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Things to do in Reykjavik

The capital of Iceland, resplendent Reykjavík is a land of incredible beauty. The world’s most northerly capital is a mixture of incredible nature and cool cultural attractions. On a cruise to Reykjavík, your time in port may only be short. That’s why we’ve done all the hard work and created three itineraries for you to choose from. Which will you pick?

Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

Option one

  • Take a tour of Harpa
  • Marvel at the Sun Voyager
  • Visit the National Museum of Iceland

Take a tour of Harpa

Home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, Harpa Concert Hall opened in 2011 as a cultural and social centre. Located on the water at the Old Harbour, the glass-panelled facade was designed by Danish firm, Henning Larsen Architects. The building won the 2013 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, cementing its place among the most famous Icelandic landmarks.

The honeycomb exterior of the Harpa Concert Hall is as eye-catching in the day as it is mesmerising at night. The crystalline design reflects light off the glass windows making it a vision to see from the inside and out. The hall is more than just an impressive architectural wonder though, open all year round, it offers theatre, music and comedy shows as well as tours with access to exclusive areas.

Marvel at the Sun Voyager

Reykjavík’s most popular piece of public art, the Sun Voyager was erected in 1990 to commemorate the city’s 200th anniversary. Designed as an “ode to the sun,” the statue symbolises light and hope and is an interpretation of discovery. The design, which was inspired by a traditional Viking ship, represents the promise of discovering new territory and the freedom that comes with travelling to new worlds. View it from the correct angle and the statue will look as though it is floating above land and sea.

“Any trip to the picturesque Reykjavík would be incomplete without making time to gaze upon the striking Sun Voyager,” says Sarah, food and lifestyle blogger at Life in Full Flavour. “This steel sculpture lies on the city’s shoreline and is the creation of renowned Icelandic sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason.

“When you stand aside this awe-inspiring sculpture it is easy to see why it is often perceived to be a Viking ship. In actuality, it is a dream boat and an ode to the sun; a symbol of light, hope, progress and freedom. As well as being a popular selfie spot, the sculpture provides visitors with a place to reflect, take in the beautiful views of the bay and Mt Esja, and have a few moments of peace. After taking some amazing photos, there are plenty of cafés and eateries nearby to get a delicious hot chocolate or warming coffee.”

Visit the National Museum of Iceland

For those interested in Iceland's history a visit to the National Museum of Iceland is a must. The country’s rich history and heritage are brought to life in the modern museum. Find fascinating displays of artefacts from the era of the very first Viking settlers to the present day, see how they lived, their typical homes and examples of the boats they used. Making of a Nation, the museum's permanent exhibition, is a great way to acquaint yourself with Iceland’s treasures. There are over 2,000 objects and 1,000 photographs catapulting you into the past. It truly is a diverse cultural experience - take a look at Iceland’s rich history and then view the museum’s impressive range of temporary exhibitions that showcase the work of contemporary artists, offering an intricate panorama of Icelandic life.

Things to do in Reykjavik

Option two

  • View Reykjavík from above at Hallgrímskirkja
  • Spend the afternoon at the Blue Lagoon
  • Go whale watching

View Reykjavík from above at Hallgrímskirkja

Both a parish church and national sanctuary, Hallgrímskirkja is an ever-present feature of Reykjavík’s skyline. Designed by the former state architect of Iceland, Guðjón Samúelsson, the construction began in 1945 and took decades to complete. The city’s most famous landmark offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. Milly from Mini Adventures visited Hallgrímskirkja during a trip to Iceland in 2018, “standing at 74.5 metres high, Hallgrímskirkja is the tallest church in Iceland. The design was inspired by Iceland’s volcanic landscapes, with a design representing the shapes of cooling lava. It’s definitely worth checking out the inside, but for a real treat, head upwards and check out the tower.

“Tower admission is ISK 1,000, and don’t worry - there’s a lift that takes you most of the way! Once you get to the top, you’re rewarded with 360 degree views over Reykjavík’s colourful rooftops. With sight lines stretching out across the water to the mountainous landscapes just north of the city, you’ll get a real visual feel for the city of Reykjavík and the wild lands surrounding it.”

Spend the afternoon at the Blue Lagoon

Jacqui, features journalist and travel and lifestyle blogger at Mummy’s Little Monkey, says, “the Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions, but many people are surprised to discover it’s not actually a natural one. In fact, it is a man-made reservoir created as a clever way to use up heated water from the nearby Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant.

“Thousands of years of volcanic activity has packed the water with minerals such as silica and sulphur, believed to moisturise and rejuvenate the skin and body. Derobe by the iconic milky blue waters (there are hanging rails conveniently placed nearby) and descend into the steaming lagoon.

“There’s a swim-up bar, and included in your entry price is a dollop of mud mask, ladled into your hand from a kiosk in the middle. Slather it on, then sit back and enjoy the soothing waters, heated to a gorgeous 37-39 degrees and let the stresses of life literally wash away. Be warned though - this is a hot spot in more ways than one; if you want to dodge the crowds, either go at the very beginning or end of the day or be prepared to navigate a sea of selfie-stick-wielding swimmers.” Read more about Jacqui’s time in Iceland here.

Go whale watching

Reykjavík is one of the best places in the world for whale watching as the city sits within Faxa Bay, which is a gathering point for a wealth of species in summer. Because of this, whale watching tours depart every day from Reykjavík’s Old Harbour. For an up-close encounter with more than 20 species of whales, including blue whales, sperm whales, minke whales and killer whales, it’s best to visit between April and September when the animals swim up from the equator to feed.

Whales aren’t the only animals you may see during your tour. Most trips take you past Akurey, which has a sizable puffin population and you might even be lucky enough to see dolphins. What’s more, the views back to Reykjavík are incredible thanks to its mountainous backdrop.

Best things to do in Reykjavik

Option three

  • Wander around Perlan
  • Relax at Nauthólsvík Beach
  • Chase the Northern Lights

Wander around Perlan

Capping Öskjuhlíð hill, Perlan is one of Reykjavík’s must-visit museums. Once a cluster of geothermal water tanks, the museum's exhibits cover Iceland’s diverse and powerful natural wonders from volcanoes and glaciers to geothermal energy and wildlife. Exciting features include a 100-metre Ice Cave made from over 350 tons of snow from Icelandic mountains, a planetarium with a state-of-the-art 8k projection system where visitors can observe the Northern Lights and a deck which provides a 360° view of Reykjavík and surrounding areas.

Relax at Nauthólsvík Beach

Coldwater swimming has been fixed in Iceland’s heritage since the days of settlement 1,000 years ago. Popular with locals Nauthólsvík Beach was formed as a safe bathing spot by building sea walls to form a lagoon in 2001. With beautiful golden sand, geothermally heated water from Perlan cascades into a small artificial lagoon that is filled with colder seawater. The result is a slightly warmer-than-normal bathing experience in the Icelandic ocean.

In summer, the temperature is a few degrees higher than the open water, usually 19°c. While in winter, temperatures dip much cooler, varying from just above freezing to 10°c. Do as the locals do and take a quick dip at the beach before relaxing in the hot water spring.

Chase the Northern Lights

“There are many different ways to look for the Northern Lights in Iceland,” says Jacqui. “Provided you visit at the right time of year (late-August to the middle of April) this island nation is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the always stunning, but often elusive, natural phenomena. The Aurora Borealis (to give them their scientific name) are created when supercharged electrons collide with the Earth’s magnetic field. The result is an undulating, other-worldly light show that will literally take your breath away.

“First, download a Northern Lights app which will tell you when the meteorological conditions look promising. Then, it’s time to look up! You can hunt for them through the ceiling of a glass igloo, by joining a walking tour, embarking on a snowmobile safari, or heading off on a 4-wheel drive. You can even sit in your geothermally heated hot tub and watch them dancing across the sky.

“The darker the sky, the more vividly they’ll appear, so I chose to take a boat out of Reykjavík and head into the inky black night. Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating that day, but the next night I looked out my hotel window to see a neon green glow hovering over the harbour. I watched the colour deepen until luminous green streaks were tumbling around the sky. It really was the most incredible, magical sight and an experience proudly ticked off my bucket list!”

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