A visit to Iceland’s capital can act as a serious weight loss method for your wallet. Fortunately, Reykjavík City Card offers a chance for tourists and locals alike to explore the world’s northernmost capital at a discount.
But is the City Card a good deal in your case? And should you opt for the 24, 48, or 72 hour version?
The City Card can be conveniently purchased at a number of hotels and tourist offices around Reykjavík. It’s available for three different durations, and offers free entry during that time span to four history museums, five art museums, seven thermal pools, all of the city bus routes, a ferry to a local hiking destination, and small local zoo. The card also provides you discounts to a number of activities and shops across the city. Costs are below:
|72 Hours||5,500 kr.||
For those unfamiliar with the Icelandic currency, 1000 krónur (abbreviated ISK or kr.) is equivalent to $8 or €7 as of this writing (4/6/16). Individually, each of the museums and activities listed above will set you back 840-1500 kr. with the average cost on the higher end of that scale.
In terms of whether the City Card is a good deal for you and your group, you’ll need to ask yourself a number of questions:
How much do you like museums? This is a pretty obvious starting place, as the main draw of the City Card is free entry to nine different museums. If that sounds like drudgery to you, even spread out across two or three days, you should take a pass on the card.
Are you traveling with kids? Good news: most of Iceland’s museums are very kid friendly, with unique audio guides and interactive activities. Better news: under 18s get in free almost everywhere. While the City Card is a good deal for adults, even the heavily discounted version for children doesn’t make financial sense unless you are going to do pretty much everything on this list with a kid who is over 7.
Is it Monday in the winter? Keep in mind that the National Museum, National Gallery, and Culture House will be closed, so your best bet is to go for a multiday card.
Are you going in summer or winter? While most activities offer some form of limited hours in the colder months, this doesn’t really affect the value of the City Card.
As far as I’m concerned, no trip to Iceland is complete without experiencing Icelandic history at the National Museum, learning about the founding of Reykjavík at the Settlement Exhibition, taking in some art at the Culture House, and winding down at one of the public thermal pools. If you’re between 18 and 70 years old, these four activities will collectively set you back 5100 kr. At this point, it makes sense to buy the two day pass. Throw in one more museum (I recommend Árbær if you’re visiting in summer, Hafnarhús in winter) and you could opt for a leisurely three days and still save money on the City Card.
That said, none of these activities take an especially long time and, with a solid bit of planning, you could easily work your way through just about everything the City Card offers in two days. For this reason, I’m recommending the 48 hour City Card for the average Reykjavík tourist, age 18 and up, who can create at least a dozen daylight hours over the duration of the card’s span in which to explore the city. Throw in some shopping or some kids in the crowd to slow you down, and the 72 hour card may be a better deal for the adults in the group.
So just what exactly will you get to experience once you’ve picked up your City Card? I’ve ranked the free activities below in terms of the value added by the card. I’ve computed the value based on ticket cost without the card, length of the activity, and perceived enjoyableness/importance. Of course this is all highly subjective, but it should give you a good idea of what activities to hit first. (If you’re only interested in stuff at the bottom of the list, it’ll probably save you money to skip the City Card.)
Definitive Ranking of Free Stuff
Why visit: This small museum is top-rate and a must see for any visit to Reykjavik. Built around an actual excavation site, The Settlement Exhibition is also conveniently located at the end of the main shopping street, not far from the Old Harbor. And in case you’re wondering, the +/- 2 in the name refers to the scientific uncertainties regarding the actual arrival date of Icelandic settlers.
Hours: Open year round 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
When to visit: This museum opens early and closes late, making it ideal to fit into any Reykjavik itinerary.
Cost: 1500 kr. for over 18s
Value: Though this museum is quite small, in my opinion it is essential to understanding the history of Reykjavík.
Why visit: Like The Settlement Exhibition, the National Museum is small, interactive, and easy to navigate. It covers Icelandic heritage and culture up to the modern day.
Hours: 10am-5pm every day, closed Monday during the winter (September 16th – April 30th)
When to visit: The cafe is recommended, so this might be a good stop to prevent museum fatigue or potentially embarrassing stomach grumbles.
Cost: 1500 kr. for over 18s
Value: According to Trip Advisor, this is the top Icelandic museum and therefore definitely worth a visit.
Why visit: Explore the procession of culture and architecture throughout Icelandic history in a unique outdoor setting, complete with reproduction turf houses. My hobbit heart swoons.
Hours: June-Aug: 10am-5pm, with a guided tour at 1pm during the winter months.
When to visit: This is an activity suited for the warmer temperatures of summertime. That said, it is very cool to go in the winter and be one of the few people there. Watch the calendar for exhibitions and events that highlight specific periods in Reykjavík’s history.
Cost: 1500 kr. for over 18s
Value: Most of the 20 buildings that comprise the Open Air Museum were relocated from the heart of Reykjavík to Árbær, which functioned as a farm until 1957. Like The Settlement Museum, that’s a pretty cool level of authenticity.
Why visit: This gorgeous building was the highlight of my Icelandic museum visiting experience. Assorted media from six different cultural institutions are artfully displayed in this historic building. There’s also a fantastic gift shop containing several poster and postcard versions of works in from the collection.
Hours: 10am-5pm daily from May 1 through September 15. They’re closed Mondays during the winter because no one likes to work on Mondays when there’s a 50% chance of below freezing temps.
When to visit: Might want to hit this one toward the end of the day, so you don’t have to haul your gift shop booty around to all the other museums.
Cost: 1,200 kr. for over 18s.
Value: The Culture House contains the most accessible and diverse artistic collection in Reykjavík. Whether with the City Card or doing it solo, you need to visit this lovely museum.
Why visit: Each of the three buildings is dedicated to a nationally renowned artist, providing an opportunity to experience these works at an intimate level.
- Hafnarhús: The “Harbor House” is the largest building and houses the works of Erró. This collection and the temporary shows tend toward boundary pushing / downright disturbing, but I quite liked my time there. Many of Erró’s collages are quite complex and fascinating in a way that had me examining for a long time while my boyfriend waited anxiously at the door.
- Kjarvalsstadir: This museum contains a couple works by Kjarval – another influential Icelandic artist for whom the place is named – and that’s pretty much it. Guided tours in English on Thursdays at 3 pm.
- Ásmundarsafn: Dedicated to the works of Ásmundur Sveinsson, a sculptor who also designed most of the building. Includes an outdoor sculpture collection.
Hours: Differ across the three buildings. Hafnarhús is open every day from 10am-5pm and stays open until 8pm on Thursdays. Kjarvalsstadir is similarly open every day from 10am-5pm. Ásmundarsafn is only open 1pm-5pm.
When to visit: Planning your trip, be aware that these three buildings are spread out across the city, with Hafnarhús being the most conveniently located by the harbor.
Cost: The 1200 kr. entry fee gets you into all three buildings in a single day. Free for under 18s.
Value: Since this is a three-for-one, the City Card is not as important in terms of scoring a good deal. On the other hand, you’re likely going to hit Hafnarhús and skip the other two museums unless you’re a really dedicated art fan.
Why visit: Since cod fishing was a primary source of livelihood throughout much of Iceland’s history, this is a cool stop on your tour of the island.
Hours: 10am-5pm every day, with guided tours of Odin Coast Guard ship at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00.
When to visit: Odin tour is a good idea, though it will run you an extra 1200 kr (even with the Reykjavík City Card).
Cost: 1500 kr. for over 18s
Value: Each of the history museums are quite small, and Maritime Museum is no exception. But it’s still worth a visit. Plus, upon leaving you’ll have new insight into the Cod Wars (yes, you read that correctly!), a confrontation that took place between Iceland and the UK in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Since both countries were NATO allies, they had to resort to some pretty crazy tactics, including boat ramming, ultimately ending in an Icelandic victory each time.
Why visit: This is obligatory. Hitting the neighborhood thermal pool is as Icelandic as hotdogs (they go hand in hand, trust me on this) and a much more authentic experience than the famed Blue Lagoon. Sure, the city pools are manmade, but they’re also geothermal or geothermally heated. You’re welcome, planet.
The City Card offers free entrance to all seven public pools. Below, I’ll break down the merits of each, though if you’re staying in the city center, you’re most likely to visit one of the three most centrally located (Laugardalslaug, Árbæjarlaug, or Sundhöllin).
- Laugardalslaug: The biggest and most popular swimming pool in Reykjavik with a good onsite hotdog stand to boot. It’s located close to the zoo as well as several large hotels along and Laugardalur’s camping grounds, so it can get quite crowded in the summer. Easily accessible by bus 14.
- Árbæjarlaug: A favorite summer destination for families. The indoor pool is housed in a beautiful solarium that offers a lovely view of the city.
- Sundhöllin: Walkable distance from the main shopping and nightlife street Laugavegur.
- Vesturbæjarlaug: Recently voted “Iceland’s best pool,” but Grapevine also calls it “Iceland’s most overrated pool.” It’s near the university, but further away from everything else.
- Breiðholtslaug: Location in the subburbs means this pool is less crowded and will offer you a truly local experience.
- Grafarvogslaug: Happens to have the best lap pool, if you’re into that kind of thing.
- Kléberg: Closest to mount Esja… and nothing else.
Hours: Depends on the pool, but typically 6:30am-10pm Mon-Thurs, 6:30am-8pm on Fridays, and 9am-6pm on Sat-Sun. The most popular, Laugardalslaug, has longer hours on the weekends, and the neighborhood pools generally have shorter hours.
Cost: 900 kr. for over 18s and 140 kr. for everyone else
When to visit: The colder the day, the better it will feel to run to the hot tub.
Value: A nice plus to the City Card, but the low entry fee means you could easily skip the card (or return again and again) in order to enjoy the warm waters.
Why visit: This little island is a lovely natural beauty, complete with a picturesque church and several interesting monuments including one created by Yoko Ono.
Hours: From May 15 through September 30, the ferry runs every day from 10:15am-4:30pm. The rest of the year, the ferry runs on the weekend from 1:15pm-4:30pm.
When to visit: Great for some peaceful hiking, Videy Island is worth a visit even in the winter.
Cost: In this case, being charged as an adult (1200 kr.) starts at 16. Ages 7-15 cost 600 kr. and under 7s get in free.
Value: A lovely trip, but on the other hand, there’s lots of beautiful hiking near Reykjavík. Might not be everyone’s cup of tea as the island isn’t exactly bursting with exciting sites to explore.
Why visit: With a permanently rotating selection of works, this gallery provides a good look at 19th and 20th century Icelandic art.
Hours: Another one rocking those summer hours. Open 10am – 5pm from May 15 through September 14. The rest of the year, they open an hour later (that hangover though) and are closed on Monday.
Cost: 1000 kr. for the 18s
Value: Cool if you’re into modern art.
Why visit: Open winter and summer, the zoo contains a small assortment of Icelandic animals (including the blue fox). There’s also some rides and playgrounds that are open in the summer.
Hours: From June 1 through August 23, open 10am-6pm. The rest of the year it closes an hour earlier.
When to visit: More of a summertime activity, as there’s not much to see at the zoo.
Cost: 840 kr. for the 13 and up crowd. 5-12 year olds get in for 620 kr. and the rest are free.
Why visit: I’m aware it’s weird, but I have this deep appreciation for public transportation. Forcing yourself to travel by bus is a great way to have an authentic local experience and challenge yourself, uh, logistically (okay, that sounded better in my head). Anyway, I recommend at least one bus ride for every destination. On the other hand, Reykjavík is an incredibly walkable city, so you’re unlikely to actually need to take the bus.
Hours: 6:45am-ish to 11:45pm-ish
When to visit: I recommend taking bus 14 to and from Laugardalslaug for an evening spent pretending to be Icelandic.
Cost: 350 kr. paid in exact change. There’s also an app you can use, but it needs to be downloaded before visiting (because they’ll need to send you an SMS) and that’s a lot of planning.
Value: The bus is so cheap and you’re so unlikely to need it, that it doesn’t really matter that this is included in the City Card. I guess there’s a convenience factor though.
Why visit: It takes at max 30 minutes to go through the museum, which is housed on the 6th floor of the sprawling city library. Seems like a nicely pedestrian thing to do, though I can’t say because I missed this during my trip.
Hours: 12-7pm Mon-Thurs, 12-6pm Friday, and 1-5pm Sat-Sun
When to visit: Well… wifi here is free, so duck in if you need to recharge your phone, use the loo, and send a quick message home.
Value: Including this in the Reykjavik City Card is kind of cheating, because this museum is always free!
Purchasing the City Card also provides access to various discounts. I’m assuming these deals are only good for the duration of the card, so you’ll want to squeeze in some shopping if that’s your thing. For me, the highlights are:
Handknitting Association – buy a knitted sweater & get Varma socks free. This is the place to shop for Icelandic woolen sweaters. The selection is quite immense and entirely made in Iceland, unlike some Chinese-made brands like Farmers Market. Price: the classic pullover will run you 18,100 kr. for women and 19,800 kr. for men. Varma socks are about 3,200 kr.
Harpa – 25% discount on guided tour of Harpa. Walking into Harpa is like entering into a mirrored architectural wonderland. Though the price is perhaps a bit steep for a 45 minute tour, Trip Advisor reviews say it’s a must do. Price: 1,462.5 kr. after the discount.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum – 20% discount off the admission. World’s only. Unique experience. Enough said. Price: 1000 kr. for 13+ after the discount. Kids get in free… but maybe not a good idea.
Ishestar Riding Tours – 15% discount off the Lava tour at 14:00. If you’re into horseback riding or just looking for a new way to get up close and personal with Icelandic nature, Ishetar is a great experience I can personally vouch for. Price: 9,690 kr. after the discount. Unclear if this can be combined with the 10% discount for booking online.
MAR – 15% off the menu. Cool restaurant right by the sea. Price: Dinner entrees will run you about 3,200 kr. Lunch is a much more reasonable 1,800-2,800 kr.
See the total list of discounts here.
So readers, did I leave anything out? What was your experience using the City Card?
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