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A visit to Reykjavik, Iceland has been on my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember. The remote country has always intrigued me and despite only around 24% of Iceland being habitable, it’s still always been somewhere I was desperate to visit.
Last week, I surprised Matt with a trip to Reykjavik for his 21st birthday. We spent 3 days in the Icelandic capital city exploring everything it had to offer and devouring as much food as we could manage.
If you’ve seen my last two posts on our apartment in Reykjavik, as well as the Golden Circle and Northern Lights Tour, you’ll know that most of the things we did in Iceland wasn’t actually based in the capital city itself. However, we did manage to squeeze a few activities in while we were there and we also discovered some yummy places to eat.
Here’s what to do, see and eat in Reykjavik, Iceland!
What to do, see and eat in Reykjavik
From seeing the world-famous Hallgrímskirkja Church to sampling some traditional Icelandic cuisine, here’s everything we got up to during our short break in Reykjavik.
The Sun Voyager
While it’s often misinterpreted as an ode to a Viking ship, the Sun Voyager is actually a sun-worshipping sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. It’s described as a dreamboat intended to convey the promise of hope, freedom and undiscovered territory.
It resides on the seaside, looking out over the spectacular ocean and surrounding Mount Esja range. It’s a beautiful area and despite being one of Reykjavik’s most popular tourist attractions, it’s rarely swarming with tourists (at least not in winter!).
There’s actually very little to do around this area apart from walk along the seafront and see the Sun Voyager itself. However, this activity in itself is pretty damn enjoyable and well worth doing during your stay in Reykjavik.
Hallgrímskirkja Church is the main attraction in Reykjavik and stands proudly as the largest church in Iceland.
While it might not be as fascinating as the York Minster or the Sagrada Familia, for example, it’s still pretty cool to see and definitely somewhere you should visit while in Reykjavik.
You can go up to the top of the church for 1000kr (£6.30) each.
When we visited, it wasn’t crowded at the top at all and there wasn’t even a person checking tickets in order to get in the lift to the top so I’m not even sure if they do ever check?
The views from the top viewing platform are pretty stunning and you can see all over Reykjavik. The colourful rooftops on all the houses stand out in stark contrast to the moody skies and surrounding blue sea; they make for an awesome Instagram shot!
Walk along the seafront
Walking along the edge of the sea in Reykjavik is a must do while in the Icelandic capital city, if not only for the spectacular views alone.
We sauntered along the water after paying a visit to the Sun Voyager and while it was unbelievably cold due to the arctic wind, it was still such a beautiful place.
As you creep closer to the Epal Harpa building, you’ll be greeted by mini stone towers which are very carefully balanced on top of each other. This little area might not have anything remarkably noteworthy to see in terms of popular tourist attractions, but it’s still incredibly stunning and well worth a mosey along the waterfront.
On our last full day in Iceland, we paid a visit to the oldest public baths in Iceland; Sundhöllin swimming baths.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the pool area which is a shame because it would have photographed beautifully! There are several indoor and outdoor swimming pools to choose from, as well as numerous hot tubs, steam rooms, dunk pools and saunas.
We spent a good few hours here relaxing in the 39° hot tubs and steam rooms; while it wasn’t quite a visit to the ever-popular Blue Lagoon, it was still a lush way to spend a Friday afternoon.
Entrance to the baths is 1000kr (£6.30) each plus an additional 600kr each (£3.70) for towel hire.
Epal Harpa is a conference centre and concert hall that resides on the waterfront just a 2-minute walk from the centre of Reykjavik.
While we didn’t actually go inside, we did enjoy wandering around the outside and admiring its unique glass structure. It’s an incredibly unusual building but it’s also arguably the most fascinating in the whole of Reykjavik.
Admire all the brightly coloured houses
Again, you probably won’t usually find this particular activity listed as one of the best things to see and do in Reykjavik but it was actually one of my favourite things to do in the capital city.
There’s no guidebook (that I’m aware of!) that shows you exactly where to go when searching for brightly coloured houses but that’s part of the fun of it. It was so nice to wander around the little city and admire all the pretty houses; there were houses in every colour imaginable and it certainly made for a great Instagram picture collection!
Where to eat in Reykjavik
I’m sure you all by now just how much Matt and I love trying out new foods whenever we go away and our trip to Iceland was no different.
We ate a selection of traditional Icelandic dishes, as well as your typical run-of-the-mill “cuisine” such as burgers. Here are my best recommendations of where and what to eat in Reykjavik.
Before I actually talk about the burgers themselves, I just want to make sure you guys know that this was one of THE best burgers I’ve had in a long time, possibly even ever.
There was nothing too extravagant or over the top about it but good LORD it was divine.
The “restaurant” is actually situated at the back of a bar/club that’s always pretty much empty during the day. It wasn’t necessarily the grandest place I’d ever eaten but it was an ideal place to grab a burger.
I opted for the chicken burger with bacon which was only 1,490 kr (£9.36) without fries and it was absolutely exquisite. The chicken was cooked to perfection; tender, succulent and juicy without worrying about whether it was actually cooked or not (something I often worry about with chicken). The bacon and cheese complemented it beautifully and despite feeling full after eating it, I knew I could devour another one all over again simply because it was that good.
Matt went for the BBQ bacon cheese burger with fries and a drink which totalled 2,340kr (£14.70) which I thought was still incredibly reasonably priced considering the substantial portion and the immense flavours of the burger.
It might not have been the most adventurous meal to eat in Iceland but it was SO good and I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a quick bite to eat in Reykjavik.
Matt chose the baby back ribs (3690kr – £23.19) that were slow cooked in Toasted Porter beer and served with lashings of BBQ sauce, curly fries and fresh salad. While they were incredibly messy to eat, Matt said they were absolutely divine; the BBQ sauce had a slight kick to it and the meat itself was wonderfully cooked and so tasty.
It might not photograph the best, but my goodness I can assure you that this was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten on holiday. I went for the lamb sandwich (2,690kr – £16.90) that was served on white sub bread and came equipped with mushrooms, sautéed onions and ‘Frederiksen’ sauce (I’ve no idea what this actually was but it was HEAVENLY).
It was also supposed to come with potato wedges but I paid an extra 290kr (£1.80) to swap to curly fries instead, which was a very good decision because they were absolutely bloody divine.
The lamb strips in the sandwich that were coated in the Frederiksen sauce were so unbelievably tasty and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever eaten lamb that tasted as good. The fries were thick and crispy; usually I only ever go for skinny fries but these were utterly perfect and had such great flavour.
Frederiksen Ale House was without a doubt the best place we ate at while in Iceland and I’d honestly consider flying back there just to devour another one of those lamb sandwiches…
Similar to that of a fast food concept with just a touch more class, Icelandic Street Food serves up quintessentially Icelandic dishes in a timely and informal manner.
The little cafe is always pretty busy with both locals and visitors getting their fill but they have a seating area just a few doors down where you can sit and enjoy your food once you’ve bought it from the little cafe.
What makes Icelandic Street Food so great is that they’ve adopted an all-you-can-eat policy with the philosophy that “no one leaves hungry”. Therefore, once you’ve finished one dish, you simply take your bread bowl back up for as many refills as you can stomach.
They have an array of different Icelandic dishes to choose from including the Fisherman’s favourite (fish stew consisting of cod, potatoes and onions swirled in a hollandaise sauce), lamb or shellfish soup or happy marriage cake and pancakes.
While we were there, Matt and I tried the Fisherman’s favourite and the lamb stew soup which were both bursting with flavours and thoroughly warmed us up after traversing through the city in the rain.
The lamb stew soup was definitely the better out of the two in both our opinion; although I suppose it depends whether you’re more of a meat eater or seafood connoisseur. It came served with Icelandic lamb, potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables in a sort of broth and it felt like the kind of thing you’d eat to instantly make you feel better if you were ill.
The cod fish stew was an interesting choice for me as I’m not a big seafood eater at all but I thought it was appropriate to sample some traditional Icelandic seafood cuisine while we were there.
While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I loved it, I am certainly glad that I tried it out and I know many seafood eaters who would lap it up in an instant.
If you’re looking for a place to eat in Reykjavik that serves hearty dishes, friendly and welcoming service and a cute and cosy place to eat, then Icelandic Street Food is the perfect place.
Travel tips for visiting Reykjavik, Iceland
Food and drink
Alcohol wasn’t actually nearly as expensive as we thought it was going to be; you’d pay around £5 or £6 for a pint here (although you can always buy alcohol at Duty Free like we did!). Some bars and pubs do offer a ‘happy hour’ service, but these aren’t usually until 8pm or 9pm.
Food is also pretty expensive, although we didn’t find it to be quite as bad as in Oslo.
We did however, do our usual thing of visiting the local supermarket to pick up some essential supplies to make sandwiches such as a loaf of bread (£4.39), butter (£3.14), ham (£6.28), cheese (£3.50) as well as lemonade (£3.76), orange juice (£3.76) and Pringles (£3.14) and Oreos (£4.39) – only the essentials, obviously…
Wifi and data
It’s to be expected that wifi, phone signal and data in Iceland is pretty limited. One way to combat this however, is to invest in a wifi hotspot device like the ones from Trawire*.
They offer unlimited 4G wifi for up to 10 people for only $9 a day. During our time in Iceland, we found our little device to be incredibly helpful. It was especially useful on our tours as our own 4G signal was pretty much non-existent.
When it comes to getting around Reykjavik, you can easily walk everywhere without any issues. However, getting to and from the airport, as well as embarking on various tours, means that you’ll need some kind of transport.
Matt and I were very kindly offered complimentary tickets of the Attraction Tix GO SEE DO tour; meaning that we had easy and convenient transport to and from the airport with Gray Line buses. Their service is incredible and all members of staff that we met were so lovely and helpful.
When you book with Attraction Tix, it means that you can rest easy as your transport is sorted out well in advance of your trip. This means you don’t have to worry about paying for taxis or airport transfers when you arrive in Reykjavik.
As in the aforementioned point above, using tours to get around Iceland is pretty much required. Unless you hire a car and drive yourself around Iceland, you’ll really struggle to see much outside of the capital city.
Our GO SEE DO tour with Attraction Tix and Gray Line was absolutely brilliant. It allowed us to see everything we wanted during our time there. The coaches and mini buses were prompt and punctual and the tour guides were always incredibly welcoming and informative.
The weeks before our trip to Reykjavik, I was constantly checking the weather app to see what we’d need to pack. I was shocked (and somewhat relieved) that it was set to be between 3° and 8°. Compared to our trip to Oslo just two weeks previously, this would seem like a trip to the Caribbean!
However, one thing that we didn’t consider about the Icelandic weather was the cold arctic wind that we’d be greeted with. This meant that no matter where we were or what we were doing, it always felt significantly colder than the weather app said!
Our tour of the Northern Lights and the area around Gullfoss Waterfall was particularly chilly. Therefore, don’t take for granted what the weather app says the temperature will be like and make sure you pack for plenty of thermal layers and jumpers!
As you can see, there are so many things to do, see and eat in Reykjavik, as well as plenty of travel tips to bear in mind when visiting the Icelandic capital city.
I was surprised to discover that it’s not actually nearly as expensive as I originally thought; compared to Oslo, it was actually so affordable!
Nevertheless, Reykjavik and Iceland as a whole make for an idyllic winter city break, with relatively affordable regular flights to the capital from the UK as well as beautiful accommodation right in the centre!