The main population center of Iceland may be pretty tiny compared to most capitals, but it’s hard not to fall in love with its quirky personality and stunning setting.
With striking modern architecture, museums chronicling Viking history, a thriving live music scene and creative restaurants – Reykjavik has a lot to explore. Plus, the city is small enough that you can get around the main attractions by walking.
Many visitors find themselves here on the way to marvel at Iceland’s otherworldly natural attractions – volcanoes, lava fields, waterfalls, glaciers, mountains and the Northern Lights. However, it’s worth taking some time in the city as well, enjoying the unique character of the world’s northernmost capital.
What To Do On a Short Visit to Reykjavik
Due to the abundance of affordable layovers in this city, there’s also the opportunity to check it out for a short visit on your way to Europe. IcelandAir has a generous stopover program which allows travelers to visit Iceland for up to 7 days at no extra cost, while on their way to 37 over European cities.
So, if you have only a small amount of time to get a taste for this city, here are some ideas of what to do in 24 hours in Reykjavik.
Start Your Day with Top Notch Coffee
Like any youthful, artsy city, Reykjavik loves it’s coffee. They take the quality seriously and it is almost always brewed up with an espresso machine and served with fresh Icelandic milk or cream. There are no large coffee chains like Starbuck, which gives the small, cosy independently owned cafes a chance to shine.
Cafe Babalu is a great place to start, serving up home-cooked vegetarian cuisine and quality java. While you eat, put away your phone and engage with your travel buddies over one of the board games instead.
Or, check out Mokka, one of the oldest coffee houses in the city and the first to serve espresso. It’s interior hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1958, to the delight of vintage Art Deco fans. Try the delicious waffles – the perfect counterpart to a warm, creamy latte.
Soak Your Cares Away in Geothermal Hot Springs
Iceland is known for its geothermal hot pools and the most famous of these is the Blue Lagoon, which can be reached easily on a 20 minute bus ride from Keflavik Airport. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of easing your muscles with a relaxing soak in the hot, steamy, mineral-rich waters.
However, the Blue Lagoon is not the only place that you can soak in the healing waters. Another less crowded and touristic option is Reykjadalur (which means Steamy Valley), located a short drive and an hour’s hike from the capital. If you don’t want to find your way there yourself, consider a guided tour.
Or, you could check out the Laugardalslaug, which is a geothermal pool and hot tub that is popular with Reykjavik locals. It’s only a 10 minute drive from the main road and it is open every day from 6:30am.
Check Out The Penis Museum (No, Really!)
The Icelandic Phallological Museum is dedicated to the study of the male reproductive organ in a wide range of species and it will likely be one of the strangest museums you have ever visited.
The museum showcases the trouser snakes and tallywackers of 93 species of animals, from the enormous Blue Whale penis to the hamster penis which has to be observed with a magnifying glass. You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about penises of all shapes and sizes.
(The museum also claims that it features the penises of trolls and elves in it’s collection, although according to Icelandic folklore these creatures are invisible so you’ll have to take their word for it.)
Rock Out to Live Music
The live music scene in Reykjavik is thriving. The city is just the right size – big enough to have a “scene” but small enough so that it stays down to earth. Everyone knows each other and inspires each other creatively. It’s also known for the world-famous Iceland Airwaves Festival – one of the biggest music events of the year.
But you don’t have to wait for a festival to enjoy live music in Reykjavik. Over 50 bars line the main street of Laugavegur and when the sun sets (or doesn’t set, as is the case in the summer) the sound of rocking tunes starts flowing from inside.
Check out the elegantly designed Harpa concert hall, with lights that glow and illuminate the unique honeycomb exterior. Throughout the year the hall features a dazzling program of opera, ballet, jazz, dance music and more.
Hurra is another fantastic spot for live music, with entertainment every night of the week. (You might even catch a stand-up comedy night!) It’s right next door to Gaukurinn, which is also known for featuring great local bands and visiting artists.
NASA is also a local favourite – a large club venue that hosts every style of music imaginable. Musical styles often mix in Iceland and the locals won’t bat an eye at a double-bill featuring completely different artists.
There is a lot to explore on a short visit to Reykjavik, so why not book a stopover?
Your short visit will leave you fascinated by this unique city, eager to book your next trip back so that you can explore even more.
Have you been to the Icelandic capital? Share your tips and experiences with us in the comments below.