Reykjavik is the national capital of Iceland. It is located in the southwestern part of the country, over a peninsula offering some of the best views on Earth and some of the most incredible natural wonders known to man.
Geographically speaking, the city is considered the most westerly capital in the European Union and the Northernmost capital city in the world. Reykjavik has a long relationship with the development of arts, literature, and science. As such, it was rewarded by UNESCO as a City of Literature in 2011.
Looking for Free Things to do in Reykjavik
Reykjavik offers a long list of cultural events all year long, and paid tours to every corner of the capital. However, if you want to meet some of the most beautiful and colorful spots in the city, you don’t need a big budget at all. Sometimes, you don’t even need a budget! Here’s a list of five free things to do in Reykjavik:
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to take a walk in the Icelandic countryside, but aren’t looking to venture too far from Reykjavik? Reykjavik has this covered with Elliðaárdalur, a small natural retreat right in the middle of the city, and one of the most beloved recreational spaces of Reykjavik locals. It’s a hidden treasure right in Reykjavik that most travelers rarely get to see, simply because they don’t know it exists!
The nature-filled space is extensive and full of interesting Icelandic biodiversity. You will find a fair share of rivers, small waterfalls, a plethora of local Icelandic flora and fauna, and some wonderful animals.
This Elliðaárdalur Valley has been renowned for the Elliðaá River, runnign through the center of it, with several small waterfalls. In the summer, locals can be seen fishing for salmon and trout.
A good number of walking trails and hiking pathways weave in and out of this 5-square kilometer park, leaving plenty of places to explore, without even realizing that you are in the center of Iceland’s largest metropolis.
Take In Reykjavik by Foot
One of the most wonderful aspects of Reykjavik is that the entire city can easily be explored on foot, without the need to walk twenty miles. Think of Reykjavik as laid out similarly to San Francisco. Very compact, easy to get around, and an immense number of things on every corner.
Exploring on foot is the best way to take your time and really experience Reykjavik for the wonderful city it is. Even if you are on a strict and tight budget, you can easily walk down such streets as Laugavegur, Bankastraeti, Austurstraeti, Laekjargata, and Skolavöroustigur. Enjoy the unique and ornate buildings, the fabulous street art, the kind hearted locals, and the beautiful cats.
Most of the hotels in the city have free maps of the streets and attractions, and the kind local employees are more than willing to point you wherever you are needing to go if you get lost.
If you in the mood for some sightseeing and you have an interest in the architecture of Reykjavik, you can explore a number of neighborhoods that have some of the most colorful houses you’ll ever see, such as Pingholtin, Odinsgata, Porsgata, Lokastigur, and Freyjugata (all bearing the names of Nordic religious figures).
In the very center of it all lies the Hallgrimskirkja Church, one of the most imposing buildings in the capital. This massive church, with a height of 74.5 meters, is the tallest building in all of Iceland. It was built with a clean expressionist design, with staggered but identical formations rising up, inspired by the basalt columns of Svartifoss.
Walking along the Saebraut road that borders the ocean along the outskirts of Reykjavik, you can easily hit the Solfar Sun Voyager Sculpture, the Harpa Concert Hall, and the Old Marina, all worth a visit, and all free to enjoy.
Climb Mount Esja
Mount Esja is a wonderful place for outdoorsy types and those who love hiking. This is referred to as the “City Mountain” of Reykjavik as it is located just outside city limits (about ten kilometers). Once summited, the view from the top of this 914-meter high mountain is absolutely breathtaking.
There are multiple routes up Mount Esja, which vary regarding their difficulty. These paths are all divided into sections, and are well marked with signage along the paths. All signs provide indications of the difficulty of the paths ahead, with grading systems from one (simple) to three (far more challenging).
At the highest challenging level, those climbers who are more experienced can choose to climb straight to the top, instead of following the more leisurely path up the side. 200 meters from the summet, there is a large rock referred to as Steinn. Many climbers stop at this point and enjoy the stunning view. The path becomes far more difficult from Steinn.
Learn More About Iceland at Pjodarbokhladan
Iceland as a country is gifted in that it has the most literate population per capita in the world. In fact, looking on a per capita basis, Iceland has many publishing records, including the most Nobel Prizes, most prolific writers, and more. So why not stop by the center of Iceland’s literary culture?
The Pjodarbokhladan is translated from Icelandic into English as “National Library”. Located in a modern looking building right in Reykjavik, the Pjodarbokhladan is the National Library of Iceland, and is the largest library in the country. It includes many free cultural exhibits on the ground floor of the building, rivaling those of some of the museums in Reykjavik,
These exhibits rotate seasonally, ranging from local art pieces to exhibitions on the history of Iceland, and many more cultural offerings.
Take a Seaside walk in the Grotta
Located close to the Old Harbour in Reykjavik is a small island with a beautiful, picturesque lighthouse. There is a rock sea wall that connects the Grotta island with the mainland, built long ago by hand and perfect for a walk in the evening time. This is a prime location for Reyklavik locals to propose as well.
The simple and short walk provides views of the Atlantic Ocean and the churning, cold surf. You’ll walk beneath seagulls and the occasional puffin, and feel the wind on your face. At the other end, there are some side trails allowing walkers to explore the Grotta island, and get to the lighthouse located there.
It is vital to keep track of your timing, though. If the tides are off and they come in when not expected, you’ll find yourself stranded on the island for several hours.