On the southern edge of Austurvöllur is a small building of hewn stone, but don't let its size fool you. This is the building of the Icelandic parliament, known as Alþingi. The institution has in fact long since outgrown the building which was built in 1881 for a nation of a little over 60,000. Today the upper floors of most houses on the north and west sides of the park also house parliamentary offices. The Alþingi building today houses only the debating chamber of the unicameral institution and the party meeting rooms. When Alþingi is in session it is possible to go up to the viewing platforms and follow the debates, otherwise it is necessary to be part of a group to see the building from the inside.
This can't miss attraction towers over the city on top of a hill. In front is a statue of Leif Ericsson Leifur Eiríksson in Icelandic, the Norse explorer who sailed to North America in the 10th century. The United States gave this statue to Iceland in 1930, in honor of the 1,000th anniversary of the Althingi, the Iceland parliament.
Imagine Peace Tower
Yoko Ono's memorial to John Lennon, projecting a "tower of light" into the air that can be seen from around Reykjavík. The tower is turned on October 9th-December 8th, December 21st-28th, December 31st and March 21st-28th.
Reykjavík has a very eclectic building style, which is mainly the result of bad or no planning. Many of the oldest houses still standing are wooden buildings covered in brightly coloured corrugated iron. Don't be surprised to see that the next buildings down the street are an ultra-modernistic functionalist cube followed by early 20th century neoclassical concrete. Some of the most interesting buildings you'll see in Reykjavík are those you find wandering about. Some deserve a special mention, however.
One of the best examples of late 20th century architecture in Iceland, built into Tjörnin The Pond. On the ground floor, which is open to the public, there is a large relief map of the whole country as well as a café and an exhibition hall.
An iconic building on top of a wooded hill called Öskjuhlíð, to the southeast of the city centre. Perlan is built on top of five hot water storage tanks and offers fantastic views of the entire city both from a viewing platform open to the public and a rotating restaurant at the top. If the restaurant is too expensive for you it is for most, there is also a small cafeteria on the same floor as the viewing platform.
Parks and open areas
Einar Jónsson Museum
At the far western end of the peninsula on which Reykjavík sits there is a small island. This island, called Grótta, is connected to the mainland on low tides and open to the public most of the year. Just make sure you don't get stuck on the island when the tide comes in! The island is actually located in the municipality of Seltjarnarnes
A small park or square, depending on definitions in the heart of Reykjavík. It's many locals favorite place to spend sunny days, either at one of the cafés lining the north of the square or simply having a picnic on the grass. The parliament and the national cathedral both stand by Austurvöllur.
A small lake in the centre of the city where young and old often gather to feed the ducks. The Icelandic name, Tjörnin, literally means "The Pond". Tjörnin is mostly surrounded by a park called Hljómskálagarðurinn Music Pavillion Park which gets very popular in good weather. The southern end of Tjörnin links it to the Vatnsmýri swamp, a small bird reserve with paths open to the public except during egg hatching season. Built into Tjörnin on the northern side is Reykjavík City Hall.
The name means "garden on a hill." Overlooking Tjörnin pond, it is one of the largest and oldest cemeteries in Iceland. It offers a rare opportunity to experience an old birch and rowan forest in Iceland. The maze of graves nestles in with moss, lichens, and more than 100 other species of trees and plants. Art historian Björn Th. Björnsson has described it as "the largest and oldest museum in Reykjavik", a place where "a living exhibition and history opens itself to anyone who can read the hand of the sculptor and discern from symbols and types of font the thoughts and deeds of the dead." Many renowned 19th and 20th century Icelanders are buried here. The grave of Jón Sigurðsson, the most important leader of Iceland's independence movement, is found here. Its lack of ostentation speaks volumes about Iceland's egalitarian ideals.
Klambratún is a park just east of the city centre on an area which remained farmland while the city was built up around it. The area was later converted into one of the largest public parks in the city and often hosts various events. One of the houses of the Reykjavík Art Museum, Kjarvalsstaðir, is inside the park.
Viðey is a large island in Kollafjörður, the fjord to the north of Reykjavík. It used to be inhabited, and in the early 20th century it had a small fishing village. Nobody lives there anymore apart from the birds, but it's a popular way to get away from the city without actually leaving it. During the summer, a café is operated in one of the houses on the island. The building was built for Skúli Magnússon, an 18th century politician often called "the founder of Reykjavík" and designed by the same man as the royal palace in Copenhagen - although it is not quite of the same scale. Among its more modern architecture, Viðey is home to the Imagine Peace Tower by Yoko Ono see below. To get to Viðey you can take a ferry hourly from Sundahöfn, some distance from central Reykjavík on bus route 5, or from the old harbour in the summer once daily. The schedule and prices can be found here (http://videy.com/en/).
Reykjavík Botanical Gardens
The Reykjavík Botanical Gardens are not large, but they're nice for a short stroll and a good place to see some of the plants that grow in Iceland.
A forested hill that is situated east of Reykjavík airport. It contains the building Perlan, where there are panoramic views over the city. There are many paths in the forest some of which lead to nearby Fossvogur cemetary. During the Second World War the United States Army occupation force built various bunkers on the hill. Remnants of them can be found close to the Bowling alley Keiluhöllin.
Volcano House offers a free museum with library, rock and photos exhibitions, Wi-Fi, a café and gift shop, tourist information, and a booking service. It shows two documentary movies every hour that cover two of the most powerful eruptions to rock Iceland in the last 40 years: the 1973 eruption on the Westman Islands, and the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in South Iceland.
The Culture House
This grand building, previously housing the national library, is today home two world class exhibitions. On the ground floor is one of the most important collections of medieval manuscripts in the world, including many of the oldest copies of the Icelandic Sagas. The top floor has an impressive exhibition on the Volcanic island of Surtsey, backing the Iceland's campaign to get it recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is fully interactive and a great introduction to the geological hot spot that is Iceland.
Reykjavik Museum of Photography
A very small museum with a nice library and reading room where you can find some older but good books about photography and current and past issues of photography magazines. It also has a huge collection of Icelandic photographs.
Reykjavík Art Museum - Kjarvalsstaðir
It is safe to say that Jóhannes Kjarval 1885-1972 is the single biggest name in Icelandic painting. Kjarvalsstaðir hosts a collection of his work, as well as hosting other temporary exhibitions.
Reykjavík Art Museum - Asmundarsafn
The Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum is dedicated to the works of sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson 1893-1982. Opened in 1983, the collection is housed in a unique building designed and constructed mostly by the artist himself from 1942-1959.
National Museum of Iceland
This museum, located right by the University of Iceland campus, takes the visitor through the history of a nation from settlement to today. Includes a café and a museum shop.
National Gallery of Iceland
the national art gallery with a large collection of works by Icelandic 19th and 20th century artists, as well as some works by foreign artists including Picasso, Munch and others.
Run by the Reykjavík City Museum, this exhibition in central Reykjavík was built around the oldest archaeological ruins in Iceland. As the name indicates, these ruins date to around the year 870. This interactive exhibitions brings you the early history of the area that today forms central Reykjavík.
Aurora Reykjavik: Northern Lights Center
This small museum will explain the cultural significance of the Aurora Borealis in different cultures, detail the scientific mechanism for the Aurora, and allow you to see various simulations, videos, and slideshows of the Aurora borealis.
Reykjavík Art Museum - Hafnarhús
By the old harbour in Reykjavík, Hafnarhúsið hosts a rotating exhibitions of the work of Icelandic artist Erró and temporary exhibitions often showcase other local artists.
Reykjavík City Museum
In the suburb of Árbær, and frequently called Árbæjarsafn Árbær museum, this open air museum contains both the old farm of Árbær and many buildings from central Reykjavík that were moved there to make way for construction. The result is a village of old buildings where the staff take you through the story of a city. The staff are dressed in old Icelandic clothing styles and trained in various traditional techniques, for example in making dairy products or preparing wool.
Reykjavík's old town is small and easy to walk around. The houses have some very distinct features, most notably their brightly colored corrugated metal siding. Plan to spend at least a couple hours just wandering around, taking in the city. And for further feasts of the eyes, there are several museums and art galleries in the city, most of them within easy reach of the downtown area.