Best things to do in Reykjavik in winter

Travel Tips for Reykjavik in Winter + What to Do

Reykjavik in winter is a great time to visit – the country 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.

TRAVEL TIPS FOR REYKJAVIK IN THE WINTER

However, but even Reykjavik in winter is interesting. So, plan in some time for Iceland´s capital and check out some activities. Many activities in Iceland – and Reykjavik – can be done throughout the year. 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 but. 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 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° degree Celsius.

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.

How to Get Around in Reykjavik in Winter

Public transportation in Reykjavik is okay – I used it a few times to get around but mostly I walked to most attractions.

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, ff you rent a car you can easily get around via car. Driving in Reykjavik in winter is better than driving in other parts (especially in the Northern parts of the Highlands).

BEST THINGS TO DO IN REYKJAVIK IN WINTER

After so much talking 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

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 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 criticised the short movie (about 10 minutes, the rest is just blablabla) and the quite high price. 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).

Even though I stayed in Iceland for about 10 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.

Marvel at Hallgrímskirkja Church

A trip to Reykjavik would be incomplete without a visit to its most recognizable building, which can be seen from anywhere in the city.

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 view points in Reykjavik.

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

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.

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 lights or 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.

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.

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 cuisines. 

Spot Street Art in Reykjavik in WInter

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, though.

But 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 no 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 ice skates actually can be found. Some favorites are Egilshöll and Ice Rink Laugardalur.

See the Stars at the Planetarium

Reykjavik’s Perlan Planetarium is another amazing immersive experience. The 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.

Taste Rekyavik’s cuisine

Reykjavik is a modern metropolitan, combining 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 outside chill behind 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 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

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

Reykjavik in winter is an interesting place to visit. It is far way from the perfect winter city destination in Europe, it offers quite some beautiful places and fun activities. Stay safe and enjoy!

Safe Travels, Arzo
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