Top 10 Sights of Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, reveals its sights only at second glance. But then there are hot springs, colorful houses, imposing churches and futuristic new buildings.

Reykjavík is home to almost two-thirds of Iceland's inhabitants, yet the world's northernmost capital is also one of the least populated. The comparatively small city can be explored on foot without any problems.


At first glance, the atmosphere in the economic, political and cultural center of Iceland seems a bit cool, and the charm of the capital only reveals itself to the visitor after a closer look. Then the "Bay of Smoke" turns out to be a cosmopolitan, historically and culturally valuable gem that belongs to our top 10 sights of Iceland.

Hallgrimskirkja Church

Northern lights shine over Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik, Iceland - © Kjersti Joergensen / Shutterstock
© Kjersti Joergensen / Shutterstock

Reykjavík's landmark is the Hallgrimskirkja church, which is visible from afar and towers unmistakably on a hill in the city. The church, which is as imposing as it is modern, was inaugurated in 1986 after 43 years of construction. The 73m high tower of the church can be seen from almost every point in Reykjavík. Its design is inevitably reminiscent of a waterfall, which the landscape of Iceland has so many to offer.

For a small fee, an elevator takes visitors to the top of the interestingly designed tower, from where a stunning panoramic view of Reykjavík opens up. The excellent acoustics in Hallgrimskirkja are frequently used for classical concerts. Church services are held every Sunday morning.

The Dómkirkjan Cathedral

Dómkirkjan Cathedral, which is rather simple compared to Hallgrimskirkja, was built in 1787 and is located directly in the center of the old town. It was originally the religious center of the country. At that time, almost all the inhabitants of Reykjavík found a place in the cathedral. It is open Monday through Friday and is located right on Austurvöllur, Reykjavík's most important square. This is where Icelanders gather to celebrate, at national rallies, or just to let the midnight sun beat down on their stomachs.

Reykjavík old town

Stjornarradid is home to the executive branch of Iceland's government - © Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock
© Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

Around the cathedral, it is also worth exploring the old town district right away. In addition to the colorful and partly historic houses, outdoor clothing stores and small but find boutiques, the following streets and neighborhoods in particular are worth a detour:

  • The "waterway" Laugavegur, the oldest street in Reykjavik runs from Laugardalur City Park to Bankastræti.
  • Skolavordustigur connects Laugavegur with Hallgrimskirkja Church and is Reykjavik's classic promenade with interesting stores, restaurants and bars.
  • Laekjargata with the square of the same name including tourist information and many historic buildings. With its bright colors also known as "Rainbow Street" or "Bifröst" (the road to the mythological city of the gods Asgard), the annual Gay Pride Festival takes place here on the second weekend in August. It is also home to one of the oldest stone buildings in the city, the Prime Minister's House, Stjornarradid, built in 1796.
  • Austurstraeti, reserved for pedestrians, is not as famous as the previous one and presents the lively life of the locals.
  • The streets in the Thingholtin district between Hallgrimskirkja and the city's lake Tjörnin bear names from Norse mythology in the "Quarter of the Gods". Decorated by street art, Thor, Odin, Loki and Freya, among others, are represented here.

City lake Tjörnin

The Althing was restored as the parliament for Iceland in 1844 and now meets in a striking dark building by Lake Tjörnin in Reykjavik - © Dennis van de Water / Shutterstock
© Dennis van de Water / Shutterstock

Reykjavik's lake is also an extremely popular sight! Directly on the city lake, populated by swans and ducks, are Reykjavik City Hall, the strikingly dark-colored Parliament, the Icelandic University , and the Nordic House. The latter is the only building in the city designed by an internationally known architect (Finland's Alvar Aalto) and functions as a cultural center and nice café overlooking the lake.

Harpa Concert Hall

The extremely modern Harpa concert hall is located directly at the harbor of Reykjavik and was opened in 2011, Iceland - © Nicram Sabod / Shutterstock
© Nicram Sabod / Shutterstock

The extremely modern Harpa concert hall is located directly at the harbor and was opened in 2011. The massive glass building functions as the capital's opera and concert house. Inside is a large concert hall for 1,800 visitors, as well as three smaller concert rooms.


As a special feature, it should be mentioned that with the help of a fully automatic system, the acoustics of the rooms can be optimally adjusted for any type of music. In addition to its function as a concert hall, Harpa also functions as a conference center.

The hot water tank Perlan

South of the city center of Reykjavík is the hot water tank Perlan, Iceland - © U. Gernhoefer / Shutterstock
© U. Gernhoefer / Shutterstock

South of Reykjavík city center is the Perlan hot water reservoir with a massive glass dome. It was completed in 1991 and supplies the entire city with hot water. Five tanks each hold up to four million liters of water at a temperature of 85°C, which are distributed throughout the city from here.

Due to its location on the hill, no pumps are needed for this. In winter, the warm water from the Perlan tanks is even used to heat the sidewalks and streets of Reykjavík, keeping them ice-free.

On the roof is an observation deck that offers a fantastic panoramic view, a revolving restaurant and the fascinating solar compass. The museum of Iceland's natural wonders can also be found here.

Geothermal bathing beach in Nautholsvik bay

For most tourists, Iceland's climate is always too cold for a swim in the sea. The daily maximum temperatures in summer rarely rise to 20°C, and the sea, at around 10°C, is not exactly inviting for a swim. Not so in Nautholsvik Bay! Here an artificial lagoon with golden sand spreads a bit of beach vacation atmosphere.

Hot geothermal water injected into the artificial lagoon raises the water temperature to 15°- 19°C in summer. Still too cold? The "Hot Tub" in front of the Service Center brings it up to real bathtub temperature with 38°C. The beach is open during the day from mid-May to mid-August, and admission is free.

Tip: If you want to swim in Iceland, it's best to stick to the pleasantly heated and healing thermal pools in the Blue Lagoon. Reykjavik's public outdoor pools also have one hundred percent heated water and are more like a spa than a swimming pool.

Laugardalur Leisure Center

Here, too, there is a heated swimming pool and, besides that, numerous other attractions. These include, for example, a sports hall, Iceland's largest swimming pool, an ice rink, a mini-golf course, a botanical garden, a zoo and a sculpture museum. By the way, with the Reykjavík City Card the entrance is free.

Museums of Reykjavik

  • The National Museum presents mainly collectibles of Icelandic culture (weapons, utensils, jewelry, etc.)
  • The National Gallery presents the most important Icelandic artists in a comprehensive collection.
  • In the open-air museum Árbæjarsafn, 30 peat huts and dwellings, including interior furnishings, give an impression of Icelandic life in those days.
  • The Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum at Laugardalur Leisure Center displays works by artist Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) in a unique building from the 1930s. Around the house there is an impressive sculpture garden.
  • Next to the Hallgrimskirkja Church is the Einar Jónsson Museum, Reykjavik's second major sculpture museum.
  • The Whales of Iceland Exhibition at the Old Port is the largest whale museum in the world and impresses young and old with its life-size specimens of the more than 20 species of whales that live around Iceland.
  • Aurora Reykjavík is the museum of the northern lights. Incidentally, the unforgettable celestial spectacle is best observed live between October and March.
  • The Phallological Museum - probably Reykjavik's most bizarre attraction - features male genitals from various parts of the world and from a wide variety of species.

Sun Voyager

The sculpture Sun Drive on the northern coastal road Sæbraut in Reykjavik, Iceland, was created by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason in 1986 - © Mikhail Varentsov / Shutterstock
© Mikhail Varentsov / Shutterstock

This sculpture on the harbor promenade is located very close to the Harpa Concert Hall and is considered the most photographed landmark in Reykjavik along with the. The rudimentary Viking ship was erected in 1990 after Reykjavik's 200th anniversary celebration. Along the promenade, it is also worth taking a short break in one of the numerous restaurants.


Chess: The match of the century

Amid enormous media interest, the so-called Match of the Century took place in Reykjavík at the height of the Cold War in 1972 between the reigning world chess champion Boris Spasski and the American challenger Bobby Fischer. After 21 games played, Fischer won the world title, which had always been held by the then Soviet Union since the end of the Second World War.

Strangely, after a rematch of the game 20 years later during the Yugoslav war - Fischer was victorious again - Fischer was subsequently wanted by American authorities for violating the Yugoslav embargo. After Fischer fled for several years, he was eventually arrested in Japan and granted asylum in Iceland in 2005. He also died here in 2008.

PICTURES: The top 10 sights of Reykjavik

Photo gallery: Top 10 sights of Reykjavík

Related links:

Official tourism website of Reykjavík
Info about the Rekjavík City Card