Perched at the rim of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is a gateway to the frozen north, steeped in centuries of intrepid exploration and resilience. Its capital, Reykjavík is a hub for exploration, and can be the port where your journey begins or ends on the Jewels of the Arctic or the Arctic Complete expedition.
Here we look at some of the great things you can do in Reykjavík to make the most of your time here.
Marvel at the striking Hallgrimskirkja Church
The Hallgrimskirkja Church on Skolavorduhaed Hill is one of the city’s most recognisable features. Its tall central tower rises like a stalagmite from the ground, and can be seen from almost anywhere in Reykjavík. Completed in 1986, this futuristic church features a giant pipe organ inside, measuring an impressive 15 metres tall.
Outside the church, the elevated view point grants visitors one of the best views of the city.
Be dazzled by the Harpa Reykjavík Concert Hall and Conference Centre
Yet another incredible example of Icelandic architecture, the Harpa Reykjavík Concert Hall and Conference Centre is positioned on the old harbour waterfront like a faceted jewel. Opened in 2011, this ultra-modern centre is the home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra an hosts an array of cultural events.
Its glass facade was designed by Olafur Eliasson, and is separated into segments like honeycomb, catching the light and reflecting the Reykjavík harbour.
Take beautiful photos at Tjörnin pond
This small lake is a tranquil spot in the heart of the city, offering a picturesque scene framed by some of Reykjavík’s historic homes and the City Hall. Keep an eye out for the resident ducks in the area, who are sometimes joined by swans and geese.
Step back in time at Hofsstaðir Historic Park
Get a glimpse of Iceland’s history in the town of Garðabær in the outskirts of Reykjavík. The Hofsstaðir Historic Park aims to preserve some of the area’s past which stretches back to the Settlement period from 870-930AD up until the twelfth century.
In the pastoral setting, you’ll see evidence of the Viking longhouse that once stood here – an exciting discovery that was made entirely by accident in 1986 when construction was taking place in the area. Ingólfur Arnarson, the Norse founder of Reykjavík also used to live nearby, making the region truly special.
Watch the sun set at the Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture
Facing out to the Atlantic Ocean, the Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture is another hallmark feature of the city, combining modern design that echoes Iceland’s Viking past. Almost a fusion between a ghostly ship and giant fish bones, this sculpture was designed by Jon Gunnar Arnason to be an homage to the sun.
With the majestic Mount Esja in the background, the Sun Voyager is the perfect spot to take a snapshot to commemorate your visit to Reykjavík.
Go for a swim at Nauthólsvík geothermal beach
While a country whose name contains the word “ice” doesn’t immediately summon up images of pleasant swimming spots, Reykjavík has plenty of great places to dive in and splash around. In particular, Nauthólsvík beach is a local favourite, becoming especially busy during summer. The beach isn’t just a wonder of nature – it was created by making a sea wall to coral warm geothermal water into the central lagoon, meaning the temperature is much higher.
If swimming in the 15-19 degrees Celsius lagoon water doesn’t appeal to you, you can always relax in the hot tubs which average around 38 degrees.
A short ferry ride from the city is the wonderful Viðey Island. People first came to Viðey in the early 2nd century, however, the island itself dates back millions of years when it used to be a volcano. Today, it’s a scenic retreat where you’ll find a collection of heritage sites, including Viðey House, Iceland’s first stone building constructed in 1755 as a home for Skúli Magnússon.
You can explore the natural beauty of the island by walking or biking one of the many trails, or as part of a guided tour. Keep an eye out for the local birdlife such as eider, greylag goose, oystercatcher and the black-tailed godwit.
Imagine Peace Tower
This unique landmark is situated on Viðey Island, and was the brainchild of Yoko Ono, as a tribute to her late husband John Lennon. The art installation is made up of a well with the words “Imagine Peace” inscribed in different languages, and houses six powerful lights which project their beams into the sky to form one column of light.
After sunset, the tower is lit up until midnight, apart from when it’s lit up until sunrise on New Year’s Eve and John and Yoko’s birthdays. Visible from across the harbour, the Imagine Peace Tower is a place to reflect and honour the work of two incredible activists and artists.
Whales of Iceland
Witness the giants of the sea in a totally unexpected and surreal way at the world’s biggest whale exhibition. At Whales of Iceland, you’ll be able to wander around 23 life-size models of whales including long blue, North Atlantic and sperm whales.
There’s even a virtual reality experience which simulates a journey under the sea in the presence of these mighty creatures.
Ready to book your Arctic Circle tour?
The team at AE Expeditions have a passion for bringing you to some of the world’s most incredible destinations, and creating adventures that you will cherish for years to come. To start planning your European Arctic expedition, check out our brochures online, or get in touch with our knowledgeable team.