Reykjavik is a destination with so many exciting possibilities. It has all the bustle of a capital city but with stunning countryside never far away. Although it is home to two-thirds of Iceland's population, it's still one of the smallest capital cities in the world. This makes it a welcoming and intimate destination that's also packed with fun and attractions to entice all ages. Reykjavik has been inhabited for over a thousand years but only became a town in the 18th-century, when it was given a trading charter. It became Iceland's capital in 1801 and has never looked back. Occupation by the UK and the USA during the Second World War brought wealth to the city, which in turn fuelled the success of its modern fishing fleet. Despite its lack of really old buildings and monuments, Reykjavik has a unique and welcoming attraction of its own.
Reykjavik is a compact city and easy to explore on foot. When you need a break from history and culture there are plenty of green spaces, parks and city lakes to enjoy, and whatever the season the constant warmth of its geothermal pools means having a dip is always a possibility. Visit in the Winter and you might be lucky enough to enjoy the spectacular Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, while long hours of daylight during the summer season means your daytime sightseeing blends seamlessly into the city's hip nightlife. The city's architecture is a pleasing blend of old wooden houses sitting next to ultra-modern eco-friendly buildings while culture-lovers will discover an eclectic mix of museums that range from archaeology and manuscripts to exhibitions about volcanoes and the Aurora Borealis.
The city likes to come out and celebrate with several annual events taking place every year such as National Day held every June and Gay Pride which takes place in early August. Music and international film festivals are also held every year attracting visitors not just from Iceland but from across the globe. Even the darkest days of Winter are brightened up with events such as the Dark Music Days and the Winter Lights Festival, so there's no need to wait until Summer before planning your visit to Reykjavik.
Things to do in Reykjavik
Whether you're a solo traveller enjoying a romantic break or on a family holiday, you'll never be short of things to do in this lively city. There are plenty of museums and beautiful churches to dip into and whale watching trips around the bay followed by evenings sampling some of the city's famous craft beers.
A lava-inspired church
Inspired by the shapes made by lava cooling on basalt rocks, the Hallgrímskirkja church was designed by Guðjón Samuel in 1937. The delicate free-flowing exterior of this church hides an impressively huge pipe organ. Look out for the statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front of the church; this famous Norse explorer is said to have reached North America in the 10th century.
The treasures of Iceland
Housed in an elegant modern building, the National Museum of Iceland features lavish exhibitions detailing the country's story from the days of the Vikings to contemporary culture. Leave plenty of time to browse its 2,000 artefacts and make sure you admire its most treasured possession: the Valthjófsstadur door. This medieval door depicts detailed engravings from the Le Chevalier au Lion knight's tale.
A nip of whisky on a cold Icelandic day
There's nothing like a nip of whisky to warm you up on a cold Icelandic day so pop into the Eimverk Distillery, the only one in the country. Here Floki, the national whisky, is made from Icelandic barley along with gin and the traditional herb-based Vit.
The craft of drinking beer
If your brewery tour has got you in the mood for some nightlife, then try out the Micro Bar. For historical reasons, beer was actually banned in Iceland until 1989, but now craft beer is booming both in its production and drinking. The Micro Bar is one of the hottest spots to sample this world of craft beers.
The unforgettable sight of whales in the bay
Reykjavik is a brilliant place for whale watching, an activity the whole family can enjoy. With whales frequently coming into the bay of Faxaflói on which Reykjavik sits you're almost guaranteed to catch sight of minke whales and possibly a humpback or two on a boat trip from the harbour at Ægisgarður.
Calendar of Events
Every month of the year features in the Reykjavik festival and events calendar, from international athletics and music in January right through to December's Advent Festival and the Christmas Village in the Hafnarfjörður district. The Summer months are particularly rich in events as locals make the most of the long days and the Midnight Sun.
Winter Lights Festival. Taking place in February, this is a big one in the calendar, celebrating both the twilight world of Winter and the gradual reappearance of daylight. The varied programme features a mix of art, history, music and industry.
The Children's Cultural Festival. Held in April, this is one of the largest festivals in Reykjavik, offering over 150 free events for children to enjoy. Great focus is placed on developing children as artists both in the visual arts and in musical and dance performance.
Reykjavik Midsummer Music. Held in the long days of June, this music event has become firmly established in not only Iceland's but the world's festival scene. It was created with the aim of bringing some of the world's best musicians together, letting them play under the midnight sun of the Arctic.
Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF). This grows in importance every year and is now firmly rooted in the October calendar. The RIFF is a major independent event designed to enrich local cinemas with the showing of ground-breaking international films as well as presenting Icelandic films and filmmakers to the wider world.