One Day in Reykjavik: How to Plan Your Iceland Layover

Many people visit Iceland for its natural wonders and bucket list experiences, leaving little time for its capital city of Reykjavik. Thanks to luggage delays beyond our control on arrival at Keflavik Airport, we had even less time to spend there than the one day in Reykjavik already planned.

While I have some regrets not giving the city a bit more time in our planning, there is still much to be said about making the most out of a day in Reykjavik.

Despite popular beliefs, it doesn’t have to be all that expensive, either. Check out all of our favorite things from our own trip to Iceland’s best city.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, including links through the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I won’t recommend something I have not used/would not use myself, and any income earned supports the upkeep of this site.

Is it worth spending a day in Reykjavik?

It is definitely worth spending a day in Reykjavik. If 24 hours in Reykjavik is all you have, dive right in as soon as you land to experience the city’s vibrant cultural scene, unique architecture, and Icelandic cuisine.

A view from above of the city of Reykjavik during one day in Reykjavik

How do you spend the day in Reykjavik?

You can spend the day in Reykjavik like this:

  • Grab cinnamon buns at Brauð & Co.
  • See the best views of the city at Hallgrímskirkja.
  • Tour the free sculpture garden at the Einar Jónsson Museum.
  • Stroll Laugavegur Street.
  • Snack on the best hot dogs in town at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.
  • Walk the Old Harbour and admire the Harpa concert hall.
  • Snap a photo of the Sun Voyager.
  • Eat bread bowl soup at Svarta Kaffid.
  • Order a round at the Lebowski Bar.

One Day in Reykjavik

The plan below uses all available daylight to explore the city on a proper Reykjavik itinerary. If you go in the fall or winter months, daylight is precious. (We were here in November over the American Thanksgiving holiday.)

If you encounter luggage troubles as we did or arrive in Iceland on a very early flight, an alternative option is to start your day on a Blue Lagoon day trip from Reykjavik to relax your body and your mind the Icelandic way.

How far is the Blue Lagoon from Reykjavik’s city center? The Blue Lagoon is about 40 minutes southwest of Reykjavik’s city center. There are buses that will take you straight from the airport to the lagoon, or you can self-drive as we did. It’s one of the easier day trips from Reykjavik.

Note: If you are driving, pay attention to the zones you’re parking in. Downtown Reykjavik is composed of four parking zones that vary in price. Parking is typically free on public holidays, Sundays and after 6pm; otherwise, you’ll see parking ticket machines curb-side. Always check available signage before leaving your car in a spot, as the parking enforcers in Reykjavik do not mess around.

These notes aside, go ahead and wrap that muffler around your face and hit the pavement, people. You’ve got a city to see! Interested in a visual of this itinerary? Check out the map below:

GIMME MY ONE DAY IN REYKJAVIK MAP!

Stop 1: Breakfast

The interior of Brauð & Co during one day in Reykjavik
Photo courtesy of Brauð & Co.

I’m usually not a breakfast person. Something happens to me on vacation where I want to eat everything in sight, including bright and early.

I think it has to do somewhat with not wanting to miss out on anything, and that often involves not wanting to miss out on all the delicious things there are to eat when you’re in a new place.

If you’re the same or just want to try the best snúður, or cinnamon buns, in town, make your way over to Brauð & Co on Frakkastigur.

There’s a line sometimes, but my traveling friend tells me that only makes things better. (“If no one’s there waiting, how do you know it’s good?” she says.) Get there bright and early for the best goodies. 

Another popular option is the Sandholt Bakery, which boasts some historical heft as a fourth-generation family bakery. This one has a bit more to offer in terms of menu options if you’re not only after pastries.

Stop 2: Hallgrímskirkja

The exterior of Hallgrímskirkja during one day in Reykjavik

Bellies full of sweet (or savory) treats, let’s begin our Reykjavik walking tour at Hallgrímskirkja.

The outside, and frankly inside, of this church isn’t as church-like as you’d expect for a major European city. Give it a chance.

Fun fact: The harsh exterior is actually meant to represent Iceland’s volcanic origins. It was the last work from Iceland architect Guðjón Samúelsson.

The statue in front is of Leifur Eiríksson, or Leif Eriksson to us Americans. He was apparently the first European to happen across America.

The real goods at this spot, though, are up an elevator. Buying a ticket to the top of the church tower will give you panoramic views overlooking all of Reykjavik, including the Village of Grjóti, the city’s oldest neighborhood.

To be honest, if you’re not there for the tower, you’ve made a terrible mistake. Be sure to check the church’s operating hours, as they do close from time to time for services.

A man looks out on scenic Iceland during one day in Reykjavik.

Stop 3: Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden

Next door to the Hallgrímskirkja church, this FREE sculpture garden is part of the Einar Jónsson Museum. I can’t speak to whether the museum is worth your pennies, but the garden is a good way to introduce yourself to Jónsson, Iceland’s first sculptor.

The 26 sculptures are bronze casts of his work, and some of the pieces are quite moving.

I’m not even being facetious. It’s a worthwhile stop on any Iceland itinerary, as you’ll be visiting the church anyway. The garden is open year-round, 24 hours/day.

Check online for museum times if you’d like to extend things into an artsy afternoon.

Stop 4: Laugavegur Street

Santas in Old Town during one day in Reykjavik

Laugavegur is Reykjavik’s main shopping street, the old town, and ground zero for all of your tchotchke needs.

I don’t usually shop much on vacation, as I don’t shop much in real life and want to save space in the carry-on, but there’s something to be said about weird window displays during the holiday season. The Santa second from the left in the photo above looks so suspicious!

The one thing I did bring home from the Laugavegur shopping street was a pair of Icelandic wool gloves at the request of a friend of mine. The gift envy was real with that one, as they were as soft as a newborn lamb, but they made it to the appropriate hands.

Take some time to stroll a bit around the main drag and downtown Reykjavik, as the city centre rewards walking explorers with colorful murals and street art.

Many of the artists are women, by the way, which fits my mantra when times get rough around here that the future is female.

Stop 5: Snack/Lunch Time

Depending on how aggressively you did up breakfast, you may only have room for a sausage for your mid-afternoon treat. I find that there’s always room for sausages, frankly. 

Keep in mind that Iceland is expensive. In fact, this city is one of the most expensive cities I’ve visited, and even the street sausages will set you back at least 15 USD.

Remind yourself that you’re on a remote island out here and it can cost hard to play hard.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is a chain of hot dog stands that literally mean “best hot dogs in town.” I’m not going to argue. They were delicious.

A woman eats a hot dog during one day in Reykjavik.

There are several stands around town, some with extended hours, but they’re all open during traditional lunch and dinner times. Check their site for additional details on hours if you’re looking for a midnight snack at a particular location.

If you want a beer with your sausage, visit the MicroBar nearby, a trendy place to try the best of Icelandic craft beers. An optimal way to try a variety is the mega-flight, which involves trying all of the local beers in one sitting.

There will be more walking involved after said mega-flight, so you’ve been warned if that’s the choice you made.

Stop 6: Harpa

The Harpa concert hall during one day in Reykjavik

Walk off that sausage (and mega-beers) with a stroll around the Old Harbour.

Start at the Harpa concert hall, home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera. If you go inside, you can enjoy the view from the top floor of the surrounding bay and distant mountains.

The view from the outside of the hall is striking, as well, and reminiscent of the harsh lines of the Hallgrímskirkja.

Note: If you had the mega-flight, you may have already forgotten that, but it was the church from earlier.

Stop 7: Sun Voyager

The Sun Voyager during one day in Reykjavik

Continue walking down the seawall and you’ll be able to find the Solfar Sculpture, or the Sun Voyager. The sculpture from Jón Gunnar Árnason is meant to represent a dreamboat.

I’m not talking about the Chris Hemsworth kind, but the kind that sails in the hope of following one’s dreams, whatever that may be.

I guess that could be the Chris Hemsworth kind in that sense.

It’s a quintessential spot in the city, and a great place to take sunset photos. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately depending on your timing, sunsets come a lot quicker in the winter months. The skies are often murky, but I think that makes it seem that much more mysterious.

If you have the time, you have some additional options for harbor-side activities. The Reykjavík Maritime Museum is found alongside the western harbor as you walk from the Harpa Conference and Concert Center, in the opposite direction of the Solfar.

The museum has been open since 2005 as part of a revitalization project of the western harbor. It features more than 150 years of fisheries history, including the history of the “Cod Wars.” That’s not a typo.

Optional Stop 8: The Icelandic Phallological Museum

Our delayed luggage situation forced a Costco run in the middle of our itinerary, so we missed out on a potential gem with the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Unfortunately, we had a timed date with Thingvellir National Park and the rest of our Iceland road trip.

Fun fact: They have 280 specimens, for Pete’s sake.

Stop 9: Dinner

A woman turns her bread bowl soup into a hat during one day in Reykjavik.

We wanted nothing more after a day out in the chill than some soup. The best container for soup is a bread bowl, so imagine our glee when we were able to get into Svarta Kaffid, Reykjavik’s bread bowl paradise.

Your choices there are a vegetarian or a meat option, and you will be full after just one portion of soup, no matter what your eyes tell you when you walk in.

This place is family-owned, casual, and a bit too small for how delicious it is, so expect a wait if you’re there at peak dinner times. The close quarters just make things cozier, too. There’s beer, too, if you’re into that.

Stop 10: Lebowski Bar

Drinks at the Lebowski Bar during one day in Reykjavik

Don’t go to bed yet! You need a White Russian to help you sleep better, probably.

The Lebowski Bar may have been a trap targeting American men who want more reason to spend their days in bath robes, but if falling into this trap is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: a Big Lebowski-themed bar.

I wouldn’t eat here based on the reviews, but their cocktail menu boasts 20 different kinds of White Russians, and we had no complaints about those.

Cue the Banana Russian (vodka, Kahlúa, banana liqueur, cream, and chocolate syrup) and the Tree Hugger (vodka, Kahlúa, soy milk and hazelnut syrup). Names aside, they sound pretty good, right? They have other kinds of adult beverages, too, but really, why would you drink those?

One Day in Reykjavik Tours

If you’d rather someone else did the planning for you, book a one-day tour in Reykjavik, Iceland. Here are a few highly-rated options for you:

A one-day Golden Circle tour is also possible. If you’re interested in something like that and have the time, check out the guided tours below:

With More Than One Day in Reykjavik

A harbor in Reykjavik during one day in Reykjavik

We definitely felt there were some stones left unturned on our Reykjavik one-day itinerary. There are all kinds of alternatives available for you as you plan how to spend a day in Reykjavik.

Here are a few things we’d love to return to on a repeat visit:

  • FlyOver Iceland: If you’re not able to get out of the city to explore some of the most bucket listy Iceland attractions, this interactive experience allows you to get as close as possible to the real thing.
  • National Museum of Iceland: For more of a historical perspective on your Reykjavik trip, visit a museum that gives you an overview of the city’s Viking beginnings.
  • Perlan: This domed nature museum also goes by Wonders of Iceland. The point here is to interact with Iceland’s natural wonders, so expect to do things like walk through ice tunnels.
  • Rainbow Street: We were jet-lagged and barely noticed the colorful Skólavörðustígur Street, painted as such for the city’s annual Pride events. The missed Instagram potential haunts me every day.
  • The Settlement Exhibition: This exhibition in the middle of the city is a blend of modern technology and Reykjavik’s Viking origins. You can see the ruins of one of the first homes in Iceland on your trip below the city.
  • Whales of Iceland: Visit the largest whale museum in Europe at Whales of Iceland. The biggest feature is the life-sized whale models of more than 20 different species.

1 Day in Reykjavik FAQs

Can you do Iceland in one day?

You can do Iceland in one day if you stick to Reykjavik, the country’s capital. You can spend one day walking around this magical town if that’s all you have time for on a European layover. You could even pull off a half-day in Reykjavik if you need to, although you’ll definitely want to come back in that case.

You’ll want additional days built into your Iceland itinerary for a potential Northern Lights tour, Iceland’s waterfalls, and more.

Is Reykjavik a walkable city?

Reykjavik is a very walkable city, particularly if you’re focused on downtown Reykjavik. Walking is a great way to get to know the city as you tick off what to do in Reykjavik for a day.

Is it safe to walk around Reykjavik at night?

It is generally safe to walk around Reykjavik at night. Iceland overall has low crime rates, and violent crime is rare. It’s always a good idea to practice basic precautions no matter where you are, though.

That means avoiding poorly lit areas, being aware of your surroundings, and not flashing valuables.

What are the best day trips from Reykjavik, Iceland?

The best day trips from Reykjavik, Iceland, are the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. If you have time for an Iceland road trip, you can tackle some of the best Iceland attractions in a more leisurely fashion.

What are the best times of year to visit Reykjavik?

The best times of year to visit Reykjavik depend on what you’d like to do while you’re there. The summer months promise warmer temperatures, more opportunities for outdoor adventure, and midnight sun.

We visited in November and found Reykjavik weather to be quite mild. Temperatures outside of the city weren’t even low enough for visiting Iceland’s scenic ice caves.

Is one day in Reykjavik enough?

One day in Reykjavik is enough if you have a full day to explore the city. While Reykjavik is a great base for adventures just outside of the city, it’s definitely worth your time as a Reykjavik city break on Iceland adventures.

I know we’d love to return on a longer trip to see all that has changed in Reykjavik and have some more of that bread bowl soup.

Ready for Your One-Day Reykjavik Itinerary?

Your Flight: I use a variety of tools to find cheap airfare, but when I’m looking to book during a particular period of time, I’ll use Skyscanner.

It’s a great tool for when you’re more flexible, too, as it allows you to compare travel based on length of travel, departure date, etc. Deals to Iceland have been happening quite often, especially if you’re looking for layovers that promise Reykjavik in a day.

For adventurous folks who travel on the reg, I also subscribe to Going, formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights. You’ll get cheap flight deals from your home base straight to your inbox.

Your Accommodations: We primarily used Booking.com for our trip to Iceland for the cheapest rates. They have a good range of lodging options from Reykjavik to the middle of nowhere. Hotels.com is a good comparison tool, and Vrbo is our go-to Airbnb alternative.

We stayed at the Thor Guesthouse on our trip to Reykjavik, and would highly recommend you do the same as it’s one of the more affordable hotels in Reykjavik.

For additional, well-reviewed accommodation options elsewhere in Iceland, check out my post on the best places to stay in Iceland.

Seeking even more wallet-friendly accommodations? Try Hostelworld. Their picks are heavily vetted and reviewed to offer you a safe experience on a budget.

Etc.: For general travel goodies, visit my Favorite Things page. Need more travel tips? Check out my Travel Tools page.

Love this guide to things to see in Reykjavik in one day? Pin me!

Pinterest: How to plan one day in Reykjavik, Iceland

Traveling elsewhere in Europe? Check out these guides:

Want to see more?

Subscribe to my biweekly newsletter for hot travel tips I come across, weird stories you won’t see elsewhere and perhaps lifelong friendship.

Too much, or just enough?

Photo of author

Agnes Groonwald

Agnes Groonwald is the creator of Travel on the Reg, a travel/humor blog for regular people who travel in a regular fashion. She has been to 50/50 U.S. states and explored 30+ countries, most often as a digital nomad. She's all about sharing the honest truth about travel, real experiences, and all the quirky stuff about her favorite (and not so favorite) places.

2 thoughts on “One Day in Reykjavik: How to Plan Your Iceland Layover”

  1. We love your content. Regards from Pissouri Bay Divers from Cyprus!

Comments are closed.