Reykjavik is honestly one of my favourite places I’ve visited. The people are so welcoming, the streets are colourful and cute and it has a brilliant vibe about it. For me, it’s a perfect size- pretty small and very easy to walk around. Tom and I spend 5 days in Iceland in January and had time for the perfect mix of activities and relaxation. Iceland has an abundance of things to explore to help you with your planning I’ve put together this guide for what to see in Iceland in 5 days.
The population is 120,000 (which is nothing compared to say, London, with over 8.5 million!). Crime is ridiculously low here, I heard that the Icelandic Police are mostly known for their Instagram account showing pictures of them getting cats out of trees. This is my kinda place! The only thing I couldn’t get used to was how dark it was. It doesn’t really start getting light properly until about 11 am. I don’t think I have ever slept so much even though I’m one of those horrible morning people (sorry not sorry).
So here’s my guide for what to see in Iceland in 5 days!
- English is widely spoken in Iceland.
- The local currency is the Icelandic króna and at the time of writing this, £1 = 140 Icelandic Krona.
- Going to Iceland in January means the sun rises around 11 am and sets around 4 pm.
- The average temperature can get as low as -3 degrees Celsius so be sure to wrap up warm!
- The water smells of sulphur but it is drinkable (if you can get past the smell, anyway).
How to get to Reykjavik from the Airport
Keflavik airport is the largest of Iceland’s 2 airports and is located about 50km from Reykjavik. There are a couple of companies that run shuttle links to and from the city – Flybus and Grey Line. Both offer door to door services if you want or just a drop off/pick-up from the bus terminal. We opted for the door to door service with Grey Line and booked online in advance, mostly because we didn’t know what to expect and didn’t want to drag our bags through the snow! This came to 5,000ISK which is about £35 for the both of us for a return. There is a public bus that runs between the airport and the city but they are less frequent and takes longer than a shuttle bus.
Where to stay in Reykjavik on a budget
We stayed in a fab Hotel called Hotel Fron on Laugavegur on the main street in Reykjavik. It was super quiet though and very convenient to get to pretty much everywhere. Breakfast was included in our stay and we also had a kitchenette in the room, which was perfect for stocking up on snacks to keep costs down.
Reykjavik is a small city and I would recommend staying in the heart of it. I’ve had friends visit Iceland and they’ve also found some amazing places to stay through Airbnb too. It’s worth checking a few different options and to book in advance as well to ensure availability.
How much to budget for 5 days in Iceland
One thing you should bear in mind is that Iceland is NOT cheap. Honestly, even the ‘cheap’ places are pricey in comparison to other cities. For example, dinner for 2 with just a main course and a drink costs about £50 which is a huge difference to the £3 dinners I’ve had in places like Asia. But for myself, Iceland is a bucket list destination.
To help ease the pressure of the cost of this holiday, we decided to book each aspect separately rather than as a package. Although there are loads of fab package deals out there, we wanted to be able to spread the cost of the trip. By paying for a bit at a time it all became a lot more manageable, and we still had control of our plans. This was a once in a lifetime trip for us so we really wanted to go for it!
Take a stroll around Reykjavik to get your bearings and a taste of what the city is all about. The main street is called Laugavegur and its full of beautiful shops (mostly full of amazing stuff that you don’t need but really want) and cafes so it’s perfect for finding some food. Also, if you love street art, then you will be pleased to know that Reykjavik has looooads of it!
Make your way over to the City Hall where you will see no guards or anything – kinda bizarre compared to other cities! A couple more roads down is the beautiful Tjörnin, a lake in the centre of Reykjavik, and guess what? When I was there it was frozen! Honestly, I have ALWAYS wanted to wall across a frozen lake so this was just amazing!
As the sun starts to set, go to the awesome Hallgrímskirkja church to get a beautiful view of the city. I love this Church, It’s just so unique and it fits in beautifully with the rest of the city. The tower costs ISK 900 (ISK100 for children) and tickets can be bought from the Church shop. I’m a huge fan of viewpoints as it is, but honestly, this is well worth the view!
Time for the ULTIMATE one- head out on your Northern Lights tour! I would always advise this to be booked for early on in your trip as most tours offer a free second chance if you don’t see the lights. Believe me, on my Northern Lights Tour with Superjeep, it nearly didn’t see the lights so having as much time as possible to book in again would have been a godsend! Make sure you’re well prepared before you go as well! It can be a long night but the best experience ever when you get to see them! So good luck!
Time for my favourite… a Free Walking Tour! Yes, I do these literally everywhere I go, but they really are the best budget tours ever! City Walk has a fantastic free tour round Reykjavik starting at Parliament House and exploring the history, politics, folklore, nightlife and food of the city, as well how weird and down right impossible Icelandic is to learn. Honestly.
After the tour, warm up with some traditional lamb soup called kjötsúpa at one of the many cafes. The brightly coloured Cafe Babalu is hard to miss, super cosy and quirky. it costs about £11 which was about as cheap as it got for me! But it was bloody delicious.
Take a walk along the harbour to explore the coastal sites there. Make sure you visit the Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture, designed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city back in 1990, which is crazy, I am literally older than this city! The Solfar sculpture is made from stainless steel and symbolises a dream boat. I’m not very artsy so I just think it’s pretty damn awesome!
You can’t miss the giant Harpa Concert Hall next to the harbour. There are a tonne of events and concerts going on in this building, which I would love to have experienced, but I just went for a freebie walk round inside. It’s a wicked building to explore so make sure you do!
Incase you didn’t know, Iceland is essentially a giant and still active volcano. A few years ago I was in the USA and my flight got cancelled due to an Icelandic volcano erupting, so when I say active, I mean active! To learn more about it, or if you’re just a bit of a science geek and in need of your fix, visit Volcano House. Here you can explore the geology exhibition for free and also watch what has happened during previous eruptions in a documentary (IKS 1900, £13.00), which all seemed surprisingly calm. There is also a funky little cafe nearby called Cafe Haiti which does amazing cake if you need a break from the cold (any excuse for cake!).
There are loooads of places for dinner in Reykjavik, and a couple of delicious places we went to were Vegamot and Islenski Barinn which are both just off Laugavegur Road, so nice and easy to find. Seafood in Iceland is about as fresh as you can get so make sure you get some!
Reykjavik also does drinking. A lot. All the bars have something unique about them such as The Laundromat Cafe where you can actually do your laundry, have a drink, dinner and play board games. For a more lively feel, try somewhere like the Lebowski Bar which is pretty much always heaving but has brilliant cocktails.
Full day tour
It will be an early start but it’s worth it! Time for another must-do tour from Reykjavik – The Golden Circle. I also did this tour with SuperJeep because the off-roading experience is way better than sitting on a coach all day going to the sites. On this trip you will get the chance to walk between 2 tectonic plates, the dramatic Gullfoss waterfall, Geysirs and also have a chance to snowmobile on a glacier! FYI, lunch is not included so to save money, take a packed lunch with you! I wish I’d known this before I went. Also, the snowmobiling is an extra cost, but Tom and I wanted to do it, so we did! You can wither share a snowmobile or have one to yourself.
Ok, so this trip isn’t cheap. it’s ISK37,900 (£270) per person for the tour, and the snowmobiling was ISK20,900 (£150) for the 2 of us as we shared one.
Ah, the famous Blue Lagoon. It was originally formed following the building of a nearby power plant using the geothermal energy form the island (yeah ok, a power plant sounds pretty grim, but trust me, it’s not), and since then has grown and grown to become a gorgeous place to relax. Loads of research has gone into the skin healing elements of the water, so it’s a great place for all.
One pretty great thing about the Blue Lagoon is the bar located in the water. No money required, it all goes on to a wrist band and you just pay at the end!
You have to pre-book your tickets due to its popularity. There are a bunch of different tickets available with things like robes, treatments and lunches included, but we didn’t bother and just went for the basic Standard ticket at ISK 5400 (£40). All their tickets include a transfer as well, which is handy as it’s a bit out of town. We took our own towels from our hotel (check before you do this) and waited until we got back to Reykjavik before we ate at the restaurants there are pretty darn expensive, even for Iceland!
The last day (sob!) honestly, I love Reykjavik and I did not want to go. So I had to make the most of my last day here!
Every Saturday and Sunday the locals hold the Kolaportid Flea Market, the only flea market in Iceland down by the harbour. It’s full of all the usual stuff you would expect – clothes, books, food and things like lighters and dreamcatchers which I never quite get, but whatever. It’s alright, but exactly what you expect from a flea market.
Visit the World’s most famous hot dog stand. Yep, honestly; little ole’ Reykjavik’s hot dog stand ‘Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur’ reached fame in 2004 when President Bill Clinton visited, and the always-present long queue still shows it’s popularity today. And they are bloody good, especially because you can tell they’re pretty bad for you. But honestly, the crispy fried onion on top are rediculously moreish.
To get a final view of the wonderful Reykjavik, I would recommend taking a walk up to the Perlan Building. The main attraction here is actually a big fancy restaurant which was definitely out of our price range, but there is also a cafe for a more budget friendly approach. However, more important is its location on the top of a hill and with a viewing deck all around it, it’s a beautiful place to see all the city and sea and mountains surrounding it. A perfect way to end a trip to Reykjavik!