Reykjavik is such a cool city. It has a distinct design culture and artistic creativity that punches well above its weight in terms of population. There are the obvious design stars like Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgrimskirkja Church and The Sea Voyager but amongst the brightly coloured corrugated homes that line the streets you’ll find another creative vibe when visiting Reykjavik. Shops crammed with design for the home, crafted from natural, sustainable Icelandic materials. The old harbour has become a design hub, brimming with workshops, galleries and artists. Here are some of my Reykjavik design favourites…
Harpa Concert Hall
You can’t miss Harpa Concert Hall which sits shimmering by the harbour side fragmenting light and reflecting the sun, the sky and the city. The clean lines and striking façade of the building mirror the crystallised basalt columns found on the Icelandic Coast.
From inside you’ll get stunning views of the city and of Mount Esja from Harpa’s various levels. There’s also a shop selling Icelandic design and there’s more design with the neon ‘Scandinavian Pain’ art installation in the Kolabrautin bar and restaurant.
Where: Austurbakki 2
When: The building is open daily 08:00 – 24:00. Check the website for Box Office times
Cost: Entry is free to the building. www.harpa.is
The Sun Voyager (Sólfar)
A short walk from Harpa, on Faxaflói Bay, you’ll find the gleaming Sun Voyager, a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. Sun Voyager is intended, by the artist, “to be a dreamboat, an ode to the sun, and contains within itself the promise of undiscovered territory and a dream of hope, progress and freedom”. It’s made of stainless steel and sits on a base of polished granite which reflects its graceful curves.
We caught Sun Voyager in the early evening when the Bay was still as a mill-pond and the setting sun was glinting gold on the gleaming stainless steel. If you want to see it with the sun coming up over the bay, you’ll need awake with the dawn. I think Sun Voyager sums up Reykjavik perfectly; affinity with the sea, culture and design.
The tallest church in Reykjavik is Hallgrimskirkja. Its spire rises 73 metres into the crisp Icelandic air and can be seen throughout the city. The church, designed by state architect Guðjón Samúelsson, and the white concrete columns either side of the tower built to resemble Iceland’s basalt lava flows. I’d call it modern-gothic. The church took 38 years to construct and was finished in 1986. Take the lift inside to the top for a panoramic view of Reykjavik’s colourful rooftops.
When: 9am-9pm Jul & Aug, to 5 pm Sep-Jun
Cost: adult/child Ikr700/100
Reykjavik Design and Crafts
It’s not all about the big stuff – in Reykjavik’s shops you’ll find a whole heap of Icelandic design which will fit nicely into your suitcase. Kraum, which means ‘simmering’ in Icelandic stocks only Icelandic design and is housed in Reykjavík´s oldest house. You’ll find works from over 70 Icelandic designers, like Sigurður Már Helgason’s 1970s iconic Fuzzy Stool, and you’ll want to take all of it home with you. Well, maybe not the fish skin lampshade. Sadly Kraum closed down in 2018 but there are many shops in Reykjavik with a similar vibe, although maybe not as large.
Kraum Design Shop
Where: Number 10 Aðalstræti
When: Mon-Fri: 9 – 18, Sat: 10 – 17, Sun: 12 – 17
I knew I’ve mentioned them before on the blog but I just love these Lopapeysa jumpers. They keep you cool in the summer and toasty warm in the winter. Lopi is the wool that’s used to make them and ‘peysa’ means sweater which is how they get their name. If you see one of these iconic jumpers you know instantly it’s from Iceland from the designs and patterns. They are hand-knitted all over Iceland and are for sale in most shops. Sadly I didn’t have time to buy one so I guess I’ll just have to start knitting!
Icelandair Reykjavik Marina Hotel
This Reykjavik design hotel stands right next to the dry-dock and slipway in Reykjavik Harbour and it’s bright, colourful and vibrant. Inside you’ll find cool, quirky elements and nautical oddities reclaimed from the harbour area. It also has a fun bar area, restaurant and serves up a great breakfast.
I’ve stayed in Icelandair Reykjavik Marina Hotel twice and can personally recommend it. The light, airy rooms are filled with locally sourced design elements. The breakfast and food is good and there’s a buzzy sociable air to the hotel. It’s just a ten-minute walk from the town centre and a few minutes from Harpa so it’s perfectly located for exploring the city.
Reykjavik Art Museum
The museum is in three different buildings around the city. In Harbour House (Hafnarhús) which is, not surprisingly, located near the harbour, there are ever-changing exhibits but the museum always houses works from the Erró collection. Erró, an Icelandic pop-artist, despite living and working in Paris for years, has donated a huge collection of his works and continues to this day. I’m not that keen on pop art but loved checking out the museum shop which had lots of quirk-worthy design and crafts. I love the little wooden puffins and whale fins – no idea what they’re for though…
Many Reykjavik hotels have art installations like this one at 101 Hotel in the town centre which has a gallery too.
Reykjavik design is all over the city and not just in the architecture. It’s everywhere; bars, cafes, restaurants, it’s in hotels and even peeping out from people’s windows along the street. Then there’s more in the museums and artist shops. You can’t set foot anywhere in Reykjavik without encountering art, design and creativity and that’s one of the reasons I love it.
Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises for hosting my 24 hours in Iceland.
Pin it! Read more about Iceland:
• Tips for Visiting Reykjavik – Iceland’s Capital of Cool – Is Reykjavik the coolest city on earth?
• Touring Iceland’s Golden Circle – Three forces of nature in the Golden Triangle Iceland
• Into The Blue Lagoon – Tips for your visit to the Blue Lagoon
• What to Wear in Iceland – Packing tips for summer or winter trips to Iceland
• Eating Iceland – What food will you be eating on your visit to Iceland
• Thunder Bread – A Geothermal Bake Off in Iceland – Digging for Thunder Bread in Iceland
Suzanne Jones is creator, writer and photographer at The Travelbunny. When she’s not indulging her wanderlust you’ll most likely find her enjoying coastal walks in her home county of East Sussex, UK.
Suzanne co-writes Sussex Bloggers which showcases the best of East & West Sussex.