Top Attractions to See in 24 Hours

Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, is a destination full of charm and breathtaking natural landscapes. With airport stopovers common to Iceland, I’m excited to share my experience and recommendations for spending one day in Reykjavik. In just one day, you can explore some of its most iconic landmarks and immerse yourself in the local culture.

Upon arriving in Reykjavik, I quickly realized that the city’s size makes it quite manageable to explore on foot. This is perfect for travelers like me who prefer to wander and take in the sights at a leisurely pace.

guy on bike on street during one day in reykjavik itinerary

Rich in history, art, and unique architecture, Reykjavik offers an enchanting blend of old-world charm, modern aesthetics, and natural beauty. The city’s vibrant and friendly atmosphere makes exploring the various attractions even more enjoyable.

From majestic churches like Hallgrímskirkja to trendy hot dog joints, my one-day adventure in Reykjavik had me falling in love with the country and eager to return to see more. Stick with me as I guide you through my favorite places and activities, helping you make the most of your 24 hours in this captivating city.

Thank you to Fly Over Iceland and Sky Lagoon for helping arrange my visit to Reykjavik. All thoughts and opinions are my own based on my personal experiences. This article contains affiliate links – I may earn a commission if you use my link to purchase.

Getting Around Reykjavik

Getting to/from KEF Airport

If you only have a day in Reykjavik, you’ll need an easy way to get to and from the airport. You can rent a car, but for my trip, I took a transfer bus.

There is a bus company called FlyBus which is a popular transfer option to get from Keflavik Airport to downtown Reykjavik. You’ll pay about $30 USD to go to the Reykjavik bus terminal or $38 to be transferred to a stop closest to your hotel. A taxi from the airport to the city center will cost you close to $125 USD.

Walking and Biking

Reykjavik is a very walkable city, with a few hillier areas near Hallgrimskirkja (the big church) and flatter areas near the water/harbor area of Grandi. I’ve found it easy to walk to most attractions in the city center.

Additionally, the city offers electric scooters and bike rentals, making it convenient to explore nearby neighborhoods. I have heard helmets are required and aren’t always available/provided, so keep that in mind.

Hop-On Hop-Off Bus

If you’re looking for a quick way to get dropped at many of the popular sights around Reykjavik, buying a ticket for the Hop-On Hop-Off CitySightseeing Bus might be a good option. These buses are created for tourists and often come with a variety of audio guides and wifi.

Taxis

Beyond walking around the city, whenever we needed to go farther away, like to Sky Lagoon, we used taxis. Iceland does not allow rideshares, so taxis are your best option for transportation farther away from the city. Taxis can be easily ordered via phone or with your hotel front desk.

Public Transportation

Reykjavik’s public transportation system uses buses. From my experience, it’s a reliable and efficient service for such a small city, but I personally recommend walking and taxis.

The bus network covers most of the city, making it easy to reach various points of interest, but will take additional time and planning. I would recommend purchasing a bus pass as you can’t pay by credit card and there is no change available if paying with cash. Timetables and route information are available at bus stops and online.

Car Rental

Renting a car in Reykjavik can be a good option, especially if you wish to explore the outskirts of the city or take a day trip around the Golden Circle. Keep in mind that traffic can be heavy during peak hours, and parking in the city center may require a bit of time to find a spot.

If you only have one day in Reykjavik, you might want to relax and explore the city rather than rent a car to drive around. Ensure you familiarize yourself with local driving rules and check current road conditions before embarking on your journey. You will likely need additional insurance coverage.

With only one day, instead of renting a car, consider booking a day tour of the Golden Circle or Blue Lagoon. Personally, my one-day plan below will let you see the sights of Reykjavik and enjoy a lagoon experience without needing to rent a car or book a tour. You’ll just need to get to and from the airport and use taxis.

Iconic Landmarks & Attractions

Here are some of the most notable landmarks and attractions in Reykjavik that you’ll want to consider visiting during your one-day trip.

Hallgrímskirkja

hallgrimskirkja church in reykjavik iceland

I had a fantastic experience visiting Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik’s most recognizable landmark. This Lutheran church took 40 years to build and is one of the tallest structures in Iceland. Its design is said to be influenced by the rocks, mountains, and glaciers of Iceland’s landscape.

As I stood in front of the church, I couldn’t help but marvel at its unique architecture and the way it stands out along Reykjavik’s skyline — which is clearly seen from the Perlan Museum. The view from the top of the church’s tower is spectacular, offering a panoramic vista of the city and its surroundings.

view over reykjavik from hallgrimskirkja church tower

There is a small fee to go to the top viewpoint and while you use an elevator for most of the accent, there are a couple of stories of stairs to reach the viewing deck. Also, be aware that the bells in the tower are at the viewing platform and can be extremely loud when they ring.

Fly Over Iceland

view from my seat at Fly Over Iceland

Disney fans will love hearing that they can soar over Iceland! I was thrilled to experience the Fly Over Iceland attraction, an immersive flight simulation that showcases breathtaking aerial views of Iceland’s natural wonders. During the ride, I felt like I was really flying over the country’s diverse landscapes, including glaciers, geysers, and volcanic eruptions.

With one day in Iceland during a stopover you likely won’t be able to fully explore the island, so experiencing the FlyOver attraction will help immerse you in the landscape. It’s also located in the Grandi district which is an up-and-coming trendy neighborhood.

Lava Show

real lava flow during lava show in Reykjavik

One of the more unique attractions in Reykjavik is the Lava Show, a unique exhibition of Iceland’s volcanic activity. The show starts with a host giving you a bit of information about volcanos, then you’ll watch a video that showcases some of Icleand’s volcanic activity.

The real peak of the show is when they let hot lava flow down a chute in the middle of the auditorium. I witnessed the meeting of red-hot lava with a thick layer of ice, simulating a volcanic eruption under a glacier. And finally the cooling of the lava into lava glass. The show was an educational and entertaining way to gain insight into Iceland’s volcanic geology.

Lava Show does have a bar and a private lounge upper viewing deck in case you want to plan a group visit, or just enjoy a tasty drink during the HOT show.

Harpa Concert Hall

view of exterior of harpa concert hall building in reykjavik

My visit to Harpa Concert Hall was another highlight. This modern architectural gem sits on the waterfront, and its dazzling glass facade reflects the surrounding sea and sky. Harpa is not only renowned for its architecture but also for its world-class cultural events – from classical music concerts to cutting-edge art exhibitions and theatrical performances.

There is a great locally sourced gift shop inside Harpa if you’re looking for some upscale souvenirs. A projection light show called Circuleight can also be viewed at Harpa. It’s an artistic interactive display meant to represent elements of Icleand’s geography.

Sun Voyager

A walk along the picturesque waterfront led me to one of Reykjavik’s most iconic modern sculptures, the Sun Voyager. This striking stainless steel creation, resembling a Viking ship, was designed by Icelandic artist Jón Gunnar Árnason.

The Sun Voyager is a symbol of hope, dreams, and the never-ending pursuit of discovery. It was supposed to be placed facing the setting sun in the west, emphasizing its connection to the light and the promise of uncharted territory. However, city planners decided it should rest in its current home and actually faces north.

Outdoor Activities

Embrace the natural beauty of Iceland at one of these outdoor spaces.

Sky Lagoon

sky lagoon pool with turf house

I found the Sky Lagoon to be an incredible experience. Its geothermally heated waters provided a soothing and rejuvenating experience, perfect for unwinding after a day of exploration. The lagoon is located just a short drive from the city center, and it offers stunning bay views. It’s been built to feel like you’re nestled into Iceland’s nature.

sky lagoon review - view of lagoon water with rocks and mist

You can book a few different admission options, I recommend the Sky Pass which includes the Seven-Step Ritual and private changing rooms. It’s the private changing rooms that I feel really make the higher pass worth it since you won’t feel rushed or need to worry about juggling your clothes and body products.

TIP: book your admission in advance as they can sell out and tickets are sold as timed entry admission.

Reykjavik Botanical Gardens

I discovered that the city operates a botanical garden. Reykjavik Botanical Gardens is not just a beautiful spot to visit – it’s also a hub for education and research. With eight different plant collections, the garden houses over 3000 plant species. It’s a great place to get a sense of the incredible variety of vegetation in the northern temperate zone. And it’s open in the summer and winter.

Tjörnin Pond

tjornin pond walkway view of church

Tjörnin Pond is a lovely spot in the heart of Reykjavik where I couldn’t stop snapping photos. The pond (actually it’s a lake) is surrounded by charming houses, a picturesque church spire, and beautiful green areas, making it an ideal location for a relaxing picnic.

Grótta Lighthouse

The Grótta Lighthouse is a historic landmark and offers stunning views of the surrounding sea and some local wildlife. I discovered that it is an ideal spot for birdwatching and appreciating the rugged beauty of Iceland’s coastline.

It’s very important to note that you can only walk out on the island to the lighthouse during low tide. If you’re visiting, you’ll want to check tide charts carefully. You’ll need to plan for a long walk, taking a local bus, or paying for a taxi to reach Grótta from downtown Reykjavik. I also found out that you can’t walk out to the island during nesting season, from May 1 to July 15.

Museums and Culture

Reykjavik boasts a rich culture and history and shares it with visitors in its numerous museums. If you have a museum lover in your group, here are some of the top ones you’ll want to consider visiting.

Perlan Natural History Museum

Since I had limited time in Reykjavik, I chose to visit the Perlan Natural History Museum, which focuses on the diverse Icelandic flora (plants) and fauna (animals). The museum features interactive exhibits and showcases the country’s unique geological formations, such as glaciers and volcanoes.

I especially enjoyed the Lava and Northern Lights shows. But the real highlight for me was the 360-degree wrap-around viewing deck that gave me an amazing view of downtown Reykjavik and the surrounding mountains and volcanoes of the area.

view of reykjavik from Perlan Natural Science Museum

I walked to Perlan from downtown and it is a bit of a trek and there is a climb to get up to Perlan. I consider myself to be somewhat in shape and enjoyed the walk through town and the suburbs up to the museum. If you don’t enjoy long walks you’ll want to book a taxi or take the bus. Perlan is one of the stops on the Hop-On Hop-Off CitySightseeing bus if you’re planning to purchase that for your trip.

National Museum of Iceland

The National Museum of Iceland offers a comprehensive overview of the country’s history, starting from the Settlement Age to the present day. I enjoyed the museum’s chronological layout and artifacts, such as Viking Age relics, historic photographs, and artistic works.

Reykjavik Art Museum

I didn’t have time to visit the Reykjavik Art Museum, which houses an extensive collection of contemporary Icelandic art. The museum comprises three separate buildings, each showcasing different art styles and techniques. The works displayed ranged from traditional paintings to modern sculptures, offering a perfect combination of art and culture.

Saga Museum

The Saga Museum provides another unique opportunity to explore Iceland’s rich history through meticulously crafted dioramas. The life-size figures and detailed settings bring the Viking sagas to life. As I walked through the museum, I learned about Iceland’s heroes and their brave deeds.

My one day in Reykjavik was filled with engaging and educational experiences that delve into the history, art, and natural beauty of Iceland. As you can see above, there are a lot of great things to do in Reykjavik.

Perfect One Day in Reykjavik

rainbow street in reykjavik

During my trip to Reykjavik, I was able to experience the best places in the city in just one day. In this section, I will share my itinerary which includes visiting Fly Over Iceland, attending a Lava Show, exploring Hallgrímskirkja, and relaxing at Sky Lagoon.

I’m having you start in the up-and-coming Grandi district (which is where my hotel was located), then you’ll work your way into the city center of Reykjavik, and eventually end your day out at Sky Lagoon. This will make the most of operating hours and help you end your day with relaxation.

I’ll mention that if you want to avoid crowds at Sky Lagoon, it is recommended to visit there early in the morning, so consider adapting my plan below to best fit your preference.

Breakfast in Reykjavik

My day started with breakfast at my hotel. If your hotel doesn’t include breakfast, I recommend planning to stop at a cafe on your way to your first attraction. Near Fly Over Iceland is Reykjavík Röst, a cute local coffee shop with a view of the marina. And in downtown Reykjavik is the popular The Laundromat Cafe, both great spots to grab breakfast.

Fly Over Iceland

My day started with an amazing virtual flight at Fly Over Iceland, where I saw the breathtaking landscapes of Iceland from the sky. I’m a huge Disney Parks fan, so this experience was especially exciting for me since the attraction was designed by the Imagineer who designed the Soarin’ attraction.

This immersive experience, known as a “flying theater,” gave me an exciting glimpse of the country’s natural beauty. Combined with the wind effects, music, and smells, I truly felt like I was soaring above the Icelandic landscapes. The whole experience takes about 30 minutes with two pre-shows and then the main movie.

They do have a small cafe and bar, Kaffi Grandi, in the Fly Over Iceland attraction, so if you want to skip getting breakfast or if you just need a second cup of coffee, you can grab something before or after your “flight”.

Lava Show

Next, to learn about Iceland’s geology and volcanic activity, I headed to the Lava Show which is near Fly Over Iceland in the Grandi Harbor neighborhood.

Here, I witnessed a live volcanic eruption simulation, which showcased real lava flowing down and interacting with various elements. It was an enlightening and unique experience, as it helped me to understand the powerful forces of nature that have shaped Iceland’s topography over millions of years.

It’s good to note that the theater will get hot during the show when the lava is flowing, so be prepared for the heat! 🙂

Lunch in Reykjavik

You’ll have quite a few options for lunch around Reykjavik. If you’re still in the Grandi neighborhood, you can check out the food hall called Grandi Mathöll where you’ll find a few different food stalls serving dishes from fried fish to Korean tacos and even a beer stall. Or for an upscale lunch option, check out the new HÉÐINN restaurant for brunch.

If you’re making your way into downtown Reykjavik, check out the trendy and completely local hot dog stand Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Another popular food hall is Pósthúsið and it’s located in an old post office. And if you’re looking for a unique and upscale lunch spot downtown, Monkeys offers a Japanese-Peruvian fusion menu.

Hallgrímskirkja & Shopping

reykjavik street

After lunch do some exploring of downtown Reykjavik. Consider visiting any one or two of the popular museums I listed above. You’ll also likely want to do some shopping, which I mention in more detail below.

During my trip, I did a free walking tour with CityWalk Reykjavik (pay/tip at the end what it’s worth to you). Walking tours can be the best way to learn about a city and find places of interest to eat and shop. There is also some great street art around Reykjavik, so keep your eyes open while you walk if you enjoy that.

As you walk from Grandi through downtown you’ll make your way to the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church landmark. It is the largest church in Iceland and one of its tallest structures. The church’s striking architecture, featuring sharp lines and geometric shapes, is certainly eye-catching.

Besides just looking at the church you can explore inside (during non-service times). I paid a small fee inside and took the elevator to the tower’s observatory deck, where I enjoyed panoramic views of Reykjavik and its nearby mountains. It is definitely a must-visit place in the city.

Sky Lagoon

kim in front of sky lagoon waterfall

To conclude my perfect one day in Reykjavik, I treated myself to a rejuvenating soak at the Sky Lagoon. This geothermal spa, located on the edge of the city, provided a picturesque setting with stunning ocean views.

I did have the Sky Pass experience which gave me a private changing room space and included the Seven-Step Ritual experience which is based on the Icelandic practice of hot and cold alternation for health benefits.

The warm lagoon overlooking the bay was a great way to wrap up the day with a relaxing and blissful experience — my glass of sparkling wine didn’t hurt either. 🙂

Dinner in Reykjavik

Depending on what time you’re at Sky Lagoon, you may want to stay there and have a charcuterie Icelandic dinner at their Smakk Bar. Or head back into Reykjavik for an upscale dinner at Monkeys which I mentioned above, or at OTO an excellent restaurant in the heart of Reykjavik that serves a locally crafted menu inspired by flavors from Japan and Italy.

A final option that I’ll mention is to book an entire bespoke day tour with I am Iceland. I was lucky enough to experience a private dinner with Chef Axel at a warehouse in Reykjavik and it was some of the best food I had on my trip. Axel Óskarsson has a true passion for the Icelandic culture, its people, and its cuisine. If you want a truly immersive and unique way to experience Iceland in a day, consider booking a private tour with Axel.

In just one day, I was able to experience the best of Reykjavik – from a thrilling virtual flight to learning about Iceland’s geology, exploring the iconic Hallgrímskirkja, and finally relaxing at Sky Lagoon – it was an unforgettable day that I will cherish.

Shopping in Reykjavik

Laugavegur Shopping Street

During my trip to Reykjavik, I made sure to visit Laugavegur, the city’s main shopping street which is 10 minutes away from Hallgrimskirkja church. Laugavegur is full of unique boutiques and numerous souvenir opportunities. The street is vibrant and bustling with tourists and locals alike, making it a fantastic place to shop and people-watch.

While walking along Laugavegur, I came across a variety of clothing, accessories, and home decor stores. Some of my favorite finds included Icelandic wool sweaters and blankets, quirky jewelry, and beautiful artwork. I also enjoyed grabbing a cup of coffee from one of the charming cafes lining the street.

Make sure you always ask the shop owners if the items are locally made or imported. I found some of the tourist shops seemed to have both, but it was pretty easy to figure out which shops and boutiques were authentically local.

Grandi

Grandi is an up-and-coming district in Reykjavik, where old warehouses and shipyards have been transformed into stylish shops, galleries, and restaurants. I was impressed by the creativity and innovation displayed by the entrepreneurs in this area. From unique design stores to art studios, Grandi offered a diverse shopping experience.

You can find a local bookstore, Forlagid which is filled with Icelandic books, or visit the local chocolate shop, OmNom, or find some Icelandic fashion and jewelry at KIOSK and Jens on the main marina drive.

Kringlan Mall

One of Reykjavik’s popular shopping centers is Kringlan Mall. The mall has a variety of international and local brands. It’s Reykjavik’s largest mall with over 150 stores and a variety of restaurants.

Kolaportið Flea Market

For a quirky shopping experience, check out the Kolaportið Flea Market. It’s an indoor market and is an excellent spot for vintage shoppers and collectors who want to really dive into Icelandic life.

Practical Information

view of marina from harpa concert hall in reykjavik

Best Time to Visit

I visited Reykjavik during the summer (June to August) when the weather is relatively mild and the days are long. If you only have one day, this season will allow you to explore the city and make the most of your time. It’s good to know that during the summer months, the sun barely sets and it’s daylight far past midnight during peak summer.

However, if you’re interested in catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights, it’s better to visit in the winter months, between October and April. Winter in Iceland does mean packing for cold weather and making sure you can travel safely. You’ll experience snow and ice, and during the peak winter months, you’ll also have limited daylight hours.

Money in Reykjavik

I used my credit card exclusively while visiting Reykjavik. I had my debit card just in case I needed cash so I could go to an ATM but never needed cash.

Iceland does use its own currency, the Icelandic Króna. When shopping you can generally move the decimal point over two spots and round down. For example, if you see something that is 1000 ISK, you could assume that it’ll be under $10 – it’s actually about $7.55 USD.

I did occasionally have problems understanding when things were priced with a comma and with a decimal, so you might need to ask a store clerk if the price marked is hard to understand.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the must-see attractions in Reykjavik in one day?

I would say you must see the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church, go on Fly Over Iceland, check out a couple of the museums like the Perlan Nature Museum, and soak in either the Sky Lagoon or Blue Lagoon.

What can you experience at FlyOver Iceland?

At FlyOver Iceland, you’ll experience two small pre-shows about some of the history of Iceland then you’ll have an 8-minute off-the-ground flight directly in front of a large movie screen.

I felt like I was soaring above Iceland’s breathtaking landscapes, including glaciers, waterfalls, and geothermal areas. The ride uses state-of-the-art technology and special effects to create a truly immersive experience. They also have a cafe and a great gift shop inside the attraction.

Are there any free walking tours available in Reykjavik?

Yes, there are free walking tours available in Reykjavik. I joined a tour led by knowledgeable local guides who shared interesting stories and facts about the city’s history and culture. It was a great way to explore the city center and learn about the most important landmarks.

Which Golden Circle tour is best for a day trip?

The best Golden Circle day tour will include a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and the Gullfoss waterfall. These are the main attractions on the circuit, and there are a variety of tour options available to suit different interests and budgets. Consider a small-group or private tour to have a more personal experience and enjoy a more relaxed pace.

itinerary for one day in reykjavik iceland harpa hallgrimskirkja collage

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