Reykjavik might be small, but it’s full of character. From trying local cuisine to spotting street art, there’s plenty to do—no matter what your interests. Go Ahead creative duo Jamie and Paula discovered this firsthand on tour in Iceland, and came home with plenty of tips on what to see, eat, and explore in the country’s capital city.
What to see
At the center of Reykjavik, there’s the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church. You can spot the 244-foot-tall structure from nearly anywhere in the city—its unique shape and concrete facade represent Iceland’s volcanic landscapes. Admission is free, but for around $9.00 USD, you can take a ride up to the observation tower to get a bird’s eye view of the city.
Another architectural marvel? The Harpa, the harborside concert hall that’s home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Like Hallgrímskirkja, its design was also inspired by Iceland’s geography, and the colorful glass building is just as beautiful inside as it is outside.
Keep walking along the waterfront to spot Sun Voyager, an abstract sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. It’s popularly thought to be a Viking ship, but we learned that it has a few more existential interpretations, too.
Just around the bend, there’s Höfði House. The home gained its reputation after Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met behind its doors in 1986. While you can’t go inside, you can get some beautiful photos with the sea and mountains as the backdrop.
We happened to really luck out weather-wise, though Reykjavik doesn’t lack for rainy-day activities. In that case, a couple favorite museums include the Reykjavik Art Museum and the Saga Museum, which features dioramas straight out of Icelandic history.
Where to eat
First, brunch at Grai Kotturinn was the perfect way to start the day. The place is small and cozy—just a few booths surrounded by some well-stocked bookshelves, and the menu of classic breakfast favorites is one you can’t go wrong with.
Lunch is almost right next door at Hverfisgata 12. That’s the address, but also what “Pizza With No Name” commonly goes by. The restaurant shares a building with Mikkeller & Friends, a Copenhagen-based brewery, and Dill, Iceland’s first Michelin-starred restaurant. Hverfisgata 12 offers a few standard pizzas, but we definitely recommend branching out to try toppings like Icelandic cheeses and cured meats.
For dinner, we really liked El Santo, a bright, glass-roofed Mexican joint serving up authentic tacos and homemade hot sauces, made with mostly locally sourced ingredients (it’s hard to find avocado in Iceland). In City Center, there’s Ramen Momo, a small counter-serve restaurant dishing out ramen and Tibetan-style dumplings. Veggie- and music-lovers will also enjoy Kaffi Vinyl, Reykjavik’s only vegan eatery, which doubles as a small record shop.
Last but not least, the hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur live up to the hype. Get one with everything—onions, fried onions, rémoulade, brown mustard, and ketchup.
Where to shop
Laugavegur is Reykjavik’s main street and is lined with stores to explore. We picked up a few souvenirs at Hrím—there are two locations, and they’re both worth a peek. Myconceptstore is also great for picking up a stylish gift, from handmade jewelry to wool throws and unique housewares.
If you’re in the mood for discovery, visit the record shop 12 Tónar. You can take a seat on their couches, sip espresso, and sample some music—including Icelandic artists from 12 Tónar’s own record label.
Spúútnik, an upscale secondhand clothing store, proved to be the perfect spot to pick up a coveted Icelandic wool sweater for a bargain. Also, just for fun, we popped into The Little Christmas Shop. It was packed to the brim with handmade wool ornaments and figurines out of Icelandic folklore.
Have you ever been on a tour of Reykjavik? Which spots in the city are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!