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Top 10 Things to do in Reykjavik

We started our Iceland journey in Reykjavik, the capital and simultaneously the largest city of Iceland. Reykjavik and the surrounding region are home to over 2/3rd of the whole countries’ population. Just as Iceland itself is full of diversities, this happens to continue to Reykjavik – a city full of striking contrasts. While they are taking good care of their national traditions, international influence can still be seen. The city has many small houses clad with corrugated iron being very iconic for Icelandic architecture; simultaneously the city houses futuristic buildings with an international style. It is a city where you’ll find first class facilities just minutes away from rugged, volcanic terrain. All this creates a unique culture where the traditional embraces the new. With a population of around 130.000 Reykjavik isn’t the typical capital regarding the size. The city holds only few skyscrapers, the atmosphere is relaxing and the pace is low. Don’t be fooled by the size though, the city has a pulsating vein of exuberant creativity and energy, which keeps the city alive.

Harpa is one of Reykjavik’s greatest and most iconic landmarks

1. Harpa

Harpa is one of Reykjavik’s greatest and most iconic landmarks adding a whole new dimension to the cultural life of the city. Situated at the harbor front, on the boundary between land and sea, the building is a gleaming sculpture, reflecting both sky and water. The concert hall and conference center acts as both a cultural and social center in the heart of the city surrounded by stunning views of Iceland’s nature. Whether you’re an architect or not, it is not difficult to see the complexity of this building structure which is hard to describe and even harder to represent on pictures the way it behaves in real life. The design was influenced by Iceland’s exceptional and dramatic nature. The building features a distinctive coloured glass façade which cover the entire building inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland which has been an inspiration for several more iconic buildings in Iceland. The glass façade was designed by the renowned Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson whereas the building itself was designed by Danish architect firm Henning Larsen Architects.

The tallest church in Iceland - Hallgrimskirkja

2. Hallgrimskirkja

If this is not the first thing on your top 10 things to do in Reykjavik-list, it should at least be the second most important thing for you to see in Reykjavik – the Hallgrimskirkja. This is the tallest church in Iceland and by far the most famous landmark in this country –being as well regarded as the national monument.Located in the heart of Reykjavik at the top of the Skolavördustígur hill ittowers with an impressive 74,5 meter over Iceland’s colourful capital and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The state architect Gudjon Samúelsson started working on the design in 1937 as a memorial building to honor the saint and poet Hallgrimur Pétursson, one of Iceland’s most well-known poets. Samúelsson is said to have been inspired by the Icelandic landscape especially by the shapes which were formed from cooled lava and made up a design resembling the basalt rocks. The construction works started in 1945 and lasted a total of 41 years with the church being finished in 1986 – a very new and modern church.

The Sun Voyager stands splendidly and shiny at the harbour in Reykjavik

3. Sun Voyager

On a small headland at Reykjavik’s water front and not far from Harpa you’ll find the Sun Voyager sculpture. It is a popular spot to visit and no matter the time of day or weather conditions the Sun Voyager stands splendidly and shiny at all times. The impressions of what this sculpture represents can actually vary. Whereas some people might see a Viking ship, undeniably influenced by the Viking heritage in Iceland, in other people’s opinion it is an abstraction of a fish skeleton. The artist Jón Gunnar Arnason though intended it to be a dream boat, an ode to the sun. The Sun Voyager therefore represents the dream of hope, progress and freedom as well as undiscovered territory. This attraction won’t occupy much of your time but the sculpture itself is gorgeous enough to head towards for a visit which is made even more impressive with the stunning backdrop. Solfar, the Sun Voyager, certainly has become an important part of Reykjavik’s identity and culture.

Surrounded by forest, lays a prominent landmark of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik - Perlan

4. Perlan

On top of the hill 'Öskhjulid', surrounded by forest lays a prominent landmark of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik - ‘Perlan’, this really is a crown jewel of Reykjavik. What was originally a cluster of six hot water tanks was converted into a museum with an immense rotating glass dome on top in 1991 and hence became a building open to the public. The first water tank was constructed on top of the hill in 1939 rising 61 meters above sea level, being high enough to push water up to the 10th floor of a building which sufficed to supply water to any building in Reykjavik. Perlanor ‘The Pearl’ hosts a museum, Iceland’s first planetarium, an observation deck and a restaurant on top. Here you can explore anything from a real-life ice cave to a replica of the largest bird cliff in Europe. The exhibition is incredibly high-tech and makes exploring the Icelandic nature and history fun. At night, the water tanks are lit up by floodlights that illuminate the construction for the entire city to see.

A whale watching tour should be a high priority when in Iceland

5. Whale Watching

When visiting Iceland going on a whale watching tour had been one of my preferences to do. It is undoubtedly an unique adventure, especially when considering that Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see whales. The day of our whale watching tour started out at the harbour of Reykjavik from where we boarded a boat which took us on a 4 hour long trip to see these magnificent creatures in real life. That day we were extremely lucky, our expert guideassured us several times. We saw plenty of whales and not only one kind but several species like minke whales, dolphins and even humpback whales jumping up from the water and landing with a huge splash. We had an expert guide on board, an educated marine biologist, who provided us with interesting facts and taught us how to spot whales out in the bay. This tour was worth every penny and I would do it over and over again. If you want to experience something special, this is it.

Take a stroll along the Old Harbour

6. Old Harbour

When you visit Reykjavik you might want to take a stroll along the Old Harbour, the place where it all began. The old harbour is the heart of the city and the catalyst to its formation. The city grew up around the harbour and in the early 20th century it became one of the centers of the Icelandic trawling industry. The colourful Old Harbour was built between the years 1913 and 1917 with the original purpose being fishing and trading and was no doubt the reason for why Reykjavík has gotten its disproportionately high population compared to the rest of the country, and why it became the capital. The harbor area though has been transformed during the past decades, gradually replacing warehouses with shops and restaurants and the fishing vessels with whale watching boats. The old harbour is a lovely area of craft shops, cafes, restaurants and museums and art galleries. It is definitely worth walking to and exploring the area as it will give you a sense of Icelandic culture.

Lake Tjörnin - the best place for a pleasant stroll in Reykjavik

7. Lake Tjörnin

If you fancy a pleasant stroll in Reykjavik there is no better place than Lake Tjörnin in the downtown part of the city to do so. In Icelandic Tjörnin simply means ‘The Pond’ although you may find that it is equally referred to as a lake sometimes. It’s one of the most popular recreational spots in Reykjavik and almost impossible to miss given its central location in the heart of the city. Its surroundings represent the very best of the capital’s character – a radiating balance between Scandinavian lake-homes representing the urban development and an enchanting nature. The colourful houses dot the western shore creating a charming atmosphere right in the center of Reykjavik. There are as well other prominent and interesting buildings surrounding the pond including Reykjavik’s municipality, Iceland’s National Gallery and the Fríkirkjan Church. The pond is home to over 40 different species of birds and therefore makes for one of the local’s favourite spots to feed the birds with bread. The great popularity of the small lake and the many people coming to feed the birds with bread has given it its nickname ‘The world’s largest bread soup’.

The church was originally built at the end of the 18th century

8. Cathedral

The Hallgrimskirkja definitely has the monopole as a church attraction despite not being the cathedral of Reykjavik. The cathedral of Reykjavik is in fact much smaller and even easy to miss. As a cathedral church it is the seat of the Bishop of Iceland and the mother church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, as well as the parish church of the old city center. Religion in Iceland has been predominantly Christian since it was adopted as state religion under the influence of the King of Norway around 1000AD. For over 500 years, the Icelandic church was Roman Catholic. In 1540, the Lutheran Reformation was established in Iceland, enforced by the Danish crown. The national church has been Lutheran ever since. The area where the cathedral is located has been a church site since around the 13th century. However, the church standing there today was originally built at the end of the 18th century and inaugurated in the year 1796. It was the first building to be finished under the idea that Reykjavík was to become the capital of Iceland.

The Christmas House is a shop dedicated to all things around Christmas

9. Christmas House

It was never really our intention to visit this place nor was it on our sightseeing list but I’m so happy nonetheless that we unintentionally came across the Christmas House in Reykjavik. I love to collect Christmas decorations from the different countries I visit, especially Christmas balls, so obviously I couldn’t leave Iceland without having at least something from this sensational Christmas House. As the name indicates the Christmas House is a shop dedicated to all things around Christmas, located right in the center of Reykjavik. As soon as you walk inside it smells and looks like Christmas in every inch and every corner of the shop. We went there in July and despite the sunny weather and the warmer temperatures I got in a Christmas mood right away after stepping inside this shop. Put this on your list of things to see in Reykjavik, especially if you’re a Christmas fan.

Aurora Reykjavik hosts an interactive educational and recreational exhibition about Iceland’s most amazing natural wonder

10. Aurora Reykjavik

Maybe you have come to Iceland to witness the beauty of the Aurora Borealis? Then your first or final stop in Reykjavik should be The Northern Lights Center – The Aurora Reykjavik – before you head out into the beautiful nature of Iceland. Aurora Reykjavik hosts an interactive educational and recreational exhibition about Iceland’s most amazing natural wonder. In the Aurora Reykjavik you take a walk through history and learn about how people and different cultures around the world have perceived the Northern Lights and portrayed the amazing natural phenomenon through legends and myths. If you happen to be in Iceland at a time of year where there’ll be no Aurora to spot this center is an adequate compensation to see at least something.

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