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Free things to do in Reykjavík

Free Things to Do in and Around Reykjavík

A common conception of Iceland among travelers and locals alike is that it is expensive, and Iceland is indeed among the most expensive countries in Europe when it comes to e.g. food, accommodation and entertainment. But there are certain things that people can enjoy for free in the capital area besides breathing in the fresh air and drinking the refreshing tap water.

Wander the Streets Downtown

Begin your exploration in the heart of the city, strolling down Laugavegur, the main shopping street lined with colorful houses and independent shops. Make your way to Austurvöllur, the central square, and admire the architecture of the Parliament House. Head up Skólavörðustígur (aka. “Rainbow Street”) towards the church, Hallgrímskirkja.

Visit Hallgrímskirkja Church

This iconic Lutheran church offers stunning panoramic views of the city from its observation tower (entrance fee applies). Explore its unique architecture, inspired by Icelandic basalt columns, and admire the intricate sculptures and stained-glass windows inside. Admission to the church itself is free.

Delve into Reykjavík City Library

Immerse yourself in Icelandic literature and culture at the Reykjavík City Library, offering free Wi-Fi, comfortable reading areas, and even a children’s library. Attend one of their free events, like exhibitions or picnics at the library.

Relax at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach

Take a dip in the warm geothermal waters of Nauthólsvík, a beach located just a short walk from the city center and next to Öskjuhlíð woodland hill. The beach offers stunning views of Mount Esja and is a great place to relax and soak up the Icelandic atmosphere, even in winter.

Hike Mount Esja

Mount Esja

For breathtaking panoramic views of the city and surrounding area, challenge yourself with a hike up Mount Esja, the highest peak visible from Reykjavik. Choose from different trails depending on your fitness level and enjoy the scenic beauty along the way. While this activity can be enjoyed year-round, be prepared for winter conditions at higher altitudes and do not go in bad weather conditions.

Marvel at the Northern Lights

If you’re visiting during the winter months (September-April), keep your eyes peeled for the spectacular Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. Escape the city lights and head to a dark location for the best chance of witnessing this natural phenomenon. The most popular spot for this in the capital area is on the coast by Grótta lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes. Another option is Laugarnes by Sæbraut.

Marvel at the Midnight Sun

Not visiting during the winter months? No problem, you can marvel at the midnight sun instead, especially around 20th June, summer solstice. Not visiting in summer nor winter? Well, you can always marvel at nature (if weather permits).

Browse Kolaportið Flea Market

Hunt for unique souvenirs and local crafts at the Kolaportið Flea Market, open on weekends. You might find anything from vintage clothing and handmade jewelry to antiques and Icelandic delicacies.

Take a Walk in Fossvogsdalur or Elliðaárdalur

If you walk along the coast from downtown to Nauthólsvík, you can continue further alongside the bay called Fossvogur and into Fossvogsdalur, a valley between Reykjavík and Kópavogur (another town in the capital area). If you walk all the way through Fossvogsdalur, you will reach Elliðaárdalur, with a river running through it and a forest. It is perhaps the city’s greenest area. Rabbits can often be seen jumping around in Elliðaárdalur and in the autumn, some people go there to pick mushrooms. Those two valleys are among the most popular routes for runners, cyclists and walkers in the city.

Attend a Free Concert or Event

Check out the events calendar at Harpa Concert Hall for free concerts, exhibitions, and other cultural events. KEX hostel often hosts concerts with free entrance and Loft hostel too from time to time. One of the most famous live music venues in town is Gaukurinn, which also has some free concerts and other events. If you are in Reykjavík in late August, you could attend Culture Night, with a variety of free cultural events around the city and big outdoor concerts downtown in the evening. It will take place on 24 August in 2024. See more Reykjavík events in our event calendar.

See the Sun Voyager

The Sun VoyagerSólfarið or The Sun Voyager is an artwork by Jón Gunnar Árnason (1931-1989). He designed it to represent undiscovered territory, hope, progress and freedom. It was unveiled on the anniversary of the City of Reykjavík, 18 August 1990. It was the winning piece in a competition for a new outdoor sculpture to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the City of Reykjavík. The district association of Vesturbær (West Town) held the competition. The Sun Voyager is a popular tourist destination throughout the year.

Take a Walk in Öskjuhlíð

Öskjuhlíð is a woodland area on the hill of Perlan (the glass dome building), which is one of the landmarks of the city. In the forest, you can see a few remains from the British around WW II, e.g. of barracks and other constructions, such as firing bunkers, turf and rock trenches and defensive walls for fuel tanks. The main thing in Öskjuhlíð, however, is the forest with varied flora and fauna consisting of rabbits and various birds.

Walk Around Tjörnin (Reykjavik Pond)

Tjörnin – Reykjavík Pond

Tjörnin is the small pond you can find downtown Reykjavík by Lækjargata. I you walk around it starting from the City Hall, you will reach Hljómskálagarður (e. Music Pavilion Park) on the other side of Skothúsvegur, with trees, flowers, statues and benches. If you continue to walk northwest (towards Reykjavik Domestic airport) you will reach Vatnsmýri Nature Reserve with the Nordic house at the far end of the green area, which is a bird nesting habitat, which closes during the nesting season in spring.

Walk Alongside the Sea and Sæbraut to Höfði House

Sæbraut - coast
Sæbraut – coast

Tourists tend to flock to the Sun Voyager, which is an impressive artwork and a photogenic spot, but the walk alongside the sea towards Höfði House is no less impressive in nice weather. This is part of a popular route for running and cycling among locals, so please be mindful of not blocking the whole pedestrian lane nor walking on the bike lane, which could cause aggressive bell ringing or the occasional swearwords in Icelandic from cyclists passing by, unless you are there specifically to learn Icelandic swearwords.

Visit Einar Jónsson’s Sculpture Garden

The Einar Jónsson Museum is across the street from Hallgrímskirkja and the sculpture garden is located behind it. The garden has 26 bronze casts of Einar Jónsson’s work, inspired by Icelandic folklore, mythology and religion.

Visit Ásmundur Sveinsson’s Sculpture Garden

Ásmundarsafn Sculpture Museum is the former home and studio of sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982), who also designed and constructed the building. The sculptures in the garden, massive figures from his early career and later abstract compositions.

Visit Kópavogskirkja and MEKÓ

Kópavogskirkja is the main church in Kópavogur and a landmark on the Borgarholt hill. April fool’s day has been big in Iceland through the years and a curious Icelandic thing is that the media will try to trick people on April 1st every year. Nowadays with the internet, it has become almost impossible but not that long ago, they would still succeed at fooling people. One of the most famous examples of that was when the state media RÚV reported in 2002 that McDonald’s was going to sue Kópavogskirkja for resembling the famous M in their logo, and that a protest was going to take place by the church. This caused a minor outrage in the population, as a number of people believed the story and went to the church to protest the insolence of the global conglomerate, only to find out they had been tricked. In reality, McDonald’s never cared about Kópavogskirkja, and later (in 2009) the company closed their doors in Iceland.

On the same hill, in Hamraborg, you can find MEKÓ with workshops and guided talks. MEKÓ is home to a natural history museum, library and art museum.

Visit Hellisgerði in Hafnarfjörður

Hellisgerði is a public park in Hafnarfjörður but looks like a place where you would expect to see elves popping out of the next lava formation. The park is with a mix of trees and lava formations of various shapes and sizes, an ideal place for a picnic and an adventure world for kids as well as adults. The park opened in 1922 and during Advent every year, it becomes even more fairy-tale-esque due to the Christmas lights.

Visit Mount Úlfarsfell

Mt. ÚlfarsfellÚlfarsfell is a small mountain in the capital area, located between Reykjavík and Mosfellsbær, 15 km from downtown Reykjavík. There are different marked trails to choose from, varying in difficulty. The view from the top is over the city, Faxaflói bay, towards Esja in the north and Reykjanes in south.

Take a Walk in Heiðmörk

Heiðmörk Nature Reserve

Heiðmörk Natue Reserve offers an array of beautiful walking routes, with 26 species of trees and 60 species of wild birds. Here you can also watch the northern lights away from the city lights. You can easily reach it by bus from downtown Reykjavík, bus number 5 from Hlemmur will take you to Bugða residential area, where you can start your walk.

Walk the Round in Seltjarnarnes (Neshringur) and See Grótta Lighthouse

Neshringur is the name of a popular walking and cycling route for the residents of Vesturbær and Seltjarnarnes. At the far end of the peninsula, you will see Grótta lighthouse on the tiny island of Grótta just outside the coast. It is connected to land, but only during low tide. The birdlife is diverse and 106 species have been seen in Seltjarnarnes, mostly around the small pond Bakkatjörn.

Visit Þúfa, the Tussock in Grandi

Þúfa was designed by artist Ólöf Nordal, and was intended to be a place of serenity and meditation in the city. Located by the harbor in the Grandi area, the work was commissioned by the company HB Grandi, which runs the fish factory next to it. The word “þúfa” is Icelandic for tussock. It can be walked up along a path on its sides. The piece is designed to work both close-up and at a distance.

Wander Through Grjótaþorp, a Tiny Village Downtown Reykjavík

Grjótaþorp is where Reykjavík was born, when buildings were constructed in Aðalstræti for wool processing and other crafts. The first wooden houses in Reykjavík were all with low walls, high roofs and exterior clad in tarred timber. Grjótaþorp is the small “village” behind the oldest house in Aðalstræti and Reykjavík, built in 1762, the black wooden house currently home to Reykjavík City Museum.

Stumble Upon Street Art in Reykjavík

 

Street art on Laugavegur 64 - Vampire
Street art on Laugavegur 64 – Vampire

Street art has been gradually covering more and more walls in Reykjavík in recent years. Downtown you can find a vampire, Einstein and Tupac Shakur making a toast, and the most famous piece, “Rainbow Street” on the lowest part of Skólavörðustígur.

Visit Laugardalur and Reykjavik Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden was founded in 1961 and is maintained by the City of Reykjavík. It conserves 3000 plant species and eight plant collections. In the valley around it, Laugardalur, you can find a central area in the city, popular for outdoor activities like running, walking and cycling. There you can also find the laundry pools where women used to bring laundry, walking from downtown along Laugavegur and the all the way up to Laugardalur and the pools. In 1930, the pools stopped being used, when the city started offering district heating.

Enjoy Art Outside Through The Reykjavik Art Walk

If you want to explore the art of Reykjavik outside, there is an app from Reykjavik Art Museum called Reykjavik Art Walk, available on Google Play and the App Store. The app has information about around 200 public artworks in the city. On the app, you can access information on the pieces, see images and listen to audio guides.

Remember, this is just a starting point. With a little exploration, you’re sure to discover even more free and enjoyable things to do in Reykjavik, regardless of the season.

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