Iceland Stopover: What to Do with 2 Days in Reykjavik

Last updated on:
Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission. Read the full disclosure policy here.

At first glance, the city of Reykjavik doesn't look all that impressive on paper. It's a small city, only covering about 100 square miles with a population of just over 120,000.

But, if you look closer, Iceland's capital city is actually really fascinating.

First of all, Reykjavik's location at 64°08′ N makes it the northernmost capital city in the world. It has long, dark nights in the winter, and enjoys the Midnight Sun in the summer. And, even though it's small, nearly 80% of Iceland's entire population lives within an hour of the city – meaning it's quite a bit more cosmopolitan than you might originally think.

Reykjavik is known for its colorful buildings, its lively nightlife scene, and its love of festivals. It's also a very popular city for long weekend getaways, including Iceland stopovers, which are popular for people traveling between the US and Europe.

Reykjavik, Iceland

If you're planning an adventure to Iceland (or especially an Iceland stopover), you definitely don't want to skip Reykjavik in favor of Iceland's more sparsely-populated landscapes. I mean, those are awesome, too, but Reykjavik also deserves some of your undivided attention.

The good news about Reykjavik is that, since the city is so small, you can easily take in all the highlights in just a couple of days. Here are all the things you'll want to make sure to do with 48 hours in Reykjavik.

Things to do in Reykjavik in 2 days


1. Downtown Reykjavik

Reykjavik's downtown center is small, and therefore easily explored on foot. Laugavegur is the city's main shopping street, and you'll also want to check out the trendy Skólavörðustígur, which leads up to Hallgrimskirkja church.

Both streets are lined with plenty of shops and restaurants, and also keep your eye out for some of the city's cool street art.

Brauð & Co. in Reykjavik
Street art in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has great street art!

2. Harpa

Down near the waterfront you'll find an unmissable building constructed of glass and steel. This is the Harpa, Reykjavik's concert hall and conference center.

Ask any Icelander about this building, and they will certainly have an opinion – construction started before Iceland's financial crash in 2008, and it was abandoned for a while until the government decided to pump way more money than intended into finishing it.

Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik, Iceland

Even though it's a slightly controversial building in Reykjavik, it certainly is eye-catching. Be sure to pop inside during the day to see how the sunlight plays through the glass-paned windows. (It's free to go inside outside of concert times.)

Inside the Harpa opera house in Reykjavik
Inside the Harpa

You can also look into catching a show or concert here – visit the Harpa website to see what's on.

3. Sun Voyager

A walk along the waterfront in Reykjavik is also a must, and if you do this you'll eventually come up a sculpture that looks kind of like a skeletal ship. This is the Sun Voyager, a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason that won a contest to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the city of Reykjavik.

Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik
Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik
Sun Voyager at sunset

4. Tjörnin pond

You'll also want to see the large pond outside Reykjavik City Hall. It's a very pretty place to take a walk, and you'll always find people feeding the ducks and swans, too. (If the pond is partially frozen, don't feel bad laughing at the swans trying to waddle across it. Because yes, it's hilarious.)

Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik, Iceland
It's pretty at night, too!


1. Visit a museum

There are quite a few museums in Reykjavik, including ones dedicated to art, history, and culture.

The top museums I'd recommend include:

  • The Saga Museum – Covers Icelandic history starting with the Vikings
  • Reykjavik Maritime Museum – Detailing Iceland's long seafaring history
  • Settlement Exhibition – An underground museum with a preserved Viking longhouse
  • Perlan Museum – Currently open are exhibits on Iceland's natural history, glaciers, and a man-made ice cave
  • Icelandic Phallological Museum – Yup, it's a penis museum
Perlan Museum
The interactive wall at the Perlan Museum is cool!

2. Go to the top of Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja is a large Lutheran church in the center of Reykjavik. You absolutely cannot miss it, thanks to both its height and unique design. The outside of the church is designed to resemble the basalt columns formed by lava flows that you can find all over Iceland.

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik

Along with checking out the church and statue of Leifur Eiríksson (the Viking explorer who was probably one of the first Europeans to set foot on North American soil), be sure to go in the church and ride the elevator up to the bell tower, too.

The tower gives you what is possibly the best view out over Reykjavik.

View from Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland
The view from Hallgrimskirkja

3. Take a dip

Iceland is know for its geothermal activity and hot springs, and you won't want to miss out on experiencing them in Reykjavik. Even though the Blue Lagoon is the most famous thermal spa in Iceland, there are actually a large number of public pools and spas right in Reykjavik.

The largest is Laugardalslaug, east of the city center, and the Sky Lagoon is the newest luxury hot pool in Reykjavik.

4. Visit The Pearl

This one is super unique. The Pearl is home to a viewing platform, cafeteria, and museum. It's built atop five hot water storange tanks outside of the city center, making it look kind of like a spaceship.

I wouldn't recommend the expensive restaurant here (though the cafe is nice!), but I DO recommend bringing a zoom lens to capture more great views out over Reykjavik.

Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik in winter

I also recommend visiting the Perlan Museum here, which opened in 2017. It's a place where you can easily spend a few hours overall learning about the natural wonders of Iceland (there's even an indoor ice cave you can visit!).

5. Watch for whales

Reykjavik is known for its whale watching; many species of whales can often be found in Iceland's waters, including minke and humpbacks. While you're out, you may also see puffins, dolphins, and other marine wildlife. (Note: whale watching is best from May to September – check out this tour.)

RELATED: Tours Worth Paying for in Iceland (and When to Save Your Money)


There are lots of great places to eat in Reykjavik. Here are some of my personal picks:

Brauð & Co. – Pick up a morning pastry here; their cinnamon rolls are especially tasty.

Reykjavik Roasters – If it's a good cup of coffee you're after, get yourself to Reykjavik Roasters, often listed as the best coffee spot in the city. The atmosphere in this tiny cafe is incredibly friendly, and the coffee is, in fact, delicious.

Kattakaffihúsið – Iceland's first cat cafe is now open in Reykjavik! This fun and funky space is home to 3 cats, along with good coffee and baked goods.

Kattakaffihúsið cat cafe in Reykjavik
Reykjavik cat cafe

The Laundromat Cafe – Want a meal? A drink? A place to work and/or do your laundry? You can have it all at the Laundromat Cafe. The cafe is super funky inside, with a bar lined with books and walls covered in old maps. it serves up food at decent prices, too.

Svarta Kaffið – Who doesn't love soup in a bread bowl? Svarta Kaffið on Reykjavik's main shopping street serves up fresh soup in breadbowls, beer, and not much else. (But, really, what more do you need?)

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – The name of this little food cart down by the harbor literally translates to “the best hot dog in town.” And they aren't lying. Operating since 1937, this hot dog stand has also been named the best hot dog stand in all of Europe. This is also one of the most affordable places to eat in Reykjavik.

Snaps Bistro – Serving up a good weekend brunch as well as seafood dishes that won't break the bank, Snaps is a trendy spot connected to Hótel Óðinsvé. This is also a good spot to go for Icelandic mussels!

Snaps Bistro in Reykjavik
Snaps looks like a greenhouse inside

The Sea Baron – If you love seafood as much as I do, head to the Sea Baron (or Saegreifinn) in Reykjavik's Old Harbor. They are known for their delicious lobster soup, and also grill up fresh seafood kebabs.

Messinn – Another great seafood spot in Reykjavik is Messinn, an upscale and newer restaurant. Their Arctic Char is out of this world, as is their rye bread.

Tapas Barinn – On my first visit to Iceland in 2012, I went to Tapas Barinn and did their “Icelandic Gourmet Feast” tasting menu. The food – served in Spanish tapas style – was delicious, and the tasting menu was a cool way to get to know the food of Iceland.

Cafe Loki – Serving up all sorts of traditional Icelandic food, you should go to Cafe Loki just for the rye bread ice cream. Trust me: it's amazing!

Interested to try out a lot of Reykjavik's best food in one go? Sign up for a Reykjavik food tour!


Where to stay in Reykjavik

There are a ton of hotel options in Reykjavik, but pay attention to location when you're making a booking. Some of the big-name chain hotels (like Hilton) and the hotels that will offer some of the best rates are actually located quite far from the city center. So unless you want to walk 30+ minutes or call a cab to take you downtown, be sure to book something more central.

My pick is the Rey Apartments.

Rey Apartments in Reykjavik

The Rey Apartments are located on Grettisgata, just one street up from Laugavegur. You're two minutes from Hallgrimskirkja, and a little more than 10 minutes to the waterfront or Tjörnin pond. Thanks to the central location, every tour operator in Reykjavik will pick you up right outside for any tours you book.

The bonus here is also the fact that these are apartments – even the studios come with a small kitchen, meaning you can stop at a grocery store to grab breakfast food and snacks, saving you a bit of money on meals.

I was a big fan of this location, the service, and the price.

Read reviews of the Rey ApartmentsBook your own stay at the Rey Apartments here!

What else is nearby?

Most of the major attractions in Iceland are within a couple hours' drive of Reykjavik. From the city, you can easily do things like:

Sunrise at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
The Blue Lagoon

But don't forget to set aside time just for Reykjavik. It's such a cool city, and is definitely worth at least a day or two of your trip to Iceland.

READ NEXT: 20 Fun Facts About Iceland

Have you been to Reykjavik? If so, what was your favorite part of the city?

Pin it for later:

What to do with 2 days in Reykjavik

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

Join the ADB Community!
Sign up here to get exclusive travel tips, deals, and other inspiring goodies delivered to your inbox.

44 Comments on “Iceland Stopover: What to Do with 2 Days in Reykjavik

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. All looks great–exciting. We are headed there end of November. Any good references for weather for when we are there? I do see a link for packing but not sure what time of year that is for. Thanks for the great ideas on Reykjavik.

    This will be a great help when we visit Iceland next year!!! Thanks for all the tips!

    And, even though it’s small, nearly 80% of Iceland’s entire population lives within an hour of the city – meaning it’s quite a bit more cosmopolitan than you might originally think. Where such information?

      Straight from Iceland (from multiple tour guides)! Makes sense, though – more than half the country’s population lives IN Reykjavik.

    I think that my eyes would go mad in the Harpa. I imagine that on certain times in a day it’s quite tricky to stay in the building.

      It’s not really too bad – quite a lot like being outside, to be honest!

    It’s funny how our travel interests change. I was in Reykjavik in 2012 and found it just ok. Now I’m dying to go back as it sounds so cool and my kind of place, with the street art and all the quirkiness around! Thanks to you I’m going to look for some flights there right away! 😉

      I suppose it makes sense, though. I mean, my tastes in everything from clothing to music have changed in the last 10 years – why not my travel interests, too? I definitely think you would like Reykjavik more now. It really is a very cool city!

    Great post! I’ll bookmark it for when I’m planning my trip to Iceland!

      Awesome! Hopefully you’ll find it helpful!

    I haven’t been there yet…ohhhh…so many amazing places to travel to! Awesome guide! :))

      Yes, so many places on the must-see list!

    If you’re looking for dorm accommodation, I can personally recommend Kex Hostel. It’s a good location, there are a TON of solo travelers to share a meal with, it’s big so any outside-of-Reykjavik tours can easily find it to pick you up, and there is a popular bar at the hostel. I ended up accompanying two other solo ladies to an Icelandic punk show one night – tons of fun!

      Great suggestion! I’m personally a bit beyond hostels myself, but I’ve heard great things about KEX!

    Would you say that Reykjavik is pretty easy to navigate if you don’t speak the language?

      Definitely! Most Icelanders speak great English, and you should be able to get a map at your accommodation. The city center is also really small, so you could easily just wander and stumble upon most of the main sights!

    I’m hoping to go to Reykjavik in July – thanks for the inspiration!

      Happy to provide it! Reykjavik really is an awesome little city.

    Another great post, Amanda! This will be so helpful when I begin planning my trip to Iceland this May! Would you recommend your Winter packing list to be the same for spring time? Or slight variations?

      I haven’t been to Iceland in May, however it probably won’t be as cold as in the winter. You will still want waterproof layers and good hiking boots, but you can probably leave the winter coat and snow pants at home.

    Wow, what a detailed post! I have bookmarked it for when I visit Iceland, hopefully this year…

      Great! Hopefully it’ll come in handy!

    I spent very little time in Reykjavik when I was in Iceland two years ago, but I definitely want to rectify that when I visit the next time – it’s incredible how much there is to do considering it’s such a small place!

      Exactly! I think plenty of people assume that it’s “just another city” and that, since it’s so small, there’s probably not much to do there anyway. But it’s definitely worth setting aside some time so you can explore it properly!

    I’m trying to choose between Iceland and Norway for a holiday in early 2017. I think you may have swayed my decision in favour of Iceland 🙂

      Iceland is definitely awesome! (Though, I may change your mind again next month when I go to Norway in winter! 😉 )

        I think Iceland has the edge this time – I’ve always wanted to go, and since becoming single I’ve started visiting the places at the top of my list (my ex was always telling me that foreign holidays were too expensive!) I would be going alone and am a nervous driver, so I really like the idea of staying in Reykjavik and doing lots of trips from there 🙂

          Iceland is great for solo travelers, mostly because it’s so easy to see a LOT on day trips from Reykjavik. 🙂

          Iceland is well known for allowing long layovers. You may be able to get a flight to Norway but also layover in Iceland for 2-3 days, depending on how much vacation time you’re taking.

          I’m going to Iceland the middle of February and have noticed there are a lot of ride sharing websites, as well. If you don’t want to drive, you may be able to meet someone willing to share their car and drive for the day so they can save money on the rental. (P.S. Iceland is one (if the THE) of the safest countries in the world.

            Yup, IcelandAir is awesome about allowing you to build in a layover of up to a week if you want on your way to/from Europe.

    I had a terrific time in Reykjavik. The soup in a bread bowl at Svarta Kaffið was perfect on a chilly day. Although the Blue Lagoon promised to be a tourist trap, I was surprised and pleased to find lots of Icelandic people enjoying it, too.

      We went to Svarta Kaffið after snorkeling at Silfra (in November), and that soup was so. damn. good.

      And I agree about the Blue Lagoon! Yes it’s touristy. But I actually really enjoyed it!

As Seen On

As Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen On