Iceland’s compact capital has a distinct character and thriving arts scene. Despite its small size, it’s home to 60% of the country’s population, and a guided tour through its streets gives you an insight into the country, its architecture, customs and culture.
This private, half-day tour can be tailored to your interests, with no fixed route. Whether you’re eager to see historical homes or major landmarks, political institutions or the city’s best street art, your guide can devise a route to suit, filling you in on all you need to know along the way.
Your guide will meet you at your hotel or another convenient point within the city. They’ll discuss the tour with you and come up with ideas on how to adapt it to your interests.
A highlight for many is Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík’s landmark church, whose white-concrete design resembles the shape of angular basalt pillars. The church sits on a hilltop in the heart of the city, and your guide will tell you about its history and design. You’ll also be shown inside, where you can see the enormous organ amid sleek, minimal interiors. If the weather’s clear and the tower is open, you can purchase a ticket and take the lift to the 73-m (240-ft) viewing platform for panoramic views of the city.
Below the church, on the waterfront, is the Harpa concert hall, an angular, modern structure clad in a web of glass panels. Along from the concert hall, the Sólfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture takes the form of a skeletal Viking ship but is intended to convey a dream of hope and progression. As you walk along the waterfront, you’ll come to the Höfði house, where President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev met in 1986 and took steps toward ending the Cold War.
Head just inland and you’ll come to the city’s oldest shopping street, Laugavegur, which is lined with shops, restaurants and bars. Or, if you’d like a snack, your guide can show you the modest but renowned hot-dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.
Not too far from here is Grjótaþorp, the oldest suburb in Reykjavík, its streets flanked by brightly painted historical wooden homes. Your guide can take you to Elf Rock in a local park and reveal a little about local folklore and beliefs, of which the Huldufólk (hidden people) are a dominant element. Nearby is the Alþingishús (Parliament House), an austere 19th-century building, and the modern City Hall built on the shore of Lake Tjörnin.
Other potential destinations include the unassuming but scenically set president’s home, Bessastaðir, and Perlan, a giant dome housing exhibitions on Icelandic geology, ice caves and the Látrabjarg puffins. It also has a planetarium, though this can be easily visited without a guide.
If you wish, your guide could also take you outside the city to Hafnarfjörður, a suburb built on a lava field where the bright houses contrast sharply with the black rock.