A self-guided walking tour in Reykjavik is one of the best ways to learn more about this great city at your own pace. The city is set out perfectly for exploring on foot, and some of the best things to do in Reykjavik are all found within a central and easily accessible area. This free walking tour can be done in any direction and doesn’t need to be done all at once. It can be broken down into smaller areas, meaning you can make the most of what you find along the way, like stopping for a drink or an Icelandic hotdog!
The growth in Iceland’s visitor numbers has been growing at an exponential rate. Before the turn of the century, visitors to Iceland never reached 100,000 per annum. Shortly after that, various areas in Iceland were used as backdrops for movie scenes and rock music videos. The world became alive to the beauty of this country, and visitor numbers started to grow. In 2008, Iceland suffered a significant blow to its economy with a credit card crash, and the country started to look further afield in its strategic recovery.
In 2010, Iceland made global headlines when the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, causing disruption to travel plans for weeks on end. Incentives were offered to airlines to bring the people back to Iceland. All of this has contributed to a newfound love for Iceland that has not abated.
In 2010 just under 500,000 people flew into Keflavik Airport, showing a marked increase in the number of visitors. By 2016, 1.767m people came to visit Iceland, 39% more than the previous year. That number went north of two million visitors in 2017.
With this number of tourists, almost six times the Icelandic population, the pressure was mounting on locals and their land. Questions started to get raised around the sustainability of such visitor numbers. Iceland was in danger of being loved to death.
But, by early 2020, everything was turned on its head again with the global pandemic. In a very short space of time, arrivals into Iceland dropped by 75%.
Reykjavik – Iceland’s capital city
Most visitors to Iceland enter by air through Keflavik Airport, located approximately 38km from the centre of Reykjavik. As the capital of Iceland, most of Reykjavik’s visitors would find themselves here at some point during their stay. For many, Reykjavik is as far as they get, popping over from other European destinations for a long weekend. Others, particularly those flying with Iceland Air, use Reykjavik as part of their journey stopover.
Looking to save money in Iceland? Read these tips for saving money in Iceland.
Reykjavik Self-guided walking tour
Reykjavik is a city well worth stopping for, but I don’t believe it needs more than several days. While noticeably different from many of the world’s big cities, there’s so much diverse and incredible beauty on offer in the rest of Iceland to encourage you to get out from Reykjavik, if only for a few more days.
In a city that can take a toll on your wallet, a free self-guided tour offers the perfect solution. Reykjavik is an easy city to walk, and you can do it at a pace that is entirely your own.
We took a full day and a half to explore all of these sights and areas below, stopping in at many of the cafes, food stores and coffee shops along the way.
If walking around Reykjavik on your own is not something that suits you, there are plenty of tours available where a guide can talk you through all the key sights, like this private walking tour of Reykjavik.
Best things to see and Do
This famous landmark caught my attention long before I realised what it was. As we arrived in Reykjavik in the early morning hours, the eerie yellow lights shone brightly from the top and resembled a face. In the daytime, it can be seen from almost all over Reykjavik.
Like much of the architecture in Iceland, it can be mistaken for being uninspiring. But, it shouldn’t be compared to the centuries-old beauty of many of the European old Towns. In a country as remote as Iceland, building materials are harder to source and the structures, therefore, take on a different form.
The beauty lies in the colour and the inspiration behind the designs. The building of this church commenced in 1945 and was completed in 1986. It stands at an impressive 74.5 metres. The design was said to represent the basalt rock columns that can be found along some of the beaches here.
It’s always great to be able to get up high in a new city to get some perspective. From here a wonderful view is possible over the city and the water, across to the mountains. On a clear day, the view of the coloured rooftops below is spectacular.
Tickets can be purchased to access the elevator that takes you to the top for this amazing view. For accurate ticket pricing and opening times, click here.
Tip: If you want a bit more space around you try and go up earlier in the day.
LOCATION: Hallgrímstorg 1, 101 Reykjavík
Einar Jonsson Sculpture Park
If you are visiting the Hallsgrimskirkja Church, then you should also pop by the Einar Jonsson Sculpture Park. Located close by, there is a great selection of artwork by this well-known Icelandic artist and sculptor. The gardens are free to walk around and admire the sculptures. The museum attracts a fee.
LOCATION: Hallgrímstorg 3, 101 Reykjavík
Visit the Phallological Museum
This one is weird, and outside of Amsterdam, I’m not sure anything else exists quite like it. It is a museum located along Laugavegur dedicated to the penis. Even if it’s not your thing, keep an eye out as it will most likely be something that jumps into your vision as you walk along Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main street.
LOCATION: Kalkofnsvegur 2, 101 Reykjavík
Visit historically significant buildings
Althingi Parliament Building
The Althingishus (Parliament House) was constructed in 1881. It is now one of the oldest stone buildings in Iceland. Its main function today is as the place where the 63 elected members of Parliament discuss and pass legislation.
LOCATION: Kirkjutorg, 101 Reykjavík
Built in 1906, the Culture House reminds me of a small European palace. It originally was the home of the National Library and archives but is now actively used for various exhibitions by the museums and the National Gallery.
LOCATION: Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavík
Nearby, Anarholl Park is worth a stroll through, even if it is just to get a better view of the water from up on the hill.
This is the oldest junior college in Reykjavik. Dating back to 1056, it’s also one of the oldest schools in all of Iceland. Most of the country’s politicians have been educated here, including all but four of the nation’s prime ministers.
LOCATION: Lækjargata 5 101, 101 Reykjavík
Stjornarradid Government House
This seemingly plain building is the office of the Prime Minister of Iceland. It was interesting to see the lack of security surrounding it.
LOCATION: Lækjargata, 101 Reykjavík
Get water views from the cross streets
Walking along any of the streets that run parallel to the water, a glance down a side street will almost assure you of a view. Sometimes, depending on where you are, the view will also take in the mountains.
Admire the impressive street art
Street art is everywhere in the world, and Reykjavik is no exception. Reykjavik has a thriving street art scene, evident all over the main streets of the city. It started with the Wall Poetry project, a campaign developed in 2015 to bring street and musical artists together. Start at the Gallery Port for one of the finest street art displays. Here an entire building has been covered with an impressive mural by artist Caratoes and inspired by an Icelandic band’s song. It’s the perfect facade for the gallery inside.
Walk around the block down Hverfisgata, and you’ll find several pieces, including one by notable Icelandic street artists, the Ugly Bros. Even though this street lies just behind the main shopping street of Laugavegur, it’s long been a street of urban decay. Street art and new construction are now bringing it to life.
Walk further along Laugavegur to discover more street art. At number 34, a simple and practical mural by Gudsteins Eyjolfssonar shows various ways to tie a man’s tie. It’s one of the least vibrant of all street art found here, but it is still interesting. At number 35, a dark and moody piece covers the side of a building. Painted by US street artist Elle it was one of the first murals painted as part of the initial Wall Poetry campaign.
At Laugavegur 66, English street artist D*Face painted a mural depicting a love triangle as part of the Wall Poetry campaign. It’s one of the more famous murals along this street. If time doesn’t permit further exploring, you can end the tour here.
If you do have time and feel like walking some extra distance, a good place to stop is at Laugavegur 159 for a vibrant mural. Painted by local street artist Raff back in 2012, it represents Iceland’s dependence on the sea.
If you are planning on looking for it, just keep in mind that the street art in Reykjavik is a changing canvas with new murals appearing and old ones disappearing all the time.
Walk Laugavegur Street
Street art and plenty of brightly coloured corrugated iron and painted shop fronts ensure there is colour aplenty in the streets. Laugavegur Street is full of funky coffee shops, cafes, bars and juice bars. It’s also the place for some good shopping, especially Arctic winter clothing, fashion and souvenirs.
Walk along the waterfront
Prepare for the wind if you venture down to the waterfront. Not far out of the main street, you’ll find this expanse of water with a promenade along which you can walk or ride. Down here, I got my first real insight into what Iceland might be like. Mountains, close enough that you feel you could touch them and still covered in white snowy caps, even though summertime was almost here. Rolling green hills, with houses dotted sporadically across them, and the wind….oh, the wind. How it blows in Iceland.
Stop at the Solfar Sun Voyager Sculpture
The Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture is a striking sculpture and one of the most photographed too. For good reason, given the connection to Vikings here, most people, including myself, believed this to represent a Viking ship. Designed by Jón Gunnar Arnáson, another famous Icelandic sculptor, it is, in fact, a dreamboat and is seen as a symbol of hope and light.
See what’s on at Harpa
Harpa is the modern conference and concert centre down on the waterfront in Reykjavik. With its glass exterior designed in a honeycomb formation that is meant to resemble the basalt rock columns found around Iceland, it’s an impressive sight. It’s an ongoing hub for events and functions.
Click here for an up-to-date list of events.
Built from glass and once again representing the basalt rock columns found throughout Iceland, it looks so impressive. At night, the glass provides the perfect backdrop for a light show. We weren’t able to witness this as there quite simply wasn’t enough darkness!
Most visitors to Reykjavik, however, don’t go inside unless attending a show or an exhibition. However, as a visitor, it’s such a good place to go and have a look around. Harpa is a public building accessible by anyone, not just those who have tickets for an event taking place here. There is no security to prevent access, but security personnel are present to ensure the safety of everyone in the venue.
Climb the stairs inside and position yourself in different areas along the glass exterior. Its design creates individual viewing pods. Move around the building to get an interesting and different perspective of Reykjavik city and the harbour.
While you are here, there’s a great shop on the ground level, selling Icelandic souvenirs and also promotional products relating to the events currently on at Harpa. Alternatively, take a break at the cafe.
If you have more time to spend, why not take a guided tour around the facility? By the end of the tour, you will have seen parts of the building not accessible by the public and learned how the Icelandic landscapes inspired the design of this important part of Reykjavik’s cultural hub.
LOCATION: Austurbakka 2, 101 Reykjavík
Visit the Old Harbour
At the end of the waterfront promenade is the Old Harbour. It mightn’t look like much, but I can forecast that this area will become quite a hub for foodies in the coming years. Already there are signs of a burgeoning food and providores area down here, and there are some amazing restaurants too.
Bringing in fish fresh from the trawlers, many of these restaurants also offer stunning views and great food. It is also the area where most of the whale watching and puffin tours are and is home to the Maritime Museum as well.
Sit and relax by Tjornin Pond
Tjornin Pond is a tranquil area right near the City Hall and the beautiful church of Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík. It’s typical of the Icelandic churches around the countryside, all white with coloured roofing.
The lake is alive with swans, ducks and various other birds and is also the perfect spot for a walk or run.
Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík Church
Across from the lake is the Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík, an independent church established in 1899. It is essentially a “free church” which no denomination and was created in opposition to other operating doctrines at the time.
LOCATION: Fríkirkjuvegur 5, 101 Reykjavík
National Gallery of Iceland
Right next door to the Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík Church is the National Gallery of Iceland. Iceland celebrates its history of amazing artists and sculptors here, focusing on 19th and 20th-century art. There are regular exhibitions here.
Opening hours and entry prices can be found here.
LOCATION: Fríkirkjuvegur 7, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
City Hall Building
The City Hall building on the lake’s edge is probably close to the ugliest building in Reykjavik. I couldn’t get any inspiration from the outside, but with the Office of Tourism on the inside, there’s plenty of inspiration to be found there.
LOCATION: Tjarnargata 11, 101 Reykjavík
Explore the back streets on a walking tour of Reykjavik
Like any city, there’s often so much to find if you have the time just to get lost in the back streets. We found some interesting cafes, quirky little gardens, hidden laneways and plenty of colours.
In the backstreets, you’ll also find Braud & Co, the best bakery in Reykjavik. They have amazing sourdough and pastries but get here early as once it’s all sold out, there is no more! All products made on-site are produced predominantly with Icelandic ingredients. The pastries all include yeast, and all bread is made with a sourdough starter.
How long does it take to do a walking tour?
This type of walk can be done as slowly or as quickly as your itinerary allows. The Reykjavik walking tour maps below give a general indication of the route we walked, starting from our apartment. It can certainly be done in one day. We took a little longer as we had plenty of stops along the way to look at the buildings more closely, to take time out along the water and to eat and drink, of course. Overall, Reykjavik is a very walkable city. Reykjavik is also a very safe city to walk around on your own and at night. Like the rest of Iceland.
This route took us into some of the back streets so that we could get a feel for more of the local life, away from the business of the main streets.
Best time to do it
The weather in Iceland is different to many other parts of Europe, with very long daylight hours in summer and very short hours of light in winter. If you are planning on walking around Reykjavik and seeing all the great things we’ve noted, then the best time to do it is obviously during the summer months. In summer, there is light almost all day. Technically the sun sets around midnight, but it remains twilight until around 3 am when the sun starts rise again.
Conversely, in winter, it’s dark all the time, and of course, it’s much colder. Irrespective of the time of year, remember it’s Iceland, and the weather can change anytime. Always wear comfortable, closed-in shoes for walking and have a rainproof and windproof jacket with you for warmth.
How to get here
Getting to Reykjavik by air is the easiest way, with many full-service and budget airlines stopping here. Iceland Air is the national carrier and flies from many European destinations and the USA. We flew Iceland Air from London Heathrow. While we paid full fare prices, the in-cabin service and size of seats more closely resemble a budget offering. For a list of airlines that fly to Keflavik Airport, click here.
Keflavik Airport is located just under 50 kilometres west of Reykjavik.
Tip: Buy your duty-free alcohol here if you have a chance, as it will be cheaper than what you can get in Reykjavik. Remember, everything is expensive in Iceland.
Getting into the city
The Flybus operates from Keflavik Airport and is the most convenient and cost-effective way to transit into Reykjavik. The trip takes around 50 minutes to an hour. The service is regular with a Flybus there for every international flight that arrives at this airport. The main destination is the BSI bus terminal, but for an extra fee, the bus has drop-offs at some city hotels. We highly recommend buying your tickets to the Flybus online and ahead of time.
Flybus also runs to the Blue Lagoon, so if you have plenty of time before you fly on the day you leave, this is a good option.
The Airport Express travels from Laekjartorg Square in the centre of Reykjavik to the airport. Hotel pickup and drop-offs can also be made. The Airport Express also heads north, with the main stop in Akureyri.
Rental cars can also be hired from Keflavik Airport for driving in and around Reykjavik or for a larger road trip. You won’t actually need a car if you are just planning on staying in Reykjavik.
A car ferry operates weekly from Denmark through to Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland.
Where to stay
Depending on your budget, there are a variety of hotels, hostels and apartments to stay at.
City Town Apartments
We stayed at the City Town Apartments at the end of Laugavegur Street, which was an excellent choice, and we would happily stay here again.
- Centrally located and close to all the major things to see and do in Reykjavik
- Large apartment with one bedroom + sofa
- Excellent bathroom
- Fully self-contained with a large kitchen and dining space
- Washing machine and dryer
- Netflix and wifi
- Private balcony
- Free private parking
- Flybus has a drop-off from Keflavik Airport closeby
Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel
- Close to Reykjavik Harbour
- Flatscreen TV, wifi, gym
- Close to Harpa, the promenade and the main street Laugavegur
- Onsite restaurant and bar
Check out more reviews, availability and book on Trip Advisor
Where to eat
Any foodie visit to Reykjavik should always include Hlemmur, the original food hall in the city. Located inside the former bus terminal, there are a handful of good food outlets here.
Coffee, breakfast items and bread – Reykjavik Roasters and Braud & Co.
Morning tea – Sandholt on Laugavegur.
Snacks – Iceland is known for their hotdogs. Now, they aren’t really anything special, but as far as a hotdog goes, they are ok and great for a quick snack if you are out and about pounding the pavement.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (across from the Radisson Blu Hotel) is the most well-known hot dog stand in the city due to an impromptu visit from President Bill Clinton a long time ago. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best, so if you want to avoid long queues, our pick is simply known as the Hot Dog Stand.
Lunch and dinner – this city is packed to overflowing with excellent restaurants, ranging from the casual to high-end. Some of our picks include; Messinn for fresh fish, Ostabudin for Icelandic lamb (it’s expensive but it’s divine) and Saigreifinn for lobster soup. Lava is one of the best luxury restaurants to et at. Bookings are essential at most of the city’s restaurants.
Planning on staying a few days in Reykjavik?
While the city is a perfect city for a short stopover, it also makes a great starting point for day trips into other areas of Iceland or a larger road trip. Having been to all of these areas, we agree that they are some of the best day trips and guided tours from Reykjavik.
Jökulsárlán Glacier Lagoon
- Full day tour starting and ending in Reykjavik
- Visit Europe’s largest glacial lagoon
- See the incredible Diamond Beach
- South coast route with dramatic coastline including the black beach
- Séljalandsdoss waterfall
Private tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle
- Full day tour starting and ending in Reykjavik
- Thingvellir National Park
- See the merging of two tectonic plates (and continents)
- Haukadalur Valley geysers
- Lugarvatn’s hot springs
- Visit the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall
- Private tour and guide
Iceland Travel Resources
More Iceland reading
Reykjavik is a great place to start a trip around Iceland. We travelled around the entire country in a campervan via the Ring Road. Following is the complete set of our Iceland articles that you might like to read and use for your Iceland travel planning.
- 8-day Iceland itinerary: a self-guided drive of Iceland’s Ring Road
- Driving the Iceland Ring Road? How to get the best campervan rental in Iceland
- Golden Circle Iceland self-drive: Why you shouldn’t miss the Golden Circle
- Iceland South Coast self-drive: Seljalandsfoss to Jokulsarlon
- East fjords Iceland: driving the Ring Road from Jökulsárlón to Seyðisfjörður
- North Iceland highlights; The natural wonders of Dettifoss Falls and Lake Mývatn
- Where to see seals in Iceland plus other great places on the north-west coast
- Why you should see more than the Golden Circle in Iceland’s south-west
- Visit Akureyri: Self-guided walking tours Akureyri
- Where to see seals in Iceland plus other great places on the north-west coast
- Parking a campervan in Iceland
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Book your flight: Flights are an important part of travel and we’re always looking for the best deals. If you can travel mid-week and be flexible, you’ll often find great deals on flights. We use I Want That Flight in Australia (for domestic and international flights deals). We also use Skyscanner and Momondo(US) and Airfare Watchdog is a useful resource for checking flight prices.
Book your accommodation: We all love to stay in different places. From the comfort of a self-contained apartment or house to a resort or luxury hotel. sometimes we just need something quick, easy and comfortable for an overnight stay. Vrbo is great for holiday rentals of more than seven days and often has great discounts for longer periods. Trip Advisor is perfect for getting reviews, checking availability and pricing comparisons all in one place. For the same reason, we also love Booking.com (they have excellent cancelling and refund options) and Hotels Combined and have often found great savings on their sites.
Book your rental car or motorhome: We always use Rentalcars.com anywhere in the world for car hire. We recommend Apollo Motorhomes in Hamburg (use our code APDEBEERCROI for €50 off your hire) and Anywhere Campers if you want one-way hire motorhome in Europe. If you’d like to buy your own motorhome in France, we use and recommend France Motorhome Sales.
Book a tour: We travel independently but occasionally even we find a great tour we are dying to take. If you are looking for advance tickets to an attraction, groups tours or private tours, we use and recommend Get Your Guide and Viator. Both have a great range of tours and flexible cancellation policies. If you are looking to do a food tour in Europe, we also recommend Eating Europe Tours.
Be covered: We always travel with travel insurance. We did it before the pandemic and it’s even more important for us to do so now. We use Cover-More in Australia. SafetyWing has great rates for travellers who are away from home for extended periods. World Nomads also has good coverage.