Landmarks In Iceland

It’s time to discover the most famous landmarks in Iceland

The many landmarks in Iceland have cemented the country at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. Over two million people visit the Land of Fire and Ice annually, and its tourist trails are well-trodden.

When searching for pictures and tours, you will almost certainly have seen photos of dramatic mountains, iconic churches, and black sand beaches. And, of course, it’s impossible to talk about Iceland without mentioning the Northern Lights.

Iceland is a country very much still being shaped by the elements. The island is home to several volcanoes, and its harsh weather has led to the locals having to be inventive with the materials they use for their structures.

And against the odds, Icelanders have managed to create one of the most prosperous nations on the planet.

What are the major landmarks of Iceland, then? This article will show you the most famous man-made buildings and monuments in Iceland, highlighting some of its most iconic natural wonders. Let’s dive in and take a look.

Man-made landmarks: buildings in Iceland and more

Before we look at Iceland’s most famous natural landmarks, let’s look at its man-made attractions. The buildings and monuments we mention are partially in the capital, Reykjavík — but you will also find some of these in other parts of the country.

Landmarks In Iceland

Hallgrímskirkja

What’s the most famous building in Iceland, we hear you ask? It has to be Hallgrímskirkja without any shadow of a doubt. This church dominates the Reykjavík skyline and, on a rare good day, is visible from several miles outside the city.

Hallgrímskirkja is actually pretty new; construction only concluded in 1986. Since then, it has become an icon with locals and visitors alike. The main shopping street in Reykjavík leads up to Hallgrímskirkja, and it’s a handy barometer to tell how far away from the city center you are.

If you’ve visited Copenhagen, you will notice that the church looks similar to Grundtvigs Kirke in the Bispebjerg district.

Admittedly, the interior isn’t too interesting — but it’s worth checking out anyway. The real highlight, however, is the view you get from the observation deck. You get a fantastic view of Reykjavík and its surroundings from all corners, and you’ll also get a great glimpse of nearby Mount Esja.

You can purchase tickets from the information office inside the church.

Hallgrímskirkja is the second-tallest building in Iceland at the time of writing in September 2022. Only the Smáratorg Tower in Kópavogur, which hosts various offices, beats it for height.

Landmarks In Iceland

Harpa Concert Hall

Another of the most famous buildings in Iceland is the Harpa Concert Hall, which you will find close to Reykjavík’s old harbor. The building cost over $100 million to build, with construction lasting four years and concluding in 2011; the 2008 financial crisis, which hit Iceland particularly hard, delayed the project.

Harpa Concert Hall resembles Iceland’s basalt landscapes, and you will notice that it looks like a fish’s scales from the inside. Today, the building hosts several live performances — and it’s one of the most popular places to spend a night among the locals in Reykjavík.

Harpa won the 2013 Mies van der Rohe Award for contemporary architecture. If you happen to visit Reykjavík on a day when the weather doesn’t play fair, which is highly likely, the concert hall offers the perfect refuge from the elements.

You can check out the water and Mount Esja from the warmth of being inside, and it’s also pretty peaceful to just walk around.

Harpa Concert Hall also has a shop and several charging stations if you need to do some work or charge your phone. The hall is free to enter, but you will need to pay for a ticket if you want to watch a live performance.

Landmarks In Iceland

Akureyrarkirkja

Heading further north is another main man-made landmark in Iceland: Akureyrarkirkja. The church is one of the most recognizable in Akureyri, which — with a population of roughly 18,000 people — is the largest urban area in the north of Iceland.

Like Hallgrímskirkja, the main church in Akureyri is relatively new. It has been part of the city since 1940, and it’s perched atop a hill close to the main downtown area.

Akureyrarkirkja is not far from various other attractions in Akureyri, including the city’s art museum. In some instances, you can visit the church’s interior.

Landmarks In Iceland

Hof Cultural Center

Akureyri might seem like an unlikely destination for architecture lovers, but you will find another of Iceland’s most famous buildings in the city. The Hof Cultural Center is one of the newer structures on our list, with construction concluding in 2010. It’s set in an attractive location by the waterfront in Akureyri.

The Hof Cultural Center is an important meeting spot for several events. The building has an auditorium with a maximum capacity of 500 people and another that can fit 200 individuals in the same room.

The building is a 10-minute walk from Akureyrarkirkja, making both of them pretty easy to visit on the same day if you find yourself in Akureyri.

Landmarks In Iceland
Credit: Perlan

Perlan

Heading to the south of Iceland and back to Reykjavík, you will find Perlan — one of the best places to visit if you’re in the city for the first time. Perlan opened to the public in 1991; today, it features a museum and an observation deck offering fantastic views of the Icelandic capital.

The museum of Perlan is designed to educate visitors about the Icelandic landscape, and you will find an indoor glacier cave as part of it. On top of that, you will learn about Iceland’s ever-changing nature; you can also get ice cream, which we recommend regardless of when you visit.

The observation deck at Perlan offers a view of the whole of Downtown Reykjavík. You can also see surrounding areas such as Kópavogur. Note: It can be very chilly when it’s windy, and you should come prepared with a pair of good gloves.

Perlan also has a café where you can enjoy a warm cup of coffee, plus several other hot drinks. At the café, you can also purchase various sweet treats and more.

Landmarks In Iceland
Credit: urbanduck

Stykkishólmskirkja

Stykkishólmskirkja isn’t as famous as Hallgrímskirkja, but it’s still a pretty interesting landmark. The building has been a key monument in the western part of Iceland since 1990, and it was designed to resemble a whale’s vertebrae.

The church is in Stykkishólmur, a town of around 1,100 people on the west coast’s Snæfellesnes peninsula. The town has gained significant traction in recent years for its approach to not using plastic bags, along with much more.

Stykkishólmskirkja hosts various events throughout the year. It’s around 35 minutes by car from the iconic Kirkjufell mountain, which we will discuss in more detail later in this article.

Landmarks In Iceland

The Blue Lagoon

If you’ve only heard of one famous landmark in Iceland, it’s almost certainly the Blue Lagoon. These thermal baths are the setting for countless posts on Instagram, and they are instantly recognizable from photos in guidebooks and on other social media platforms.

The Blue Lagoon is, admittedly, quite overrated. However, it’s still worth ticking off your bucket list. It’s also a decent place to relax either at the beginning or end of your Iceland adventure; the thermal baths are a stone’s throw from Keflavík Airport.

The water in the Blue Lagoon is from a power plant close to the spa. Tickets start at around $60, and you can also join various tours from Reykjavík to the lagoon. When there, you will find regularly-cleaned changing facilities; you are also obliged to shower before entering the water.

In addition to the Blue Lagoon, you will find various thermal baths in Reykjavík and several other parts of Iceland.

Landmarks In Iceland
Credit: Fougerouse Arnaud

The Sun Voyager

The Sun Voyager is one of the most recognizable monuments in Iceland, and it’s close to several hotels on the waterfront in Reykjavík. It’s another relatively new construction, having been constructed in 1990.

From the area, you can enjoy an excellent view of Mount Esja across the water; it can be pretty windy, though, as you might expect.

The Sun Voyager is free to visit and open round-the-clock. It was designed by the late Jón Gunnar Árnason, who wanted to resemble values like hope and freedom. The monument is a short walk from the city center, and from it, you can easily get to Harpa.

If the weather is windy, you might want to consider crossing to the other side of the street to make things easier.

Landmarks In Iceland

The DC Plane Wreck

Okay, so this one is technically man-made because it was humans that made the plane. However, they probably didn’t intend to crash it on a beach. Nonetheless, it’s now one of Iceland’s most popular photo opportunities.

The plane belonged to the US Navy and crash-landed in 1973. Fortunately, all seven people on board survived the ordeal. Today, you will find much of the plane still on the beach — and you can visit it as part of your trip.

The DC plane wreck is on a beach in Sólheimsandur, which is in the southwest of the country. Note, however, that walking to and from it is pretty time-consuming.

You should avoid making the journey if the weather is bad; people have had to be rescued because they didn’t adhere to warnings in the past. 

Famous natural landmarks in Iceland

Were you expecting to see so many man-made landmarks in Iceland?

Now that we’ve covered those, we can move on to the main natural landmarks you’ll find throughout the country. We’ll include ones from a wide range of areas in Iceland.

Landmarks In Iceland

Kirkjufell

One of the most famous landmarks in Iceland is Kirkjufjell, which is also one of the most photographed natural attractions in the country. The mountain has become particularly famous for featuring in the hugely popular Game of Thrones TV Series, and you’ll find it in the west of the country.

Kirkjufell is 463 meters high, and you can hike to the top. However, you should do so with a guide — as it can be a tricky one — and should never do so during bad weather. At its foot, you will see the well-known picture combination with nearby waterfalls.

It looks completely different depending on when you visit, so you’ll want to come back more than once.

Kirkjufell is the most famous mountain in the region, but you will find plenty of other beautiful peaks in the area as well. To get here, you’ll need to drive around two-and-a-half hours from Reykjavík.

Landmarks In Iceland
Credit: Molechaser

Jökulsárlón

Perhaps the most iconic landmark in this part of Iceland is Jökulsárlón, also known as the Glacier Lagoon.

The Glacier Lagoon features several parts of moving ice, and it looks different every day. You will also find several blocks washed up on the black sand beach, making for some particularly interesting shots if you’re a photographer.

While it looks amazing from land, an even better way to enjoy the scenery is by joining a boat tour and sailing across the water.

Landmarks In Iceland

Reynisfjara Beach

Another popular tourist destination on the south coast of Iceland is Reynisfjara Beach. Like Kirkjufell, the beach was made even more famous when it featured in Game of Thrones. Yes, it’s touristy… but it’s also well worth visiting.

You will find several intriguing basalt rock formations on the beach and close to its shores, making for some particularly spectacular scenery.

Reynisfjara is close to the town of Vík, which is a popular stop for those staying in the region overnight. If you’re visiting from Reykjavík, the drive will usually take around two hours and 45 minutes.

If you visit the beach, make sure you keep a distance between yourself and the water. The waves have strong currents that are powerful enough to knock you off your feet and drag you out to sea. You will see warning signs on the beach and close to it.

Landmarks In Iceland

Geysir

One of the famous landmarks in Iceland that’s closer to Reykjavík is Geysir, which is also part of the Golden Circle and one of the most beautiful places in the country. This phenomenon spews hot water from the ground every couple of minutes and is something truly wondrous to view in the flesh.

At Geysir, you will actually find multiple geysers — some of which are more awe-inspiring than others. You can walk around the area to see them for yourself, and you will also find mud pots close by.

Geysir is an hour and a half by car from Reykjavík. You can drive there yourself or join a tour, whichever is easier for you.

Landmarks In Iceland

Myvatn

When you think of Iceland’s nature, you probably think about mountains and glaciers. But the country has almost every kind of natural phenomenon you could imagine, including lakes. Lake Myvatn, which is in the north of the country, is arguably the most famous.

Myvatn is famous for its varying landscapes, with islands dotting the relatively large lake. You can also find several pseudo volcanic craters, and — in some areas — you can easily feel like you’re on Mars.

You can also stay in the surrounding area around Myvatn overnight. Since you won’t have much light pollution from cities, it’s a great place to watch the Northern Lights during that particular season.

Landmarks In Iceland

Gullfoss

One of the most famous landmarks in Iceland and one of its most popular tourist attractions. It’s part of the Golden Circle. The Gullfoss waterfall has a peculiar triangular shape to it and is in the southwest of the country, close to Geysir and Thingvellir National Park (more on that later).

Gullfoss is fantastic to view from above, and you will find it incredible to experience how powerful it is. Depending on the season, you can get closer to the waterfall; make sure you bring a waterproof jacket!

To get to Gullfoss, you’ll need to drive for roughly one hour and 45 minutes east of Reykjavík. It’s only a 10-minute drive from Geysir; you can visit both as part of a Golden Circle tour or do everything yourself instead.

Landmarks In Iceland

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park is one of many famous landmarks in Iceland, and besides being pretty enough from a nature perspective, it’s a crucial part of Icelandic history. When visiting the park, you can see the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates; both of these are the reason that it exists in the first place.

Thingvellir also has several hiking trails that are family-friendly and scenic in equal measure. It’s also part of the Golden Circle, meaning that you’ll visit it when included as part of your tour. It’s just 40 kilometers from Reykjavík, and you can drive here in less than an hour.

But why is Thingvellir so special? It is the spot where Iceland declared its independence in 1944, ending years of rule under Denmark-Norway and — later — Denmark on its own.

The park is accessible year-round, with several walking routes throughout. Some hikes are trickier than others, so you should consider your skill level before trying any of them.

Landmarks In Iceland

Eyjafjallajökull

Another of the most famous landmarks in Iceland is Eyafjallajökull. Yes, this is the volcano that a) you’ve tried to pronounce 1,000 times and b) caused huge disruption to flights on a scale that we wouldn’t see again… until 2020.

In 2010, Eyafjallajökull erupted and spewed tonnes of ash into the atmosphere, grounding flights across dozens of European countries.

While it caused mayhem internationally, the series of eruptions didn’t cause any deaths. The ash spewed from the Eyafjallajökull volcanic eruption went as far as North America and Asia in opposite directions.

Today, you can visit the farm area close to the volcano; it’s not a major tourist attraction but more somewhere to stop on your trip along the south coast. Here, you can read more about the eruption and view photos taken from those on the ground.

Landmarks In Iceland

Fagradalsfjall

One of the newer landmarks in Iceland is Fagradallsfjall, which hit the headlines in 2021 when it began erupting. The eruption was the first on the Reykjanes Peninsula for more than 800 years, and it was visible from the city of Reykjavik.

Fagradalsfjall is around 20 kilometers from Keflavik Airport, and you can visit the eruption site as part of a guided tour. The volcano has erupted several times between 2021 and 2022, and the eruption in 2021 went on for six months in total.

Landmarks In Iceland
Credit: Axel Kristinsson

Snæfellasnes National Park

If you only visit one part of Iceland, you should strongly consider making Snæfallesnes National Park that particular area. Curiously, you won’t find anywhere near as many tourists as you will around the Golden Circle.

At Snæfallesnes National Park, you will find several mountains, cliffs, and waterfalls. If you happen to visit around sunset, the drive along the road is particularly beautiful.

Iceland is full of iconic sights

We tried to cram as many landmarks in Iceland into this article, but the truth is that we’ve only scratched the surface. The article would have been way too long if we included every single iconic sight in the country, so what you see here is just the tip of the iceberg (can we count that as a pun?).

The Svartifoss waterfall, various bird species, and the chance to visit the only part of Iceland north of the Arctic Circle are also exciting.

Regardless of which region you visit in Iceland, you’re guaranteed to witness stunning scenery. From well-trodden paths like the Golden Circle to more remote stretches such as the Westfjords, you will find something to meet your interests. Ice caves, hot springs, the Aurora Borealis, and much more await.

If you go at different times of the year, you will notice that everything looks different. Realistically, you would need at least four or five trips to the country before you got close to seeing all the main sights.

Of course, you could always just stay longer. Sure, you might have to deal with dark winter months — but you also get the Midnight Sun, and wouldn’t it be cool to live in Iceland? You can, though the process differs depending on whether you’re an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen or not.

You might also want to read about the pros and cons before making your decision.

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