There are numerous day trips and places to see near Reykjavík and most visitors’ itineraries consist of the Golden Circle, glacier tours, whale watching experiences and the Blue Lagoon. However, if you are spending a few days in the city don’t forget to check out the world’s northernmost capital itself! Here are a few places you shouldn’t miss.
Situated in Alftanes, this has been the presidential residence since 1941, but the site has a much older history. It was first mentioned in the Saga of the Icelanders and archeological excavations have yielded a range of artefacts dating back to the Middle Ages, when the place belonged to the famous Edda (old Norse poetry) author, Snorri Sturluson. In the 19th century, Iceland’s only educational institution was Bessastadaskoli at Bessastaðir. Today’s Icelandic Gymnasium traces its roots back to Bessastadaskoli. Unless you are a foreign VIP you will not be allowed to enter the house and may only walk as far as the path in front of the residence, however you may visit the church, which was consecrated in 1796.
This modern, concrete structure was built in nationalistic style to resemble volcanic basalt columns. The church was designed by state architect, Guðjónn Samúelsson, building work started in 1945 and it was finally consecrated on the 26th of October 1986. The national monument is dedicated to the most renowned religious poet of Iceland, Hallgrímur Pétursson. Inside the church visitors can take the tiny lift and then the stairs to the top of the 73 metre (240 foot)-high tower to enjoy the views of Reykjavík and the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
In front of the landmark is a statue of Leifur Eiríksson, “Discoverer of America”. The statue was a gift from the US on the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Alþingi.
The church is open daily from mid-June to August from 9:00 to 21:00 and from September to mid-June from 9:00 to 17:00. Entrance is free, except for the tower.
The Old Harbour
The Old Harbour is becoming a popular area and a lively centre of activities and attractions. Built between the years 1913 and 1917, it is where the majority of marina activities, such as whale watching and puffin tours, are concentrated. It is also home to the Víkin Maritime Museum. This vibrant quarter offers stunning views across the bay to Mount Esja.
Probably Reykjavík’s best known building internationally, Höfði House is a handsome villa by the harbour, built in 1909 as the residence for the French Consul, Jean Paul Brillouin. It was here in 1986 that the hastily arranged summit meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan took place before the pas de deux towards global disarmament. This meeting effectively marked the end of the Cold War and images of the house were broadcast all over the world. It is now used for official city social functions, but is closed to the general public. Höfði House is considered to be one of the most beautiful and historically significant buildings in Reykjavík.
Designed in Eastern Norway, it was transported to Iceland in kit form for assembly. The building displays features of the Art Nouveau (Jugend) style, classical Neo-Baroque and Norwegian National Romanticism. After Brillouin’s time the house became the family home of poet/entrepreneur Einar Benediktsson and his statue, in front of a harp that symbolises his poetry, now stands beside the house.
Harpa Concert Hall
Overlooking the old harbour is the newly opened Icelandic Conference and Music Hall, known as ‘The Harp’. One of the newest and most modern buildings, this had been a dream of Icelandic musicians for decades, although it was hugely controversial at the time of building. The exterior is a wonder of glass, designed by Ólafur Elíasson to resemble mosaic-like basalt columns that adorn Icelandic mountains, and its glittering polygons reflect the sea and sky in a kaleidoscopic lightshow. The shape of the building conjures images of large rocks and cliffs, inhabited by the elves around the country. Inside are four concert halls from the main auditorium, Eldborg, which seats 1,800, to the tiny Kaldalón, used for lectures and more intimate concerts.
Just out of the city is Perlan (meaning pearl), a modern building constructed on top of glistening silver hot water storage tanks on the brim of Öskjuhlíð hill, that is visible from almost any point in the city. The water tanks can take 24 million litres (more than 5 million gallons) of hot water and can cater for almost half of Reykjavík’s water consumption.
The dome resembles a pearl and consists of reflecting glass panels on a steel frame, which creates a full-circle viewing platform, offering panoramic views over Reykjavík. On the top floor is a revolving restaurant, cafeteria and souvenir shop. Perlan is also the location of the Saga Museum, a collection of life-like silicone models of characters from Iceland’s medieval literature.
- Information provided by Cruise and Maritime Voyages
- Insight Guides: Iceland
- Information provided by tour guide of Cruise and Maritime Voyages excursion