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10 reasons to love Reykjavík

  • Reykjavík is Iceland's capital. The photograph shows Reykjavík harbour with Harpa Concert Hall in the background. Photo/Stefán Karlsson

Two- thirds of Iceland’s population (327,000) live in the greater capital area in the southwest corner of the country. Reykjavík, the capital, was granted town status in 1786. This is where Iceland’s first settler erected his house in the year 870—the , with great natural harbour facilities and the abundance of hot springs probably influenced his choice. There are many other reasons to love the capital area. Here we name a few.


1) The picturesque background
If you look to the northeast, you can view the breathtaking Mt. Esja (914 m, 2,999 ft) that overlooks the city. If you look to the northwest, on a clear day you can see Snæfellsnes glacier (1,446 m, 4,744 ft.), with the beautiful downtown harbor in the foreground.

2) Because of the downtown cats
Maybe it’s not quite like the famous Japanese cat island Tashirojima, but downtown Reykjavík is packed with cats. These are no stray cats, but well-kept pets that are allowed to roam free around the neighborhood. The cats even have their own Facebook page (search for Cats of Reykjavík).

3) The food culture of the downtown strip
You won’t find any fast food chains corrupting Reykjavík’s main street, but rather a series of authentic Icelandic restaurants that each offers its own unique flavor.


RHallgrímskirkja. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

4) The architecture
Take a tour of the iconic Harpa concert hall, or swing by the church, Hallgrímskirkja, which was recently ranked one of the strangest buildings in the world. Mix these destinations in with the scenic building art, the corrugated iron-clad houses, and colorful rooftops that dot the city’s downtown area.

5) Because of the street art
Reykjavík’s street art appears on the side of buildings, in alleyways, and on billboards around the town and help bring the city to life. Sometimes they are done in graffiti form, while other times they simply use a paint brush.

6) The convenient layout
While most major cities are difficult to navigate, and offer costly transportation options, Reykjavík is easy to explore the old-fashioned way, with your legs. Walking around the city provides a relaxing atmosphere, and more important, it’s a very convenient way to enjoy this small city.


Bæjarins bestu hot dogs. Photo/Stefán Karlsson

7) Because of the world’s best hot dogs
Bæjarins bestu pylsur literally means “the town’s best hot dogs,” and it’s no exaggeration. They might even lay claim to the World Champion title. This small hot dog stand in downtown Reykjavík is a giant on the Icelandic fast food scene. The menu could not be simpler: a hot dog on a bun. President Bill Clinton is still fondly remembered for his choice on a visit to Reykjavík in 2004: one with mustard only. Expect a long line. It's worth the wait. On the corner of Pósthússtræti and Tryggvagata, Reykjavík

8) Language options tailored to tourists
Iceland could see as many as 1 million tourists this year, and the people of the city of Reykjavík realize that they need to accommodate their foreign guests properly. Most shops offer an English option on their menu or brochure, as well as the native tongue of Icelandic. Additionally, most Icelanders speak enough English to communicate with travelers who hope to explore the Reykjavík metropolitan area. 

9) The nightlife scene during summer
You can stay out as late as you want at one of Reykjavik‘s late-night hangout spots. Be sure to bring your sunglasses because you are sure to walk out of the bar while the sun is still up, after enjoying a fun night with your friends.


Unwinding in Vesturbæjarlaug. Photo/Daníel Rúnarsson

10) …and the swimming pools during the winter
The many public geothermal swimming pools of the capital area are one of the most appealing part of living in or visiting Reykjavík. They are, of course, great during the warmer months, but there is something fantastic about dipping into a hot outdoor pool in the middle of a crazy winter blizzard.

Read more: 18 more reasons to love Reykjavík!

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