Chances are that you view Reykjavik as a base from which to explore Iceland's dazzling, dramatic scenery. But don't neglect really exploring the world's most northerly capital just yet. Brimming with colorful buildings, surprisingly cosmopolitan vibes, and heaps of museums and galleries, it might be small (the population's just 120,000) but there's certainly no shortage of stuff to do. So, think outside the box (the box being, in this instance, the Blue Lagoon), and get exploring these under-the-radar haunts.
>> Psst... we're giving away a three-night stay at Iceland's only five-star hotel at the bottom of the article!
What to do
For starters, check out the Icelandic Phallological Museum (it houses the world's largest display of penises, you can't make these things up), then check out the following cool activities.
Shop where the locals shop at Kolaportið, Iceland's only flea market, and a gem of an industrial space located right by the old harbor. Open only on weekends, and cash-only for the most part, this market sells pretty much everything you could dream up. Yeah, we're talking secondhand clothes, used books, old records, genuine antiques and a bunch of weird and wonderful eats. Don't leave without sampling hákarl (fermented shark), and don't forget to buy some strange AF souvenirs for your friends.
Street Art Tour
The city's street art is one of the coolest ways of familiarizing oneself with the streets. Though it has way less recognitions than street art in Brooklyn or London's Shoreditch, the graffiti here really is on point. Pay close attention to Sara Riel, one of the most profilic street artists (she crops up everywhere, just watch), and check out the dozens of murals within walking distance of downtown. Or, if you're lazy, hit up a guided tour – they're pretty chilled, teach you lots, and last under two hours.
There's no guarantee of good weather in Iceland (oh so far from it), so check out the North Pole Theater for a pretty unique afternoon. Located in the Seltjarnarnes area, which is nicely off the beaten track, the shows are for sure worth a watch. Here, anyone can rent a hall or room, which lends itself to an eclectic mix of dance shows, plays, art shows and more.
If you're not captivated by the name 'Secret Lagoon' then, really, who are you? This little gem lies just over an hour outside of the city, in the Golden Circle area, and is well worth the drive. It's claim to fame is that it's the oldest pool in Iceland, but it's not so famous that it's overrun with pesky travelers. Kept super low maintenance in terms of decor, the natural hot springs are pretty insane. Bonus: during winter the Northern Lights can often be seen from here, and the nearby small village of Fludir. Sweet.
Where to eat
For such a small city, Reykjavik's food scene sure doesn't disappoint. Much of it is locally sourced, meaning its New Nordic cuisine features plenty of seafood and meat. But there's so much more than just fermented shark meat and singed sheep heads (thank God), so go check out cafes that transform into bars at night, wonderfully chic Icelandic restaurants, and, of course, the famous Icelandic hot dog.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
Iceland ain't cheap, that's a fact. But here's a better fact: you can have the best hot dog of your life at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. The unassuming stand in downtown has been serving up their dogs for over 60 years, and they're so damn good that visitors ranging from Bill Clinton to members of Metallica have all happily indulged. They're affordable, they're quick, and they're best eaten with "eina med ollu" (ketchup, sweet mustard, raw and fried onions and remoulade).
Ah, a welcome respite from the many meat-heavy menus in town. Café Babalú is one of the coziest spots around, and your go-to for excellent veggie food and good coffee. It's run by an artist so is fully of quirky art pieces, but, more importantly, boasts the best soup and cheesecake in, like, the entire city.
Admittedly, this isn't a well-kept secret. Kol is a seafood restaurant with a difference, and the rave reviews really prove how tasty the feel-good comfort food really is. Go for the charred salmon or risotto, and you'll be in heaven, then finish off with a dessert of traditional pancakes and some of their winning craft cocktails. The interior is sleek and classy – Iceland at its most stylish.
Where to drink
Reykjavik's nightlife is seriously underrated. Even when there's none of the plentiful festivals going on, there's a pretty creative DJ scene, ton of home-grown bands, and late-night options that range from underground clubbing at Paloma to live music at the always-buzzing KEX hostel. Oh, and there's rarely a cover charge, meaning more money can be spent on booze.
For a selection of the most delightful cocktails in town, hit up Slipbarinn, a bar (and restaurant) situated in the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina. The decor is retro-chic – vintage record players and all, but in a nicely unpretentious way. You can't really go wrong here – there's six beers on tap, six types of gin, 10 types of rum and 10 types of wine. Combine any of these with more fresh ingredients, and you can see why the bar's unique creations are so famed.
Take a glance at Prikið, a shabby coffee house on Laugavegur (Rekyjavik's main shopping street) and you'd have no idea how mental it gets late at night. The cafe itself has been open for over 60 years, making it the oldest coffee shop in the city, but pop in after 10pm and that's when the party really gets started. Hip-hop lovers will be in ecstasy in particular, but anyone who can appreciate a buzzy bar will too. Insider's tip: Prikið's burgers are divine.
Hands down one of the classiest bars in Reykjavik, you've got to get a little dressed up if you wanna fit in at Loftið. Located in the heart of downtown, this stylish haunt has tailor shop-inspired decor, an airy lounge, and jazz bands playing. Oh, and some truly top-notch cocktails. It's been one of our favorite spots since it opened in 2013. Have a browse and you'll see why.
Where to stay
When it comes to settling in for the night, then there's only one option that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Diamond Suites. This boutique hotel is not only the only five-star hotel in Iceland, but it's also near to Keflavik Airport, which is pretty handy as it's the country's largest. This means it's a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik's downtown, but trust us on this one, you're going to want to stay here. Consisting of five luxury suites (all of which are themed differently), the hotel is pretty much dedicated to adventuring in style. Yeah, they can arrange for you to snowmobile on a glacier, go on a Heli tour to the largest glacier in Europe, and much more. After a hard day of exploring enjoy the spacious jacuzzi on the balcony, classy lounge with fireplace (local art included!), and restaurant serving only the freshest seafood around. Ahh, bliss.
...The best part? You can win three nights at this very hotel. Click to enter our sweepstakes.