The Sun Voyager (Sólfarið) is a large steel sculpture of a ship, located on the road Sæbraut, by the seaside of central Reykjavík. The work is one of the most visited sights in the capital, where people gather daily to gaze at the sun reflecting in the stainless steel of this remarkable monument.
Spot this iconic location on a tour of the city of Reykjavik.
The sculpture serves as an ode to the sun where it gracefully faces north across Faxaflói Bay. A popular misconception is that the Sun Voyager represents a Viking Ship. However, that is not quite the case. According to the sculptor’s vision, the piece rather accounts for a vessel of dreams. In his own words, the artist says that the sculpture represents, "the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom."
The sculptor is Jón Gunnar Árnason, who described his vision as one of the possible origins of the Icelandic people. When Jón visited the island of Bockholm in Finland, he claimed to have experienced an uncanny feeling that he’d been there before, many centuries ago.
The story goes that as ancient explorers from the centre of the known world set out to the four different cardinal directions, some set out towards the rising sun and made port at Mongolia. There, they settled down, until discovering the scribes of the explorers from the original journey who had ventured out west.
With the discovery of another fatherland, the people yet again set sail, but this time they headed back towards the setting sun. After having followed the sun for years, they eventually ended up on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
When Jón was looking out to sea from Bockholm, he envisioned a vessel of dreams that would take him the rest of the way home; to the newfound promise land of the setting sun. He carved his vision into a granite rock by the sea, and thus the sun ship was born in his mind.
As the city of Reykjavík celebrated its 200-year anniversary in 1986, the town council of Vesturbær held a competition for works of exterior art. The Sun Voyager was deemed as the winner, and an aluminium prototype was donated to the city of Reykjavík.
In August 1990, the final piece was revealed at its current location by Sæbraut. Sadly, this was shortly after the death of Jón, who never got to see his masterpiece unveiled.
The site of the sculpture was considerably disputed. Many have pointed out the fallacy in the ship’s mast facing north, as opposed to west; to adhere to the original concept behind the artist’s vision.
Jón originally wanted the ship to be situated in the western part of Reykjavík, or by the coastline of Ánanaust. Eventually, and with the artist’s consent, the small headland on Sæbraut got chosen. Although the headland has no name, the artist comically referred to it as Jónsnes—or Jón’s Peninsula.
The Sun Voyager is often deemed the capital’s most famous artwork, but the city is full of sculptures, architectural masterpieces and street art, some sanctioned and some not, all of which is worth admiring.
Below, you can see a time-lapse video of a day in the life of the Sun Voyager sculpture.