The Sun Voyager: The Iconic Viking Ship Sculpture, Reykjavík

  • by Neil
  • Reykjavik
  • 5 Mar 2024

The Sun Voyager Viking Ship sculture is a famous art piece on Reykjavík shoreline. It´s a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike with stunning views of mountains to the north, and Harpa concert hall to the west.

Solfar, Sun Voyager in Reykjavik
Solfar, Sun Voyager in Reykjavik

The Sun Voyager viking ship sculpture, also known as Sólfar, sits on the Reykjavik shoreline, and faces the blustery north Atlantic sea and spectacular MT. Esja to the North. It symbolises Iceland´s viking heritage, and is an iconic photo stop in Reykjavík.

What does the Sun Voyager represent?

To celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of Reykjavík, the city council held a competition for a public art piece. The winning design, by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason, became the iconic Sólfar statue that enjoys proninent placement along the northern shoreline walking path in central Reykjavík. Erected  in 1990, the Sun Voyager is now a popular photo stop for visitors to this northern capital.

Crafted from stainless steel, Sólfar is an artistic representation of the viking longboats that landed in the smokey bay of modern day Reykjavik in the late 8th century. It further represents exploration, and the hope for a more prosperous tomorrow in a new land.

Sólfar with Mt. Esja in the background

Who designed the Sun Voyager?

The Sun Voyager was designed by renowned Icelandic sculptor Jín Gunnar Árnason. Born in 1931, he studied in Iceland, and later London, to develop his skills in sculpture.

Of the concept behind the piece, he said:

They… decided to gather together their belongings and head back west… (&)… followed the sun for days and years, walking, riding and sailing. We enriched our experience and our determination grew in strength as our journey progressed, and we recorded everything that we saw and experienced. I remember endless pine forests, mountains and waterfalls, lakes, islands, rivers and seas before we eventually reached the ocean. We then constructed huge ships and sailed on westwards towards the setting sun.
By Jón Gunnar Árnason, the artist behind Sólfar in August 1990

Though envisaged as facing west, into the setting sun, the bow of the Sólfar ship in fact faces to the North-East, towards Mt. Esja. Nevertheless, the intent and concept of the art piece speaks for itself.

Jón Gunnar sadly did not live to see his sculture erected in its current setting; he died in 1989, a year before the Sun Voyager was formally unveiled.

Photographing the Sun Voyager

Photographers and enthusiasts alike find the Sólfar sculpture a compelling subject due to the interplay of the artwork with nature. Framed by the vast expanse of Faxaflói Bay, you can capture the essence of Iceland’s maritime heritage with the sculpture silhouetted against the vibrant hues of sunset or sunrise. 

The Best times to visit

We recommend visiting during off peak times. This will give you more chance to prepare your shots without the presence of other visitors. Early morning is a good time to experience the Sun Voyager, basking in the early low sun. In sumer, the Midnight Sun offers the chance to chance to grab some shots in full daylight without many other visitors ruinging your shot.

In winter, why not try to capture the northern lights with the Sun Voyager in the foreground.

The Sun Voyager, Reykjavík

Attractions close to the Sun Voyager sculpture

The Sun Voyager is centrally located in Reykjavík and is walkable from most accommodation in the downtown area.

Hallgrimskirkja Church

The Sun Voyager is located where the lower part of Frakkastígur street meets the coastal Sæbraut road. At the other end of Frakkastígur lies Reykjavík most famous building, Hallgrimskirkja Church.This church, visible from nearly anywhere in the city, stands as a testament to modernist design inspired by Iceland’s natural landscapes, paritcularly the overlaps geometric pattern. The church’s tower provides a panoramic view of Reykjavik, and the striking statue of Leif Erikson in front reminds you of Iceland’s Viking heritage.

The church is a 10 minute walk from the Sun Voyager

Hallgrimskirkja Church is situated on the southernmost end of Frakkastígur church

Laugavegur shopping district

Laugavegur is the Reykjavík street that enjoys the most footfall, due to its many shops, bars, cafes and restaurant. A short 5 minute walk from the Sun Voyager, it´s the perfect spot to grab lunch during your self-guide exploration of this northern capital city.

The heart of Reykjavík

Harpa Concert Hall

Harpa is a stunning convert and conference venue located a short walk along the sea shore path from the Sun Voyager sculpture. Opened in 2011, it was designed by Danish-Icelandic architect, Ólafur Eliasson. The glass and steel facade of the venue is, similarly to Hallgrimskirkja, intended to reflect geometric patterns found in Iceland nature, such as the basalt columns of Reynisfjara Black Sand beach.

Tours and Activities in Reykjavik

Reykjavík is a small city, but despite its size there are endless sights, tours, and activities with which to occupy your time. Here are just a few of the highlights!

About the author
Neil works in sales and marketing at BusTravel Iceland. He writes content and also creates private and custom tour itineraries. A native of Ireland, Neil has lived and worked in Iceland for more than 10 years. He enjoys multi-day hikes such as Horstrandir and of course Laugavegurinn.

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