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People come to Reykjavik more to do than to see. Iceland is one of the adventure travel capitals of the world, after all! So it should come as no surprise that most of our four days in the capital were actually spent traveling outside it on excursions going diving, horseback riding, and biking. However, Reykjavik charmed me completely it its own right and is brimming with interesting little museums, art galleries, and other sights. We managed to sneak in a few throughout our busy Iceland schedule.

Hallgrímskirkja

One of the most recognizable buildings in Iceland (and featured in my Iceland video!) is the relatively young Lutheran church of Hallgrímskirkja — completed in just 1974. The tall structure, visible from more than 12 miles away, is a favorite amongst tourists for the view provided from the observation tower. While it’s free to enter the church, the elevator ride to the tower is 400 kroner ($2), a modest fee compared to other attractions in Iceland.

In front of the church is a statue of Viking Leif Eriksson, a tribute to the first European to run into North America and a small taste of Iceland’s obsession with its viking past.

While I admit the views from the tower over the candy-colored and orderly roofs of Reykjavik were fantastic, the church structure itself wasn’t really my style. Apparently I’m not the only one, because controversy haunted architect Guðjón Samúelsson, who never lived to see the end of the buildings 34 year construction.

Because there was a wedding going on that day, we weren’t able to see the church’s reputedly spartan interior. The real highlights are the views and the exterior anyway, so when you add in the bonus of a bride sighting I wasn’t upset in the slightest.

Turns out Hallgrímskirkja was a hotbed of activity that day — we also stumbled upon an exciting protest! From what we could gather, the chanting crowd was trying to stop victim-blaming in Icelandic court cases about rape. Cheers to a passionate and politically involved population!

Harpa

Another one of Iceland’s quirky and iconic buildings is , the country’s performing arts and conference center. This building is even newer than Hallgrímskirkja, having officially opened only in August of 2011.

Harpa is situated on the harbor, and when you look at the right angle the glass panels appear to be covered in glitter, the way they reflect the water below. Different colors are reflected by the panels depending on the time of day, season and weather.

We returned to Harpa multiple times while we were in Reykjavik and I simply could not get enough of it. Some have criticized Harpa for being a bit audacious — it cost $150 million to build in a time when Iceland was going through one of Europe’s most shocking financial disasters, and has four large halls, the largest of which seats 1,800 people in a country of 320,000 people. But standing in awe in front of the structure, I couldn’t help but think the hard work by Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson and architects Henning Larsen Architects was worth it.


Like Hallgrímskirkja, Harpa is said to be inspired by Iceland’s unique geology. Hallgrímskirkja’s columns are meant to reflect volcanic basalts, while Harpa is supposedly a reference to the country’s volcanic activity.

While we weren’t able to see the impressive main theatres (only open during twice daily guided tours), we did get into one of the smaller ones to see a show. was a light-hearted one-man comedy show that had some serious belly laughs. At 3,900 kroner ($21), it was a fairly affordable way to get a little bit closer to beautiful Harpa.

Sun Voyager

The Sun Voyager, a seemingly unassuming sculpture located along Reykjavik’s riverfront, is one of Iceland’s more iconic images. Something about it seems to capture the hearts and cameras of millions of tourists.

The Sun Voyager (or Sólfar in Icelandic) was completed by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason in 1989. It’s yet another ode to Iceland’s viking history, and facing out to the sea it stirs feelings of adventure and hope.


Like all the other amazing public art in Iceland, seeing this monument is completely free. Taking advantage of Iceland’s 24 hour summer sun and my own jetlag, I returned one night around 3am and caught a completely different view. Note: In person it was actually lighter than this, believe it or not! I manipulated the settings on my camera though to get more of a silhouette.

Kolaportið Flea Market

I’m a huge fan of going to markets in foreign countries… you never know what you might find! This weekend market fascinated me mostly for the fact that every single vendor accepted plastic for even the smallest purchases — Iceland truly is the closest thing to a cashless society I’ve ever encountered.

Perhaps it was the overwhelming fishy smell or maybe I just wanted in the shopping mood, but I wasn’t blown away by this market. One thing that did change my tune was a vendor selling vintage stamps, postcards and related paraphernalia. I walked away with two vintage postcards — my one souvenir purchase of the trip.

Volcano House Reykjavik

We are a family of movie goers, and so while researching our trip to Iceland I knew we would make it to one of the several small indie theatres in Reykjavik. We ended up stumbling into , a cafe, small geology exhibition, and a cinema that every hour on the hour shows two documentaries chronicling some of Iceland’s most famous eruptions.


We had the tiny theatre to ourselves while we learned about the 1973 Eruption in the Westman Islands and the more recent and internationally famous Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010 — which famously grounded flights all across Europe (and kept my Dad from a trip to France!)

At 2,000 kroner ($10), this was a fairly affordable way to support a fun business and get a bit of Icelandic history. Volcano House also hosts events like jazz nights, has a great selection of hand-made goodies in the cafe, and boasts a pretty hilarious little gift shop.


There was so much more to see in Reykjavik — we barely brushed the surface! When I return (and I know I will) I look forward to hitting up many more Reykjavik sights — the countless art museums and galleries, the tiny museums, the crazy architecture — I want to see it all!  

Have you been to Reykjavik? What was your favorite sight? If not, which of these would you hit up while in town?

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32 Comments...
  • Rika
    August 24 2012

    Iceland looks AMAZING! I love the shot of the town, all the little colorful houses are so cute. I would love to visit here…. I’ve never heard of anyone who traveled to Iceland and didn’t like it!
    Rika recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 24 2012

      So true Rika! I’ve talked to tons of people who’ve been there and it truly seems to be universally beloved.

  • Chrystal McKay
    August 24 2012

    I want that Iceland Shirt. Go Ash Go. haha. The city looks like an incredibly vibrant place to hang around!
    Chrystal McKay recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 24 2012

      I fell head over heels for this city… and the great souvenirs were definitely part of the fun 🙂

  • Michelle
    August 24 2012

    Great summary on Reykjavik! You didn’t miss much by not being able to visit the interior of Hallgrímskirkja. The inside is just another church. I don’t recall anything special. Good tip on the Volcano House, I wanted to do something like that in Iceland. Maybe next time.

    • Meihoukai
      August 24 2012

      I’m definitely having a next time! I can’t remember the last time I was so obsessed with a country!

  • These are such awesome pics!!! I didn’t get to see as much of Reykjavik as I would have liked to, because it was rainy and overcast, but I had such a great time there. It’s so colorful from above right?
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 25 2012

      It really is beautiful! Weather can make such a difference in one’s impression of a place. I’m SO grateful for our beautiful weather while we were there.

  • Dad
    August 25 2012

    OMG, you are becoming an architecture critic!!! You are a budding Ada Louise Huxtable (Google her)

    • Meihoukai
      August 25 2012

      I took your advice from my Denver post 🙂

  • cody
    August 25 2012

    Hey alex! Remember when you said that september was the big question mark? have you decided what to do

    • Meihoukai
      August 25 2012

      Unfortunately I’m still waiting on information from other sources…. 🙁

  • thatgirlshanna
    August 25 2012

    Oh, it’s sad you didn’t get to go into the church. I really enjoyed it, and I also think the exterior is quite grand. The church actually has a relatively famous organ which is spectacular. I’m hoping we get to catch a concert when we we’re there next month because we missed it last time.

    • Meihoukai
      August 25 2012

      Well… I’m definitely hoping to get back to Iceland someday! So I’ll be popping in next time 🙂

  • Emily in Chile
    August 25 2012

    Reykjavik looks like a pretty cool city in its own right!
    Emily in Chile recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 25 2012

      It’s AMAZING! I have a whole other post coming up about my love for this city 🙂

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    August 25 2012

    You are right that most people focus on what’s outside of Reykjavik, not what is in it, but it looks like a blast! That Harpa building looks so beautiful in your pictures, I can only imagine how it must have been in person!

    And I am jealous that Iceland is nearly cashless… Here in Japan I keep thinking about all of the credit card bonuses we could be earning if only restaurants and even some hotels would take cards! But most of them don’t! For a country that is so technologically advanced, the reliance on cash is kind of astounding!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 25 2012

      I hear you on the credit cards… I couldn’t use mine anywhere in Thailand and it drove me crazy!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    August 29 2012

    I think you three and us three Luna girls need to go on a vacation together! That’s a whole lot of American blondes for one country to handle, though… 😉
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 30 2012

      Um, I think we’d be quite the hit! Us with our New York accents, you guys with your southern ones… wait, you do have a slight southern drawl, right?

      • Camels & Chocolate
        August 30 2012

        Me, not really (though I can turn it on when I want–or when I’m drinking!).

        My mom and sister, definitely =)
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  • Molly Yonderblog
    September 11 2012

    Great post! Iceland has been one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited-the landscape is simply breathtaking and Reykjavik is awesome!
    Molly Yonderblog recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 12 2012

      Thanks Molly! I have to agree, Iceland is at the top of my country list, along with Cambodia — polar opposites!

  • Milena Yordanova
    February 5 2015

    Beautiful photos! Reykjavik looks like a great place for a visit. I love the photo of the Sun Voyager at night.
    Milena Yordanova recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 6 2015

      Thanks Milena! I love the most that there is never really any night in the summer in Reykjavik 🙂 More hours for photo taking.

  • Maria
    May 24 2015

    I am from Iceland myself, I love reading articles about how people like Iceland and I´m happy you liked your stay 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      May 26 2015

      I LOVED Iceland, Maria! You have a beautiful home.

  • Ray
    December 17 2015

    There was a beautiful little café called eldur or something, where the u is a coffee cup. They serve some delicious desserts there, and there’s also a map of the world with stickers of where people came from, and the hotel I stayed in had an outdoor heated swimming pool and 2 jacuzzis. Iceland is a beautiful country, and I’ll definitely visit again!

    • Meihoukai
      December 23 2015

      Me too! I can’t wait to go back someday.