Dark and cold, so what will the weather be like?
Reykjavik Iceland’s capital city is the northernmost capital of not only Europe but also the world. You can certainly add that it is the coldest capital in Europe. It is also one of the coldest capital in the world (after Ulan Bator in Mongolia and Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan).
Reykjavik is situated at 64° N latitude in the southwestern part of Iceland, in Faxa Bay. The island has a sub-arctic climate but the whole of the country is under the influence of the warm oceanic North Atlantic Current.
Reykjavik has extreme day and night lengths throughout the year. In the period from mid-May to mid-July, the sun hardly sets, so it is bright almost all day long. In the period between the beginning of December and January, day length drops to less than five hours a day. It is also worth noting that the length of the day increases rapidly, and by the end of January it is already seven hours.
When planning a visit to the city, you have to be aware that it will be cold even during the summer months. In summer, the average temperature at night is 7 degrees, during the day 14.5 degrees. There will also be strong wind and heavy rain because the average amount of rainfall in summer is 10 days.
It is therefore worth putting in a backpack/suitcase not only waterproof shoes, but also a raincoat jacket. I do not recommend an umbrella, because at the first gust of wind it will give up without a fight and you will be only able to throw it away.
Reykjavik can be visited in the rain, which I experienced first-hand. One full day is enough to see this city – two days if you also plan to visit some museums.
Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. What is worth seeing?
Hallgrímskirkja, the tallest church on the island
It is worth starting your tour of the city from the most characteristic building – the church Hallgrímskirkja. It is the second tallest building in Iceland and there is a viewing point on its tower.
Hallgrímskirkja is 74.5 meters high and is named after the Icelandic poet and Lutheran clergyman Hallgrimur Pétursson. The church was built for over 40 years, from 1945 to 1986. Today it is considered a symbol of Reykjavik and the most characteristic landmark in the capital city.
The shape of the church evokes extreme emotions. Some people see a rocket taking off in the body of the church, others see a huge bird in it. The church’s architect, Guðjón Samuelsson, tried to shape it in line with Iceland’s landscape, and bring architecture closer to nature. According to him, the form of the church was to refer to the top of a volcano, on the slopes of which lava flowed and solidified in the form of basalt rocks.
In the church, attention is drawn to large organs weighing over 25 tons. It is also worth taking the elevator to the top of the church, as there is a wonderful view of the city from there. This is one of the most visited attractions in the city. Unfortunately, when we were visiting Reykjavik, the church was already closed.
The church is open every day. From Monday to Saturday from 11.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., on Sundays between 10.00 a.m. till 4.00 p.m. Ticket for the elevator and the observation deck of the church 1000 ISK (about 7,3 $). More information can be found on the website of the Hallgrímskirkja.
Leif Erikson – famous Viking who discovered America
In front of the church, there is a statue of Leif Erikson. He is the most famous hero of the Viking age in Iceland. According to Icelanders, it was Erikson who first reached the shores of the New World (America) in 1000 CE, i.e. 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The international airport of Keflavik is also named after this traveller.
The monument that stands in front of the church is a gift from the United States that Iceland received in 1930 on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the Icelandic Parliament.
Reykjavik, Laugavegur – the most representative street in the capital city
A popular attraction in the city is Laugavegur Street, located in the centre of Reykjavik. It is the most representative street in the capital city. There are many colourful architectural “pearls” of the city, i.e. wooden houses covered with a corrugated sheet. A large selection of souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and cafes attracts not only tourists. Everyone will find here something for themselves.
The growing interest in Iceland among tourists means that the street and its immediate vicinity are constantly changing. More and more hotels and accommodation places are also being built here.
At the end of the street – there is the main bus station Hlemmur. There is also an unusual museum, the only one in the world – the Icelandic Phallological Museum. In this small museum, visitors can see about 280 penises of mammals. The biggest attraction is the penis of a whale and a polar bear. The sperm whale’s penis weighs “only” 70 kg and is 170 cm long. On the other side, the smallest penis belongs to the hamster and measures only 2 millimetres.
This museum is a great attraction. The exhibition is prepared with a great idea and arranged chronologically, it is interactive and attractive, and some sections are with a pinch of salt and a great sense of humour (such as an exhibition devoted to characters from local legends).
The visit to the museum made a great impression on me. When I tell someone about Reykjavik, I start my stories by telling them about his place. There is a small shop on site where you can buy funny souvenirs thematically related to the exhibition, e.g. a penis key ring. There is also a cafe on site where, among other things, you can order penis-shaped waffles :-).
The admission ticket costs 2750 ISK* (about 20$). The museum is open daily between 10.00 a.m. till 7.00 p.m. You can learn more about the museum by visiting its website phallus.is.
*price is from 2023
Town Hall and the seat of parliament
Reykjavik’s downtown is located in the northern part of the city, and its landmark is Lake Tjörnin. This place is eagerly visited by local residents due to the numerous (about 50) species of birds living on the lake.
The favourite activity of walkers is feeding birds with bread, hence the colloquial name of the lake – “bread soup”. Interestingly, neither the birds nor the walkers are disturbed by passenger planes flying over the lake. It is because, there is a domestic airport in Reykjavik nearby, and one of the landing paths for planes runs above the lake’s surface.
The Town Hall stands on the shores of the lake. The building is postmodern, modern – made of concrete, glass and lava. There is a huge 3D map of Iceland in the building. The model is made on a scale of 1: 50,000, but the height scale is double and it amounts to 1: 25,000. The total area of the model is over 76 sq m. There is also a cafe inside.
You can read more about the town hall events at the website reykjavik.is
Also nearby is the neoclassical building of Iceland’s parliament, Alþingishúsið, which was put into use in 1881.
Right next to it is the Lutheran Cathedral of Dómkirkjan, built in the 18th century.
Old Port and Harpa Concert Hall
The Old Port is a place worth visiting. It will be an interesting spot not only for lovers of old fishing boats and trawlers but also for lovers of fresh fish and seafood. There are many bars and restaurants here, with frequent long queues of hungry customers in front of the door.
The building that stands out from the traditional buildings of the port is Harpa – Music Hall. Its shape and wall structure resemble a huge honeycomb. Walls of the building sparkle with many colours: the sun’s rays refract during the day and the colourful lights of the harbour at night.
The construction of this edifice coincided with the economic crisis. The budget borne by the city in the amount of over EUR 160 million aroused a lot of negative emotions and reluctance among the inhabitants. Ultimately, however, Harpa blended perfectly into the urban landscape.
The building was officially opened in spring 2011. At that time, the inhabitants became convinced of the investment. Within time they fell in love with this unusual building and all its functions.
Today, it is also a great attraction for tourists. Its modern form still surprises and stands out from the city’s architecture. In 2013, Harpa was honoured with the Mies van der Roche Awards. The award is given every two years by the European Union to a building that impresses with its originality.
Nowadays, Harpa is multifunctional. There is, among others, the National Opera and Philharmonic concert halls, a conference centre, a restaurant and a souvenir shop.
Sun Voyager – the boat of dreams
The Old Port and Harpa are also the perfect places to start your walk along the city promenade that runs along Faxa Bay. This avenue does not tempt with special attractions. There are no tourist “fireworks” as well. But a walk along the shore of the bay is a perfect place to rest.
On the way, it is worth stopping at an interesting sculpture that has become an important attraction in the city. The Sun Voyager sculpture was created in 1990 and its creator is Jón Gunnar Árnason. When creating it, the artist intended to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom. Colloquially it is said to be a boat of dreams, an ode to the sun. Made of steel, the sculpture shimmers with many colours. During the day it shimmers from the rays of the sun, at night by the moonlight. During winter nights the sculpture reflects northern lights. Although the author died before his sculpture was finished, he would be proud to see how wonderfully it fits into the city space today.
PERLAN Museum – Wonders of Iceland
The Perlan Museum is a place worth visiting by the whole family. It is primarily an educational place designed for young people as well as future generations. Anyway, adults will also find many interesting exhibitions here, and your time at this museum is sure to pass quickly.
Perlan – Wonders of Iceland, was opened in 1991. It is interesting that despite the lapse of 30 years from the date of its opening, the museum still surprises with its modern form of expression and unusual architecture of the building.
The museum building consists of a huge glass dome, mounted on 6 cylindrical tanks. They collect geothermal water for the city. Each of the tanks can hold 4 million litres of water, and the entire structure is 25 meters high.
The structure of the museum is supported by a steel frame which, apart from keeping everything together, has another important function. The frame is hollow on the inside and can be called a giant radiator. Geothermal water that flows through it – helps to cool the museum rooms in summer, and effectively heats them in winter.
On the top floor (4th) there is a restaurant and an external observation deck with 360-degree panoramic views of the city.
Exhibitions in Perlan, what to see
Inside, there are permanent and seasonal exhibitions. Undoubtedly, a great attraction here is the unusual Planetarium with a movable dome. In the Planetarium, you can watch the film “Áróra”, dedicated to the Northern Lights. This is an amazing film, made in the latest technology, specially commissioned by the Perlan Planetarium. It is really worth finding out how the Aurora Borealis is formed. You can also learn if it can be found somewhere else than on our planet?
The museum has several interesting exhibitions focused on the theme of “Forces of Nature”. There is an exhibition dedicated to geothermal waters and geysers, volcanoes, tectonic plates and earthquakes.
An interesting attraction there is a model built in the shape of the Látrabjarg Cliff, where sea birds nest.
A seasonal attraction is the Ice Cave. It is the first cave of this type in the world. It is 100 meters long and consists of over 350 tons of snow, brought from the Icelandic mountains. Before entering, you need to put on a jacket, a warm cap and gloves, because it’s really very cold inside.
The museum is open daily, between 10.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m.
Ticket prices (below are Adult prices only):
- Wonders of Iceland 3990 ISK (about 29$)
- Wonders of Iceland & Áróra – Northern Lights Planetarium Show – 4990 ISK (about 36$)
- Áróra – Northern Lights Planetarium Show only – 2690 ISK (about 19,5$)
More details can be found directly on the website Museum Perlan – Wonders of Iceland
Reykjavik – is it worth spending time in the city?
Reykjavik Iceland’s capital does not resemble traditional European capitals. You will not find skyscrapers, multi-level intersections or bothersome traffic jams in the streets. Although 2/3 of the Icelandic population lives in its conurbation, it does not feel like being in a crowd. Less than 125,000 people live here, which can be compared to Cambridge UK, Bergamo IT or Zwolle Netherlands.
Reykjavik is an ideal starting point for those who want to visit the Blue Lagoon SPA or the Golden Circle attractions. Many people come here for one night only and do not visit the city. I think that it is worth staying here for a while and at least seeing those places I described.
Is it worth taking the time to explore this city? Yes! However, you will not find much to see here. You will also not stand in long queues to get into individual attractions. Reykjavik offers a different experience than other popular European capitals.
In this city, you can just have a good time, rest and relax. There is no need to be in rush. Surrounded by colourful houses, in a port or in a small street, you need to find a traditional restaurant and relax. For example, you can relax with fresh fish on your plate :-). Reykjavik gives you the opportunity to listen to nature, the sound of the wind and waves hitting the shore, as well as the sea bird’s screams. Are these not the excitement we are looking for in Iceland?
It is possible to see Reykjavik from the deck of the Hop-on Hop-off bus.
Take Reykjavik city at your leisure with this 1-day Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing bus pass. You’ll be able to visit the Harpa Concert Hall, National Gallery of Iceland, City Hall, and other iconic locations across the Icelandic capital with this pass. Simply hop on any of the red double-decker city sightseeing buses that run through the city every 30 min. You can hop on and hop off as many times within 24 hours so you can enjoy all of Reykjavik at your own pace.
- Stop 1 – Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre
- Stop 2- The Old Harbour
- Stop 3 – Reykjavik Maritime Museum
- Stop 4 – Whales of Iceland
- Stop 5 – National Museum
- Stop 6 – Lækjargata
- Stop 7 – Laugavegur Shopping Street
- Stop 8 – Reykjavik Art Museum – Kjarvalsstaðir
- Stop 9 – Hallgrímskirkja
- Stop 10 – BSI Bus Terminal
- Stop 11 – Perlan
- Stop 12 – Kringlan Shopping Centre
- Stop 13 – Hilton Reykjavik Nordica
- Stop 14 – Laugardalur Valley
- Stop 15 – Skarfabakki Harbour (summer only)
- Stop 16 – Höfdi House
Reykjavik Hop-On Hop-Off City Sightseeing Bus Tour*, here you can find a map of the stops and book your ticket.
Iceland, my other post
I encourage you as well to read my other posts about Iceland
- Akureyri – northern Iceland
- Diamond Circle North Iceland
- East Iceland – the land of puffins
- Golden Circle – treasures of Iceland
- Húsavík Iceland – time for whales
- Iceland – tailor-made travel plan
- Iceland in winter – how to organise the trip
- Iceland photos
- Reykjanes Peninsula South West Iceland
- Snaefellsnes Peninsula West Iceland
- South Coast of Iceland
- Troll Peninsula North Iceland
- Winter in Iceland travel plan
*links to the offer from Klook are affiliate