Harpa: The Reykjavik Cultural Center

Date 10 December 2023

Harpa: The Reykjavik Cultural Center

Harpa: The Reykjavik Cultural Center

Harpa is a world-famous building in the center of Reykjavik. Renowned for its modern architecture, this Icelandic icon is decorated in thousands of glass panels and serves as a theater, concert hall, auditorium, and convention center all at once.

It is among the city's most iconic monuments, a symbol of progress, prosperity, and a representation of the 21st century capital Reykjavik.

The lights playing along on the building faces which are entirely made of glass, dancing and reflecting in the water, paint the building a different colour depending on the light cycle of the season, the time of day, and the weather. The structure's exterior is particularly photogenic and many photo enthusiasts, in winter and summer alike, love to capture the effects of light on the panels.

In fact, Harpa received the Mies van der Rohe Prize in 2013, awarded by the European Union and the Mies van der Rohe Foundation.

Harpa: A project that almost never happened


A true architectural jewel, Harpa was the brain-child of architect Henning Larsen and designer Olafur Eliasson, but this huge cube structure almost never existed...

There were plans to create a large concert hall in Reykjavik as far back as the early 1980s, it was only 20 years later, in 2000, that partial financing by the state made the project possible. The works began in 2007 and had to be stopped barely a year later, in 2008. This recession was a dark time for the whole world, but represented the worst financial crisis in Iceland's history and crippled the country.

At the time, they seriously debated scrapping the whole project. Given the country's economic situation, some saw Harpa as far too ambitious a project for a small country like Iceland, a substantial undertaking estimated at 150 million dollars for the creation of the building and its 1800-seat hall.

Others saw it as an ambitious project but one that would quickly pay off, allowing Iceland, and especially Reykjavik, to host major events with international influence, which would in turn draw huge economic benefits.

Icelanders finally chose to continue construction on 11 December 2009 and Harpa finally opened its doors on May 4th, 2011 after almost 2 years of work. The inaugural concert was given by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Iceland Opera.

Today, the concert hall is in some ways the symbol of the end of the Icelandic crisis and of national pride.

Where is Harpa located?

The building is hard to miss... You'll see its glass mosaic of light from very far away when you arrive via Sæbraut from the east, near the old port, and also when you arrive via the Seltjarnarnes peninsula in the west. Harpa was built near the old port of Reykjavik, and the address is simply “2 Austurbakki”, right in the heart of the capital and facing the mythical Mount Esja.


As Harpa is located on the seafront, the glass panels which are canted downwards reflect the ocean water for the most beautiful effect.

Long under construction, the area around Harpa has become a bustling cultural district, alive with events and visitors, and the esplanade in front of the building is very popular with photographers.

The site has become a major crossroads in the center of the capital, and many excursions and buses leave from here.

To park before visiting Harpa, head towards the car park near the old port.

Harpa: concerts and conferences

Intérieur Harpa

While many people only admire Harpa from the outside, you can take the time to visit the interior, admire this panels from the inside as well. The building is particularly stylish and modern and as you can imagine has a lot of natural light!

As is often the case in Iceland, in modern buildings, such as at the Blue Lagoon, many surfaces are painted black as if reminiscent of volcanoes.

In addition to the 4 concert halls, there is a shop, a large panoramic restaurant, and a bar on site.

As for concerts and events, there's a bit of everything and the program is regularly updated on the official website. Comedy shows for all ages, jazz concerts, symphony orchestras, Harpa has a great calendar of events.