The Scandinavian-style culture, great landscapes, and a reputation of being very safe for travelers has made Iceland a popular get away. Its close proximity to the East Coast of the U.S. makes it a good fit for Americans who want to travel to Europe but don't have a lot of vacation time.
Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, is where all international flights arrive in the country. So whether Reykjavik is your final destination, or a stop along the way, these are my top suggestions of what to do with one day in this quaint city:
Coffee at one of Reykjavik's top cafes
Start your morning out with a cup of coffee from Reykjavik Roasters. Located on Kárastígur, this small cafe is often listed as the best place to enjoy a coffee in the city.
Discover downtown Reykjavik
Downtown Reykjavik is quite small, making it perfect for exploring on foot. Stroll down Laugavegur, the city’s main shopping street, and check out the trendy Skólavörðustígur, which leads up to Hallgrimskirkja church. Both streets are lined with plenty of shops and restaurants to browse.
Stroll around Tjörnin pond
You’ll also want to take a stroll around the large pond outside Reykjavik City Hall. It’s a very pretty place to take a walk any time of year, and you’ll almost always find people feeding the ducks and swans that call the pond home.
Have a Reykjavik classic for lunch
Make your way down toward the waterfront and find Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur for lunch. The name of this little red-and-white food cart down by the harbor literally translates to “the best hot dog in town.” Operating since 1937, this hot dog stand has also been named the best hot dog stand in all of Europe.
(If hot dogs aren't really your thing, I also really like The Laundromat Cafe on Austurstræti.)
Visit the 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. It's interesting to look at from the outside, but be sure to head inside, too, to see how the sunlight plays through the glass-paned windows. As long as there isn't an event going on, you can wander inside for free.
Go to the top of Hallgrimskirkja
Hallgrimskirkja is a large Lutheran church in the center of Reykjavik. You can't possibly 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.) Along with checking out the church and statue of Leifur Eiríksson outside, be sure to go inside the church and ride the elevator up to the bell tower. The tower gives you the best view out over Reykjavik.
Have an Icelandic dinner
If you love seafood, head to the Sea Baron (or Saegreifinn) in Reykjavik’s Old Harbor. They are known for their delicious lobster soup, and they also grill up fresh seafood kebabs. If seafood isn't really your thing, consider going to Tapas Barinn for their Icelandic tasting menu, served Spanish tapas-style.
Visit the Sun Voyager
After dinner, I recommend heading out for a walk along the waterfront. You’ll eventually come upon a sculpture reminiscent of a skeletal ship. This is the Sun Voyager, a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason that's photogenic at any time of day.
Have a late-night adventure
Depending on the time of year, there are various after-dinner activities in Reykjavik. In the winter, you can book a tour to chase the elusive Northern Lights if the weather is clear. In the summer, when Iceland gets nearly 24 hours of sunlight per day, you may want to head to Laugardalslaug, a public swimming/thermal pool area just east of the city center, for an evening soak.
What cities have you conquered in a day? Share below your “City in One Day” trip.
Have you been to Reykjavik? If so, what are some more of your favorite things to do there?