Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre is home to The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, The Icelandic Opera and various events throughout the year including stand up comedy, theatre and live music of various musical genres.
The design of Harpa is a collaboration between Icelandic artist and designer Ólafur Elíasson and danish architectural firm Henning Larsen Architects. The design has won various international awards and has quickly become a Reykjavik landmark. The financial crisis in 2008 put a stop to the project leaving the building only half-built for a few months until the state decided to step in and finish the construction which made Harpa a symbol of Iceland working its way out of the crisis.
The location is by the Old Reykjavik Port between land and sea overlooking the North Atlantic and the vibrant life of the northernmost sovereign capital in the world. There is a thriving icelandic music scene and out of the various music venues in Reykjavik Harpa is by far the best. During Iceland Airwaves music festival international crowds of music lovers flock to Reykjavik and Harpa is one of the main venues used. Despite being built for concerts and conferences the building has also become a tourist attraction because of its intriguing design inspired by elements of Icelandic nature and a glass facade with built in lights doing patterns and shapes often matching whatever is going on inside.
For those visiting Reykjavik during the darker months of the year the northern coastline going from Harpa towards the Sun Voyager and further, is a great spot for Northern Lights viewing should they appear.
Harpa Concert and Conference Hall has been a gamechanger for the Reykjavik music scene. The original idea was always to make it a home for all music and this has truly come to fruition. The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra desperately needed a base of operations and many of the larger conferences held in Reykjavik had long since outgrown all venues. The music scene in Reykjavik first started to get attention in the 80´s when bands like Mezzoforte and The Sugarcubes started exporting their music and making it to international charts. The city has proven to be fertile ground for musicians ever since with a long list of musicians of all genres. Björk might still be the biggest name but there are for example bands like Sigur Rós, Bang Gang, Of Monsters and Men, Mono Town, GusGus and Kaleo. As well as solo artists such as Emiliana Torrini, Ólöf Arnalds, Ásgeir Trausti, Ólafur Arnalds and María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir. The Reykjavik music scene keeps producing more talent every year and there seems to be no end to the amount of names to fill the various music festivals.
A proud high point on the Reykjavik skyline firmly planted on a hill in the center of the city reaching a height 74.6m (266 feet). Probably the most recognisable church in Iceland, the masterpiece of the country´s first state architect Mr. Guðjón Samúelsson (16 April 1887 – 25 April 1950), and named after poet and clergyman Rev. Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674), author of the Passion Hymns. The inspiration for the design of the church is from Iceland´s landscape, the trap rocks, mountains and glaciers, construction went on from 1945 until 1986.
When doing a city tour and exploring Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja, along with Perlan, Harpa Concert Hall and Iceland Parliament, is a must visit and the view from the belltower is amazing. With a little luck you might be able to catch a concert or a practice of the magnificent pipe organ. In front of the church is a statue of Leif “The Lucky” Eriksson who sailed to North America in 1000 AD, the statue was a gift from the United States of America to the people of Iceland for the millennial celebration of Iceland´s parliament in 1930.
The church is very popular among the locals and through the summer wedding bells can be heard every weekend. Concerts are also often held in the church at various hours.
Perlan wonders of Iceland is an exhibition including a bird cliff, a real ice cave, Iceland's glacier exhibition and icelandic nature in general. Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world but is fortunately blessed with hot springs which provide heating and electricity. The hot water tanks on which Perlan is built were in full use storing geothermal water up until the late 1980´s when after a few boreholes had been created in various parts of the city which made them mostly obsolete. Instead of tearing them down it was decided to build the glass dome and an observation deck since there is a great view of Reykjavík City from on top of the tanks. The glass dome also opened a restaurant and a café, as well as a gift shop making it a must for any visitor to the city.
Perlan is one of the most instantly recognisable landmarks in Reykjavík along with Hallgrímskirkja lutheran church, Harpa Concert Hall and The Sun Voyager. Whatever day tours you might be doing and whether you are doing a full tour of the city or not then Perlan is a really great stop. There is free entry to the building itself although there is an admission to the exhibitions and the observation deck. During high seasons in Iceland such as some of the music festivals and the northern lights peak time in mid-winter it is worth checking how busy it is and remember that in Reykjavik pretty much every single neighbourhood has a lovely geothermal swimming pool where there is always time to soak and get to know a few locals.
The area around Perlan is also of historic importance since to west between the hill on which it is built and the domestic airport was the location were a large portion of the troops stationed in Iceland during World War II stayed and the army barracks stood for quite a few years after the war. The importance of the allied forces coming to Iceland during the war can not be underestimated. Just the amount infrastructure that was accomplished during that time is what helped Reykjavík develop into a modern city. Road construction went on all through the war and both the domestic airport as well as the international airport were built during that time. Foundations that proved to be of immense value to Reykjavík and Iceland in general.
The panoramic view from Perlan is absolutely fantastic. The Reykjanes peninsula to the south west with the international airport and The Blue Lagoon. To the North West there is Snæfsellsnes peninsula with Snæfellsjökull volcano at its end that Jules Verne used as the gateway to central earth in his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. Also to the north lies Mount Esja and to the east towards the south coast and Golden Circle is Hellisheiði pass with one the biggest Geothermal Power Plants in Iceland easy to spot due to the great columns of steam rising from it.
Höfði House was built in 1909 in a prime location overlooking Faxaflói Bay towards Mount Esja to the north of Reykjavik and its original purpose was to house the French Consulate. The building material was brought in from Norway and the architecture is influenced by Jugendstil. The house is located in a great spot with some of the most scenic views in the Reykjavík area
For many years it was home to one of poet and business man Mr. Einar Benediktsson (1864-1940) who has his sculpture in front of the house, put there in 2015. Also, the family of painter Mrs. Louisa Matthíasdóttir owned and resided there from 1925-1937. In the 40´s and 50´s it was the home of the British Embassy and it was during that time when stories of “The White Lady” started becoming more and more frequent. A ghost of a young lady dressed in white occupying the house said to have died either by suicide or drowning. This matter became newsworthy when ambassador John Greenway recommended that the house be sold and the Embassy moved elsewhere due to “things going bump in the night”. Mr. Greenway applied for a special permission from the foreign office and the house was indeed sold to the Government of Iceland and later bought by the City of Reykjavík which has been its owner since 1958.
Since 1967 it has been used exclusively for official receptions and meetings. The most historical event being the 1986 summit meeting of Ronald Reagan, President of the United States and Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the USSR. A meeting which is generally considered to be an important step towards disarmament and the end of the Cold War. Hofði House recently made headlines again when Vice President Mike Pence had a meeting there in 2019 and every single office in the streets around flagged the rainbow flag in order to “show Mr. Pence what freedom really looks like”.
Hofði House has in fact played host to a number of well known people such as Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich and Queen Elizabeth II. Many have also claimed to have seen The White Lady and it is well known that no member of staff will enter or stay in the house alone. There are also a few accounts of the secret service having problems locating the source of some “sounds” inside the house. Then there others who claim it´s only mice playing on people´s imagination.
The Sun Voyager is just down the road from the Harpa Concert Hall along the northern coastline of the city next to the central Reykjavík area. Created by Icelandic artist Jón Gunnar Árnason and described by himself as a dreamboat, or an ode to the sun. His inspiration was from a dream where found himself traveling with a group of ancient people all the way from Mongolia to Iceland always following the sunset towards west across forests, lakes and rivers, eventually reaching the sea and there constructing great ships that would take them to an undiscovered island in the north. This fantasy or dream of hope, progress and freedom, and an ode to the sun, has captured people´s imagination and the sculpture itself not unlike a viking ship stands proudly in a prime location of the reykjavik area not far from Höfði House. A fun fact is that even if the dream/story of The Sun Voyager is complete fantasy and fiction then a recent genealogical discovery has shown that The Icelandic Horse has its closest relative in the Mongolian Horse and there is no explanation for this yet.
This incidentally is also the part of Reykjavík where people go when there is a good forecast for northern lights since there is a great view towards north across Faxi bay with the city lights to your back. Plus in this area you are pretty close to most of the downtown hotels, the National Museum and most of the great restaurants in the center displaying the exciting the new fusion of Icelandic cuisine. There are also a couple of great swimming pools in the area thanks to the hot springs, offering a safe and cozy geothermal experience complete with steam baths and hot tubs.
For those coming to Iceland for the various music festivals the area around The Sun Voyager should be familiar since for example Harpa Concert Hall is the center of both Iceland Airwaves and Sonar music festivals. Since the late 80´s Reykjavik has been the center of a thriving music scene producing great artists and also becoming a destination for music lovers and international recording artists. The Sugarcubes, Björk, Emiliana Torrini, Sigur Rós, Kaleo and Of Monsters and Men, to name a few of the locals.
The downtown area is also the place to head out from to any kind of day tours. The Reykjavik Harbour is where the whale watching tours leave from, as well as bird watching tours and sea-angling for those interested. Also tours going out to The Blue Lagoon, as well as the South Shore and The Golden Circle to name some.
The Sun Voyager should absolutely be a stop on any city tour exploring Reykjavík, the northernmost capital in the World.
The Reykjavik Harbour Area is very much at the heart of the city and indeed the oldest archeological remains of a farm in Iceland have been found right between the harbour and Tjörnin (The Pond). You could say that the city more or less grew from the harbour here where the first viking ships landed over 1100 years ago. For years the area served freight ships and fishing boats alike. This is also where both Winston Churchill and the first Beatles album came ashore.
In recent years the area has undergone a major facelift and what used to be the old shipyard and fishermen´s storage is now home to hipster cafés and fusion restaurants, designer shops and software companies. Even the shipyards offices and working area have been turned into an Icelandair hotel The Marina.
Reykjavík Harbour is a stone´s throw from the main shopping streets and pretty much qualifies as the city centre. Numerous tours can be pre-booked from there, and few classic day tours can be taken from here, whether you want to do The Golden Circle or visit The Blue Lagoon, it can be easily arranged from this location. Reykjavík Harbour is only 45 minutes from the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa and roughly the same distance from Thingvellir National Park and Rift Valley the start of the Golden Circle that also includes Gullfoss Waterfall and the geothermal area at Geysir. But the area around the harbour is also a great place to start with. Whale watching tours leave from here throughout the year and Harpa Concert Hall is right on the edge of the water. Some of the best bars and restaurants in the downtown area are also situated around here and it is well worth going on Tripadvisor just to see what´s going on since Iceland and Reykjavík in particular are right in the midst of a culinary revolution. Check out some of the seafood available as well as the local organic lamb, or find a seedy dive to disappear into for a few hours and see if the Northern Lights grace you with their presence when you stumble back out. Remember also that geothermal heat and hot springs are plentiful in Iceland, so every swimming pool in Reykjavík is in fact geothermal, they are well appreciated by the locals and can be recommended for their cleanliness, jacuzzis and steam baths.
It is widely accepted that Reykjavík has morphed from being basically a fishing village on the cold shores of the North Atlantic into being a modern city and a hot destination offering its own slightly eccentric but cosmopolitan charm at the same time.
Port of Reykjavík receives a growing number of cruise ships every year as well as just getting more popular in general. So, whether you are stopping by for a day, doing a 24 hour layover or spending more time, it is a smart idea to check your interests and options and book ahead.
When Reykjavik is your port of call on a Cruise around Iceland a city tour is certainly a good option and doing it with a private driver even a better one. Reykjavik is getting more popular as a cruise port for so the port area tends to get busy, specially in summer time. It is highly recommended to book in advance and if you go with a private driver you may be able to avoid many of the hassles that can be found trying to get on a crowded tour bus at a busy port.
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world and home to two thirds of the population of Iceland, it also has a thriving art scene and hosts a number of music festivals throughout the year, such as Summer Solstice and Iceland Airwaves. In winter it is a popular destination for people hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights since geographically Iceland for most of the year is below some part of the aurora belt.
Looking for a convenient cruise ship day tour might be a bit tricky but a Private City Tour will take you to some of the highlights of the city is ideal for a small group and tour guide would also be our recommendation. Some of the landmarks include Hallgrímskirkja lutheran church, Perlan observation deck, Sun Voyager sculpture and Harpa concert hall. You could also find a good place in central Reykjavík and relax with a drink or a coffee and try to spot the locals among the tourists.
There are also numerous museums and exhibitions in Reykjavik including The National Museum, The Reykjavik Gallery and The Wonders of Iceland at Perlan.
Possible add-ons along the way(entrance to be paid locally):
Possible tours you can contact us about to do after or before: