How to See the Best of Reykjavik in 48 Hours

Nestled in the northwest of the country, Reykjavik is a common starting point for any trip to Iceland. Travelers are likely to fly into the nearby Keflavik International Airport, whether on a stopover or a longer visit to the “Land of Ice and Fire”. As the capital city, Reykjavik is Iceland’s hub of culture, cuisine, and history, offering visitors a glimpse into the mysterious and alluring Icelandic lifestyle. In this blog post, I will help you discover the best that Reykjavik has to offer in just two days, including suggestions for what to see, where to stay, and how to get there. 

Having visited Reykjavik on four different trips, I think two days is the perfect amount of time to get a taste of what this city has to offer. With just 48 hours in Reykjavik, visitors can explore the city’s many museums and galleries, visit the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church, and take a dip in one of the city’s thermal pools. Reykjavik is also known for its lively nightlife, with a number of bars and clubs offering live music and a chance to experience the city’s vibrant culture. With its waterfront location, vibrant arts scene, and rich history, there is plenty to see and do in this small yet mighty city.

The Perfect 2 Day Itinerary for Reykjavik Iceland

Day 1 

Morning: Perlan Museum

While it might seem weird to start your visit to Iceland inside a museum, bear with me. I think the Perlan Museum is a must-visit destination for travelers in Reykjavik, because it provides a ton of information about all the incredible natural wonders to see in Iceland. If you don’t know much about volcanoes, the Northern Lights or glaciers, this is the perfect place to learn. Plus, it is just a really well done museum with lots of interactive exhibits for all ages. 

Visitors can expect to see a wide variety of exhibits covering different natural phenomena and earth sciences. One of the highlights of the Perlan Museum is the glacier exhibit where you can go inside an actual ice cave. Having visited a few different ice caves around Iceland, this is the real deal. The museum also features a planetarium, where you can learn about aurora borealis and see incredible videos of them occurring in Iceland.

Both the ice cave and northern lights show are immersive experiences, perfect for people who are only spending a short time in Iceland. Located on top of a hill with panoramic views of the city, make sure you go outside on the viewing platform for excellent 360 degree views of the Reykjavik skyline. This is a great place for photos. On the top floor of the Perlan, there is a nice café with surprisingly good coffee sitting beneath the glass dome roof. 

Early Afternoon: Hallgrímskirkja

A short drive (or long walk) away from the Perlan is Reykjavik’s most recognizable building – Hallgrímskirkja church. Standing at 244 feet tall, this church is the tallest building in Iceland. The stunning architectural landmark is located in the heart of the city. Before heading to the church, grab a bite to eat at one of the delicious restaurants nearby, such as Cafe Loki or Brauð & Co.

The church itself is a sight to behold. With its distinctive modernist design and towering spire, the architecture is reminiscent of some of Iceland’s unique rock formations. The cylindrical cement columns remind me of the Sea Stacks at Reynisfjara Black Beach or Svartifoss waterfall. Make sure to admire the statue of Iceland’s most beloved historical figure, Leif Erickson, before heading inside Hallgrímskirkja.

It is free to enter the church, and I would recommend it because the interior is equally impressive. With a beautiful organ and intricate stained-glass windows, the minimalist theme continues inside. Coming from Cologne, this aesthetic is quite different from what I am used to seeing in German churches. Visitors can take an elevator to the top for a small fee, and are rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Reykjavik. Whether you’re interested in architecture, history, or just want to take in the views, Hallgrímskirkja church is a must-see attraction that has something for everyone.

Late Afternoon: Rainbow Road & Shopping

Central Reykjavik is pretty compact (there are only 125,000 residents after all), so it is very easy to explore on foot. From Hallgrímskirkja church, it is a short 10 minute walk to the Rainbow road. One of Reykjavik’s most Instagrammable spots, the Rainbow Road is a colorful street that, quite literally, has a rainbow painted down the middle. In a tribute to LGBTQI+ people, the whole street has brightly painted houses and a lively atmosphere. It is a great place to take a leisurely stroll and soak up the local culture.

I recommend wandering around this neighborhood and getting a little bit lost. You’ll discover beautiful street art, cozy cafes, and cool boutiques offering hand knit sweaters and Icelandic souvenirs. A quirky and uniquely Iceland stop to add to your days in Reykjavik is the Mink Viking Portrait studio where you can dress as a viking for good quality and dramatic photos. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a Viking, here is your chance!

One shop I can recommend is The Handknitters Association of Iceland. Everything here is handmade by local people in traditional Icelandic designs. I also really love the secondhand store Verzlanahöllin. It has one of the most unique concepts for consignment that I’ve ever seen, whereby each consignor has a mini “stall” inside the shop. In general, the central district of Reykjavik is a shopper’s paradise with a variety of stores offering everything, including outdoor clothing and equipment in case you forgot to pack something. 

Evening: Food Tour

Wondering what the food in Iceland is like? I don’t blame you! On my first trip to Iceland in 2016, I honestly had no idea what to expect from Icelandic cuisine. As an island nation, I figured there would be a lot of seafood, but I wasn’t sure about the flavors or other ingredients. Sampling diverse dishes while in Reykjavik is a great way to get to know the cuisine. Another fun way to learn about traditional and modern Icelandic cuisine is on a food tour! 

I can wholeheartedly recommend the Reykjavik Food Walk as a great introduction to the city’s food and restaurant scene. Their standard tour includes five different stops around Reykjavik. I found the young guides to be dynamic and fun–they are people you would be friends with! Over the course of the tour, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there is so much more to Icelandic cuisine than boring white fish. You’ll discover international fusion, surprising ingredients, and delicious homestyle cooking. If you prefer to dine on your own, I summarize some of my favorite Reykjavik restaurants and eateries in a separate blog post. Needless to say, you’ll be eating well during your 2 days in Reykjavik! 

Day 2 

Morning: Sky Lagoon

Start your second day in Reykjavik with some relaxation and restoration at the stunning Sky Lagoon. Located just 15 minutes from the city center, this luxurious spa combines the ancient tradition of Icelandic saunas with modern amenities. As a lover of all things spa and sauna, it is probably not surprising that I recommend going to at least one lagoon while in Iceland. It is a must-try experience! Wondering why I am recommending Sky Lagoon instead of the Blue Lagoon in this 2 day itinerary of Reykjavik? You can read my thoughts on the Blue Lagoon in a separate blog post, but in my humble opinion – Sky Lagoon is better. 

The outdoor lagoon at Sky Lagoon is fed by the nearby geothermal springs which heat the water to a comfortable temperature. It is the perfect place to relax regardless of the season. The water is clear and less harsh than at Blue Lagoon. Plus, the lagoon has an infinity edge overlooking the ocean and city skyline that is honestly gorgeous. Sauna culture is an important part of Icelandic life, and with the Pure Pass at Sky Lagoon, you’ll have access to the 7 step sauna ritual. You can learn about and experience the various steps of this ritual, including a cold plunge, dry sauna, salt scrub, and steam sauna. 

Early Afternoon: Wander the Waterfront 

I’m a sucker for a nice waterfront. Growing up with Lake Michigan in my backyard, there is something about wandering along the water that calms my soul. Not unexpectedly, Reykjavik’s harbor neighborhood is a must-visit corner of the city. One of the standout attractions in the waterfront area is Harpa. You’ll know as soon as you see it, because this stunning concert and conference venue is striking. Known for its dazzling architecture, the Harpa has a glass and steel exterior which is lit up in different colors at night. Inside, black concrete and tile glass panels create optical illusions from all angles. This is such a cool place to snap artistic photography. 

Another notable attraction in the harbor area is the Sun Voyager, a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. The Sun Voyager is a symbolic representation of the journey of discovery, which the original Vikings did when they discovered and then colonized the island of Iceland. It is a popular spot for visitors to take photos and enjoy the views of the harbor. On the walk from Harpa to Sun Voyager, you’ll notice a myriad of stacked rock towers along the water.

Wandering south along the waterfront, you’ll stumble upon a number of restaurants, shops and upscale apartments. This area of the city has gone through a wave of redevelopment. It is now one of the most expensive neighborhoods to live, and a trendy place for a night out. I especially like the home décor and home items at Casa Boutique. There is also a lively flea market on the weekends where you can dig for vintage treasures and off-beat gifts.

Reykavik Iceland Metal Viking Statue

Late Afternoon: Museum Hopping 

Depending on what season you are visiting Iceland, you may want to spend time inside to avoid bad weather. I certainly did during my November and January trips! Thankfully, Reykjavik is home to a number of interesting museums that offer visitors a glimpse into the country’s rich history, culture, and natural beauty. 

Located in the harbor, the Reykjavik Maritime Museum traces the history of Iceland’s maritime culture. The museum features a number of exhibits that cover the country’s long history of fishing and seafaring, including a replica of an old Icelandic fishing vessel. Also nearby is FlyOver Iceland. I tried this immersive experience on my last visit, and was surprised by how much I liked it. It is hard to describe, but basically, it is a motion ride with a wraparound screen that simulates a flight over Iceland’s gorgeous scenery. It’s a little cheesy, but you’ll see corners of Iceland that aren’t normally accessible to travelers. You can buy a combination ticket with the Perlan.  

Perhaps the strangest museum in Reykjavik is the Icelandic Phallological Museum, also called the penis Museum. With an extensive collection of preserved animal genitalia, ranging from the small and discreet to the large and impressive, the penis museum is certainly an unforgettable experience. The collection includes specimens from a variety of animals, such as whales, seals, and even land mammals like horses and bulls. Next to all of the genitalia, you’ll find a small placard where you can read educational information about the biology, evolution, reproductive systems and functions of animal genitalia. It’s weird, but will give you a good story to tell people back home. 

Evening: Dinner & Drinks 

For your last night in Reykjavik, it is a good idea to experience some delicious food and legendary nightlife. Reykjavik has a surprising number of great restaurants, ranging from Icelandic fare to international fusion. Because I have a lot of food and restaurant suggestions, I wrote a separate blog post all about my favorite eateries in Reykjavik. 

Once you’re sufficiently stuffed with incredible food, head out for a night on the town. From cozy pubs to lively clubs, Reykjavik is known for its vibrant bar and nightlife scene, offering visitors a chance to experience the city’s energetic culture and friendly locals. One of the must-visit bars in Reykjavik is the Jungle Bar, a popular spot known for its tropical-themed decor and amazing cocktail selection. The mixologists here craft great drinks with local spirits like Brennivin and Aquavit, as well as classic cocktails. A cozier option is the Irishman, which offers live music practically every night. It also has a private karaoke room in the back. For those looking to dance the night away, the Pablo Disco Bar has the liveliest atmosphere in town.

Bonus Day 3 

If you’ve got a little bit of extra time in Reykjavik, consider a day trip. You’re never far from beautiful places in Iceland! Perhaps the most well-known day trip from Reykjavik is to the Golden Circle. This 300 km route takes about 6 hours to complete, and it will bring you up-close to some of Iceland’s most beautiful natural wonders. Some of the keys spots you’ll want to visit in the Golden Circle include Thingvellir National Park (with option for Silfra Fissure Snorkeling), the Stroker Geysir and the Gullfoss Waterfall. 

Wanting to explore a little more off the beaten path? The southern coast of Iceland is FULL of incredible scenery to discover. I highlight my 13 favorite natural attractions in southern Iceland in a separate blog post. Because this area is a little further from Reykjavik, you’ll need a full day. But you will be rewarded with lesser known spots, smaller crowds, and awe-inspiring vistas. 

Reykavik Iceland City Scenery

How to Get to Reykjavik

In case you’re not aware, Keflavik airport is farrrrr away from Reykjavik. Thankfully, visitors have several transportation options to get them from the airport to the city center. 

OPTION 1 – The most popular and convenient option is the Flybus, which is a direct shuttle service that runs from the airport to central Reykjavik. The Flybus departs from the airport approximately 35-40 minutes and stops at the BSÍ Bus Terminal in central Reykjavik, where you will then transfer to a local bus which can take you directly to your hotel. You can reserve tickets ahead of time, or buy it at their ticket stand after you get through immigration and baggage claim. 

OPTION 2 – Another transportation option is the public bus, which is a cheaper alternative to the Flybus. The public bus, or Strætó, runs from the airport to central Reykjavik and stops at various transfer points along the way, including at the BSÍ Bus Terminal. Visitors can purchase tickets for the public bus at the airport or using the Strætó app.

OPTION 3 – A final option is by car, either in a rental car or with a taxi. This is definitely the most expensive option, but it is also really convenient. If you are renting a car for a ring road trip, all of the major rental car companies are available at Keflavik. For taxis, you should expect a taxi to cost around 100 euros, so it is better to share with someone else if you are traveling as a group. Taxis are readily available at the airport and can be hailed at the taxi stand outside the terminal.

Reykavik Iceland City Harbor with Fishing Boat

Where to Stay in Reykjavik

Reykjavik offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit all budgets and preferences. If you’re looking for more upscale options, the neighborhoods of Vesturbær and Grófin are home to a number of luxury hotels and high-end apartments. The city center also has a good selection of boutique hotels and guesthouses for a more intimate and personalized experience. My favorite place to stay in Reykjavik is the Grandi Hotel near the harbor. The interior design is great, the staff is friendly, the restaurant is good and the rooms are comfortable. It is slightly further away than other options downtown, but it is worth the walk. 

What to Eat in Reykjavik

It may be surprising to learn that Reykjavik is home to a thriving food scene that offers something for even the foodiest travelers. From traditional Icelandic dishes made with fresh, local ingredients to international flavors and fusion cuisine, there’s no shortage of delicious options to choose from. Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty meal, a quick bite, or a fancy dining experience, you’ll find something to suit your taste in Reykjavik. Because I have a lot of food and restaurant suggestions, I wrote a separate blog post all about my favorite eateries in Reykjavik. It will give you a taste of the many culinary delights that the city has to offer.

Do you have any questions about Reykjavik? Comment below!

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