A 48 hour itinerary that includes museums, craft beer, fine dining and Icelandic street food.
Flying direct from PDX on IcelandAir we enjoyed a quick visit to Reykjavik before heading to the Netherlands for my birthday. With only 48 hours to explore we decided to stay in the city both days.
We purchased flybus tickets at the airport. The buses run regularly and we were dropped off at the main bus station located walking distance to downtown. Hotels amenities are nice but airbnbs are no fuss, inexpensive and enhance any travel experience. We landed SUPER early in the morning and couldn’t access the apartment until much, much later – so we stored our luggage at the bus station and went straight to the visitor center.
The visitor center opens at 8AM and is located in the City Hall. We purchased the 48 hour ‘City Card’ which had tremendous value to us since our itinerary was mostly museums and in town attractions. With this card you get access to all of the museums, main attractions, Reykjavík’s thermal pools, hot pots and saunas. Public transportation is included along with other savings and offers.
1. Breakfast at Bergsson Mathús
Walking into this warm and cheery cafe after such a long travel day was like hitting the jackpot. They deeply care about the ingredients that they use and are vegan/vegetarian friendly. PLUS, freshly baked bread!!! The menu changes daily + I read on their website that they offer 2 for 1 items between 4-7 to cut back on food waste. LOVE! The restaurant was packed with locals and other tourists but we were able to find space after only a few minutes. Counter service was friendly and efficient. I didn’t want the caffeine jolt of coffee so I ordered black tea and the simple Danish Breakfast spread.
2. Viking Settlement –
Built around the actual remains of a Viking longhouse, our first stop following breakfast was the fascinating, Settlement Exhibition Reykjavík 871±2. This site examines the the earliest evidence of human settlement in the city and discusses the Viking Age History of Iceland. It’s only about a 30+ minute time commitment and has interactive technology around the perimeter of the room. There is a very cool collection of artifacts from other excavation sites around the city centre. The exhibition gives a clear picture of the people and their way of life at this time. There was even a small viking play area with dress up equipment for smaller children.
In early September the weather was cold and rainy. I wasn’t prepared for the chilly day and had to wear BOTH a jean jacket and rain coat for warmth, my shoes were soaked by the time we made it to the airbnb. Lucky for us, many of the museums/attractions are only a short walking distances from each other.
3. AÐALSTRÆTI 10
Around the corner from the Viking museum is Aðalstræti 10 , this museum only recently became open to the public. Built in 1762, this is the oldest and one of the city’s most important houses. Antiques and artifacts are stored in glass cases that line the wall of the first floor. Upstairs a photo exhibit of early Reykjavik settlers.
4. REYKJAVIK ART MUSEUM –
Our third and final museum for day 1, all of which we used the ‘City Card’ for entry. A few different exhibits, Icelandic themes. Impressive modern collection of art with a cafe and a very cool museum gift shop. We spent most of our afternoon here.
Did you know that Iceland was beer-free until 1989?! Also, this country has the highest alcohol taxes in Europe. We discovered Session Craft Bar while walking down the main street. The selection was impressive and the prices were reasonable. We were the only customers and the barman was super friendly and willing to answer all of our questions about Reykjavik – he even taught me about nose tobacco and their government spirits (I tried both). I had a Sour Beer flight from local brewers RVK. James tried a few of the other drafts on tap.
We were lucky enough to secure reservations at Dill, a New Nordic restaurant in downtown Reykjavik. The very first restaurant in Iceland to be awarded a Michelin Star, if you can get a reservation – it really is a must! Delicious + Unique methods for preparing native Icelandic fare and gorgeous plating. I recommend the wine pairings, they are perfectly selected to highlight the best part of each dish. A meal runs about 13.900kr per person for this 7 courses pre fixe (extra for wine). After an entire day walking in the rain it was nice to spoil ourselves with such a beautiful meal.
Located in the same building as Dill, this is the perfect place for pre/post imbibing. BIG fans of craft beer and everything Mikkeller, we visited this location THREE times in the two days. The bartenders I loved the circus theme and private room upstairs (ask to take a look if it’s closed off the patrons).
“This four floor building was designed and built by a doctor called Guðmundur Hannesson in the summer of 1910. The house used to be his family’s residence but has also housed Reykjavík’s first X-Ray clinic and the Icelandic Women Shelter.”
Our apartment was directly in Reykjavik City Square – above a restaurant and across from a karaoke/sing along bar. One thing to remember is that Reykjavik stays up late on the weekends! Singing bar patrons kept us awake singing outside of our window until FIVE AM!
There are lots of young people and tourist enjoying vacation. Be sure and consider this before booking accommodation in tourist heavy areas. We chose our location out of convenience and distance to the other in town attractions.
We started the day by visiting the inside of the City Library downtown. The exhibit was small and on the top floor of the building, there is some art displayed in the stair wells as well.
2. Souvenir Shopping
“The museum offers a variety of fascinating exhibitions and one permanent display illustrating lavishly the story of Iceland’s past, from the medieval days of Viking settlements to current contemporary culture. The main exhibition has over 2,000 artifacts discovered in various parts of the country.”
One of the larger museums we visited. Beautiful viking and religious artifacts, interactive displays. Entrance Fee is included with the City Card, I’m so glad we made time for this one.
For lunch we wanted something casual and inexpensive. A family owned restaurant, Icelandic Street Food had such a welcoming atmosphere. We began with the Fishermans favorite, a fish stew of Icelandic cod, potatos and onion in hollandaise sauce. Served like a dip/spread with Rye Bread. We also shared a bread bowl with a traditional Icelandic lamb stew. Free refills were available on both, they make sure no one leaves hungry. Around the room were plates with complimentary cookies and pastries. It was such a fun and delicious experience!
For dinner, Mexican food in Iceland! Because of my heritage, there is nothing more comforting to me than food wrapped in a tortilla. I knew it wasn’t going to be authentic so I went with an open mind. Fun, cocktail bar atmosphere downstairs and more of a cozy southwestern vibe upstairs. Small plates/tapas style dishes were colorful and delicious.
6. Micro Bar
Cozy, basement atmosphere with an excellent selection of beers, including brews from house brewery, Gæðingur brugghús. This place was recommended by the bartenders at the other craft beer spots we visited and had good reviews on the internet. Packed with tourists and locals, the counter service was friendly and the beer was cold.
We love seeing live music when we’re abroad, so we finished the night at a venue/bar in downtown Reykjavík. Iceland is increasingly becoming recognized for its vibrant and growing metal and hardcore scene. This night we enjoyed BLACK METAL being played to a medium sized crowd. The tickets weren’t expensive and the g+t’s were strong. Non gendered bathrooms and the friendliest head bangers I’ve ever encountered. Concerts, drag shows, standup comedy + karaoke parties are booked here regularly.