The first time I arrived in Iceland, I felt like I’d touched down in a different world. The endless midsummer sunlight added to that sense, but visiting Reykjavik for the first time is special no matter when you go. The world’s northernmost capital city has a character unlike anywhere else—it’s quaint and quirky, but also pleasingly stylish, creative, and forward-looking. Visitors to Reykjavik are typically eager to get out into Iceland’s stunning countryside, but if you have the time to take it slowly in the capital, I highly recommend you do so.
The weather changes quickly. Be prepared for any and all conditions.
If you only have time for one thing, make like an Icelander and head to the thermal pools at Laugardalur.
Fuel up with cinnamon rolls from Brauð & Co and coffee from Reykjavik Roasters, located just down the street. Many of Reykjavik’s top attractions are within walking distance of one another, so you can easily check most of them off in just one day. Don’t miss Hallgrímskirkja church (go to the top for a bird’s-eye view), the city’s Instagram-famous rainbow street (between Bergstaðastræti and Laugavegur), Harpa concert hall, and the Sun Voyager sculpture on the city’s northern waterfront.
Spend your second day exploring Reykjavik’s museums and galleries. For Icelandic history, head to the National Museum of Iceland and the Settlement Exhibition; for contemporary art, explore the three locations of the Reykjavík Art Museum or check out the Marshall House, which hosts the Living Art Museum and Kling & Bang. Most museum admission fees are covered with the Reykjavik City Card.
Around a 10-minute drive southeast of downtown, Perlan’s “Wonders of Iceland” exhibition explains the science behind the aurora borealis and Iceland’s volcanoes and glaciers. The onsite revolving restaurant also provides some of the city’s best views (note that it closes early in the evening).
Don’t leave Reykjavik without trying some of Iceland’s traditional dishes, such as skyr (a creamy yogurt-like dairy product) and Icelandic lamb soup. A food tour can take you to some of the city’s best spots, including the renowned Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand, which has been serving up lamb hot dogs since 1937—ask for yours ein með öllu (“with everything”).
After eating your way through the city, do as the locals do and head to the thermal pools at Laugardalur for a soak.