Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík is known for its nightlife, and while their music and bar scene is indeed great, there is so much more to the city!
There are plenty of unique and unusual things to do in Reykjavik! From exploring the colorful street art and murals that pepper the city's walls to soaking in a geothermal pool beneath the Northern Lights, there's no shortage of one-of-a-kind experiences to be had. You might also consider taking a stroll through the city's vibrant neighborhoods, sampling traditional Icelandic cuisine, or venturing out to the nearby countryside to explore the stunning natural beauty of this incredible country.
Whatever you choose to do, I'm here to help you, with this Reykjavik alternative guide, make the most out of your time in this amazing city and uncover Reykjavik hidden gems. I promise you’ll be surprised by these suggestions!
Unique Things To Do in Reykjavik
1. Go to Elfschool
Many Icelanders believe in elves and mythical beings like gnomes, dwarfs, fairies, and trolls — so much so that roads have been diverted around areas they are said to live.
Learning traditional history and folklore between snacks from anthropological and paranormal experts is one of the unusual things to do in Reykjavik!
Elves and huldufólk (hidden people) are said to live in lava rock formations like these. Be respectful and don’t climb on them.
Sidumuli 31, (2nd floor),
I recommend a great resource for learning about Icelandic culture and the beliefs surrounding mythical beings:
2. Bake Bread in the Ground
Why not challenge yourself and give traditional Icelandic lava bread baking a try?
Head over to Laugarvatn Fontana's geothermal bakery where you can watch the skilled bakers at work and even try some of the delicious bread straight from the ground.
It's a unique and tasty experience you won't want to miss!
If you have time, stay to soak in their hot tubs, saunas, and steam room or take a cold plunge in the Lake Laugarvatn!
Click here for more information if you want to experience the unique and mouth-watering flavor of the traditional rye bread that has been cooked in the ground for 24 hours.
It's a must-try delicacy that will leave you craving for more. Make sure to add this activity to your list of unique things to do in Reykjavik.
3. Try Ein með öllu - local hot dogs
Reykjavik is known for their hot dogs - Ein með öllu!
Icelanders LOVE their hot dogs. In fact, the hot dog has been named the national food of Iceland.
Every Reykjavik resident has a favorite place that serves the best hot dogs, and everyone knows what toppings they prefer their sausage with.
If you want to taste an authentic Icelandic hot dog, ask at the Ein með öllu, which translates to "one with everything".
Try Bærjarins Beztu Pylsur’s hot dogs in Reykjavík, or grab a hot dog at any gas station. As Americans, we were warry of hot food from gas stations before our trip — ours don’t have great reputations — but often the gas stations around Iceland are the only restaurant and store around. Their food was great!
4. Check out the Perlan Museum
This is where you need to go if you want to see all the natural wonders of Iceland without leaving Reykjavík. You’ll get to experience every seasonal activity, no matter the time of year.
They have exhibits featuring puffins and other sea birds that live in the impressive cliffs of the Westfjords with virtual reality binoculars, an interactive northern lights exhibit, Iceland’s underwater world, volcanoes with a lava show, glaciers, and even a 100-meter-long ice tunnel.
End your visit on the observation deck with 360-degree views of the city.
It's definitely worth a visit if you're interested in learning about Iceland's unique history and culture.
To book your ticket, please click on the following link. Enjoy your visit to the Perlan Museum and all the natural wonders that Iceland has to offer!
5. Chill Out in a Hot Spring
There are two popular geothermal spas in Reykjavík: the new Sky Lagoon and the infamous Blue Lagoon.
We visited Iceland before Sky Lagoon existed, so the Blue Lagoon was our only choice. We loved it so much that we wouldn’t hesitate to visit both the next time we’re in town. Both are a drive from town, but there are many tour options to visit if you don’t have a rental car.
More on the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is a hot spring and spa that offers lodging. Yes, Blue Lagoon has its own hotel where you can stay and fully immerse yourself in the Blue Lagoon experience.
It’s surrounded by volcanic rock, and the landscape looks otherworldly. Go there to soak, treat yourself to their spa experience, and indulge in a silica mud mask. The water is the perfect temp to enjoy for hours — expect to spend up to four hours there.
Since it’s 45 minutes away from Reykjavík and close to the airport, it’s a great place to stop on your way out of town. It does get busy, so visit in the early or late hours of the day to have a more peaceful experience. We chose to visit the night before we left Iceland, and it was the best farewell.
More on the Sky Lagoon
The Sky Lagoon is more like a Nordic spa.
They have a seven-step ritual that includes bathing in the hot spring, taking a cold plunge, moving on to a sauna, then a cold fog-mist, applying a cleansing scrub, moving to a steam room, and ending with a gentle shower. We’ve experienced this type of hot spring elsewhere since our visit to Iceland and it’s extremely rejuvenating.
The Sky Lagoon is only a 15-minute drive from town and is known for having amazing views. It looks over the North Atlantic Sea, and viewing the sunset from their infinity pool is certainly bucket list-worthy.
6. Take a Scenic Helicopter Flight over the Erupting Volcano
Looking for cool things to do in Reykjavik? A helicopter flight to witness an erupting volcano is amazing adventure!
This will provide you with breathtaking views of the eruption site and allow you to get closer to the action than any walking tour.
I also had the opportunity to watch some beautiful views of the environment surrounding Iceland's capital as I looped around to the Reykjanes Peninsula. The scenery was simply breathtaking and I couldn't help but feel grateful for the opportunity to witness such natural beauty. The rugged coastline, rolling hills, and crystal clear waters were truly a sight to behold.
It's no wonder that Iceland is considered one of the most stunning countries in the world. I feel lucky to have experienced a small slice of it.
To book your helicopter tour, please click on the provided link. You won't regret it - the views of Iceland's stunning natural beauty and the erupting volcano are truly unforgettable.
If flying over an active volcano is too extreme for you, you may opt for hiking to the Fagradalsfjall Volcano eruption site.
Located south of Reykjavík, the drive here is scenic and pairs well with a trip to the Blue Lagoon.
The Fagradalsfjall volcano last erupted in 2022 after 6,000 years of inactivity. The eruption was small, not threatening, and was preceded by many earthquakes, but the eruption lasted for three weeks!
Now, you can hike to the eruption site to view solidified lava covering the Meradalir valley. Just don’t walk on the lava — it’s fragile, crumbles under your feet, and can be slippery!
7. Nauthólsvík Beach
If you like the idea of the Nordic Spa ritual, head to Nauthólsvík Beach to swim at a geothermal beach for a less structured approach.
The beach was constructed by importing golden sand and building seawalls to protect the lagoon.
Now, it’s a local hang out with hot tubs, steam rooms, and a cold plunge in the sea. So if you want to experience off the beaten path Reykjavik and spend time with locals, explore this awesome beach.
8. Turn off Laugavegur Street and Go Off the Beaten Path
Laugavegur Street is Reykjavík’s main drag, full of restaurants, shops, and bars. We found our favorite souvenirs at Iceland Memories and had the best time at the Kiki Queer Bar.
If you do go out for nightlife, plan on going out Friday or Saturday after midnight, with the option to stay out as late as 5:30 am!
However, if you want to discover Reykjavík hidden gems, turn off Laugavegur Street and explore a few small streets.
You'll find everything from local boutiques run by local designers to trendy cafes and less touristy restaurants.
While exploring small streets and discovering alternative Reykjavik, don't miss the opportunity to discover some amazing street art. There are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be found, adding an extra layer of charm to the already vibrant atmosphere of Reykjavik. Keep your eyes open and you'll be sure to stumble upon some stunning pieces that are sure to impress. Happy hunting!
If you're looking for a unique and authentic experience in Reykjavik, consider exploring Reykjavik off the beaten path. Check out some of the lesser-known neighborhoods and local hangouts for a taste of the real Reykjavik.
9. Stay at a Unique Hotel in Reykjavik
How about staying in a former pharmacy converted into a luxury hotel?
The Apótek Hotel Reykjavík was once the main pharmacy in the city. In fact, the main pharmacy building in Reykjavík was the first major building in the city.
Combining unique vintage details and modern chic, Apotek Hotel would be a great choice if you appreciate unique places.
It is a Boutique Hotel where the past meets modernity. Elegant design and architectural elements recall the history of this former pharmacy warehouse. At this hotel, you can relax and unwind after touring the city, as the hotel has all the amenities to do so.
Be sure to check out the stylish Apotek Bar and Restaurant. There you can try something delicious from the hotel's own patisserie and even order pharmacy-themed cocktails such as Painkillers and Stimulants :)
Another star on my list of unique places to stay in Reykjavik is Reykjavik Domes. At Reykjavik Domes, you can experience the joys of camping without any of the usual inconveniences.
The cozy dome, covering an area of 25 m2, is equipped with a plush double bed adorned with a soft sheepskin cover, and a cozy fireplace to keep you warm and comfortable. The dome also features a separate room with a clean toilet and a hot shower.
You can even gaze up at the starry sky and the enchanting northern lights through the large windows while drifting off to sleep.
Not only that, but you also have access to your own personal jacuzzi when you stay at this glamping accommodation.
Plus, you can soak in the breathtaking views of Icelandic volcanoes and the Esia mountain range that surround you.
10. See Rekjavik From a Bird's Eye View at Hallgrímskirkja
A national sanctuary, Hallgrímskirkja is an Evangelical-Lutheran Church. It’s one of the tallest buildings in Iceland with impressive architecture that mimics the basalt columns found throughout Iceland.
Aside from religious services, the church is also open to sightseeing with the option to purchase tickets and go up to the tower at certain times.
The highlight of this stunning church is undoubtedly the viewpoint at the top of the tower. From up here, you get an incredible 360-degree view of Reykjavik and the surrounding landscape. It's truly breathtaking and not to be missed.
11. Try a Local Delicacy - Fermented Shark
You’ll find Café Loki across the street from Hallgrímskirkja. Stop in to try traditional Icelandic food, specifically the hárkal (fermented shark).
It’s said to have a terrible taste, but you’re given shots of Brennivin, Iceland’s signature distilled spirit, to chase it with.
12. Look For Treasures at Kolaportid Flea Market
Centrally located at the Old Harbor, the Kolaportid flea market is easy to find. It’s indoor, open year-round, and a favorite among locals.
You’ll find all kinds of secondhand treasures, gifts, and souvenirs. Outside of it, you’ll find Bærjarins Beztu Pylsur’s hot dog stand.
13. Explore Reykjavik's Food Halls
This is the foodie’s dream! There are three food halls in Reykjavík.
You’ll find the Gradni Mathöll located on the harbor, the Mathöl Höfði on the southeast outskirts of town, and the renowned Hlemmur Food Hall in the center of Reykjavík.
Go for a snack, meal, or sample a bit of everything!
14. Attend Events at Harpa
This one’s for the architecture buffs, music aficionados, and design enthusiasts.
Located in downtown Reykjavík, Harpa is Iceland’s conference hall and world-class concert hall. It not only looks incredibly beautiful, but it’s renowned for its theater acoustics.
Schedule a guided tour or attend one of their many events.
15. Chase the Aurora
The best time to see the northern lights is between November and January, during the darkest times of year, but it's also possible to see it in September, October, and February.
With up to 20 hours of darkness, you’ll have the best odds of seeing the aurora.
Although it’s possible to see the northern lights in Reykjavík, they’ll be brighter away from city lights.
Consider booking a boat or super jeep tour or visit the aurora museum.
16. Enjoy 24 Hours of Daylight
Between May and July, Iceland never gets completely dark.
Take advantage of your jetlag and visit the most popular sights at odd hours to have them all to yourselves.
If you can, head to Vik, along the southern coast, to see Seljalandsfoss, or hike to the plane wreck on Sólheimasandur.
17. Explore Christmas markets
If you’re visiting in December, checking out a Christmas market is a must.
There are two near Reykjavik, which are accessible by bus or car.
The town of Hafnarfjöður is 20 minutes south of Reykjavik, and has one of the largest Christmas markets in Iceland. They sell arts, crafts, and treats from little wooden cabins.
The Christmas market in the Hólmsheiði sounds beautiful as well. It’s located 15 minutes southeast of Reykjavík and the Christmas market takes place in the forest. Cozy up to bonfires to hear stories or go for the live music.
18. Visit Unique Museums of Reykjavik
There are an overwhelming number (over 60!) of museums, exhibitions, and galleries in Reykjavík.
The oldest is the National Museum of Iceland, while the most obscure is the Phallological Museum.
However, our favorite would have to be the whale museum, where they have 23 life-size whales exhibits! If you’ll be visiting more than one museum during your stay, consider purchasing the Reykjavík City Pass.
19. Spend a Day Out of Time at Árbær Open Air Museum
Although we visited Glaumbær in Northern Iceland, you can see traditional homes like these just outside Reykjavík.
The museum is open year-round, with more than 20 buildings forming a town square, village, and farm, most of which were relocated from central Reykjavík to preserve their history.
While you’re there, you’ll see domestic animals and demonstrations like leaf bread and candle making, printing, and special exhibits on occasion.
20. Walk Around Tjörnin
Technically a naturally formed lake, this spot is so shallow that locals refer to it as “the pond.”
Tjörnin is a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon.
Walk around and bird watch in the summer or ice skate once the lake freezes over in the winter.
About The Author
Zach and Meghann Grah are adventure travel bloggers and professional photographers.
They are a couple based in Washington state who love traveling and the outdoors. They share their adventures and inspire others to step outside their comfort zone, explore, try something new, or simply make the most of each day.