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What to do in Reykjavik in One Day: itinerary to discover the highlights of the capital city of Iceland.
You have just arrived in Iceland and you are probably wondering what you can do in Reykjavik in one day before you start exploring the rest of the country.
Usually Reykjavik is the first stop on a journey in Iceland and represents the starting point for wonderful excursions in the surroundings. Visiting Reykjavik in one day is absolutely possible and easy.
But where do we start?
You can get some ideas for your visit to Reykjavik in one day from my itinerary.
ITINERARY TO VISIT REYKJAVIK IN ONE DAY.
I start exploring the city by taking a nice walk to the waterfront from Harpa.
Harpa is Reykjavik’s concert hall and also a conference center. It’s a very recent building that had its opening in 2011. In a short time it has become one of the icons of Iceland’s capital city.
I go inside to take a look at its design and to find some shelter from the cold wind. The waterfront is a fascinating walking path but also the windiest part of the city. So gear up with a windbreaker and such like. Yes, even in July!
The building is made of glass and steel with a very cool lighting effect.
I pull myself together and leave the nice and warm to get back to the wind and rain and carry on walking.
WALK ALONG THE SEAFRONT FROM HARPA TO SUN VOYAGER.
Walking along the seafront from Harpa to Sun Voyager is a classic in each visit to Reykjavik.
You will meet tourists taking pictures, people taking a walk and runners focusing on their run.
The sculpture called “Sun Voyager”, or “Sólfar” in the local language, is the symbol of the city and represents a dreamy boat. It was made by Jón Gunnar Árnason and takes its name from the fact that it was realized with the idea of a hymn to the sun.
The sculptor wanted to represent people’s desire to discover unknown lands. It’s a very simple sculpture in a beautiful waterfront scenery where you can take amazing pictures with Harpa and the ocean in the background.
This is where I meet the first foreigners struggling with their desperate attempt to take face, Sun Voyager, ocean and Harpa in just one selfie. I see their struggle and they see mine. So we help each other with our pictures and with enthusiasm we come together to share ideas, opinions and advice on what to do in and around Reykjavik.
WALK ALONG THE SEAFRONT FROM SUN VOYAGER TO HOFDI HOUSE.
The walk between Sun Voyager and Höfði House is about 1 kilometer.
Along the way there are several sculptures. One of them is the Partnership Sculpture that the US Ambassador gave to Reykjavik 50 years after the beginning of the good diplomatic relationship between Iceland and the USA.
This gorgeous house in an amazing waterfront scenery was built in 1909 to host the French consul Jean-Paul Brillouin.
But what makes it historically significant is the fact that in 1986 Höfði House was the location of the Reykjavik summit, where Reagan and Gorbachev met. This was an important step to the end of the Cold War.
It’s not possible to visit the house but you can get close and read the boards with information on people who lived in the house.
Let’s turn now our back to the water and walk on the little streets of the city towards Hallgrímskirkja.
Hallgrímskirkja Church is Reykjavik’s main landmark. In fact, the church can be seen throughout the city.
It’s a Lutheran church with a characteristic facade formed by a row of columns that get gradually taller as they get closer to the central tower. In front of the church is the statue of the Viking Leif Erikson. He was the first European explorer to set foot on the American continent.
Again I look for some shelter and I get inside the church. There you can see the Klais Organ, the largest organ in Iceland.
You can also go to the top of the tower to enjoy the view over Reykjavik.
SHOPPING STREETS: SKOLAVORDUSTIGUR AND LAUGAVEGUR.
Skólavörðustígur and Laugavegur. They are not bad words I swear! They are two beautiful little streets right in the city center with a lot of souvenir shops and colorful houses. It is a very nice walking area.
Icelanders are absolutely aware of the complexity of their words and can’t help but make jokes about it.
“What part of Eyjafjallajökull don’t you understand?”. You will find it in each souvenir shop written on mugs, shirts, cups, you name it!
Skólavörðustígur goes downhill from Hallgrímskirkja to Laugavegur.
I walked many times on and around these gorgeous streets. I love the vibe around here.
And in a place so up North, you can feel the Christmas spirit all year around. Even in July.
ARNARHOLL HILL AREA.
Hverfisgata is a parallel street to Laugavegur where you can see the Culture House and the National Theater. The street ends near Arnarholl Hill, where on top is the statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, the man who founded Reykjavik in 874.
The Viking warrior arrived in Iceland on the run from Norway. They say that he wanted the divine intervention to guide him to find the place where to settle in. So following a Scandinavian ritual, while sailing to Iceland he threw the high-seat pillars overboard and looked for them along the coast where they drifted ashore. Arnarson and his crew were pretty lucky since the pillars drifted right in Reykjavik, where they found a very good place to settle in.
It was him who named the city Reykjavik (which literally means smoky bay) after the presence of the hot springs in the surroundings.
From Arnarholl Hill if you walk on Lækjargata you will pass by the Office of the Prime Minister of Reykjavik and get near Tjörnin lake.
TJORNIN LAKE AND CITY HALL.
The beautiful Tjörnin lake is a little water gem located near the City Hall. The lake is a stunning landmark and here you can take amazing pictures.
And I must say that I have been pretty lucky with mine: this seagull decided to fly at the exact time when I took this picture!
Around the lake you can see: the City Hall, Frikirkjan church and a lovely quiet and peaceful park. The park is a wonderful place for a stroll if you want to be surrounded by greenery and breathe clean air in a calm and peaceful atmosphere.
Now that you walked around the park and got back to the City Hall, head to the area around the Cathedral of Reykjavik, also called Dómkirkjan in the local language.
Dómkirkjan, the Cathedral of Reykjavik, is the earliest church in Reykjavik.
It’s a Lutheran Church, located in the Austurvöllur area, near Alþingishúsið, the Parliament House.
The house has over its four windows some reliefs representing the creatures that Arnarson had to face when he arrived in Iceland: a dragon, a vulture, a giant and a bull.
Nearby there is a little square where each Saturday they put on stalls for street food: Fógetagarður Square. In the middle of the square is the statue of Skúli Magnússon, the founder of the modern Reykjavik.
Let’s walk now on Túngata to get to the last stop of our itinerary of Reykjavik in one day: the Cathedral of Christ the King.
THE CATHEDRAL OF CHRIST THE KING.
The Cathedral of Christ the King, or Dómkirkjan Krists Konungs, is the only Catholic church in Iceland.
Catholics are just a small minority in the Icelandic community. Their main religion is Lutheranism. Anyway Iceland is open to all religions and they are planning to build a Mosque for the Muslim community as well.
There is also a part of the population who strongly believes in the presence of elves. If you come across some stones with a red or blue triangle on their wall, that means that an elf lives in there. Funny isn’t it?
Reykjavik is a very small town and you can easily complete this itinerary in a few hours. So just enjoy it with no rush.
Walk slowly, take pictures, mingle with people you meet around, sit on a bench and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of Reykjavik.
Or if you love running just like I do and you want to take advantage of being in one of the most suggestive places where you can do it, well then you really got a great idea!
WHERE TO RUN IN REYKJAVIK.
At first I didn’t know where to run. Usually I choose parks, so I thought that the green area around the beautiful Tjörnin lake could be my option.
I ask Jon, the owner of the guesthouse where I stay at, if he has any advice for me on good tracks. He says that the park of Tjörnin lake is beautiful but too small. So basically I would have run million times around the same perimeter, just like a hamster.
He shows me then another itinerary on the map where I could run. And for that I don’t think I could ever thank him enough! It was the most beautiful running path that I have ever seen! I would have moved to Reykjavik just to run there every day.
Basically from Harpa instead of going on Sæbraut towards the Sun Voyager, turn to the opposite direction on Geirsgata. You will reach a roundabout where you can see the ocean. Get close to the coast and you will see two lanes: one for bikers and one for runners or whoever just wants to walk.
That is the beginning of a beautiful path along the coastline with breath-taking views: cliffs, green fields, Hólmar and Lambastaðaske islands in the distance, Grotta lighthouse. I don’t have any pictures to show because running for me means also disconnecting from the whole world and I don’t bring my phone with me. But I can guarantee you that what you see and feel is absolutely amazing!
Now keep in mind that in Iceland it rains often so bring with you the proper waterproof running equipment.
WHAT TO WEAR IN ICELAND.
One of the biggest mistakes I have ever made in my life was to pack my jeans for Iceland. I don’t think it exists anything in the world that absorbs and retains more water than denim pants!
On my first day in Iceland my legs were shaking and my teeth rattling. Wet legs, wind and cold is not the best combination I guess.
So I go back to my room and change. I wear the waterproof pants that I use to run.
Waterproof ware is the keyword if you want to survive Iceland. Bring also with you thermal base-layers, wind and waterproof jackets.
A journey to Iceland is a wonderful experience. Don’t ruin it just because you chose the wrong clothing!
Obviously all that makes sense if you travel in summer. If you go to Iceland in winter, well I think only Eskimos can tell you what to wear. And by the way, you are crazy!
HOW TO GET AROUND IN REYKJAVIK.
Personally, I have always got around on foot. Reykjavik is small enough to just walk around.
Besides, my guesthouse had an amazing location right in the city center, so I didn’t need to use public transportation to get to the city attractions.
Only on my last day I took the bus to go to the cruise terminal.
There are many bus lines that serve the whole city. In Iceland there is no railway, so you won’t find any train or subway.
Public transportation looks like a pretty efficient system if it wasn’t for the fact that the bus drivers wouldn’t give any change! So before you get on the bus make sure you have the right amount of money with you for your trip (480 ISK) or they would just ask you to get off the bus or simply keep the change. Both scenarios happened to me!
That’s where I found the first flaw in a perfect urban system!
But I have to say that I haven’t used the App (Strætó) that allows you to buy your ticket online and show it to the driver directly from your phone.
HOW TO GET TO REYKJAVIK FROM KEFLAVIK AIRPORT.
There are two bus lines that serve Keflavik Airport: Grayline and Flybus.
I chose Flybus and I loved it!
You can book in advance your transfer on their website: Flybus. You select your destination, or the Guesthouse if it’s on the list, and they will calculate the final rate, which should be something around 3000 ISK.
The bus will take you to the bus central station and from there you will move to a little van that will take you to the selected spot.
The departures are in connection with all flight arrivals, so if your flight is delayed the bus will be waiting for you.
They provide a very efficient service!
There are of course also taxis available but they might be expensive.
WHERE TO STAY IN REYKJAVIK.
There’s not a good way to tell you this but… Iceland is expensive. Very expensive. I think it’s the most expensive place I have ever visited.
To eat, I got through it by buying some bread and ham that I sparingly rationed during my stay in Iceland.
But for the accommodation, there is no escape. Just keep in mind that hotels are expensive and make the appropriate choice. So start with booking your accommodation in good time. Last minute trips to Iceland would cost you a fortune. So plan ahead.
Personally I strongly recommend the guesthouse where I stayed. If I ever go back to Reyjkjavik, I would definitely go back there.
It’s called the Butterfly Guesthouse and has an amazing location right in the city center.
It’s a beautiful and clean guesthouse, with some common areas including a very cute kitchen.
I stayed in a single room with private bathroom. It was small but had absolutely everything I needed.
Jon, the owner, is so kind and helpful. He gave me so many good tips and he made me feel like home.
It’s a wonderful place that I will always keep in my heart. Just like Iceland.