Europe / Iceland

Reykjavík

Reykjavik is intimately connected to nature, and green areas are never more than a couple of steps away. There are plenty of possibilities when planning outdoor activities and excursions during your stay in the capital. Lovers of art and culture are in for real treat in Reykjavik.

Reykjavík is the capital and largest city in Iceland. Its latitude, at 64°08' N, makes it the world's northernmost capital of a sovereign state. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of Faxaflói Bay. With a population of around 120,000 (and over 200,000 in the Greater Reykjavík Area), it is the heart of Iceland's economic and governmental activity.

Reykjavík is believed to be the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland, which Ingólfur Arnarson is said to have established around 870 C.E. Until the 18th century, there was no urban development in the city location. The city was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national centre of commerce, population, and governmental activities.

Reykjavík is located in southwest Iceland. The Reykjavík area coastline is characterized by peninsulas, coves, straits, and islands.

During the Ice Age (up to 10,000 years ago) a large glacier covered parts of the city area, reaching as far out as Álftanes. Other parts of the city area were covered by sea water. In the warm periods and at the end of the Ice Age, some hills like Öskjuhlíð were islands. The former sea level is indicated by sediments (with clams) reaching (at Öskjuhlíð, for example) as far as 43 m (141.08 ft) above the current sea level. The hills of Öskjuhlíð and Skólavörðuholt appear to be the remains of former shield volcanoes which were active during the warm periods of the Ice Age.

After the Ice Age, the land rose as the heavy load of the glaciers fell away, and began to look as it does today.

But the capital city area continued to be shaped by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, like the one 4500 years ago in the mountain range Bláfjöll, when the lava coming down the Elliðaá valley reached the sea at the bay of Elliðavogur.

The largest river to run through Reykjavík is the Elliðaá River, which is non-navigable. It is one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the country. Mt. Esja, at 914 m (2,998.69 ft), is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavík.

The city of Reykjavík is mostly located on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, but the suburbs reach far out to the south and east. Reykjavík is a spread-out city; most of its urban area is in the form of low-density suburbs, and houses are usually widely spaced. The outer residential neighborhoods are also widely spaced from each other; in between them run the main traffic arteries and a lot of empty space.

Temperatures very rarely drop below -15 °C (5 °F) in the winter. This is because the Icelandic coastal weather in winter is moderated by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. The climate is subpolar oceanic (Koppen Cfc), and the city is on the northern edge of the temperate zone. The city's coastal location does make it prone to wind, however, and gales are common in winter. Summers are cool, with temperatures fluctuating between 10 to 15 °C (50 to 59 °F), sometimes exceeding 20 °C (68 °F). Reykjavík is not a particularly wet city, but it nevertheless averages 148 days with measurable precipitation every year. Droughts are uncommon although they occur in some summers. In the summer of 2007, no rain was measured for one month. Spring tends to be the sunniest season, May particularly. Annual sunshine hours in Reykjavík are around 1,300, which is comparable with other places in Northern and North-Eastern Europe. The highest ever recorded temperature in Reykjavík was 26.2 °C (79 °F), recorded on July 30, 2008, while the lowest ever recorded temperature was -24.5 °C (-12 °F), recorded on January 21, 1918. The temperature has not dropped to below -20 °C (-4 °F) since January 30, 1971.

Reykjavík was ranked first on Grist Magazine's "15 Greenest Cities" list in 2008.

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