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Over the past few years, Iceland has become one of the most popular travel destinations and taken social media by storm in the process. In Reykjavík, the country’s capital city, you’ll find destination-worthy restaurants like Stofan Café and Café Babalú, bars like Húrra and Prikið, and accommodations like Bus Hostel, which is the home of Iceland’s last known McDonald’s burger.
Venture outside the city limits and visitors can enjoy the silica-rich waters of the Blue Lagoon as well as other natural wonders that dot the Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area and the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall next to Langjökull glacier. No matter which adventure you choose on this subarctic island, these are the ‘gram-worthy spots you can’t miss.
Named for one of Iceland’s most famous poets, Hallgrímskirkja can be seen even from faraway peninsulas surrounding Reykjavík. The architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, designed the Lutheran church to look like the hexagonal basaltic columns that form from slow-cooling lava. Such formations can be found in several locations around Iceland, including Reynisfjara, the black sand beach in Vík. Make sure to climb the stairs to the top of the church’s bell tower; the panoramic views of Reykjavík and the surrounding area are unbeatable.
With a stunning facade designed by artist Ólafur Elíasson, this award-winning concert hall and conference center is one of the most recognizable buildings in Reykjavík. From the outside, this building looks like a great floating iceberg, and from the inside feels as if you’ve entered a massive ice cave. The mirrors and rectangular glass prisms reflect and refract the incoming sunlight and cast eerie shadows and shapes around the hall. Take in a show or just take in the atmosphere; when the light hits the prisms just right, the results are stunning.
Designed by the sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason, Sólfar (The Sun Voyager) is one of the many pieces of art that decorate the shore of the bay. The sculpture itself looks like the skeleton of a ship, and is said to be a tribute to the sun. Snap a photo and enjoy the tranquility of the water and the distant mountains as you wander along the coast and take in the others sculptures on the walk.
Easy to spot but relatively difficult to find, Þúfa (The Hillside) is an art installation designed by Ólöf Nordal. Essentially, it’s a man-made hill which measures eight meters in height and 26 meters in diameter with a spiral walkway leading to the top. Perched at the summit is a small wooden shack; those who walk to the top will see a few dried fish hanging inside — a tradition in Iceland. Stop by the Kolaportið flea market to try some.
5. Old Harbour
Þúfan, Sólfar and Harpa are all easily viewed and enjoyed from Reykjavík’s Old Harbour, but the surrounding scenery is equally Instagram-worthy. Watch for jellyfish calmly swimming in the waters, enjoy the colors of the docked ships and gaze across the bay to the Esjan mountain range.
6. Perlan Museum
Standing atop the hill Öskjuhlíð is The Pearl. This newly renovated museum is a glass dome from which you can snap spectacular panoramic shots from a non-downtown perspective. Inside the brand new building you’ll find a man-made ice tunnel, complete with flow patterns and tephra layers that mimic the real ice tunnel formations around Iceland. It’s a great way to learn about the geophysical processes if you can’t make it out to the glaciers.
This pond, which acts as a beautiful reflecting pool for Reykjavík’s surrounding buildings, is situated in a tranquil park between the downtown district and the University of Iceland — a perfect place to stop and relax. Watch the ducks swim by or even skate on the pond when it’s frozen in winter.
Reykjavík is full of colorful buildings and quaint little neighborhoods. Some facades represent Icelandic Nordic design and others Scandinavian Nordic. Either way, the array of colors makes these neighborhoods a popular photo op, including this street, named Njarðargata. Tackling Reykjavík on foot in order to find a few of these hidden gems is highly recommended — but only when it’s not raining sideways.
9. Sólheimasandur Beach Plane Wreck
Outside the city not too far from Sólheimajökull, lovingly known as “the tourist glacier,” you’ll find a spectacular plane wreck. The plane, which crashed into the sandy beach on November 24, 1973, belonged to the US Navy. Fortunately, nobody died in the crash. Unfortunately, this site is difficult to find. The landowners have rightfully banned visitors from driving over the sand (which is dangerous and destructive) to the wreckage, so you must walk the 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) it takes to get there. Pro tip: The trek is worth it for the photos alone.
Featured image by Vladimir Staykov / Shutterstock
What are your favorite places in Iceland? Let us know in the comments below.
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