Free Things To Do in Reykjavik
- #1View all Photos#1 in Reykjavik14.2 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE14.2 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE
The aurora borealis (or northern lights) can be an almost eerie sight: Picture emerald green swirls coloring the otherwise darkened sky. But scientists have a boring explanation for this phenomenal natural light show – "collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the Earth's atmosphere," according to the Northern Lights Centre. Still, it's a pretty breathtaking sight, and if you're visiting Reykjavik in winter, you might want to stake out some time for northern lights gazing.
Although you can see the lights from Reykjavik, you'll increase your chances of viewing them outside of the city. Previous travelers recommend taking a tour with local companies like BusTravel Iceland or Reykjavik Excursions. (But keep in mind that the aurora borealis requires a perfect cocktail of climate conditions in order to show – so you're not guaranteed to see the elusive display of lights even if you book a tour.) If you'd rather hunt for this natural phenomenon on your own, time your visit between September and mid-April.
- #2View all PhotosfreeGolden Circle#2 in Reykjavik22.5 miles to city center22.5 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Golden Circle is a very popular, 190-mile-long tourist route that runs by Thingvellir National Park; the 105-foot dual cascading waterfall Gullfoss (Golden Falls); and the geothermal Haukadalur valley's Strokkur, a geyser that gushes water 60 to 100 feet into the air every five minutes; among other attractions.
According to recent visitors, the Golden Circle, which sits in South Iceland about 25 miles away from Reykjavik, is a can't-miss part of Iceland, even on a rainy day. But public transportation does not travel to the region, so plan on hiring a car or joining an organized tour. Past travelers recommend companies like Gray Line Iceland and Reykjavik Excursions.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Reykjavik3.5 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND3.5 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
You'll find many sculptures scattered throughout Reykjavik, but for panoramic vistas and a look at one of the city's most iconic pieces, walk along the waterfront to the Sun Voyager (known locally as Sólfar). This steel sculpture, which was designed by Jon Gunnar Arnason, mimics a Viking ship and pays homage to the sun. Its location also boasts picturesque views of Mount Esja, a sprawling mountain filled with hiking trails.
Though you'll likely spend more time walking to and from the Sun Voyager (located about a mile from the city center) than snapping photos of it, recent visitors said the sculpture is a must see, especially on a clear day at sunrise or sunset. Harpa is also situated nearby, making this a great attraction to visit before or after wandering around the concert venue.
- #4View all PhotosfreeSouth Iceland#4 in Reykjavik99.1 miles to city centerBeaches, Natural Wonders, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND99.1 miles to city centerBeaches, Natural Wonders, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
If you have a limited itinerary, you'll want to prioritize seeing the Golden Circle. But if you're staying in Iceland for multiple days, a trek throughout South Iceland is a must, according to recent travelers. This region, which is south and east of Reykjavik, boasts towering volcanoes, expansive glaciers, gushing waterfalls, ample farmland and a black-sand beach. You may even pass Icelandic horses or spot puffins while traveling around the area.
Besides touring Golden Circle sights like Gullfoss and Strokkur, previous visitors suggested heading to Vík, where the black-sand Reynisfjara and its gigantic cave reside. Snapping photos of Skógafoss and walking behind Seljalandsfoss, two of South Iceland's most well-known waterfalls, are also worthwhile. If you don't want to drive to the region, consider joining an organized tour from companies like BusTravel Iceland and Gray Line Iceland. Nine- or 10-hour excursions to Iceland's south coast start at 12,781 Icelandic króna (about $123.50) per person and include roundtrip Reykjavik transfers and the services of a guide.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Reykjavik3.5 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND3.5 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Iceland's tallest and largest church is also its most photographed site. Named after 17th-century hymn writer and church scholar Reverend Hallgrímur Pétursson, this church took nearly 50 years to complete, with construction on it starting in 1945. The shape of the futuristic structure is a cross between a glacier and a rocket ship.
Recent travelers recommended visiting Hallgrímur's Church to snap photos of the gorgeous structure and listen to the organ playing during free lunchtime concerts on Thursdays and Saturdays. Many also suggest paying 900 Icelandic króna ($9) to ride an elevator up to the top of the church. There, you'll find 360-degree views of Reykjavik.
- #7View all PhotosfreeLaugavegur#7 in Reykjavik3.1 miles to city centerCafes, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.1 miles to city centerCafes, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
For open-air shopping, stroll along Laugavegur. This shopping-centric street is filled with boutiques selling souvenirs, clothing and specialty foods like local cheeses and meats. Additionally, you'll find an array of restaurants that serve everything from Icelandic to Italian to sushi.
Recent travelers described the street as lively and were impressed with the variety of shops and eateries, though some cautioned that prices here are generally higher than what you'd find in American stores. If you do decide to shop here, remember that most stores close by 6 p.m. on weekdays (and even earlier on weekends).
- #8View all PhotosfreeHarpa#8 in Reykjavik3.9 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.9 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
One of Reykjavik's easiest structures to recognize is its concert hall and conference center, Harpa. Situated at the western end of the Sculpture and Shore Walk, Harpa's modern design regularly woos vacationers and architecture buffs alike. In fact, the window-centric building has won numerous design accolades, including the 2013 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award and the Gramophone Magazine World Architecture Award 2010. The performing arts venue also hosts an array of events, from symphony shows and comedic acts to the Reykjavik Jazz Festival.
First-time visitors love exploring this impressive structure. However, some past travelers who initially visited before 2017 were a bit disappointed to see that the building now limits where you can wander. The lobby, its shops and its restaurants are still free to visit, but checking out Harpa's performance areas and using its bathrooms will now cost you a small fee.
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