Whether you’re coming to Iceland to see the Northern Lights or experience the famous geothermal spas, the more urban delights of Reykjavík should not be forgotten.
The capital of Iceland, Reykjavík can trace its beginnings all the way back to AD 874 – when the site was first settled by Norseman Ingólfr Arnarson. It’s come a long way since then. Although it has a very small population compared to many other capital cities (with only around 130,000 people), Reykjavík is still a bustling, modern, metropolitan city with a lot to offer.
Located on the beautiful shores of Faxaflói bay, there’s so much to see and do, in fact, that it can be hard to summarise it all. But whether you’re there for a week or a weekend, the following highlights should keep you busy.
Named after the famous Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson, Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in all of Iceland. Rising 73 metres above the streets of Reykjavík, you can hardly miss it – and it should definitely be at the top of your list.
With construction coming to an end in 1986, but beginning more than 40 years earlier, Hallgrímskirkja was a project long in the making. Its distinctive impressionist design, coupled with its imposing size, make it one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.
The view from the open-air viewing platform at the top is surely a must – once the elevator has carried you to the top, you’ll be greeted with astonishing views of the city below and the mountains and sea beyond.
Perlan translates as ‘The Pearl’ in English, and it fully deserves its name. Beautifully converted from old hot water tanks, Perlan is now a huge exhibition centre and landmark.
The Nature Exploratorium and the Wonders of Iceland exhibition
Visitors can marvel at its Nature Exploratorium and the Wonders of Iceland exhibition, where the spectacular natural forces that shape the country are brought vividly to life. Whether you’re interested in volcanoes, geysers, earthquakes, or glaciers, Perlan has you covered. Don’t worry, though: despite its volcanic activity, Iceland is actually rated the sixth safest country in the world when it comes to natural disasters.
If all that isn’t enough, the award-winning planetarium can give you a glimpse of the galaxy, and the Perlan observation deck boasts 360 degree views of the city below. And if this all sounds like too much excitement, you can recharge your batteries in the revolving restaurant. It’s not the cheapest menu you’ll find in Reykjavík, but you’ll certainly be dining in style.
Located in the very heart of the city, Laugavegur is Reykjavík’s main shopping street. With bustling cafes, restaurants, art galleries and – of course – a wide range of shops, this is the place to come if you want to immerse yourself in city life.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum is a daring and quirky point of interest, or if this isn’t quite to your tastes The Culture House is a nearby alternative.
If you’re looking for a quick pit-stop to keep you going through all the sightseeing, Braud & Co is the highest rated bakery in Reykjavík; loved by tourists and locals alike.
Of course, we can’t mention Iceland without mentioning its famous geothermal pools. Reykjavík is, unsurprisingly, full of them – but Laugardalslaug is the biggest of the lot; featuring a number of different slides for the thrillseekers, and a range of hot tubs for those who are just looking to relax.
The pool is part of a larger recreational complex known as Laugardalur Valley, where you’ll also be able to find a zoo, sculpture park, and sports facilities (including an ice rink). If you’re travelling with children, or just young at heart, the range of activities on offer mean you can easily spend a whole day here.
So there you have it: the highlights of Reykjavík. This is only a small taster of what the city has to offer, of course; there’s so much more to explore, and the real joy of travelling is discovering what each location has to offer for yourself. Get out there and explore!