10 great family activities in Reykjavik

You may have heard rumours about the vibrant nightlife in Reykjavik, and perhaps you thought to yourself that this is only a place for party people. Well, you would be wrong. Iceland’s capital is a great place for a trip with your loved ones and little ones. We gathered a list of ten great family activities in Reykjavik. We’re certain that after trying out one or more of these, you won’t hear those dreaded words from your child: “I’m bored”.


#1 Puffin watching – Parrot divers? Sea clowns? Little friars?

Now that I have your interest, let me introduce Atlantic puffins to you. If you go on a puffin tour with us (between May and August) you will find the answer to why these animals have all these weird names in different languages. They might be smaller than what you expected – also they are not penguins! But what they lack in size, they make up with their amazing flying and diving abilities. That combined with their delightful character will not leave you or your child unmoved. We are fortunate enough to have the ability to see these amazing birds just outside of the Old Harbour!

Family activities in Reykjavik - Puffin watching

Two puffins debate the weather close to Reykjavik


#2 Horseback riding – “They are horses, not ponies!”

Very few things are as magical for a child as travelling on a fuzzy fur animal that is big as a giant in their eyes. Well, maybe not the Icelandic horses since they are rather small for horses (they are still not ponies). Speaking of the oddities of these horses, did you know that other breeds have 3 gaits while the Icelandic horses have 5? Horseback riding will certainly be a family activity that everyone can enjoy together. As you ride through breathtaking nature you get to experience a fraction of how the people in the olden times lived on this island. We recommend Íshestar, which is the industry leader in animal welfare and animal treatment. And don’t forget it’s possible to combine horseback riding with whale watching or northern lights hunting!

Family activities in Reykjavik - Horseback riding

Riding through Icelandic lava fields on a beautiful day


#3 Whale watching – Nurture the love for nature with an authentic wildlife encounter

One of my favourite moments as a whale watching guide was when a little girl dropped her jaw upon seeing a humpback whale just next to the boat and shouted: “This is the best day of my life!” Seeing the giants of the deep with your own eyes can indeed be a life-changing experience for the young and the old. So why not venture on a marine adventure with your family and have a good old fashioned “who spots the whale first” competition on one of our large family friendly boats? It’ll be one of the most memorable family activities in Reykjavik.

Family activities in Reykjavik - Whale watching

Whale watching is a memorable experience for a traveler of any age


#4 Whales of Iceland museum – A different perspective on these magnificent creatures

To consolidate the family’s knowledge about our marine mammal friends, go to the Whales of Iceland Museum. You’ll see life-sized whales and dolphin models and learn more about them with excellent audio guides and a guided tour as well. There is also a children’s playground on site where they can draw colouring books, take a whale quiz and crawl inside a wooden orca. The museum is also one of our favourite family activities in Reykjavik that are perfect for rainy days!


#5 “Ísbíltúr” – Going on the icecream drive

Ok, so if your native language is not of Germanic origin you might have trouble deciphering what “ísbíltúr” might be. We are talking about icecream here, icecream in a car, icecream in a car while driving around! Indeed, the icecream drive is one of the favourite pastime activities in the country, no matter what season it is. Grab a scoop of your favourite flavour or try “bragðarefur” – soft ice-cream with several toppings of your choice, all blended together. Get back in your car and drive around until your family finishes their tasty treats. Everyone has their own version of this custom, with a different selection of icecream shops and driving routes. You can try the shop called “Ísbúð Vesturbæjar”, or “Valdís” in the Grandi area. Your truly prefers to go to “Huppa” and then drive to the lighthouse of Grótta to watch sunset. Whatever your choice is, you can’t go wrong if the family is having a good time.


#6 Reykjavik Park and Zoo

Considering that the original name of the Reykjavik Park and Zoo is “the family park” it naturally made the list. Maybe you come from a big city and the kids don’t have a lot of opportunities to meet real domestic animals? Now here is your chance to do just that. Rekindle your own wonder through your child’s eyes as they get excited by seeing a cow, sheep, chicken, or even other more exotic animals, such as the mink, seal, Arctic fox and reindeer. Fun fact: the only native land mammal in Iceland is the fox).  The other section of the park is an amusement park for the little ones. They can ride in kiddie cars, trains, boats and carrousels. And do lots of jumping around!

Family activities in Reykjavik - Reykjavik Park and Zoo

A sleeping Arctic fox with its fluffy tail wrapped around itself


#7 Skating or skiing

Just next to the Reykjavik Park and Zoo is Reykjavik’s main skating rink, Skautahöllin Laugardal. It’s a fun place that’s always icy, even when the outside is not. Believe us, it happens! Our favourite moment is when they dim the lights, put on some disco lighting and turn up the music a bit. That’s a chance for the older ones and the parents to forget time and place and just have fun! No preparation is needed, except maybe putting on some warm clothes. You can rent the skates and helmets on the spot, and there’s supportive equipment for anyone without a sure footing on the ice. If you’re in Reykjavik in winter, there’s a great skiing resort within minutes from downtown Reykjavik. Ski resort Bláfjöll offers several slopes of different difficulties, as well as cross-country skiing tracks. You can also rent anything you might need there. Why not start the day with a walk and breakfast downtown, followed by skiing or snowboarding, and then ending the day melting away in hot jacuzzi?!


#8 Swimming pools – Swim like a dolphin, chill like a seal

With 121 swimming pools in a country of 370,000 inhabitants, we take our swimming pools seriously. Right, maybe not THAT seriously. But seriously enough that we want to access them anywhere in the country, any time of year! And with lots of hot water too! There will usually be several pools with different temperatures and different functions. So you can relax at 37°C while your kids play in the shallow pool for children. One swimming pool that could be of special interest is Laugardalslaug where you can find a massive waterslide! (It’s also just next to the Reykjavik Park and Zoo and the skating rink.) Don’t worry, it is perfectly normal for you as an adult to join them! After all, it is moments like these that remind us that we are all still kids inside. As far as family activities in Reykjavik go, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Family activities in Reykjavik - Swimming pools

Laugardalslaug swimming pool has a big waterslide and many different pools


#9 Perlan – Education meets fun

This domed palace-like structure overlooking the city houses a world of knowledge and immersion. Perlan is a great stop to learn about Icelandic geology, history, glaciology, flora and fauna, all through fun and interactive features. I would like to emphasize the artificial ice cave tour that might be a fun little thing to do with the little ones, especially if you start a snow-ball fight in there. Another thing that is worth checking out is the northern lights show in the planetarium that will leave you wanting more. If you weren’t into it before, you’ll probably want to see the lights with your own eyes afterwards!


#10 Feed the ducks at Tjörnin

With 388 bird species in Iceland, it is truly a birdwatchers paradise. Being a birder myself I can think of no better incentive for your child to start loving birds than to take them to the city pond known as Tjörnin (Bus stop #2 is right next to it). Depending on the season, you’ll see different species of birds. Also, in the wintertime this pond is often frozen, and sometimes frozen hard enough to walk or skate on! Some of the regular inhabitants that your little ones will be happy to see and feed are eider ducks, whooper swans, greyleg geese, Eurasian wigeons and common teals. Keep in mind that bread and crackers are not suitable for them. Cracked corn, oats, rice, birdseed, frozen peas, chopped lettuce, or sliced grapes are a much better alternative. If you happen to come in the summer, you can spot the Arctic terns that nest on a tiny inlet in the pond called Þorfinnstjörn.


Written by Lucas Heinrich.

The summer months are the high season for tourism here in Iceland, and for good reason. The long daylight hours and snow-free roads are ideal for long road trips into the countryside to explore our country’s natural wonders. However, summer visitors miss out on many of the charms of Icelandic winters: the golden sun hanging low in the sky and illuminating the snowy landscape, the northern lights dancing in the sky, and the twinkling Christmas lights on nearly every eave and window in the city. Here, we’ve compiled some of the best winter activities in Reykjavik, for that crisp January or February day (or night) in the world’s northernmost capital city.

Visit an outdoor swimming pool

When the weather turns frigid, there’s no feeling quite like sinking into a geothermally heated hot tub and letting your troubles melt away. There are no less than 17 geothermal pools in the whole Reykjavik area, and each of them have their charms, whether it’s the views, the social life, or even the various slides. Didn’t expect to go swimming on a winter trip to Iceland? Not to worry, as every pool rents out bathing suits and towels, so what are you waiting for? Dive in!

Winter activities in Reykjavik

Lucky guests lounging in the swimming pool Laugardalslaug in Reykjavik

See the northern lights

The northern lights are a truly spectacular phenomenon, one that certainly has to be seen to be believed. It sounds almost too good to be true – swirling lights of green (and sometimes other colors too!) that light up the sky on nearly every clear night? Yes, and it’s something that has awed northerly populations for millennia and is among the top winter activities in Reykjavik you can do. They’ve inspired legend and folklore, and have baffled scientists for centuries until very recently. There are many ways to go and see them – leaving the city by car, by bus, or even by bike – but definitely the most memorable way to see them is by boat. Special Tours was the first company to offer northern lights cruises, so you get the benefit of years of experience (and get to go sailing in the winter, also very unique). Just remember that the northern lights are a part of nature, so cross your fingers and you might just get to see the sight of a lifetime.

Explore the City

Reykjavik has an excellent cultural and artistic scene, from museums (like Whales of Iceland) to art galleries and other cultural attractions as well. Taking a stroll down the high shopping street (Bankastræti/Austurstræti/Laugavegur) in the wintertime can be a magical winter activity, especially when all the buildings are lit up in Christmas lights – and boy, do Icelanders love their Christmas lights. Don’t forget to visit the top floor of Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in the country, with its spectacular views over the whole city. Experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of 1200-year-old Reykjavik is sure to be a highlight of your trip.

Winter activities in Reykjavik

Part of the main street, Bankastræti, in Reykjavik in winter

Go skiing or snowboarding

Just outside the city is the Bláfjöll ski resort, which features wonderful slopes for downtown skiing and snowboarding. You can rent all the equipment you need on-site, but just note that the opening season depends on the weather – it may be open in December but usually is always open starting in early January. Lessons are available for total beginners, and you can even request private lessons if that suits you at all. It might not be the Alps or Vail, but it’s definitely one of the best winter activities in Reykjavik and another way to experience Iceland like a local!

Winter activities in Reykjavik - skiing and snowboarding

Skiing and snowboarding within minutes of Reykjavik: Bláfjöll ski area

Go whale watching

Whales in winter? Who knew! Iceland is well-known for being an excellent feeding ground for whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and 23 species have been spotted here throughout recorded history. And while some of the largest whales are seasonal, migrating towards warmer waters over the wintertime, there are many that stay behind. Special Tours operates whale watching tours every day of the year, even Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, with the most likely species to spot being white-beaked dolphins, harbor porpoises, and humpback whales. In fact, as I write this, Special Tours has been spotting humpback whales every single day for a few weeks in a row – not too shabby!

Winter activities in Reykjavik - whale-watching

Whale watching is an excellent winter activity in Reykjavik

Go horseback riding

Another unique thing about Iceland is the Icelandic horse, sometimes incorrectly called the ‘Icelandic pony’, a long-lived and hardy breed of horse native to the country. You can’t get much closer to being part of the Icelandic nature as riding this special creature about the wintery countryside, covered in frost and snow! Getting there only takes a few minutes by car. A fun fact – the Icelandic horse has two types of gait that other horses don’t have, the ambling tölt, and the fast and smooth skeið (or “flying pace”). Our partners at Íshestar have offered tours to travelers for 40 years now, and we recommend them without hesitation.

Winter activities in Reykjavik - horseback riding

The Icelandic horse is gentle, yet hardy

Walk on frozen Tjörnin

Note that this one is a bit risky, especially if the weather hasn’t been cold enough! Usually, at least for some part of the winter, Tjörnin in downtown Reykjavík completely freezes over. Although referred to most commonly as “the pond” (and indeed, that is what its name translates as), it is technically a small lake. Ducks, geese, and swans are a common sight near the shore, as locals will regularly come by to give bits of stale bread to their feathered friends in the tiny area that doesn’t freeze over. But if the ice is thick enough, it’s possible to walk all the way across Tjörnin, including to a tiny island in the middle. Many people like to ice skate on the pond as well. Your best bet is to just look at the pond first – if you see many Icelanders frolicking on the ice, it’s probably a safe day to try taking a step out.

Winter activities in Reykjavik - walking on frozen water

Tjörnin is a beautiful landmark in Reykjavik, even more so when frozen! (Image borrowed from nordicvisitor.com)

Try traditional Icelandic food

What is Iceland without its food? Traditional Icelandic cuisine consists largely of fish, lamb, and other meat. There are many restaurants in Reykjavík that will whip up some local specialties, such as Café Loki, and many more that place unique twists on them, such as French or Japanese influence, like Public House Gastropub. You might also try some local specialty drinks, such as Malt & Appelsín, a huge favorite of Icelanders around Christmastime. But if you’re feeling especially daring, you might try the “old Icelandic food”, commonly referred to as Þorramatur, or the food of Þorri. Centuries ago, Icelanders would get very creative about how to preserve their food, and fermentation became the name of the game. Kæstur hákarl, or fermented shark, is a common thing to try, washed down with a shot of brennivín. The smell is worse than the taste, but for other foods they’re about even – such as kæst skata, fermented skate, a commonly eaten dish on December 23rd. One bite of that and you’ll instantly be transformed into a Viking.*

Winter activities in Reykjavik - try the food!

Þorramatur – an acquired taste

Summers are for exploring – but winters are for experiencing. Visiting Reykjavík at the coldest time of year is unforgettable, and there is just so much to do that will keep you busy and create memories that will last a lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, Iceland is best experienced in both summer and winter – so if you can’t move here permanently, then definitely plan to visit at least twice for the full Icelandic package. Góða ferð!

*Disclaimer: Neither I nor Special Tours are responsible for any sudden desires to raid villages after this point.


Jonathan Rempel
Instagram: @jon.rempel
Special Tours Head Guide

There are plenty of ways to get around for a little Reykjavik sightseeing these days. You can rent a car, take a taxi, use the Strætó public bus system, take an electric scooter, or of course just explore the city by foot. But another option, perhaps familiar to seasoned travellers in other countries, is the City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off, operated by Reykjavík Excursions.

The tour runs daily all year round, and stops at 16 popular destinations around the city. Along the way you can listen to audio commentary in 8 languages thanks to their complimentary earphones. But there are so many stops – which ones do you choose? In order to make your choice a little easier, we’ve narrowed down our top 5 favorite stops on the Hop On Hop Off bus around Reykjavik.

The Old Harbour

Maybe we’re biased about this one, because this is where we call home! The Old Harbour as we know it today was largely built in the early 1900s, and for more than a century its primary purpose has mainly been to service fishing vessels. But in recent years the area has been completely transformed into a hip and bustling place. Cafés like Reykjavik Röst, restaurants, shopping, and plenty of whale watching and northern lights boat tour departures make it lively. Plus, you can’t beat the views over Kollafjörður and Mount Esja – the perfect backdrop to a city stroll when doing Reykjavik sightseeing!


Reykjavik Sightseeing - Old Harbour

The Old Harbour of Reykjavík on a beautiful day


Whales of Iceland & FlyOver Iceland

This stop drops you off right in the heart of Grandi, Reykjavik’s trendy harbour district. Whales of Iceland, Europe’s largest whale museum, is not to be missed for any nature lover. This unique museum features life-sized models of 23 different types of whales, an accompanying audio guide with an impressive selection of 16 languages, interactive exhibits, a fabulous documentary theatre, and more. And just around the corner is FlyOver Iceland, an amazing virtual experience ride that allows you to, well, fly over Iceland! Plus, new for winter 2022 is the Lava Show, just a few doors down. It allows you to experience real lava in a safe and controlled indoor environment, totally unique in the world.


Reykjavik Sightseeing - Whales of Iceland

Seeing life-size whale models is a surprising, immersive experience


Perlan is a beautiful building with a large glass dome built atop six water tanks. Each tank can hold up to 4 million liters of hot water for Reykjavik residents. But it also houses several exhibitions, one of which features an actual indoor ice cave. Don’t skip the coats they give out before you go in – you’ll need it, as they built the ice cave using over 350 tons of snow from Icelandic mountains! There’s also a new, state-of-the-art planetarium which shows beautiful footage of the northern lights in an exclusive show called Áróra. And don’t forget about the observation deck, which features some of the best views anywhere in city. Perfect for planning the rest of your Reykjavik sightseeing!


Reykjavik Sightseeing - Perlan Museum

Perlan is a great half-day stop – great for a rainy day – with several informative and immersive exhibitions


Speaking of views, we can’t have a list of the top 5 stops without Hallgrímskirkja. This Lutheran church is the largest church in Iceland, at nearly 75 meters tall. It took 41 years to build it, with construction completed in 1986. The church gets its name from the famous Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson. Its beautiful architecture is meant to evoke the basalt columns which can be found throughout Iceland. Like Perlan, there is also an observation deck here that’s not to be missed, as it provides incredible views over the downtown area. This area also serves as a great launching point for your Reykjavik sightseeing and exploration, with loads of restaurants, shopping, cafés, bars, and much more. Definitely make this one of your stops!


Reykjavik Sightseeing - Hallgrímskirkja

One of the most distinctive landmarks in the city, Hallgrímskirkja is an impressive building

National Museum of Iceland

If you only have time for one history museum while you’re in Iceland, make it this one. This museum’s amazing collection stretches across more than 1000 years of local history, and is highlighted by the permanent exhibition “Making of a Nation”. It also happens to be located right next door to the University of Iceland, the country’s oldest and largest institution of higher learning. A stroll through the campus (and attached wetlands) provides for a unique perspective on the world’s most northerly capital city.


Reykjavik Sightseeing - National Museum of Iceland

The National Museum of Iceland houses several exhibitions, the permanent one being the most comprehensive about settlement in Iceland


These are just some recommendations on where to stop – but all of the stops are worth visiting, if you find the time of course. No matter where you visit during your Reykjavik sightseeing, you’re sure to go back home with memorable experiences of our unique little city!

Written by Jonathan Rempel.

Are you wondering what to do in Reykjavík on a rainy or snowy day? Looking to explore a less touristy part of the city? You’ll find it worth your time to head out to Grandi, just next to the Old Harbour, an area of the city you might normally not think about twice. As a tourist in a new place, it would never cross my mind that a place with huge hangars and industrial vibes would turn out to hide such gems. Here are our best places to visit at the Reykjavik Old Harbour.

Once an area whose only purpose was to house the fish processing plants and shipyards, today Grandi at the Old Harbour is a haven for Iceland aficionados that want to learn more about the island’s natural wonders and have fun while doing so. Let’s not forget about the many foodie-approved places, so this truly is a place where everybody can find something interesting.


Best places to visit at the Reykjavik Old Harbour

People walking in Grandi disctrict, Old Harbour, Reykjavík. (Photo: visitreykjavik.is)


If you are like me and can never get enough of whales even if you see them live on the open seas, then the Whales of Iceland museum is for you. Marvel at the life-sized replicas of whales and dolphins encountered in Icelandic coastal waters. Prepare to feel dwarfed and humbled, while learning more about them with the help of an audio guide or a very knowledgeable live human guide.


Best places to visit at the Reykjavik Old Harbour

Life-size whale exhibits at Whales of Iceland museum


Missed the latest volcanic eruption of Meradalir? No need to worry, Lava Show has got you covered. Witness real live molten rock being poured in front of your very eyes while an educated guide tells you all you need to know about what happens during a real outburst of lava.

If you are visiting Iceland in winter, then it’s safe to assume that you’re a member of Team Northern Lights! Even when hanging around the Old Harbour, you can get close to the amazing lights! We all love to learn about the topic of our fascination and for that purpose Aurora Reykjavík has what you need. They’ll tell all you need to know about this incredible celestial phenomenon. Hot tip: VR experience and coffee included! Another hot tip: Great in combination with a northern lights tour by boat!

Not afraid of heights? Brilliant! The experience of flying above some of Iceland’s less know breathtaking landscapes will leave you breathless. FlyOver Iceland invites you aboard a simulator that gives you the feeling of being able to fly! Bring a hoodie with you, there can be a lot of mist in the clouds.


Best places to visit at the Reykjavik Old Harbour

Visitors having a thrill ride at FlyOver Iceland


I bet all the excitement will have made you hungry. Time to hit one (or more) of the places that offer delicious food! The first and obvious choice is the Grandi Mathöll (Grandi food court) where you can choose between Korean street food, sushi, pasta, Indian and of course Icelandic dishes. Those of you that are used to Mediterranean culinary standards and are skeptical about Nordic pizza will be pleasantly surprised after tasting Flatey Pizza‘s festival of doughy goodness.

Further along the same street, there’s Luna Flórens, where you can chill with a coffee and cake in a cozy atmosphere. Now for some dessert! At Valdís you will not only be happy because icecream(!), but you’ll also be one step closer to becoming a true Icelander that enjoys their frozen treat when and where it makes sense the most – during winter!

Who knew a day at a fish processing area could be so culturally and gastronomically uplifting! 😊

Written by Lucas Heinrich

Welcome to Iceland. Thanks to the airlines cheap flight incentives, this Nordic capital has boomed in the last few years. Located not too far from the Silfra rift, where the North American and European continental plates meet. Where in winter you can take in the spectacular Northern Lights or the Midnight Sun. Well, most of the time. As anyone who has spent any amount of time here can tell you the weather can be quite cupreous indeed. Going from clear skies to gale force winds and rain that appears to fall sideways in a few minutes. Fortunately, there are plenty of refuges to escape the weather.

rainy day in Reykjavik

Whale museum in Reykjavik

If you can’t go out on the water, why not go under it? Figuratively at least. At Whales of Iceland we have 23 life sized models of whales, dolphins and porpoises which can be seen in Icelandic waters. All the whales are to scale and based off of specific individuals, including Keiko. The whale featured in the film Free Willy that was released from captivity into Iceland in 2002. The admission includes an audio guide in 12 different languages as well as daily live guided tour in English at 10:30 and 14:00 by our expert staff.

While you’re drying off, make sure to check out our café that´s operated in conjunction with Reykjavik Röst. Where you can take in the ambience of our simulated underwater setting while having a coffee, beer or wine or a nice pastry of your choosing.

Twice daily, at 11 and 14:30 we screen the Emmy award winning documentary Sonic Sea. Narrated by Rachel McAdams, the documentary talks about the threats facing whales such as sonar, seismic activity and shipping boats and what we can do to prevent it. Featuring stellar underwater photography and interviews with top marine biologists such as Jean-Michel Cousteau, Sylvia Earle and Kenneth Balcomb, the film is moving and illuminates this little known threat facing whales.

rainy day in Reykjavik

Do you want to Fly over Iceland?

Right next door to us is FlyOver Iceland. What better way to experience the diverse sites of Iceland on a rainy day than in a state of the art ride that features some of the most spell binding aerial footage of Iceland ever recorded. From its vast majestic glaciers, to the windswept highlands, to Þrídrangaviti the world´s most remote lighthouse, Flyover Iceland captures and distills this country’s various sites.

rainy day in Reykjavik

Are you a Viking? Check out the Viking museum in Reykjavik

If you´re into Viking history or the Settlement Period here in Iceland than the Saga Museum is not to be missed. Created by Ernst Backman, the Saga Museum takes you through Iceland´s discovery by the Vikings in the 9th century all the way through to the Reformation in the 1500´s. Inside you will meet the personages that forged Iceland´s history from Leif Erikson to Egil Skallagrímsson brought to life in exquisitely carved silicon figures that will make you believe you are amongst the Vikings.

rainy day in Reykjavik

What to do in the Grandi area?

If you´re in the mood for shopping, the Granda Area (of which Whales of Iceland is located), has become home to some of Reykjavik´s most dynamic and eclectic boutiques. Pop in and maybe find that perfect lopapeysa (Icelandic wool sweater) or avant-garde jumper and necklace. If you´re in the mood for a proper meal there is also Kaffivaginn (Iceland´s oldest restaurant), the scrumptious breakfast cafe Cukoo´s Nest or the Grandi Mathöll where you can choose from over 8 different food booths. Check out this Reykjavík travel guide for more information:

Get more ideas on what to do on the <a href=” https://www.kayak.co.uk/Reykjavik.11024.guide> Reykjavik Travel Guide</a>.

rainy day in Reykjavik

Winter is a beautiful time of year to visit Iceland. Although the weather may be chilly and blustery, and the daylight hours may be short, the snowy landscape illuminated in golden light by the sun hanging low in the sky is unforgettable. Try to get out into the countryside and see as much as you can – I think you haven’t truly experienced the raw Icelandic landscape unless you’ve seen it both in summer and in winter! But if the weather doesn’t permit leaving town, or if you’d just rather spend a day in the world’s northernmost capital city, then there’s plenty to do to keep busy.

Whales of Iceland

How to Spend a Winter Day in Reykjavik

The Whales of Iceland museum is located in the up-and-coming Grandi harbor district, just a 15 minute walk from the downtown area. They have life-sized models of every type of whale, dolphin, and porpoise ever spotted in the waters around Iceland, adding up to 23 species in total. The place has been decorated to look, feel, and sound like an underwater scene, so walking around there is a very soothing and immersive experience. But it’s also very educational, as admission includes an audio guide available in 10 languages. If you can, try to hop onto one of their live guided tours, offered at 10:30am and 1:30pm every day.

A new addition from this past summer is what they call the Fin Whale Room, named appropriately for the huge fin whale model found inside. It contains exhibits focusing on the conservation of whales and what we can do to help them, and a giant 8-meter screen shows beautiful whale footage throughout the day. There are also twice daily screenings of the documentary Sonic Sea in that room, also included with admission, at 11:00am and 3:30pm.

Their Big Little Whale Café, open throughout the day, has a nice variety of pastries and hot and cold drinks to fuel up for your next adventure.


FlyOver Iceland

How to Spend a Winter Day in Reykjavik

FlyOver Iceland is a brand-new attraction that just opened this summer, also in Grandi and just around the corner from Whales of Iceland. It’s a flight ride simulation which straps you in and gives you the feeling of soaring over many of Iceland’s natural wonders and incredible scenery. A visit to FlyOver Iceland starts with two mesmerizing exhibits, one called The Longhouse where a grizzled storyteller introduces you to Icelandic culture, and another called The Well of Time where the resident troll Sú Vitra leads you on an amazing journey through Iceland’s storied history.

The flight ride itself is unforgettable – it makes use of a 20-meter wraparound screen, full motion seating, sounds, wind, mist, and even scents to make the experience 100% immersive. The ride starts every 15-20 minutes or so, making it easy to add to a busy schedule!



How to Spend a Winter Day in Reykjavik

Perlan is a beautiful building with a large glass dome built atop six water tanks, each of which can hold up to 4 million liters of hot water for the residents of Reykjavík. It’s located a bit outside the downtown area, in a wooded area on the hill Öskjuhlíð. The main attraction there is Wonders of Iceland, a fantastic series of exhibits self-described as a “nature exploratorium.” If you’re interested in Icelandic nature, then this is a fantastic way to learn all about it while still staying out of the weather.

The Glaciers and Ice Cave exhibit teaches you about Iceland’s inspiring glaciers, with the main attraction here being an actual 100-meter long indoor ice cave, built with over 350 tons of snow from Icelandic mountains!

The new Látrabjarg Cliff is a realistic replica of the largest seabird cliff in Europe. At this exhibit, you can learn all about the area and the beautiful birds that nest there, including Atlantic puffins, razorbills, guillemots, and northern fulmars, using special augmented-reality viewers.

Forces of Nature teaches you about the geological wonders of Iceland, including volcanoes, plate tectonics and earthquakes, and of course geothermal energy, which provides 66% of Iceland’s primary energy use!

The planetarium at Perlan is the only one of its kind in Iceland, and throughout the day it shows beautiful footage of the Northern Lights in an exclusive show called Áróra.

After checking out the exhibits, don’t forget to step outside onto the observation deck, where you can get amazing views over the Reykjavík area!


Dinner at Kopar

How to Spend a Winter Day in Reykjavik

After a day of exploring Reykjavík’s most amazing attractions, you’ll surely have worked up quite the appetite, so it’ll be time to find some delicious local food to fill up with! For dinner in the downtown area, I can recommend Kopar, an excellent restaurant in the middle of the Old Harbor. The décor and cozy atmosphere, together with amazing views over the harbor area, make it a perfect place for dinner on a cold day. Kopar serves up inspired Icelandic dishes, with lamb, fish, and seafood all on offer. I highly recommend checking out their Adventure Menu, an 8-course meal with a fantastic variety of foods from across their menu. Just make sure you arrive very hungry – you won’t want to leave a single bite behind!


Northern Lights by Boat

How to Spend a Winter Day in Reykjavik

As the air cools down in the evenings, the wind tends to calm down as well. After dinner, if you want to hunt for one of the most fantastic wonders of nature for yourself, you can sail with Special Tours on one of our Northern Lights by Boat tours! Aboard our comfortable boats, it only takes about 20 minutes to sail away from the light pollution of Reykjavík into the fjord of Kollafjörður. Unlike on bus tours, you’re free to move around whenever you wish, whether to keep warm inside, visit our fully-stocked cafeteria, or use the restrooms. We also provide free warm overalls to use during the tour, which make a huge difference! We check the forecast carefully every day, and we only sail out when there is a solid chance of seeing the aurora borealis – but just in case the Northern Lights don’t make an appearance, you receive a free ticket to try again whenever you want.

Get more ideas on what to do on the Reykjavik Travel Guide.

Visiting Reykjavík in December is an experience you don’t want to miss! Below are some ideas to make the most out of your December trip to Reykjavík.


  1. Walking Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur

Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur are the main shopping streets in Reykjavík. While you walk around taking in the city’s radiance it is well worth giving these streets a visit. Around this time the city is starting to take on its beautiful Christmas form with decorations, Christmas lights and a contagious atmosphere which is reflected on the streets and in stores and restaurants. Grab a hot chocolate and enjoy while looking at the many shops and restaurants that these streets have to offer.


Photo1 by Sölvi Logason on Unsplash
Photo2 by Evelyn Paris on Unsplash


  1. Reykjavík Röst

If you need to warm up after your walk, then Reykjavík Röst is a great option!

Reykjavík Röst is a coffee house/bar in the Old Harbour in Reykjavík and was opened in the summer of 2017. They pride themselves on their quality coffee and homemade grilled sandwiches on sourdough bread. They also have vegan options; the soup is always vegan as is one of their sandwiches. Their hot chocolate is made with real chocolate and steamed milk + whipped cream and some cocoa & cinnamon powder. They have four different beers on tap, a full bar, bar snacks and platters in the evening with an amazing harbour view. It’s the perfect place to sit down, enjoy great views over the harbour and Reykjavík´s surrounding mountains while sipping on a hot or cold beverage.


Photos by Ragnar TH


  1. Northern Lights

December is a great month if you want to try your luck hunting for the Northern Lights. Escaping the light pollution from the city is a must when hunting for the Northern Lights. Our favorite Northern Lights tour to join is the Northern Lights by Boat tour from Reykjavik’s Old Harbour, but of course we are a bit biased. Seeing the colorful auroras dancing in the sky combined with a boat tour is a spectacular adventure and a great way to end your day! It can be cold, but no worries – you will be provided with warm overalls and there is a café/bar on board, so you can grab a hot coffee or chocolate while enjoying the beautiful aurora view. Make sure to check out our post regarding all the things to know before your Northern Lights by Boat adventure to maximize your experience.



  1. Seeing the city view from Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja church is one of the best viewing spots in the Reykjavik area, especially when the Christmas season is in full swing. The beauty of the lights combined with the white snow will truly raise your holiday spirits to another level (yes we are hoping for a white Christmas). Your perfect Reykjavik photo can be captured, and the view is just spectacular. You may even hear the church bells ring!

Photo by Wesley Gibbs on Unsplash


  1. Whale Watching

A Whale Watching trip that offers a beautiful view of Reykjavik’s Christmas glow from the sea is the perfect experience while staying in Reykjavik. You will sail out to Faxaflói Bay for your whale watching tour, and as we sail out you get a great view of Reykjavik’s shore. On the tour you will be searching for the whales of Faxaflói Bay which may be everything from dolphins and harbour porpoises to minke whales and humpback whales. Make sure to check out our articles before your tour including some tips on how to photograph whales and info about Winter Whale Watching from Reykjavik. Seeing whales in their natural habitats is such a great experience and going whale watching from Reykjavik can be just magical!


Photo by Federico Facchin


  1. Swimming pools

The Icelandic swimming pools and hot tubs are well engraved in the Icelandic culture. It’s a very typical afternoon for the inhabitants of Reykjavík to lay back and relax at the hot tub followed by a hot sauna or a swim. All of the pools are heated by Icelandic geothermal water coming from the beneath the ground. The swimming pools are a great option to warm up after a cold December day, whether you have just been walking around town or if you enjoyed a whale watching tour or a day tour from Reykjavik to the Golden Circle, West- or South coast. Here you can see some of our favorite tours and combo tours available from Reykjavik.


  1. Ice skating at Ingólfstorg square

Ice skating at the Ingólfstorg Square is a heart-warming experience in the heart of Reykjavík. The skating rink is right in the middle of the small Christmas Village at Ingólfstorg Square where you can stop by for some goods and refreshments after your Ice-Skating experience.

There is nothing more Christmassy than ice skating while listening to Christmas songs in Reykjavik’s lively downtown environment.


  1. Whales of Iceland

The Whales of Iceland museum is a great way to spend part of your day while staying in Reykjavík. Get an idea of how big these creatures are while viewing the hand painted, life-size models. Whales of Iceland is the largest whale museum in Europe, including 23 live-size species that can be found in the surrounding waters around Iceland, including their history and facts. Standing beside these full-size creatures is simply adventures and the museum is a must for those staying in Reykjavik.


Photos by Ragnar TH


  1. Bláfjöll Ski Resort

For those who like skiing, Bláfjöll Ski Resort is only a 25 minute ride from Reykjavík. The area has a variety of ski slopes to choose from for downhill skiing and snowboarding as well as tracks for cross-country skiing. Bláfjöll is a fun and an enjoyable day trip for individuals, couples, friends and families from Reykjavík


  1. Ice Cream

Despite the cold winters here in Iceland, it is a well-known fact that Icelanders love ice cream. Every night long lines from in front of ice cream shops, and it’s no coincidence since we have plenty of high standard ice cream shops in the Reykjavik area. If you’re too hot after your hot chocolate or simply want to see what’s the fuss is about, then we recommend getting an ice cream no matter the weather!


And one extra in case you are planning to stay in Reykjavík on New Years eve

If you are planning to stay over the New Years we highly recommend that you check out the New Years Fireworks cruise with Special Tours Wildlife Adventures. Reykjavik is world famous for it´s crazy fireworks display where each family purchases their own fireworks and bring them to the streets around midnight to fire them up and then the best place to be is out at sea so you can see the whole panoramic view of one of the most crazy and spectacular fireworks display in the world.

Photos from 2017-2018 Fireworks Cruise with Special Tours


Blog By Gunnar Kristinn Jónsson

Featured Image by Roan Lavery on Unsplash