The ultimate guide to Reykjavík, Iceland, including where to eat and drink, what to do, and where to stay.
Iceland has risen through the ranks to become one of the world’s most popular getaways—as well as one of the first countries to experience the tourism boom social media can provide. The gateway to the rest of the country, tourists often spend just a night or two in Reykjavík before embarking on trips to the countryside—but this city deserves attention just as much as its surrounding landscape.
Here, Michelin-starred restaurants have established a Nordic culinary capital; top-notch music venues showcase an unbeatable music scene (Icelandair’s Iceland Airwaves annual music festival in early November alone makes Reykjavík worth a visit); and the people are just as incredible as the mountains, seas, and architecture that rule the cityscape. Spend a few extra days getting to know the Icelandic capital before jetting off to the waterfalls and fjords that lie beyond.
Where to eat in Reykjavík
Try and get to Brauð & Co. as early as possible—lines often stretch outside the bakery door, getting between you and the best vanilla roll of your life—but don’t forget that there are several locations across town, including one just across the street from the Vesterbæjarlaug public pool and spa. The fresh, piping hot baked goods are just the thing to warm you up on a chilly Icelandic morning.
Locals cite this spot as the best place for brunch in the city. Close to the harbor but out of the way of the heavily touristed areas of Reykjavík, the Coocoo’s Nest is small and cozy, offering morning meals like pancakes topped with Icelandic berries and a “chef’s choice” omelet. Get the eggs Florentine: two poached eggs atop fresh bread with a crunchy crust and soft, fluffy core, topped with creamy blue cheese sauce and served with rosemary potatoes.
Here, you’ll fall in love not just with the wildly good, no-fuss food, but with the atmosphere, too. Absurdly cheap by Icelandic standards—it only costs a few bucks for a bottomless meal—this food tastes just like mama used to make, and the staff welcomes guests with smiles and happy-go-lucky conversation. Be sure to try the Fisherman’s Favorite, a thick stew of Icelandic cod, potatoes, onions, and hollandaise sauce; even if you’re dubious at first, this dish is the definition of comfort food.
Located inside Hlemmur Mathöll, a food hall in Reykjavík’s Hlemmur neighborhood, this restaurant recently earned a Michelin star—a well earned one, at that. The menu is brimming with dishes large and small, all perfect to share—don’t skip the gratinated goat cheese with fennel crackers, rhubarb jam, and birch syrup—as well as an extensive drinks menu (including their Reykjavík Mule, made with ginger lemonade and lovage instead of ginger beer). Do not leave this restaurant without trying the Loveballs—caramelized whey cheese served in a cardamom sugar sauce. They also have a vegan hot dog option, a godsend for people who don’t eat red meat but still want to experience a part of Iceland’s hot dog culture.
A Reykjavík must, many people head to harborside restaurant Seabaron for one reason and one reason only: their renowned lobster soup, rumored to be the best in the world. It won’t disappoint: The steaming hot broth comes loaded with spoonfuls of lobster, as well as a side of fresh bread and Icelandic butter—a simple and satisfying meal. Visit this staple in small numbers or take your meal to go if you can; the restaurant seats only a few people at a time.
This restaurant has one main draw: rye bread ice cream. The treat sounds odd, but your taste buds don’t have to be Icelandic to enjoy. Café Loki’s convenient location across from Reykjavík’s Hallgrímskirkja church makes it easy to access, so stop by for a bite of this or other Icelandic foods after a visit to the top of the chapel-slash-architectural masterpiece.
Found inside the Icelandair Hotel—Reykjavík Marina, Slippbarinn is often credited for bringing cocktail culture to Iceland. Their stylish bar features a list of mixed drinks, including a specially-crafted cocktail of the day, as well as a pages-long menu of local wines and beers. After drinks, dive into their dinner menu; their “fish in a pan,” despite a deceptively simple name, will take your taste buds to another planet.
If you’re solo traveling and want to make friends while in town (or you just want an unforgettable Michelin-starred meal) stop by ÓX, founded and headed by two renowned Icelandic chefs: Thrainn Freyr Vigfússon and Georg Arnar Holdórsson, respectively. The restaurant’s claim to fame is its communal nature: Only 11 people can be seated at once, bringing together groups of strangers and quickly turning them into friends. Enjoy a multi-course meal with carefully-selected wine pairings and get to know other diners, both local and foreign, while indulging your taste buds.
From local chefs to musicians, Reykavík Roasters is the choice for coffee outings and breakfast in the city. With robust house roasts and simple bites like sourdough toast and pastries, this is a can’t miss for those who want to experience Reykjavík like a native Icelander. A hint: The location on Kárastígur near Hallgrímskirkja is often crowded; try the low-key location at Freyjugata 41 for fewer crowds, a more relaxing atmosphere, and a small gallery above the coffee shop.
Where to drink in Reykjavík
Prikiđ, a bar that bumps hip hop throughout the day and night, is good for all kinds of drinks, whether it be a cup of coffee early in the morning (they serve one of the most popular brunches downtown) or for rounds of beers and burgers late at night. The meeting place for beloved Icelandic acts like metal band Une Misère and Aron Can, come by to experience a local favorite that supports the talent making Reykjavík a music scene to watch.
Located down the street from Prikiđ along Reykjavík’s main street, Laugavegur, you’ll likely visit Dillon several times during your stay in Reykjavík if you’re interested in music. The multi-level venue has a divey feel to it, all dark wood and sharp corners. The ideal place for whiskey lovers, the bar features 170 different selections of the spirit. For music lovers, bands often play intense, up-close-and-personal sets upstairs for ultra-hyped, ultra-dedicated, all-Icelandic crowds.
On a rainy evening, wander into Kex for all the comfort you might need. Part bar, part hostel, this is one of the most popular bars in town for both international tourists and locals looking to socialize. Housed in a former biscuit factory, come here to drink in a comforting and aesthetically-pleasing setting; the cozy atmosphere lends itself to an evening of conversation, but the quality of the drinks, whether crafted cocktails or local lagers, may encourage extra-long chats or a venture to nearby downtown Reykjavík for a bit of partying.
From the outside, Vedur appears like a laid-back cocktail bar—but on a Friday or Saturday night in Reykjavík, people crowd inside for some of the tastiest mixed drinks in the city in an atmosphere that makes me think of my favorite intimate, candlelit go-tos in New York. As a cocktail snob myself, this bar ticked all of my boxes from the atmosphere and drinks to the friendly bartenders and the weekend crowd.
A tiki bar with several floors, Bar Ananas is a one-stop shop for easygoing drinking in Reykjavík. Along with fun cocktails and pineapple-shaped decor, the bar features games like foosball and pool—both great for meeting locals. If you’re prone to cases of late-night drunchies, give thanks: The bar is connected to a small restaurant serving food like fish and chips late into the night.
This large, neon-lit bar is just about as carefree as the lead character of the late-90s film it’s named after. The later you stay at Lebowski Bar, the funnier the antics you might witness (my first visit was personally marked by a crowd of docked sailors who eventually ran the city out of beer). Regardless, this is a solid spot for start-of-the-night food and drinks, as well as late-night dancing and laughter to last a lifetime surrounded by locals and international visitors alike.
If you want to dance in Reykjavík, this is the place to do it. With hours on end of alternative tracks, from hipster tracks to pulsating house music, this is one of the best clubs in town for those who want to let loose. The place gets crowded, hot, and heavy, so thrown down your coat and prepare to get down to some of the most transfixing bands and DJ sets in town.
What to do in Reykjavík
With three branches scattered throughout the city, the Reykjavík Art Museum hosts unique, permanent exhibitions featuring art by the country’s most renowned artists. The Hafnarhus branch, which homes the work of multidisciplinary artist Magnús Pálsson, is a fan favorite. The artist’s bodily sculptures, arresting videos, and haunting collections of dreams and projects will make you wonder why you hadn’t taken a deep dive into Icelandic art before.
Locals will tell you again and again that a major part of Icelandic culture surrounds a love for swimming pools—which, here, means a traditional pool, geothermal pool, hot tubs, and a sauna all under one roof. Instead of spending nearly $100 at the Blue Lagoon, consider this cheaper (read: $13) option: Vesterbæjarlaug is about a 20-minute walk from the city center, but its suburban location gives you a real taste of local life. You’ll quickly notice that you’re surrounded by Icelandic families rather than the international tourists that frequent the Blue Lagoon.
Plenty of people visit Iceland for glaciers and fjords—but have you ever thought of sunbathing on an Icelandic beach? If you’re feeling daring (which, if you’re visiting this country, you should be), take a bus to Nauthólsvík, a geothermal beach just outside of Reykjavík. Plenty of locals come here for a swim in the manmade lagoon and a dip in one of its shoreside hot tubs to warm up afterward—an unforgettable experience many tourists don’t take advantage of.
You will walk into this shop and fall in love instantly. Founded by a family of artists who specialize in photography, video art, graphic design, and more, Fischer is an aromatherapy shop and mini-museum tucked away on a small street in downtown Reykjavík. Its interior stands out from other shops in town—they trade white walls and techno beats for dark interiors, soothing instrumentals, and the smell of Icelandic essential oils—and the cellar downstairs homes a small gallery documenting Icelandic history through scents, a magical and unique experience.
of the genre in Iceland and listen to Icelandic punk groups.
The Icelandic Punk Museum is one of the most badass museums you could ever visit—beginning with the fact that it was built inside a repurposed public bathroom. Opened in 2016 by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and run by Svarti Álfur Mánason—an Icelandic punk musician whose colorful mohawk I’ll never forget—the museum documents the history of the genre in Iceland. Inside, read the hilarious and historic narration on the walls, don headphones that hang from the ceiling to listen to classic Icelandic punk groups, try one of the many leather jackets that decorate the museum, or rock out on the institute’s instruments as loud as you want.
Not far from the city’s downtown district, the Culture House features Icelandic artwork from across the ages, including a range of work from modern Icelandic artists to hundred-year-old books. The museum is perfect for moments in between—it’s relatively small, inexpensive, and doesn’t take long to explore—but it provides an interesting look into the country’s culture and ways of life.
Housed in a giant warehouse near Reykjavík’s Old Harbor, the enormous Kolaportiđ is more worth your time than the many Viking-themed gift shops found around town. Inside Iceland’s only flea market, find vintage goodies, handmade wool sweaters and jewelry, and more secondhand wares, as well as a small market where you can buy Icelandic ingredients (including fermented shark, which is something worth experiencing, to say the least). Keep in mind that the market is only open on Saturdays and Sundays.
Where to stay in Reykjavík
Staying by Reykjavík’s Old Harbor is one of the best places to land in the city, and Icelandair Hotel—Reykjavík Marina is your most stylish waterfront options. Sleek, contemporary, and located just a 20-minute walk from downtown Reykjavík, from here you can easily reach the city’s main tourist attractions and its local haunts. The round fireplace that greets you at the front entrance should be enough to entice—but the fact that the hotel is also home to Slippbarinn and isn’t far from the aforementioned Reykjavík Art Museum, Seabaron, and Coocoo’s Nest, should reel you in completely.
If you want to experience the minimalism that permeates the Nordic lifestyle—black and white color palettes, bare-bones decor, and stylish simplicity—stay at the 101, a design-centric hotel in Reykjavík’s city center. The decor may be minimalist, but the offerings certainly aren’t; enjoy the hotel’s spa, glass-ceiling contemporary bar and lounge, and gallery featuring local art.
For a high-end stay, check in to Apotek, located in one of Reykjavik’s oldest buildings—a former apothecary, hence the name. Just a short walk from the nightlife on Laugavegur, this four-star hotel is also located in Reykjavik’s center and comes brimming with Nordic minimalism. Aside from being a fashionable stay, the hotel’s pièce de resistance is located on the bottom floor at its restaurant and bar. Here, meals are made to share, and the “pharmacists” that man the bar are pros are mixing artisan cocktails sure to warm you right up.
How to prepare for a trip to Iceland
Prepare to get naked.
Before you take a dip in Iceland—whether in a local pool or the famous Blue Lagoon—you will need to strip down and shower before jumping in. No need to be shy—unlike many tourists, Icelanders aren’t self-conscious about nudity. Still, know in advance that you’ll have to bare all in the locker room (and rejoice in the fact that you’re guaranteed to swim in clean waters).
Prepare to stay out late.
A word of advice: The “early to bed” mindset is a no-go here. This doesn’t only apply to your chances to see the Northern Lights: Nightlife in Reykjavík doesn’t kick off until at least 2 a.m. when locals head downtown to drink and dance through the wee hours of the morning. Take a late nap, have a late dinner, and if you’re planning to stay out all night, consider a little pregame—drink prices are more impressive here than they are even in major cities like New York and London.
Prepare to keep your weather app open.
Although Reykjavík isn’t as cold as you might expect (still pack your coats, scarves, and gloves), the weather can be unpredictable, changing from hour to hour. Don’t bother with an umbrella—the wind that comes off the water will turn yours inside out within seconds—but be sure to pack a sturdy jacket with a hood to ward off chilly temperatures and often unforgiving rain showers.