Top things to do in Reykjavik in the Winter

Even if Reykjavik's winter chill drives you indoors, the Icelandic capital promises a memorable experience. Whether you're an adventurer or a history buff, Reykjavik in winter won't disappoint. Let's dive into some top things to do in Reykjavik in winter.

1. Experience the warmth of geothermal baths

Laugardalslaug swimming pool

In the chilly winter of Reykjavik, you might think twice before putting on a swimsuit and stepping outdoors. But here's the twist: Iceland's vast geothermal resources make hot springs and spas a popular gathering spot, even in the coldest months. These naturally heated pools offer a unique experience, blending comfort with the raw beauty of nature.

Sky Lagoon is a prime example, located conveniently near Reykjavik. This infinity pool offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. On stormy winter days, the contrast of the raging waves against the calm warmth of the pool becomes a spectacle in itself. It's a reminder of the sheer power and drama of nature.

There's also Laugardalslaug, a popular public geothermal swimming pool. Frequented by both residents and visitors, Laugardalslaug offers a more communal experience, allowing you to mingle with locals, understand their way of life, and enjoy the healing properties of geothermal waters, all while being surrounded by the picturesque Icelandic landscape. It's a testament to how deeply embedded these warm baths are in the culture and daily life of Reykjavik.

2. Immerse yourself in Icelandic history

Saga Museum

The first settlers came to Iceland more than a thousand years ago. Early on, the Vikings that came to the place they called Smoky Bay were farmers. Over time, the area became a settlement, and later, the Althing moved from Thingvellir, a capital and centre of law-making. 

One of the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter is duck into one of its fascinating museums. The excellent National Museum of Iceland is a good place to start if you’d like to take a deep dive into Icelandic history. 

It’s also worth calling in at the Saga Museum. There, key events in the country’s past are retold using lifelike waxwork models. Borrow an audio guide and listen to the stories that shaped Iceland and made it the place it is today.

Perlan is not just a landmark; it's a journey through time. As you explore its exhibits, you're taken on a trip through Iceland's rich natural history. The venue offers hands-on experiences, allowing visitors to truly feel a part of the island's past. Imagine walking through a recreated ice cave, feeling the chill of the ancient glaciers, or experiencing the rumble of an earthquake simulator, giving you a taste of the island's dynamic geology.

3. Dive Deep into Reykjavik's Whale Culture

Whale watching in Faxafloi bay

One of the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter is to go whale watching. Trips depart from Reykjavik’s harbour year-round, so long as the weather’s calm enough. You’ll chug out into Faxaflói Bay, where it’s possible to catch sight of a number of species, such as minke and humpback whales, dolphins and porpoises. 

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict the weather, so sometimes sailings are cancelled or postponed. If that’s the case, wander over to Whales of Iceland. This fascinating museum is one of the largest of its kind in the world and contains 23 realistic models of different cetacean species. If you can’t see them in the water offshore, you can learn about their feeding, breeding and other behavioural habits right here on land.

4. Tour the Icelandic countryside – with or without leaving Reykjavik


As Iceland is renowned for its incredible landscapes, it seems a shame not to see some of it. Day tours leave from Reykjavik; one of the most popular destinations is the famous Golden Circle. Just an hour or so outside the city, you’ll find Thingvellir, a national park where you can stroll along a narrow gorge where the Eurasian and North American plate boundaries are inching apart. From there, continue on to see Strokkur erupt at Geysir and the majestic Gullfoss waterfall tumbling into the river below. 

If you're keen on experiencing Iceland's iconic volcanic landscapes and majestic glacier peaks but prefer to stay within the comforts of Reykjavik, there's a solution tailored just for you. Perlan, a unique attraction in the heart of the city, offers a deep dive into Iceland's natural wonders without the need for long drives or hikes.

So, while staying within Reykjavik's city limits, you can still embark on a virtual Icelandic adventure, feeling the thrill of its volcanoes and glaciers, all thanks to the magic of Perlan. It's a testament to how technology and creativity can bridge the gap between urban comfort and raw nature.

5. Sample the Best Local Food

Traditional Icelandic soup at Perlan Museum Restaurant

Reykjavík boasts a culinary landscape as rich and diverse as its natural wonders. With a plethora of restaurants, cafés, and bustling street food stalls, the city is a paradise for those who love to indulge in delectable dishes. One of the iconic spots that shouldn't be missed is the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur cabin, nestled in the heart of downtown. A local favourite since 1937, they're renowned for their scrumptious hot dogs.

If you're in the mood for more varied street food options, the city's food halls present a delightful array of choices. Hlemmur, which has transformed a former bus station into a foodie haven, and Grandi, a reinvented old fish factory by the harbour, stand out as two must-visit locales. Both venues offer a taste of authentic Icelandic flavours. From traditional lamb soup to the catch of the day, there's a dish for every palate. And if you're dining at Perlan, their restaurant offers a picturesque setting ideal for a mid-day meal.

But don't rush off after the main course. One of the city's well-loved traditions, irrespective of the season, is indulging in its creamy ice cream. So, when in Reykjavík during winter (or any season, really), make sure to treat yourself to this delightful dessert. It's an experience that melds flavour with the city's charming ambience.

6. Go on an Aurora hunt

Northern lights over Reykjavik city

One of the best reasons to brave the cold and come to Iceland in winter is for a chance to see the Northern Lights. Ethereal and mysterious, when solar activity is high bands of emerald green light shimmy across the sky. 

While Reykjavík's city lights might sometimes interfere with the aurora's visibility, there are still pockets within the city where the spectacle can be witnessed, especially if the aurora is particularly vivid. One such spot is near the Sun Voyager sculpture, situated by the waterfront. For an even more enhanced viewing experience, consider journeying to Grótta Lighthouse, located to the west of Reykjavík. The reduced light pollution in this area allows for a clearer and more vibrant display of the Northern Lights.

However, nature can be unpredictable, and there might be times when the sky is overcast or the aurora is elusive. But don't let that dampen your spirits! Reykjavík offers a solution. Head over to Perlan, where the Áróra show provides an immersive Northern Lights experience, ensuring you don't miss out on this iconic phenomenon, regardless of the weather outside.

Back to articles