Experience Reykjavik Like a Local

Much like its famous bars and clubs, Iceland’s capital packs plenty of culture, style, and entertainment into a small space. Our insider James shares his tips for how to explore the town center as well as the less-visited outer districts.


Photo © iStock/Ben185

The world’s northernmost capital, Reykjavik is a colorful and bustling waterfront city. Worth at least 2-3 days’ exploration to get under its skin, it offers world-class restaurants, museums, and art galleries, and an effortlessly cool atmosphere.

The 101 District

101 is the beating heart of Reykjavik, where an exciting mesh of sights, culture, and cuisine come together to create one of the coolest capital cities in the world.

Laugavegur is the main drag, turning into Bankastræti and eventually Austurstræti, where you’ll find the old town and seat of government.

Join one of the free walking tours to learn all about the history of this remarkable city.

Where to Stay in Reykjavik

Hostels, hotels, and guesthouses abound throughout the city, but there’s nowhere cooler than Kex, a biscuit factory turned hostel/bar/eatery.

Enjoy the beautifully-designed interior, live music, great food, and an even better location. Prices for a bed in a dorm room start at kr. 2100 (US $20) a night.

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Grabbing a Bite in Reykjavik

For a hearty breakfast, Bergsson Mathús in the old town is a delicious option and loaded with charm.

No trip to Reykjavik is complete without trying a hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, and dinner at the elegant Matur og Drykkur will be an experience you’ll never forget – especially if you order the cod’s head.

Famous hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Photo credit: iStock

Reykjavik’s Shopping Hubs

To pick up an authentic Icelandic lopapeysa, the Handknitting Association of Iceland has a store at Skólavörðustígur 19, and Húrra on Hverfisgata is where you can pick up local Reykjavik fashion. 66 North and Cintamani are both very popular brands when it comes to buying beanies, gloves, or heavy winter jackets, and both have locations along Laugavegur.

Must-see and Things to Do in Reykavik

The magnificent church Hallgrímskirkja lies at the top of Skólavörðustígur – explore the stark interior before taking the lift to the top for the view out over the city (kr. 900).

For a different view, head up to the observation deck of the Perlan, the former geothermal plant turned museum dedicated to the natural wonders of Iceland (kr. 490, around US $4.50).

Perched on the edge of the water on the bay is the glittering Harpa Concert Hall, reflecting all kinds of light from inside and out. A short stroll further along the harbor is the wonderfully modern sculpture Sólfarið, ode to the sun.

Harpa Concert Hall. Photo credit: iStock

The 105 District

Cross over the threshold of Hlemmur, and you’ve entered 105.

This spacious neighborhood might seem quiet and residential on the outside, but there are several spots worth checking out.

First, head into Hlemmur Mathöll, a newly developed food hall in the old Hlemmur Bus Station.

Grab some coffee around the corner at Reykjavik Roasters before heading to the nearby Klambratún Park, where on a clear day you can join in on a round of Frisbee golf with the locals.

The 107 District

107, also referred to as Vesturbær, is the quiet seaside neighborhood west of downtown, enjoying life at a more relaxed pace.

Kaffihús Vesturbæjar makes the trip to this part of town worth it alone – a coastal cottage of a café that serves up amazing coffee and food without a hint of pretentiousness.

Festivals in Reykavik

As November and the winter roll in, so too does Iceland Airwaves, transforming the whole city into one big music and arts festival for a week as artists pour in from around the world.

If you don’t have (or don’t want to buy) a ticket, grab a guide and hunt down the off-venue gigs, where you can catch free performances from artists attending the festival.

Culture Night in August is an exciting mix of Viking battles, live music, art exhibits, and food offerings, topped off with a mighty fireworks display.

Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

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