Reykjavik is by far the largest municipality in Iceland and as well the capital city of the country. The capital area has about a total of 60% of Iceland’s population, which is about 320.000 people.
Ingolfur Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland according to Landnama, the Book of Settlement, built his farm on the peninsula where the city stands today. Arnarson is said to have decided the location of his settlement using a traditional Norse method. He cast his high seat pillars into the ocean when he saw the coastline, then settled where the pillars came to shore, though not many scholars would argue that this romantic story is fully credible. The town got its name “Smoky Bay” or Reykjavík, after the columns of steam that rose from the hot springs in the area and made such a deep impression on the first settlers.
Thanks to Royal Treasurer Skuli Magnusson, known as the Father of Reykjavik, established wool workshops as part of his effort to modernize the Icelandic economy. This led to the beginning of urban development at Reykjavik. The town received its town charter in 1786 and has grown steadily ever since.
The greater Reykjavik area
Reykjavik is by far the largest community in Iceland today and located in southwestern Iceland. The capital area, which counts five different municipalities, has about 60% of Iceland’s total population. The other municipalities are Kópavogur, Gardabaer, Mosfellsbaer, and Hafnarfjordur.
The city area coastline is characterized by peninsulas, coves, straits, and many small islands, e.g. Videy Island. It offers a good natural harbor and therefor fishing has always been a huge part of the city. Across the bay, Mount Esja (914 m) rises, the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavik.
The northernmost capital in the world
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world. It is, despite the fact that it is by far not as large as many other capitals, thrumming with life. It has a very interesting art scene, as the many famous Icelandic bands and artists can testify. There are many superb museums and attractions to visit. The city is colorful and the people welcoming.
How many people live in Reykjavik?
Approximately 100.000 people live in Reykjavik proper, but in the greater Reykjavik area over 60% of Iceland’s population live.
Things to do in Reykjavik
- Whale Watching From Reykjavík
- Art Galleries
- Restaurants & Bars
- Soak in local swimming pools
The capital of Iceland is a growing city and very much alive. Whether you visit in summer or winter, there will be so much to do. There are many day tours and activities to choose from, e.g. whale watching, and the city also offers many different museums, art galleries and all kinds of shows and concerts.
You can choose from a multitude of restaurants and/or coffee-houses. Whether you’d like to try out Icelandic cuisine, a la carte restaurants, or are in the mood for fast food, you should have no trouble finding a restaurant that suits your needs. But please, don’t forget to stop by the small hot dog stand, called “Bæjarins bestu”, and try out our very special Icelandic hot dog. It’s a treat, we promise.
The newest food trend in Iceland happens to be food halls but they pop up bi-monthly! Our favorite ones downtown are Hlemmur Matholl and the Grandi Matholl in the hipster district Grandi.
There are also a few shopping malls if you’re in the mood for shopping, the largest ones being Kringlan and Smaralind. Kringlan is not far from the city center, while Smaralind is in Kopavogur. There you’ll find many popular brands and stores. However, if you are looking to stay in the downtown area the main high street is called Laugavegur and hosts many of the best shops, pubs, bars and restaurants.
If you’re traveling with your family, there are so many pools in the city, with geothermal water. Icelanders love to sit in hot tubs and pools, and often you can find lively debates and discussions in the tubs, especially before noon. We also recommend that you take the time to pay a visit to the Blue Lagoon, only a 40-minute bus ride from Reykjavik. Just make sure you book your tickets in advance.
Day Tours in Reykjavik
Of course, the city is the starting point for many travelers, whether they are going on a simple day tour or a multi-day road trip across Iceland. You can find many activities in Reykjavik, e.g. you could go whale watching and then enjoy a great night on the town.
You can also go on many great day tours in Reykjavik that will last a day and take you to the many great places that are near the city. You can go on a Golden Circle tour or visit the South Coast, The Glacial lagoon, The Blue Lagoon, or the Black Sand Beach. Many tourists actually stay in Reykjavik but embark on day tours like these to see the surrounding area.
The Reykjavik nightlife is great, especially during weekends and there are plenty of bars and clubs to visit. Every weekend there are concerts and shows, make sure you ask about what’s happening when you are in Iceland. Every year there are music festivals in Reykjavik, Secret Solstice Festival in late June and Iceland Airwaves in November, both offer great line-up with both local artists and international superstars.
This small city is also the starting point for many hunters of the elusive Northern Lights. Seeing the Northern Lights can be a bit difficult in a light-polluted area as Reykjavik is, but only a short drive away are heaths, where the only lights you see are the headlights of your car, which is ideal to see the Northern Lights. Make sure you check out our Northern Lights tours. We offer many tours with local expert guides and special Northern Lights hunters.
Being in Reykjavik for Christmas and New Year’s eve is extraordinary and unlike anything else.
- Hallgrimskirkja Church
- Statue of Leif Eiriksson
- Solfarid Sun Voyager Sculpture
- Harpa Concert Hall
- The Pearl or Perlan
- Whales of Iceland Museums
- Kolaportið Flea Market (Saturday-Sunday 11 am – 5 pm)
There are many attractions in Reykjavik and you should try and find the time to see the city. The city center offers many great sights and the city is unique in so many ways. You won’t find the towering skyscrapers of America or the age-old narrow streets, which time has seemingly forgotten and seemingly unchanged since Roman times, as in Europe. Reykjavik is somewhere in between and yet miles away. With its small quirky houses and both tiny and open spaces. It is colorful, modern, charming and old all a the same time. So, don’t forget to bring your camera along, you are bound to find many great photo opportunities.
We recommend a visit to the Hallgrimskirkja church, which can be found standing on a small hill downtown Reykjavik. A statue of Leif Eiriksson, the Icelandic Viking that found America, stands in front of the church. Hallgrimskirkja church is a popular tourist attraction, just don’t forget to enter the tower and go to the top. It will offer you a great view of Reykjavik.
Perlan, the building, also offers a great view of Reykjavik. Perlan stands in Oskjuhlid hill and was recently renovated. Now there’s an amazing show there, where you can walk through an artificial ice cave and learn about glaciers.
A walk along the shore, where the Sun Voyager and Harpa concert hall stand, is also more than worth it. The Sun Voyager is one of the most popular selfie spots in Iceland, as it offers a great view of mt. Esja and the many small islands in the bay.
Weather in Reykjavik
The chilliest thing about Iceland is its name! Despite its northerly location, Iceland is really more solar than polar, thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream which provides a temperate climate year-round. See more about the climate and seasons in Iceland.
The city experiences rather mild climates all year round. In the summertime, the heat is on average around 10°C, while in the wintertime it is around 0°C. It can get rainy and most days there is wind, so make sure you choose the right clothing, depending on the season.
Many visitors that come to Reykjavik or Iceland wish to see either the Northern Lights or visit the Blue Lagoon. You can take a bus from Reykjavik and enjoy the relaxing waters of the Blue Lagoon. We also offer tours where you can hunt for the elusive Northern Lights.
The accommodation options in Reykjavik are very diverse and everything from small hostels to high-quality luxury hotels. Many hotels are within a walking distance of the city center.
Please note, that a part of Reykjavik center is off-limits to buses and coaches. The traffic ban includes tourist buses or coaches of any size, vehicles with group licenses and specialized vehicles, e.g. super-jeeps. Instead, there are a dozen pick-up spots or bus stops all around the city center.