Half Day in Reykjavik: Things to Do in Iceland’s Capital

Meaning "Smoky Bay" in Icelandic, Reykjavik has a population of just 200,000. While that means that it just about qualifies as a city, you won’t be short on fantastic things to do in Reykjavik — even on a tight schedule.

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Tucked away in the country’s southwestern corner, Iceland’s charming capital is home to most of the island’s population and nearly all its man-made attractions. Though small, the city’s popularity has exploded in recent years, with millions of tourists flocking to enjoy Reykjavik's unquestionably unique architecture, cuisine, culture, and nature.

Things to do in Reykjavik

The city’s main axis runs from the dramatic waterfront to the magnificent Hallgrímskirkj Church. Iconic and unique to Reykjavik, the church dominates the skyline, standing proudly in the city center since 1986. Take a stroll down the streets from this impressive building; you'll be inspired by an array of colorful houses and shopfronts painted in bright hues, highlighting Iceland's individualism.

Harpa Concert Hall is a stunning glass structure perched on the edge of the shore and the country’s premier cultural epicenter. From classical music concerts to contemporary art and jazz, Harpa’s eclectic schedule has something for every artistic whim, and the national symphony orchestra plays here on a regular basis. Even if you don’t have time for a performance, it’s worth a visit just to witness this architectural marvel.

Eating out in Reykjavik can be notoriously pricey. Luckily, many of the city’s most famous and must-try dishes can be had inexpensively. Head to the old harbor and tuck into some freshly caught fish and chips. If you want a meal with a little more history and gravitas, then Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, meaning "the best hot dog in town," is popular with locals; even former US president Bill Clinton raved about the hot dogs served here on a diplomatic visit to the capital.

The shopping scene in Reykjavik is like that of no other city. Despite the country’s highly developed economy, you won’t find any recognizable international chains here. Instead, you'll discover an array of local Icelandic brands and designers who favor quality and bespoke pieces over mass production. A few select brands and shops to look out for include Gust, Kultur Menn, and Eva. The locals’ love of vintage is obvious; to pick up a vintage trinket or some secondhand clothes, head down to the Kolaportid Flea Market situated near the harbor on the city’s dramatic waterfront.

Take the waters

Iceland's geographical location makes it a hotbed of geothermal activity, which is put to excellent use in the city’s swimming pools. The most popular example is Sundhöll Reykjavíkur, nestled just behind the church. Rain or shine, relaxing in the naturally heated water is simply delightful. Other notable pools include Vesturbæjarlaug, an outdoor geothermal pool, and Laugardalslaug, the largest pool in the city, located close to a sculpture museum, zoo, and botanical gardens.

With everything from iconic architecture to natural springs, activities and sightseeing opportunities are abundant in Reykjavik. Even with limited time, the sights’ close proximity makes seeing the top attractions a stress-free experience in the world's northernmost capital.

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