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Perlan Travel Guide

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Cultural attractions, Forests
Reykjavík, Iceland
Perlan, 105 Reykjavík, Iceland
Distance from center
1.4 km
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Perlan is a beautiful dome shaped building that towers over Reykjavik.

Perlan is a museum and rotating glass dome. It stands atop Oskjuhlid hill and is one of Reykjavik's most iconic landmarks. The site is built on top of six water tanks, four of which still store much of Reykjavik's hot water.

When visiting Reykjavik, you will see Perlan standing proudly on the top of Oskuhlid hill, towering over the surrounding area. Its name translates to "the Pearl," and it's one of the most popular attractions in Reykjavik, featuring the amazing Wonders of Iceland exhibitions and the Natural History Museum of Iceland, along with a restaurant, café, and ice cream parlor.

The exhibition is designed with interactivity in mind and offers a unique way to immerse yourself in Icelandic nature. Learn about Iceland's volcanos, geology, birdlife, water, glaciers, ice caves, and the mystical northern lights. To visit, book your Wonders of Iceland admission online and ahead of time.

You can access Perlan with a rental car or by city bus number 18. You can also explore more nearby attractions with tours of Reykjavik. Discover even more of the city with a 24-hour Reykjavik City Card, giving you access to many of the top museums in Reykjavik and other cultural attractions.

History & Construction of Perlan

Perlan is a landmark in Reykjavik, the capital of IcelandThe first hot water tank on Oskjuhlid hill was built in 1939, but there had already been ideas of building a monumental structure on the same site, most famously as described in the 1930 book "Grjót" by renowned artist Jóhannes Kjarval. This idea greatly resembled the building that would later be constructed, as it featured glass and mirrors intended to reflect the sun and the northern lights.

It wasn't until the 1990s that this idea would come to life when it came time to either update or tear down the six water tanks. Instead, they were rebuilt and modified, and a grand hemispherical glass dome was constructed on top to create one of Reykjavik's most iconic landmarks. Today, the Perlan museum uses two tanks, and the other four still store hot water for the surrounding area.

This new building was designed by architect Ingimundur Sveinsson, and construction began in 1988. The project was largely curated by the politician Davíð Oddsson during his term as mayor of Reykjavik, and Perlan finally opened to the public in 1991.

Perlan has some truly unique features. The top floor of the building rotates, and guests can enjoy the best possible panoramic views when enjoying a meal at the Perlan restaurant. In the past, the basement floor also featured a fountain that mimicked an erupting geyser, shooting water up along a grand staircase all the way to the fourth floor. This man-made geyser is unfortunately not active anymore but lives on in the memory of locals.

Perlan in Reykjavik has a grand staircase

Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Tony Hisgett. The Perlan fountain would shoot up next to a grand staircase.

At night, the building is lit by floodlights, illuminating Perlan for all of the city to see. On top of the dome is a rotating light that serves as a signal for airplanes flying to and from the nearby Reykjavik Domestic Airport.

The building has served many purposes over the years but has most commonly housed exhibitions, cultural activities, and events. It has also been a popular location for weddings and receptions. On New Year's Eve, it's also the location of a grand fireworks show!

Wonders of Iceland in Perlan

Perlan owes it's unique appearance to it's history as former water storage tanksPerlan has long been home to a viewing platform, restaurant, and café, but more recently, it has become an educational site, boasting many exhibitions and displays. It houses the Wonders of Iceland museum, where you can learn about different facets of Icelandic nature. The museum splits into multiple different exhibitions and offers interactive and unique experiences.

One of the major highlights of any visit is the Ice Cave and Glaciers exhibition. The project contains a 328-foot-long ice tunnel (100 meters) located in one of the water tanks. It is made with real ice and is the only exhibition in the world with such a feature. Once you exit the man-made ice cave, you enter an interactive area dedicated to Iceland's many glaciers and their past, present, and future.

Explore a man made ice cave inside the Perlan in Reykjavik

A visit to the Perlan Ice Cave and Glaciers exhibition is especially great for those who can't fit an ice cave tour into their Iceland itinerary. It's not quite the same experience as you'll find with this blue ice cave tour in the Vatnajokull glacier, but it's a simple alternative if you're staying in accommodation in Reykjavik throughout your holiday.

If you want a more easy-going way to visit a real glacier, you may enjoy this Into the Glacier ice tunnel tour in Langjokull, which has a transfer from Reykjavik!

Several more projects have been unveiled since the Ice Cave and Glaciers exhibition opened. One of those is Áróra, a planetarium film dedicated to the stunning northern lights. Some of the nation’s most celebrated photographers, writers, and musicians compiled this beautiful short film, which has since won multiple awards.

The northern lights planetarium show in Perlan is amazing

Photo from Mesmerizing 25-Minute Northern Lights Show at Perlan Museum in Reykjavik

The planetarium educates guests on what creates this incredible phenomenon and the stories people worldwide have devised throughout history to explain the aurora borealis. It's the only way to get a northern lights experience in summer and may make your winter northern lights tour more meaningful.

The film is around 25 minutes in length, and you can book a stand-alone entry to the Perlan northern lights show if you don't want to visit the whole Wonders of Iceland museum.

Another part of the Wonders of Iceland museum is the Forces of Nature exhibition. It's dedicated to Iceland's volcanic geology and is one of the best places to discover the fiery power that defines the country's nature. Learn about the tectonic plates, earthquakes, geology, geothermal sites, and how Iceland's volcanos have shaped the land.

Perlan features a fascinating volcano exhibition

One highlight of this exhibition is the relationship between Icelanders and their volcanic nature. You can see how eruptions throughout Iceland's history have affected the local population, like during the 1973 volcanic eruption of Eldfell in the Westman Islands.

Once you've gone through the Forces of Nature exhibition, you'll reach a reconstruction of the stunning Latrabjarg, the largest bird cliffs in Europe. In reality, they're located in the Westfjords, and they're renowned as one of the world’s best places for birdwatching and a great location for seeing puffins in Iceland.

You can see amazing bird cliffs at Perlan in Reykjavik

The replica stands ten meters tall and allows you to see lifelike figures of the birds that nest there without having to embark on a self-drive tour of Iceland. Visitors can also meet the birds through virtual reality binoculars, including the lovely puffin!

When visiting Perlan, make sure to include a visit to the Water in Icelandic Nature exhibition, which is part of the Natural History Museum of Iceland. It's located on the second floor and covers everything about how freshwater defines this country, from its weather patterns to its natural features, lifeforms, and chemistry.

You'll find the Natural History Museum of Iceland in Perlan

Photo from the National History Museum of Iceland.

The Water in Icelandic Nature exhibition uses cutting-edge technology to bring these concepts to life and has won awards for its design. You'll be able to explore the world of Icelandic water in a memorable way with games and interactive displays. A visit brings a new appreciation for the most important resource on Earth.

Aside from its exhibitions, Perlan is renowned for its sightseeing opportunities. It has an observation deck that offers an impressive panoramic view of Reykjavik and its surroundings. Access is included in your Perlan tickets. You can even get a closer look at nearby attractions with binoculars!

Restaurant, Cafe, and Ice Cream at Perlan

The café is best place to admire the glass dome of PerlanAt the top of Perlan's glass dome is a restaurant, bar, and café that boast some of the best views in Reykjavik. You can stop for lunch or an afternoon snack to rest after a visit to the Wonders of Iceland exhibitions.

Alternatively, you can enjoy some ice cream from the ice cream parlor on the fourth floor of Perlan. It's on the same floor as the observation deck, so if luck is with you, it's the perfect treat for a sunny day while enjoying the panoramic views of the Capital Region.

Other Attractions Close to Perlan

Perlan features a stunning and panoramic observation deck with binocularsThe surrounding woodland of Oskjuhlid hill has several scenic hiking trails and cycling routes. Some lead to remains of military bunkers that were built by the US Army during its occupation of Iceland in World War Two. Along the coast below Oskjuhlid hill, you can visit Nautholsvik, a geothermally heated beach, and a nearby restaurant in a renovated military nissen hut.

You can reach locations like the Laugavegur shopping street, Hallgrimskirkja church, or the National Museum of Iceland by city bus from Perlan, but it's most conveniently done with a rental car in Reykjavik. You can also travel on foot, but be aware that Perlan is around a 40-minute walk away from the city center. It only takes 5-10 minutes to drive the same distance.

We recommend planning between two or three hours for your visit to Perlan to make the most of your experience.

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