Reykjavik - The capital of Iceland

Short City Guide to the capital of Iceland

History of the city

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik
Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik

When the viking Ingólfur Arnason heard from a land in the west across the sea, he decided to leave the at that time less friendly Norway and settle on Iceland. He carried with him on the crossing the piers of his house from Norway, on which ends was graven the face of the germanic god Thor, as it was tradition at that time. Ingólfur threw the stand piers into the water offshore of Iceland, as it was tradition, to settle at the place where they would be washed onto land. During the first years Ingólfur settled on an offshore island in the south-east of Iceand. This island still today bears his name and is called Ingólfshöfði. However, a few years later Ingólfur’s slaves discovered the stand piers in a bay further west. Because of the springs steaming in the distance Ingólfur named the bay Reykjavik (means ‘Smoke Bay’). This was the beginning of the settlement of Iceland in the year 874 and Ingólfur Arnason is known as the first, permanent settler of this north Atlantic island.

In the following centuries Reykjavík was not assigned any greater importance for the history of the country. After the icelandic parliament “Althingi” was initially suspended in the year 1800 and was reinstalled and moved to Reykjavík in the course of the incipient independence movements of Iceland in 1843, the present capital gained importance. In the 19th and especially in the 20th century a rapid recovery turned it into a metropolis. Today the city counts 125,000 inhabitants. In Greater Reykjavík live more than 222,000, almost 64% of the icelandic population.

Sightseeing in Reykjavik

Perlan in Reykjavik

The symbol of the city is Hallgrímskirkja. The construction of the church began already in 1945. However, it could not be inaugurated until 1986. With its 1,200 seats it is the country’s biggest church. The bell tower is 240 feet high and offers a beautiful view across the city. Worth seeing as well are Dómkirkjan, the city’s lake Tjörnin and the new town house, which has on its ground floor a large, three dimensional map of Iceland.

Perlan is the name of a large glass dome, which is enthroned on four hot water containers (content: 5,279,262 gallons of 358F hot water). It is after the Hallgrimskirkja the city’s second symbol and offers visitors a conservatory with palm trees, a restaurant and a cafeteria. The dome turns 360 degrees within one hour. A viking museum was set up in one of the hot water containers some years ago.

But there are a lot of other museums in Reykjavik worth seeing. A visit to the national museum should not be missed out on a city tour. Additionally, a visit to the Volcano Show is also recommended. The volcano moviemaker Villi Knudsen shows in one of his movies eruptions of the Hekla, Krafla and Askja, as well as eruptions on the Westman Islands.

Further sights and other attractions you'll find in our photo gallery.

Stay overnight in Reykjavik

For most of the tourists arriving by aeroplane, Reykjavik is the starting point for their journey through Iceland. Therefore it is necessary to have a suitable accommodation for the first or last night in Iceland. In Reykjavik there are several hotels of all price classes as well as less expensive guest houses and youth hostels. Additionally you find some holiday houses in Greater Reykjavik. Please find below a short list of handsome hotels in Reykjavik. Of course you can get a a complete list of accomodations in Iceland’s capital and in the immediate vicinity from your travel agency or tour operator.

Further topics

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