Let's have a look at some of the best things to do in Reykjavik in Winter. The Icelandic capital has been developing some great attractions that remain open year round for you to enjoy: architecture, museums, street art... A great town to enjoy for a couple of days!
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Top things to do in Reykjavik in Winter - Summary
My favorite things to do in Reykjavik in Winter
- Admire the unique architecture of the cathedral and explore the surrounding area to find street art and quirky shops
- Walk on the waterfront with beautiful views mixed with art and architecture (Sun voyager sculpture, Harpa concert hall)
- Visit the Perlan - enjoy the interactive museum, learn more about the northern lights at the Planetarium and head to the outside platform for fantastic views of the city
- Head to the harbour to enjoy 2 wonderful attractions: Flyover Iceland (an immersive experience) and Whales of Iceland with the life-size replicas.
- Visit one of the most unique museums you will ever see: the Phallological Museum (penis museum)
I am sharing details and picture about all of them further in the article.
Planning Tips to visit Reykjavik, Iceland
How to get to Reykajvik from the airport
Reykjavik is a 40min drive from the International airport in Keflavik.
They have a really good system of shuttles available for all the flights.. Your various options are:
- Take a shuttle bus (cheapest) - Pre-purchase your ticket in your currency, and once at the airport, go outside, show your ticket and climb on board. This will take you to the bus hub near the city center, where you will be dispatched into other buses to go to the various hotel areas
- Take a direct shuttle minibus - Pre-purchase your ticket in your currency, and from the airport you climb into the minibus that will get you directly to your accommodation area (no need to change bus)
- or Book a private transfer to be able to leave whenever you are ready and head directly to the door of your accommodation
- or rent your car at the airport.
Need to rent a car for your road trip in Iceland?
- You can choose from some great local companies - Iceland has a lot of specificities and their offerings are adapted - you can compare cars and prices of quality local brands on this expert Icelandic website
- Otherwise you can compare offers from international companies on RentalCars.com
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
How long to spend in Reykjavik?
Just to visit the town and enjoy the great museums, I recommend 2 days.
Reykjavik can also be the base of your holidays by doing day trips. But if you have the time, I recommend to go on a road trip for several days so that you can see a lot more and spend less time on the road.
Getting around Reykjavik in the snow
- The attractions of Reykjavik are a little spread out but you can still walk between a lot of them: Cathedral area to the waterfront to the harbour area for example
- However the Perlan is not easy to reach on foot (although possible)
- You can take taxis between some of the areas. For example from the harbour to the Perlan I paid 2500 ISK (15USD)
- If you have a rental car, you can also get around by car but don't forget to pay for parking
- Your other option is to use the Hop on Hop off bus that will take you to all the attractions of the capital city - Pre-purchase your ticket in your own currency
- And finally, you can join a guided tour of Reykjavik if you just want to sit, relax and not take the decisions - see options
- My recommendation is to rent your car before or after visiting Reykjavik and just enjoy the town without the hassle
- Be careful on less visited streets as the sidewalks can be slippery
- If you are booking day trips from Reykjavik, the minibus are not allowed to enter some areas. They have set up a system with touristic bus stops. The tour company will tell you the closest stop to your accommodation where you should meet
Accomodations in Reykjavik
I stayed at 3 different accommodations in Reykjavik (and I paid entirely for them, they did not know I was a blogger). All were very good.
- For a home feeling and a fantastic location, I really enjoyed my charming B&B called Reykjavik Treasure - check out photos and availability
- For a spacious apartment with cooking facilities in the city center, I had a great time at the Rey Apartments - check out photos and availability
- I also stayed at Castle House Luxury with a spacious room and good price - check out photos and availability
Otherwise, you can consider these options depending on what you are looking for:
- HOSTEL - The Reykjavik City Hostel has a good rating inside Reykjavik - check out photos and availability
- LUXURY - Head downtown in large smart apartments at the Black Pearl - check out photos and availability
- DESIGN - If you like modern design, have a look at the 41- a Townhouse hotel! - check out photos and availability
- FAMILY - Have a look at the Old Charm Reykavik Apartments. They have 2 and 3 bedrooms apartments and a decor with a lot of character - Check availability and availability.
- But there is a wide range of places to stay in the capital city - Choose among the best rated accommodations in Reykjavik
Walking on the Seafront - the Sun Voyager
Like in most towns by the sea or by the water, one of the best activities is to walk along the waterfront.
In Reykjavik, the area is wide and away from the cars which is very enjoyable.
Even if covered in snow it is quite easy to enjoy the seafront.
Plus, there are several highlights to enjoy along the way. And those are free! (Is your budget tight? See more tips on the article by Map Made memories about visiting Reykjavik on a Budget)
The Sun Voyager
The most famous, in the middle of the promenade, is the Sun Voyager sculpture.
Its Icelandic name is Solfar. The artist is Jon Gunnar Arnason. He envisioned it for a competition in honor of the 200th anniversary of the city.
The sculpture was unveiled in 1990.
It represents a dreamboat, and ode to the sun through which he wanted to convey "a dream of hope, progress and freedom".
Best to visit at sunrise.
Careful in Winter, as it is very slippery around the metal legs.
The yellow lighthouse
Another highlight, especially if you enjoy photography, it is the yellow lighthouse.
It was created by the architecture firm Yrki Arkitektar. The design is based on the channel lighthouses that were used in Reykjavík’s old harbour from 1913-1917.
This is very photogenic, on top of being an important safety feature for the harbour.
The Hofdi House
On the other side of the road from the seafront promenade (near the lighthouse) is the Hofdi House. It was built in 1909.
It is one of the most significant buildings in Reykjavik in regards to history. It was, indeed, the location of the summit between presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbatsjov in 1986. The meeting marked the end of the Cold War. Learn more
The Harpa concert hall
At the other end of the seafront is the Harpa Concert Hall. Its design was a collaboration between Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson, and the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects.
When the project started it was not welcomed by all (like most crazy shaped building) but it has since become a landmark of Reykjavik. It opened in 2011.
Check out the shows you could be enjoying on the Harpa website
Cathedral and city center
Next you have to head uphill a little to reach the area around the Cathedral.
This is a lovely area, with lots of shops, bars and a great atmosphere.
The Reykjavik cathedral - Hallgrimskirkja
This is the most iconic building in Iceland. It was commissioned in 1937 to Gudjon Samuelsson. And it took 41 years to build the church.
The architecture is unique and reminiscent of the Svartifoss waterfall with the wall of basalt columns.
At its highest point, it reaches 74.5 meters (244ft).
Entrance is free. But you have to pay if you want to go up to the viewpoint.
Find the street art
I recommend that you spend some time exploring the neighborhood with the colorful houses, the quirky shops and the street art. Whole walls are painted and sometimes the sidewalk too.
The Perlan building, located on top of a hill overlooking the city, has quickly become one of the most popular attractions in the city.
Originally it was just a cluster of hot water tanks.
But it has be completely transformed into an attraction dedicated to the wonders of Iceland.
You can visit and just pay for the viewing platform.
Or you can pre-purchase your entrance ticket in your own currency to enjoy the museum and the ice tunnel (and the viewing platform).
Plus, you can also book your seat to one of the Planetarium shows.
You can also book a meal at the famous revolving restaurant inside.
One of the options inside the Perlan, is to take a seat inside the planetarium. You can enjoy a nice show during which you will learn more about the Northern lights.
It is not like seeing them (for real) but it is an enjoyable moment.
The interactive museum
Then you can enter the museum. This is a very modern place with a lot of interactive displays where you can touch or just move to have explanations appear.
You will learn more about the volcanic activity, the glaciers, the flora and the fauna.
If you are interested in learning more about Iceland, this can take you a whole day.
The ice tunnel
With the museum ticket, between 2 levels, you will be able to visit the 'ice cave' or 'ice tunnel'. Thanks to the hot water tanks, the maintenance of the ice is energy efficient.
Once again it is not like visiting a real glacier cave (which is a magical experience - see my article about them) but it is still fun.
The viewing platform
But my favorite part of the Perlan is the 360° view of the area. There is a circular platform around the building to admire the landscapes in all directions.
Despite the cold, I stayed up there a long time as I found the winter scenery of Reykjavik fascinating.
I prefer Nature to cities, but having a view that combines both works for me!
Reykjavik's attractions at the harbour
Next you can head to the harbour area.
It is not a nice place to walk around as it has mostly large shops. But the two attractions below were my favorites in the city.
OK the ratio price vs time spend is really expensive.
BUT this is something you cannot do anywhere else!
It combines the 4D cinema and the feeling of flying with unbelievable images of Iceland. Be ready to move your feet thinking you are going to touch the top of the mountains!
Careful there is a limited number of seats, so it gets full. Pre-book your entrance.
Whales of Iceland
I know that going on a boat trip to see real whales in the sea is probably your priority (see options here).
But when you are on a boat, most of the time you don't see that much. You see a giant back, and maybe a tail for an instant when the whale dives. But that's all.
So if you want to better understand the size of these fascinating animals, the museum Whales of Iceland is the place to go. The have life-size replicas of all the species visiting Iceland. Fascinating!
Pre-purchase your entrance in your own currency.
Other Museums in Reykavik
Reykjavik has many other museums throughout town.
Here a few to consider:
- The Saga museum - small museum but with lots of information bout the Viking settlers and their sagas
See location and opening hours
- The Settlement exhibition - Underground museum in an archeological dig
See location and opening hours
- The maritime museum - fishing has been essential in the Icelandic history. This museums dive into the maritime heritage of the country
See location and opening hours
- The Punk museum - learn about the evolution of the Punk scene in Iceland
See location and opening hours
- The National museum of Iceland - this is where you can find the archeological treasures of Iceland: viking ship, arts and crafts, furniture, religious artefacts...
See location and opening hours
But one of the most unique experiences you could have is at the Phallalogical Museum a.k.a. the Penis Museum.
They have a really large collection of penises from different animals, including giant whale ones.
I recommend the audioguide. The voice of the man who collected all those specimens is a bit monotone, but what he shares makes the visit even more fascinating.
Food in Reykjavik
Of course, there is also a large choice of restaurants in Reykjavik. But this is not my expertise.
I tried looking for an article by another blogger about the best restaurants in Reykjavik. But in the fist few pages of Google, all I can see are articles where the author has not even been to one restaurant...
And if you love learning about food while traveling, check out the Food tours in Reykjavik
Northern lights in Reykjavik
It is extremely rare that the lights are strong enough for you to see them from Reykjavik. There is too much light produced by the city.
You have to book a tour that starts in the evening and take you out to chase them, and hopefully find them.
- BUS TOUR - One of the cheapest options is to go on a bus tour. You leave from Reykjavik and the driver takes you to the best spots he knows depending on the forecast - Check out Program, availability and Price
- SMALL GROUP TOUR - This is my favorite options, it is easier to go from one spot to another chasing the northern lights because you can gather everyone more quickly and you can go off the beaten tracks - Check out options
- PRIVATE TOURS - check out options
- NORTHERN LIGHTS CRUISE - A more original option is to go on a boat off the coast of Reykjavik to find the dark and hopefully see the Norther Lights - Check out options
Day trips from Reykjavik in Winter
However if like me, you prefer city to nature, there are also plenty of winter day trips you can enjoy from Reykjavik.
The main tours are:
- Golden Circle Tour with Thingvellir National park, the waterfall Gullfoss and the geysers - see options and book
- The magnificent Snaefellsnes peninsula (a.k.a. Iceland in miniature) with fjords, waterfall, lava formations... - see options and book
- The first half of the South Coast with the famous waterfalls and black sand beaches - see options and book
- The Silver Circle if you want to go underground under a glacier and in a lava tube, as well as see one of the most beautiful waterfall in Winter: Hraunfossar - Book your tour
For more information check out my article about the best day trips from Reykjavik in Winter. (to be published)
And if you want to plan a road trip before or after your visit to Reykjavik, check out my travel guide that facilitates the planning of your itinerary:
Plan your perfect trip to Iceland in Winter!
- 6 easy-to-plan Maps
- 75+ pre-selected scenic locations
- Winter Accessibility + Planning Tips
- 115+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
Want to see more of ICELAND IN WINTER
Which museums inspire you the most?