As the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavík is brimming with things to do. No matter what time of year you decide to visit, explore all that the city and its surrounding area have to offer, and let yourself be inspired by the unique Icelandic setting.
KRýSUVíK GEOTHERMAL AREA
Just outside the center of Hafnarfjörður, the solfatara fields of Krýsuvík offer an expanse of steaming volcanic vents and boiling hot springs that are dramatically framed by a range of multi-colored hills. Walk through the bubbling geothermal area on the winding boardwalks and take in the spectacular view of the surrounding area. Beside the mud pools and sulfur deposits, you’ll also find crater lakes — Grænavatn, Gestsstaðavatn, and Augun are explosion craters that were formed by volcanic eruptions. Grænavatn Lake even glows with a deep-green hue due to its thermal algae and crystals that absorb the sun’s rays.
As a short side-trip, you can also explore the nearby coastline, where you’ll discover the cliffs of Krýsuvíkurbjarg — an area renowned for its rich birdlife. For a peaceful stroll, hike along the trail to the edge of the cliffs and spot kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, and other birds as they dive in and out of the sea.
HELLISHEIðI POWER PLANT GEOTHERMAL ENERGY EXHIBITION
Located 20 minutes outside of Reykjavík on National Route 1, the Geothermal Energy Exhibition at Hellisheiði Power Plant offers a look into the harnessing of geothermal energy in Iceland. The plant is owned by Reykjavík Energy and is a striking example of how geothermal energy is harnessed in a sustainable manner. Experienced guides are on-hand to give informative presentations about sustainable green energy as a global energy resource, since geothermal resources can be found worldwide. The Geothermal Energy Exhibition also focuses on the origin of geothermal energy and is available in Icelandic, English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.
Built in 1909, the Höfði House is considered to be one of the most beautiful and historically significant buildings in the Reykjavík area. It’s best known as the location for the 1986 summit meeting of presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbatsjov, a historical event that was broadcasted all over the world and effectively marked the end of the Cold War.
Although it was initially the house of the French consul in Iceland, and still bears many signs of its original purpose, Höfði is now owned by the City of Reykjavík and is currently used for official receptions and meetings. Additionally, the house is believed to haunted by “The White Lady,” a ghost who once caused the former British Ambassador who occupied the house to persuade the British Foreign Office to sell the property.
The Höfði House is not currently open to the public, but visitors often explore the area from the outside. Located on Borgartún in the 105 area of Reykjavík, Höfði overlooks the waterfront and promises an eerie experience.
The Perlan Museum is one of the largest and most ambitious exhibition projects that Reykjavík has seen in recent years. The museum is housed in one of Reykjavík’s most impressive buildings, the Perlan, and is considered a must-visit for any traveler. Not only has it been named a world-class museum, it also offers amazing panoramic views of the city.
The museum’s first exhibition, “Glaciers and Ice,” was built into one of the six hot-water tanks that make up the Perlan, and includes an ice cave that has been constructed inside the building. Experience the sounds, smells, and chills of the glacial ice cave, and learn about its ash layers and deep, dark crevasses. Rest assured, you will be provided warm vests to combat the harsh temperatures, and the cave will lead you safely up to the second floor of the exhibition.
On top of the building sits the best observation deck in Reykjavík, which has a 360° view over the city and its surrounding ocean, mountains, geothermal areas, glaciers, and volcanoes.
Situated just off the coast of Reykjavík in Kollfjörður, Viðey Island is accessible via the Elding ferry service. Apart from the island’s ancient ruins and rich historical background, other attractions include impressive works of art by Yoko Ono (the Imagine Peace Tower) and Richard Serra (the Milestones project). Fans of architecture will also be interested to learn that the church in Viðey is one of the oldest in the country, and the Viðey House was the first building in the Iceland that was constructed with stone.
With an extensive network of trails, the island can be explored both on foot and by bike. No matter which path you take, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding mainland, and, to the west, you’ll be able to see the impressive outline of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
NAUTHOLSVIK GEOTHERMAL BEACH
If you’ve been looking for a gold-sand geothermal beach near Reykjavík, Nauthólsvík is the place for you. The area opened to the public in 2001 and now attracts an estimate of 530,000 guests each year — including locals and travelers alike. The creation of the geothermal beach was an ambitious but successful project involving the construction of a lagoon with large seawalls, where the cold sea water and hot geothermal water could fuse together to create warm temperatures.
The main objective of creating the geothermal beach was to establish the Bay of Nauthólsvík as a diverse outdoor area and haven for recreational activities. Enjoy the hot tubs, steam baths, or even cold-water swimming — an Icelandic tradition that dates back to the age of settlement.
Hallgrímskirkja church is Reykjavík’s main landmark, and its tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. It was designed by the late Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937, who was inspired by the fascinating shapes formed when lava cools into basalt rock. Construction of the church began in 1945 and ended in 1986, with the tower completed long before the rest of the building.
The church features a gargantuan pipe organ designed and constructed by the German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn. A statue of Leifur Eiríksson (the first European to discover America) also stands directly in front of the church. The statue, which was designed by Alexander Stirling Calder, was a gift from the United States in honor of the 1930 Alþingi Millennial Festival, commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of Iceland’s parliament at Þingvellir in 930 A.D.
HARPA CONCERT AND CONFERENCE CENTER
Considered a striking new addition to the Icelandic and European cultural scene, Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center is now one of Reykjavík’s most distinguished landmarks. This cultural and social center in the heart of the city features stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the North Atlantic Ocean. Harpa is an enchanting destination travelers, and its award-winning architecture has attracted millions of guests since its opening in 2011.
Numerous concerts and music festivals have been held at Harpa, and diversity remains at the forefront of its events and musical offerings. Harpa is also home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the Icelandic Opera, and the Reykjavík Big Band. And, as an added bonus, there are three restaurants on-site (Smurstöðin, Kolabraut, and Harpa Catering Service) and shops offering a great selection of music, Nordic design, books, flowers, and other gift items.
If you’re interested in biking around Reykjavík, there’s also a cycling tour that takes you to Harpa Concert Hall and other major landmarks around the city.
REYKJAVíK OLD HARBOR
Although Reykjavík’s Old Harbor was built between 1913 and 1917, the colorful area has been given new life with the addition of Harpa and a growing number of interesting buildings and businesses.
Apart from being a beautiful place to walk around, with stunning views across the bay to Mount Esja, the Old Harbor is where the majority of marine activities, such as whale watching and puffin tours, begin. The area is also home to the Víkin Maritime Museum and the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Marina. With the boom of new businesses, the Old Harbor area now offers everything from scooter rides to the city’s best dark-roasted coffee — a testament to the community spirit responsible for re-establishing the older quarters of Reykjavík.
In addition to the places listed above, remember to check Reykjavík’s upcoming events and festivals while planning your visit.
Header image by Nalan Gürsoy.