When I was looking into visiting Iceland, everybody advised visiting for at least several days. However, I found a total bargain on flights, so I decided to go and spend one day in Reykjavik. My flight landed at 8pm on the Saturday night, and left at 9pm on Sunday— giving me just over 24 hours in Iceland.
Even though it wasn’t a huge amount of time, I still managed to see a lot during my one day in Reykjavik— including an erupting volcano!
Getting to Reykjavik
I was extremely lucky and found incredibly cheap return flights at the weekend to Reykjavik. As I can’t take time off during term-time, this was fantastic for me. I’d wanted to visit Iceland for ages, and even just one day in Iceland is better than no days there.
The main airport in Iceland is Keflavik Airport. It’s about 45 minutes away from Reykjavik by bus and is the most I’ve ever spent on an airport transfer! It cost around £20 each way for a transfer. There are public buses but these are very inconsistent, so it was worth it to pay extra. I just got the bus to the terminal and then walked to my hostel from there, as it was only a 20-minute walk. The walk was great, as I was able to spot some fun street art on my way.
I don’t drive, but I know a lot of people will rent a car at the airport to allow them to explore the island.
One night in Reykjavik
Unfortunately, due to the timings of the flight I was going to arrive too late to go on any Northern Lights tours. I was slightly disappointed by that, but that just gives me one more reason to come back!
On my way to my hostel, I got to walk down the Rainbow street and have it all to myself. Reykjavik is very pretty at night and I felt very safe walking the streets by myself.
After I checked in, I grabbed my camera and went back out to walk to the Sun Voyager sculpture. I’d read online that it was a good place to see the Northern Lights from the capital. Unfortunately, it was far too cloudy that night to see anything, but the sculpture itself was beautiful and illuminated at night.
It wasn’t too cold, but it was icy, so I had to be careful while walking.
One day in Reykjavik
Because I had just the one day in Iceland, I decided to stay in Reykjavik and explore the city. Due to it being winter, sunrise wasn’t until very late so I had a nice lie in. When I got up, a girl in the hostel kitchen told me to go out onto the balcony because you could see the erupting volcano!
I rushed through and sure enough, right at the very edge of the balcony you had a brilliant view of the smoke rising up from the volcano. Although I’d missed the northern lights, this was an incredible sight. I used to be terrified of volcanoes as a child, but luckily now I find them fascinating. I dragged myself away as it was time to head out for my free walking tour.
On my way, I passed a giant statue of the Icelandic Christmas Cat. There was a sign next to it explaining the legend. If you don’t wear new clothes at Christmas, you’ll get eaten by the Christmas Cat.
The Walking Tour
I’ve been on lots of free walking tours, and this one was brilliant. Our guide was so friendly and taught us lots about Icelandic history and culture. Although Iceland is a very expensive country, electricity and heating are both incredibly cheap because of geothermal power, so we learned that they actually heat some of the streets in the city centre!
There were a few sites we didn’t visit, like Hallgrímskirkja, but our guide highly recommended visiting. The walk itself was very easy, as since the city is so small everything is very compact.
We finished up our tour at City Hall where we could have a seat inside, while our guide gave us a link to fill out our email address for even more recommendations. You can tip the guides with card which is always useful to know. I didn’t need to use cash at all while in Iceland.
The Flea Market
One of the things our guide had told us was that there is a flea market near the harbour on weekends. As I was wanting to head down to the harbour anyway, it made sense to give it a visit.
At the harbour area, there are memorials commemorating various shipwrecks that have happened in Iceland over the years. I read several of the signs then crossed over to the building with the flea market.
Inside, there are lots of stalls with a huge range of items. One stall sold souvenirs that were much cheaper than any souvenir shop. However, the selection wasn’t that great so I ended up passing on that. There was a used book stall which was very tempting, with books in both English and Icelandic. Their prices are quite expensive though – I later went to a bookshop to see if they had a display of books by Icelandic authors and was able to buy a new copy of a book (Asterix in Icelandic) for less than at the flea market!
I bought myself some postcards at one stall which sold old postcards and coins. There were also lots of stalls with people selling homemade crafts, and a small area for food. The food market area had some free samples, so I ended up buying myself some Rúgbrauð (Ryebread).
One thing I really liked about the food section was that they included information for tourists about the different food.
The Penis Museum
I love unique museums, so it was obvious that I was going to have to visit the Penis Museum. The price was really reasonable and I’d promised my partner to bring him back a souvenir from it.
When you first enter the museum, you go down some steps and along a corridor with various pieces of artwork that incorporate a penis in them. You then reach the gift shop and cafe. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to eat at the cafe, as you can get their famous phallic shaped waffles. However, there are more selections of penis art located around the cafe and near the toilets. It’s entirely possible to see a lot without paying the entry fee. I bought myself a book entitled “The Mythological Members of the Icelandic Phallalogical Museum” which is all about the mythical creatures of Iceland and their specimens inside. The souvenirs ranged in price so even if you’re on a tight budget you could likely afford something.
The museum was really interesting. It was split up by animal group, so for example one section was on antelope while another had all the seals. Each specimen was accompanied with a plaque telling you about the mating habits and more information about their reproductive organ. My favourite section was the mythological section, because some of the information was quite entertaining.
I also really liked the examples of ancient penis art located throughout the museum and wish there had been more of that. The actual penises themselves ranged from tiny little bones to huge whale specimens, and came in all shapes and sizes.
After the penis museum, it was time to make my way to Hallgrímskirkja. It is one of the most iconic landmarks of Reykjavik and can be seen from all over the city.
It’s an easy walk up to the church and it’s free to go inside. If you want, you can pay to take the lift to the top. I usually skip paying to go up for views, but I was curious to see if you could still see the volcano. I’m really glad I did, as the views were fantastic! You could see the harbour and the mountains in the distance. The colourful houses of the city are also a delight to see.
Every 15 minutes, the bells ring. Even though there are signs and I was ready, it was still a surprise to hear just how loud they were!
Iceland is pretty expensive, so eating was going to be one of my biggest costs. While at the flea market, I was able to try some free samples and I’d taken some snacks with me to keep me going throughout the day.
After visiting Hallgrímskirkja, I went back to visit 101 Reykjavik Street Food where I tried the famous meat soup. It came with a roll, and I ordered a soft drink with it. It was quite reasonably priced and very filling despite the small size. I really enjoyed the soup and so would happily return here on a future trip.
We stopped past the famous hot dog stand on the walking tour, however I don’t like hotdogs so I decided to give it a pass. Even though they are cheap (one of the cheapest things to try in Iceland) it wasn’t worth it when I was fairly sure I wouldn’t enjoy them.
There are several supermarkets in Iceland, and our guide recommended Krónan which is located in the city centre just behind Rainbow Street. The prices there are much cheaper than at the smaller shops on the main touristy streets, so I picked up a variety of Icelandic snacks to bring home.
Street Art in Reykjavik
One thing I love spotting when travelling is street art. While walking around I spotted quite a bit which I loved. There were quite a few murals, including several on the ground so don’t forget to look down! I saw a lot on the walking tour I did, and a lot on my walk to Hallgrímskirkja.
When I looked up blog posts about street art in Reykjavik, one thing I noticed was the pictures were always different. My two favourite pieces (both pictured here) weren’t on any of the posts I saw, and I didn’t see most of the art they shared. It sounds like the art changes quite often. For that reason, I won’t give locations simply because I don’t want people to be disappointed if it’s not there anymore.
However, there was so many murals that with just a little exploring you’re bound to find plenty of interesting bits of street art in Reykjavik.
After eating, I made my way back to the hostel to charge my phone for a bit before walking down to the bus station for my airport bus. I made sure to get there extra early, because I’d heard you could see the volcano from the bus.
I was the first one on, and sat right at the front on the left side to try and get a good view. As we got closer to the volcano, you could see a red smoke in the distance. Because the bus was moving quite fast, it was very tricky to get a good photo.
I had a fantastic time in Reykjavik! If you’re wondering if one day in Iceland is enough then my answer would be no, but one day is better than nothing! If you have the chance to stop by on a layover, you can see a lot of the city and have a great experience.
Next time I visit, I’ll definitely want to stay at least a week to explore the fantastic landscapes and hopefully see the northern lights.
Have you been to Iceland? What would you recommend in Reykjavik that I didn’t have time to do? Any budget saving tips?