Reykjavik

Founded by the Vikings in the first century AD, Reykjavik means “smoky bay”, named for the natural geysers and geothermal springs which today provide much of the city’s heating. It stands on a peninsula beside Faxaflói Bay in the south-west corner of Iceland, looking out into the Atlantic Ocean. Rising behind the city is the imposing Mount Esja, which dominates the skyline.

Reykjavik is quickly becoming a popular year-round destination, and is an ideal place for a short-break holiday. No visa is required for British or US citizens; there are no major health risks, and very little crime.  The locals are friendly, and most of them speak English.

Reykjavik is a fascinating mixture of historic and contemporary architecture, characterized by whitewashed buildings and colorful houses.  In spite of being Iceland’s capital city, it has a homely, “small town” feel, and can be explored on foot.

There is a large, thriving artistic community, with dozens of galleries, theatres and museums, as well as stunning modern street art.  The National Museum celebrates national culture and folklore, with thousands of artefacts on display, including Viking relics.

Another major attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja, a 20th century church of unique design: modeled on basalt pillars created by volcanic eruptions. Its spire is the tallest building in Iceland.

The Botanical Gardens is well worth a visit, with displays of Icelandic indigenous plants, a children’s park and zoo. However, one of Reykjavik’s most unusual attractions is Perlan (“The Pearl”), which consists of six enormous silver tanks that store naturally-heated water, topped by a glass dome containing a revolving restaurant that offers world-class cuisine and stunning night-time views of the city.

Reykjavik’s modern city center co-exists with the Old Town district. Austurvollur, the Old Town square, is a thriving area which in summertime is ablaze with colorful floral displays, and is a favorite place to sit and enjoy the national drink – coffee. It is also the location of the city’s oldest church, Domkirkja, the Parliament building and the famous art deco Hotel Borg.
The Laugavegur district houses most of the city’s bars and clubs.  Reykjavik is famous for its nightlife, which in summer starts late and goes on until breakfast time.  It is also where the up-market stores are to be found. For those who cannot afford designer prices, however, there are two shopping malls in the city centre, and a flea market at Laugardalur, which is a great place to pick up souvenirs.

One cannot stay in Reykjavik without visiting the geysers, and bathing in the geothermal springs. Another “must” during summer months is a whale-watching trip; while autumn and winter visitors can experience the dazzling Northern Lights.

There are numerous excursions available.  Thingvellir, the site of Althingi - the oldest functioning parliament in the world - is the meeting point of the European and American tectonic plates. Also worth a visit is the glacial lagoon Jokulsarlon, which features in the films “Die Another Day” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”; and to the south of the city is the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa in a lava field, which supposedly has curative powers.