Reykjavik Travel Guide - Insider's Tips for Exploring the City 278 image asset

Reykjavik Travel Guide – Insider’s Tips for Exploring the City

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Welcome to the land of fire and ice, where glaciers and volcanoes coexist in perfect harmony! Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is a must-visit destination for adventure seekers, nature lovers, and culture enthusiasts alike. With its quirky charm, vibrant arts scene, and natural wonders, Reykjavik will leave you spellbound. Here’s your Wellness Bum travel guide to exploring this magical city.

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Table of Contents

    Have you heard about Iceland’s charming capital, Reykjavik? Trust me; it’s a whimsical wonderland that punches way above its weight on almost every level. I’ve been dreaming about visiting this place for years, and when I finally did, it did not disappoint. The city has a laid-back vibe but is also pulsing with energy – the perfect combination.

    If you’re a culture lover like me, Reykjavik has covered you with plenty of first-class museums, small alternative art galleries, and striking landmarks such as the rocket-shaped Hallgrimskirkja. The relaxed harbor and colorful wooden houses are traditional attractions that shouldn’t be missed. And let’s not forget about the famously raucous nightlife – I promise you won’t be bored.

    But let’s talk about the real reason everyone flocks to Iceland – the jaw-dropping landscapes that are easily accessible. During my trip, I had an itinerary packed with Instagram-worthy must-sees. But let me give you a word of warning – Iceland can be quite expensive. Don’t let this deter you from booking an Iceland adventure, though. As an insider, I’m happy to share my guide to Reykjavik with you, so you can enjoy all the wonders of this magical place without breaking the bank. Happy travels!

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    When To Go

    May and September are generally considered the best time to visit Iceland due to better temperatures and longer days. But, with that said, Summers can be crowded, especially in Reykjavik. Visiting in winter, between November and February, is the best time to catch the Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights.

    When planning your trip to Iceland, it’s important to consider travel insurance. SafetyWing offers a comprehensive insurance plan covering various travel-related incidents, including medical emergencies, trip interruptions, and lost or stolen luggage. With SafetyWing, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re covered in an unexpected event during your trip.

    Their affordable and flexible insurance plans allow you to customize your coverage to suit your needs. Plus, their 24/7 customer service means you can always get the help you need, no matter where you are. So before you head off on your Iceland adventure, ensure you have the right travel insurance with SafetyWing.

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    When To Stay

    There are plenty of hotels and Airbnb options. For a truly unique experience, book a stay at the Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland. Located just outside of Reykjavik, this luxurious hotel offers stunning views of the volcanic landscape and access to the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. Each suite is designed to promote relaxation and tranquility, with natural materials and minimalistic decor. Enjoy a private balcony, a complimentary yoga class, and a sumptuous breakfast buffet before starting your day. For a more central location, check out Hotel Borg, located in the heart of Reykjavik. This Art Deco-inspired hotel boasts elegant rooms and suites, a restaurant serving up local cuisine, and a stylish bar.

    For a more budget-friendly option, Kex Hostel is a trendy spot located in a former biscuit factory. The hostel has private rooms and dorms, and there’s always something going on at the bar and restaurant. Another great budget option is the Loft Hostel, located on the top floor of a building in the city center. The hostel has a laid-back vibe, comfortable beds, and a great social atmosphere.

    No matter where you choose to stay, you’ll be sure to find the perfect home away from home in Reykjavik.

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    Eat + Drink

    Reykjavik is known for its fresh seafood and Nordic cuisine. For a truly unforgettable meal, head to Fish Market, a restaurant that’s as Instagrammable as it is delicious. With its sleek design and modern twist on traditional Icelandic dishes, this restaurant is a must-visit for foodies. Be sure to try the sushi rolls made with Icelandic salmon and the slow-cooked Arctic char.

    For a more laid-back experience, visit Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a small hot dog stand that has become a Reykjavik institution. The hot dogs are made with a blend of beef, pork, and lamb, and are topped with ketchup, mustard, raw onions, crispy onions, and remoulade. You’ll find locals and tourists alike lining up for a taste.

    If you’re after seafood, you won’t be disappointed with Sjávargrillið. The food at Snaps Bistro is brilliant and the atmosphere is great. It’s open during the day like a café, but in the evening becomes more like a bar/restaurant. Make sure you go to Seabaron. It’s right on the old harbor and is essentially a shabby fisherman’s shack (you sit on barrels). You choose your own freshly caught fish! They are famous for their lobster soup and also normally have whale kebabs if you’re into that. For brunch-type things and more low key meals, there is Joe and The Juice,  Prikid on Laugevegur, or Laundromat Cafe on Ausurstraeti.

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    Coffee moments. SlippbarinnApótek Bar Grill, and Kaldi Bar are also worth checking out. Kaffibrennslan and  Reykjavik Roasters are the best coffee shops in town, hands down.

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    Nightlife

    The city is known for its vibrant nightlife, so you won’t be short of options for a night out. If you’re looking for a trendy spot, then head to Kaffibarinn. This hip bar has been around since 1991 and is a favorite among locals and tourists. The eclectic décor and cozy atmosphere make it the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail or two.

    Another great option is Lebowski Bar. This quirky spot is a must-visit for fans of the cult classic film, “The Big Lebowski.” The bar is decked out in movie memorabilia and offers a great selection of White Russians, the drink famously consumed by the film’s main character. But even if you’re not a movie fan, Lebowski Bar is still worth visiting for its cozy atmosphere and delicious drinks.

    If you’re in the mood for live music, check out Gaukurinn. This rock and roll bar hosts live music events most nights of the week, ranging from local acts to international performers. The bar also has a great selection of drinks and a laid-back atmosphere.

    Finally, no trip to Reykjavik would be complete without a visit to the famous B5 bar. This stylish spot is in a former bank building and offers an extensive cocktail menu and a great selection of wines and beers. The bar is popular with locals and tourists and is a great place to start your night out in Reykjavik.

    Whether you’re in the mood for a cozy cocktail spot or a lively music venue, Reykjavik has got you covered. Cheers to a great night out!

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    What To Do

    No trip to Reykjavik is complete without a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. This geothermal spa is located in a lava field and is known for its healing properties. Spend a few hours soaking in the warm waters, surrounded by rugged volcanic landscapes. For an extra indulgent experience, book a spa treatment and enjoy a massage or a facial while you soak.

    Geothermal Swimming Pools are a must. Every neighborhood has its own geothermal swimming pool, which is probably the most Icelandic thing you can do. People go every day and talk in the hot tub. They’re super basic but just amazingly clean with natural hot water and steam baths. The main big pool Laugardalslaug is also really nice and is open 6am-10pm every day. It has lots of hot pots, water slides, saunas, and steam rooms – and a new seawater hotpot.

    Kolaportid is a great indoor flea market in Reykjavik which is always open on weekends and is located right next to the harbor.

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    For a glimpse into Icelandic culture, visit the National Museum of Iceland. Here, you’ll find exhibits on the country’s history, including its Viking past and struggle for independence. The museum is housed in a beautiful modern building and is a great way to spend a rainy day.

    For an unforgettable adventure, book a tour of the Langjökull Glacier. This massive ice cap covers over 950 square kilometers and is the second-largest glacier in Iceland. Explore ice tunnels, crevasses, and caves, and learn about the history and formation of this incredible natural wonder.

    The Golden Circle is do-able in a day and really beautiful. It includes Gulfoss a huge waterfall that plunges into a crack in the earth; Geysir a continual eruption of boiling water 30ft into the air; and Thingvellir, the old capital of Vikings and also where the North American and European tectonic plates meet, which means epic gorges, waterfalls, and sometimes earthquakes.

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    Go for a hike. Hveragerdi is an amazing place to go not to far from Reykjavik. It’s a very volcanically active valley and you can walk up into the hills and swim in a hot river. It’s about a 30 minute bus/car ride from Reykjavik, but really beautiful and cool to swim in, as it’s a natural river. Grótta is a gorgeous lighthouse in Reykjavik is just 5 minutes from town. When the tide is down you can walk out onto the island and take in beautiful views across the Fjord to the glacier. This is the best place in town to go see the sunset – totally magical on a calm day.

    One totally magical place is a little island called Flatey. It has about 10 inhabitants and one bar. You can get a ferry there from Stikkysholmur just up from Snaefellsnes, about 2 hours from Reykjavik. Thorsmörk is probably one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to, as well. It’s tucked in between 3 glaciers and only accessible in summer via a big jeep (you have to drive through about 20 rivers) – insane landscape and hiking.

    Driving further into the country is amazing if you’re feeling more adventurous. There’s Vik to the south, on the way there’s Dyrholaey that famous black sand beach with an arch in the ocean. Also past the volcano and the glacier, there’s Jökulsárlón, which is an amazing glacial lagoon. You can do that in a day from Reykjavik, but it’s quite far.

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    Where to Shop

    The city offers a range of options, from high-end boutiques to quirky souvenir shops. If you’re in the mood for luxury shopping, then head to Laugavegur. This shopping street is home to a range of designer stores, including Icelandic fashion brands like Farmers Market and Gudrun & Gudrun. You’ll also find a selection of high-end jewelry and homeware stores.

    For a more unique shopping experience, check out Kolaportid Flea Market. This indoor market offers a range of vintage and second-hand items, including clothing, furniture, and books. It’s a great place to pick up a one-of-a-kind souvenir or gift.

    If you’re looking for traditional Icelandic items, then head to Handknitting Association of Iceland. This store sells handmade Icelandic sweaters, hats, and other woolen goods. It’s the perfect place to pick up a cozy souvenir to remember your trip.

    For a quirky shopping experience, check out Kiosk. This tiny shop offers a range of unique items, including vintage postcards, handmade ceramics, and locally made jams and sweets. It’s a great spot to pick up a unique gift or memento of your time in Reykjavik.

    Finally, for a taste of Icelandic cuisine to take home, visit Bónus, a local supermarket chain. Icelandic specialties like Skyr yogurt, dried fish, and rye bread are here.

    Reykjavik is a city that has everything, from natural wonders to cultural experiences to culinary delights. With this Wellness Bum travel guide, you’ll be sure to have a memorable trip to this magical destination.


    This article was first published November 2017 and updated by out editors March 2023

    Hi, I’m Valerie!

    I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), offering guidance to high achievers in aligning their lifestyle with well-being through daily wellness and self-care routines, promoting balance and harmony. Join me at Wellness Bum for tips on living well, and consider subscribing to my newsletter or booking a coaching session.