Things to do in Reykjavik + Northern Lights

Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland in Northern Europe.  Things to do in Reykjavik;

  • Harpa concert hall and Conference Center
  • Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral
  • Tjornin Lake and Frikirkjan I Reykjavik Church
  • Sun Voyager
  • Day trips to the golden circle
  • Northern lights (with a bit of luck!)
  • Icelandic fish and chips

In  Reykjavik, you’ll find many hotels however, they’re often on the expensive side.  For this reason, I strongly recommend airbnb in Iceland.

Harpa Concert Hall

Things to do in Reykjavik - Harpa

Harpa is a stunning building, especially at night with its colorful lights.  An interesting fact is the facade represents the basalt landscape of Iceland.  Harpa is the concert hall and conference center of Reykjavik.  The design of the inside of the building is just as stunning as the outside.  It’s worth going inside the Harpa building to both warm up as well as admire the interior.  I found the perfect place to photograph Harpa was directly in front of it using the artificial pond for a reflection.

Sun Voyager

Things to do in Reykjavik - Iceland - Sun Voyager

Something else you must photograph which is close to Harpa is the Sun Voyager.  The Sun Voyager is a steel boat sculpture and one of the important landmarks of Reykjavik.  The structure is huge and qualifies as an Iceland Instagram location.  Furthermore, it qualifies as a Reykjavik sunset location.

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral

Things to do in Reykjavik - Hallgrimskirkja cathedral

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral is a unique and stunning structure.  Many comments on my Instagram post have compared this cathedral to a spaceship or space rocket!  Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral is a worthwhile 10 minute walk from central Reykjavik.  In fact, you can ascend the 73 meter tall tower for a stunning view of central Reykjavik, the cost is about $8.  Finally, outside the cathedral is a stall selling delicious Belgian waffles, perfect if you are in need of a sugar rush.

Tjornin Lake and Frikirkjan I Reykjavik Church

A short walk from Hallgrimskirkja cathedral is Frikirkjan i Reykjavik church which is adjacent to Tjornin Lake.  As a result you can make some wonderful reflection photography of this church.

Day Trips to the Golden Circle

Things to do in Reykjavik - Golden Circle

Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  As a matter of fact, you can see much of its beauty on a Golden Circle day tour from Reykjavik.  Icelandic beauty you’ll see on the Golden Circle include; Geysir, Gullfoss as well as Þingvellir Game of Thrones location.  Read my Iceland Blog for more information on the Golden Circle experience.

Things to do in – Reykjavik Corrugated Iron Buildings

Things to do in Reykjavik - Corrugated Iron buildings

In Reykjavik you’ll see lots of colorful buildings made from corrugated iron.  Corrugated iron was originally imported from England in the 19th century but I’m sure they import it from China now.  After a serious fire caused damage to Reykjavik in the 20th century, a law was passed that buildings must be made of fire resistant material.  As corrugated iron is light, strong, resistant and inexpensive this became the material of choice and is now part of the Icelandic culture.  The colorful corrugated iron buildings are unique to Iceland and are extremely photogenic.

Northern Lights in Reykjavik

Things to do in Reykjavik - Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)

You have to be really lucky to see the natural wonder of the world, Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).  As a matter of fact, I’ve been to both Norway and Alaska and not seen the Northern Lights.  When I visited Iceland, the forecast was cloudy the whole time, as a result, I thought I’d miss them for a 3rd time.  Fortunately on my final night the clouds disappeared and the lights came out.  They first appeared white, then changed to green and were very clear to the naked eye.  The photo I took was with the lens open for 20 seconds so the green is slightly stronger than what I actually saw.

Where can you see the Northern Lights in Central Reykjavik?

There is a dark rock beach beside Harpa, this is the best place to photograph Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in Reykjavik.  Another method you could use to see the northern lights is to stay in a hotel away from the city lights and hope they show.  Alternatively, there are also budget Northern Lights Tours leaving from Reykjavik every night.

How to get from Reykjavik to Seltun

How to get from Reykjavik to Seltun - Kleifarvatn Lake, Iceland

The drive from Reykjavik to Seltun takes about 1 hour and on the way you’ll pass Kleifarvatn Lake.  Kleifarvatn Lake has 2-3 viewing points and if you are there on a clear day you’ll receive beautiful views.  Around the corner from Kleifarvatn Lake you’ll arrive at Seltun geothermal area.

Seltun to the Blue Lagoon

2018-12-31T21:49:09+00:00April 8th, 2017|Iceland, Northern Europe|29 Comments


  1. Ioanna April 8, 2017 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Great post, James! Visiting Iceland is very high on my wish list, I hope I’m able to go in a year or max. two. Lucky for you to see the Aurora Borealis! Wow!

    Regards and happy travels!

  2. Becky April 9, 2017 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    Nice overview! Really hoping I get to visit Iceland some time in the future, it looks stunning!

  3. James April 11, 2017 at 11:09 am - Reply

    The architectural design of Harpa, Reykjavik looks like a disco. It looks like it has a lot of blings from a distance. I would love to visit this magnificent building someday.

  4. Gracie Gill April 12, 2017 at 3:48 am - Reply

    I never thought that Reykjavik has a lovely architectural structure like Harpa. And that church sure do look like a space craft, but it is stunning. When I think of Iceland, I think about landscapes, thanks to this post, you introduced the other side of it!

  5. Suma April 12, 2017 at 8:16 am - Reply

    Wow, the Hallgrímskirkja cathedral looks like a building with futuristic architecture, and yes, it does resemble a space rocket.Watching the Northern Lights has been a long time dream of mine. It’s great you got lucky this time around and caught a glimpse of it during your stay at Reykjavík. The colourful glass pattern of the HArpa is just stunning! Thanks for sharing the main highlights of the capital.

  6. Dave Jaques April 12, 2017 at 9:10 am - Reply

    Iceland is on my bucket list, and one major reason is because of the northern lights. Thanks for pointing out where you can see them. The buildings throughout the city are stunning and you really captured them well! Love this post!

  7. Rhiannon April 12, 2017 at 9:22 am - Reply

    So where do Icelandic fish and chips stand in comparison to the traditional British seaside variety?
    That cathedral definitely looks more like a spaceship than a place of worship!
    How lucky you got to see the Northern Lights! Especially if it was your final night, you really lucked out there.

    • James Smith April 12, 2017 at 12:55 pm - Reply

      The fish and chips from anywhere in the north of England are much better than the Icelandic fish and chips!

  8. Tania Mukherjee April 12, 2017 at 9:28 am - Reply

    Loved to know the fun fact about buildings being made of corrugated iron. I wish my country would pass such a law. The buildings here are made of such bad quality materials that I am always scared of a fire break.

  9. Riely April 13, 2017 at 3:07 am - Reply

    The Hallgrímskirkja cathedral does have a very unique design, one I have never come across. I have seen the Northern Lights in Canada, which were phenomenal, but I would love to see them in Reykjavik. It would probably be seen better away from the city, more vibrant and peaceful to watch. Thank you for once again showcasing a very informative guide.

  10. Kellyn April 13, 2017 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    Your photos are a dream. I’m heading to Iceland in September, so these are some really useful tips for me.

  11. Viktoria Kuzmenko April 14, 2017 at 9:04 am - Reply

    That’s so amazingly beautiful!

  12. Adam April 14, 2017 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    Very nice photos and list of attractions! That’s very interesting about the corrugated iron, I’d love to see it in person.

  13. tracy collins April 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    Yep I still want to go to Iceland really badly!! It just looks so fantastic and an amazing experience. The architecture looks great too – I think we would stay in Reykjavik is a must see for a few days. My husband lived in Norway for 3 months and didn’t see the northern lights so we would really hope to see them (though I have seen them in the UK once – well I think thats what the lights were lol!)

  14. Marta April 14, 2017 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    I wish I read this post 2 years ago before coming to Iceland! I am now thinking of going back to and spend more time in Reykjavik. I love that you can walk pretty much everywhere and there is so many interesting places, I want to book tickets for harpa 🙂 Iceland is one of my favourite destinations, looking forward to more posts from you!

  15. Lauren April 14, 2017 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    I’ve really wanted to go to Iceland for a long time, mainly because of its similarities to New Zealand Geothermally.

    Your photos are amazing! Makes me go and check on skyscanner to see if I can find a flight from Paris!

  16. Anna Schlaht April 15, 2017 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Ahhh, this brings back so many lovely memories of our time in Reykjavik! It’s interesting to see the green grass in front of Hallsgrimkirkja; we went in the winter, so seeing it in your photo, it almost doesn’t seem like the same location. 🙂 Also, I agree about those Belgium waffles nearby. So delicious! Congrats on being able to catch the Northern Lights, too. There’s a lighthouse about 10 minutes drive from downtown where we tried to catch the lights, but it was just too cloudy. Next time, maybe. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Garth April 16, 2017 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Nice post, brought back lots of memories. We’ve been to Reykjavik a couple of times and had always wondered about those corrugated iron houses! We were also lucky enough to see the Northern lights just outside the city, glad you finally got to see them too.

  18. Carmen Baguio April 17, 2017 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    So glad you got lucky with the Northern Lights photo. So much of travel depends on the weather! I’d love to see the inside of the cathedral to see if it looks just as abstract as the outside. Pinning this!

  19. Sandy N Vyjay April 18, 2017 at 5:57 am - Reply

    Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in Reykjavik is one thing which was really fascinating to me…It seems magical that the colors are so beautiful…As well as the Kleifarvatn Lake. Is only at one hour drive which is pretty amazing!…It seems to be a Beautiful place as well. Nice overview!!!

  20. Shona April 19, 2017 at 4:33 am - Reply

    The Northern Lights are high on my list as is Iceland in general. Great photography tips!

  21. Stephanie April 19, 2017 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Great tips and photos on what to do in Reykjavik. How exciting you where able to see the Northern Lights. I pinned this for later use. Great photos and thanks for sharing 🙂

  22. Siddharth and Shruti April 21, 2017 at 5:25 am - Reply

    We loved the Harpa as well. When we visited Harpa at night, we also came across the northern lights which was a pleasant surprise 🙂 Iceland is one of our favourite places and everytime we read your posts, we relive the memories. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Anisa April 22, 2017 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    So much to do in Iceland I would love to go! I really want to see the northern lights, so glad it finally worked out for you. The picture turned out great!

  24. Lolo April 22, 2017 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    I am dying to visit Iceland and it kills me I have only been there for a layover in which I never left the airport! Grr! With such beautiful pictures of the buildings reflecting in the water, makes me want to go even more!

  25. Tanja April 23, 2017 at 7:59 am - Reply

    nice post! I’d love to visit Iceland:)

  26. Vlad April 23, 2017 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    I can’t wait to visit Reykjavik, it’s always been a dream of mine to visit Iceland and I’m excited to finally see it come true in 6 weeks 😀

  27. Ruth April 24, 2017 at 1:21 am - Reply

    You take some amazing photos! I am visiting Iceland in two weeks, so, I appreciate the photography tips.

  28. Geri April 27, 2017 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Interesting article and lovely photos. Iceland is on my bucket list. I love the raw northern landscapes, and I would like to see the northern lights too.

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