 2,900 ISK (Children 6 – 15 years 1,450 ISK)
When you are in Reykjavík you should definitely visit the first man-made indoor ice cave – in the middle of the city in the new Perlan Museum. Before the 10 to 15 minutes tour through the tunnel starts you have the chance to enjoy some amazing photos of Iceland.
The temperature inside the ice tunnel is constant -10° or 14F. It is possible to rent a vest to keep you warm. During the tour, you will learn more about glaciers and the effects of climate change and the disappearance of the glaciers in Iceland.
After the tour, you can visit an interactive exhibition about glaciers in Iceland and the observation deck which offers a 360° view of Reykjavík. Both are included in your ticket!
The exhibition is open every day from 9 am to 7 PM and cost 2,900 ISK for adults and 1,450 ISK for children between 6 and 15 years. There is a free shuttle every half an hour from Harpa concert hall to the museum.
Take a ride on Reykjavik’s Hop on/Hop off bus
Cost: 4,000 ISK (Children 12 – 15 years 2,000 ISK)
Relax and enjoy great views from the top of the Big Red Bus. You have to sit at the top, don’t you! These popular buses are in all the big cities and will take you on a tour around the city, allowing you to Hop on and hop off when you fancy.
The buses go from outside the Harpa Concert Hall every 30 minutes from 09.30 to 16.30. More information here.
Day Tours from Reykjavík
Go on a whale watching tour
By Natasha & Cameron at The World Pursuit Travel
Cost: 10,000 ISK/ £70/ $100
One of the best the tours to take out of Reykjavík has to be a whale watching tour. It’s the perfect experience for anyone who loves wildlife. Of course, many people have never been fortunate enough to see a whale before, so if you’re in Reykjavík going on a tour provides a good chance of seeing one!
All whale watching tours start at the Reykjavík harbour, which is walkable from just about anywhere in Reykjavík. We went with the company “Special Tours” and the comfort inside and out was fantastic. There’s a wonderful viewing platform, and even had Wi-Fi and a small café on board.
The crew onboard will teach you about local marine life and prepare you for some epic whale watching viewing! You’ll see the Minke Whales, White-Beaked Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises and Humpback Whales off the coast of Iceland. The tour takes around three hours, runs every day, and costs around $100 for the excursion.
Northern Lights Tours from Reykjavík
By Rachel at From East to West
Cost: From 5,000 ISK/ £35/ $50
If you are visiting Reykjavík from September to March, there’s a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights and you should do anything in your power to do so.
In the countryside hotels of Iceland it is much easier to see them without leaving the premises, but with the city lights of Reykjavík, you need to go outside of the city.
A bunch of different companies offer Northern Lights tours in Reykjavík where they take you driving for a few hours and stop at secluded dark locations to (hopefully) watch. We booked with Sterna Travel $57 by bus from Reykjavík (they provided hot chocolate!)
The Auroras are never guaranteed, of course, but all the companies decide at 6 pm the day of if they are going to go ahead (depending on the forecast) and if they don’t, you can reschedule for another night for free. This is the best way to see the Northern Lights if your base is in Reykjavík while visiting.
You can also decide to do any of the tours on the day of if you only have one night in the city and can’t reschedule. Any of these companies are reputable and they usually pick you up from your hotel directly or will have you meet at the Opera House in the city centre. All of the tours leave around 8 or 9 pm and come back between 11 pm and 12 AM depending on the lights.
For more things to do on your trip, check out some Iceland travel inspiration here.
More tours from Reykjavík
Have you visited Iceland? Did you find any more free things to do in Reykjavík? Tell me in the comments (please!)
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*Exchange rate £1 = 143 ISK $1 = 100 ISK