This cosmopolitan capital packs an outsized punch. Iceland’s capital may be small, but each of its neighborhoods has its own distinct atmosphere. While it’s easy to stick to the well-worn streets of the downtown area, it’s well worth venturing farther afield to dodge the tourist crowds and get a better sense of life in Reykjavik.
Luckily, given the compact size of the city, it’s easy to do some exploring by foot, bus, or guided tour. Whether you want to stroll through leafy parks, sip cocktails in chic bars, or meet locals while soaking in a geothermically-heated hot tub, here are some ideas for Reykjavik neighborhoods to visit.
Your first stop for Reykjavik’s top sightseeing.
Also known as Miðborg or 101 Reykjavik (after its zip code), Reykjavik’s downtown area is where you’ll find the majority of the city’s best-known attractions. It’s home to Laugavegur (the city’s main shopping street), as well as many museums, including the National Gallery of Iceland, the Harpa concert hall, and the city’s tallest building, Hallgrim’s Church (Hallgrímskirkja).
If you fancy a night out, this is where you want to be. Kaffibarinn and Prikið are reliably lively party spots, while Kaldi Bar and Veður Bar both promise a more laid-back evening of cocktail sipping.
A charming neighborhood with a sense of history.
Stretching west from downtown to the edge of Seltjarnarnes, Vesturbær—which translates to “West Town”—is a historically working-class district that has seen quite a bit of development in recent years. Still far less tourist-focused than downtown, Versturbær is a lovely place to wander, pop into cafés and ice cream shops, and get a feel for local life.
Around Grandi (the Old Harbor), you’ll find top attractions including FlyOver Iceland, the Saga Museum, and the Grandi Mathöll food hall. Whale-watching tours typically depart from here, too.
Reykjavik’s top foodie neighborhood.
Until a few years ago, the Hlemmur neighborhood (toward the eastern end of Laugavegur) revolved around the city’s main bus terminal and not much else. However, Hlemmur station has been reborn as a food hall (Hlemmur Mathöll), the first of a now-growing trend in Reykjavik where you can find vendors serving Vietnamese, Italian, French, and—of course—Icelandic cuisine.
After filling up, you can stretch your legs with a wander around Klambratún, one of the city’s largest public parks.
Best for getting active.
To the east of the city center, Laugardalur (or Hot Spring Valley) encompasses a verdant stretch of green space that used to supply Reykjavik’s hot water. The park has a zoo, a skating rink, running tracks, a botanic garden, and a huge swimming complex, Laugardalslaug, which is Reykjavik’s largest outdoor thermal pool.
One of Reykjavik Art Museum’s three sites is also here—the Ásmundarsafn site, dedicated to the works of the 20th-century Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson—as is the waterfront Sigurjón Ólafsson Museum.
This charming area promises a step back in time.
In the southeastern part of the city, Árbær is known for its small-town feel and access to nature. Head for the Elliðaárdalur recreation area for a walk along the river that takes you past a few small waterfalls, take a dip in the Árbæjarlaug swimming pool, and step back in time at the Árbær Open Air Museum, a village-like collection of more than 20 buildings showcasing life in the early days of Reykjavik.
This leafy neighborhood is ideal for nature lovers.
The quiet district of Fossvogur, located southeast of downtown Reykjavik, is a great option for nature lovers who want to stroll through one of the city’s few forests and visit the nearby geothermal beach Nauthólsvík. Fossvogur is also home to Perlan, a popular landmark known for its 360-degree city views and exhibits on Icelandic nature.
Best for soaking up the ocean air and views.
About a 10-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik, the quiet peninsula of Seltjarnarnes is a popular spot for outdoor recreation. You can follow the path to Grótta island, known for its lighthouse and rich birdlife, as well as for being one of the city’s best places to see the northern lights.
Dip your toes in the Kvika footbath, a geothermal pool by the water's edge, or take a swim in the pool and soak in the hot tub at the Sundlaug Seltjarnarness public swimming complex.