The Keflavik International Airport in Iceland is situated out on Reykjanes peninsula close to The Blue Lagoon and about 45 drive to Reykjavik City. The peninsula is a part of the mid atlantic ridge where Eurasian and North American tectonic plates drift apart. A short drive from the airport lies the bridge between continents a symbolic spot chosen to celebrate the connection between Europe and North America.
Keflavík International Airport has grown fast in the last few years and all major services for passengers can be found here including bus service and car rental, although planning ahead is recommended and for example Private Driver can provide any transport service you might need. Domestic flights leave from Reykjavik Domestic Airport and take just under an hour depending on traffic.
Reykjanes Peninsula on which Keflavik Airport is situated also has a number of attractions including vast lava fields stretching in all directions and hot springs in geothermal areas with steam rising high into the sky. Also, the largest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula is Kleifarvatn not far from the Seltún high heat area where, due to the geothermal activity, the mud pools smell strongly of sulphur and give an extraterrestrial feel.
Keflavik International Airport was originally built by the US Air Force during World War II and was a part of the US Air Base until 2006. During the Cold War the airport was one of the main NATO airbases in the North Atlantic and thousands of troops were stationed there. Due to Iceland becoming more and more popular as a destination for world travelers the airport has grown significantly in the last few years and there are even plans for further expansion in the near future.
The Reykjanes Peninsula is quite a scenic part of Iceland and coming in on a flight the great lava fields are bound to be the first thing to grab your attention and it is no wonder that many filmmakers have chosen this landscape as background for their films. Not surprisingly perhaps, most of these are either science fiction or post apocalyptic fantasies using Iceland as some other planet ravaged by alien forces and unknown elements, or a post nuclear disaster zone. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the exception to this since Ben Stiller actually used Iceland as itself and even used it as a substitute for both Greenland and the Himalayas. Actually the filmmakers did a great job although they managed to put a volcano literally in the only place in Iceland that has none.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A great stopover idea is a Private Reykjavik City Tour from Keflavik Airport with a private driver comfortably taking you to the main sights of the city, customizing the day tour to your needs and preferences.
Private City Tour for Cruise Passengers
Private City Tour
Reykjavik is the northernmost sovereign capital in the world at 66° North. About two thirds of the population of Iceland live in and around the city, roughly 200.000. Reykjavik is only 45 minutes from the international airport and is well worth visiting. Some of its landmarks are the beautiful Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church built between 1944 and 1982, sporting the biggest pipe organ in Iceland, designed by Iceland first state architect Guðjón Samúelsson and named after Iceland´s foremost hymn poet, clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson. In front of the Church is a statue of Leif “The Lucky” Eriksson who sailed to North America in the year 1000 AD the sagas tell us. The statue is a gift from the United States to the People of Iceland. One of the main shopping streets, Skólavörðustígur, is just in front of the church and as well as having various souvenir shops it has a number of Icelandic designers as well as local arts and crafts, the street emerges with shopping area at Laugavegur street a little further down towards the coastline. Down by The Reykjavík Harbour is the Harpa concert hall and conference hall, home to the icelandic opera and the iceland symphony orchestra, as well as numerous music festivals. The Harpa was designed by famous danish icelandic designer Ólafur Elíasson and finished despite a financial setback during the economic crash in 2008. Going along the north shore you will find Sun Voyager sculpture and Höfði House, and this is also a good spot to wait for the northern lights in winter since there is a clear view towards north across the bay with the city lights behind you.
On the private tour your personal driver will also take you to check out Perlan (The Pearl), City Hall and The Parliament House. There are also various museums and exhibitions including The Saga Museum, The Reykjavik Art Gallery and The Whales of Iceland Exhibition.
Possible add-ons along the way(entrance to be paid locally):
Possible tours you can contact us about to do after or before: