Things to do in Reykjavik in Winter + Travel Tips

WHAT TO DO IN WINTER IN REYKJAVIK

Reykjavik in winter is a great time to visit – Iceland is magical and Reykjavik is a great place to base yourself. From there you can easily do some fun day trips and explore other parts of the country.

Reykjavik in winter is interesting. So, plan in some time for Iceland´s capital and check out these unique things to do in Reykjavik in winter. Some of the activities mentioned here can also be done in the summer months.

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TIPS FOR VISITING REYKJAVIK IN WINTER

This post is about what to do in Reykjavik in winter – including some travel tips for your trip.

Weather in Reykjavik in Winter

Reykjavik in winter is not perfection. I actually struggled quite a bit. Especially the weather was a problem for me – and I do not mean that it was cold.

  • Reykjavik is quite rainy in the winter months. I stayed 12 nights in Reykjavik and it rained on – probably – 6 or 7 out of 12 days. So, keep that in mind.
  • Apart from the rain, winter in Reykjavik is not as bad as you might think. Temperatures are similar to Central Europe – often ranging between 3° / -2° degrees Celsius. Not too old, I´d say.
  • Snow in Reykjavik is common, though it doesn’t stay for long. To experience winter wonderland, I highly suggest doing a few day trips from Reykjavik.
  • Also, the days are extremely short in the winter months. You only have 4-5 hours of daylight. This was my main problem with visiting Reykjavik in winter. It is not really weather related but I still want to mention it here.

How to Get Around in Winter

  • Public transportation in Reykjavik is okay. It is just okay if you want to use it for a few stops. I used it a few times to get around but mostly I walked to most attractions. 
  • Though public transportation is not great, you can explore many places via guided tours. If you book guided tours, you normally will be picked up from your hotel or from a pick-up station near your hotel.
  • So, renting a car is not essential for the winter months. However, if you rent one you can quite easily get around via car. Driving in Reykjavik in winter is better than driving in other parts of Iceland. If you rent a car and plan to visit areas outside of Reykjavik, be aware that driving can be quite tricky and dangerous if you are not used to these bad weather conditions with a lot of snow and ice (especially in the Northern parts or the Highlands).

BEST THINGS TO DO IN REYKJAVIK IN WINTER

It is time to talk about the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter – check out what to do in December, January, or February.

Experience Flyover Iceland

Let´s start with one of my favorite activities in Reykjavik.

Flyover Iceland is so much more than a 4D movie. It’s a passion project that celebrates the unique beauty of Iceland and its history. 

In the simulation, you’ll fly over Iceland’s mountainous landscape and rough coastline, feeling the wind in your hair, and the twists and turns. It was designed to feel like mankind’s greatest dream fulfilled; to feel like you’re flying. With over 200 hours of aerial videography, and years of work put into it, I’d say it was successful! 

You’ll also learn about how Iceland was formed, its long history, and Icelandic culture. So not only is it a great deal of fun – but you’ll also go away with a much better understanding of your surroundings and the Icelandic people.

It was one of my most favorite activities – it made me feel happy. I was excited and fell in love before I had seen much of Iceland in real life. However, some other people I talked to criticized the short movie and the quite high price. The “flight” is just 10 minutes – the rest of the time you´ll watch short movies and get some information. Not really spectacular – but the flight was great! For me, it was worth the money.

Also, this is the perfect thing to do on a very cold day in Reykjavik in winter as it is indoors (once you book your tickets, email them and agree on a time slot). Check out prices and more here.

Marvel at Hallgrímskirkja Church

A trip to Reykjavik would be incomplete without a visit to its most recognizable building – Hallgrimskirkja Church.

HALLGRÍMSKIRKJA CHURCH in winter one of the top things to do in Reykjavik
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This Lutheran parish church is one of the tallest buildings in the whole country. It’s striking and unusual, totally different from churches you’ll find anywhere else in the world.  

The church has a truly massive organ and an austerely beautiful interior. Be sure to venture in for the full experience, and admire the immense effort put into this structure.

View from HALLGRÍMSKIRKJA CHURCH in Reykajvik in winter
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From here, you also have some of the best views in Reykjavik from the church tower.

  • Entry to the church is free.
  • To get to the church tower, there is an entry fee of 1000 ISK (around 7€). You can buy the tickets at the church. No worries, you do not have to climb all the stairs up but can take an elevator.
  • Opening hours: From October to April, the church opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. The tower closes at 4:30 p.m. From May to September, the church opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. The tower closes at 8:30 p.m.

Bathe in Geothermal Pools

Iceland in December and the winter months can be daunting. But the locals have been making it comfortable for a long time now. 

The country is famous for its geothermal pools. These warm outdoor pools have long since been a large part of the culture in Reykjavik. Particularly in winter when the water contrasts so strongly with the frigid air. You’ll even find locals chatting away in a rainstorm.

The geothermal pools are fed by underground hot springs. You can laze in the naturally warm waters of the main pool, before tiptoeing across to the hot tubs to luxuriate in even warmer conditions. 

When you visit, be sure to follow etiquette, and shower with soap before getting into the water. This helps them keep the pools clean with minimal chlorine.

And feel free to hop into a sauna before or after your swim, to really round out the experience. No matter the weather around you, you’ll feel snug for hours after leaving the pools. 

See the Iconic Northern Lights

Because Reykjavik is a city, it has more light pollution than the Icelandic countryside. This means you’ll see the aurora more vibrantly far outside the city, where the Northern Lights is the only thing brightening the sky.

If you’re lucky, you don’t even need to leave Reykjavik to catch a glimpse of the iconically beautiful Northern Lights. If the aurora is active and the sky is clear, you should be able to see it. HOWEVER, it is better to leave the city for better views.

Northern Lights in Iceland in winter
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If you’re trying to spot the Northern Lights within the city, head down to the coast. There’s less light pollution in this part of the city, and no buildings obstructing your view. You can simply stroll along the coast and admire the fantastical display. Alternatively, you can set sail on a 2-hour boat tour off the coast.

Even though I stayed in Iceland for about 12 nights in winter, I did not get to see the Northern Lights. Neither in Reykjavik nor when I did Northern Lights tours as they do not appear that often. I just got to see a glimpse of it but it was not what I expected or hoped for.

You can take a half day tour from Reykjavik for a better chance at this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Visit Harpa Center

One of the best things to do during Reykjavik’s winter months is to see a performance at Harpa. 

Harpa Center in Reykjavik in winter
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This unique landmark is a concert hall where you’ll see some of Iceland’s top musical performances. It is also a massive sculpture reflecting everything around it – including the gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and ocean.

Even if there are no performances during your visit to Reykjavik, Harpa Center is well worth a visit. One alternative option is to enjoy a meal at one of the Harpa restaurants, where the center’s innovation is applied to Icelandic ingredients and exciting cuisine. 

Spot Street Art

The streets of Reykjavik are full of impressive social and political commentary, as well as just fun art. The Old Harbor area boasts some of the city’s best work.

You can also find some street art in the town center.

Street art is one of the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter
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Spend a few daylight hours (between about 10 am and 4 pm) strolling through the streets and spotting as many of the artworks as you can. It’s like an outdoor museum, full of exhibitions and open to interpretation.

Go Ice Skating on Tjörnin

Ice skating on the lake is a Reykjavik tradition. It’s referred to as a pond by the locals because it’s so shallow. Thankfully, this means the water quickly freezes over in winter and can be safely enjoyed throughout the season.

If you’re not really into ice skating (read: keep falling on your butt every time you try), it’s still a lovely place to spend a few hours. You can watch locals and foreigners gliding on the ice, and even see an ice hockey or football match. 

Unfortunately, there are not any ice skate rentals around the pond, as it’s geared towards locals. So you’ll have to either bring along your own skates, or take to the ice in your boots for a clumsy but fun time. 

Reykjavik also has some lovely indoor skating rinks, where you can actually rent out ice skates. Some favorites are Egilshöll and Ice Rink Laugardalur.

See the Stars at the Perlan Planetarium

Reykjavik’s Perlan Planetarium is another fun experience. This world-class planetarium allows you to witness the Northern Lights and Iceland’s other wonders. All while snug and warm in the city.

The Perlan Planetarium show runs every hour and is thankfully in English. So you’ll have an opportunity to learn about the science behind the aurora borealis and much much more while you’re awed by the beauty.

Perlan Puffins
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Ice Cave in Perlan in Reykjavik in winter
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You can also explore a man-made indoor ice cave and enjoy a 360° panorama of Reykjavík from the viewing deck.

View of Reykjavik in Perlan
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I enjoyed the Perlan Planetarium a lot (though FlyOver Iceland was my highlight) – especially because I “got to see the Northern Lights”. I actually met a few people who said, this was their favorite indoor activity in Reykjavik.

Taste Reykjavik’s cuisine

Reykjavik combines traditional cuisine with modern twists and global fusions. Icelandic food is famous for being pure, with natural ingredients, often locally sourced.

While they’re well-known for many of their meat dishes, you’ll find the city surprisingly vegan-friendly. I really was in vegan heaven – who would have thought?

Amazing vegan burger in Reykjavik
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A recent cultural and ideological shift has made veganism popular among younger Icelanders. This shift means you’ll find some fantastic, creative food, from noodle soup and vegan burgers to gazpacho.

Visit the cafe Ecstasy’s Heart-Garden for some tasty vegan and vegetarian treats, or splurge on fine dining at Burro.  

Explore the National Museum of Iceland

Leave the chill outside chill for a few hours and head into Iceland’s National Museum. You’ll learn about the country’s fascinating history, from Viking settlements to contemporary civilization. 

The museum hosts some wonderful historic artifacts and medieval engravings. You can stroll through the exhibitions, and marvel at the strength and perseverance of a culture that developed here, long before aircon made the chill more manageable!

  • Just a note: the museum is closed on Mondays during winter, so plan your itinerary accordingly.

Go on an Icelandic Horseriding Tour

Icelandic horses are they are not as gracious as Arabic horses but these chubby little animals are one of a kind.

Icelandic horses - horse back riding in Reykjavik in winter
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Icelandic horses are short and stocky, with long shaggy hair. They’re a great joy to ride for all ages. But more excitingly, the area around Reykjavik is an incredible place to explore on horseback.

Spend a few hours riding through lava fields and along the startling green (or white) hillside. It’s one of the best things to do in Iceland, and totally unique to the country. 

In addition to the actual riding, horseback riding tours include rubber boots, helmets, rainwear or warm clothes if needed, and a guide. You can even request transport there if you’d prefer.

I am allergic to horses and so I stay away from them, but Icelandic horses are really iconic!

Do Day Trips

Reykjavik in winter is a beautiful place and as you can see, there are fun things to do in the winter months in and near Reykjavik.

However, you really want to get out and see what else Iceland has to offer. Check out my post on the best day trips to take in winter.

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Reykjavik in winter is an interesting place to visit. It is far away from being the perfect winter city destination in Europe, yet it offers quite some beautiful places and fun activities. So, if you plan a trip to the city, then you have something to really look forward to!

Stay safe and enjoy!

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Things to do in REYKJAVIK in winter, Iceland, ARZO TRAVELS
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Safe Travels, Arzo
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