There aren’t that many big sights in Reykjavik itself but there’s plenty to keep you busy for a full day in the city.
With no waterfalls, glaciers or geysers, you might be tempted to skip Reykjavik and head straight out to the sights in the wild Icelandic countryside. Here’s why you should spend some of your precious time in Iceland in the world’s northernmost capital city.
The Harpa concert hall
Starting on the waterfront, don’t miss the Harpa concert hall. The building sits on the edge of the sea like a massive version of the glacier fragments at “Diamond Beach” in the south of Iceland.
The outside is special but the inside is spectacular. The walls are made out of thousands of 3D glass shapes, some of which are coloured so the light inside is just gorgeous. It’s free to go inside and there’s a cool gift shop featuring Icelandic designs.
The Sun Voyager sculpture
A little further along the coastline from Harpa you’ll find the Sólfarið (Sun Voyager) sculpture – another must see. I found its sense of promise and moving on very moving.
From the Sun Voyager, we walked back towards Harpa and across the Arnarhóll park. In the middle of the small hilly park there’s a statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, the first settler in Reykjavik who came to Iceland in around 874.
At this point we noticed something weird. The grass in the park was covered in frost (we visited Iceland in February), but the paths were completely clear. That’s because they have hot water pipes running underneath them to keep them clear of snow and ice. That’s right; in Iceland they have so much geothermic hot water, the pavements are centrally heated. Mind. Blown.
A little further on is the start of Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping street with lots of interesting independent stores, coffee shops and bars alongside the big brands.
For the best approach to Hallgrímskirkja, take a right off Laugavegur and walk up the gentle slope of Skólavörðustígur. The enormous white church is at the top of the hill, fronted by a statue of Leifur Eiríksson, the first known European to discover North America.
It’s well worth going inside the church. To go up the tower costs ISK 900 (about £6) but it’s free to go into the nave. While we were enjoying the architecture there was a sort of prayer service going on and the organist was practicing which made it even more special.
We didn’t visit any museums or art galleries, but if that’s what you’re after (or you’re just looking for somewhere educational to warm up) then you can take your pick. Reykjavik’s museums include the National Museum of Iceland, the National Gallery of Iceland, the Icelandic Punk Museum (in an old public toilet), and the Icelandic Phallological Museum.
Other sights in Reykjavik city centre
Other places you’ll want to see in the city are the Icelandic Parliament, the cute brightly coloured buildings around the Ingólfstorg and the big lake behind the city hall where ducks, geese and swans try to stop the water freezing around them while being fed by tourists. I particularly enjoyed that the information board about the various species on the lake included pigeons.
We didn’t get there but I’ve heard that the views over the city from the Pearl, a hot water storage facility (stay with me) with a domed roof and rotating restaurant, which lies a little outside the city centre are fantastic.
Have you visited Reykjavik?