Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world.
Despite a small population (120.000 and more than 200.000 in the Greater Reykjavik area), it is a vibrant city that draws an ever increasing number of visitors. It is the financial, cultural and governmental center of Iceland. It also has a reputation of being one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world.
The city of Reykjavik is located in southwest Iceland by the creek of the same name. Throughout the ages, the landscape has been shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the area is geothermal. Much of the current city area area was subglacial during the Ice Age, with the glacier reaching as far as the Alftanes peninsula, while other areas lay under the sea. After the end of the ice age the land rose as the glaciers drifted away, and it began to take on its present form.
The coastline of Reykjavik is set with peninsulas, coves, straights and islands, most notably the island of Videy, and seabirds and whales frequent the shores. The mountain ring as seen from the shore is particularly beautiful. Mount Esja is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavik and lends its distinct feature to the whole area. This majestic mountain is also highly popular for climbing. Other notable mountains that can be seen from the seaside are Akrafjall and Skardsheidi and on clear days one may even see as far to the legendary Snaefellsjokull glacier, at the end of the Snafellsnes peninsula.
The largest river to run through the city is Ellidaa in Ellidaardalur valley, which is also one of Iceland‘s best rivers for salmon fishing.
There are no trains or trams in Iceland, but most people travel by car. The city also operates a bus system. There are two major harbours in town, the old harbour in the center and Sundahofn in the east. The domestic Reykjavik Airport is located at Vatnsmyrin, not far from the city center and close to Oskjuhlid and Perlan. The international Keflavik Airport at Midnesheidi heath then lies around 50 km from the city. Cars, jeeps and bicycles can be readily rented in the city and many organized tours are also being offered.
The local arts scene is strong in Iceland, with both annual events and single ones, many of whom have hit the international stage. For the annual ones please check our articles Best Annual Events in Iceland and the Top Ten Festivals in Iceland. Major events taking place in Reykjavik include the Iceland Airwaves, Gay Pride, RIFF (The Reykjavik International Film Festival), The Reykjavik Literature Festival, Cultural Night, the Reykjavik Arts Festival, Food & Fun, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival and the Sónar music festival.
Among famous people from Reykjavik are artists Bjork Gudmundsdottir, Sigur Ros, writers Halldor Laxness (born in Laugarvegur) and Arnaldur Indridason and mayor Jon Gnarr. For more well-known and fairly-well known Icelanders, check our article on the subject.
You might also want to check our article on some of the many things to see and do in Reykjavik, such as visiting the city‘s many museums, exhibitions and galleries, checking out live music, visiting the Harpa music hall or the theaters, visiting the lighthouse at Grotta, the main shopping street of Laugavegur, visiting the old harbour and the flea market, going on a bird- and whalewatching tour or visiting Videy island. We also have a top ten list of things to do.
Make sure to visit the publis square of Austurvollur, one of the city‘s most popular gathering places, where you‘ll also find the national parliament, Althingi, the state church a statue of independence hero Jon Sigurdson, as well as cafés, bars and restaurants. Austurvollur was central in the 2008 protests, along with Laekjargata, home to the House of Government. You are also not likely to miss the great church of Hallgrimskirkja that towers over the city from the hill of Skolavorduholt, wherefrom you‘ll get a great view of the city.
Try a walk by the city pond, greet the many birds that frequent the area and visit the city hall, stationed by its banks. The Hljomaskalagardur is a beautiful park that lies by the pond, it ideal for a nice walk and sometimes concerts get held there. Further off is the campus of the university of Iceland, the Nordic house and the Vatnsmyri wetland, a particularly pleasant place, but be mindful of not disturbing the wildlife there and keep to the pathways.
For a nice swim on a warm day, we particularly recommend Nautholsvik beach.
Visit the Laugardalur valley, home to one of the city‘s best swimming pools, as well as the Asmundarsafn gallery, a beautiful botanical garden and a domestic zoo. A walk by the Aegissida beach, with it‘s old fishing sheds, in the west part of Reykjavik also holds a particular charm. The aforementioned Elllidaardalur valley is also a popular resort.
Another place that offers one of the city‘s best (and free) views is Perlan, up in Oskjuhlid hill. The hill itself is a popular resort, with over 176.000 trees and great opportunities for walking and cycling.
Travel to Alftanes to see the president‘s house at Bessastadir, which is also a historical site in it‘s own right, having been the educational center of Iceland for centuries. Nearby is a beautiful lava field, Galgahraun, well worth a visit, though there is currently an environmental struggle going on as to it‘s future state.
The city is furthermore a short drive from many of Iceland‘s major attractions, most famously the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. In close vicinity you‘ll also find the Heidmork preservation area, a favorite passtime resort of the people of Reykjavik, as well as the Blue Mountains, one of Iceland‘s most beloved skiing venues.
Check our Best of Reykjavik guide further for tips on the best cheap things to do in Reykjavik, some of the best restaurants in the city, happy hours, the top ten value places to eat and our two articles on the famous Reykjavik nightlife; Nightlife in Reykjavik and Nightlife and mating.
Finally, we‘d like to stress that these are only some suggestions of the many things you might check out in Reykjavik. Whatever you choose to do, we hope you‘ll be able to make the most of your visit and we wish you a pleasant stay in our capital.
The Reykjanes peninsula in Southwest Iceland is an area of much lava, volcanoes and strong geothermal activity. This is were the continents meet and here you may enjoy rich birdlife along with some of the most powerful breaker waves you are likely to encounter.
Reykjanes is a peninsula in Southwest Iceland. The whole peminsula is covered with lavas and active volcanoes and is strong in geothermal activity. Earthquakes are very common. The peninsula is the continuation of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Indeed, at the southern tip of Reykjanes, at Sandvik, there is a bridge where one can literally walk between the continents.
Volcanic activity stretches out to the ocean. A new island was formed in 1783 but was broken by waves. In the middle ages there were many eruptions in the area, but no eruptions have been recorded on the mainland for the last 500 years.
Closely related to the volcanic activity is geothermal activity. The main geothermal areas of Reykjanes are Krysuvik, Gunnuhver and Svartsengi.
Svartsengi has a power station with an energy of 76.5 MW with about 475 litres per second of water, at a heat level of 90 degrees Celsius. Its mineral-rich surplus water fills up the Blue Lagoon spa.
Various mud pools and fumaroles can be seen at Gunnuhver and it is also said to be haunted.
At Krysuvik you may further see all kinds of solfatarae, fumaroes, hot springs and mud pots, with the soil giving off mulitcoloured hues. The green crater lake Graenavatn is also an impressive sight.
Reykjanes has rich birdlife in all cliffs and its best known birdcliff is also located in Krysuvik, Krysuvikurbjarg, a nesting place of around 77 thousand seabirds. Slightly further north is Kleifarvatn, the largest lake on the peninsula and one of the deepest lakes in the country.
Reykjanes further has some of the most breathtaking breaker waves in the country, indeed in the world. We recommend visiting Selvogur a short drive from Krysuvik. The charming little church there, Strandakirkja, has been central in Icelandic seamen’s prayers for centuries and the area of Selvogur offers some of greatest waves. The southwest tip of the peninsula, Reykjanesta, is another prime example. The waves may reach as high as 20-30 meters.
There is much fishing fishing around the peninsula, the fishing villages being mainly located on the north side, i.e. Keflavik, Sandgerdi, Gardur and Vogar. Grindavik, however, is located in the far south of the peninsula.
Near Keflavik, slightly east, is the Midnesheidi heath, where the international airport, Leifsstod (often colloquially none as Keflavikurflugvollur or ‘Keflavik Airport’). The US army formerly has a base there, as established by a highly controversial treaty with the Icelandic government in 1951, and the base came to be a kind of village in its own right. The army left in 2006 and abandoned the base.
Towards the south of the peninsula, the geothermal spa Blaa Lonid is operated. Its recreational waters are world renowned and said to help people with skin diseases. An ideal place for a relaxing bath.
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