Reykjavík: Iceland’s… City

Reykjavík is more than just Iceland’s biggest city. It’s Iceland’s only city. Really, even calling it a “city” feels like an affront to its spirit. Despite claiming two-thirds of the country’s total population, Reykjavík is closer to an overgrown village than a major European capital.

Reykjavík fashion belt

Found in the southwest corner of the island, Reykjavík became Iceland’s first permanent settlement in 874 when Viking chieftain Ingólfur Arnason landed on its shores. According to legend, he came upon the location using the conventional method of the Vikings: throwing the pillars of his high chair off the longboat and settling wherever they drifted ashore. After arriving at his new home and, probably with some trepidation, noticing the steam issuing from the ground, he named it “Smoky Bay”. Or Reykjavík.

Throughout most of its history, Reykjavík was a provincial village, dedicated to farming and fishing. It wasn’t until WWII and the arrival of British and American troops that the city truly entered the modern age. Eager to take advantage of the strategically-situated island, the Allies built airports, paved roads and helped Reykjavík expand. Soon, rural Icelanders began seeking out jobs in the only urban setting their country offered, and the capital’s population exploded.

Reykjavík red house

Despite the rapid development, downtown Reykjavík has maintained its small-town charm. Colorful, small houses are the dominant construction in the city center, with business centers and apartment blocks kept to the outskirts. At the city’s heart is the Tjörnin, a naturally-occurring pond on whose shores sits the City Hall (Ráðshúsið). The harbor, which has always played a pivotal role in the city’s fortunes, is just a couple blocks away. Really, everything in tiny Reykjavík is just a couple blocks away from everything else.

The downtown area can comfortably be covered in a single day. But to really become acquainted with the city takes far longer — a good thing, since we would be based here for 91 days! Given its size, Reykjavík offers a lot to do: museums, boat tours, hikes in the surrounding hills, excellent restaurants and cafes, cultural exhibitions, and a famous nightlife which ranks among the best in Europe. With its easy-going pace, the almost nonexistent traffic and appealing quirkiness of its inhabitants, Reykjavík is an instantly lovable city.

Location on our Iceland Map

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. MLM

    Looks absolutely beautiful and so charming! I can’t wait to visit one day myself. Love the pic of the baby Frenchie, too 😉 

  2. Michelle Rader

    Thank you for posting these beautiful photos!  Iceland is #1 on my bucket list.  It is so enjoyable to see the country that I will visit someday!

  3. Christa Hauksson

    Very beautiful pictures of our town, love them

  4. Edna

    Just discovered your Iceland category through your twitter link, thanks for putting it together – I’m planning an Iceland trip for New Year’s and am so excited!

    1. Juergen Horn

      New Years in Iceland is supposed to be crazy!!!! I have seen pictures and it just looks insane. You will have a blast!!!

  5. Joe Kulik

    In your e-book on Iceland, You mention that Reykavik is more like a small town, rather than a full fledged city. In these photos, you back up that statement quite well.  You really caught the “small town” atmosphere of this city in this photo set.  Reykavik looks rather charming, to be sure !!!

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