Shop on Rainbow Road, visit a famous church, dine locally, ‘fly’ over Iceland then bathe in a volcanic lagoon.
1 - Skolavordustigur Street
The pedestrianised shopping area is a prime spot for photo opportunities. The street was initially painted in the colours of the rainbow to mark the 17th edition of Reykjavik Pride in 2015, but has since become a permanent fixture and unsurprisingly been dubbed Rainbow Road – thankfully easier to pronounce than its real name. Iceland is considered one of the world’s most LGBTQ+ friendly countries, with its annual Pride parade drawing in tens of thousands of people. On either side of the rainbow are artisan shops, which include ceramic galleries, record shop 12 Tonar, which also hosts concerts and events at its in-store bar and café, one of the oldest coffee shops in Reykjavik, Mokka, and a former prison – the grey-stone building Hegningarhusio (‘the penalty house’).
2 - Hallgrimskirkja
At the top of the street stands the city’s main landmark, an Evangelical Lutheran church named after 17th century hymn writer Hallgrimur Petursson. At 74.5m tall, it is visible from almost every point of the city but is worth visiting to see the striking modernist architecture by Gudjon Samuelsson. Its stepped concrete façade fits in with the often moody weather, while a statue at the foot of the church pays homage to the Norse explorer Leif Erikson. Inside lies a peaceful hall and an impressive 15m-tall organ with 5,275 pipes. Visitors can enjoy organ concerts, held on the first Saturday of every month from October until June. For a panoramic view of the city’s colourful rooftops, buy a ticket to the tower (ISK1,200). Open daily 10am-5pm (tower until 4.30pm). The church holds religious services and concerts, so opening times vary. Check before visiting.
3 - Dining out
The land of ice and fire has plenty of great local produce to work with, and its dining scene is excellent. If all you want from your city break is food and wine, then Ymir is your man. His company, Magical Iceland, takes groups on tailored four-hour private tours to sample everything from local delicacies to craft beers, fine dining and even a tasting of shnapps alongside scents at perfumery Fischersund. He tells plenty of anecdotes about his travels, including his experience filming BBC’s Rick Stein’s Long Weekends. If you don’t have time for the tour, visit the high-end restaurant Food Cellar on Aoalstræti (the slow-cooked cod with almonds, smoked lamb and noisette-hollandaise is exquisite), or for more affordable street food head to Korean restaurant Kore.
4 - Flyover Iceland
If you only have a short time in the city, this immersive experience by Pursuit in the Grandi Harbor district gives you a glimpse of all that Iceland has to offer within 35 minutes. It starts off with two multi-sensory rooms exploring the history of the island, before guests strap in for a thrilling rollercoaster-like ride flying you over the country’s awe-inspiring landscapes. Your legs dangle before a 20m wraparound spherical screen, while special effects, such as mist sprays and wind, give the illusion that you’re whizzing through the projected locations. The team spent 100 hours in a helicopter to capture the picturesque shots. Tickets from ISK4,990.
5 - Blue Lagoon
While not situated in the city itself, the Blue Lagoon is a 15-minute drive to Keflavik airport and a convenient stop-off en route. Surrounded by an 800-year-old lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the 38°C turquoise waters keep you toasty in the cold climate. The mineral compound silica provides the blue colouring as it reflects the blue wavelengths of visible light, absorbing the rest of the colours when suspended in water. Bathing here is a soothing, restorative experience and particularly magical at sunset – if you’re lucky you may see the aurora light up the night sky. A standard ticket includes a drink at the swim-up bar and a mud face mask. Round off your experience with fine dining at the Lava Restaurant amid its volcanic rock walls and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the lagoon (the Arctic char is recommended). Open 8am-8pm, November-December 15; 8am-9pm, December 16-January.