Want to explore Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik but you’re short on time? The great thing (in my opinion) about Reykjavik is there isn’t really a lot of necessary “attractions” like you find in other capital cities like London or Paris. So, you have less to pack in and more time to just enjoy the city. Here’s my guide to spending 48 hours in Reykjavik.
Fly into Reykjavik. We landed about 9 and got into the city around noon which worked great. We rented an Air BnB right by Hallgrímskirkja. This is a central location but the city is so walk-able, you can pretty much stay anywhere!
Head to Hallgrímskirkja and admire its stoic beauty. Dedicated to Iceland’s most renowned poet, Hallgrímur Pétursson, this church took over 40 years to build and is the largest of its kind in Iceland. The architecture symbolizes the mountains and glaciers rising out of the basalt columns around Iceland. I would recommend paying to take an elevator ride to the top for a great view of the city you’re about to further explore!
Once you’ve ridden to the top of Hallgrímskirkja, make sure reward yourself and grab a quick waffle at the adorable stand right next to it.
Stroll down Laugavegur and get your shopping on! This is the hip shopping avenue where you’ll find all the gift shops and cool boutiques your heart desires. If you’re hoping to pick up some hand-knit items (hats, sweaters, etc), make sure to go to the Handknitting Association of Iceland shop. It’s located on Skólavörðustígur 19, just a block or so off of Laugavegur. All items in this store use Icelandic wool and are hand knit by locals. They aren’t just a tourist item as I saw a lot of Icelanders wearing them. I regret not getting one for myself!
Walk to the end of the Laugavegur and you’ll be able to see Harpa Concert Hall. Finished in 2011, this is a newer addition to Reykjavik. It features a distinctive colored glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. If you have time, head inside for a great view of the harbor.
We ended up heading to the grocery store and just ate in our apartment the first night. Jet lag is no joke, people!
Take a tour by the minds behind I Heart Reykjavik. I would highly recommend this tour! We got lots of great information about the city and suggestions on places to eat as well. Her blog was also instrumental to the planning of the rest of our trip but more on that in a later post.
After your tour, stop and see all the great street art around the city! What I love all about all the street art is that you can see it as you walk around the city and don’t have to go inside a museum for it. There are lots of different styles so let me know what your favorite is below in the comments. Check out the post on street art from I Heart Reykjavik to help you find all the best ones!
This is part of the tour but be sure to check out the Icelandic Parliament house, Alþingishúsið. Since it was finished in 1881, the building has housed the National Library, National Gallery, University of Iceland and the president’s offices. There isn’t too much of the parliament still housed in the building today but the exterior alone is worth a look!
Next, explore the old harbor! Built between 1913 and 1917, it was mainly used as a service harbor. If you’re heading out for a whale watching or puffin tour, this is most likely where you’ll depart from. Recently, this area has been changing with the addition of new shops and restaurants. This is a great place to grab lunch while you wander around. We had a drink and a snack at the Sæta Svínið Gastropub on Hafnarstræti. There were lots of different cocktails and beers/ciders to choose from here plus the interior was a really cool.
Speaking of lunch, you can’t miss a stop at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur for a famous Icelandic hot dog. The name translates in English to: The Town’s Best Sausages therefore it has to be good, right?! Icelandinc hot dogs are lamb based so you can definitely taste a difference from a regular American hot dog. This place is popular with tourists and locals alike so expect to wait in line. I promise the line moves quickly and they are worth the wait!
If you’re lucky like us to visit during the World Cup, make sure to join the crowds to watch the matches! We happened to be in Iceland during their first appearance in a major tournament. The vibe in the city and all over the country was so positive. Everyone was so proud to be apart of the World Cup and the excitement was palpable and infectious! Definitely made me love the country more.
Check out the Sun Voyager sculpture. It is a sculpture created by Jón Gunnar Árnason for the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik and symbolizes the promise of new, undiscovered territory. We saw it on a very cloudy, rainy day but I bet it would be even more beautiful with the sun glinting off of it!
Finally, grab dinner. There are a lot of interesting and creative restaurants around Reykjavik but the popular ones fill quickly in the summertime so book ahead! We had an excellent dinner at Snaps (Þórsgata 1). While we waited for a table, we had a drink in the basement which reminded us of a hip jazz club. My brother said he had the best gin and tonic of his life here so if you’re into that, be sure to get one. I would definitely recommend the french onion soup!
Since it was after 10 PM but still light out, we decided to have more drinks! We found a really cool bar at Austurstræti 16 called Apotek. It’s called Apotek because it used to be the Apotekið or pharmacy from 1930-1999. The interior still looks like a pharmacy and the drinks are all medicine themed. It was really fun!
I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of Reykjavik! We had a really great time exploring the city and it set the tone for the rest of the trip!
Have you ever been to Reykjavik and have anything to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!