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Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland and the northernmost capital of any sovereign state in the world.
Despite a small population (approximately 120,000, with just over 200,000 in the Greater Reykjavík area), it is a vibrant city that draws an ever-increasing number of visitors every year. It is the financial, cultural, and political center of Iceland, and has a reputation for being one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world.
The city of Reykjavík is located in southwest Iceland by Faxaflói Bay. Throughout the ages, the landscape has been shaped by glaciers, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions and the area is geothermal; after all, its name translates to ‘Smoky Bay’.
Much of the current city area was subglacial during the Ice Age, with the glacier reaching as far as the Álftanes 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 Reykjavík is set with peninsulas, coves, straits, and islands, most notably the island of Viðey, and seabirds and whales frequent the shores. The mountain ring as seen from the shore is particularly beautiful.
Mount Esjan is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavík and the most distinctive feature of the coastline. This majestic summit is also highly popular amongst hikers and climbers. Other notable mountains that can be seen from the seaside are Akrafjall and Skarðsheiði.
The largest river to run through the city is Elliðaá in Elliðaárdalur 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 harbors in town, the old harbor in the center and Sundahöfn in the east.
The domestic Reykjavík Airport is located at Vatnsmýrin, not far from the city center and close to the hill Öskjuhlíð and the restaurant, vantage point, and exhibition center Perlan. The international Keflavík Airport at Miðnesheiði heath then lies around 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the city.
Cars, jeeps, and bicycles can be readily rented in the city and many organized tours are also being offered. It is, however, quite easy to walk between the major sites.
What to See & Do in Reykjavik
Major events taking place in Reykjavík include Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavík Pride, RIFF (The Reykjavík International Film Festival), The Reykjavík Literature Festival, Culture Night, the Reykjavík Arts Festival, Food & Fun, the Reykjavík Fashion Festival, and the Sónar music festival.
Those eager to soak up the local culture should visit the city’s many museums, exhibitions, and galleries, and check out live music at the cafés, bars, and concert venues dotted around. You could look at the programs of what’s on at the Harpa music hall or the theatres, or else plan a few hours at the lighthouse at Grótta, the shopping street of Laugavegur, or the old harbor and the flea market.
You could even book a bird- and whale-watching tour or a visit to Viðey island. Ther possibilities are endless.
Make sure to visit the public square of Austurvöllur, one of the city’s most popular gathering places, where you’ll also find the national parliament, the Alþingi, as well as the state church, a statue of independence hero Jón Sigurðsson, cafés, bars, and restaurants.
Austurvöllur was central in the protests following the banking collapse of 2008, along with Lækjargata, home to the House of Government. You are also not likely to miss the great church of Hallgrímskirkja that towers over the city from the hill of Skólavörðuholt, from which you’ll get a great view of the city.
Try a walk by the city pond, Tjörnin, to greet the many birds that frequent the area and to visit the city hall, stationed by its banks. A beautiful park lies by the pond, 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 Vatnsmýrin wetland, a particularly pleasant place, but be mindful to not disturb the wildlife thereby keeping to the pathways.
For a nice swim on a warm day, we particularly recommend Nauthólsvík beach, which is heated with geothermal water. Those who love a dip should also visit the Laugardalur valley, home to one of the city’s best swimming pools, which sits a short walk away from Ásmundarsafn gallery, a beautiful botanical garden, and a domestic zoo.
A walk by the Ægissíða beach, with its old fishing sheds, in the western part of Reykjavík also holds a particular charm. From there, you can see all the way to the president’s house at Bessastaðir, which is also a historical site in its own right, having been the educational center of Iceland for centuries.
Another place that offers one of the city’s best views is Perlan, up on Öskjuhlíð hill. The hill itself is a popular place to spend a few hours, with over 176,000 trees and great opportunities for walking and cycling. Perlan also has an observation deck with great views, a café, and an exhibition center.
Furthermore, the city is 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 Heiðmörk preservation area, a favorite local site of the people of Reykjavík, as well as the Blue Mountains, one of Iceland’s best skiing venues.
Finally, we’d like to stress that these are only some suggestions of the many things you might check out in Reykjavík. 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.
What is Reykjavik?
Reykjavik is the capital and largest city of Iceland, located in southwestern Iceland on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
What are some popular attractions in Reykjavik?
There are many popular attractions in Reykjavik, including the Hallgrimskirkja church, the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, the Sun Voyager sculpture, the National Museum of Iceland, the Reykjavik City Museum, and the Perlan Museum. There are also many restaurants, bars, and shops in the city.
What is the weather like in Reykjavik?
The weather in Reykjavik can be unpredictable, but generally, it is cool and damp with temperatures ranging from 0°C to 15°C (32°F to 59°F). The city experiences long daylight hours in the summer and short daylight hours in the winter.
What is the best time to visit Reykjavik?
The best time to visit Reykjavik is from June to August when the weather is mild and the city experiences long daylight hours. However, this is also the peak tourist season, so prices may be higher and popular attractions may be more crowded. The winter months offer a chance to see the Northern Lights and take part in winter activities, but daylight hours are short and the weather can be very cold and snowy.
How can I get around Reykjavik?
Reykjavik is a small city, and many of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other. There are also buses and taxis available, as well as bicycle rentals. Some tourists choose to rent a car to explore the surrounding countryside, but it is important to note that Iceland drives on the right side of the road, and road conditions can be challenging, particularly in the winter.
What are some popular foods in Reykjavik?
Reykjavik has a thriving food scene with many restaurants offering traditional Icelandic dishes such as lamb, fish, and skyr (a type of yogurt). Other popular foods include hot dogs, which are a local favorite, and rye bread, which is often served with smoked salmon. Seafood is also a staple of the Icelandic diet and is widely available in Reykjavik's restaurants and markets.
What are some festivals and events in Reykjavik?
Reykjavik hosts several festivals and events throughout the year, including the Reykjavik International Film Festival, the Reykjavik Arts Festival, the Iceland Airwaves music festival, and the Reykjavik Pride parade. The city also celebrates several national holidays, including Independence Day (June 17th) and Icelandic National Day (June 24th).
What is the best area to stay in Reykjavik?
Downtown Reykjavik - the city center is the heart of Reykjavik and the best area to stay if you want to be within walking distance of restaurants, shops, bars, and cultural attractions. Go here to find the cheapest hotels in Reykjavik.
Things to do in Reykjavik
Visit the Hallgrimskirkja church - this unique, modern church is one of Reykjavik's most recognizable landmarks, and offers stunning views of the city from its tower.
Explore the city center - take a stroll through Reykjavik's colorful, lively city center, home to boutique shops, restaurants, cafes, and street art.
Relax in a geothermal swimming pool - Iceland is known for its hot springs and geothermal pools, and Reykjavik has several options to choose from, including the popular Blue Lagoon.
Learn about Iceland's history and culture at the National Museum of Iceland - this museum offers an in-depth look at Iceland's Viking history, medieval literature, and modern art and culture.
Visit Harpa concert hall - this modern, glass-walled concert hall is a stunning piece of architecture and often hosts concerts, theater performances, and other cultural events.
Take a whale-watching tour - Iceland's coastal waters are home to a variety of marine life, including humpback whales, orcas, and dolphins. Several tour companies offer whale-watching trips departing from Reykjavik's harbor.
See the Northern Lights - if you're visiting Reykjavik in the winter, you may be able to see the aurora borealis, a natural light show caused by solar winds. Several tour companies offer Northern Lights tours departing from Reykjavik.
Take a day trip to the Golden Circle - this popular tourist route includes several natural wonders, including the Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir geothermal area, and Thingvellir National Park, all within a short drive from Reykjavik.
Enjoy Icelandic cuisine - sample local specialties like a lamb, fish, skyr (a type of yogurt), and rye bread at one of Reykjavik's many restaurants and cafes.
Do a road trip along the south coast - rent a car or take a guided tour to explore the stunning natural beauty of Iceland's rugged coastline, including black sand beaches, lava fields, and fjords.