A Layover in Reykjavik: Ten Best Things to See as A Photographer
What can you do in Reykjavik during a layover? Are you a traveling photographer with a layover in Iceland? Can you only spend a few hours in Reykjavik? Are you a photographer traveling around Iceland and only have a few hours in Reykjavik?
Photographers love the stunning landscapes of Iceland. As a photographer myself, I could spend endless days snapping pictures of sprawling lava fields, ice caves, and colorful buildings in the middle of Reykjavik. If you have a short layover in Iceland, though, you might find it tricky to find all the sights and hidden gems to see in Reykjavik. That’s why I have made this guide for the traveling photographer with a layover in Reykjavik, showing you all the best places to see and photograph!
You can easily go around Reykjavik using the public transport or even on foot if it’s a nice day! Buses run throughout the entire day and they can take you and your camera anywhere in Reykjavik for 470 ISK (approximately 3.80 USD) for 75 minutes. You can go to the strætó website or download the strætó app (iOS or Android) to get a ticket and see the schedules. If you prefer the comfort of a car, you can rent one with us!
At a glance:
- Best buildings for architecture photography in the heart of Reykjavik
- Street photography in downtown Reykjavik’s colorful streets
- Best spots for nature photography in Reykjavik
- For wildlife enthusiasts, book a whale watching tour, a puffin tour, or combine them in our whale, puffin and Reykjavik tour for some stunning travel photography!
First, we have Hallgrímskirkja in downtown Reykjavik. Hallgrímskirkja is the crown jewel of the city. It is a towering church built from 1945 until 1986 (a whopping 41 years!) Its design was inspired by the jagged landscape of mountains and glaciers in Iceland. Hallgrímskirkja can be seen from almost anywhere in Reykjavik, and thus it is a symbol for the city.
Why you want to photograph it: its impressive height and expressionist architecture make Hallgrímskirkja an architecture photographer’s dream. There are endless angles for you to explore. The basalt-like structure of the church creates beautiful dancing shadows when the sunlight hits them, whether it is the mid-morning or the midnight sun.
Pro tip: a great –and unusual –spot to photograph Hallgrímskirkja is Skothúsvegur street, near the pond (more on this later!) You can also get a magnificent view of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrímskirkja’s 73-meter tall tower for only 1000 ISK (about 8 USD). The church is open daily, from 9:00 to 17:00 in the winter and 9:00 to 21:00 in the summer.
Next on your layover bucket list is Harpa. Harpa is yet another symbol for the city of Reykjavik. One of the most popular places for tourists, Harpa was partly designed by Olafur Eliasson, who you might know from his The Weather Project exhibition in London’s Tate. Like Hallgrímskirkja, Harpa was inspired by the basalt columns that you can see in multiple places around Iceland –so if you can’t make it to the world-renowned basalt columns of Reynisfjara beach, you can always imagine what they look like!
Why you want to photograph it: Harpa is one of the most interesting buildings to photograph in Reykjavik. The multicolored windows cast equally colorful shadows, and its unique architecture gives you infinite different angles to photograph. You can capture it from the outside, but feel free to roam inside as well. That is where you will see its most dazzling architecture.
3. Tjörnin City Pond
The pond is also located in the middle of downtown Reykjavik. Therefore, it’s an easy stop in the layover for the photographer looking to snap a picture of Iceland’s famous nature. It is an oasis in the center of Reykjavik. Swans and ducks glide idly on the glistening waters in the summer, and families ice skate on its frozen surface in the winter.
Why you want to photograph it: the pond is perhaps the best place in downtown Reykjavik to experience some of Iceland’s breathtaking nature. Whether you capture it glittering under a midnight sun or freezing during the arctic winter, the pond will offer you some of the most stunning photographs of your trip.
4. Whale Watching
The Icelandic nature is what attracts most photographers to Iceland. While you can’t find a glacier or expanses of lava fields in downtown Reykjavik, you can photograph something that many photographers would love to capture with their lenses; whales! You can get a whale watching tour with us right from the heart of Reykjavik!
Why you want to photograph it: Iceland is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. Those adorable critters make for the perfect subject for nature photographers, with their massive size and playful manners. You might be able to catch some harbor porpoises and dolphins as well!
Perlan, or the Pearl, is another great spot for photography in Reykjavik. The building used to supply Reykjavik with hot water. It has now been converted into a museum and exhibition center dedicated to Icelandic nature.
Why you want to photograph it: the building itself isn’t that impressive; after all, it’s a water tank! However, get to the top and you will be rewarded with a 360 view of Reykjavik, one that is only rivaled by that of Hallgrímskirkja.
Pro tip: you can get a taste of what it would be like to walk inside an ice cave, and also take some photographs of it, in Perlan’s man-made cave right inside the building! After exploring Perlan and its views, make sure to head to the walking trails right behind it. You will get a chance to photograph some more of Iceland’s nature. There, you can find rolling hills, towering trees, and maybe even some friendly bunnies! At the end of the walking trail you’ll end up in Nauthólsvík, a sandy beach with a manmade hot spring. It’s perfect for recharging your literal and metaphorical batteries before continuing to explore Reykjavik.
6. Grótta Lighthouse
Grótta is a stunning area in Seltjarnarnes, a town next to Reykjavik (although you wouldn’t guess it, as there is nothing to separate them but the local government). You will find the lighthouse right at the tip, which you can reach through a walking path with a scenic view.
Why you want to photograph it: the lighthouse itself is beautiful, but the backdrop is what makes for a bewitching photograph. The waves crashing against the black sand beach, combined with the usually overcast Reykjavik skies and the myriads of birds that call Grótta their home give you yet another chance to capture a part of Icelandic nature.
7. The Sun Voyager
Next in our layover, we have a short stop. The Sun Voyager is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, located in downtown Reykjavik. It is a “dreamboat” or an ode to the sun, modeled loosely on a Viking ship.
Why you want to photograph it: apart from being an alluring art piece, the Sun Voyager is located right by the shore. Visit the sculpture at the right time and you will be able to photograph a cinematic sunset with cresting waves along with it.
8. The Old Harbor
Colorful buildings, coffee houses, restaurants. The old harbor is a good place to take a short break from your Icelandic layover adventure, but also to take some stunning pictures of an architectural rainbow.
Why you want to photograph it: the old harbor truly captures the essence of Reykjavik. Old meets new, history meets modernization and tradition meets…well, a lot of colors! The renovated old fishing sheds and the brilliant blue sea create an unforgettable scenery that can catch the eye of any photographer.
Pro tip: you might know the old harbor if you have gone whale watching (if not, you can book with us). If you have some time to spare, we can help you achieve every photographer’s dream; photograph puffins! Yes, you can photograph puffins near Reykjavik by joining one of our tours! Or if you’d like to combine photographing whales, puffins and some panoramic views of Reykjavik, you can catch this tour!
9. Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden
As one of Iceland’s most prolific artists, Einar Jónsson has an open-air museum dedicated to him right in the heart of Reykjavik. Einar Jónsson’s inspiration came from myths, angels and demons, and Iceland’s “hidden people” (also known as elves).
Why you want to photograph it: the bronze sculptures make for the perfect subjects in the middle of this idyllic garden. A stark contrast from the usually bright and cheerful Reykjavik, the sculptures reveal the dark and gloomy myths that are innate in Iceland’s culture. The shade of the trees and the overgrown bushes also add to the fairy-tale-like atmosphere. You can capture a whole different world.
10. Get Lost in Reykjavik
Finally, I have an advice for you rather than a place. Every photographer knows that the best way to find hidden gems anywhere is to get lost. At the end of your layover, consider roaming around downtown Reykjavik. Don’t bring a map. That is surely the best way to shoot all the undiscovered nooks and crannies.
Why you want to photograph it: colorful graffiti, houses painted in all the colors of the rainbow, and charming little streets. These are only a few of the things you can find anywhere in downtown Reykjavik if you head a little off the beaten path. Go where other tourists don’t. Stray off the main roads. It will show you its real face, its past and its present, and this inexplicable quality that makes it so unique.
I love to explore Reykjavik. Every corner has a secret, every street has a charm. If you are a photographer and you only have a short layover here, this city will certainly seduce you and make you want to visit again.
Do you have any awesome photos from your layover in Reykjavik? We would love to see them! Just tag our Instagram account @WakeUpReykjavik. Show us the places you loved and the places you discovered; maybe we haven’t found them either yet!