I absolutely fell in love with Reykjavik (and Iceland at large). My first 15 minutes in Reykjavik involved walking from the bus terminal to the city center – I remember laughing at the fact that there wasn’t a single person out on the street despite it being a public holiday! But that’s the beauty of this city. It’s the capital of Iceland, is home to two-thirds of the country’s population, and yet it is like no other capital city. 24 hours in Reykjavik passed by too soon. The city is quiet and cozy, there aren’t too many global food or coffee chains, and yet there’s an unparalleled energy to it – it’s almost magical. Iceland ranks the second happiest country in the world, and I can see why. They have such a simple approach to life, are fiercely proud of their history and heritage, and are surrounded by abundant natural beauty!
Most people spend one day or (at most) two in Reykjavik. Reykjavik has also become a popular layover destination. Either way, one day in Reykjavik should be enough to cover most of what the city has to offer. Here’s how to spend 24 hours in Reykjavik and maximize everything there is to see and do:
- Stroll around the Reykjavik Harbor and check out the Harpa Concert Hall
- Take a free walking tour to learn about Icelandic history and culture
- Soak in panoramic views from the top of the Hallgrimskirkja church
- Cafe-hop through Reykjavik’s eclectic and bustling coffee scene
- Grab drinks at one of the city’s many hostel bars
Getting from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik
Take the Flybus shuttle from the airport to the city. It costs 2500 ISK (~USD 25) one way to drop you to the BSI Bus Terminal in Reykjavik, and 3000 ISK (~USD 30) to drop you off to your hostel or hotel (only if it features on their list of drop-off points). You can book your ticket online, or buy it at the airport. You are guaranteed a spot no matter what, and buses leave 45-60 minutes after every flight arrival. This is the cheapest and most convenient way to get to the city.
Early Breakfast in Reykjavik
Chances are that you’ve landed really early in Iceland (most flights do), so you’re too early for check-in. Maximize your 24 hours in Reykjavik and get exploring! Store your luggage at the lockers at the BSI Bus Terminal, and grab some breakfast. There are only few breakfast spots in the city that open before 8am:
- C is for Cookie: cozy and quiet coffeeshop, set on a street just off the main square. A few good vegetarian sandwiches and hot chocolate
- Grai Kotturinn: American-style breakfast in a cozy basement. Slightly pricier than other spots but worth it
- Bergsson Mathus: Great healthy breakfast and coffee
- Sandholt Bakery: one of the best bakeries in Reykjavik (albeit a little expensive, like everything else in the city). They have great pastries and breads, coffee, and granola.
- Kaffitar: one of the city’s famous coffee chains. Their location on Bankastraeti opens early, and they have good coffee and breakfast sandwiches.
Souvenir Shopping, Reykjavik Harbor and Harpa Concert Hall
After breakfast, spend some time strolling around the city aimlessly. It’s such a tiny town you will probably land up where you started off pretty soon. Walk along the streets of Laugavegur and Skolavordustigur for some souvenir shopping (pricey, like everything else in Iceland). If you’re looking for something more offbeat and handcrafted, check out Foa (quite pricey but better than the typical souvenirs you will see in most stores).
Take a stroll along the harbor and check out the Sun Voyager monument, a sculpture of a Viking boat. The harbor was the most beautiful part of Reykjavik in my opinion. Consider renting some bikes and cycling alongside some spectacular views!
Check out the Harpa concert hall along the harbor, opened in 2011. You can’t miss its colorful eclectic glass exterior, built to provide an illusion of the Northern Lights. The sun’s rays reflect off the glassy façade in a way that mimics the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, the sun doesn’t set in the summer so we couldn’t quite enjoy this illusion!
Lunch in Reykjavik
Here are a few recommendations for lunch:
- Laundromat Café: One of the most famous spots in the city – a Laundromat now converted to an American diner. Great sandwiches, but pricey. In my opinion, it wasn’t worth the hype but a great spot to check out since they still have a fully-functional Laundromat in the basement
- Coocoo’s nest: Great place for salads, soups, sandwiches and tacos. It’s a very cute spot that serves excellent hot chocolate.
Free walking tour around Reykjavik
One of my favorite things to do in any European city is take a free walking tour the day I land. It’s a great way to get your bearings, get a good overview of the city and learn some fun trivia by a local guide. The tour I did by CityWalk might have been one of the best walking tours I’ve ever done. I admit I barely knew anything about Iceland’s history before this tour. It was such a great introduction to the city and the country. Absolute must-do if you’ve only got 24 hours in Reykjavik!
One of the most famous buildings in Iceland, this church was completed in 1986 and can be seen from anywhere in Reykjavik. Entering the church is free, but for USD 10, you can take the elevator up to the observation deck to check out gorgeous panoramic views of the city.
Fun fact: 70% of Icelanders are atheist or pagan!
Café hopping in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is teeming with great coffeeshops. Almost every street will have at least one. If you have more time (especially if you’re visiting in the summer when the sun never sets), spend some time exploring Reykjavik’s hip café culture.
- Reykjavik Roasters: Two outposts in Reykjavik, and it ranks as the city’s best coffee
- Stofan Café: Super comfy and intimate coffeeshop set across two levels. It almost feels like a cottage in the woods with its poofy armchairs and wooden flooring. They serve hearty meals in addition to coffee.
- Floran Café: Funky bistro with an outdoor botanical garden
- Café Babalu: Another cozy coffeeshop that feels like a campfire is burning on the side while you’re watching the snow fall outside. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner
Dinner and drinks
Ranked one of the best pizzerias in the city, we had dinner at Hverfisgata 12. Good pizzas and drinks!
Other things to do if you have more than 24 hours in Reykjavik
If you have more than 24 hours in Reykjavik, here’s a few other activities you could try out:
- Take a whale watching or Viking horse riding tour from Reykjavik
- Visit one of Reykjavik’s many museums