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After finding my enjoyment of Florence greatly enhanced with the Firenze card, I was intrigued when I found out that Reykjavik also offers a city card. Of course, Iceland is very different to Italy and everyone who I’d spoken to before the trip recommended that we get out of the city and spend as much time enjoying the amazing Icelandic nature as possible.

So would it be worth spending so much time indoors when the scenery promised to be so stunning? My hand was forced the first day of our stay when a massive storm blew in and every tour company in town cancelled their day’s (and night’s) excursions. The rainy streets of Reykjavik were filled with dejected visitors complaining that they didn’t have anything to do, and I heard a man in the central tourist office in the morning claiming, slightly passive-aggressively, that he’d be coming back in the afternoon once he’d done everything they’d already suggested. The city card seemed like the best option, given the circumstances.

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Hallgrímskirkja is Reykjavik’s main landmark.

What is the Reykjavik City Card?

The card is available for 24, 48, or 72 hours. The clock starts ticking as soon as you visit the first attraction; the staff at the ticket office write down the time you enter on your card and calculate the time it expires. This seems like a fair way of doing things and gives you some flexibility – you don’t have to start using the city card right away, and if you buy the 48-hour card, as I did, you might even be able to squeeze an extra early-morning activity into the third day (such as swimming) before your time’s up.

The card lets you visit a variety of attractions without paying a separate entry fee, including in all municipal museums and art galleries, thermal pools, the local zoo, and it also lets you use public transport. There are sizeable discounts off the private museums as well as various other perks, too. There’s a full list of included activities here.

What I used it for

Reykjavik is an expensive city, and matters were made worse by the relative weakness of the pound (stupid Brexit). I wanted to save money to try the local food; attempt to see the northern lights; and make at least one daytime excursion out of town. But I’d also read a lot, mainly on the highly informative I Heart Reykjavik, about Icelandic culture and I was keen to visit a local thermal pool and see the main museums. So we opted for a 48-hour card each for ISK 4,900. Here’s what I did with mine:

  • Understood Viking history at the Settlement Museum (normal cost: ISK 1,600)
  • Delved into the national psyche at the National Museum of Iceland (ISK 2,000)
  • Checked out the art in the National Gallery of Iceland (ISK 1,500)
  • Swam twice (and enjoyed a hot tub in the snow) at Sundhöll public pool (ISK 1,900)
  • Learned about the cod wars and Icelandic fisherwomen at the the Maritime Museum (ISK 1,600)

The total of all of these attractions separately would have been 8,600 ISK – significantly more than I paid for the card. By the time our 48 hours were up, I felt like I’d seen and experienced a lot and had never been rushed. I didn’t make it to the photography museum, which was a pity, nor the Culture House – but while none of the museums were enormous, they were all beautifully curated and I came away feeling that I’d learned a little bit about the country, its history and its culture.

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I snapped this colourful bike and house near Sundhöll public pool.

Is the Reykjavik City Card worth it?

Definitely. Luckily, the storm blew itself out after one day of appalling weather and normal service resumed in terms of trips (and we were able to go northern lights hunting and did the classic Golden Circle tour). But even if the weather hadn’t been so fierce, I think I still would have bought the card. Museums are a highlight of any city trip for me, and with the individual cost of entry being so high the Reykjavik city card quickly paid for itself. What made it even better was that it also gave us entry to the local swimming pools – heated by thermal water and minimally treated with chemicals, they’re incredibly popular with locals. The pools also offer much more than I’m used to at home – think saunas and hot tubs under the stars and you’ll begin to see their appeal.

Incidentally, the swimming pools come with their own protocol, including mandatory naked showering. I have to admit I was pretty nervous about this part, but it turns out I had no need to be. The showers are, obviously, single sex and everyone’s very low key about the whole thing. Kids and adults shower in the same area, and no-one’s looking at you. I have to say that while I was there I properly realised that all the naked bodies we’re usually presented with are usually those of (female) actors – young, slim, in top physical condition and genetically blessed. It’s easy to feel insecure when that’s all you’ve got to compare yourself with, but in the Reykjavik pools’ shower and changing rooms everyone was letting it all hang out, regardless of age or physical condition. It was kind of nice.

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A typical Reykjavik street scene.

Other notes or tips?

Older people (I think aged 67+, but this might vary depending on the attraction) get reduced or free entry to many municipal attractions, as do kids and students. So if you or others in your group fall into any of these categories, it’s probably worth doing the maths to see if the card works out for you. I’ve heard that even though the kids’ Reykjavik City Card is much cheaper, it’s not really worth it as young children normally get free entry anyway.

Generally, the Reykjavik City Card let me see a lot of the city without breaking the bank or wearing myself out. We were able to take breaks, go for coffee/beer or lunch, and still see what we wanted to see, thanks to the compact size of the city and the fact that none of the museums sucked up hours of our time. The Settlement Museum was little but impressive. Do it!