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 with dancing northern lights reflecting in 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. Its architect was inspired by Icelandic landscapes – the way volcanic lava cools on basalt rocks creating captivating shapes. The exterior of Hallsgrimskirkja is guarded by Liefur Eiriksson, the first European to cross the Atlantic. Inside, you’ll find a 15-meter-high pipe organ weighing 25 tons and designed by Johannes Klais, a German organ builder from Bonn. The best views of Reykjavik can be enjoyed from the observation platform at the top of the tower – offering a bird’s eye view of Reykjavik’s colorful houses, the coastline, and distant dreamy landscapes.
Address: Hallgrimstorg 101, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland
The Nordic House
Just a 10-minute stroll from the center of Reykjavik, The Nordic House is the 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 created to blend effortlessly with the mountain backdrop, while 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 are held throughout the year and historic displays line the walls of the lower floor. Free audio self-guided tours are available, so you can learn more about the life and citizens of Iceland and its Nordic neighbors.
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. This glistening masterpiece was designed by artist Olafur Eliasson, Icelandic Batteriio Architects, and Henning – Larsen Architects of Denmark. Located near the old harbor, the hall breathed new life into the district with its eye-catching exterior and substantial halls – which accommodate up to 1,800 people. The idea was to combine light, color, and natural elements to create a mesmerizing effect – and some of the best acoustics in the world. Harpa Concert Hall is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera, showcasing 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. The building was designed by Gudjón Samúelsson, the same architect that created Hallsgrimskirkja. The design is his interpretation of an elven rock palace, a nod to traditional Icelandic folklore. The exterior may seem dark and foreboding, but the interior is a plush velvet-seated, wood-paneled masterpiece. 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 and has hosted an impressive 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! Sculptures outside the door depict early settlers in Iceland, and visitors are encouraged to explore the grounds and exterior although the interior is not open to the public.
Address: Borgartún, 105 Rekyjavik, Iceland
Út í bláinn – Perlan
Our Reykjavik Design Guide can’t forget this national treasure – boasting architectural and culinary delights for you to enjoy. On the top floor of Perlan, this fabulous 360-degree rotating restaurant provides ever-changing vistas of Reykjavik. The dynamic restaurant is set in a glass dome above the exceptional 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.
Address: Öskjuhlíð, 105 Reykjavik
Tucked away on the corner of Laekjargata and Austurstraeti, this restaurant was formerly a cinema from the 1920s. Today, there are few traces of its past life, with forest-inspired interiors and moss-like emerald walls. The attention to detail and food presentation is second to none. Chefs collaborate with local farmers to procure the best ingredients for their signature dishes. Local trout, beef, skyr, and honey are prepared using traditional methods – 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.
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, this stylish boutique hotel ticks all the boxes for design enthusiasts. Named 101 after Reykjavik’s oldest postcode, it features sleek monochromatic rooms punctuated with wooden furnishings, amenities by Aveda, and luxurious Quagliotti linens. A natural thread runs through the hotel – tables are made from vast chunks of tree trunk and a warming fireplace beckons guests. However, the hub 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. The same architect who designed Hallgrimskirkja and National Theatre, Guðjón Samúelsson, constructed this landmark building in 1917. With stylish guest rooms and suites, cool monochrome design, and a host of amenities including Bluetooth speakers, Nespresso machines, and writing desks, this is one hotel design lovers won’t want to leave!
Address: Austrustraeti 16, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland