The population of Iceland is about 350,000 people, with 2/3 of the population living in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik. The country is slightly larger than Ireland and approximately the size of the state of Ohio. This makes Reykjavik a great place for a 24 hour stopover. You get a taste of what Iceland has to offer with quirky museums, thermal pools, national delicacies and a stunning harbour front.
Iceland, and by extension Reykjavik, is an incredibly safe place to travel solo as well as travel solo as a female. It would be a great place to take your first solo travel adventure because the locals speak English (for those of us who speak English as our first language), the views and excursions are incredible, it has a low population so it feels like a small safe city, and you definitely won’t get bored or lonely!
Reykjavik City Card
Most major cities, especially in Europe, sell a “City Card” or a “City Pass”. A city pass usually includes discounts to restaurants or on accommodations, public transportation (bus pass), and admission to attractions. The Reykjavík City Card includes all of the above: free entry to museums, galleries, and all swimming pools in Reykjavík; free unlimited bus pass; free ferry trip to Viðey island; and discounts on tours, in shops, and on services.
What’s great about the City Card is that you can purchase the card for 24 hours, 48 hours of 72 hours. Unlike some other major cities where the card is good “for the day” (which means if you buy it at 3 pm, it’s only good until 11:59 pm), this card is activated the hour you purchase it and is valid for the total hours purchase. This means if you get in to Reykjavik late in the day, it’s still worth it to purchase the City Card if you plan on spending 18-24 hours in the city. Is the Reykjavik City Card worth it? I personally recommend the Reykjavik City Card, based on my experience and the deals you receive from it.
Click here to find out how to purchase the card and the extensive list of benefits and read on for the Reykjavik One Day Itinerary.
Free Things to do in Reykjavik
Sun Voyager: This is a boat sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, located down by the waterfront in Reykjavík, Iceland. If you’re visiting between November-March, you might be lucky and see the Northern Lights from here!
Harpa Concert Hall: Opened in 2011, Harpa is a concert hall and conference centre in Reykjavík, Iceland, and is about a 5 minute walk from the Sun Voyager. The outside of the building is absolutely stunning, the design of which was inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. It is free to walk to/around or you can pay a fee for a tour or purchase a ticket to a concert.
Reykjavik Harbor Front: The walk between the Sun Voyager and Harpa is along the harbour front where you’ll get excellent views of the Icelandic landscapes, with water and mountains in the background.
Mural Hunting: Reykjavik is home to amazing street art and almost any street you turn down will have stunning murals for you to hunt for.
Free Walking Tour (by donation): as with many walking tours in Europe, the Reykjavik Walking Tour is free, but pay what you think it’s worth at the end. Walking tours are a great way to start a trip, especially when the tours are done by locals who can give you tips on where to eat/what to see in the city and beyond.
See Reykjavík’s Botanical Gardens: The botanic garden was founded in 1961 and open year round to discover an outdoor collection of living plants. In the summer, you can visit the coffeehouse and cafe in the gazebo.
Laugavegur shopping street: the pedestrian shopping street in the capital, you’ll find all the souvenir shops, restaurants and a few museums along this street. It’s a great place to explore by foot.
Cheap Things to do in Reykjavik
Visit Perlan: Although you can technically visit the grounds for free, Perlan is about a 15-20 minute walk from downtown Reykjavik so it’s worth it to spend the 490 ISK ($4USD) to head to the top of the observation deck. There are also wonderful exhibits, a zipline, and the observation deck that make an admission ticket worth it.
Take in the View from Hallgrímskirkja: For less than $10, you can pay an entrance fee to go up the church tower and see a panoramic view of Reykjavik.
See the National Gallery of Iceland: For about $20, you get to see four different museums which makes the price about $5 per museum (not a bad bargain!). What’s great is the ticket doesn’t have a time limit so you can go to one or two in the morning and the others in the afternoon to spread them out.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum: There are more than 215 penises and penile parts in this museum, ranging from all animals types. It is an absolutely unique experience, as it is the only penis museum in the world.
Head to Videy Island: If you purchase the Reykjavik City Card, the ferry ride is free! You can wander the many trails, find historic ruins, nesting birds and panoramic views, just off the coast of Reykjavik.
Eating out at restaurants adds up, but if you’re only in town for 24 hours it is worth it to try a few local dishes. To save money on food, shop at Bonus, eat at food carts to try a few smaller portion meals rather than one huge meal, and go out for lunch instead of dinner.
Grab a Famous Hot Dog: the popular hot dog stand “Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur” is in central Reykjavik and you can get one for about $4.
Fine Dining: For a truly unique experience, eat at Matarkjallarinn (Food Cellar), located in a 160 year old building in the center of Reykjavik. It is a cozy atmosphere with live music in the evenings and a secret menu.
Afternoon Tea: head to Apotek Restaurant (used to be the oldest pharmacy in Iceland) for a delicious sweet or savoury spread.
Traditional Icelandic Food: Café Loki is a sit-down restaurant with a great view of Hallgrimskirkja and Icelandic Street Food is a fast-food traditional Icelandic food restaurant and very affordable.
Cheap Grub: The SeaBarron is one of the oldest restaurants in Iceland, with a lobster soup and bread meal for around $20. For Iceland, that’s a steal!
Other Things to Do
Settlement Museum or Iceland National Museum: These two museums were my favourite when visiting Iceland. You can spend hours at the Iceland National Museum, and the Settlement Museum was built over an archaeological dig that uncovered a longhouse in Reykjavik. Both are very informative museums with a lot to offer for a short visit!
Blue Lagoon: If you’ve done any planning for Iceland, you’re sure to have heard of the Blue Lagoon. A natural hot spring spa, it is one of Iceland’s draws. The first time I went, I did not think it was worth the price but I ended up going during my second visit and had a blast! To make it worth it, try to spend at least a few hours at Blue Lagoon. You can save money by purchasing the cheapest package. It’s also very close to the Keflavik airport and a perfect activity for a stopover.
Golden CircleTour: The largest tourist destination in Iceland, the Golden Circle has it all: waterfalls, geysirs, mountains, trails and more! If you’re spending more than a few hours in Iceland, it’s worth it to either rent a car or book a bus tour to visit the Golden Circle. You’ll likely visit the Gullfoss Waterfall, Þingvellir national park and Geysir National Park.