While some travellers like to do stopovers in London, Paris, or Amsterdam, I’ve always preferred Reykjavik for my hops across the pond from Canada to the European continent. Soaking in the Blue Lagoon springs to mind for many but what else is there to see, do and eat? Whether you land here before heading deeper into the country like on our new Trekking Eastern Iceland tour or just face a long layover, my 2-day guide is chock full of ideas for even the shortest jaunts.
Day 1: Church pews, city views, and crafty brews
Chances are good that you’ll land super early in the morning so your first stop is going to want to be for coffee at Reykjavik Roasters (Freyjugata 41). From there, make your way to Hallgrimskirkja and impress your friends by nailing the pronunciation as HALL-CREAMS-KIRK-UH.
This centrally-located Viking church marks your point of reference for all things in the city. If you can’t see it from where you’re standing, you’re probably not in Reykjavik and may need to read an entirely different guide. Hallgrimskirkja welcomes travellers to view its unique architecture and observe church services. Take the elevator to the top for the best views and stick around to hear the concert organ play its 5,275 pipes.
Save your pennies for the most incredible lunch on this planet at Sægreifinn down by the marina (Geirsgata 8). My personal favourite is the lobster soup, an Arctic char skewer and an Einstök Icelandic White Ale or Ulfur India Pale Ale to wash it down. Expect to pay $40-50 (CAD) and mark my words, it’s worth every Icelandic króna.
From there, wander through the marina and take in the Whales of Iceland exhibition (Fiskislóð 23-25). It includes 23 life-size models of whales all found in Icelandic waters. Pro-tip: Skip whale on the menu as they are only killed to feed tourists and most Icelanders haven’t had this in their diet for decades.
While beer likely dates back to the settlement by Norsemen, it was effectively banned in Iceland for the better part of the 20th century. The craft beer scene has had quite the revitalization since this law was abolished in 1989 and now craft breweries can be found throughout the country. Start at Quest – Hair, Beer & Whiskey Saloon for a fresh Viking coif and head down Laugavegur Street to RVK Brewing Company, BrewDog Reykjavik, or MicroBar. Note that most Icelanders go out late, so if you want to party with them be sure to get in that afternoon nap.
Day 2: Concert halls, museum walls, and viking calls
Start your day with a quick Icelandic buffet brekky at KEX Hostel (Skúlagata 28) and take a wander along the waterfront for beautiful views of the harbour. Pop into HARPA Concert Hall (Austurbakki 2) to see if Iceland’s queen Björk is in town or maybe pick up tickets to a production of How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes for later in the day. Then, peek into the HARPA gift shop to check out some local artisan and literary talent. Did you know that one in 10 Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime?!
Time for some culture! The National Museum of Iceland (Suðurgata 41) and The Settlement Exhibition (Aðalstræti 16) both offer interactive experiences sure to educate and engage all travellers. If you’re more into art then be sure to check out The National Gallery of Iceland (Fríkirkjuvegur 7) or The Living Art Museum (Grandagarður 20). If that’s not your thing, you can always go see what’s up at The Icelandic Phallological Museum (Kalkofnsvegur 2), a well known tourist favourite.
As the day draws to a close, make sure to get those sunset ‘grams down at the Sun Voyager. The iconic statue was created to celebrate 200 years of Reykjavik and offers a lovely waterfront view.
Walk west towards the marina from here for a great beer and bistro experience at Bryggjan Brugghús (Grandagarður 8) and then pray to the Viking gods for the Aurora Borealis to show up in the night sky.
Want to see Iceland for yourself with G Adventures? Check out Best of Iceland — Plus or our new Trekking Eastern Iceland tour that starts in Egilsstaðir. We’ve even just introduced Mini Adventures including a Classic Reykjavik Winter Mini Adventure that shows you Reykjavik’s best with a local CEO (Chief Experience Officer) leading the way.