What to do in Reykjavik? What are the top Local things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland and what is unique about the locals here?
Welcome to Reykjavik! If you are on your way to our beautiful Northernmost capital in the world, these might be the questions you have in mind: “What should I do in Reykjavik?”. Or What do the locals do in Reykjavik?
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland (& my hometown) is a beautiful place, and I hope you’ll think as much of it as I do after your stay. Here in this blog, I’ll do my very best in suggesting a few local things that I like to do – and I believe you might enjoy doing while in Reykjavik – and of course, most of these things are unique and off the radar for most tourists.
Are you ready for the adventure ahead?
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Visit a swimming pool
Yes! You read correctly. Despite pretty cold, windy and brutal winter 12 months a year in the northernmost capital of the world. Icelanders are crazy about swimming pools. More than 10 in Reykjavik, more than 100 in the whole country and all this grant us the world record in swimming pools … per capita!
Speaking from personal experience, I love to visit the pools and do it a few times each week. Usually, I go swimming and use this as my daily exercise. However, most people visit to relax in the amazing jacuzzis and steam baths.
So, to clarify. The pools are heated, so they are comfortable to chill in and swim. Then every pool offers multiple playing areas, hot tubs, ice baths, and steam baths.
My first recommendation is my neighboorhood pool, Sundhöllin which also is the oldest one in Reykjavik. Vesturbæjarlaug and Laugardalslaug are also fantastic. They are a few minutes walk/drive/bus-ride from downtown Reykjavik but still very accessible and a little larger.
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Have dinner at the local Hlemmur Foodhall
Used to be the old, dirty and sleazy bus station in downtown Reykjavik. But after recent renovations, it is the place to be, a sexy & trendy hot foodie paradise at the top of Laugavegur, the main shopping street.
Hlemmur Mathöll (Hlemmur food hall in English) is one of my recommended restaurants to check out in Reykjavik, specially if you are travelling with a group. 10 restaurants under the same roof; Everything from the hottest bakery in town and traditional Icelandic cuisine to authentic Mexican and Vegan hotspots. What I really like about this place is that it’s always vibrant, filled with people and fun. Furthermore, can you be with a group of 10 and everyone eats at different restaurants. And lastly, none of the restaurants here are expensive!
As a local living next doors, I like all these things and this is my go-to restaurant when I’m not in the mood for cooking!
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Try the Outstanding Icelandic Beers
Beer is the ultimate Icelandic drink and it hasn’t been any doubt about that since the Viking ages. Here are two Icelandic beer facts that might surprise you …
First, beer was illegal in Iceland from 1915-1989! #CRAZY
Second, Icelandic micro breweries are more exciting now than ever and the quality of Icelandic beer today is absolutely world class.
If you are eager to explore the best of it I recommend the Reykjavik Beer Tour by Wake Up Reykjavik or that you drop by at Micro Bar, Bastard Brewery or Íslenski Barinn restaurant for your own sampling!
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Make your own Icelandic meal!
If you are staying in an Airbnb apartment or a locals home, this is highly recommended!… if you like to cook at least!
Head over to Bónus grocery shop where I’ll always do my grocery shopping and pick up what you need at the best possible price.
Other alternative shops are Krónan and Nettó. These three are the most affordable ones.
10/11 or 24/7 have a few locations in down town Reykjavik and are also very convenient. However, their pricing is probably 300% more expensive and they do not offer an exciting selection for cooking although perfect for grabbing quick snacks or last minute necessary goods.
Another favorite store of mine is Kjöt & Fiskur. The shop is located in the heart of downtown Reykjavik, and the name means “meat and fish.” Here you’ll get the best possible ingredients for your fiesta.
My suggestions for local dishes would definitely be the Icelandic favourite “Kjötsúpa” (Icelandic meat soup) or anything with our most popular lamb or seafood.
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Eat Amazing Traditional Icelandic food at Local restaurants
Another thing that is booming in Reykjavik along with the exciting micro brewing scene is the delicious restaurant scene.
Icelandic food is absolutely wonderful and the local specialities are free roaming lamb, fresh seafood and dairy products such as Skyr, ice cream and cheese. We’ve always had a few amazing Icelandic restaurants but thanks to the New Nordic culinary trend and the increase in tourism causing a huge demand in local produce, Icelandic food is now better and more available than ever.
In downtown Reykjavik, you can’t miss all the great restaurants and the vast selection of places. My recommendations are to head over to your friend, Mr. Tripadvisor and do your research.
The Reykjavik Food Walk is a wonderful option as you’ll be led by a local guide to explore all the city and it’s best restaurants. Stopping at 5-6 venues for 10+ local favourites. But if not the tour, I recommend making sure to visit at least a few establishments that serve authentic Icelandic food to see what all the fuzz is about!
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Explore the absolute best of Iceland as day trips
With your Iceland adventure Rental car from Lagoon Car Rental, you have all of Iceland at your fingertips. Seriously, even though Iceland is quite large and you could spent weeks exploring all the different fjords and regions. Then there are several day tours that you can drive yourself in just a few hours that will reveal to you some of Iceland absolute most incredible gems.
Iceland is heaven for adventurous nature buffs as you quite surely already know. Indescribably beautiful waterfalls, untouched lava fields, glaciers, coastlines and wildlife … these are just a fraction of the natural beauty – that is all available just hours from Reykjavik. I would specifically recommend three day tours from Reykjavik and will list them up here below with a very brief description. You’ll then have no problems finding more detailed information and roadmaps in our other blogs and on the web!
- Golden Circle: The most popular day tour from Reykjavik. Only 6+ hours round trip where you will see the effable Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir erupting geothermal area and our precious Thingvellir national Park. Hot water erupting high up in the skies, one of the most powerful waterfalls in europe and the oldest existing parliament in the world … is this something you’d like to see for yourself?
- South Coast of Iceland: Probably my personal favourite area to explore of the three mentioned! The South Coast is an absolutely stunning area to explore and I just love driving these swinging roads, surrounded by mountains, glaciers and the Atlantic ocean. I’d estimate 8-10 hours exploring the South Coast OR if you are ready to spend the night, then it’s perfect to camp along the way (or rent a camper!) and head even further on day two! The hightlights are Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the Black Sand beach, Puffins, Abandoned US airplane that crashed in WW2, glaciers and more! Would you fancy a Instagram-moment behind a 10-story waterfall?
- Snaefellsnes Peninsula: The hidden gem of the three amazing Iceland road trips from Reykjavik. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is just recently discovered by travellers as it is slightly further away from Reykjavik – still only 2hours and you can make yourself a total kick-ass adventure in 8-12 hours back and forth from the city. Locals often say that Snaefellsnes peninsula is the only area in the country where you can explore ALL the different types of stunning Icelandic nature. This Western National Park has it’s very own glacier, lava fields, waterfalls, photogenic mountains, fishing villages, incredible coastlines, wildlife and I could count on and on!
Find your perfect road trip car here.
- I highly recommend a camper van so you can travel even further!
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Take on the Nightlife
The Reykjavik nightlife is infamous for being … crazy.
At the main shopping, bar and restaurant street you will find over 80 bars & clubs – within easy walking distance from each other. All the venues will be filled with locals and travellers alike that will take full advantage of the very friendly opening hours in Reykjavik, but every bar is open until 04.30 on Friday and Saturday nights.
There is something very unique about going out in Reykjavik but wether it’s the friendly locals, amazing beers, interesting liquors or anything else, I highly recommend you to not miss out on a night out in Reykjavik during your stay.
- Friday and Saturday nights are fantastic to go out in Reykjavik. Expect lot more relaxed atmosphere on weekday nights as bars close at 01.00 and the feel is a lot more easy – beer, cocktails etc. rather than dancing.
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Next Level Outdoor Activities
Alright, ere are two crazy / awesome suggestions of things to do in and around Reykjavik. Both are fun as hell and I can personally vouch for it as I do both things frequently myself. And I can easily say that they are very local as 99% of travellers won’t do this.
I’ll leave this as a summer and winter thing …
SUMMER: Visit Nauthólsvík beach that is located just outside of down town Reykjavik. Here locals gather every day to bath in a hot tub on the beach – and then hop into the “slightly cold” Atlantic ocean for a refreshing swim. After a few minutes, they (or should I say we?) return to the beach and warm up in the tub before they hop in again and repeat for a few times. The swim is exercise and the cold is supposed to be really healthy for your immune system but it’s mostly about spending the evening doing something fun and chat with other people doing the same thing!
WINTER: Drive in your rental cars only 30 minutes outside Reykjavik to find the Bláfjöll mountains, a.k.a. the main skiing resort for the capital area. The skiing slopes are not very large but it’s still an awesome activity and very popular for all locals in Reykjavik and Iceland in general. Both skiing and snowboarding is allowed and you can rent all the gear if needed.
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Hike an Icelandic Mountain
Feeling adventurous? Or just eaten so much Icelandic cuisine that you need to burn a few calories?
I like the believe that Icelandic people are generally pretty outdoorsy, healthy and adventurous. And hiking is a big thing here. Since Iceland is pretty much all just one big mountain, there is no shortage of incredible places to explore – or mountains to climb. But I’ll make it easy for you by suggesting three tops that I personally love to hike, they are all very different but have incredibly rewarding views at the top and are all just minutes from down town Reykjavik.
Note: Please don’t hike any of these mountains if conditions are anything short of great. The weather in Iceland changes rapidly and if you are not used to the area, it can be dangerous in snow, darkness, extreme wind etc. Under normal circumstances, it’s perfectly safe.
Mt. Esja: Definitely the most popular choice for local hikers in Reykjavik! This beautiful mountains surrounds Reykjavik from the north and it’s a fantastic 2,5-3,5 hour hike from start to finish. The hike is fairly easy although steep at times and if you decide to go all the way to the top, there is a little climbing for the last few meters. My two favourite things about this hike is the amazing view of Reykjavik at the top and the ice cold glacier river that flows down the whole mountains – resulting in the perfect water fountain at your disposal whenever you need – so make sure to bring an empty bottle or a cup!
Glymur: A magical hike in about an hours drive from down town Reykjavik. This hike is also approx. 3 hours but is very different from the other two. In summer the whole route is very green as you hike deep inside a fjord, through small caves, over rivers and eventually revealing the incredibly beautiful Glymur waterfall!
Helgafell: If you have always dreamed of being the first human to land on Mars but not succeeded yet, you should maybe settle with Mt. Helgafell! This is a fairly small mountain top and for me, the hike is just around 1 hour but the sights are incredible and it’s only 20 minutes drive from down town Reykjavik. The landscape is completely out of this world and literally reminds one of Mars rather than any other place on earth.
Local things to do in Reykjavik: Explore … local style!
I feel almost strange recommending this as I have never seen this in any other blog for tourists. But this is surely a thing and actually something that many locals do every single week … and I believe you would definitely enjoy!
In Icelandic, we call this the “Rúntur”. The phenomena is very simple, either the family or a group of friends all get together in one car – head to our favourite ice cream store (I’ll recommend mine below!) and just drive around Reykjavik! For us, we normally drive around the down town area but for you (not a local) I must recommend that you aim for the residential areas as this is something most travellers never explore.
- Head over to “Ísbúð Vesturbæjar” and ask for a “Bragðarefur ice cream”. This is the locals #1 favourite and we really like our ice cream! It’s tons of ice cream (make sure to ask for the old ice cream) swirled together with your favourite candy or fuits. It’s huge but that’s alright since you’ll have to make it last for the whole ride!.
- Drive around Reykjavik! Here are some suggestions: You can head out to the lighthouse at Grótta, explore the residential area behind Hallgrímskirkja church, my old hometown/neighbourhood called Grafarvogur, Mosfellsbær (the town next to Reykjavik in the North) or Hafnarfjörður (lava town next to Reykjavik in the West). Or anything else you might find interesting!
Alright, my friend! Are you ready for your trip?
I hope from the bottom of my heart that something on my list got you excited and was helpful. All of these things are definitely very local, unique and fun – and I do them all frequently myself. Furthermore, I am happy that I was able to write down a few things that I haven’t seen anywhere else in other travel blogs.
Happy exploring and I hope you are going to have a time of a lifetime in Reykjavik!
–Egill Halldórsson & your friends at the Lagoon Car rental team.Back