How to plan a trip to Iceland and not visit its capital? Since our plan was to make a road trip around the island in just one week, we decided to spend just one day in Reykjavík Iceland.
- How to get there?
- Hallgrimskirkja church
- One-day itinerary
- Half-day itinerary
- Accommodation recommendations
- Tours, experiences and one-day excursions
How to get to downtown Reykjavik from the airport?
You can find all the information about shuttle buses, taxis, public transportation, and rental cars in our post: Best ways to get from Iceland International airport (Keflavík) to Reykjavík downtown.
Since we live in different countries, our flight times didn’t match. Because of that, we decided to visit Reykjavik separately. So, while one of us had a full day during the first day in Iceland, the other had a half day during the last day. But also, while one had a sunny day, the other had a rainy day, so whatever is the situation for you, we have you covered. So, before telling you about our experiences and our one-day and half-day itinerary, let’s talk about Reykjavik: the only western European capital without either Starbucks or McDonalds!
The town is home to more than 120 000 inhabitants. In the Capital Region of Iceland resides 60% of Icelanders. Reykjavik charms the rest of the world with a unique approach without skyscrapers, subways, or metros. The friendly size and vibe make Reykjavik a lovely destination in all seasons.
Hallgrímskirkja is a parish church and an ever-present feature of Reykjavík’s skyline. Its construction started in 1945, and it took 41 years to finish the whole church. Inside, a 15 meters tall and 25-tons weight large pipe organ was made by the German organ builder Johannes Klais.
As a significant landmark in Iceland’s capital city, this church is the highest building in downtown Reykjavik, dominating the skyline of the northernmost capital of the world. Ascending on top of the tower of 73 meters in height is a highlight of the tour. The entrance to the church is free. For 1000 ISK (~ 8$/7€) for adults and 100 ISK (~ 1$/0.7€) for children aged from seven to 16 (price from July 2021), you can buy a ticket in the church shop. A lift will take you up to the viewing deck, overlooking the city, the harbor, the white-capped mountains in the distance, and everything else Reykjavik has to offer. The panoramic view of Reykjavik downtown from Hallgrímskirkja’s tower has become iconic imagery on social media.
The church preserves the right to close without notice due to maintenance, social engagements, or other reasons. However, during an ongoing service or concert, the church welcomes visitors to stay; just keep in mind to avoid disturbance.
The sloped road connects the main shopping street of Reykjavik, Laugavegur, and other significant areas in the capital. It leads to the top of the hill named Skólavörðuhæð, where the Hallgrímskirkja church is located. As part of the Reykjavik Pride celebration in 2019, this street was painted with rainbow colors, representing Iceland’s friendliness and acceptance to its LGBTQ community. Airbnbs near this concurred street is the tourist’s preferred.
Tjornin Pond is a beautiful lake in the city center, next to the City Hall and Frikirkjan Church. Elegantly colored old houses and the City Hall building surround the lake. Geese, ducks, swans, and seagulls bring this colorful lake to life and one of the main attractions of this city.
You will probably be walking on this street even not knowing its name. Well, Laugavegur street is one of the oldest in Iceland’s capital. Renowned for its restaurants and bars, it is also the main shopping street in Reykjavik. The fantastic street art makes you lose track of time while walking and visiting the little cozy souvenir stores.
Harpa is one of Reykjavik’s most distinguished landmarks and one of the most visited attractions. It is a cultural center in the city’s heart with glass panels with the same hexagonal shape as Iceland’s basalt rocks. It is located next to the harbor and offers a terrace with views. Even though it was constructed in 2011, Harpa has already received numerous awards for its architecture and concert and conference center.
As a result of this vivid experience of my participation in this expedition while on the island of Bockholm in the Finnish archipelago, I carved a picture of a sun ship into a granite rock by the sea. The sun ship symbolizes the promise of new, undiscovered territory.Jón Gunnar, newspaper Þjóðviljinn on June 11 1987
Perlan Museum is an impressive structure located near downtown Reykjavik. As one of Iceland’s most ambitious exhibition projects, Perlan presents a great perspective to see what Iceland offers. It’s a must-visit destination where you will find large-scale exhibitions.
The museum exhibits the world’s first indoor Ice Cave, built with over 350 tons of snow from the Icelandic Mountains. If you plan to go there remember to take with you an ice jacket. Inside the cave, you will be walking along 100 meters with -15°C temperature.
The museum also has the only planetarium of Iceland with an 8K state-of-the-art projection system. If you couldn’t see the Northern Lights (like our case :(), this is a must-experience. On its third floor there is a restaurant and a fabulous 360° view of Reykjavik and surrounding areas. From there, you will see the beautiful mount Esja, Reykjavik’s colorful houses, and rising churches. On clear days the view is complete with the sight of the ice-capped Snaefellsjokull glacier far in the distance. In winter, the observation deck is highly recommended for the view of the Northern Lights.
The price (from July 2021) for adults is 4490 ISK (~ 37$/31€). For children aged 6 to 17 years old, the price is 2290 ISK (~ 19$/16€). The ticket includes:
- Access to the viewing deck
- Perlan Planetarium
- All exhibitions – including access to the ice cave
You can get the ticket for a lower price with student identification or not planning to visit the planetarium. For more updated information, you can check the museum website.
One day in Reykjavik Iceland itinerary
After a very early flight from Dusseldorf airport, Germany, Arturo and I (Annie) arrived in a very empty Iceland airport before 8:00 am, received by this huge promotion, tempting us to go stray to the Blue Lagoon, and the famous Exit to Iceland sign.
Our first stop: breakfasts! In Joe and the Juice, we had a perfect sandwich and energizing smoothie. Maybe good to notice that there are two Joe and the Juice in the airport. By mistake, we ended having breakfast in the one from people departing. Still, there is one after baggage claim for people arriving.
The next step was to get some alcohol in the Duty-Free (the cheaper way to get alcohol in Iceland). Remember never to drink and drive!!! After buying our six-pack, we headed to the bus stop to take Bus 55+1 to Reykjavik city. If you want to know more about public transportation to Reykjavik and other options, check our post: Best ways to get from Iceland International airport (Keflavík) to Reykjavík downtown.
You can have a look at our Youtube channel: Ani & Tury
11:00- Hallgrímskirkja church
For lunch, we decide to get our first Icelandic hot-dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. But, in total honesty, we were so obsessed with the Joe and the Juice from the airport that we come back for one more to finish our lunch.
13:30- Harpa Concert Hall
14:15- Sun Voyager
After Perlan, we did a long walk back to our accommodation. We finally did the check-in, follow for some dinner before coming back to see the sunset in the harbor. Be aware we were in Iceland during summer, August, and the sunset during late hours. Around 22:00, we come back to the guesthouse where we met Ely and Rogelio and start to prepare for the next day to pick up the rental car (More about how to rent a car in Iceland in our post: Rental Cars in Iceland airport and Reykjavik: Blue Car rental, insurance, and more), and start our Ring Road Trip.
Half-day in Reykjavik Iceland itinerary
After saying goodbye to Annie and Arturo very early in the morning, Rogelio and I (Ely) slept until 10:00 am. A rainy day, really common in Reykjavik, didn’t stop us from knowing the city. We left the Airbnb after having breakfast, and with our backpacks, we started walking. Our first stop, after a walk of around 3 km under the rain, was Perlan. We spend two hours inside, visiting the different rooms, the ice cave, the planetarium, and admiring the roof view. Then we walked again like 2 km to downtown.
14:30- Hallgrímskirkja church
We decided to try the Joe and the Juice from downtown after Annie’s recommendation for lunch. We can assure you that it is delicious.
16:00- Harpa Concert Hall
16:10- Sun Voyager
Tip 1: Be sure you have charged your smartphone and camera, or you have a backup battery charger. You will also need to check the space you have in both because you will want to take many pictures.
We had our flight back to Milan at 19:30, so at that time, we head back to the airport. From the Tjörnin bus stop, we took the bus (Line 1+ Line 55 ) to Keflavik Airport. If you want to know more about this, check our post: Best ways to get from Iceland International airport (Keflavík) to Reykjavík downtown.
Some of the links on this post contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase something we may receive payment. Although all these recommendations are based on our personal experience.
This is the budget-friendly accommodation we choose at Reykjavik:
We choose this one since it includes breakfast. Because we planned our first grocery shopping for the next day of arrival to Reykjavik, accommodation with breakfast sound perfect. It is also very well localized, two minutes walk from Hallgrímskirkja church. We choose a four people room for 100 € (remember these are not fixed prices), it was a small room, but just to sleep a night was good enough for us. It counts with a shared kitchen, with all was necessary to cook the lunch for our first day on the road. It also has a shared bathroom with another room.
On our last day in Iceland, we sped the night at Reykjavik. We also choose a shared room for four people for 75 €, with nearby parking. Unfortunately, this property is no longer available.
Tours, experiences and one-day excursions
If you are looking for more excitement or staying in Reykjavik for more than one day, here are a few of the most popular activities, tours and one-day excursions you can take. Some of them you can do if you have a car (check our post about rental cars in Iceland), in which case you can plan everything for yourself or book a self-guided tour. If you don’t have a car, you can book too guided excursions.
If you want to plan everything for yourself, here are some examples:
This and more one day tours from Reykjavik can be booked for self-drive or guided at Viator.
Some of these you can drive for yourself as Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon. For the northern lights, you can ask locals or at your accommodation for good spots and go for yourself or book one of the excursions.
For whale watching, you can read our post about our experience with Gentle Giant at Húsavík, where we also share links to this magnificent experience in Reykjavik.