Reykjavik is kind of a small town but it is surprisingly packed with a lot of landmarks, museums and monuments. You can easily visit it all by walk, within a day, maybe two depending on how many times you stop for a coffee or the number of museum you visit. Below is what would be, in my opinion the best itinerary to see most of the city.
This guide follows another one: A brief guide through bars and restaurants of Reykjavik city, I recommend you to read it and combine it with this itinerary.
This itinerary comes without any timeline, so you can do it at your own pace. I encourage you to just pick the visits you like the most (maybe doing it all would be too heavy) and also do your own research and add some things that might not be mentioned here.
All the activities described below are family friendly and should interest everyone from the youngest to the oldest.
If you are in Reykjavik, you cannot miss it. It is this huge church, on top of a hill that you can see from anywhere in town. It is also one of the most iconic landmarks of the city. If you ever get lost in Reykjavik, just aim for the church. Easy trick.
Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutherian church and has a very interesting history that I will let you discover in details during your visit. What one must know is that the church is open to public, but the main attraction is the elevator that brings you to the top of the church. From there, you will get a 360° view on the whole city, and it is clearly stunning on a clear day.
Church does not open at the same times during winter and summer, therefore, one should check on their website. When I visited it, the ticket to the top was 900 ISK.
The house of Hofdi is located on Borgartun, close to the sea shore. The house has been built in 1909 and since then has been the house of a consul, a poet and an embassy. But, if it is very famous worldwide, it is because it hosted the meeting that started the end of the cold war.
In 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan met there to solve the issues opposing the United States and the Soviet Union. Inside the building are still hung the flags of the two countries. Nearby the house, an actual piece of the Berlin wall is standing.
After the house of Hofdi, you should enjoy a nice and scenic walk along the sea. The view on the island of Videy and Esjan Mountain is just gorgeous. After just a few minutes, you will encounter the sculpture of Solfarid. It represents a Viking ship traveling toward the sun. It is a very famous landmark in Reykjavik, and a very popular place for photo enthusiasts.
The Harpa center is the cultural center of Reykjavik. This is where most of the shows, big concerts, conferences and so on, happen. It has been built just after the economic crisis, bringing huge controversy among public opinion. A lot of people were wondering if it was the best way to spend public money while everybody was struggling. Therefore, this had been the only building of a whole complex to be built.
Beside those facts, Harpa is definitely an architectural masterpiece. All the external walls are entirely made out of windows making the building extremely luminous, and giving the visitors a panoramic view on Reykjavik, its old harbor and the Faxafloi Bay.
The flea market is located by the harbor and is quite popular, both among Icelanders and tourists. It is complicated to tell precisely what kind of good can be purchased here, but for sure, one can find clothes, toys, souvenirs, vinyl, and food.
It is a fun experience to stroll among the different alleys of the market. Although if you plan to visit it, you must note that it is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 5pm.
After the visit of Harpa and the Flea Market, you are almost right in the middle of the city. You have two choices, you can either have a look at the main streets of Reykjavik: Laugavegur, Austurstræti and more, for which I recommend you to have a look at this article: A brief guide through bars and restaurants of Reykjavik city. For this guide, I will carry on with the places to visit during a walking tour. Adding restaurants and shopping streets to it is up to you.
From the flea market, head to the street of Lækjargata, at this end of this one you will find the pond. There are usually a lot of birds, mainly geese and swans entertaining both tourists and their kids.
I recommend you to walk along the pond. It is not a long walk and it is peaceful and quiet. On your way, you will encounter a lot of sculptures and different statues. Depending on which side you walk, you will either have a view on the city, or on a lot of nice houses scattered among trees.
From the first settlers, to the arrival of Internet, the national museum relates the entire history of Iceland. One will have the opportunity to see authentic Viking tools and tombs, learn about how Christians started to evangelize the Island and also the role Iceland had during the Second World War.
The museum is quite big in my opinion, and if you are with children, it might be complicated to keep them focused during the whole visit which can easily take up to three hours. Click here to know more
After the national museum, you have to walk ten to 15 minutes to reach the area of Grandi, the old harbor. Most of the whale-watching tours are starting from Grandi, and there are also many restaurants and coffee shops in the area. It is a very nice area to walk around.
But also, there is the Whales of Iceland exhibition. Definitely one of my favorite so far. Inside of it, there are sculptures of every single type of whales and dolphins in their actual size!
I must say that at first, I was not that impressed, I mean the sculptures are indeed impressive because they are huge, but there is almost no information displayed. This is why the audio guide is an absolute necessity in my opinion. Once you have it, you get to learn a lot about the whales and it is actually very interesting.
When I visited it in July 2018, there was just 2 or 3 languages available, but they told us many more were coming soon.
This one might not be for everyone. The Icelandic studios CCP, created the worldwide famous science fiction online game: Eve-Online. The game has millions and millions of fans across the globe, and if you are one of them, you will definitely want to check in this sculpture, which has, to be honest, nothing impressive. But you know, a fan has to do fan things. If you were among one of the firsts players, your name will be engraved on the base stone of the monument.
If after all of this your legs are still not completely sore, then you should know that this guide was not a comprehensive list. There are a lot more things to do or see in Reykjavik, they are not in this guide, either because it would have been too long or simply because they did not fit in a consistent itinerary. Also, I did not want to talk about museums I had not visited yet. Below, I will name a few ideas that you can add to your list of visits, with a very short description. It will be up to you to find more information about those.
Up a hill, it offers a panoramic view on the city. There is also a nice coffee shop, a man-made ice cave and a fake bird cliff.
Most often visited by Northern Lights hunters as this is the closest dark place accessible from Reykjavik, it is also very nice during the daytime. The lighthouse stands there beautifully and landscape varies a lot depending if it is high or low tide. Close to it is a nice cabin to do some bird watching as the area is also a bird reserve.
In Grandi, this museum is entirely dedicated to the different Vikings sagas. I did not visited it, but it is on my bucket list as I just heard good things about it.
If you want to take a dip in the ocean without freezing to death, this is where you should go to feel like in a tropical country. Yes, I am exaggerating. A lot.