Reykjavik’s architectural highlights

While Iceland’s stunning natural landscapes justifiably attract visitors in their hordes, it’s worth lingering in Reykjavik to have a look at some of its most interesting architecture. Here’s our pick of the best of one of Europe’s most northerly cityscapes.

Harpa Concert and Conference Centre

It’s hard to miss this colourful collaboration on Reykjavik’s waterfront – not that you’d want to. Henning Larsen Architects from Denmark and Icelandic architectural firm Batteríið Architects worked together to create a building that’s as distinctive and original as it is functional. They took their inspiration from Iceland’s natural beauty. In 2013, their efforts were rewarded with the European Union’s award for contemporary architecture.

The external building of the famous Harpa concert hall during a calm winter day in Reykjavik.


Like Harpa, nature – this time in the form of Iceland’s famous basalt columns – was the architect’s muse. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, this was no speedy construction: it was commissioned in 1937, begun in 1945 and its nave finally consecrated in 1986. As one of the country’s tallest structures, you won’t be surprised to learn it can be seen from across the capital, but it’s also well worth seeing this Lutheran church up close.

Evening view of famous Hallgrimskirkja church, Reykjavik, Iceland.


Although its iconic revolving restaurant has now closed, architecture fans will still be keen to visit this gem. Perched atop a small hill called Öskjuhlíð just outside the city centre, this easy to spot landmark made good use of the hot water storage tanks that had been there for decades when it was renovated in 1991. The dome that was added houses an observation deck which is still open, so as well as admiring the building itself, it’s still possible to enjoy those incredible views over the city.

Hotel Borg

If you’re a fan of Art Deco, then there’s an obvious choice if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Reykjavik: the Hotel Borg. It was commissioned and built in the 1920s by Icelandic wrestler Johannes Josefsson. Almost a century on, following sympathetic refurbishment, it still oozes the glamour and style it had when it first opened back in 1930. Look for the little decorative touches that give the place its cohesive look: globe lamps, brass fittings and a collection of fascinating vintage photos of the city.

Reykjavik City Hall

Located by the side of Lake Tjörnin, this recognisable structure is the work of Studio Granda. As you might expect from its setting, the building was deliberately designed to sit in harmony with its surroundings and attract birdlife with its huge panes of glass and its moss-covered walls. It took four years to construct, with completion achieved in 1992. Inside, a huge map of Iceland is a favourite with visitors.

Red pyramids over the River Elliðaár

Proving that architectural interest doesn’t have to be confined to buildings, the twin supports used for the two bridges that span the River Elliðaár have great merit in their own right. Designed by local architects Teiknistofan Tröð, these red structures take the form of empty pyramids that support the pair of crossings. At night, the bridges are illuminated with LED lighting in the handrails and bollards. They are particularly attractive at dusk on a calm evening when the structures are reflected in the water.