When it started to develop as a town in the 18th century, Reykjavík had already been inhabited for almost a thousand years. Legend has it that the first permanent settler in Iceland was a Norwegian named Ingólfur Arnarson. He is said to have thrown his seat pillars into the sea en route to Iceland, and decided to settle wherever the pillars were found. The pillars washed up in Reykjavík, and so that was where he set up his farm.

Although the story of Ingólfur Arnarson is not widely believed to be true by modern historians, it's clear that Reykjavík was one of the very first settlements in Iceland. Archaeological remains confirm that people were living there around the year 871, and for the first few centuries of Icelandic settlement Reykjavík was a large manor farm. Its fortunes steadily waned as other centres of power increased in importance. By the 18th century, the farm of Reykjavík was owned by the king of Denmark under whose domain Iceland fell at the time. In 1752, the estate was donated to a firm, Innréttingarnar, led by Icelandic politician Skúli Magnússon. Innréttingarnar were meant to become an important industrial exporter and a source of development in Iceland, and their main base was in what is now the heart of Reykjavík. Although the company didn't achieve all its high ideals, it did lay the foundations of Reykjavík as it is today. In 1786, Reykjavík got a trading charter and it soon started to grow in importance.

The year 1801 is when Reykjavík went from being the largest town in the country, to its capital. That year a new supreme court, Landsyfirréttur, was set up in the city after the abolition of Alþingi which no longer had any legislative functions. The same year the office of the Bishop of Iceland was founded in Reykjavík, merging the bishoprics of Hólar and Skálholt. In 1845, Alþingi was re-founded as an advisory council to the king on the affairs of Iceland, located in Reykjavík and in 1874 it regained legislative powers. As the sovereignty of the country grew, so too did Reykjavík, which by the beginning of the 20th century had been transformed from a small trading and fishing village to a fully fledged capital.

The Second World War was a boom era in Reykjavík. The city wasn't directly affected by the many horrors of the war, but the occupation of Iceland by first the UK and later the US provided increased employment opportunities and inflows of cash that enabled the rapid expansion and modernisation of the Icelandic fishing fleet. Reykjavík was a leader in this development and it grew very rapidly in the years following the war. New suburbs were built and the city started to reach across municipal limits, subsuming various surrounding communities. The city continued expanding until the financial collapse of 2008.

Due to the its young age, and in particular its rapid expansion in the late 20th century, Reykjavík is very different from the other Nordic capitals. It lacks their grand buildings and the picturesque old quarters. Instead it has come to resemble cities on Canada's east coast with their sprawling suburbs and big motorways, as was recommended by the urban planners of the post-World War 2 era. Nevertheless Reykjavík has a charm of its own, quite unique, shaped by the dualistic nature of this place which still doesn't seem to have made up its mind on whether it's a small town or a big city.

Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs °C 1.9 2.8 3.2 5.7 9.4 11.7 13.3 13.0 10.1 6.8 3.4 2.2
Nightly lows °C -3.0 -2.1 -2.0 0.4 3.6 6.7 8.3 7.9 5.0 2.2 -1.3 -2.8
Precipitation mm 75.6 71.8 81.8 51.3 43.8 50.0 51.8 61.8 66.5 85.6 72.5 78.7
Averages 1961-1990, data from the World Meteorological Organisation.Up to date weather information from the Icelandic Met Office: .

The weather in Reykjavík is notoriously unpredictable. One minute the sun may be shining on a nice summers day, the next it may change into a windy, rainy autumn. Temperatures in Reykjavík are quite bland: They don't go very high in the summer, nor do they go much below zero during winter. It follows that the differences between seasons are relatively small compared to what people experience on either side of the Atlantic.

January is the coldest month and usually has some snow, while there is frequently no snow on the ground during Christmas in December. Summer is without a doubt the favorite season of most Reykjavík inhabitants. Many of them seem to imagine their city is slightly warmer than it really is and it takes little to get them to start wearing shorts and t-shirts, or to go sunbathing in parks. Don't think too much about how silly it may seem, just join them in enjoying the season!

Wind is the main problem with the Reykjavík weather. The city is quite open to the seas, and the winds can be strong and chilling to the bone. Windy spots generally feel significantly colder than those with more shelter.


The Fish Can Sing Halldór Laxness, 1957. A story of a young boy growing up on a farm on the outskirts of Reykjavík in the early 20th century, during a period of rapid change in Iceland. Like many of the stories by Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, The Fish Can Sing Brekkukotsannáll, "The Annal of Brekkukot", in Icelandic is partly based on real people and places, although names have been changed.

101 Reykjavik Hallgrímur Helgason, 1996. The quintessential book about downtown Reykjavík, capturing its spirit in a way no other book has. The main character never leaves postcode 101 if he doesn't need to, and spends his time either in bars and clubs or at home doing nothing. He has since become seen by many who don't live in central Reykjavík themselves as the model for the "101-type".

Jar City Arnaldur Indriðason, 2000. A crime novel about the detective Erlendur, with the Reykjavík criminal police department. Portrays the grittier sides of the city, although perhaps slightly exaggerated for the sake of writing a good story. The book has also been translated as Tainted Blood, but the original Icelandic title Mýrin, "the swamp" refers to the Norðurmýri neighbourhood, by the city centre. Arnaldur has written 10 further books about the detective, most of them happening in or around Reykjavík.

Tourist information
Visit Reykjavik
Aðalstræti 2
+354 590 1550
8:30AM-7PM daily 1 June-15 Sept; 9AM-6PM M-F, 9AM-4PM Sa, 9AM-2PM Su 16 Sept-31 May
by Ingólfstorg