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Top 8 Famous Buildings in Reykjavik

The northernmost capital city in the world is located in a country with a name that emphasizes the fact that you need to bring a thick winter coat when you visit it.

Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, and even though the country is known for its incredible natural beauty, the city is home to some amazing architecture as well.

The history of the city goes back to the 870s when Norse settler Ingólfr Arnarson (849-910) visited Iceland and decided to build a town in the southwestern part of the island.

Not much happened for nearly 900 years because the city center was nothing more than farmland until the second half of the 18th century.

King Fredrik V of Denmark initiated a project that resulted in several industries emerging in the city in the 1750s, including wool, shipbuilding, and agriculture.

Reykjavik earned a trading charter in 1786 and that’s why this is the year considered to be when the city was founded. Today, the city is home to over 233,000 inhabitants.

In this article, you’ll discover some of the most famous buildings in Reykjavik, the fascinating capital city of Iceland.

1. Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja is by far the best-known building in Reykjavik and that’s mainly because of the fact that it’s the epitome of Expressionist architecture. The distinctive tower of the church can be seen from all around the city as it stands 74.5 meters (244 feet) tall.

Iceland’s capital isn’t known for its towering skyscrapers and this explains why the famous church is the second-tallest building in the country. It took a while before this structure was completed because even though the first stone was laid in 1945, it took until 1986 to finish it.

Famous buildings in Reykjavik Hallgrimskirkja
Hallgrimskirkja / Wiki Commons

2. Alþingishúsið

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Alþingishúsið translates to “The Parliament House” and that’s because it houses the Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament. This doesn’t mean that all the parliament’s activities take place here because various other spaces such as meeting rooms and offices ear located in modern buildings nearby.

The Neoclassical building was constructed between 1880 and 1881 and was designed by a Danish architect named Ferdinand Meldahl (1827-1908). He is best known for the redesign of the magnificent Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark following a fire in the 19th century.

Alþingishúsið / Ziko Van Dijk / Wiki Commons

3. Perlan

Perlan is a popular and prominent landmark in Reykjavik that is easily recognizable because of its distinctive dome. One of the reasons why it’s such a remarkable building in Reykjavik is because it’s located on top of a hill called Öskjuhlíð which is about 61 meters (200 feet) above sea level.

The structure initially started out as nothing more than a collection of water tanks but it was completely repurposed in 1991. Today, it houses a planetarium, a restaurant, a café, an exhibition space, and an observation deck that provides stunning views of the city.

Perlan / Jutta234 / Wiki Commons

4. Harpa

Harpa is the name of a beautiful concert hall and conference center in Reykjavik. It was constructed between 2007 and 2011 and cost €164 million to build. It’s renowned for its honeycomb design and colored glass façade designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects. It was intended to resemble the rough landscape of Iceland.

Larsen was also the architect of the amazing Copenhagen Opera House in the Danish capital and was famous for his Neo-Futiristic designs. Remarkably, the Icelandic government paid for half of the building because work was halted at the start of the financial crisis in 2008.

Harpa in Reykjavik
Harpa in Reykjavik / Robert Montgomery / Wiki Commons

5. Höfði House

Höfði House is the name of a building that was constructed in the early 20th century for the French consul in Iceland named Jean-Paul Brillouin. The mansion became the home of several other notable people in the country, including poet Einar Benediktsson (1864-1940) and painter Louisa Matthíasdóttir (1917-2000) who grew up here.

The most notable event in the history of this historic building in Reykjavik happened in 1986. It served as the meeting place between General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union and American President Ronald Reagan. This happened during the 1986 Reykjavík Summit.

Hofdi House
Höfði House / Wiki Commons

6. Safnahúsið

Safnahúsið is another historic building in Reykjavik that has been repurposed to become an exhibition center that houses an exhibition called “Points of View.” This has been part of the National Museum of Iceland since 2013.

The original function of the building was to serve as the national library of Iceland. It served this purpose after it was completed between 1906 and 1908. The country has come a long way because this was one of the largest buildings in Iceland in the early 20th century.

Safnahúsið / Vera de Kok / Wiki Commons

7. Landakotskirkja

Landakotskirkja is another remarkable church in Reykjavik that is officially known as “Basilika Krists konungs” or Christ the King Cathedral. It’s the main cathedral of the Catholic church in Iceland and is locally commonly referred to as Kristskirkja (Christ’s Church).

The building was designed by Icelandic state architect Guðjón Samúelsson (1887-1950) and was completed in 1929. Remarkably, this was also the architect of the distinctive Hallgrímskirkja church which looks completely different than this Gothic Revival building.

Landakotskirkja / Jon Gretarsson / Wiki Commons

8. Reykjavík Town Hall

Reykjavík Town Hall is the city hall building in the Icelandic capital and is situated along Tjörnin, a lake in the heart of the city. As you surely expected, this building houses the main administrative offices of the city and also the mayor’s office.

The most fascinating attraction inside this building is a large 3D map of Iceland which allows visitors to explore the natural wonders of the country. The city hall was completed in 1992 following an international design competition which was on by a local firm called Studio Granda. They also designed the Supreme Court of Iceland and the Reykjavik art museum.

Reykjavik Town Hall
Reykjavik Town Hall / Wiki Commons