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Hallgrímskirkja | © Andres Nieto Porras / Flickr
Hallgrímskirkja | © Andres Nieto Porras / Flickr
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20 Unmissable Attractions in Reykjavik

Picture of Camille Buckley
Updated: 14 June 2017
The small, northernmost capital of Europe, Reykjavik in Iceland, has a little bit of everything. While still maintaining a charming, small-town feeling, it has all the trappings of a larger city. From outdoor sculptures to breathtaking mountain views, art museums, and settlement exhibitions, here are the places in Reykjavik not to be missed on your visit.

Einar Jónsson Outdoor Sculpture Garden

Einar Jónsson, one of Iceland’s most important early sculptors, has an incredible sculpture garden located next to Hallgrímskirkja, featuring an array of bronze pieces representing mythological figures and stories.

Hallgrímskirkja

Commissioned by state architect Guðjón Samuelssón, and built between 1945 and 1986, Hallgrímskirkja is nearly 75 meters high, is one of the Reykjavik’s most famous landmarks, and is also visible throughout the city.

The Sun Voyager

This sculpture, called Sólfar in Icelandic, is located by the coast close to Harpa, and was created by Jón Gunnar Árnason in a commissioned competition to celebrate Reykjavik’s 200th birthday in 1986.

The Sun Voyager | © Randy Lemoine/Flickr
The Sun Voyager | © Randy Lemoine/Flickr

View from Perlan

Perlan, also knows as The Pearl, situated on the hill called Öskuhlíð, once housed hot water tanks. Now it is a multi-function building containing a Viking museum, restaurant, and shops. There is a viewing deck on the fourth floor, which offers panoramic telescopes at each of its six corners.

Nauthólsvík geothermal beach

Reykjavik’s only heated natural beach area, Nauthólsvík has a natural hot spring close by, making the ocean water comfortable for swimming. The beach also has an outdoor hot tub, changing rooms with showers, and a bar.

Nautholsvik, Reykjavik Thermal Beach
Nautholsvik, Reykjavik Thermal Beach | © Helgi Halldorsson/Flickr

Vikin Maritime Museum

Located by the old harbor in Reykjavik and opened in 2004 in a building formerly used for fish freezing, the Maritime Museum features an exhibition on board the Coast Guard vessel Óðinn, the oldest ship in the Coast Guard’s fleet.

Víkin Maritime Museum | © Paolo/Flickr
Víkin Maritime Museum | © Paolo/Flickr

Kjarvalsstaðir – Reykjavik Art Museum

Kjarvalsstaðir is named after Iceland’s most beloved painter, Jóhannes Kjarval (1885-1972), whose permanent collection is on display. It is the first building in Iceland intentionally designed to display visual art.

The National Gallery of Iceland

The National Gallery of Iceland, Listasafn Íslands, was founded in 1884 and moved into its current building, originally constructed as an icehouse, in 1987. The main focus is on 19th- and 20th-century Icelandic art, including the most valuable pieces of Icelandic art in the country.

The National Gallery of Iceland | © JasonParis/Flickr
The National Gallery of Iceland | © JasonParis/Flickr

Grótta Reserve

This bird-watching sanctuary and lighthouse at the tip of Seltjarnarnes Peninsula, west of Reykjavik, is a great place to watch the midnight sun reach the horizon, and to witness the Aurora Borealis in the winter sky.

Grótta, Reykjavik
Grótta, Reykjavik | © lundur/Iceland / Flickr

Harpa Concert Hall

This architectural gem features a distinct glass façade reminiscent of the natural basalt columns found in the Icelandic landscape. Opened in 2011, this artistic and cultural center is a venue for many concerts and festivals, and offers great views of the surrounding mountains and the North Atlantic Ocean.

Reykjavik Concert Hall (Iceland) | © David Phan/Flickr
Reykjavik Concert Hall | © David Phan/Flickr

Mount Esja

This nearby mountain can easily be reached by bus from downtown Reykjavik for a great, moderate hike to the top with an excellent view. You can also view this mountain from many places within the city, beautifully snow-capped for most of the year.

Reykjavik and Mount Esja | © Glenn Harper/Flickr
Reykjavik and Mount Esja | © Glenn Harper/Flickr

Hafnarhús – Reykjavik Art Museum

Situated in the old harbor area of Reykjavik, Hafnarhús, or ‘harbor house,’ was built in the 1930s. This is where you’ll find the most contemporary exhibitions by both Icelandic and international artists. The museum features a permanent collection of works by Erró (1932- ), one of Iceland’s most well-known postmodern artists and a pioneer of Pop Art.

Hafnarhús | © gamene/Flickr
Hafnarhús | © gamene/Flickr

Ásmundarsafn – Reykjavik Art Museum

Ásmundursafn is dedicated to the Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982). The building, designed by the artist himself as a studio in the 1930s, is worth visiting for its fascinating architectural domes and natural light – an ode to the artist’s admiration for Bauhaus style.

Ásmundarsafn | © O Palsson/Flickr
Ásmundarsafn | © O Palsson/Flickr

Þjóðminjasafnið

The National Museum of Iceland showcases a fascinating display of history, representing the earliest cultures to settle on the island, as well as contemporary culture. The museum features a door dating back to the 12th century, which represents Icelandic sagas and is the only medieval Icelandic carved door.

The National Museum of Iceland | © Harvey Barrison/Flickr
The National Museum of Iceland | © Harvey Barrison/Flickr

Safnahúsið

The Culture House Safnahúsið was built between 1906-1908 to house the National Library and National Archives. The building is considered one of Iceland’s most beautiful and has been protected as a historical site. The Reading Hall is remarkable and has been preserved in its original form.

Marshallhúsið

This recent addition to Reykjavik’s art gallery and museum scene features a restaurant and bar on the ground floor, and three different art spaces on the top floors – the Living Art Museum, the Kling og Bang Gallery, and Olafur Eliasson’s work space and studio.

Marshallhúsið | Courtesy of The Living Art Museum. Photo by Lilja Birgisdóttir
Marshallhúsið | Courtesy of Nýlistasafnið/Photo by Lilja Birgisdóttir.

Reykjavik Botanical Gardens

The botanical gardens are a popular outdoor recreation area, with winding paths full of trees and blossoms in spring and summer. However, it is equally beautiful in wintertime.

Next stop, Iceland
Next stop, Iceland | © Helgi Halldórsson / Flickr

Old Harbor Area

Enjoy this bustling part of the city, with new shops and cafés, in an area that was once mostly devoted to seafood processing. Take in the great ocean views and the sight of Mount Esja across the shore.

Reykjavik | © Shadowgate/Flickr
Reykjavik harbour | © Shadowgate/Flickr

Viðey Island

This lovely island just off the coast of Reykjavik can be enjoyed on foot or by bike. The island features the Imagine Peace Tower, an outdoor work of art conceived by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon. You can also see American sculptor Richard Serra’s Milestones project, with nine pillars framing the landscape.

The Settlement Exhibition

Archaeological remains excavated in 2001 turned out to be the oldest relics of human habitation in Reykjavik, with some fragments dating to before 871 AD. During the excavation, a longhouse from the tenth century was also discovered.

Settlement Museum Ruins | © ActiveSteve/Flickr
Settlement Museum Ruins | © ActiveSteve/Flickr