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Last updated : Nov 2009
Reykjavik Travel Guide
Reykjavik Travel Guide and Reykjavik Travel Information - TravelPuppy.com
'Smokey Bay'

Reykjavik’s foundation is equally romantic and charming as its location, set on the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by a lunar volcanic netherworld, with the shadowy hulk of Mount Esja in the background. Legend has it that the world’s most northerly capital was founded by a Viking called Ingólfur Arnarson. According to Iceland’s ancient Sagas, he followed the Nordic tradition of allowing the gods decide the location of his new home. As he sailed towards the land, he threw 2 wooden pillars overboard and sent his slaves off to find out where they came ashore. After traversing the fertile south of Iceland, they expressed their frustration on finding the pillars in the north: ‘For no good did we cross fine districts in order to settle on this remote cape’. Arnarson named Reykjavik ‘Smokey Bay’ after the steam rising from the hot springs.

Today, these numerous geothermal springs, running beneath the city, supply almost all the heating and water in the city. The only by product of this system is a faint odour of hydrogen sulphide, particularly evident when showering. But the low level of fuel emissions gives Reykjavik clean air and crystal clear skies, when it is not raining. The lack of pollution is also due to the moderately small size of the capital. The city consisted of only a few farmhouses until the middle of the 18th century when a small trading community began to grow. It was granted a community charter and gradually developed as an urban centre.

By the end of World War II, Iceland gained full independence from Denmark and Reykjavik became Iceland’s capital city. Although it still feels like a provincial town, with its low buildings and brightly painted houses, Greater Reykjavik (including the Old Town, harbour and 6 surrounding municipalities) is home to 3 out of 5 Icelanders and the diminutive city dominates Iceland socially, politically, economically and culturally.

Since Reagan and Gorbachev played out the end game of the Cold War in Reykjavik in 1986, the city has surfaced as an unlikely tourist destination. Countless travel articles are published focusing on its immoral nightlife and 1000's of tourists a year fly to the city to seek out the legendary bars and clubs. Considering that beer prohibition only ended in 1989, this is predominantly impressive but the locals seem to have made up for lost time and the scene in the city centre at weekends is 1 of hedonistic mayhem. The city’s nightlife is perhaps fuelled by the fact that most Icelanders let go of their weekday Nordic calm and instead reveal the fiery Celtic side of the their heritage (the Vikings kidnapped many Scots and Irish on their way over), especially obvious in their friendliness and openness to foreign visitors.

During the day, Reykjavik is a far more sedate place with trim houses, rubbish free streets and a relaxed pace of life. There are bountiful cultural attractions, countless cafés, 6 geothermal swimming baths and a myriad of day trip opportunities into the stunning hinterland. 1 of the most charming things about Reykjavik is that everything visitors would want to see is handily situated within walking distance. Cultural festivals are also currently multiplying and maturing, as Iceland begins to determine its cultural identity.

Situated in Iceland's southwest corner, on Faxaflói Bay, Reykjavik has a very wet climate and with winds and rain blowing in from the sea. However, the Gulf Air Stream prevents the city from becoming as cold as its northerly location might suggest. Still, winters are long and bleak, with just 4 hours of daylight on some days, although the chance to view the spectacular Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights makes up for this. Summer, by contrast, brings the famed midnight sun with the city’s inhabitants at their most colourful and the streets taking on a much lighter atmosphere at night.
Useful travel links
Reykjavik The Tourist website to Reykjavik