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10 Top Things to See and Do in Reykjavik

10 Top Things to See and Do in Reykjavik

Picture of Camille Buckley
Updated: 19 February 2018

Reykjavik, Iceland’s cultural capital, offers plenty to see and do for everyone whether you’re interested in walking around natural landscapes, viewing local art, eating the renowned seafood, or absorbing the history of the place. Don’t miss the following attractions on your visit to the world’s most northernmost capital on the tiny island of Iceland.

Nauthólsvík Beach

This beach is heated by a hot spring located close to the shoreline that is collected in a small barrier making it a great place to enjoy some warmer seawater temperatures. There is also a hot tub and shower room and snack bar on land to complete the experience. This is definitely the closest thing you will get to feeling like you are in Miami in Iceland.

The Culture House

The Culture House is located in a historical building in downtown Reykjavik that was formerly a Danish government building. Inside you can find the entire space devoted to the ongoing exhibition Points of View which looks at different aspects of Icelandic culture through visual art from Icelandic art history, crafts, design, and literature. This is definitely the place to get a very well rounded view of Icelandic visual culture.

Eat Seafood by the Harbour

Iceland is historically a seafaring nation, so it makes sense that they have cultivated some great ways to prepare seafood. You can wander from the harbor restaurants to the Kolaportið flea market where you can buy fresh seafood to prepare yourself at home. There are many great seafood shops and markets in the capital area such as Fiskbúðin on Sunlaugavegi, Fiskikóngurinn, and Fiskibúðin Vegamót in Seltjarnarnes. Here you can find prepared seafood dishes in a variety of herbs and spices such as curried catfish with cashews or marinated cod in sundried tomatoes, garlic, and pepper.

Grótta Lighthouse and Birdwatching Area

Grótta Lighthouse is located on the tip of Seltjarnarnes peninsula, located about a half hour walk from downtown Reykjavik. Here you can find beautiful views of Mount Esja and the North Atlantic beyond. With its distance from the city, you can easily feel like you are much farther away from society than you really are. This is also a great place to watch birds and have a chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis.

The National Museum

The National Museum features over 2000 artifacts from the settlement era involved in both permanent exhibitions and a rotating series of exhibitions that focus on different aspects of the collection. Among the museum’s collection is the Valthjófsstadur door, an elaborate medieval engraving depicting scenes from the legendary 12th-century knight’s tale Le Chevalier au Lion. If you visit The Culture House and The Culture Museum on the same day, you can use the same ticket.

The Marshall House

The Marshall House (Marshallhusið) opened in 2017 in a rapidly transforming part of Reykjavik. Named after US Marshall aid to Iceland during WWII and once long empty, is now a powerhouse of artistic energy. With a bar and restaurant on the ground floor, the three upper floors each feature a different exhibition space/studio. On the first floor is NÝLO (Nýlistasafnið) or The Living Art Museum, a non-profit, artist-run museum and association as well as venue space. On the third floor is Kling og Bang, established in 2003, also by local artists whose works challenge creative thinking. On the fourth floor is an open studio exhibition space of Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, whose research-oriented conceptual art combines the best of visual art and science.

Marshallhúsið | Courtesy of The Living Art Museum. Photo by Lilja Birgisdóttir

Marshallhúsið | Courtesy of Nýlistasafnið/Photo by Lilja Birgisdóttir.

Reykjavik Botanical Gardens

Beautiful during any season, the Reykjavik Botanical Gardens, located in Laugardalur are only a short bike or bus ride from the city centre. Here you can find excellent walking paths and well-maintained garden landscapes. Check out Floran Garden Bistro, an excellent place for brunch, located within a greenhouse that you can easily find on the winding paths. Located next to the gardens is the Reykjavik Zoo that will take you through a bucolic setting featuring the native animals of Iceland, including the elusive arctic fox.

The National Gallery of Iceland

The National Gallery of Iceland, Listasafn Íslands, was founded in 1884 and is located by the picturesque pond in downtown Reykjavik. The main focus is on 19th and 20th-century Icelandic art, including the most valuable pieces of Icelandic art in the country. Exhibitions feature a rotation of works by both Icelandic and international artists. Most recently the museum acquired the archive of the pioneers of video art, Steina and Woody Vasulka, which is on view in the Vasulka Chamber, which opened in 2014 and aims to be a centre for electronic and media art, the only one of its kind in Iceland.

The Swimming Pool

Iceland has a fascinating pool culture in that you can find a swimming pool with natural geothermally heated water in every small town. In Reykjavik, you can find at least four either in the downtown area or in the vicinity. The pool is both a place of relaxation and socialisation and is not to be missed — in any kind of weather.

Einar Jónsson Outdoor Sculpture Garden

This outdoor sculpture park features incredible early 20th-century and late 19th-century works inspired by Nordic mythology from one of Iceland’s oldest and most well-known sculptors, Einar Jónsson. His works are set in a lovely park next to Hallgrímskirkja and is free to enter.