Architecture and design are sources of pride and identity in Iceland. The dramatic landscape has always influenced building construction.
Across the disciplines, from fashion and music to design and cuisine, Icelanders have a creative and unique style—they're not afraid to take a risk. From ancient turf houses to cutting-edge industrial projects, this place is full of discovery for those with an eye for buildings.
Here's our list of 5 of the most interesting buildings in Iceland
- Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavík. Celebrated Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson was born in the south of Iceland in 1887, and witnessed the devastation of many fires rip through Reykjavik in the early stages of his career, including one that devoured much of Reykjavik in 1915. When he was commissioned to build an iconic church at the height of land in the capital in 1937, he turned to cement. This church echoes tall basalt columns, glaciers, mountains and trap rocks. It took 41 years to build this Lutheran church, the largest in Iceland. At 73 meters high (240 feet), it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. For ISK 1000 (about $10), visitors can take an elevator to the top of the tower for phenomenal views.
Photo: The spectacular Hallgrimskirkja Church towers above the city.
- Harpa, Reykjavík. Stunning and complex, the distinctively coloured outside of this landmark concert hall on the harbour resembles the scales of dried fish. Inspired by the island nation's basalt landscapes, the geometric shaped glass panels also reflect the aurora borealis. Designed by Henning Larsen Architects and celebrated Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, the Harpa opened in 2011. Pick up a ticket for any show that's on (Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera are regulars, but there are often high-calibre international touring artists on the bill as well). Or take the free elevator to the fifth floor for amazing views and a glimpse inside.
Photo: Reyjkavik's ground-breaking Harpa concert hall has a busy line-up of Icelandic and international artists.
- Old Harbour, Reykjavík. A stroll around the Grandi neighbourhood is one of architectural fascination. From old fisherman huts that have been converted to cheese shops and ice cream parlours to an upscale restaurant and avant garde gallery inside a fish meal factory, everything old is new again in the historic harbour. Shiny new condos are juxtaposed next to crumbling shipwrecks. Impressive large-scale projects like the Maritime Museum and the upcoming Flyover Iceland are neighbours with bicycle and chocolate shops. You could spend a day here and be entirely stimulated by everything you see.
Photo: Old meets new in Reykjavik's Grandi neighbourhood, the historic harbour that has become trendy.
- Turf Houses, throughout. From churches to family farm houses, there are historic turf houses dotted all over Iceland. Since they've got grass (or 'turf') roofs, they can be easy to miss. But once discovered, exploring a turf house is a hobbit-like adventure. This was the traditional way to construct buildings on the island, dating from Settlement (around 870) until the 20th Century. Designed to keep the cold out, it was a cozy place to live during the long Icelandic winters. Turf houses are obsession for many locals and visitors alike. In the popular Skaftafell hiking hub in southeast Iceland, the Selid turf house is worth a visit, just off the main trail to the Svartifoss waterfall. The house here, made of driftwood, turf and rock, dates to the mid-19th Century and has a stunning vantage point over the vast Skeidararsandur delta leading to the seemingly-endless sea.
Photo: The Selid turf house, an example of traditional buildings that can be found throughout the country, looks out across the Skeidararsandur sand flats.
- Stykkisholmur, Snaefellsnes Peninsula. If you're looking for a colourful, quiant and well-preserved old town in Iceland, this is it! Plus, it has a stunning contemporary church. An irresistible natural harbour that dates to the mid-16th Century, many people here still make their living from fishing. The surprisingly modern church is also a concert hall that overlooks the gorgeous Breidarfjordur fjord. Juxtaposed against the traditional wooden houses, the starkly elegant church makes for provocative photography and a contemplative study in Icelandic history.
Photo: Stykkisholmur is a sweet and colourful fishing village with a stunningly contemporary church.
Keep an eye on the construction of FlyOver Iceland's new landmark building in Reykjavík's Grandi neighbourhood. Opening in May, 2019, it's sure to be a must-see site as well. For regular updates, sign up for FlyOver Iceland's newsletter or follow us on Facebook.