My style of traveling typically involves setting aside 10% of my time for scheduled activities and then saving the rest for getting lost. (With a GPS in my pocket of course- I don’t live that wildly). I can walk down back alleys and gaze at funky buildings for hours on end. Lucky for me, Reykjavík is known as a very walkable city and you can feasibly explore the whole downtown area by foot. Five weeks have passed since my arrival in Reykjavík and I manage to continually be amused by the colorful buildings, inspiring street art and unexplored sidewalks I stumble upon. However, I understand that not everyone finds meandering aimlessly exciting, and realistically speaking, most travelers only set aside a day or two to explore Reykjavík.
But not to fret! It is very possible to squeeze the best of the best into one day here. I deviated from my usual directionless wandering and set out with a mission this time- to find out how one can best optimize their time with the 24 Hour Reykjavík City Card. This card is the easiest and most economical way to see the city; it gives you access to all the city’s museums, swimming pools, and buses as well as discounts on a number of activities, restaurants, and nightlife events. I made all the newbie mistakes so that you can look like a local out there. You can thank me later.
Before you get your big day started, there are a few things you’ll want to do in preparation. First, download the Straetó app on your smartphone. The City Card gives you access to all of the inner city buses and the app makes it easy to navigate the system. Simply choose “trip planner”, enter your starting location (I found it easiest to choose use current location), and then enter your destination and the general time you want to go. The app gives you a few options and times for buses you can take. And if you have no clue where you’re at, just tap the arrow in the upper right hand corner to get the “Route Track” and see exactly where you need to be.
You’ll also want to choose exactly what museums you want to visit before you head out. The City Card gives you access to 11 of them plus the city zoo, and unless you’re Speedy Gonzalez, you won’t have time for all of them. As if the Visitors Center anticipated this dilemma, you’ll receive a little blue pamphlet that has a short description on all the museums when you pick up your City Card.
I found it’s best to map out your agenda. You’ll receive a city map from the Visitor’s Center as well, so I circled exactly where my chosen museums were and got a basic idea of where to walk. Less time wandering aimlessly means more time museum capitalizing.
The City Card gets you a ticket on the ferry to Viđey Island, and if you enjoy long walks, cute birds, or afternoon carrot cake, I recommend you take advantage of this. In the winter, you can only catch the ferry on weekend afternoons, so I recommend visiting your chosen museums in the morning and then catching the ferry after lunch. Summer ferries start at 10:15am every day, so you have more flexibility then. Along with miles of walking trails, Viđey Island has a cute café for some afternoon tea (as my wannabe British side would say).
The majority of the museums close by 5 pm, but most of the city’s hot pools stay open until 10 pm, so save the hot pools for later in the day. This is the perfect reward after being on your feet all day. Make sure to bring a swimsuit with you when you set out in the morning so you don’t lose time stopping back at your accommodation. Also, weekend hours can vary, so check before you go.
After your skin has turned sufficiently raisin-y, take advantage of the many food deals that the City Card offers. You get up to 15% off at certain restaurants, all listed in your blue pamphlet. A lot of these places offer happy hour as well, so download the Appy Hour app to find where cheap drinks meet cheap food. (Well, cheapER).
If you’re up for a late night activity, The City Card offers deals on some evening activities. You can buy discounted tickets to see the Iceland Symphony Orchestra or catch a film at Bió Paradis for 25% off. Or, if your body is still aching, I recommend checking out the rooftop thermal hot tubs at Sundhöll Reykjavíkur. Sitting under the stars in steaming geothermal water? Count me in.
I personally feel that if you have the time to spare, get the 48 Hour City Card. While the museums here are relatively small, it will take longer than a day to properly enjoy them. And Icelandic people are very modest about their museums, but I found them to be more than worthy of exploration. Reykjavik doesn’t house the most famous artwork, but there’s something so much more endearing about new, unexpected art. Here it feels like you’re uncovering hidden gems and you develop a more intimate relationship with the art. It is definitely worth the time if you have it.
My last words of guidance would be to avoid Mondays if you can. Several of the city’s museums are closed on Mondays, so you wouldn’t be getting as much bang for you buck. Heed my advice and you should feel like a Reykjavik pro after a day with the City Card. Happy exploring!
Where I went (in order):
- Reykjavik Art Museum—Hafnarhús
- Maritime Museum
- National Gallery of Iceland
- National Museum of Iceland
- Árbæjarsafn Open Air Museum
- Ferry to Viđey Island
You wouldn’t have time to realistically do all these museums in one day. I was basically running through them just to get an idea of what kind of art they have. If I were to recommend an order with my favorite museums, it would be: Hafnarhús -> National Gallery of Iceland -> National Museum of Iceland -> ferry -> hot pools -> dinner -> symphony orchestra
This post is a part of a series of posts where Sarah, our 23-year-old Coloradan blog-helping-elf, shares her findings during her 5-week stay in Reykjavík. Before Sarah joined us here in Reykjavík she spent a year in New Zealand where she got a taste for the sweet life of travel. After Reykjavík she’s headed south again to spend a year in Australia.
Read more of Sarah Takes on Iceland here.