Perlan ('The Pearl') is a museum and rotating glass dome that stands on top of Öskjuhlíð Hill in Reykjavík; surrounded by forest, it is one of the capital's most distinctive landmarks. The site is built on top of six water tanks that store millions of liters of Reykjavík's hot water, although some of them now serve a different purpose.
Photo above by Glaciers Photo
Architect Ingimundur Sveinsson originally designed the building in 1991; the hot water storage tanks that had stood on top of Öskjuhlíð since the mid-20th-century were updated when the hemispherical glass dome was added on top.
The project was largely curated by the beloved politician Davíð Oddsson, during his term as mayor of Reykjavík.
At night, the water tanks are lit up by floodlights that illuminate the construction for all of the city to see. On top of the dome is a rotating light that serves to signal the airplanes flying to and from the nearby Reykjavík Domestic Airport.
Perlan has long been home to a viewing platform, restaurant, and cafe, but more recently has become an educational site, boasting many exhibitions and displays.
The Glacier Exhibition of Iceland, for example, opened in Perlan in July 2017. The project contains a 100-meter long ice tunnel, where visitors are offered a glance into the past, present, and future of Iceland’s glaciers. It is the only museum in the world with such a feature.
Since the Glacier Exhibition of Iceland, several more projects have been unveiled. Particularly of note is Áróra, the world’s first interactive planetarium film. A beautiful show that was compiled by some of the nation’s most celebrated photographers, writers, and musicians, Áróra encourages its guests to dance as part of the piece and choreograph their own Northern Lights experience.
The planetarium also educates guests on what creates this incredible phenomenon, and the stories people across the world had devised throughout history as a way to explain them.
Perlan also boasts a model of the Látrabjarg cliffs, which are located in the Westfjords; this incredible place is renowned as one of the world’s best places for birdwatching. The replica stands ten meters tall and allows you to see lifelike figures of the birds that nest here without having to traverse all the way across the country. Visitors can also meet the seabirds through virtual reality glasses!
This is part of the ‘Wonders of Iceland’ exhibition, which also includes a cinematic display of the country’s underwater world and a wealth of displays about Iceland’s geology, such as its volcanoes, tectonic plates, and geothermal sites and earthquakes.
Furthermore, Perlan has an exhibition called ‘Water in Icelandic Nature’, which discusses everything about how water defines this country, from its weather patterns to its natural features, its wildlife to its chemistry. It uses cutting-edge technology and interactive displays to bring these concepts to life.
Aside from its exhibitions, Perlan is renowned for its sightseeing opportunities. The observation deck here offers an impressive and panoramic view of the city and its surroundings, with adult tickets available for a small fee. The most recent addition, which opened in the summer of 2021, is a 230-meter-long (755 miles) zip line that allows those brave enough to glide from one of the water tanks and down to the ground below at up to 50 km/hr (31 mph).
The surrounding woodland of Öskjuhlíð boasts of several scenic hiking trails and cycling routes, several of which lead to the remains of military bunkers that were built by the US army during its WWII occupation of Iceland.
At the top of the rotating dome of Perlan is Perlan Restaurant, which boasts some of the best views in the city. It focuses on simple, seasonal, perfectly prepared Icelandic food, and has a friendly, lively atmosphere. Those just looking for a warming cup of coffee and sweet treats with a view can opt to sit down at the café on the top floor or enjoy some ice cream from the ice cream parlor on the fourth floor.