One day in Reykjavik, Iceland: A 24-hour itinerary

One day in Reykjavik, Iceland: A 24-hour itinerary

In the 10 years since I first visited Iceland the country’s popularity has exploded – it’s gone from hidden gem to hotspot. A lot of that is thanks to the airlines, with cheap flight deals and its handy position between Europe and North America. Whether you’re just planning a bigger Icelandic adventure or just stopping over, Reykjavik’s likely to be on your travel agenda. Which is a great excuse to spend time in this cool Nordic capital, with its mix of small-town friendliness and quirky design, Viking history and contemporary architecture. Its small size means you can pack a lot into a day too – so here’s my itinerary for one day in Reykjavik.

Read more: Visiting Copenhagen on a budget

Things to do in Reykjavik in one day

Things to do in Reykjavik in one day
Reykjavik’s colourful streets

9am: Street art and shopping

Icelanders are creative people and Reykjavik has a big focus on design. Most buildings are made of concrete so have become a blank canvas for street art. You’ll find it all around the city – from tiny hidden sketches to colourful murals covering the whole side of a building. The artists are usually commissioned or get permission from the property owner so it’s more art than graffiti.

Reykjavik’s a great place for shopping too, with not many chains and lots of unique boutiques. Head to the main Laugavegur shopping street for cool clothing and homewares at Kraum and Myconceptstore. Some of the top gifts to take home are lopapeysa (cozy Icelandic woolen jumpers), lava rock jewellery and the amazing mustard you get on Icelandic hotdogs.

Street art in Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik street art

11am: Hallgrímskirkja views

Reykjavik’s not a high-rise city, but there’s one building that towers over the rest – Hallgrímskirkja church. It’s 244 feet tall and built from white concrete. The unusual design was created by Icelandic state architect Guðjón Samúelsson in the 1940s. It was inspired by Iceland’s geology, with columns on each side based on the rock formations you get when lava cools.

The design was controversial at the time and it took 38 years to complete, so Samúelsson never got to see it finished. The church is pretty minimalist on the inside, but you can climb up to the top of the tower for a great view out over the city’s colourful rooftops (the slightly claustrophobic lift up to the observation platform costs 1000 ISK – £6/€7/$8).

Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik Iceland
The striking Hallgrímskirkja

1pm: Lunch at the Laundromat Café

I would practically move into the Laundromat Café if I had one near me. It’s part of a small chain that started out in Copenhagen before opening a branch in Reykjavik in 2011. It mixes up slightly kitsch American diner-style decor with a few Nordic touches. There are maps covering the walls and the bar is lined with shelves of colour-coded books – what’s not to love?

The food’s good too, with big brunches, local specialities like Skyr cake and Icelandic salmon, and homemade cakes. It’s a really cosy place where you can hide out on a wintery afternoon and read the papers, buy a book or borrow a board game. There are prints of vintage launderettes on the walls too, and you can actually do your laundry downstairs too.

Laundromat Café, Reykjavik
Inside the Laundromat Café

3pm: Harpa Concert Hall

There’s more geological inspiration on show at Reykjavik’s modern Harpa Concert Hall. Since opening in 2011 it’s been a dramatic new addition to the city’s waterfront and has rapidly become one of the most famous Reykjavik attractions. The building is made up of three-dimensional glass panels which use the same hexagonal shape as Iceland’s basalt rocks.

It sparkles with light reflected from the sea and sky by day, and is lit by colourful lights by night. The concert hall is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra but even if you can’t get to a performance it’s worth wandering around and checking out the architecture. There’s a bar, restaurant and gift shop, and a terrace with views out to the harbour and mountains.

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland
The dramatic Harpa Concert Hall

5.30pm: Sun Voyager sunset

Just along the waterfront from Harpa is the Sun Voyager – or Sólfar in Icelandic – statue. It was designed by sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason as a dream boat, an ode to sun and light (though there’s a certain resemblance to a Viking longboat too). It’s made of stainless steel on a base of polished granite, and on a clear day you get a backdrop of Mount Esja across the bay.

If you get there just before sunset then it makes a great silhouette against the changing colours of the sky. Sunset times vary massively in Iceland – from around 3.30pm in January to midnight in June, so you’ll need to adjust your itinerary depending on the time of year!

The Sun Voyager or Sólfar sculpture
The Sun Voyager or Sólfar sculpture

7pm: Drinks and dinner

Reykjavik isn’t the most obvious place you’d expect to find a bar dedicated to cult Coen Brother film The Big Lebowski, but that’s exactly what you’ve got at Leboswki Bar. If you’ve been the film you’ll know there’s only really one drink you can order – a White Russians (vodka, coffee liqueur and cream). There’s a whole White Russian menu as well as some more usual cocktails.

Leboswki Bar does burgers and nachos. But if you fancy something a bit more traditionally Icelandic, head to Saegreifinn (Sea Baron) in the harbour. They’re famous for their rich, sweet lobster soup, served in a cosy restaurant where diners share tables and sit on fish barrels.

White Russian cocktail drink
Wintery White Russian

More time?

If you’ve got another day in Iceland, then there are lots of great day trips from Reykjavik. Best known is the Blue Lagoon spa’s thermal pools, where you can soak in steaming blue waters. It’s about 45 minutes from Reykjavik but it’s close to the airport so you can stop off on the way to of from the city (book in advance though as it can get busy). Or there’s Fontana spa with outdoor pools where you can see local speciality Thunder Bread being cooked underground.

Further afield there are the stunning landscapes of Þingvellir National Park, with walking routes around the park – or snorkelling at Silfra Fissure in the freezing waters between two tectonic plates if you’re feeling brave. And the Golden Circle is a popular day trip which covers 300km and takes in Þingvellir as well as Gullfoss waterfall and the original erupting geyser.

Þingvellir National Park in Iceland
Iceland’s stunning scenery at Þingvellir

Where to stay in Reykjavik

We stayed at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina, in a historic harbour building, 10 minutes’ walk to the city centre. It’s bright and modern with quirky coastal decor touches – like knot-print wallpaper and vintage ship photos – and a cosy bar. Double rooms from £125/$163 a night.

The Kex Hostel also comes highly recommended if you’re on a budget. It’s a friendly, social place near to the Laugarvegur shopping street with a mix of dorms and private rooms with shared/en suite bathrooms, plus a bar and restaurant. Rooms from £34/$44 a night in a six-bed dorm.

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How to spend one day in Reykjavik, Iceland: a 24-hour Reykjavik itinerary featuring quirky design, modern architecture, street art, seafood and shopping. #Reykjavik #Iceland #itineraryOne day in Reykjavik, Iceland: A 24-hour itinerary for a Reykjavik city break #Reykjavik #Iceland #itinerary

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  • Reply
    Actually Mummy
    November 26, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I have always wanted to visit Reykjavik and everwhere I look at the moment there are reminders that I should. I think it’s a message 🙂 Best prioritise!

    • Reply
      November 26, 2015 at 5:07 pm

      Definitely the universe trying to tell you something! There are some really good flight deals now and it’s got a lot cheaper than when I first visited too.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    I’m hoping 2016 will be the year when I finally visit Iceland, I’ve been dying to visit since forever (I could say I wanted to go “before it was cool” 😛 ). I ate at the Laundromat Cafe in Copenhagen, by accident though, the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed for the month and as it started to rain, we went into the only place that was open and had tables, haha. But the food and the atmosphere were great 😀

    • Reply
      November 26, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      How funny, I missed the Copenhagen version of the Laundromat Café but really like the Reykjavik one. It’s a great city – and so much to see around the rest of the country too.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    It´s true that Iceland is more and more attractive to travelers: a lot of friends of mine have been there during the last two years, and they all came back saying wonderful things about it.

    I am planning a trip there as well (if a place is stunning, why shouldn´t we visit??), and I found your guide very interesting and, hopefully, useful very soon!!!

    • Reply
      November 26, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      It does seem to have got more and more popular in recent years – and I can definitely see why, as well as the city the landscapes out there are just amazing. Hope you get to visit soon!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Iceland’s been long on my bucket list but I’m still not sure when I’ll visit this amazing to country. I guess it’s a bit too expensive at the moment but I know one day I’ll see the geysers, hike the mountains and have a bath in hot Icelandic thermal pool! 🙂

    • Reply
      November 26, 2015 at 5:41 pm

      Hope you get out there before too long. It’s not as expensive as a lot of the other Nordic destinations but still not exactly a budget destination unfortunately!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Wow! Fantastic!

    • Reply
      November 26, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks, it’s a beautiful place!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    I only managed to do this when I visited in November – we had terrible weather which was a pity. I love how your photos have come out.

    • Reply
      November 26, 2015 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks, my first visit it was really foggy and grey, and I only had a rubbish old camera so I was really glad to get some good shots his time!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    It’s got a place in my top 5 cities in the world. Quirky with great food and loads to see on excursions, and great hot chocolate at the Laundromat!

    • Reply
      November 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      It’s a great place – I already have my eye on another stopover next year and getting out and seeing a bit more of the island.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    I went twelve months ago and did everything you mentioned, event went to Laundromat for hot chocolate and cake.x

    • Reply
      November 26, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      We obviously have the same great taste! (though I missed the hot chocolate, I will have to try that next time).

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 7:09 am

    Reykjavik is definitely Iceland’s capital of cool! We packed a lot into one day didn’t we! Fabulous photos Lucy 🙂

    • Reply
      November 27, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      We certainly did! So pleased to have such a lovely day for it too.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Nice to see that you had spend a great day.

    • Reply
      November 27, 2015 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks, yes it was a really nice place to spend some time!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I’m dying to go back. We spent nine days in Reykjavik and driving around the country, and it was amazing. Reykjavik was my favorite part of the trip and I adored the Laundromat Cafe!

    • Reply
      November 27, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      This was a really flying visit and last time I only had three days so I am hoping to get back and drive around the country next time, the landscapes out there look stunning.

  • Reply
    ladies what travel
    November 27, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Oh I love the look of the Laundromat cafe, that’s my kinda hangout! 🙂

    • Reply
      November 27, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      It was lovely, the sort of place I could definitely park myself with my laptop for the day!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    A friend and I are heading to Reykjavik in a couple of weeks, so this post was super timely. Forwarded on to see if my friend is interested in any of your suggestions!

    • Reply
      November 30, 2015 at 10:10 am

      Hope you have a great trip!

      • Melissa
        December 3, 2015 at 1:30 pm

        Update: We have added all your suggestions to our list!

      • Lucy
        December 4, 2015 at 1:52 pm

        Fantastic – hope you enjoy it!

  • Reply
    Bianca Malata (@ItsAllBee)
    November 28, 2015 at 12:15 am

    This is getting me exciting and rather impatient for my trip to Iceland in July.

    • Reply
      November 30, 2015 at 10:11 am

      July should be lovely out there too with the long light days!

  • Reply
    November 29, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Iceland is pretty high up on my travel bucket list, so I really enjoyed this post!

    • Reply
      November 30, 2015 at 10:06 am

      Thanks Marni, great to hear you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    December 7, 2015 at 3:13 am

    Lovely highlights of the Icelandic capital. We enjoyed our time in Reykjavik, but agree you can pack the sights into a day. We gave ourselves a little too much time there with 3 days and there is so much more of the country to be explored!

    • Reply
      December 7, 2015 at 11:11 am

      It’s fairly small and easy to get around so it’s not too hard to pack a lot in. So much to see in Iceland though yes it’s tough to choose where to spend your time!

  • Reply
    April 26, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Just got back from a few days in Reykjavik and absolutely loved it – agree with all your suggestions – we also went to the Laundromat Cafe!

    • Reply
      April 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm

      It’s a fantastic city – so much to do for its size!

  • Reply
    Steven Bens
    May 23, 2018 at 5:40 am

    It was a real flying visit and last time I only had three days so I am hoping to get back and drive around the country next time, the landscapes out there look stunning. Thanks for writing this amazing blog on Iceland…..My all-time favorite country to visit

    • Reply
      May 30, 2018 at 5:18 pm

      It’s a wonderful place, definitely worth a longer trip.

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