Things to Do · Destinations · Iceland
December 05, 2022 Words: Katie Altman

A Dreamy Day in Reykjavík

Take a deep dive into Iceland’s fascinating and culture-filled capital.

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The best way to get to know the unique city of Reykjavík is to simply walk around. It’s a compact city, and you’ll happen upon something amazing on every stroll. Take your time and soak in the atmosphere as you poke around quaint streets, soak up the culture and marvel at the harbor views.

If you need a pick-me-up to start your walking tour, you’ll want to check out Reykjavík’s buzzing coffee culture. There’s not a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts to be found, and you’ll be glad once you pop into Reykjavík Roasters, where the beans are roasted on location, Mokka Kaffi, the city’s oldest coffee purveyor, or Babalú, where quirky knick-knacks create a cozy vibe.

Now that you’re wide awake, some shopping should be next on your list. You’ll surely want to bring home some uniquely Icelandic gifts, but when you explore Reykjavík’s best shopping street, Laugavegur, you’ll find some irresistible buys for yourself, too. Iceland’s design obsession is on full display here, with trendy boutiques, modern design stores, high-end vintage clothing shops and more. Fashionistas will want to peruse Farmers & Friends, an upmarket clothing store from the cutting-edge, eco-friendly Icelandic brand Farmers Market. Design enthusiasts should head to Hrim for whimsical but useful housewares, and Myconceptstore, a calming space filled with a curated selection of jewelry and retro décor.

Of course, a memorable shopping trip calls for memorable food. Have a delicious lunch made with local Icelandic ingredients at Skall, located in the Hlemmur Mathöll food hall or enjoy steaming soup from a bread bowl at Svarta Kaffid. For a sweet treat, grab a legendary cinnamon bun from Brauð & Co, a bakery that uses the highest-quality organic ingredients including flour imported from Denmark.

For a very different kind of lunch, take a quick detour to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, home to the best example of an Icelandic obsession: hot dogs. Their hot dogs are served with a remoulade sauce, mustard, ketchup and both raw and fried onions. And for the perfect fries to follow your hot dog, run to Reykjavík Chips, the premier spot for thick-cut Belgian fries with a choice of three sauces.

Continuing your afternoon of exploration, experience some of the art and culture that makes Reykjavík shine. First, keep an eye out for the incredible street art and murals that are everywhere. Many are right on Laugavegur, the shopping street, but be sure to also check out Masquerade, a fascinating work on Aegisgata near the harbor. You can also download the Reykjavík Art Walk App, which will guide you to hundreds of public art works. For a taste of Icelandic history, stop by the Reykjavík City Museum and the National Museum of Iceland or go for something different at the tiny Punk Rock Museum.

Next, it’s time to immerse yourself in Reykjavík — literally — with a swim in one of the city’s remarkable geothermally heated pools. Public pools are at the heart of daily life in Iceland, and after one dip you'll understand why. Vesturbæjarlaug, often voted one of Iceland’s best pools, is centrally located and is a wonderful place to mix with locals. Laugardalslaug, next to the national football stadium, has three swimming pools, plus hot tubs, a jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and even a water slide.

After burning off some calories, you’ll be thinking about dinner. Why not check out some of the local spots where Reykjavik’s top chefs dine on their days off? The renowned restaurant Óx has only 11 seats, so some advance planning is required to get in, but the payoff is an innovative and memorable tasting menu. Makake features shareable Japanese tapas and dim sum in a fun atmosphere. Sümac serves Lebanese and North African food, with great omnivore and vegetarian choices. Northern Italian restaurant La Primavera is another favorite among Reykjavík foodies. And don’t worry, you can still get traditional Icelandic food in Iceland. The menu at Café Loki includes plokkfiskur — rye bread with mashed fish, while the aptly named Old Iceland offers up creamy shellfish soup and 12-hour braised beef cheek.

If you want to wind down your evening with a quiet cocktail, slip into Klauster Bar, where the martinis are made with fresh fruits and herbs. Beer afficionado? Session Craft Bar serves only Icelandic beers, in a beautiful building with a city view. There’s no better ending to your self-guided Reykjavik tour.

Once you’ve explored Iceland’s capital city, be sure to take an extra day to take in some of the country’s unique attractions and stunning landscapes. The first place on most visitors’ lists is the legendary Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa with hot milky blue water filled with healing minerals. Whether you enjoy a soak, a massage, or a mud exfoliation, you won’t forget your visit. You’ll also want to tour the Golden Circle, a driving route that lets you experience a taste of Iceland’s stark beauty in a single day. Along the way you can explore Thingvellir National Park, the thundering Gullfoss waterfall and much more. Get ready for the photo ops of your dreams.

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Reykjavik Main Street
Bakery in the center of Reykjavik
Reykjavik Opera House, harbor view
The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland

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