Reykjavik, a city of some 230,000 people (two-thirds of the entire population of Iceland), is the world’s most northerly capital and a popular base for outdoor adventure in one of the world’s most scenic destinations. Come explore the capital area through these beautiful photos.
The Perlan Museum, also known as The Pearl, ranks among the capital’s most recognizable landmarks, thanks to its distinctive hemispheric mirrored dome. The high-tech, immersive exhibits inside introduce visitors to many of the geological wonders of Iceland – glaciers, volcanoes, sea cliffs and ice caves.
Austurvöllur Park sits at the heart of downtown Reykjavik. The Icelandic parliament, Alþingi, sits beside the park – it’s one of the oldest parliaments in the world. In summer, the park becomes one of the most popular places in town for a picnic. Keep an eye out for the statue of Jón Sigurðsson, Iceland’s national hero and leader of its independence movement.
Bessastaðir, the official residence of Iceland’s President, is also an important historic site in the capital area. The site was first settled in 1000, and in the 13th century, it become the royal stronghold of the King of Norway. It later served as a school, a farm and the home of poet Grímur Thomsen before becoming the presidential home.
Get an introduction to Iceland with a visit to City Hall, where a giant 3D printed relief map shows off the nation’s topographical features. City Hall sits on the shores of Tjörnin Lake in the historic city center. Margrét Harðardóttir and Steve Christer designed the structure to showcase the harmony between the city and surrounding nature.
Reykjavik sits on the shores of a bay on the southwestern coast of Iceland. Many of the town’s concrete houses are painted in bright colors, and almost all are heated naturally by geothermal hot springs. This means very little air pollution (though you may notice a slight sulphur smell in the shower).
You don’t have to stray far from the city to start enjoying Iceland’s legendary scenery. Grótta lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula was first built in 1897. These days, it’s a popular nature reserve known for its top-notch birdwatching by day and opportunity to spot the northern lights at night.
During any visit to Iceland, you’ll likely hear talk of elves. According to local lore, the 7,300-year-old lava flow beneath the seaside suburb of Hafnarfjörður hides one of Iceland’s largest settlements of elves, or “hidden folk” as they’re known in Icelandic.
In 1986, Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. president Ronald Reagan met inside a whitewashed building on the Reykjavik waterfront to end the Cold War. This historic building, known as Höfði House, was originally built as the French Consulate. Today, it hosts official city functions.
Musician Yoko Ono designed the Imagine Peace Tower in memory of her late husband John Lennon. The monument emits a beam of light into the night sky, powered by geothermal energy. On the base of the tower, the words “Imagine Peace” are inscribed in 24 different languages.
Kleifarvatn Lake, the largest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula, is yet another place of myth. If local lore is to be believed, the lake is home to a serpentine monster the size of a large whale who is known to surface for two minutes at a time. In addition to hopeful monster spotters, the lake attracts hikers, birdwatchers and fishermen.
Kópavogur, a suburb just south of Reykjavik, ranks as the second largest municipality in Iceland. This community of some 32,000 residents sits on the shore, where it’s often possible to spot seals in and around the harbor.
Laugavegur doubles as the city’s main shopping street and go-to destination for nightlife. The name of the street means “wash road” in Icelandic, as it once lead to the natural springs where locals would go to launder their clothes. Today, the street is lined with shops showing off Iceland’s design-obsessed aesthetic.
Reykjavik grew around its Old Harbour, thanks in large part to the thriving trawling industry of the early 20th century. These days, you’re more likely to see whale watching boats than fishing vessels, and trendy shops and restaurants now occupy many of the historic warehouses.
UNESCO has designated Reykjavik as a City of Literature, the first non-native English-speaking city to achieve this title. The literary scene here ranges from Norse mythology and medieval Icelandic Sagas to modern-day classics, such as crime novels by Arnaldur Indridason.
One of the best places to experience Iceland’s geothermic features in the Capital Region is at Seltún. A boardwalk takes visitors on a tour of bubbling hot springs, mudpots and steaming volcanic vents.
Designed in 1937 and completed in 1986, Hallgrímskirkja Church is the city’s most recognizable landmark. You can see the white concrete tower of the Lutheran church from just about anywhere in the city. Take the elevator to the top of the tower for unbeatable views.
One of the newer features of the Reykjavik skyline is the Harpa Music Hall & Conference Center. Opened in 2011 along the city’s waterfront, the concert hall serves as home to the Icelandic Opera and the Iceland Symphony. Step into the lobby for stellar harbor views or to see a show (some free).
“Sólfar,” or Sun Voyager, is a steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. This famous art installation depicting the skeleton of a Viking ship has become one of the city’s most popular photo ops, particularly at sunset.
Just north of Reykjavik’s harbor is the uninhabited island of Viðey, a popular day trip from the city on sunny days. The island was first settled in 900 but was eventually abandoned in the 1950s. Visitors can tour the abandoned village, see some modern art installations or do some birdwatching on the remote, windy shores.
If you can bundle up and brave the cold, Reykjavik can be a magical destination in winter. Each February, the city hosts the annual Winter Lights Festival, when light installations brighten up the city. Winter is also one of the best seasons to see the northern lights.