Rekjavik is the world’s most northerly capital city, lying on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula in south-west Iceland. The setting, if not spectacular, is certainly extremely picturesque with the silver-blue waters of Faxafloi bay and the slopes of MountEsja as a backdrop.
Reykjavik is by a long way the largest city in Iceland but with only 115,000 inhabitants it has a very charming small town feel. In the summer months many of the locals head out into the “wilderness” to escape the pressures of the city and tourists take their place. Reykjavik certainly makes a very good base from which to explore some of Iceland’s incredible geology and geography but the city itself is well worth a day or two of the visitor’s time too.
The city was founded in 874 by Norwegian Ingolfur Arnason. He named the area Reykjavik (which means smoky bay) after the plumes of steam that floated up out of the ground. For the next 800 years Reykjavik was no more than a family farm on the bay. The first paved street only appeared in 1752. The King of Denmark granted the domain of Reykjavik to Skuli Magnusson, a trustworthy capitalist. Skuli put up some of the very first buildings in Reykjavik. Several of these early buildings remain today and Skuli Magnusson is revered as the “Father of Reykjavik”.
The city has a large and diverse music scene which is well worth sampling. Shopping is upmarket and generally expensive but a walk along Laugavegur with a visit to one or two fashion boutiques selling the work of local designers is a must. Places of interest in the city itself are the city’s central park area “Austurvollur”, the parliament house, the Hofdi House and the Hallgrimkirkja, the church which is Iceland’s tallest building and which defines the Reykjavik skyline.
Eating out is never cheap but there is a wide choice of cuisine and good value for money can be found. Fish and lamb are local specialities.
If you have time to venture outside the city, take the Golden Circle Tour which includes visits to the impressive waterfall Gulfoss, the incredible geysers Strokkur and Geysir and Thingvellir, sight of the first Icelandic parliament and the area where continental drift is evident in a spectacular way.
Reykjavik lies just south of the Arctic Circle and in June the hours of daylight are very long and the light has a magical clarity which has to be experienced to be understood