The capital city of Reykjavik hosts the cream of the crop of architecture in Iceland, and more fascinating landmarks are dotted across the entire country. Lucky for travelers, Iceland is easy to navigate, and many off-the-beaten-path icons are just a short drive from Reykjavik. Touring some of the most unique architecture in Iceland allows tourists to appreciate native craftsmanship, learn about local resources and see the rugged landscape of this beautiful island-country.
Architecture in Iceland | Top Iconic Landmarks in Reykjavik
Located on the banks of the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik is the largest city in the country and home to some of the most spectacular architecture in Iceland. Many of the city’s landmark buildings are located just a short distance from each other, making it easy to combine tours of the best attractions in Reykjavik with the top architecture in Iceland.
No matter where visitors roam in Reykjavik, they always have a view of Hallgrimskirkja. This landmark cathedral with a 73-meter-tall façade is not only the tallest building in Iceland but also one of the newest architectural wonders. Though construction began in 1945, the church was not consecrated until 1986, after final touches were added to the lengthy project. The building was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, a celebrated state architect, who fashioned the building after Iceland’s mountainous and craggy geography.
Hallgrimskirkja is a working church but welcomes tourists to view the church’s architecture from the inside, as well as climb the tower for a view of Reykjavik. Winter hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October through April. The tower closes at 4:30 p.m. during winter. During summer, which lasts from May through September, the church is open for tours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The tower is open until 10:30 p.m. during summer. Admission is 1,000 króna for adults and 100 króna for children ages 7 to 16.
Travel tip: Hallgrimskirkja holds regular mass service from 10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. each Sunday. The tower is closed during mass, but visitors are welcome to join the open service.
On the scenic Harbor of Reykjavik is where tourists will find Harpa, the city’s premier concert hall and conference center. This stand-out building is a show-stopper with its hypnotizing façade and inner landscape, which is accentuated by light drawn through the honeycomb-patterned windows for which the building is best known. Harpa was built between 2007 and 2011 and now is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera, which perform several times each year.
National Theatre of Iceland
Another masterpiece designed by Gudjón Samúelsson, Iceland’s first state architect, the National Theatre of Iceland gives a nod to the country’s natural geology, particularly its basalt columns, or rectangular rocks formed by cooled lava. Samúelsson also gained inspiration from Icelandic folklore, namely elves, who are said to live in rocks where humans can enter to find a lively world of dancing and singing. The iconic landmark is more than a piece of architecture in Iceland. The National Theatre of Iceland hosts 20 to 30 productions every year
National Theatre of Iceland is open from noon to 6 p.m. weekdays and from noon to 10 p.m. on show days. General admission to the theater is 6,200 króna. Events and exhibitions require extra admission, which varies according to the show.
Reykjavík Art Museum Ásmundarsafn
Designed with Arabic and Mediterranean influences in mind, the Reykjavík Art Museum Ásmundarsafn is a unique art space that was once home and studio to Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson. The artist built the home studio from 1942 to 1950, and today visitors can view his artwork inside the building and also outside in an open-air museum that contains about 30 sculptures.
Reykjavík Art Museum Ásmundarsafn is one of three buildings showcased by the Reykjavik Art Museum. Tickets are 1,800 króna for adults and 1,100 króna for children younger than 18.
- Reykjavík Art Museum Ásmundarsafn, Sigtún 105, is open for tours from 1 to 5 p.m. from October through April and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May through September.
- Reykjavík Art Museum Hafnarhús, Tryggvagata 17, 101, is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every other day.
- Reykjavík Art Museum Kjarvalsstaðir, Flókagata 24, 105, is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
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Architecture in Iceland | Can’t-Miss Daytrips with Spectacular Photo Ops
For a country that takes less than 20 hours to circumnavigate by car, Iceland is packed with tons of things to see and do. With a 5-day itinerary, travelers can explore the best parts of Reykjavik and still have time to discover the best architecture in Iceland during a daytrips to Akureyri, Hofsós and Thingvellir National Park.
Saurbæjarkirkja – near Akureyri
About a 25-minute drive south of Akureyri in northern Iceland, Saurbæjarkirkja is one of the most maintained exhibits of an ancient turf house, or a typical Icelandic home or building. Saurbæjarkirkja actually is a church that was built in 1858, and it is one of only six turf churches still standing in Iceland. The frame of Saurbæjarkirkja is made of wood and stone, but the roof is constructed of turf, or sheets of grass that grow and insulate the building from the sometimes-harsh Icelandic climate.
Saurbæjarkirkja is maintained by the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik and can be visited any time. The out-of-the-way location (about five hours northeast of Reykjavik) offers superb photo ops and a tranquil place to spend a day.
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ION Adventure Hotel, Nesjavellir, a Member of Design Hotels
With lighting that compliments the Northern Lights, ION Adventure Hotel, Nesjavellir, is a visionary as well as an aesthetic experience. The landmark hotel sits on the slopes of Hengill mountain and offers a breathtaking view of nearby Thingvallavatn (Þingvallavatn) lake. The hotel also is situated next to scenic Thingvellir National Park, a popular spot for sightseeing and hiking.
Check In to ION Adventure Hotel, Nesjavellir, a Member of Design Hotels, Step Out to Thingvellir National Park
Hof Residence – Skagafjörður
The Hof Residence by Studio Granda is a private estate nestled in the rolling hills of Skagafjörður near the town of Sauðárkrókur. Constructed of cedar, grass and basalt pillars, the block-style quarters contain livestock barns, horse stables, a church and a house where the owners still live today. Visitors to the region should check with the owners before setting foot on the property, but the view from afar is worth a trip to Skagafjörður. From the open fjord (just 100 kilometers from the Arctic Circle!), sightseers get a jaw-dropping view of nearby islands, specifically Drangey, a legendary rock island loved for its bird population; Málmey, an uninhabited island that once had a population of 14; and Lundey, which translates to “Puffin Island,” which serves as a refuge for seabirds.
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Hofsós Swimming Pool (Sundlaugin á Hofsósi) – Hofsós
Travelers making the trip to Sauðárkrókur should also visit the Hofsós swimming pool just 30 minutes away. Designed with a Greek temple in mind, the pool rests on the outer coast of the city and features an endless view of the North Atlantic and snow-capped mountains that linger in the distance. Visitors can see Drangey Island while relaxing in waters that stay a balmy 95˚F (35˚C) year-round. The pool also features a hot tub that is heated to 105˚F (40˚C), showers and a nearby camping area for visitors who want to relax and stay awhile on the fjord.
Check In to Sunnuberg Guesthouse, Step Out to Hofsós
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