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The 13 best things to do in Reykjavik

From life-affirming scenery to a penis museum, these are the best things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland's coastal capital

Written by
Natasha Wynarczyk

With just over 120,000 inhabitants, Iceland's coastal capital might seem small—but it actually had a big character, as proven by the very best things to do in Reykjavik.

There's no shortage of fun sights and attractions, from trying out unusual national dishes such as puffin and boiled sheep's heads at some of the city's traditional restaurants to chilling out in a relaxing natural spring hotel or gaping at the natural wonders just a short drive from the vibrant city. The rugged, volcanic landscape around Reykjavik has long been a source of inspiration to many musicians and artists, including The XX, who recorded songs and planned a music festival there, and, of course Björk.

Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere.

Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world.

Best things to do in Reykjavik

Golden Circle Bus Tour
Photograph: Courtesy Golden Circle Bus Tour

1. Golden Circle Bus Tour

What is it? No trip to Iceland is complete without seeing the famed Golden Circle, a popular tourist route comprised of natural wonders of the world. It covers around 300km, looping from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back.

Why go? Ever seen videos of those incredible volcanic geysers shooting hot water 40m into the air? Or photos of Gullfoss, the magnificent waterfall? Then you'll know just how beautiful the Icelandic landscape can be. See them in real life, and you'll need #nofilter on your Instagram holiday posts.

Photograph: Courtesy Viator

2. Hallgrimskirkja

What is it? Rising over the city, at 74.5m this unusual church was finished in 1986, almost 50 years after it was commissioned.

Why go? Hallgrimskirkja is arguably the island's most famous landmark, even appearing in an episode of ‘The Simpsons’. (The family take a trip to Iceland and meet band Sigur Rós.) Take a tour and climb up to the top for stunning views of Reykjavik.

Whale watching
Photograph: Courtesy Viator

3. Whale watching

What is it? A boat tour operating out of Reykjavik (and other areas of Iceland) where you can spend up to three and a half hours looking out for whales.

Why go? With more than 20 species of whales, including orcas, minkes and blue whales, living in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans on either side of the island, Iceland is arguably the best place in Europe to get up close and personal with the beautiful creatures and you may spot some bonus puffins too.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Photograph: Courtesy Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

4. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

What is it? An unassuming stall serving up cheap and moreish mustard-filled hot dogs in a city full of spenny dishes.

Why go? Hot dogs are so beloved by Icelandic people that they're known as the country's unofficial dish, and the ones from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur are so good that dirty dog himself Bill Clinton visited back when he was US President.

Photograph: Courtesy Valdimar Thorlacius

5. Kopar

What is it? This rustic harbourside restaurant offers a vast selection of modern twists on classic Icelandic cuisine, from lamb to fresh seafood.

Why go? With somebody you want to impress? Opt for the nine-course tasting menu known as the 'Kopar Adventure' guaranteed to tantalise your taste buds. For a super romantic night, finish your evening by drinking cocktails as you gaze out over the sea.

Laugarvatn Fontana
Photograph: Courtesy Laugarvatn Fontana Icelandair Hotels

6. Laugarvatn Fontana

What is it? A relaxing spa and wellness centre built on hot springs and located an hour's drive from Reykjavik.

Why go? The Blue Lagoon might be Iceland's most popular spa, but things can get a bit crowded. For a more chilled-out experience, head to Laugarvatn Fontana. Here, you can bathe in the naturally-heated waters, listen to the bubbling hot spring in the steam rooms, and if you're feeling brave take a quick dip in the nearby (freezing cold) lake.

Photograph: Courtesy Hamborgarafabrikkan

7. Hamborgarafabrikkan

What is it? A popular burger joint that has been serving up grilled meat patties to Icelanders since 2010.

Why go? It's hip to be square  that's the USP of Hamborgarafabrikkan or Hamburger Factory in English. Their quadrilateral brioche buns are a fun twist on the classic fast food snack and in typical Icelandic fashion, there are some weirder patties on the menu, such as their wild goose burger.

Photograph: Courtesy Kaffibarinn

8. Kaffibarinn

What is it? A cosy little bar on a side street in the centre of the city, this hip hangout is rumoured to be part-owned by Blur frontman Damon Albarn.

Why go? One of Reykjavik's oldest drinking establishments, with its tube sign door front and cool chandelier-ceiling interior, it's a little home away from London home in Iceland which might explain the connection to Albarn. Grab a glass of red wine, flick through the fashion magazines littered around the venue and take some time out.

Red Cross Shop
Photograph: Courtesy Sigurur "lafur Sigursson

9. Red Cross Shop

What is it? An unassuming thrift store, the Red Cross Shop is one of the Icelandic fashion crowd's best-kept secrets for snapping up bargain vintage clothing.

Why go? As any retro fashion fan knows, vintage shops can often have a high markup. Not at this large charity shop though. Here you can pick up anything from 1960s shift dresses TO leather handbags for less than £20 and traditional Icelandic woollen garments for a fraction of the price you’ll find them at in other stores.

Bus Hostel
Photograph: Courtesy E Magnusson

10. Bus Hostel

What is it? A cheap and cheerful place to stay, it's also where the last ever McDonald's burger in Iceland is kept on display.

Why go? Following Iceland's 2009 financial crisis, McDonald's closed its stores there with no plans to return. What's left of the golden arches is equal parts disgusting and compelling the final burger and chips to ever be sold is on show in a glass cabinet at the Bus Hostel. You won't be surprised to know it looks as tasty as it did nine years ago. Thanks preservatives!

Íslenski Barinn
Photograph: Courtesy Íslenski Barinn

11. Íslenski Barinn

What is it? This restaurant and bar is the place to go in Reykjavik if you are looking to sample traditional Icelandic beers and delicacies.

Why go? Icelandic food has a rep for being a bit, well, weird. Local delicacies include whale meat, cormorants  and hákarl  aka 'rotten' shark. (It’s buried and left to ferment for five months before being dug up and served.) You can try it at Íslenski Barinn if you're feeling brave and pair it with Brennivín a strong schnapps.

Icelandic Phallological Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Donald G. Gislason

12. Icelandic Phallological Museum

What is it? A museum dedicated to the 'D', housing the world's largest collection of animal penises and phallic memorabilia.

Why go? This unusual exhibit has been running in Iceland since 1997, and has grown to over 286 different specimens, including 5ft sperm whale penises. A bloke even dedicated his own member to the institution after his death. This museum has broken taboos and is now one of Reykjavik's most popular and wacky tourist attractions.

Lebowski Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Lebowski Bar

13. Lebowski Bar

What is it? One for film buffs, this themed bar on Laugavegur Street is dedicated to the 1998 Coen Brothers' movie ‘The Big Lebowski’.

Why go? Laugavegur is a long street in Iceland's capital populated by small bars, which the locals love to hope between. This is a favourite among them for its cheap cocktail happy hour, colourful neon signs and DJs spinning disco hits into the early hours. As they say in the film 'sometimes you eat the bar and sometimes, well, the bar eats you'.

Looking for dining spots in Iceland's capital?

The 9 best restaurants in Reykjavik
  • Restaurants

Try the likes of whale, horse and puffin if you’re brave – and if you’re not there’s also a burgeoning vegan scene. Food doesn’t come cheap in the notoriously pricey city, especially when you’re chowing down on fresh seafood and food direct from the farm, but you always can expect perfectly fresh produce in this down-to-earth yet super-trendy city.

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