17 Awesome Things to do in Reykjavik on a Budget

Visit Reykjavik’s Sun Voyager

Price: Free!

The unmistakeable sculpture on Reykjavik’s northern coast is a nod to the country’s Viking history. Constructed in 1990, to celebrate the city’s 200th anniversary, this incredible modern art piece jars spectacularly against the backdrop of mount Esja across the harbour and is a great place to meet and relax whilst walking along Saebraut. You can spot some crazy sunsets from this point as well as potentially catching sight of the Northern Lights!

Do as the local’s do and visit a Swimming Pool

Price: 900 Icelandic Krona (Approx £6 / $8)

Come to Iceland, go to the Blue Lagoon, but also visit Reykjavik’s local pools. For roughly a tenth of the price you’ll find you can receive the same relaxing experience as you bathe in naturally heated, chemical-free waters. Laugardalslaug is Reykjavik’s largest swimming pool complex located a short drive from the city center. Whittle the hours away with good conversation in 40 degree hot pots, steam rooms and salt water.

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Image Credit: Reykjvaik.is

Sweat on a Beach

Price: Free – 600 Icelandic Krona depending on season.

Easily my most favourite place in Reykjavik is the thermal beach of Nauthólsvík. Although it’s getting more popular year on year as more and more tourists discover Iceland, I still think this is a real Icelandic hot pot experience. Deceptive in its appearance, this simple set up is merely a shallow hot bath by the sea, but take a dip and prepare yourself for an invigorating experience that will make you fall in love with Iceland culture all over again.

For me, I haven’t found anything more relaxing than sweating it out in the hot pot and then braving a dip in the Atlantic Ocean to shock your body temperature to near freezing, and then repeating this process until sunset.
Best of all? Nauthólsvík is free in the summer, and only costs a small fee in the winter. Check opening times on their website.

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Spot the Northern Lights from Seltjarnarnes

Price: Free! (With a pinch of luck!)

This strictly winter activity is totally dependent on a number of factors so if you’re staying in Reykjavik during the Northern lights season make sure sure you check the forecast. Yes, it does happen to rely a bit on luck as well, but if you get yourself in the best place and give yourself the best chance of seeing them, it all helps.

The best thing you can do is get yourself away from street lights. Tours will drive you into the wilderness to hunt them down, but it will cost you… a lot! But you may be able to see the lights for free!

It’s getting more well known, but out towards the most westerly point  of Reykjavik is the Seltjarnarnes peninsula. This area is free of light pollution and only a couple of minutes drive from 101. It’s definitely possible to walk it or take public transport if you haven’t hired a car.

Park up, or squat on a rock and train your eyes to the skies. When you have a cloud-free forecast and the lights are active, you’ll more than likely see an amazing and magical display all courtesy of mother nature! On a good night you’ll see curling, flickering bows of emerald, dancing above you; one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed.

Take in the Street Art

Price: Free!

The world’s most northerly capital might be cold, dark and grey for at least half of the year, but the residents of this town are keen to make up for this with making sure Reykjavik’s walls brighten the place up. Talk a walk around 101, the city centre and get snap happy with all the fantastic murals! I think this monochromatic design on Laugavegur is one of my favourite.

Start the day right with a ‘Dirty Breakfast’

Price: 2390 Icelandic Krona (Approx £17 / $21)

This cafe is ultra popular with tourists and locals alike. And why not? The brainchild behind the Laundromat cafe must have had a lightbulb moment when torn between dealing with a mountain of dirty clothes and a satisfying a rumbling stomach, thinking ‘why can’t we kill two birds with one stone’?!

Thus laundromat was born!

This small chain of cafes has branches in Copenhagen as well as this one in Reykjavik 101 and remains one of only a few places that you can get your chores ticked off whilst chowing down on a ‘dirty breakfast’.
Even if you don’t have laundry to do, this quirky restaurant with a it’s American inspired interior is still a cute place for breakfast or dinner, coffee or beer.
It tends to be fairly busy throughout the day so be prepared to hang around and wait for a table.

Try Fish and Chips, the Icelandic way!

Price: Around 1980 Icelandic Krona (Approx £14 / $17)

With Iceland’s waters rich in sea life, a staple of the Icelandic diet is of course lots of fish!
Reykjavik Fish is a restaurant by the harbour where you can have freshly fried fish, without forking out too much. The batter is melt-in-your-mouth-amazing, and the fish is gorgeously light. Top it off with a side of tartar and wash it down with a jug of Icelandic tap water – the best water you’ll ever drink!

Order the ‘Offer of the Century’

Price: 1890 Icelandic Krona (Approx £13 / $16)

With the high price of eating out in Reykjavik you’ll be hard pushed to find a decent filling meal for under 4000isk, however Hamborgarabullan, which is tucked away in this unassuming grey building by the harbour will surprise you by serving you up some of the best, greasiest, gorgeously moreish grub you’ll have this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Offer of the Century should be your go-to take-out when you there’s nothing that will do more than a fat burger, fries and soda. It’s cooked up in front of you, but comes up quick. And god, is it good.

Find your new favourite food at the Sea Baron

Price: 1395 Icelandic Krona for lobster soup (Approx £10 / $12)

If you’ve done any research on Reykjavik already you’ll know all about this one already. It’s on every blog, in every guide book… So why am I bothering to mention it again? Because, well… it really is that good!
Sea baron or seafaring has the worst kept secret in Reykjavik in their fantastic lobster soups. This dish is moreishly creamy with chunks of lobster, served in a generously deep bowl and a side of baguette and butter.  The experience of sipping the steaming hot soup is made all the more fabulous as you perch on an overturned barrel surrounded by nautical Nick nacks
Would also rate their range of fish and vegetable skewers, the fish comes fresh from the fishermens daily haul.

Window Shop in Reykjavik’s town center

Price: Free!

Despite being a capital city, Reykjavik is actually a perfect pocket sized town. As a tourist, you’ll no-doubt be spending most of your time, pounding the pavements ‘downtown’ in 101, in and around Laugavegur. Sure, 101 has more than your average amount of ‘Puffin shops’; tourist gift stores where you can buy puffin shaped anything’s and mugs warning “Don’t f**k with Iceland! We may not have cash, but we’ve got ash!”

But really, Reykjavik 101 is one of the cutest places I’ve been window shopping. Reykjavik’s hodgepodge of houses and cafes is akin to a toy town; colourful façades, quirky murals, adorable store fronts, art galleries, Scandinavian design shops, places selling Icelandic woollen goods, and welcoming coffee bars… even and all-year-round Christmas shop! Here on a serious budget? It doesn’t matter, even if you’re not looking for souvenirs it’s still worth a long afternoon meander around Reykjavik’s shopping district to gain some Instagram-worthy snaps.

Chow down a few world famous Hotdogs!

Price: 440 Icelandic Krona (Approx £3 / $4)

Arguably their ‘national dish’, Iceland does American food better than the American’s (maybe!)

Yes, yes, they are the best hot dogs in the world. You’ll come to Reykjavik, you’ll join the line at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, you’ll eat one (with ‘everything’ – make sure you order right), you’ll go back for more. Now repeat until your flight home.

I’d recommend going to the famous hut to try a few, but most places in Iceland will sell similar pylsur’s, but for a few less Krona. Gas stations and some cafes will offer these quick snacks, and even the 10-11 supermarket on the main street has a plysur counter so no matter where you are in Iceland you’ll be able to get your hot dog fix.

Experience the crazy nightlife in Reykjavik 101

Price: However much you’re willing to pay for beer! Otherwise the atmosphere is free!

Who knew that the party’s been here the whole time? By no means a sleepy town, in fact, Reykjavik knows how to throw a wild one.

But did you come out a 9pm and wondering where the hell it’s at? You’re too early. Pre-drink at your apartment first (alcohol prices are sky high, so you will have needed to get a tipple at the airport on the way in) and head out close to the witching hour. Then listen as the live music starts drifting out from the pubs and watch as Laugavegur comes alive before your eyes.

Climb to the highest point in the city

Price: 900 Icelandic Krona for adults for the tower (Approx £6 / $8)

The unmistakable shilouette of Hallgrimskirkja was inspired by the natural formation of basalt columns. With this structure being one of the highest and most central points in downtown Reykjavik, it will most definitely be on your list of things to see. Just don’t forget to have a look inside at the concrete interior and pay the small fee to ride the lift to the top for a birds eye view of 101.

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Head to Perlan for a free panorama

Price: Free!

In a city as costly as Reykjavik, it’s good to know that you can get one of the best panoramas for free. Perlan, which houses the city’s geothermal power is free to enter and boasts a 360 viewing deck where you can see out across the city; the hodge podge of colourful rooftops and the spire of Hallgrimskirkja. Perlan also has a high end rotating restaurant at the top and a man made geyser in the centre!

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Sample some Icelandic Skyr

Price: Around 200 Icelandic Krona, depends on the supermarket.

So you’ve had all the hot dogs, hamburgers, battered fish… I know it’s a holiday but let’s get some goodness in you as well. Thankfully some of Iceland’s best food is also some of the best for your body too. Say hello to Skyr, your new obsession.

This yoghurt-style diary product is low-low fat but somehow manages to also taste creamy as hell. Must be some Icelandic elf magic?

Visit Harpa: Iceland’s Concert Hall

Price: Free!

Another example of some simply stunning Icelandic architecture. Reykjavik’s concert hall gets pride of place on the corner of the harbour; all glass and angles, it looks fabulous by day, but then when the sun sets it reveals a mesmerising light display projected on to its walls.

Watch the ducks at Tjörnin

Price: Free! 

Reykjavik is just about the most chilled out capital city I’ve ever visited. Where else can you sit slap-bang in the middle of a town, breathe in the clean air and watch the ducks. This area is one of the prettiest places, with wonderful views.

Even in winter, when the water has completely frozen over (and you can walk across it!) the ducks get their own area at the bottom that is slightly heated to stop it from icing.

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22 thoughts on “17 Awesome Things to do in Reykjavik on a Budget

  1. I love trying the swimming pool in the Iceland, I love how clean it is. washing before going in seems like a basic and obvious thing to do but in so many countries, it’s not mandatory. That’s something I really appreciate in Iceland.

    The Sun Voyager is a very cook sculpture, I quite like it ! I find it very original.

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  2. I would recommend Hallgrimskirkja, it must seen if you are in Reykjavik. This church is really fantastic! For $8usd you should absolutely go to the top! A very cool experience with amazing views of the city. I’m a budget traveler/photographer/blogger trying to spend less than $30/day and the trip to the top was 100% a worthwhile use of $8.

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  3. I was there in winter once as well. It is a very special place! We had 1 meter of snow and all the seas were frozen, so we took a drive with an Iceland local in a 4 wheel drive. It was amazing and i can highly recommend it, if you are there in winter with a lot of snow. It was quite an adventure driving over the seas and snow hills.

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    1. Wow – sounds crazy! I’ve been three times, once in Summer (2016) and twice in February (2014 and 2015). The second time I went we got mental weather – not incredibly snowy… but it was really foggy then really icy… a 4×4 was a must!

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  4. Sounds amazing, hopefully I can remember to find this blog for when I visit in January! Lovely tips… We’re looking at hiring a car, did you do this? Any recommendations? The car is a massive expense but hopefully it’ll work out in the long run as we’d save on taxis and group tours to Northern lights etc….

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    1. Thanks so much for dropping by and reading!
      I’ve visited in February, and would highly recommend hiring your own car… You are right you will no doubt save so much on tours and you get your own freedom. Look at getting a 4×4 if you want to drive quite a bit… If you are doing more than the golden circle it will be worth it to have a 4×4 as some of the roads can get slippery in bad weather. I have hired twice through procar.is and once through green motion – both have been great!

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