5 x Music Festivals in Reykjavík Worth Attenting

While Iceland´s breathtaking landscapes and natural wonders often are the reason people visit, the capital city of Reykjavík is a dynamic hub with vibrant cultural and artsy energy. Iceland´s music industry is one of the main cultural scenes, with numerous artists having achieved international acclaim, like Björk, Laufey, Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Rós and more.

With the music scene in Iceland undeniably flourishing, Reykjavík city hosts over a dozen music festivals annually with even more festivals taking place around the country. These festivals are a great place for both established and emerging artists, whether local or international, to showcase their art to enthusiastic audiences.

Here are 5 music festivals in Reykjavík city worth attending. 

 

1. Iceland Airwaves

This festival is without a doubt one of the most iconic festivals in Reykjavík. Iceland Airwaves was established in 1999 as a one-time event in an aeroplane hangar. Since then it has evolved into one of Iceland’s biggest and most established festivals. Held in November each year, Iceland Airwaves transforms the whole city into a musical haven with its immersive, multi-genre music festival. The performances spread across various venues, from intimate bars and stores to grand concert halls and showcases a range of unheard-of-up-and-comers to local rising stars and established (international) talent. 

 

2. Innipúkinn

In Iceland, the first Monday of August is celebrated as a national holiday known as the ´tradesman’s holiday´. The weekend before is the Verslunarmannahelgi weekend, which has become the biggest festival and travel weekend in Iceland, marked by numerous festivities across the country and leaving Reykjavík almost empty for an entire weekend. 

To inject some energy into the city during this bustling travel period, Innipúkinn festival was established in 2001. Translating to ´someone who prefers being inside´, Innipúkinn is an alternative celebration for those who opt to stay within the city confines rather than venture to outdoor concerts and camping sites.

This three-day music festival features performances by various musicians at venues scattered throughout the city. Single-night tickets are available, and attendees may even have the chance to snag a ticket at the door.

 

3. Secret Solstice festival

Embracing the spirit of the iconic lyrics of Led Zeppelin, “From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow….,” the Secret Solstice festival is perfect for those seeking a more distinctive experience. Held during the summer solstice, the Secret Solstice festival makes use of Iceland’s long and bright summer nights with performances under the beautiful glow of the midnight sun. 

The festival was established to create unique music experiences and to push boundaries. Whether they ́re hosting a rave in a glacier or orchestrating performances in 5000 year old lava tunnels, the organisers are dedicated to offer memorable and unconventional experiences to their attendees. Their main goal is to combine music with outdoor adventure as well as having stage events in the city. 

It’s truly an immersive experience that celebrates both the music and natural wonders of Iceland.

 

4. Reykjavík Jazz festival

Established in 1990, the Reykjavík Jazz Festival stands as one of Iceland’s oldest and most enduring music festivals. Held annually at the end of August, this event has garnered increasing prestige within the international jazz community.

For jazz-fans, the festival presents an unmissable opportunity to dive into a world of musical diversity, featuring performances from both Icelandic and international artists. From contemporary and avant-garde expressions to the rhythm of Latin jazz and the grandeur of big bands, the Reykjavík Jazz Festival offers a rich tapestry of genres to explore.

5. Músíktilraunir – The Icelandic Music Experiments

Músíktilraunir or The Icelandic Music Experiments, is an established musical event that was first held in 1982. It stands out as a unique event within Iceland´s music industry as it provides an invaluable opportunity for young, aspiring musicians. While its not a traditional music festival, music-lovers are sure to discover upcoming talents and enjoy great music. 

The festival takes place in Reykjavík city, usually at the beginning of the year. Over the course of five days, close to 50 musical acts compete to take one of the ten available places in the finals. Músíktilraunir serves as a crucial stepping stone, offering a platform for 13-25 year old musicians to showcase their skills and gain both national and international recognition. 

Notable past winners include Of Monsters and Men, Samaris, Mínus and Mammút, all of whom have since cemented their place within the music industry, both in Iceland and abroad. 

So if you are a music lover seeking fresh sounds and travelling to Iceland, Músíktilraunir might just be the festival for you. 

 

Reykjavík – Iceland’s Amazing Capital City 

Miðborg Reykjavíkur - tekið úr byggingakrana

What is there to see and do in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík? How many people live there, and how was the city founded? Let’s learn all there is to know about Iceland’s only major settlement, Reykjavík.

Reykjavík is a city like no other on earth. For one thing, most people would not describe it as a city at all – rather, it resembles a pleasant coastal town with landmarks of noteworthiness. Its diminutive population only reinforces this point, as does its lack of urban infrastructure, transport networks, and twisting highways.

Ultimately, Reykjavík is the perfect city for those who long to appreciate the lively epicentre of a nation without subjecting themselves to the incessant noise, lurking danger, and hustle and bustle so apparent in many other capitals around the world. 

Reykjavík skyline
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík from the water.

And, if you might excuse this frankly disruptive personal interjection – as a foreign resident living in Iceland’s capital, I believe wholeheartedly that it is one of the greatest cities on earth, if only for the fact that it defies what is so expected of one. In many ways, if you were to look up the opposite of a city in the dictionary, you may find Reykjavík to be the definition, at least in terms of its gentle ambience and relatively slow pace of life. 

Still, a city is what Reykjavík is. Given this fact, it is obvious that Reykjavík is where most visitors to Iceland will stay, utilising it as a go-to homebase for taking tours and excursions around the country. There are so many hotels, Air BnBs, and hostels to choose from, and at a relatively competitive price, that picking otherwise does not make budgetary sense given the high cost of vacationing in Iceland. 

Basic Facts About Reykjavík 

Photo: Golli. Reykjavík at dusk.

Reykjavík translates to ‘Smoky Bay,’ named because of how its surrounding geothermal areas produce pillars of white steam. While these outpourings are not anywhere near as noticeable to residents today, it must have been quite the surreal sight to the city’s early settlers. 

For anyone interested in observing these geothermal sites that are still in action, there are many locations on the adjacent Reykjanes Peninsula, such as the Martian-like landscape of Gunnuhver hot springs.  

As of 2024, the population of Reykjavík is approximately 139,849 people, meaning that around two-thirds of Iceland’s entire population calls the capital home. If there was any fact that demonstrates just how remote and, ultimately, wild Iceland actually is, it should be this. 

Biker crossing a busy road in Reykjavík.
Photo: Biker crossing a busy road in Reykjavík.

Since 2016, the population of the city has increased around 1.62% each year, but this can be hard to notice given the fact that almost every single tourist who visits Iceland will pass through it at one point or another during their holiday. In fact, its density of people is, almost, tribute to just how popular it is, and is not particularly a reflection of the city if it were left to its own devices. 

But then again, as much is true of any urban centre that so happens to be a beloved tourist destination… 

The Capital area of Reykjavík covers 273 km2 (105 sq mi), and so it is considered Iceland’s only major city. Akureyri is often called ‘Iceland’s Northern Capital City,’ but with a population of only 17,693, it should more accurately be described as a town rather than a major urban settlement. Still, this gorgeous settlement boasts its only cathedral, and a domestic airport should anyone want to hop on a flight between Reykjavík and Akureyri. 

Reykjavík’s connection to nature

 

Reykjavík is considered to be among the cleanest and most environmentally friendly cities on the planet. This comes down not only to how the city’s residents care for their home, but also the simple fact that so much of Iceland’s heat and electricity is geothermally, and hydrothermally, sourced. 

Saying that, Reykjavík is as much of a party city as many other places, so early mornings on a Saturday and Sunday might make you think twice about the idea Reykjavík is particularly clean – but rest easy knowing that whatever litter might be left over from the night before is quickly discarded by local services. 

If one thing can be said for the Icelanders, it is that they are extremely house proud, and they take their relationship with nature very seriously.  

Puffin Iceland
Photo: Golli. Nesting Atlantic Puffins

Speaking of the city’s connection to nature, guests should be aware that whales and puffins can often be seen from the city. Both animals have become bonafide mascots of the country – whether they are aware of it or not – thanks to the great many wildlife tours on offer here. 

One of the most popular spots from which to take whale-watching and bird-watching tours is Old Harbour, a beautiful district marked by its many boats and restaurants. 

Weirdly enough, dogs were banned from Reykjavík until the 1980s; something at odds with how Icelanders view their love of animals. However, the presence of our canine friends is now a staple part of capital life, second only to the many cats seen roaming the streets. 

A Brief History of Reykjavík 

Viking Festival Hafnarfjörður

If you were to look at the Reykjavík City Crest, you might notice that it depicts two logs. This symbolises the ancient Norse method of deciding on where to settle. Aside from Irish monks, or Papar, who were said to have lived in a monastery on Papey Island, Ingólfr Arnarson was the first person to have officially discovered Iceland. In fact, it is said that the Irish left Iceland because they did not like the presence of Norse settlers. 

Who was Ingólfr Arnarson?

 

Originally from the Rivedal Valley in West Norway, Ingólfr Arnarson arrived in Iceland in the year 874 AD. He arrived after fleeing from a blood feud that he had become embroiled in. His escape from Norway focused on a mysterious island discovered by fellow Vikings, Garðar Svavarsson and Hrafna-Flóki, some years beforehand. 

Upon spotting land, Ingólfr tossed two wooden logs over the side of his longship, observing where they beached. These logs – or polished wooden poles – were known as Öndvegissúlur (High-Seat Pillars.) So it might seem strange to us today, this method of deciding on where to set-up a permanent farmstead was common practice among the Norsemen at the time. 

Reykjavík statue
Photo: Golli. A statue in Reykjavík

And so it was that Reykjavík’s location was decided upon. You can read more about Ingólfr Arnarson and the settlement of Reykjavík in the Landnámabók, otherwise known as the Book of Settlers.   

If you want to learn more about Reykjavík’s earliest days in a more fun and practical way, then the Settlement Exhibition 871±2 is a fantastic place to visit. This historic site was built around the excavated ruins of one of the first man-made structures ever built in Iceland. And, it can be found right downtown! The ruins date back to somewhere in between 900 – 1000 AD. Ancient and mysterious, they expose details of how Reykjavík’s earliest settlers would have lived and worked.

Since Iceland became a sovereign nation in 1918 – breaking away from Denmark with the Act of the Union – Reykjavík has held the position as the northernmost capital in the world. 

Famous Landmarks in Reykjavík

Hallgrímskirkja lutheran church in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík

The columned steeple of Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church is the city’s most recognisable landmark, towering over the tin roofs of downtown. While the ground floor of this historic building is free to explore, ascending to its high-level will require an extra fee. You will find this fantastic cultural landmark at the top of Skólavörðustígur – known colloquially as rainbow street – making for fantastic urban photographs right up to its bronze double doors. 

Another of Reykjavík’s more iconic buildings is Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, located on the rocky embankment of Faxaflói Bay. This award-winning structure is a great place to catch any one of the local or international acts to grace its many stages. These include the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, Reykjavík’s Big Band, and the Icelandic Opera. 

Photo: Golli. Harpa concert hall.

What are some lesser-known landmarks in Reykjavík?

 

The circular dome of Perlan Museum and Observation Deck is a little way outside of downtown, but is more than worth a visit. Here, you’ll be able to enjoy the Wonders of Iceland exhibition. It includes artificial ice caves and bird cliffs, as well as a cinematic Northern Lights experience. To top it off, you will have access to amazing panoramic views of the capital, and its surrounding nature. That’s right… from the 360 degree viewing platform that sits atop the museum. 

When it comes to famed monuments, stop by the Sun Voyager sculpture, nearby to Harpa Concert Hall. This beautiful and artistic representation of a Viking longship is a truly unique metallic specimen, and provides a brilliant subject for those looking to photograph the table-top prominence of Mount Esja, Reykjavík’s nearest mountain. 

Perlan Öskjuhlíð haust autumn
Photo: Golli. Perlan on Öskjuhlíð

If there was any place to dwell on how Iceland was discovered by courageous sailors braving the unknown ocean, it is the Sun Voyager. 

If you’re hoping to see as many of Reykjavík’s landmarks as possible, your two best options are to take a pleasant walk around the capital, or better yet, hop on a city sightseeing bus tour!

Shopping in Reykjavík

Shopping in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Make sure to plan your budget for shopping!

Reykjavík provides fantastic opportunities for shoppers. Albeit those who are willing to pay more for products than they might do elsewhere. Unfortunately, Reykjavík is an expensive place to visit, let alone enjoy retail therapy. But if you have cash and a predilection to shop, you’ll find a fantastic array of clothes, music, ornaments, and food. 

Laugavegur is the most popular street for shopping in the capital. Strolling along it, you’ll find plenty of establishments to tickle your interest, be they galleries, book shops, or cute cafes. 

Despite this now being Reykjavík’s most well-trodden street, Laugavegur was not always so attractive to visitors. In fact, it translates to hot spring road. Locals used to wash their clothes in a trickling geothermal stream that ran directly where people walk today. 

A man reading in a book shop corner.
Photo: Golli. A man reading in a book shop corner.

You’re sure to notice the many souvenir shops around the city. Locals know these as Puffin Shops. On the other hand, guests see them as perfect places to grab an I <3 RYK t-shirt, or perhaps, a keyring or mug emblazoned with Hallgrimskirkja or the city’s crest. Whatever you choose for a memento of your stay, you will be spoiled for choice. The right souvenir shop for you is right around the corner. 

Are there good clothing stores in Reykjavík?

 

Icelanders also happen to be fashion-conscious people. But with the relatively high price of clothing items, and a lack of variety, second-hand shops are the obvious choice. 

Places like Spúútnik and Fatamarkaðurinn second-hand market offer a diverse mix of attire, much of which is inspired by the funky psychedelia of the sixties and seventies. So, make sure to stand out against Iceland’s landscapes by dressing your special for holiday photos 

Lucky Records in Reykjavík music
Photo: Golli. Lucky Records in Reykjavík

What music stores are in Reykjavík?

 

Also, the Icelandic people love their music. You will find many record stores across the city, including the likes of 12 Tónar, Smekkleysa, and Lucky Records. Browsing their collections of new and vintage music is the perfect way to spend some time in the city. It provides you with a great opportunity to gain a deeper insight into local artists. 

It’s also cool to know that many of these record stores also moonlight as indie record labels. Thus, visiting gets you even closer to the musical talent that Iceland is known for. Look out for small-scale concerts regularly held at these locales during your visit. 

Restaurants and Bars in Reykjavík 

Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.

Foodies will find so much to love about Reykjavík that their stomachs might demand they never leave.

Not only are there plenty of spots that dedicate themselves completely to authentically Icelandic dishes – like the scrumptious plokkari (potatoes and white fish) or, of course, roasted lamb – but there are countless other restaurants and takeaways focused on their own takes on international food, be it Thai or Italian.

What are Reykjavík’s best known foods?

 

This article would be remiss not to mention the most famous spots to sample the best Iceland has to offer. 

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is the one-stop you need to pay attention to regarding Icelandic hot dogs. Their sausages are made of a mix of lamb, beef and pork. The meat is topped off with fried onions and a generous slathering of mustard, ketchup, and remoulade.

More adventurous travellers may want to try the famous – or, in fact, infamous – Hakarl, or Icelandic Shark. 

(If you’re planning on putting yourself through this culinary ordeal, expect a rapid and severe taste of ammonia. Hopefully, the awed and giggly cheers from those around you make biting down worth the effort!)

Two people eating ice cream in the snow.
Photo: Golli. Two people eating ice cream in the snow.

Does Reykjavík have a fun nightlife?

 

Enjoying alcoholic delights is as diverse and entertaining as the food on offer in Reykjavík. Different establishments offer different types of scenes. Depending on your mood, you might find yourself sampling delicious whiskies in the city’s rock joints. Or enjoying sunset from one of the classier rooftop bars. 

Might you be more inclined to the former, the likes of Dillon Whiskey Bar or Gaukurinn Drag Bar are your bet. More sophisticated sippers might prefer SKY Bar or Petersen svítan. 

Despite the great variety of bars and restaurants on offer, guests might find the city lacking in the large-scale chains that are accustomed to at home. For example, neither Starbucks nor McDonalds operates in Iceland, though local alternatives fill the gap – like Te & Kaffi cafe for coffee, and Aktu Taktu or Metro for burgers. 

Art and Culture in Reykjavík 

A nighttime pool party in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Not all parties happen at the bar!

Icelanders – or, more particularly, Reykjavík residents – are a creative, somewhat absurd, and wildly experimental bunch. Unafraid to push the boundaries in whatever arena they choose, be it cuisine, fashion, music, or art. 

This will likely be obvious walking through Reykjavík. Many walls and houses are painted with stunning murals that add welcome and eccentric colour to an otherwise grey cityscape. 

With that in mind, art-lovers will find many eclectic galleries, exhibitions, and vibrant stores throughout the capital. Here, they can appreciate Iceland’s contributions to the creative scene. 

Read our full article: What is Icelandic Culture?

Where can you see art in Reykjavík?

Reykjavík Art Museum, for example, covers many such centres of display across the city:  Hafnarhús, by Old Harbour, focuses on modern art, while Kjarvalsstaðir in Klambratún park and Ásmundarsafn shift the focus towards sculpture and experimental contemporary works. 

Hafnarhús art museum
Photo: Golli. Hafnarhús is one of the museums in Reykjavík

On top of these museums, there are many sculptures to be found, including the likes of The Unknown Bureaucrat, located by Lake Tjörnin. 

Another interesting instalment is the Imagine Peace Tower, which is found on Viðey Island in Kollafjörður. Dedicated to the late-Beatle, John Lennon, this powerful spotlight was unveiled by Yoko Ono herself. It brightens up the winter night between October and December every year. 

For those historically inclined, there are also a great variety of museums where you can learn more about Iceland. More than that – about how Reykjavík has developed throughout the centuries.

These include the National Museum of Iceland, which displays countless artefacts related to the country’s cultural history. Then there is Árbær Open Air Museum, where you can appreciate beautifully replicated homes from the Iceland of old. 

Reykjavík Old Harbour
Photo: Golli. Outside of Reykjavík Maritime Museum

What are lesser-known museums in Reykjavík?

 

There are many other options depending on your subject of interest. For example, the Reykjavík Maritime Museum focuses on Iceland’s historic fishing industry, as well as its relationship with the sea in general, while the bizarre but fascinating Icelandic Phallological Museum dedicates exhibition space to the male reproductive organ, boasting an enormous collection of phalluses sourced from animal species across the country. 

Another recommendation would be the Museum of Photography, which has over 6 million photographs in its collection, many of which have perfectly captured how Iceland’s capital city has grown from a tiny Norse settlement into the burgeoning economic and cultural hub it is today. 

In Summary 

Skólavörðustígur Reykjavík pride LGBTQ+
Photo: Golli. A pair snaps a selfie with the Skólavörðustígur rainbow as a backdrop at the 2019 Pride Parade in Reykjavík

As you’ve surely cottoned onto by now, the city of Reykjavík is a special place through and through. 

It is the sort of place that inspires great literature, engaging nights, and breathtaking art. The sort of place where friends are made as easily as memories. Where visitors transcend the typical experiences one has come to expect of a much beloved tourist destination.   

Surrounded by mountainscapes and oceans, this exciting young capital draws is as great for immerseing oneself in nature as it is for others seeking urban delights. 

12 Things to do With Kids in Reykjavík City

Children playing in Ægissíða, Reykjavík

Travelling with kids is certainly a little different than travelling with only adults. It requires consideration for little feet but that’s no reason to worry. Iceland is a remarkably kid-friendly country, where locals embrace the idea of children being a part of their daily life rather than needing constant entertainment with specific activities. That being said, Reykjavík city has enough fun, child-friendly activities to offer.

 

Family friendly museums

Exploring Reykjavík´s family-friendly museums offers a mix of learning and fun for young and old alike, making them an essential stop for any family visiting Iceland.Here are four must-visit museums in Reykjavík that are fun for everyone:

1. Þjóðminjasafnið museum

The National Museum of Iceland has an informative exhibition of the making of Iceland’s nation and its culture. While the adults delve into the rich heritage, the kids can embark on their own little adventure with a museum bingo card. This definitely adds an element of excitement to their exploration through the museum. From ancient artefacts to skeletons and opportunities to dress up in traditional Icelandic attire, there is something to engage every young mind. 

Open Air Museum in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Árbæjarsafn Open Air Museum

 

2. Árbæjarsafnið Open-Air museum

Located in the outskirts of Reykjavík, Árbæjarsafnið Open-Air museum offers a unique glimpse into Reykjavík´s past. Wander through a collection of historic houses, many of which were wholly relocated from the city centre, and imagine daily life in Reykjavík in the 19th and 20th century. During the summer months, museum staff walks around, dressed in period attire, adding an interactive dimension to the experience. 

 

3. Perlan museum

Situated on a wooded hill in the heart of Reykjavík is Perlan, also known as the Pearl. Renowned for its distinctive architecture, Perlan features a glass dome placed on four repurposed water tanks, making it one of Reykjavík´s most iconic landmarks. Inside you can explore a world of wonders, including a glacial ice cave, a planetarium show and an interactive display of Icelandic nature and culture. Don´t forget to take a stroll along the glass dome´s balcony and treat yourself to an ice cream while you enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view of Reykjavík.

 

4. Whales of Iceland

For an amazing experience dedicated to the majestic creatures of the sea, head to Whales of Iceland. This interactive museum is the largest one in Europe that is fully dedicated to whales. In the museum you can find 23 life-sized whale sculptures that are based on actual whales found in Icelandic waters. Complete your experience with a drink at their café and let the kids play at the designated play area. The museum is in walking distance from the city centre and you can enjoy the colourful boats in the harbour along the way.

 

Get free access to a number of museums, pools and more with the Reykjavík City Card. 

 

Activities for the whole family

As you plan your family adventure in Reykjavík city, discover a selection of activities favoured by locals. From cherished pastimes to lesser-known gems, these experiences will make it even more fun to explore the Icelandic capital.

Swimming pool in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Swimming pool in Iceland

 

5. The swimming pools of Reykjavík

Icelanders love their swimming pools and the culture around them is quite the phenomenon. With almost 20 pools in the greater capital region, there is a good chance you can find one conveniently located near you. Each pool has a designated children’s pool and hot tubs, where you can easily relax while the kids splash around. Most pools will provide floaties for the children’s safety as well as some water toys to play with. Complete the Icelandic experience with a late afternoon dip, followed by a traditional hot dog for dinner. It’s safe to say your little ones will sleep soundly afterwards.

 

6. Húsdýra- og fjölskyldugarðurinn petting zoo

While Iceland may not have a traditional zoo, visitors can enjoy the charm of a petting zoo located near Reykjavík city centre. Here you will meet some friendly Icelandic farm animals, seals, reindeer and more. The park is divided into two sections: the petting zoo and a family park where you will find a large playground and some carnival rides. Feel free to bring packed lunches as picnic tables and outdoor grill areas are available for a full day of family fun. 

 

7. Noztra creative workshop

For families with a knack for creativity, Noztra Workshop is just the place to unleash your talents. Their ´paint your own pottery´ café provides a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, perfect for a creative session. Located near the old harbour at the Grandi area, this cosy studio invites you to enjoy a creative cup of coffee while crafting memories together. Note that children under 8 years old are welcome until 4 PM daily.

 

8. Indoor playgrounds

In Reykjavík you can find two indoor playgrounds, providing entertainment for children up to 9 years old:

  • Fjölskylduland (Familyland) is a holistic indoor playground and family centre in the outskirts of Reykjavík. It offers a safe and stimulating environment for children up to six years old. Fjölskylduland creates a supportive environment for families by hosting events and offering parents workshops and classes.
  • Ævintýraland (Adventureland) is an indoor playground situated in Kringlan shopping-mall. Children from age 4 to 9 are welcome for some supervised fun while the parents indulge in a little bit of shopping. 

 

Free family friendly activities in Reykjavík

Children playing in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Children playing at Ægissíða in Reykjavík city.

Exploring Reykjavík doesn’t have to break the bank. From playgrounds and parks to a seaside treasure hunt, Reykjavík offers enough activities that won’t cost you a thing!

9. Grasagarðurinn

This park is a beautiful destination, especially during the summer months. Located in Laugardalur, it is next to Húsdýragarðurinn petting zoo and the famous Laugardalshöll swimming pool. Grasagarðurinn park showcases Iceland´s flora and nestled in its midst is an adorable greenhouse-like café. If you venture further into the park, towards the swimming pool, you will find a playground next to a historic site where Reykjavík´s housewives used to do their laundry. 

They would travel along Laugavegur, the main street of the city centre, and end up at the washing pool in the park. In Icelandic ´laug´ means ´pool,´ which explains why places and streets in the area are all called Laugar– something. 

 

10. Harpa Concert Hall

Whether or not you plan to attend a concert, a visit to Harpa is a must. This beautiful building, home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, has a very unique glass architecture and offers stunning views of Faxaflói bay and mount Esja from within the building. Families are warmly welcomed at Harpa, where children can enjoy the fun, musical-themed play area and even learn a thing or two about music.  For those seeking a cultural experience for their Reykjavík itinerary, check Harpa’s calendar for interactive concerts tailored for children.

11. Playgrounds

Every child loves a trip to the local playground, better known as ‘róló’ by the locals. These fun play areas are scattered throughout Reykjavík, offering countless opportunities for young adventurers to let their imaginations soar. In downtown Reykjavík, Hljómskálagarðurinn park boasts a charming playground where children can climb, run, and play to their heart’s content. Surrounded by lush greenery and overlooking Tjörnin pond, it’s the perfect spot for families to unwind and enjoy some outdoor fun.

After closing hours, typically around 5 PM, children are also welcome to use the outdoor areas of Reykjavík’s kindergartens. This provides additional opportunities for some playtime and maybe even some social interactions with locals.

12. Fjöruferð – a treasure hunt at Reykjavík´s black beaches

children on the beach in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Children playing in the Icelandic “fjara”.

A favourite activity among Icelandic children is going on a treasure hunt at the black beaches during low tide. As the tide recedes, you will find plenty of interesting little things like shells, crabs, polished stones and more. In Icelandic, there’s a distinct difference between ‘strönd,’ which refers to a typical beach, and ‘fjara,’ which refers to the black beach during low tide. Gather your family for a nice stroll along the shore of Ægissíða and enjoy the refreshing sea breeze while you hunt for your own Icelandic souvenirs. Just remember to always be careful as stones can be slippery and winds can be hard.

 

To make the most of your family trip, consider staying in Reykjavík and renting a car. This allows for flexibility in your plans, ensuring you can balance day trips into nature with more relaxed days exploring the city. Happy travelling!

Exploring Reykjavík in 24, 48 and 72 hours

View of Reykjavík from Hallgrímskirkja church.

Reykjavík, with its quaint houses, tasty restaurants, and countless museums, exhibitions, and galleries, is a marvellous option for a short city break. With a city this small, you can cover a lot of ground and manage a whole host of things in one to three days! 

But even in a small space like Reykjavík, it’s impossible to do absolutely everything, and picking from the numerous options can be an unwanted hassle. That’s why we created our 24, 48, and 72 hour Reykjavík itinerary. Whether you don’t enjoy planning or simply need some inspiration, we hope this guide will help you make the most of your trip! 

Day one: Geothermal baths, Icelandic food and sightseeing

Morning

If your accommodations don’t offer a complimentary breakfast, head to Sandholt, one of the oldest operating bakeries in Iceland. They offer hand-crafted pastries and sourdough bread, as well as a great breakfast menu comprising yoghurts, sandwiches, shakshuka, and other delicious dishes. 

After breakfast, spend the morning in a typical Icelandic way by going to Sundhöllin geothermal swimming pool, where the locals swim, have a ‘pottaspjall‘(an Icelandic word for chatting in the hot tub), and do some cold plunging. 

Sundhöllin swimming pool in Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Sundhöllin swimming pool in Reykjavík.

Noon

Go to Kaffi Loki for lunch, where you can taste some of the most traditional Icelandic food: Icelandic lamb soup, gratinated mashed fish, homemade flatbread with smoked lamb, and fermented shark, amongst others.

An excellent way to get to know Reykjavík in your limited time is by taking a free or private walking tour. This way, you won’t have to be stressed out and glued to your phone, trying to figure out the fastest way between attractions. You can simply enjoy the walk while absorbing Icelandic history and culture. 

Afternoon

If you’re hungry after the walk, we suggest making your way to Hressingarskálinn café for a traditional ‘rjómaterta’ or ‘Hressóterta’ (whipped cream cake). This is an old-fashioned staple when it comes to celebrations in Iceland.

For those looking to take a piece of Iceland home with them, use the afternoon to do some shopping. Check out Eymundsson bookstore, Vínberið candy store, or Lucky Records music shop, all of which offer a variety of Icelandic products.

Evening

For a fancy dinner, book a table at Sumac (preferably a few days in advance). They offer mouth-watering food inspired by the Middle East. Pick your own combination of small dishes or opt for a fixed menu. For a less fancy but just as delicious dinner, try Dragon Dim Sum, a Chinese- and Taiwan-inspired dim sum bar by the old harbour.

Not ready to call it a day? Check out Hús máls og menningar, a cultural house and bar located in a former bookshop on Laugavegur street. With live music every night, this is a great place to prolong the evening.

Day two: Unusual museums and the food hall culture

Morning

Start the day with breakfast at Reykjavík Roasters in Ásmundarsalur, a non-profit art space with constantly rotating exhibitions. 

Next up is the Sculpture garden at the Einar Jónsson Museum, a lovely free attraction featuring 26 replicas of Einar’s statues. Einar was one of the artists who laid the foundation for modern art in Iceland. 

After the garden stroll, head down to The Icelandic Phallological Museum. This unusual museum, “dedicated to collecting, studying, and presenting actual phalluses and all things phallic”, was founded in 1997 and has become a top-rated attraction in downtown Reykjavík.

Noon

For lunch, it’s time for an Icelandic classic: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur at Tryggvagata street. This hot dog stand has been serving Icelanders Icelandic hot dogs since 1937. Ask for ‘one with everything’ for the most authentic experience.

Bæjarins Bestu hot dog stand in Reykjavík.
Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand in Reykjavík.

While you’re digesting your hot dog, pop down to the Reykjavík Punk Museum, a tiny museum located in an old public bathroom where you can learn about the Icelandic punk scene. 

Afternoon

Spend the afternoon in Perlan, one of Reykjavík’s famous landmarks. Inside, you’ll find a fascinating nature exploratorium, as well as an observation deck, planetarium, café, restaurant, bar, and ice cream parlour. 

Evening

In the past few years, a myriad of food halls has popped up all over Reykjavík. Hlemmur Mathöll, one of the first, is a particularly fun one to visit, as it used to be a bus station. If you don’t see a restaurant you like, try Pósthús, located in a former post office, or Hafnartorg Gallery down by the Reykjavík harbour.

A busy day at Gallerí Hafnartorg food hall.
Photo: Golli. A busy day at Gallerí Hafnartorg food hall.

How about a movie after dinner? Bíó Paradís is a unique and small movie theatre in downtown Reykjavík where you can get popcorn and wine while watching critically acclaimed and foreign movies. It has a vibe you won’t find in other Icelandic cinemas and is definitely worth a visit. If you’re not in the mood for movies, check out Bullsey or Skor, where you can grab a drink and play a fun game of darts.

Day three: The National Museum, a typical Icelandic ice cream and Flyover Iceland

Morning

Have a refreshing acai bowl from Maikai for breakfast before walking or taking the bus to The National Museum of Iceland

Noon

When you’re done soaking up the Icelandic history, it’s time for lunch at SÓNÓ matseljur. SÓNÓ is a seasonal vegetarian restaurant situated in the fabulous Nordic House, which was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. It’s well worth taking a walk around the house after lunch. 

Head back downtown through the beautiful surrounding area, past Tjörnin pond and through the charming neighbourhood of Þingholtin.

Afternoon

If there’s one thing the Icelandic people love, it’s ice cream. All year round, no matter the temperature or weather, a typical Icelandic activity is going for an ice cream drive. Swap out your afternoon coffee for a classic soft serve in a dip, a delicious ‘bragðarefur’ blizzard or a creamy Italian scoop.

Two people eating ice cream in the snow.
Photo: Golli. Two people eating ice cream in the snow.

Make your way to Flyover Iceland for a fantastic trip that covers the whole of Iceland. This is an amazing experience, even for those who have already travelled around the island. If you get easily motion sick, the Whales of Iceland exhibition is an excellent alternative.

Evening

For your final evening in Reykjavík, grab some street food at LeKock, a restaurant inspired by childhood memories and travels. Enjoy sensational but simple food in a laid-back atmosphere and play one of the many board games available. If you’d rather have a fine dining experience, Oto is the place to go, but remember to book in advance! With its Japanese Italian fusion cooking and excellent choice of music, you’re bound to have a fantastic final night.

If you don’t fancy going to bed just yet, Tipsy is a fabulous place for a last cheer, and Kaffibrennslan café is a cosy one for a quiet evening coffee and a slice of cake. 

Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.

Reykjavík Evens Out Fees for Daycare and Preschool

preschools in iceland

The City of Reykjavík is increasing its subsidies to daycare providers so that parents of children 18 months and older will pay the same fees whether their child is placed with a daycare provider or in a public preschool. The changes were approved at a meeting of the Reykjavík City Council this morning.

In the last election cycle for Reykjavík City Council, campaign promises were made that children would be guaranteed a spot in preschool from the age of 12 months, when government-mandated parental leave ends. This has not yet been realised, with staffing shortages and long waiting lists remaining widespread in the capital area. Children are currently guaranteed a place in public preschools from the age of 18 months, though not necessarily in a preschool near their home.

The changes to fees take effect in February 2024 and will apply retroactively from July 1, 2023. The changes do not apply to children under 18 months of age. Daycare providers are permitted to charge an added fee for additional services that are not included in the standard fee, for example for diapers.

The council also approved a motion stipulating that parents who have children who turned 18 months old between June 1, 2023 to January 31, 2024 can apply for an increased subsidy for childcare fees.

 

Isavia Demands Felling of 2,900 Trees in Öskjuhlíð

Perlan Öskjuhlíð haust autumn

The operator of Reykjavík Domestic Airport, Isavia, has requested that 2,900 trees in Öskjuhlíð forest be felled immediately, or 1,200 of the forest’s tallest trees, to improve flight safety. Öskjuhlíð is one of the oldest forests in Reykjavík and is on the natural heritage register. If the request is approved, it would constitute felling about one-third of the forest or at least half of its oldest and tallest trees.

Isavia sent a request to the City of Reykjavík on July 6 demanding city authorities fell trees within the approach zone to the airport from the east in order to improve flight safety. Isavia suggests two possibilities: felling all the trees within two areas of the forest, a total of 2,900 trees; or felling around 1,200 of the forest’s tallest trees.

Reykjavíkurborg. What Öskjuhlíð would look like with the 2,900 trees felled (inside the red dotted line)
Reykjavíkurborg. What Öskjuhlíð would look like with the 2,900 trees felled (inside the red dotted line).

Protected green space enjoyed by many

The forest enjoys protection both within the neighbourhood zoning plan and as a city park in the city’s master zoning plan. Öskjuhlíð is also on the natural heritage register. Felling the trees is subject to the consultation and approval of various parties, including the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.

The felling would come at a significant cost, at least ISK 500 million [$3.8 million; €3.5 million] to fell 2,900 trees. That price tag would not include the necessary landscaping of the area after the trees are cut down and removed. In 2017, around 140 trees in the forest were felled to increase flight safety. Isavia put the project out to tender and footed the bill.

Öskjuhlíð is a popular site for outdoor recreation as well as the location of Reykjavík landmark Perlan. Reykjavík University is nestled at the base of the forest and religious organisation Ásatrú has facilities in Öskjuhlíð as well, where they hold regular events. The greater Reykjavík area does not have many forests to boast of, the two main ones besides Öskjuhlíð being Heiðmörk and Elliðárdalur.

Airport location a long-standing debate

Research has shown that afforestation carried out in the greater Reykjavík area since the middle of the 20th century, including in Öskjuhlíð, has decreased the intensity of storms and reduced average windspeeds in and around the city. Instead of felling trees, some have argued that the landing route to the domestic airport from the east could be made safer by extending the runway further west. That would require extending the existing runway out over the ocean, however.

The location of Reykjavík Domestic Airport has been a hot-button issue almost as long as the airport has been around. An agreement has now been made to move it from its current location in Vatnsmýri and build a residential development in its place – but a new location for the airport is yet to be determined and its relocation remains a source of tension between the sitting government and the City of Reykjavík.

Tjarnarbíó Theatre Will Not Have to Close This Fall

Tjarnarbíó theatre Reykjavík

Reykjavík’s leading independent theatre space Tjarnarbíó will remain open this fall thanks to the promise of additional funding from the Icelandic state and the City of Reykjavík. Tjarnarbíó Director Sara Marti Guðmundsdóttir announced last month that existing funding would not suffice to keep the theatre open and that it would close for good this September. Sara stated that authorities have promised to ensure the theatre can remain open, but have not told its staff exactly what form their support will take.

“We haven’t been told exactly how they’re going to carry it out but we have been promised that it won’t come to us having to close this fall as we assumed we would,” Sara told Vísir. The theatre was set to close this fall despite hosting a record number of theatre companies and performers and record ticket sales. The grant funding the theatre was receiving was not enough to remunerate its four full-time employees and carry out much-needed maintenance of facilities. “Because the building is so old, we keep having to spend money on things for which we shouldn’t be paying. The building and the scene itself have been neglected for an awfully long time, which is why we’ve reached this point now,” Sara stated last month.

Read More: Tjarnarbíó to Shut up Shop Without Increased Funding

Sara added that the state, city, and theatre staff will now carry out a needs assessment for the operation of independent performing arts in Iceland. She added that she is relieved at the outcome. “It was very difficult to not know before the summer vacation whether we were going to have jobs again in September. I’m extremely relieved to know, both for the sake of the staff and also the independent theatre scene as a whole.”

Don’t Feed Birds Bread in Summer, Says City of Reykjavík

Giving bread to ducklings on Reykjavík Pond could turn them into seagulls’ dinner, according to a notice from the City of Reykjavík. The pond (Tjörnin) is known for its vibrant birdlife, including ducks, swans, and geese, which both locals and tourists enjoy visiting. The city has asked visitors to stop bringing along bread for the birds, however, as it attracts seagulls to the pond, which are then more likely to feed on ducklings as well.

“With an increase in lesser black-backed gulls at Tjörnin comes an increase in the likelihood that newly hatched ducklings will become their prey,” the notice reads. “Ducks have enough food for themselves and their ducklings at Tjörnin throughout the summer and therefore it’s not necessary to feed them. A large quantity of bread can increase the organic pollution in the pond, especially because the number of birds increases dramatically when the gulls show up to the pond. The droppings from the birds, as well as the bread itself, increases organic pollution.”

While the city asks visitors to avoid feeding the ducks between May 15 and August 15, the same is not true for the rest of the year. “It’s safe to feed the birds in Tjörnin throughout the fall and winter months and such support is welcome, especially when the weather is at its coldest during midwinter, as food for ducks can be of short supply during that time of year.”

Rainbow on Skólavörðurstígur to Be Made Permanent

Skólavörðustígur Reykjavík pride LGBTQ+

The popular rainbow on Skólavörðustígur street in central Reykjavík, a symbol of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, will now become a permanent fixture. Reykjavík City Council approved a motion yesterday to redo the painted rainbow using wear-resistant material. A redesign of the street released in 2021 initially proposed scrapping the rainbow but was met with protest.

“It’s wonderful that the rainbow will keep its place permanently, as it is a symbol of the Human Rights City Reykjavík where everyone is welcome,” stated City Councillor Dóra Björt Guðjónsdóttir, chairman of the city’s Environment and Planning Council. “This monument is very important in the minds and hearts of all of us who fight for the human rights of queer people who have been under attack. A symbol of queerness and queer struggle truly belongs in the heart of Reykjavík.”

The proposed redesign of Skólavörðustígur, which was initially presented in 2021, will now be adapted around the rainbow. The LGBTQ+ community will be involved in consultations to ensure that the symbol of its struggle, the rainbow, continues to hold an important spot in this location.

The rainbow was first painted on Skólavörðustígur in 2015 and has since become an identifying symbol of central Reykjavík, with tourists and locals alike stopping at the site to take selfies. Álfur Birkir Bjarnason, director of the National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78), welcomed the decision to make the rainbow permanent. “This is good news for all queer people in Iceland and cements one of Reykjavík’s most visited landmarks,” he stated.

Full Haus

There are many theories as to what fosters creativity and innovation in society: education, inspiration, even suffering. Yet from SoHo to Montmartre, there’s one simple ingredient that never fails to foster creative communities: affordable rent. The new hafnar.haus creative hub in downtown Reykjavík is providing just that – as well as a vision to unite […]

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