What to see in Reykjavik in one day only? In this guide we share Reykjavik’s must see attractions, where to stay in Reykjavik for sightseeing and how to make the most of one day in Iceland’s capital city
Reykjavik is one of those cities that seem destined to be visited in a hurry. Visitors tend to look a the city as a a base for day trips, rather than a destination itself, and indeed Reykjavik serves that purpose very well.
However, Iceland’s capital is more than just a landing port. Albeit small, the city has a cool, dynamic vibe to it and I hugely enjoyed spending a little bit of time familiarizing with its old centre and cozy interiors.
You can see the main city attractions with one day in Reykjavik but if you can, do spend more than one night here so you can enjoy its many restaurants and pubs.
It is a fun city to go out!
What to see in Reykjavik in one day: top sights
Reykjavik is a small city and if you like to walk you can visit almost all of its main sites following a walking itinerary.
Like any city, visiting Reykjavik in one day only will probably leave you wanting for more but I believe this is a good way to get a taste of the city.
My two favourite places in the city are the a seafront and the old town, so this is where my itinerary start.
Harpa concert Hall
The Harpa concert hall is an impressive building located on Reykjavik’s seafront.
Coming into the city from Keflavik you cannot miss it. Its angular shape makes it stand out from the rest of the city’s architecture and its shiny windows draw your eyes towards it even on the darkest of days.
Harpa is a concert hall and a cultural centre and has a rich programme of events, some free.
If you only have one day in Reykjavik, you may not have the time to see one but do make time to see Harpa nonetheless.
The building is impressive and it has a nice, albeit expensive shop, that you can cruise while escaping the rain (trust me, you need these types of tips for visiting Reykjavik!).
Access to the shop and main welcome area is free. Tours of the inside are offered regularly during the day: you can find all info here
The Sun Voyager
Reykjavik’s waterfront is adorned by many sculptures, all an easy stroll one from another. The most famous and the one that has grown to almost iconic status in the eye of many visitors is the Sun Voyager, a short walk down the waterfront from Harpa.
The Sun Voyager is a creation of sculptor Jón Gunnar Arnason and is a ‘dream boat and an ode to the sun’. The sculpture resembles a skeletal Viking ship and has what I describe as an ‘insect quality’ to it.
There is something very simple about it but also striking. I personally loved it and its location just in front of the Atlantic with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop is truly special.
A little further down along the waterfront there is Hofdi House. More than an attraction, this house is a landmark with historical significance. Here, Reagan and Gorbachev met in 1986 and their meeting is usually regarded as the beginning of the end of the cold war.
The house is closed to the general public but it is worth heading to its grounds anyway: here you find info panels with the history of the house and a sculpture depicting pillars from the chieftain’s seat of the first Norwegian settlers in Reykjavík.
Probably the most iconic building in the whole of Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirja is the peculiar looking church towering above the city.
The church dominates Reykjavik’s skyline and while I cannot say I particularly took to its architecture, it is indeed unique and worth seeing. Hallgrimskirja is a Lutheran church and services take place regularly.
Outside service hours it is possible to visit its interior and also climb, by elevators, to its top: this is where photos of Reykjavik from above are taken!
Laugavegur is Reykjavik’s main shopping street and it is a fun, vibrant place for a stroll. Here you have shops, tourist kiosks and restaurants catering from pretty much all needs.
This is a great street to know for grabbing a meal or a drink but as you will easily grasp from the menus hanging outside the various establishments, prices add up quickly. A pint of beer easily sets you back up to 12 Euro!
If you still want to enjoy the bars and get a taste of Iceland’s famous craft beer, however, there are ways: locals told us about an app called ‘Appy Hour’ to scout discounted drinks in town and an English language newspaper called The Reykjavik’s grapevine’ to know when to go where for the best deals.
Famous Tjornin Pond is a small lake in the centre of Reykjavik and when I first heard about it I just couldn’t figure out why people were going on about it, until I saw it.
Tjornin pond is indeed that, a pond, but it is lovely and in winter has a peculiarity. The pond freezes almost entirely but there is a corner of it that is always warm and attracts the many ducks that would otherwise be displaced by the harsh Icelandic winter!
While not a showstopper maybe, I did find the pond cool and it is a place I would definitely come to often if visiting Reykjavik with kids.
Reykjavik’s old harbour
In recent years Reykjavik’s old port has reinvented itself as a cool tourist spot and is indeed a nice place for a stroll. Here is where many tours have their booking kiosks and departure docks (whale watching, puffin tours etc) and many eateries and museums have pop up too, making it a cheap and fun place to grab a snack.
Famous in this area is the chocolate Omnom chocolate, The Sea Baron seafood shack and a place known as ‘The best hot dog in town’ which sells exactly what you thing: hot dogs!
Other things you can see with one day in Reykjavik
If you are visiting Reykjavik in one day you may not have time to visit its museums but there are many you can choose from, should you want to add a museum visit to your one day in Reykjavik itinerary.
Some of the most famous are:
Perlan museum is famous for a two characteristics: its wrap around terrace offering views over the city and its ice cave! Perlan museum has recreated an ice cave open to visitors on its grounds and aims at to teach people about the secrets of glaciers. The exhibition is very popular with adults and kids. You can book tickets in advance here
The Settlement exhibition is built around the ruins of a Viking longhouse and uses archaeology and technology to teach about early Icelandic life.
Reykjavik Art museum hosts exhibitions of contemporary Icelandic art. The museum is hosted in 3 different buildings in different areas of Reykjavik and regularly exhibits works by Icelandic famous artists Erró, Kjarval, and Ásmundur Sveinsson.
The National Museum of Iceland displays artifacts from settlement to the modern age and teaches the history of Iceland with special attention to the settlement era, Iceland chieftain’s and the introduction of Christianity to the country.
Where to stay in Reykjavik for sightseeing
Reykjavik city centre is small but its capital region is widespread and if you are only visiting Reykjavik in one day it is worth picking accommodation close to the centre to minimise travelling time to and from your hotel.
There is a plethora of accommodation options in Reykjavik centre and these are some of my favourites, for location and quality (the following are affiliate links to my favorite booking site: booking.com)
Icelandair Hotel Marina, at the Old Port famous, among other things, for their excellent cocktail bar
Centerhotel Plaza, in the heart of Old Reykjavik, close to restaurants and shops
Hotel Fron on Reykjavik’s main shopping street, serving a light breakfast from 4am
Room with a view luxury apartment hotel on Reykjavik’s main shopping street
Canopy Hilton Hotel Reykjavik city centre in a perfect location for sightseeing and shopping
Apotek hotel, in the heart of old Reykjavik and with a well know, albeit expensive, restaurant
Skuggi Hotel close to Reykjavik’s shopping street and offering clean, cozy and modern rooms and great costumer service
All these hotels are also close to the designate pick up points for day tours.
How to get around Reykjavik
The best way to get around Reykjavik city centre is on foot. As this walking itinerary shows, most of Reykjavik’s attractions are a short distance from each other and with a full day available you can see them without having to rush.
Should your accommodation be away from the centre however, you can also visit Reykjavik by car, bus or booking a hop-on hop-off bus tour.
If visiting Reykjavik by car, your best option is to park it on one of the many allocated spaces available in the centre and then negotiate the city on foot. Parking is either on street with pay and display machines or in designated parking lots.
The only public service system available in Reykjavik is the bus. Buses are mostly useful to reach areas outside of the centre. Maps are available at the main city tourist centre which also has info about current fares and timetable.
I hope you enjoyed our itinerary to see Reykjavik in one day. Don’t forget to also check out our itinerary for 3 days in Iceland should you be planning a trip in winter.
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