If your time is limited in Iceland, my recommendation would be that you explore beyond Reykjavik and see the incredible natural landscape that the country has to offer. The likelihood is though that, at some point or other, you will find yourself in the capital. If your time there is limited also, like ours was, then here are some of the key things a first-time visitor will want to see.
The Sun Voyager has been a familiar feature of Reykjavik’s waterfront since 1990 and is said to be a symbol of Icelandic dreams of hope, progress and freedom. This sculpture by Jon Gunnar Árnason is a prominent landmark that reflects the spirit of the city. Many visitors believe it to be a Viking long-ship – however, this was not the original intention and it is in fact a dream boat and ode to the sun, representing a promise of undiscovered territory. A gentle stroll along the waterfront at sunset, whilst admiring the view of the bay and Mount Esja beyond, is the perfect way to take it in.
The impressive Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik is one of Iceland’s most famous structures. Built between 1945 and 1986, this Lutheran (Church of Iceland) church was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson and its tower resembles the basalt pillar formations characteristic of some parts of the country. In addition to the tower, there is a traditional nave plus a cylindrical sanctuary at the other end of the church which is said to resemble a Viking war helmet. For a small fee, visitors can go up the tower – one of the tallest structures in Iceland at almost 75 meters high – via a lift and access an observation deck with views over the city.
Harpa Concert Hall
The Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik is a beautiful and modern concert hall and conference centre, designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects in co-operation with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. Its steel framework clad with geometric-shaped glass panels makes it one of the city’s most striking landmarks, as well as a center of cultural and social life, and a tourist attraction in its own right. It was to be part of a redevelopment of the Austurhöfn area, complete with a 400-room hotel, luxury apartments, retail units, restaurants and a car park; However, this had to be scaled back when the 2008 Icelandic financial crisis took hold. Iceland’s government funded the remainder of the concert hall’s construction and today it houses the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the offices of The Icelandic Opera.
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Just to the south of downtown Reykjavik, Sky Lagoon is a geothermal spa that opened in 2021. It boats a 70-metre infinity-edged geothermal pool with a swim-up bar and stunning views of the North Atlantic, as well as being known for its unique seven-step ritual experience. Away from the city centre, this luxurious thermal spa is your gateway to feeling calm, rejuvenated and stress-free in a magical manmade lagoon.
A Reykjavik swimming pool
A swimming pool is a popular way for locals to spend time relaxing in Iceland, but can (and should!) be experienced by tourists too. There are at least seven public baths to choose from in Reykjavik; We visited Sundhöllin, the oldest swimming pool in the city which has the same designer as Hallgrímskirkja Church (Guðjón Samúelsson). Sundhöllin was renovated in 2017 and is today home to both an indoor and outdoor pool, a lap pool, a children’s pool, three hot tubs, a cold tub and two saunas. Give visiting a traditional Icelandic swimming experience a try, but do be careful to adhere to the bathing rules and etiquette.
Reykjavik’s swimming pools offer a fun way to relax on holidays. Visit one of these pools and experience a refreshing swim, or take advantage of the pool’s facilities.
FlyOver Iceland is an immersive experience where you can soar over the vast landscapes of Iceland. This dramatic ‘flight’ over some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes lets you witness incredible panoramas. Explore Iceland with a virtual reality tour, with an amazing bird’s eye view of Iceland’s natural wonders. This simulation has to be experienced to be believed!
Don’t feel you have enough time to see all these things? We had only two nights in Reykjavik and managed to visit all the above, in addition to going on a whale watching tour from Reykjavik’s old harbor and our Dining with Icelanders experience. How do you ask? We used the Hopp electric scooters that you’ll find scattered around the city. Not only are they super fun and easy to use, but they are a great way to efficiently get around Reykjavik! (Admittedly, we used the car for Sky Lagoon since that is further out…)
Planning a trip to Iceland yourself? You can watch a video from our trip to Iceland here:
Disclosure: TOur trip to Iceland was also sponsored by Helly Hansen.