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.

Þorrablót Feasts Return After Two-Year Hiatus

After a two-year hiatus during COVID, 2023 marks the return of Þorrablót, a midwinter feast inspired by the food traditions and pagan celebrations of medieval Iceland. Demand is expected to be high over the coming weeks and local food producers are scrambling to prepare. RÚV reports that Icelanders are projected to eat some 60 tons of traditional þorrablót fare, which ranges, on the more appetizing end of the spectrum, from hangikjöt, or smoked lamb, to soured meats that have been pickled in whey.

A not-so-ancient festival

Þorrablót coincides with the old Norse month of Þorri, which this year, begins on January 21 and continues through February 18. But while the feast does have its roots in ancient tradition, “…there is really nothing that connects [that tradition] to the present-day feasts of the same name,” food historian Nanna Rögnvaldadóttir writes in Icelandic Food and Cookery. Instead, Nanna explains, the festival was largely the creation of “…a restaurant owner in Reykjavík in the late 1950s—he thought there might be a market for the disappearing traditional Icelandic foods that had never been served in restaurants before.”

A traditional Þorrablót spread includes hangokjöt, or smoked lamb, as well as a variety of preserved sour dishes, or súrmatur. Súrmatur, as Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir explains, “includes soured blood and liver pudding, ram testicles, sheep-head jelly, brisket and lundabaggi, a roll of secondary meats. Also eaten at Þorrablót is putrefied shark and buttered dried fish. A traditional type of bread served alongside the Þorri dinner is flatkaka, a special Icelandic rye flatbread.”

Pickling prep started in August

A traditional Þorrablót buffet. Screenshot via RÚV.

Þorrablót is typically celebrated with large, buffet-style feasts. Workplaces, cultural associations, and villages all host their own, well-attended festivities, something that was obviously not possible during COVID. This changed the way that þorramatur (food for þorrablót) was packaged and sold over the last few years, namely that stores began selling single-serving, pre-portioned þorrablót plates that could be eaten at home.

These TV-dinner-style plates proved popular and will still be sold this year, but there’s also a resurgence in demand for þorramatur in banquet-ready quantities. This means that local meat processing companies like Norðlenska have their hands full for the next few weeks. Andrés Vilhjálmsson, marketing director for Norðlenska, says that he fully expects that some popular þorrablót products will sell out this year.

Meats being preserved in whey at a Norðlenska processing plant. Screenshot via RÚV.

Þorrablót is a feast of all the food that survived the winter, primarily meat and fish that has been dried, salted, smoked, soured, pickled, or cured. What this means in practical terms for producers today is that preparations had to start all the way back in August. “There really are a lot of steps,” affirmed Norðlenska’s quality control officer, Bára Eyfjörð Heimisdóttir. “You have to boil food down, which is tricky, you have to pickle it in whey, and you need to have good whey and monitor that whey closely. So we’ve been working hard.”

Something sour is a relief after all that Christmas candy

Þorramatur is not for the faint of stomach, but Bára nevertheless finds the season’s sour spreads refreshing after all the sweetness of the Christmas holidays. By February, she says, Icelanders are “all trying to get moving, to get away from all the sugar and carbs and shift completely to protein. And that’s where soured foods and all this þorramatur scores high.”