I’m well aware that Iceland is deeply evocative of volcanoes, lava fields and fierce waves crashing violently against towering cliffs; however, these otherworldly landscapes — as photogenic as they are — should not, in any way, overshadow the quirky treasure that is the Icelandic capital. Let these photos of Reykjavik prove in 27 different ways how wonderful and worthwhile the city is and why you shouldn’t simply just pass through.
My Favourite Photos of Reykjavik
The view from Hallgrimskirkja
Straight ahead: Greenland
[left]The southern part of Reykjavik, including the city’s domestic airport and Tjörnin, Reykjavik’s lake[/left]
[right]The northern end of Reykjavik includes the majestic Harpa concert hall and several colourful streets that are so typical of the city[/right]
Hallgrimskirkja’s characterful steeple is visible throughout the city, making it a veritable landmark for many tourists that have yet to familiarise themselves with Reykjavik’s layout. The quite peculiarly-shaped facade was actually inspired by the geometrical shapes created when lava cools into basalt rock, a sight often compatible with Iceland’s rugged coastline. Right in front of the church, firmly looking at the sea ahead, is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson, the actual first European to discover America… a solid 500 years before Christopher Columbus saw the distant shores of the New World. And because Iceland has rather modest structures — a clever way to guarantee nature is the perpetual star of the show, and not vulgar man-made constructions — this is also technically the tallest building in Iceland, at 73 metres.
There’s an observation deck atop the steeple and the 360-degree views of the capital region including the shore and the mountains, making it well worth the modest ISK 900 (~ $7.95 at the time of writing) entry fee. And yes, just in case your calves were starting to get anxious: there is a lift.
The Reykjavik waterfront
The unique Harpa concert hall
Chasing light inside Harpa
Reykjavik’s second-most famous structure is another landmark whose allure was inspired by Iceland’s exalted nature. Much like the Hallgrimskirkja and yet vastly different, the rather distinctive geometric glass facades of the Harpa are reminiscent of the basalt rocks found all across the nordic island. It’s more than just a pretty face, though, as it houses concert halls — do check out their calendar as they have several non-Icelandic-speaking features for us tourists, including the Icelandic Opera and Symphony Orchestra as well as comedy shows — and fantastic design boutiques and restaurants.
Tip: take the lift to the top floor of the eastern facade to enjoy this striking view of the building.
The Sun Voyager
Located just a few minutes walk from Harpa along the Reykjavik harbour, the Sun Voyager sculpture is not, contrary to popular belief, a Viking ship, but instead an ode to the elusive sun crafted by Icelandic artist Jón Gunnar Árnason to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city of Reykjavík.
The beautiful back streets
Reykjavik is blessed with a maze of pedestrianised, winding narrow streets lined with traditional Icelandic houses that make for perfect Instagram shots (hey, I’m a millennial, it’s not my fault I’m obsessed with the ‘gram). This is one of the things I simply must indulge in whenever I visit the capital, as I cannot tire from observing locals go about their daily business and fantasise about what my life would be like if I owned one of these rainbow-coloured properties, which I imagine are rather expensive even by Icelandic standards.
Until I can afford one, though, I’ll continue to stroll aimlessly around Reykjavik and fall even deeper in love with this quirky city every time.
The area east of Ingólfstorg square in central Reykjavik is perhaps the best part of the city. Very high chances of cat sighting, too. I repeat: HIGH CHANCES OF CATS.
For some reason, I hardly ever see tourists here so there’s a slight chance locals will despise me for sending nosy camera-totting visitors in their tranquil neighbourhood but I can live with that.
Another popular area is the road leading up to iconic Hallgrimskirkja. The main road is dotted with charming shops and cafés but what I like most about it is the network of perpendicular streets around it, which is also full of those Icelandic houses bearing strong resemblance to Scandinavian metal sheet houses. Definitely a good spot for quintessential, redolent photos of Reykjavik.
The view from Perlan
Right outside the city centre — a swift 25-minute walk thanks to the capital’s compact size — is perhaps where you need to go to get the best views of Reykjavik. Perlan is a multi-function centre with large exhibit spaces, several shops, a revolving restaurant on the top floor and some of the most unobstructed panoramas in the area from the free-to-visit, 360-degree outdoor viewing deck. The proximity to Reykjavik’s domestic airport also makes Perlan a must-visit location for plane spotters!