Although small, there are many things to see in Reykjavík that will leave you in awe of the history and geology surrounding this beautiful city.
Here are the top 11 places of interest to see when you’re only able to spend one night in Iceland’s capital!
Reykjavík’s Science Centre, Perlan, is one of Iceland’s most iconic buildings and stands on top of the highest hill within the capital.
There are many informative exhibitions in the centre that cover both the history of volcanos in Iceland and the history of Iceland itself. The exhibitions also cover topics surrounding Iceland’s environmental science including its wildlife and marine life.
The Planetarium within Perlan, features an immersive film on the Northern Lights with spectacular imagery on show throughout, alongside wonderful and descriptive storytelling.
Perlan has an ice cave and interactive glacier exhibition, both of which are wonderfully informative. An additional presentation that coincides with both of these highlight the changing environment within Iceland.
The 360° observation deck at the centre is excellent and laden with informative panels and geological samples from around Reykjavík alongside spectacular views of Reykjavík and the surrounding area.
The Reykjavík art museum consists of three buildings, within each, hold an array of classic and contemporary art from both established and emerging local and international artists.
Located in the oldest part of Reykjavík, it was built in the 1930s becoming home to the Reykjavík Art Museum in the early 2000’s.
The most notable and extensive collection within the museum belongs to Erro, an Icelandic visual artist and painter who in 1989 gave the City of Reykjavík a large collection of his works. Erro was a significant player within the international pop art scene and throughout the museum numerous types of his art can be found including paintings, watercolours, graphic art, sculptures and collages.
The National Museum of Iceland is a wonderful museum that transports you through the history of the country from the time of settlement in 874 AD up to present day.
The collection of exhibitions within the museum are informative and the use of videos throughout emphasise the beauty of the county and its fascinating history.
The museum hosts an interesting collection of artefacts interspersed with archeological reconstructions that give a glimpse into what life would have been like for the earliest Viking settlers to Iceland.
Visitors will also leave with an understanding into how specific historical events have shaped the daily life of present day Iceland.
The Harpa Concert Hall opened in 2011 and is situated on the shore of the old harbour of Reykjavík.
The building is extensive, consisting of 9 floors, each offering a different immersive experience from cinematic to interactive. The view from the rooftop of the building is stunning allowing for a fantastic look over both the old harbour of Reykjavík and Mount Esja, which stands proudly in the distance.
Visitors can undertake a guided tour of the building which allow access to all of the performance spaces and back-of-house areas within the hall as well as an interesting look into the rationale behind the shape and size of the building.
In 2013 the Hall won the Mies van der Rohe Award for architecture and an evening light-show highlights why this accolade was received. The colours and patterns that the lights create on the outside of the building showcase the wonder and beauty of its architecture with mesmerising waves glistening blue and green and covering the entirety of the buildings facade.
Reykjavík city hall is situated next to Lake Tjornin, the two connected via an extensive footbridge.
The inside of the city hall features a large topographical map of Iceland which highlights the geology of both the American and Eurasian tectonic plates in Iceland. The map and surrounding information boards provide a fascinating look into the current nature and volcanic state of the country.
Outside, the views across the lake are beautiful. The south side of the lake is kept warm all year round so that even in winter, the native wildlife can continue to thrive in its vicinity despite the majority of the lake being frozen.
Built at the end of 19th century, Parliament House stands in the centre of Reykjavík and features a grey exterior constructed from Icelandic stone.
The building houses the oldest parliament in the world continuing a tradition that started at Law Rock at Thingvellir in 930 AD before moving to Reykjavík in 1844.
The building is small but is well worth visiting given that it plays an important role in the day-to-day running of Iceland’s capital city.
Guided tours of the building are available but have to be booked in advance and are only conducted during Parliament’s summer break.
Hallgrimskikja church stands in the North of Reykjavík.
The structure of the church is wonderful, its shape designed to replicate flowing volcanic lava as an acknowledgement of the geological attributes of Iceland.
The inside of the church is beautiful, its centrepiece a large organ standing over 15 meters in height and featuring 5275 organ pipes.
Visitors have a chance to climb to the tower of the church which allows for beautiful 360° views of the surrounding city.
Einar Jonsson was the most celebrated Icelandic sculptor in the first half of the 20th Century producing over 200 classical works of art.
This museum is wonderful, housed in the building in which Jonsson worked and lived. The top floor allows you to see his apartment as it would have been at the time of his occupation, the original furniture and fixings.
Information boards allow for a glimpse into the life and times of the sculptor and provide a wonderful insight into each of his works of art and the story behind each of his sculptures.
The lower floors of the museum showcase an art gallery containing many of the sculptures that Einar Jonsson created, the earliest dating back to the 1920’s.
Outside stands a sculpture garden which plays host to Jonsson’s more extensive works and is a calming environment in which to stroll and take in the beauty of the surrounding art.
The Sun Voyager is a stainless steel sculpture that overlooks the Bay of Reykjavík and with Mount Esia in the background, makes for a magnificent setting.
The sculpture is a fascinating modern interpretation of an old Viking ship, providing a wonderful acknowledgement of Iceland’s Viking heritage.
The walk along the bay on which the sculpture is located is beautiful and allows for fantastic views over the city of Reykjavík and the North Atlantic Ocean.
Volcano House is a fascinating museum that gives visitors the opportunity to learn about earthquake and volcanic activity throughout Iceland.
The museum features a wonderful collection of artifacts consisting of volcanic rocks and ash alongside a large number of interesting photographs of volcanic eruptions and lava flows.
A number of informative films are screened throughout the museum, two of which show footage of recent volcanic eruptions and the consequences that these have had for the current inhabitants of Iceland.
A walk around the Old Harbour of Reykjavík allows for interesting views of docked ships and fishing boats as well as the picturesque mountains, visible across the harbour.
Information boards can be found around the harbour that explain both Reykjavík and Iceland’s history in extensive detail as well as the history of the harbour itself.
There are numerous craft stores located along the old harbour which operate within disused cargo storage sheds and sell hand made crafts by local Icelandic artists. There are also a variety of restaurants and cafes in the area in which you can relax and take in the beauty of the harbours surroundings and the colourful, steel clad buildings that are synonymous to Iceland.
- In the summer, sunlight lasts up to 24 hours, so make sure to plan accordingly should you wish to see any night time activities such as the Northern lights
- Similarly, Iceland experiences 22 hours of darkness at it’s winter peak which can severely limit day time activities, again plan accordingly
- Reykjavik is a small city and as such it is easy to get around to all of the sights mentioned on foot. Just be sure to equip yourself with a sturdy pair of walking boots!
- Lots of restaurants in Iceland offer a 5 course traditional Icelandic fare tasting menu. Be aware that dishes include horse and puffin so won’t be to everyone’s taste!
What did you visit during your trip to Reykjavik?
Comment below to let me know!
Check out my guide to 9 things to do in Iceland outside of Reykjavik for more tips on what to do in the beautiful country of Iceland outside of it’s capital city!
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