Perlan, Icelandic for “The Pearl,” is a landmark building in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital. It stands on top of Öskjuhlíð Hill and has an iconic glass dome set atop several large hot water tanks. At 25.7 meters (84.3 feet) high, it can be seen from all over the city. Around the building there is a network of walking and cycling paths through various flora and wooded areas for you to explore. Inside, there is a newly installed Wonders of Iceland Exhibition with an incredible Glaciers and Ice Cave along with a Vatnajökull Glacier educational area. Up in the dome you can grab something to eat at the Kaffitár Café or Út í Bláinn Restaurant. There is also the Rammagerðin Gift Shop which sells items made with traditional Icelandic materials. At the top you can venture out to the large observation deck and walk around the entire dome for views of Reykjavík in every direction. Admission to the building and viewing platform is free, but all of the other exhibitions have an entrance fee. It is open from 10:00 to 22:00, and more information can be found on their website.
The building was originally designed by Ingimundur Sveinsson in 1988, and the dome was added in 1991. The six huge tanks have a capacity of over 4 million liters (1 million gallons) of geothermal hot water that is heated by the natural volcanic activity of the region. Nearby, Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach is fed into the bay with water from these tanks at an average water temperature of about 4° to 6°C in the winter and 15°to 19°C in the summer.
In 2017, the Perlan Museum revealed its Wonders of Iceland Exhibition, which features a 100-meter-long man-made ice cave with over 350 tons of compacted snow and ice. Instead of cutting a ribbon at the opening ceremony, the mayor was invited to cut through a chunk of ice with a chainsaw. It’s built inside one of the large water tanks by a method that accurately replicates the formation of an ice tunnel through a glacier. This is the first of its kind in the world! Picturesque scenes and mirrors help to realize the experience as you safely walk across a stable metal grate floor. The temperature inside is -10°C (14°F), and it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to explore. You do not need special shoes for the ice cave, and they will even lend you a vest to keep warm. Photos are welcomed, but food and drinks are prohibited.
On the second floor there is an interactive exhibition on the Vatnajökull Glacier and glaciers throughout Iceland. Visitors can touch three-dimensional topographic maps and learn about how the effects of climate change are jeopardizing the future of their existence throughout the world. In May 2018, several more exhibitions will open including the Land, Coast and Ocean and the Icelandic Museum of Natural History. A planetarium and a Northern Lights museum are also planned to follow. All together, they will make up the largest nature exhibition in Iceland.
Út í Bláinn Restaurant is set on the top floor of the dome with incredible views over the Reykjavík Peninsula. They offer a bistro-style with a lively, light atmosphere with an emphasis on simplicity and seasonal ingredients. Open from 11:30 to 14:00 and 17:00 to 22:00, it’s a place where “Icelandic food traditions meet classic European cuisine.”
The Kaffitár Café is on the fourth and fifth floors and open every day from 8:00 to 23:00. Their philosophy is to “indulge their customers and support their farmers.” Over 85% of their coffee comes from direct trade and farms that have a Rainforest Alliance environmental certification. As well as coffee and drinks, they offer sourdough bread, cake, ice cream, quiche, sandwiches, and other snacks.
Rammagerðin Gift Shop, established in 1940, is one of the oldest gift stores in Iceland. They make a point to cooperate with craftspeople and designers all over the country. Over 100 women hand knit for the company on a regular basis with traditional Icelandic wool and their items are intended to emphasize the culture and heritage of their people.
On top of Perlan, there is a magnificent 360-degree observation platform with views all around Reykjavík. It’s located on the fourth floor and circles the giant glass hemisphere. There are panoramic telescopes at each of the six corners with recorded descriptions in five different languages. You can see Hallgrímskirkja and a number of other iconic architectures throughout the city. You’ll see planes flying low as they take off and land at the nearby airport and as well as ships in the water to the north and south sides. On clear days you can see the surrounding mountain ranges, including Mount Esja, and if you’re lucky, Mount Snaefellsjokull across the bay on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.