Few places have so quickly become a must-visit tourist destination quite like Iceland has. The land of fire and ice has rocketed on to the world’s stage, in part thanks to movies and TV shows such as Game of Thrones. If you’re coming to Iceland, there’s really no way to avoid the nation’s capital Reykjavik.
It may be a small city, but Reykjavik is a perfect introduction to Iceland. No matter if it’s just a stopover, or if it’s the first leg of your Icelandic adventure, Reykjavik is the right choice. 3 days in Reykjavik is a great amount of time, and we highly recommend following our Reykjavik itinerary which will take you through exactly what to do in Reykjavik in 3 days.
Best Time to Visit Reykjavik
On a visit to Iceland, which sits just below the Arctic Circle, timing is everything. This isn’t to say that there’s a wrong time to visit the Icelandic capital, only that what you want to do there will determine when the best time to visit Reykjavik is for you.
If you’re looking for the best weather to be outdoors sightseeing, the summer months of June through August are the obvious choices for visiting Reykjavik, but because of this, that’s also when the city along with the rest of the country are at its busiest with tourists. Expect to share the sights with plenty of other visitors and for prices to be at their most expensive. The clear alternative to the high prices of summer is visiting during spring or autumn when mixed weather brings lower prices.
Don’t dismiss the idea of coming to Iceland in winter though, just because the weather is at its coldest and the days at their shortest, there is still a draw during these months. It’s said that the months of February and March are the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. Just remember to properly rug up if you do go then.
Check flights to Reykjavik from the USA (from $195) and UK (from £36)
How to Get Around Reykjavik
A small city by most standards, you won’t find that getting around Reykjavik is difficult, weather permitting. The main part of the city can easily be covered on foot, making that the best way to go about sightseeing in Reykjavik. That being said, there are city buses which run from the inner city to the outer neighborhoods, with a range of ticket types available.
For day trips out of Reykjavik, most people choose to either take a tour (we have included some recommendations for you below) or to drive themselves in a rental car. If you’re thinking about renting a car, take a look at RentalCars.com. They usually offer the best rates in Iceland.
There is also the possibility that one of the regional buses might be of use in exploring beyond the city.
To get from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik, if you’re not driving, you’ll need to book a ticket on one of the airport transfer buses. The buses have regular departures and the journey takes about 45 minutes, they’ll even drop you off right at your accommodation in town.
Accommodation in Reykjavik
With a long weekend in Reykjavik, you’re going to want to find somewhere cozy to come back to after your time out sightseeing. As we’ve already mentioned, Reykjavik isn’t a big city and most available accommodation is in the city center. However, for the sake of clarity on where to stay in Reykjavik, the best places to stay in Reykjavik are generally not farther east than the Reykjavík Art Museum, nor farther south than the National Museum of Iceland.
If you’re looking for the highest levels of comfort, you’ll want to stay at the 4-star Sand Hotel by Keahotels. Ideally located, this hotel boasts stylishly comfortable rooms and all the amenities you could ask for, including a superb breakfast.
For travelers looking to balance comfort and cost, Apartment K is a great option. Offering a range of modern studios and apartments each with their own kitchen, guests are welcomed by friendly and helpful staff which makes for a great stay.
Another great place to find apartment rentals is on Airbnb. For recommendations check out our list of the best Airbnbs in Reykjavik.
Iceland is a famously expensive destination, so when we talk “budget options”, it’s all relative. With that in mind, the most affordable bed you’ll find in Reykjavik is at the Hlemmur Square hostel. Not only cheap, this hostel is in a great location and has communal spaces like shared kitchens which make it perfect for backpackers.
For more accommodation options in Reykjavik check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 3-Day Reykjavik Itinerary
Whether it’s simply as a stop over as you fly between North America and Europe or part of a greater Iceland itinerary, a few days is all you need in Reykjavik. Of course, if you want to make the most of your time there you’re going to want some guidance. This Reykjavik itinerary will not only take you through the best places to visit in Reykjavik, but also help you identify which other places and activities in this part of Iceland you’ll want to experience.
However, before we get to our Reykjavik itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
SafetyWing offers travel insurance for only about $10 a week, making it a no-brainer to get. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
SafetyWing is, of course, not the only option available. Two other popular alternatives are World Nomads and Heymondo.
Ok, let’s delve into this special Reykjavik travel itinerary. With it, you’ll know exactly what to do with your 3 days in Reykjavik.
Day 1 in Reykjavik
Upon arriving in the Icelandic capital, there’s no better way to start your visit than by quickly seeing the best of Reykjavik on your first day. By visiting these sights which sit close together, you free up your time later on for some bigger excursions.
There’s no doubt that high on the list of best things to do in Reykjavik is a visit to the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church. Resting on a small hill at the center of the city, the Hallgrimskirkja has a striking design which is said to echo elements of Iceland’s landscapes such as the trap rocks along the coast. The tallest church in the country, you can not only admire it from inside and out, but also head up the tower for the best view of Reykjavik.
Walking along the Laugavegur, which runs directly through the center of the city, is an unavoidable must do for visitors to the city. Lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants, it’s a popular place for shopping or to get a bite to eat. You will also find typical Icelandic buildings as you walk along, as well as the odd street mural.
Right in the middle of the downtown area lies the Austurvöllur Square and Public Park. Around the square are all sorts of stores and restaurants, the Reykjavík Cathedral, as well as the Icelandic Parliament, which is housed inside a sombre grey stone building. Behind the Parliament House you can find a picturesque garden which blooms during the warmer months.
Perhaps the most interesting spot here though is in a small monument directly across the road from the parliament. Known as The Black Cone, Monument to Civil Disobedience, this sculpture of a cone splitting a boulder serves as a reminder that it is the people’s right and duty to protest when the government violates their rights. Bearing a quote from the French Revolution, the monument is a provocative message to those inside the parliament.
A short walk from the downtown area brings you to the peaceful sight of Lake Tjörnin. Also called the city pond, this is a relaxing spot from which to admire the city. With ducks, swans, and geese paddling around and buildings like the Fríkirkjan Lutheran Church by the shore, the scenic lake makes for a nice break from sightseeing. Of course, it takes on quite a different feel when it freezes over in winter.
National Museum of Iceland
To better understand the city of Reykjavik and Iceland as a whole, a trip to one of Iceland’s best museums, the National Museum of Iceland, is in order. The museum exhibits take you from the earliest days of Vikings settling here right up to modern day Iceland, and explains the heritage and history of the country and its people. Combining artifacts and photography, you’ll come away from a visit here with a better grasp of how Iceland came to be the place it is today.
Harpa Concert Hall
Down by the Old Reykjavik Harbour you’ll spy one of the city’s most beautiful new additions, the Harpa Concert Hall. This gleaming glass building seems to have just as many people visit for its stunning architecture as to actually catch a performance. Whether its beautiful design is enhanced by reflected light from the sky or the incredible nightly light display, it’s a sight to behold. It’s also worth going inside to admire the hidden layer of its contemporary design.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
Certainly Reykjavik’s most unusual attraction, the Iceland Phallological Museum is perhaps the last thing you’d expect to find on your visit. Inside this museum, you can see over two hundred penises from animals native to Iceland and its waters. This includes specimens from whales, seals and even a polar bear, as well as pieces attached to local folklore. While not for everyone, this museum still manages to draw in quite a few people curious of what they might see there.
To end the day, there’s no better spot to watch the sunset from than the statue of the Sun Voyager along the city’s northern waterfront. With a backdrop of distant fjords and mountains, the steel sculpture looks even more dazzling with skies of purple and orange. Crafted in 1986 to look like a Viking longship, the Sun Voyager is a popular subject for photographers hoping to catch the waning light.
Day 2 in Reykjavik
On your second day in Reykjavik, it’s time to make the most popular day trip from the city around Iceland’s Golden Circle. Along this well-trodden circuit, you’ll take in a collection of beautiful and historically significant natural landmarks that sit not far from Reykjavik.
Recommendation: If you don’t have a car, we can highly recommend this full day Golden Circle tour. It is great value for money, and the guides are super fun and knowledgeable about Iceland.
Thingvellir National Park
First up on a tour of the Golden Circle is Thingvellir National Park, a place that manages to be geologically fascinating and deeply important to Icelandic history. Known as a rift valley, when you stand in the national park you’re actually standing between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia.
Here you can clearly see where the tectonic plates start thanks to the sheer cliffs which form their edges. The rocky terrain and nearby Thingvallavatn Lake make Thingvellir a beautiful spot to visit. This is also where you’ll find Silfra, a truly unique spot to go snorkelling or diving.
But besides its beauty, Thingvellir is culturally important as it was once the site of the Icelandic parliament, the Althing. From the years 930 to 1800 this hallowed place was where Iceland’s leaders the Law Council would meet. Walk down to the Lögberg and you’ll be on the very site where the world’s oldest parliament took place.
Next on the classic route is the beguiling Gullfoss Waterfall, one of Iceland’s best waterfall. Positioned in a valley that quickly drops away, the waterfall has two drops to it, with the river taking a hard right turn in between. With water surging over the falls, especially in summer, Gullfoss is a force of nature impressive to behold and known to make some pretty great rainbows.
On your visit, you have a choice of viewing the waterfall from a viewpoint above or walking down to the level of the falls and surrounding yourself in the spray of the Hvíta River. Of course, when winter hits you might get to see the waterfall partly frozen, glimmering and jagged as if frozen in time.
Geysir Geothermal Area
Last but not least on a trip around the Golden Circle is the geothermal area of Geysir. This is in fact where the English word geyser originally comes from, so it’s hardly surprising that you can expect to see the occasional eruption from vents of steam and spurting chimneys of hot spring water. Although named after the Great Geysir, a now mostly dormant vent, visitors won’t be disappointed by the ever-reliable Strokkur geyser. Erupting roughly every 10 minutes, Strokkur normally reaches around 20 meters in height, though it has also been known to get as high as double that.
In the evening, you have your chance to go out and try to tick something off the bucketlist – witness the Northern Lights in person. With the right conditions, you’ll get to see the night sky light up with ever-changing swirls of shimmering color. The best way to experience the Aurora Borealis is by heading out of Reykjavik on a guided tour, as they’ll know the conditions that night and the best place to see this incredible natural phenomenon.
Day 3 in Reykjavik
The Golden Circle isn’t the only day trip you can make from Reykjavik, far from it actually. Your last day in Reykjavik is best spent venturing out to other parts of Iceland on a day trip from Reykjavik to see all the wonders that this Nordic island holds.
Widely regarded as one of the things you must do in Iceland, the temptation to visit the Blue Lagoon is a hard one to fight. This luxury spa has become famous for its outdoor geothermal pools of pale blue waters set against volcanic black rocks. With steam rising off the pools, the Blue Lagoon manages to be quite intimate despite its size. Best of all, the Blue Lagoon is a short drive from Keflavik Airport and a common stop for those traveling between the airport and Reykjavik.
It’s important to mention that unlike some of Iceland’s geothermal springs, the Blue Lagoon is entirely manmade. And yet, that doesn’t make the hot, mineral-enriched waters any less soothing. With the water temperatures generally sitting around 37–39 °C (99–102 °F), you can sit snugly in the pools even when it’s freezing cold out.
Beyond floating in the spa pools, there are other activities and facilities available. Some people like to use the Mask Bar where you apply silica and algae as part of a facial treatment which is meant to be good for the skin. Others are more interested in the swim-up bar or the sauna and steam rooms.
Keep in mind that the Blue Lagoon sells out fast, so make sure to purchase your tickets well in advance here. For more information about the different ticket options available, check out our guide on how to buy tickets to the Blue Lagoon.
The best way to get a sense of all the jaw-dropping landscapes which Iceland has is with a journey down along its south coast.
Recommendation: If you don’t want to drive yourself, take at look at this full-day tour from Reykjavik. It comes highly recommended because of its friendly and informative tour guides and its cheap price.
On a journey down the south coast, you’ll take in the gentle majesty of more of Iceland’s waterfalls, including the picturesque Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. You’ll pass green pastures where Icelandic horses roam as if ready for a photoshoot. On the road, one landscape will make way for the next and on and on like that, constantly surprising you with the sheer variety of raw beauty that the island has to offer.
In the end, the challenge will be in deciding which you like better, the black sand beach and trap columns at Reynisfjara, or the floating icebergs that drift along the Jokulsarlon lagoon. Safe to say that this is one tour you won’t forget.
Whale Watching Tour
Iceland doesn’t have a lot of wildlife to show off to visitors, but what it does have is pretty spectacular. However, many of the critters live in the icy waters which surround this remote island, that includes several species of whales. Onboard a boat out on the waters decked in heavy waterproof gear, you have the opportunity to spot minke whales and humpbacks and if you’re really lucky dolphins or a blue whale.
Recommendation: There a lot’s of different whale watching tour companies but this one is the most highly rated amongst them. What sets them apart from their competitors is that they guarantee that you will see a whale and if not you’ll get a free spot on another tour.
Some whale-watching tours will also include a stop along the coast so that you can admire the local puffins. The chance to see these cute little seabirds shows you a completely different side (and size) to Iceland’s wildlife. For animal lovers, there’s no better way to spend a day in Iceland.
And there you have it, all the things you can see around Reykjavik in 3 days. We are confident that by following our Reykjavik itinerary you will love Iceland just as much as we do.
Lib Fisher says
Thanks so much for a really informative website!! We are making plans for a trip to Norway next summer and want to stop in Iceland. This is a wonderful intro to Reykjavik and the major sights to see while visiting there. Thanks for all the links to insurance, tours, etc. Great article!!!