Must-See Landmarks in Reykjavik
As is the case with any city, most prospective visitors will want to do some research before they leave home about what they should see and do. Travellers to Iceland will usually find themselves in the capital for at least a day or two. If that's going to be you, why not check out our picks for Reykjavik landmarks that you should not miss.
Within the city centre, you'll also want to take a closer look at Reykjavik's most famous church. The exterior of Hallgrímskirkja was inspired by Iceland's basalt columns and is as beautiful as anything nature could create. It measures an impressive 74.5 metres tall, the largest in the country. It's possible to ascend the tower by elevator, and from the viewing platform at the top, you can feel the breeze on your face as you peer down at the city streets below. Whether you've come for worship, have an interest in religion or simply intend to admire the architecture, its spacious, light-filled interior is nothing short of magnificent.
2. Harpa Concert Hall
Another of the most famous Reykjavik landmarks is Harpa Concert Hall, an award-winning concert hall and conference centre. Finished in 2011, it occupies a prominent location close to the old harbour on the edge of the city's northern shoreline. A patchwork of 714 glass panels, lit by LED lights, produces an extraordinary façade. Each panel is a unique shape, though as irregular hexagons, they mimic the basalt landscape of the Icelandic countryside. It's this which makes the building worth seeking out, even for those who don't have tickets for a performance.
Top of your Reykjavik landmarks bucket list should be Perlan – there's really nothing like it. When you first arrive in a city, it's often a good idea to get up high so that you can figure out what's where and get your bearings. In Reykjavik, that's what Perlan offers, perched on top of Öskjuhlið Hill. From its observation deck, you can see right across the city's church spires and rooftops and towards breathtaking Mount Esja on the opposite side of the water.
But that's not all because the inside of Perlan is arguably even more compelling. With fascinating exhibits covering various aspects of nature in Iceland – volcanoes, glaciers and bird cliffs as well as a jaw-dropping show about the Aurora Borealis – this is one of Reykjavik's must-see landmarks for a range of reasons.
4. Sun Voyager
The Sun Voyager (Sólfar in Icelandic) is an iconic statue that graces the waterfront on the northern edge of Reykjavik. Designed by talented sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason, its shape resembles a Viking longboat. It represents a dreamboat or an ode to the sun and symbolises freedom and future hope. Its graceful curves and the sleek finish of the aluminium used in its construction make this a firm favourite with visitors to the city. It's especially pretty at sunrise or sunset when the pinks, reds and oranges of the sky are reflected in the shiny metal.
North American visitors especially might also be interested in seeing Pétur Bjarnason's Partnership monument, about a ten-minute walk away. Commemorating many decades of US-Icelandic diplomatic relations, there's a twin sculpture in Miami, Florida.
5. Höfði House
History buffs will want to make a beeline for Höfði House, where you can follow in the footsteps of people like Winston Churchill and Marlene Dietrich. Importantly, this is also where Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan met during the Reykjavik Summit in 1986. Their discussions proved to be a pivotal moment in negotiations to end of the Cold War and precipitate the fall of the Iron Curtain, freeing Eastern European nations from their post-war Soviet ties.
The house itself was imported from Norway on the instruction of the French consul more than a century ago. The interior of the wooden structure is off-limits to travellers. Still, its charming exterior makes it a fine backdrop for selfies.
6. Reykjavik City Hall
Overlooking Tjörnin, the city centre lake that's also considered a Reykjavik landmark, you'll encounter Reykjavik City Hall, which is used for political and administrative functions. The building perches on the lake's shore and extends out over the water. It also features a cool living moss wall, a rich tapestry of greenery anchored into a porous volcanic stone wall, which provides a striking contrast with the surrounding concrete.
Inside, step into the Tjarnarsalur (Lake Room) to see a wonderful relief map of Iceland. It's an impressive 1: 50,000 scale model but with a twist: the elevation has been doubled for effect, so the height scale is 1: 25,000.
Suppose you have an interest in Icelandic cultural history and maritime heritage. In that case, you'll be interested in this unusual and sometimes overlooked Reykjavik landmark. Created by Icelandic artist Ólöf Nordal, this grassy mound overlooks the city's harbour and also the picturesque Faxaflói.
Standing an impressive eight metres tall, Þúfa is designed to be climbed. It is topped off with a wooden fish-drying frame. You might want to sniff out some harðfiskur (dried fish) later as a result. It's worth appreciating the work both from a distance and close-up; the views of Reykjavik are also pretty special.
8. Sky Lagoon
If a structure is sufficiently different to what's already in a city, it can soon become a landmark, and Sky Lagoon is a case in point. This deluxe geothermal spa on the outskirts of Reykjavik opened in 2021, and it has quickly made its mark as a landmark attraction. Though, of course, the main draw for visitors is to soak in the warm, mineral-rich water and enjoy pampering spa treatments, the complex is also an architectural stunner.
Much thought went into its design and the materials used in its construction. The infinity edge pool with its sheer lava cliff-style walls and the floor-to-ceiling picture windows of its wood-clad sauna makes this place as much of a Reykjavik landmark as anything you'll find in the heart of the city centre.
9. Grótta Island Lighthouse
Grótta Island Lighthouse is a prominent Greater Reykjavik landmark during the day when visitors might come here to admire the 1947 structure as well as enjoy the surrounding nature reserve – you'll see birds such as Arctic terns and tufted ducks as well as the occasional seal near its black sand beach.
But it's after dark when you get the giveaway clue that explains why this lighthouse is so popular. Connected via a narrow spit accessible at low tide, its convenient location within easy reach of downtown Reykjavik makes it a favourite haunt of aurora hunters seeking somewhere dark. And if you schlep out here and the Northern Lights prove a little camera-shy, remember you can catch the spellbinding Áróra show at Perlan instead.
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