Photographers flock to Iceland in great numbers to capture the otherworldly landscapes, powerful waterfalls and even volcanic eruptions, all bathed in the lengthy daylight of summer or under the northern lights.
While the opportunities for landscape photographers are endless, the same can’t always be said for Icelandic cities. Most urban areas tend to be functional first, with aesthetics an afterthought.
There are exceptions of course. The most notable is the color and creativity of Seyðisfjörður on Iceland’s east coast, but also in some of the modern architecture in Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik.
There are more than enough striking sights in Reykjavik to keep a photographer interested for a day before heading out to explore the rest of the island.
One of the tallest buildings in Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja is a landmark not just for the city but for the entire country. Its stepped, winged concrete exterior makes it a true statement building, appearing to stand guard over the city below.
There are a few photo opportunities here. The most common composition involves focusing on the Leif Erikson statue with the church towering behind him.
Lesser-known is the opportunity to climb to the observation tower within the church, from where you get an unbeatable panoramic view across Reykjavik and its surroundings.
The steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason celebrates Iceland’s status as the ‘new world’ of the Viking Age. In a 1987 interview, Árnason said it “symbolizes the promise of new, undiscovered territory.”
Its location on a small headland by the Sæbraut waterfront means that lighting conditions play a major role in photography here.
Sunset and northern lights photography with the sculpture in the foreground are popular photography projects here.
Harpa Concert Hall
A short walk along Sæbraut from the Sun Voyager brings you to the glittering Harpa Concert Hall, inspired by Iceland’s basalt landscape.
You don’t need to attend a concert to appreciate the distinctive colored glass facade. Step inside for a better look at the honeycomb-shaped glass windows. Just be aware that although taking photographs for personal use is fine, any commercial photography requires a permit.
Walk behind the hall to reach the distinctive yellow Ingólfsgarður lighthouse for yet more photographic opportunities.
Reykjavik’s Rainbow Street
The northern end of Skólavörðustígur is now known as the rainbow street thanks to the 2019 art project designed to promote respect and inclusivity.
The city mayor, who contributed to the painting process, said the final result was “more powerful, stronger and more beautiful” than he had expected and that such projects are how to make the city a “livelier, more humane and a better place.”
This is not a quiet spot, though. Souvenir shops, clothing stores and cozy cafes along the street mean the rainbow road is often busy.
Photographers wanting to get a clear shot of the street—especially with the towering Hallgrimskirka church at the end of the street—should get there very early in the morning.