How to spend 48 hours in Reykjavik
The Icelandic capital Reykjavik is a small city compared to international standards but that doesn’t mean it has little to offer visitors to this Nordic island nation. While many people head straight for the Golden Circle, the waterfalls, the volcanoes, the hot springs and the Game of Thrones set pieces, Reykjavik has plenty to offer those who take the time to pause for at least 48 hours in Reykjavik.
Despite its increasing popularity as an alternative travel destination, Reykjavík managed to keep its unique Icelandic character. There is nothing hectic and stressful about this capital city.
Reykjavik may be small, but you can easily spend a couple of days to explore in and around the city. This 2 day itinerary will help you make the best of your 48 hours in Reykjavik.
Day One: Morning
City center and Hallgrimskirkja
Downtown Reykjavik is small enough to easily explore on foot. Walk down the main shopping street Laugarvegur and take in all the sites of the old city. Make sure to turn into Skólavörðustígur, which leads to the impressive Hallgrimskirkja church. The church with its 73m bell tower stands guard over Reykjavik. It’s stepped concrete façade resembles the basalt columns formed by lava flows that are found all over Iceland.
Taking the lift to the top of the tower is well worth it for the breathtaking views over the city. Admission to the church is free but it costs ISK 900 to go up the tower (ISK 100 for the children between 7 and 14).
Tip: If you are hungry after your stroll through the center of Reykjavik, a hot dog from Baejarins Beztu may be just the fuel you need to continue exploring.
Day One: Afternoon
Perlan is a huge glass dome structure on top of Oskjuhlid Hill less than a kilometer away from downtown Reykjavik. You can easily walk there from Hallgrimskirkja, or take bus no 18 from Hlemmur bus stop.
The dome sits atop Reykjavik’s six huge water reservoirs, each with the capacity to hold over a million gallons of geothermal hot water. There are two main reasons to visit Perlan. One is to stand on the 360-degree viewing deck on the fourth floor from where you don’t only see Reykjavik, but also the surrounding mountains with the help of panoramic telescopes. The second is to visit the Icelandic Natural Wonders exhibition which illustrates the country’s glaciers, their history, and future. You can even explore a glacier first hand by walking through an ice cave.
Opening hours: Daily from 9am to 7pm, with last admissions at 6pm.
Admission: Adults pay ISK 2,900 ISK and children from 6-15 years pay ISK 1,450.
Day One: Late Afternoon/Early Evening
Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach
From Perlan, find your way to the Ægissíða bike and footpath that lines Reykjavik’s coast. The Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach is not even a kilometer away from Perlan. Nauthólsvík is a man-made beach where part of the cold North Atlantic Ocean has been closed off in a lagoon and the water heated to a refreshing swimming temperature. Of course, there are also steam baths and hot tubs to relax in!
Tip: Nauthólsvík even has grills where you can BBQ your own meat or hot dogs instead of going to an expensive restaurant for dinner.
Admission: Use of the beach, hot tubs, changing rooms, and restrooms is free in summer. In winter, the admission is ISK 500.
Day Two: Morning
Start your day at the Arbaer open-air museum with its more than 20 quaint old buildings forming a town square, a village, and a farm. The buildings were transported from their original sites to Arbaer, about 2.5 miles southeast of the city center, and include 19th-century homes, a turf-roofed church, and stables, barns and boathouses.
A walk through Arbaer will take you back in time in Reykjavik, showing off the architecture and way of life of citizens past. Exhibitions and special events highlight different periods in Reykjavík’s history.
Opening hours: Daily from 10am to 5pm from June to August and 1pm to 5pm from September to May
Admission: Adults pay 1,600 ISK and children under 18 enter free of charge
Day Two: Afternoon
Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Reykjavik’s harborside has so much to explore you can easily spend the rest of the afternoon and evening here, starting with the Víkin Sjóminjasafn or the Reykjavik Maritime Museum. The museum is in an old fish freezing plant in the old harbor area. Fishing plays an important role in the history of Iceland and is the foundation of the country’s prosperity.
A highlight is to take a guided tour of the former coast guard vessel Óðinn, which is anchored to the pier next to the museum. The ship took part in all three Cod Wars and has a 57mm cannon on its bow.
Opening hours: Daily from 10am to 5pm with guided tours of at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm.
Admission: Adults pay ISK 1,600 to enter the museum and ISK 1,300 to tour Óðinn. A combo ticket costs ISK 2,400. Kids under 17 are free.
Tip: Take a boat tour from the harbor if you have time. The 1 ½ hour cruise in a traditional fishing vessel in the bay of Faxaflói can be recommended. You will see many species of birds and fantastic views of the city, the islands Engey and Videy, and the mountains surrounding Reykjavík.
If you want to see whales, rather head to the Whales of Iceland Museum than going on a whale watching boat ride. Sightings are rare in this part of the Atlantic and you may just get seasick on the choppy water. Whales of Iceland boasts 23 man-made life-size models of the various whale species found in Icelandic waters throughout its natural history.
From the harbor, walk east along the waterfront in the direction of the Harpa (the unmissable glass and steel building) but don’t stop there yet. Continue until you reach the striking Sun Voyager – a massive steel sculpture by Jon Gunnar Arnason. The Sun Voyager is one of Reykjavik’s most photographed features, especially in early morning and late afternoon light with Mount Esja in the background. It could resemble a Viking ship, a dreamboat, or an ode to the sun – you decide.
End your 48 hours in Reykjavik on a high note with an unforgettable sunset hour on the waterfront next to Reykjavik’s glittering concert hall and conference center. The Harpa is a striking glass and steel building designed by architect Olafur Eliasson. It was clouded in controversy when construction had to be halted during Iceland’s financial crash in 2008. The building was only completed when the government pledged way more money than was originally budgeted for – something they are thanked for by every Icelander and visitor who witness the glass panels sparkle like diamonds in the sun.
If you truly want to make the most of your last night in Reykjavik, why not attend an evening concert? Just take note that you may have to book in advance. Otherwise, consider taking a guided tour inside the Harpa for all the inside secrets and unique photographic angles.
Opening hours: Daily from 8am to midnight
Guided tours: Daily at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm from June 19th – August 25th
Weekdays at 1pm, 3:30pm* and 4:30p, / Weekends at 11am, 1pm, and 3:30pm from August 26th – June 18th (2018) *Except on Tuesdays
Admission: 1.500 ISK for adults and free for children under 16 years
Tips to make your 48 hours in Reykjavik more affordable
A Reykjavik City Card offers unlimited public transport, entry to most museums and thermal baths, and a range of other discounts for ISK 4,900 for 48 hours. Children pay ISK 2,500.
When you’re looking for places to stay, consider using Airbnb. More importantly, choose an apartment or room where you have access to a kitchen. Buying groceries in a supermarket and cooking your own meals will save you a great deal of money.
The cheapest way to get from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik is to take the public bus no 55. You might have to wait a bit longer for it but the one-way fare only costs ISK 1,680. Its final stop is Reykjavik’s main bus terminal from where you can either walk to your hotel or take another bus. Unfortunately, there is no Uber in Iceland.
Reykjavik is full of colorful buildings, amazing street art, and creative postmodern architectural designs – all of which is free to see if you explore the city on foot. Get a City Walks Map from the official tourist information center to guide you through the city.
Find out about festivals or cultural events happening in Reykjavik at the time of your visit. These are often free and a great way to experience authentic Iceland.
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the world. That means it gets the midnight sun in summer but winters are characterized by long, dark nights. August is the last official month of Iceland’s (short) summer. Temperatures at the end of August can range between 50 and 60°F (10 to 15 °C). The upside of visiting in summer is that you have more daylight hours to explore and do things. The downside is that you probably won’t see the Northern lights. The best time to see these is between September and May.
Renting a car is one of the cheapest options to get around Iceland and Reykjavik. However, keep in mind that Iceland is an expensive country and car rental cost could be very high in peak seasons compared to other destinations. You can also use the city buses, but you either need the exact fare of 440 ISK in cash, the Strætó app with a valid and activated ticket on your phone or a valid Reykjavík City Card to use the bus. You can also buy single bus tickets at the 10/11 stores.
Have you been to Reykjavik? What did you like the most in the city? How did you spend your 48 hours in Reykjavik? Any tips and recommendations? Comment below!