Our Reykjavik Design Guide will inspire you to visit this imaginative city – an aesthetic playground for design aficionados to explore. Reykjavik is an intriguing blend of traditional and modern, and its design embodies this fusion. Undulating glass structures line the waterfront while dancing northern lights bounce off the windows. Churches beckon with statues of explorers, towering facades, and bell towers offering breathtaking views. Architectural gems can be discovered throughout Iceland, but in Reykjavik, they are on every street corner! Follow our Reykjavik Design Guide to discover the aesthetic highlights of this enchanting city.
Guðjón Samúelsson’s Hallsgrimkirkja dominates the Reykjavik skyline with a structure that is traditional, yet strangely futuristic in design. This Lutheran parish church began its construction in 1937. Icelandic landscapes were the inspiration behind its design; specifically, the way volcanic lava cools on basalt rocks creating captivating shapes. Liefur Eiriksson, the first European to cross the Atlantic, stands guard outside. Inside, you’ll find a 15-meter-high pipe organ weighing 25 tons and designed by Johannes Klais, a German organ builder from Bonn. But perhaps the best feature is the view of Reykjavik visible from the observation platform at the top of the tower. You’ll get a bird’s eye view of Reykjavik’s colorful houses, the coastline, and distant dreamy landscapes. Hallsgrimkirkja is an iconic stop on any walking tour of Iceland, like this insider tour that hits all the essential sights.
Address: Hallgrimstorg 101, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland
The Nordic House
Just a 10-minute stroll from the center of Reykjavik, The Nordic House is an architectural gem of the city. Designed by renowned Finnish architect and modernist Alvar Aalto, it contains many of his signature elements. Aalto utilizes a simplistic utilitarian approach – placing emphasis on natural, organic shapes and materials. His signature nod to nature is evident in the blue ceramic rooftops, which blend effortlessly with the mountain backdrop. Additionally, the wooden and white plaster finish embodies Iceland’s woods and glaciers. Hand-crafted furnishings bring a touch of his own artistry into each room. If you’re a fan of art, culture, and history this is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Exhibitions pop up throughout the year and historic displays line the walls of the lower floor. If all this nature-inspired architecture has you eager to get out into nature, our wide selection of tours leaving from Reykjavik has you covered.
Address: Sæmundargata 11, 102 Reykjavík, Iceland
Harpa Concert Hall
Opening to great fanfare in 2011, Harpa Concert Hall is one of Iceland’s most iconic modern structures. Artist Olafur Eliasson, Icelandic Batteriio Architects, and Henning-Larsen Architects of Denmark collaborated to design this glistening masterpiece. Located near the old harbor, the hall brought new life into the district with its eye-catching exterior and massive halls that accommodate up to 1,800 people. The idea was to combine light, color, and natural elements to create a mesmerizing effect, as well as some of the best acoustics in the world. Harpa Concert Hall is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera, which offer rock, pop, and jazz concerts throughout the year.
Address: Austurbakki 2, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland
Opening in 1950, Iceland’s National Theatre has been the heart of the Reykjavik theatre scene for 70 years. Gudjón Samúelsson, who also designed Hallsgrimskirkja, is the architect, and his influences from Icelandic culture are just as apparent here. The design is his interpretation of an elven rock palace, a nod to traditional Icelandic folklore. While the exterior may seem austere and foreboding, the interior is another story, with plush velvet seating and wood panels. Throughout the year, dance recitals, Shakespeare plays and puppet theatres delight audiences with their unique interpretations and spellbinding music.
Address: Hverfisgata 19, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland
Built in 1909, Höfði house is one of the oldest and most historic buildings in Reykjavik. The sprawling estate was originally home to the French consul in Iceland. It also boasts an impressive historical guest list, including Winston Churchill, the Queen of England, Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachov – who negotiated the end of the Cold War in this very house! While the interior is not open to visitors, you can explore the grounds and exterior, where sculptures depict early settlers in Iceland. Delve into the more arcane side of Icelandic history with this unique walking tour.
Address: Borgartún, 105 Rekyjavik, Iceland
Út í bláinn – Perlan
Any Reykjavik Design Guide would be incomplete without this national treasure – a spinning restaurant that is both an architectural and culinary delight. On the top floor of Perlan, this fabulous 360-degree rotating restaurant provides dynamic vistas of Reykjavik. If that wasn’t enough of a view, this glass dome is also set above the Wonders of Iceland exhibition. Before you sit down to your meal, explore a real indoor ice cave, take a walk through Icelandic nature, and enjoy a Northern Lights Planetarium Show. All of this, coupled with exceptional fusion cuisine, makes for a memorable experience you don’t want to miss. Want the definitive list of must-dos in Reykjavik? This guide is all you need.
Address: Öskjuhlíð, 105 Reykjavik
Tucked away on the corner of Laekjargata and Austurstraeti, this restaurant was formerly a cinema in the 1920s. But today, it is replete with forest-inspired interiors and moss-like emerald walls. The attention to detail and food presentation is second to none, due to collaborations with local farmers to procure the best ingredients for their signature dishes. Chefs prepare local trout, beef, skyr, and honey with traditional methods, while smoke, fire, logs, and coal add a uniquely Icelandic flair. It’s a chic dining experience and one which design enthusiasts and foodies are sure to adore. This food walking tour is a great experience for foodies hot on the trail of Icelandic cuisine.
Address: Lækjargata 2a, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
When exploring the best of our Reykjavik Design Guide by day, why not immerse yourself in an aesthetic atmosphere at night? Set in a former office block, 101 Hotel ticks all the boxes for design enthusiasts. Named after Reykjavik’s oldest postcode, it features sleek monochromatic rooms punctuated with wooden furnishings, toiletries by Aveda, and luxurious Quagliotti linens. Additionally, a natural wood theme runs through the hotel, with tables crafted out of raw tree trunks and a warming fireplace beckons guests. However, the highlight of this boutique establishment is its restaurant – one of the city’s trendiest hotspots boasting gourmet burgers, seafood, and vegetarian cuisine.
Address: Hverfisgata 10, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland
This elegant design hotel is conveniently situated next to Reykjavik’s cultural, shopping, and entertainment district. The building was once a city pharmacy, hence the name – Apotek. Guðjón Samúelsson, the architect who also designed Hallgrimskirkja and National Theatre, constructed this landmark building in 1917. With stylish guest rooms and suites, cool monochromatic design, and amenities such as Bluetooth speakers, Nespresso machines, and writing desks, this is one hotel design lovers won’t want to leave! Check out some more in-depth details about this hotel and more in our Where to Stay in Reykjavik guide, or see the full list here.
Address: Austrustraeti 16, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland
To sum it all up, whether stopping over for a couple of days or setting up a base for a multi-day adventure in Iceland, design lovers will not be disappointed by this unique city. With architecture inspired by the one-of-a-kind natural wonders of Iceland, Reykjavik is a unique place to visit for the aesthetes among us.