The Best of Reykjavik

From churchtower views and modernist concert halls to beer and midnight gatherings, these are some of the best reasons to visit Iceland’s capital city. We recommend staying close to the action in the heart of Reykjavik, in the district known as the 101. For the latest goings-on, pick up a copy of the English-language expat newspaper Grapevine.

Hallgrímstorg 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
You can’t miss Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík’s 240-foot-tall, rocket-shaped church, which soars above the city skyline and is illuminated at night. Designed by famed national architect Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937, and inspired less by outer space than by Iceland’s picturesque basalt rock formations, the church took over 40 years to construct, finally opening in 1986. The statue outside the church doors is of Leifur Eiríksson, the first European to discover continental North America, 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The church interior is well worth a visit, if only to admire the giant organ, which has over 5,000 pipes and was designed and constructed by German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn. You can also take the elevator to the church’s tower for magnificent views over Reykjavík’s colorful rooftops.
Austurbakki 2, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Opened in 2011, Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is not only the most significant classical music venue in Iceland (home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera), but also one of the country’s most striking examples of modern architecture. Located close to the old harbor, the building was part of a larger development meant to breathe life into the downtown district (the plan was abandoned due to the subsequent economic crash, but funds to complete Harpa were found). The coruscating, eye-catching facade was designed by Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, and the spacious interior has four handsome halls, the largest of which can accommodate up to 1,800 seated guests. There are also smaller conference rooms dotted throughout the building, and the ground floor hosts a record shop, café and restaurant, and other public areas. In addition to classical concerts, the venue holds music festivals, pop shows, art exhibitions, and more.
Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
we didnt stay at KEX hostel but we went there twice for burgers and coffee and cool people watching. The interior is an instagrammers dream and the abbreviated menu is a good mix of American heartiness (cheeseburgers) and delicious Scando fare (various smorrebrod).
Lækjargata 2a, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
The award-winning Grillmarkaðurinn (Grill Market), known for working with local farmers and suppliers to create meals that are fresh, organic, seasonal, and delicious, is a definite culinary highlight for foodies visiting Iceland. The welcoming and impressive interior blends contemporary style with natural textiles, as well as elements like moss and basalt. The menu is generally centered around fish and meat, ranging from salted cod with lobster salad to grilled pork ribs and dry-aged rib eye, but there are vegetarian dishes available, too. Everything is grilled to perfection and artfully presented on wooden cutting boards. The wine list is expertly curated, too. Staff are professional and friendly.
Austurstræti
Reykjavík’s Laundromat Café is one of the city’s most casual and upbeat places to hang out, whether you want to drink a fine craft beer, enjoy brunch, or—yes—do your laundry. The sister enterprise of the original establishment in Copenhagen, it’s kitted out in a classic American-diner style, with leather stools around a central bar and a smattering of perpetually full tables and booths. The menu spans healthy brunches, Sunday roasts, soups, sandwiches, and burgers, and there’s also a decent list of wines and beers (including local craft beers). Plus there are hundreds of books you can borrow, trade, or buy, board games to play (Yahtzee, backgammon, chess, or cards), and newspapers and magazines to read. Laundry machines can be found in the basement, and there’s a playroom for kids plus a children’s brunch option.
Pósthússtræti, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Bæjarins beztu pylsur, which humbly translates as “the best hot dog in town,” is a simple stand in central Reykjavík whose popularity over the decades has given it a kind of cult status. Almost everyone in the country has eaten here, as have visitors including Bill Clinton and Metallica singer James Hetfield. In business since 1937, the stand has been instrumental in developing the specific Icelandic version of the American hot dog: a sausage made from a blend of organic Icelandic lamb with pork and beef, and includes toppings and condiments like ketchup, sweet mustard, fried (and raw, if requested) onions, and a special rémoulade made from mayonnaise, capers, and herbs. Unsurprisingly, the stall is at its busiest in the small hours of weekend mornings, after the bars and clubs close.
Aðalstræti 10, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
The oldest house in Reykjavik (built in 1762) is home to the latest in Icelandic design, from books, clothing, and jewelry to a stool upholstered with lamb’s wool and a Blue Lagoon–like glass bowl by Kristín Sigfríður Garðarsdóttir.
Tjörnin, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Despite being so close to the harbor and the ocean, Reykjavík’s city lake has a charm and atmosphere all its own. Bordered by a main road on one side and a string of pretty, colorful residences on the other, the natural, stone-edged Tjörnin is home to a community of ducks, swans, and geese that hang out here even in winter. A popular strolling spot to clear the cobwebs after a night out, it’s also often busy with local families and visitors, who come armed with bread for the waterfowl (but beware of the seagulls—they can be aggressive). The nearby Reykjavík City Hall is also worth a look for its huge 3-D relief map of Iceland, featuring clearly marked glaciers, volcanoes, and fjords.
Tryggvagata 17, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
The Reykjavík Art Museum was founded in 1973 and is the largest visual art institution in the country. There are actually three locations: Hafnarhus (pictured) Kjarvalsstadir, and Asmundarsafn (Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum). Hafnarhús has a permanent exhibition by local pop artist hero Erró, which it combines with a constant flow of temporary exhibitions, often with a focus on young, international artists. Kjarvalsstaðir, named after Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885–1972), shows the master’s works inside a beautiful, specially-designed building and also in the associated garden, as well as temporary exhibitions of Icelandic and international art The Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum is dedicated to the sculptures and drawings of Ásmundur Sveinsson, whose dinstinctive works are also located throughout the city in public areas.
Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
The National Museum of Iceland is a great spot to find out about the nation’s fascinating past. The permanent exhibition stretches right back to the first settlement and comes up to the present day, and contains some 2,000 objects plus around 1,000 photographs from the 20th century. Displayed chronologically, the exhibit starts with replicas of the ships that the settlers arrived in and ends, with a modern flourish, with Keflavik airport—which lets in people every day from all across the globe.
Norðurmýri, Reykjavík, Iceland
Coffee roasted in-house and brewed by friendly baristas draws a young crowd into the old stone building near Reykjavik’s imposing Lutheran cathedral. Share one of the seven tables with a regular patron and catch up on local gossip while vinyl spins on the vintage record player.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks