48 Hours in Reykjavik

48 hours in reykjavik

Reykjavik has become quite the poster city for all things Scandinavian in the past couple of years; fresh air, accessible nature, colourful cottages and plenty of coffee shops filled with cosy candles. Indeed, gone are the days where visitors simply drove through Reykjavik on their way to the West Fjords or simply to get a picture of the funky-looking church. The city has evolved into a destination in its own right, with more and more people using it as a base to explore West Iceland.

I had planned two full days in Reykjavik at the start of my road trip, just so I could get used to 1, the daylight/jetlag situation, but 2, to try to put my finger on what made the city so attractive. I enrolled the help of my pal Auður, the mastermind behind the I Heart Reykjavik walking tours and expert on all things Reykjavik. Let’s see what I did during my (in hindsight, all too short) two days in the Icelandic capital.

* This post was updated November 2016

48 hours in Reykjavik – a City Guide

A walking tour

48 hours in Reykjavik 2

Obviously, I suggest starting any Reykjavik trip with Auður’s tour. Not only to get your bearings around the city but also to get insightful info and trivia about Scandinavia, Iceland, Reykjavik and the Icelandic life from an Icelander’s point of view. The tour starts at the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church and ends at the Parliament House, lasting roughly two hours, with several stops at significant, historical or quirky places along the way. Ask Auður for her favourite restaurants and bars too – with Reykjavik becoming such a tourist destination, tourist traps have slowly set up shop, and she knows how to avoid them.

Hallgrímskirkja

48 hours in reykjavik

This is a must-do, both for the architecture and for the view. Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church, named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson. It was designed by Guðjón Samuel in 1937, an architect notoriously inspired by the shape of basalt rock formations — which is precisely where Hallgrímskirkja gets its distinctive shape from. But before you head to the top to admire the view over Reykjavik and the Kollafjörður Bay, make sure you take a look at the impressive 25 tonnes, 102 ranks, 72 stops and 5275 pipes organ!

The Sun Voyager

48 hours in reykjavik

An ode to the sun if there ever was one, the Sun Voyager is a dreamboat sculpture made by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason, which represents undiscovered territories and the dream of progress and freedom — and not a Viking ship as most people pretend. I found it to be at its prettiest at day fall when the golden rays of the sun softly reflect on the structure. It’s a very nice place to watch the sunset over the city and the harbour.

Have a fish & chips

48 hours in Reykjavik

When in Rome, right? Although most tourist will want to take their experience to the next level and have the traditional fermented fish or rotten shark, I, for one, couldn’t palate it. I would sooner have batter than bacteria with my fish, thanks! I opted to have a traditional Icelandic fish and chips (although I guess it wasn’t that different from other chippies I’ve had before, except maybe the potatoes) at the very aptly named Fish & Chips near the harbour. Health-conscious travellers should note that this restaurant only uses Omega 3 oils and the freshest fish available.

Morning coffee

48 hours in Reykjavik48 hours in Reykjavik

Reykjavik has a thriving indie coffee scene, and that is not simply due to the fact that there are no Starbucks in the country (shocking, I know!). Take a few moments to unwind, smell the delicious coffee and mingle with locals at my favourite coffee shop in Reykjavik, the Reykjavik Roasters. They aim to raise the public awareness and appreciation for high-quality coffee — and they also have awesome pastries!

The Harpa

48 hours in reykjavik

Yet another completely free thing to do in Reykjavik – the Harpa concert hall. The post-modern building has taken the role of Iceland’s cultural palace upon completion in 2011 and has been used for a variety of events since. What makes it so attractive, however, is its distinct architecture; the award-winning building designed by Olafur Eliasson features thousands of transparent glass panels in varying hues of yellows, purples and blues, which seem to be ever-changing depending on the time of the day and the brightness of the sun. A must do!

Enjoy the Nordic architecture

48 hours in reykjavik
48 hours in reykjavik
 

One of my favourite things about Scandinavia is the architecture; there is something incredibly charming about these colourful aluminium houses, which are scattered all over Reykjavik. From vermilion red to canary yellow, from sapphire blue to emerald green, there is a vast plethora of colours available, which I reckon is a cheerful touch to a notoriously cloudy city. Take a stroll nearby Grjótagata and Skólavörðustígur to see some of the cutest (and possibly most expensive) real estate in Reykjavik.

Traditional Icelandic breakfast

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When in Rome, right? I opted for a scrumptious rye bread with smoked trout (which, I realised, is very different from smoked salmon we have in Canada; it smells like actual smoke!) and cottage cheese at Cafe Loki, right by the Hallgrímskirkja. It isn’t the cheapest place in town but I appreciate the fact that everything on the menu is traditional and handmade. And I mean, where else in Reykjavik can you get this view while you have breakfast?

Shop for wool

48 hours in reykjavik

Love the warmth of wool but can’t bother knitting it all yourself? Leave that to the Icelandic Handknitters Association. Founded in 1977 by a group of women who had been knitting as a way to supplement their families’ income, the IHA now features the works of over 200 members. It is possible to buy the iconic Lopi sweater here, at a fraction of the cost compared to other tourist shops and duty-free at the airport.

48 hours in reykjavik
48 hours in reykjavik
 

Other fun things to do in Reykjavik:

Where to eat & drink in Reykjavik:

Disclaimer: I was a guest of I Heart Reykjavik walking tours. But as always, all opinions are my own. Although Auður gave me homemade cookies during the tour, so that may have slightly encouraged me to write this glowing review. Book one of her tours and she might give you cookies too!

26 Comments on 48 Hours in Reykjavik

  1. Brittany Ruth
    September 19, 2014 at 3:48 am (3 years ago)

    Loved this. I went to Iceland last month and it was a dream come true. My favorite things were eating all the great seafood, the nightligt, and getting my very expensive wool sweater at the flea market.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      September 23, 2014 at 6:48 pm (3 years ago)

      Aren’t these sweaters absolutely lovely? I couldn’t afford them so I got a scarf instead, but I love it!

      Reply
  2. Francois
    September 19, 2014 at 1:05 pm (3 years ago)

    I love the way your are telling your story and how beautiful are your pictures! That’s great and definitely inspiring for next vacation :)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      September 23, 2014 at 6:47 pm (3 years ago)

      Thank you for the kind words, François! I had an amazing time in Reykjavik.

      Reply
  3. Jennifer
    October 9, 2014 at 12:05 pm (2 years ago)

    God, I can’t wait for next August! Thanks for this info

    Reply
  4. Sharlene
    October 12, 2014 at 11:12 pm (2 years ago)

    How much are the wool sweaters there? Thank you :)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      October 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm (2 years ago)

      About a gazillion of them :-) Honestly, I have no doubt you will find one that you like.

      Reply
  5. Claire
    November 1, 2014 at 11:12 pm (2 years ago)

    Have breakfast (a bollur and some coffee) or lunch (great soups with bread and cheese) at Sandholt Bakery. It was so good there I went every day for a week! I also recommend checking out some of the second hand shops and going to the frozen lake. :)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      November 2, 2014 at 9:30 pm (2 years ago)

      Thanks for the suggestion Claire, I’ll keep it in mind for when I return to Reykjavik :-)

      Reply
  6. Christine
    December 2, 2014 at 9:54 pm (2 years ago)

    great suggestions but you forgot to mention all the great museums…the National, the art museum, the sculpture museum, the saga museum, etc…Iceland has enough crazy weather that it is always good to have some indoor activities planned too

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      December 27, 2014 at 12:41 pm (2 years ago)

      I just haven’t had the time to visit them but I do know that Reykjavik has plenty of interesting museums.

      Reply
  7. Johann
    January 12, 2015 at 11:29 am (2 years ago)

    I’d actually recommend the Citywalk Reykjavik walking tour it’s loads of fun and free. But I tipped generously :)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      January 12, 2015 at 5:00 pm (2 years ago)

      Also a good option, thanks for pointing it out Johann!

      Reply
  8. Yuliya
    February 12, 2015 at 5:48 pm (2 years ago)

    So, I’m a bit late to this comment thread, but I’m dreaming about an Iceland trip. Did you ever make it to the Blue Lagoon? Is it worth it, you think? thanks!

    Reply
  9. Hung Thai
    January 31, 2016 at 4:18 pm (1 year ago)

    Haha I think I’ve been to every spot you’ve mentioned here. Actually my favorite was walking along the road to the Parliament House. The streets were full of embassies but not a single guard was found – that’s when I knew we were in a very safe country.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      February 1, 2016 at 2:23 pm (1 year ago)

      That is so true! Apparently there are no guards to the Prime Minister’s house, too.

      Reply
  10. Hafdís
    September 4, 2016 at 7:56 pm (7 months ago)

    Great article :). I have to point out though that Iceland isn’t part of Scandinavia. It is a part of the Nordic countries, but Scandinavia is Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. It’s a common mixup :)…

    Reply
    • Hafdís
      September 4, 2016 at 8:00 pm (7 months ago)

      Ooops, I’m wrong myself – Finland isn’t usually included when speaking of Scandinavia – it’s Norway, Sweden and Denmark! But Iceland definitely not, we are a 3 hrs flight away over the ocean from the Scandinavia area. We do share a lot of the same culture though :)…

      Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      September 6, 2016 at 11:54 am (7 months ago)

      It’s so confusing! Like you said, you share similar languages and cultures. Duly noted, though!

      Reply

5Pingbacks & Trackbacks on 48 Hours in Reykjavik

  1. […] 48 hours in Reykjavik {Euro Trip Tips} […]

  2. […] the first two days of the trip in Reykjavik was non-negotiable for me. The city intrigued me, and I was told that the culinary offer outside […]

  3. […] to be outdone by Iceland’s stunning landscapes, the peculiar capital city is home to a thriving culinary scene proudly fuelled by its profound Nordic roots, as demonstrated […]

  4. […] The Sun Voyager sculpture near the waterfront is an iconic spot for beautiful pictures, and it is a short walk from there to the Harpa Center. Even if you are not attending an event at Harpa, it is worth visiting to check out the architecture both inside and out. Walk over to city hall for pretty views across a lake and to check out the blockhead businessman sculpture. Here are more ideas for things to do in Reykjavik. […]

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