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Reykjavík ( ) is the capital and largest city of Icelandmarker. Its latitude at 64°08' N makes it the world's most northernmarker capital of a sovereign state. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of Faxaflóimarker 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. 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.

Today, Reykjavík is the centre of the Greater Reykjavík Area which, with a population of 202,000, is the only metropolitan area in Iceland. As a highly modernized capital of one of the most developed countries in the world, its inhabitants enjoy a first-class welfare system and city infrastructure. Its location, only slightly south of the Arctic Circle, receives only four hours of daylight on the shortest day in the depth of winter; during the summer the nights are almost as bright as the days. It has continued to see population growth in past years as well as growth in areas of commerce and industry.

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


Reykjavík is located in southwest Icelandmarker. 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 Álftanesmarker. 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 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 Elliðaámarker River, which is non-navigable. It is one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the country. Mt. Esjamarker, at 914 m, 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 neighbourhoods are also widely spaced from each other; in between them run the main traffic arteries and a lot of empty space.


Despite its extreme north Atlantic location, Reykjavík is much warmer than most locations at a similar latitude. The average mid-winter temperatures are not significantly lower than those in New York Citymarker. Temperatures very rarely drop below -10°C (14°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, 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 temperature fluctuating between 10–15°C, sometimes exceeding 20°C (68°F). Reykjavík is not a particularly wet city, but it nevertheless averages 213 days with measurable precipitation every year. Droughts are not common although they occur in some summers. In the summer of 2007 not a single drop of 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 in the 1860s

The first permanent settlement in Iceland by Nordic people is believed to have been established in Reykjavík by the Norseman Ingólfur Arnarson around AD 870; this is described in Landnámabók, or the Book of Settlement. Ingólfur Arnarson is said to have decided the location of his settlement using a traditional Viking method; by dumping his high seat pillars, Öndvegissúlur, in the ocean when he saw the coastline and then settled where the pillars came to shore. Steam from hot springs in the region is supposed to have inspired Reykjavík's name, as Reykjavík loosely translates to "Bay of Smokes".Reykjavík is not mentioned in any medieval sources except as a regular farm land but the 18th century saw the beginning of urban concentration there. The Danish rulersmarker of Iceland backed the idea of domestic industry in Iceland that would help to stimulate much-needed progress on the island. In 1752, the King of Denmark donated the estate of Reykjavík to the Innréttingar Corporation; the name comes from Danish "indretninger", meaning enterprise. The leader of this movement was Skúli Magnússon. In the 1750s several houses were constructed to house the wool industry that was to be Reykjavík's most important employer for a few decades and the original reason for its existence. Other crafts were also practised by the Innréttingar, such as fisheries, sulphur mining, agriculture, and shipbuilding.

The Danish Crown abolished monopoly trading in 1786 and granted six communities around the country an exclusive trading charter, Reykjavík was one of them and the only one to hold on to the charter permanently. 1786 is regarded as the date of the city's founding; its 200th anniversary was celebrated in 1986. Trading rights were still limited to the subjects of the Danish Crown however, and Danish traders continued to dominate trade in Iceland. Over the following decades, their business in Iceland expanded. After 1880, free trade was expanded to all nationalities and the influence of Icelandic merchants started to grow.

Rise of Nationalism

Nationalist sentiment gained influence in the 19th century and ideas of Icelandic independence became widespread. Reykjavík, as Iceland's only city, was the melting pot of such ideas. Advocates of an independent Iceland realized that a strong Reykjavík was fundamental to that objective. All the important years in the history of the independence struggle are important for Reykjavík as well. In 1845, Alþingi, or the general assembly that Icelanders formed in 930, was re-established in Reykjavík; it had been suspended a few decades earlier when it was located at Thingvellirmarker. At the time it only functioned as an advisory assembly with the function of advising the King about Icelandic affairs. The location of Alþingi in Reykjavík effectively established the city as the capital of Iceland. In 1874 Iceland was given a constitution and with it, Alþingi gained some limited legislative powers and in essence became the institution that it is today. The next step was to move most of the executive power to Iceland and that was done by Home Rule in 1904 when the office of minister for Iceland was established in Reykjavík. The biggest step towards an independent Iceland was taken December 1, 1918 when Iceland became a sovereign country under the Crown of Denmark, the Kingdom of Iceland.

In the 1920s and 1930s most of the growing Icelandic fishing trawler fleet sailed from Reykjavík and salt-cod production was the main industry but the Great Depression hit Reykjavík hard with unemployment and labour union struggles that sometimes became violent.

World War 2

In the morning of May 10, 1940, following the German occupation of Denmark on April 9, four warships approached Reykjavík and anchored in the harbour. Many citizens were relieved to find that they were Britishmarker rather than German. In a few hours, the allied occupation of Reykjavík was complete. There was no armed resistance and taxi and truck drivers even assisted the invasion force which had no motor vehicles initially. The Icelandic government had received many requests from the British government to consent to the occupation, but they always declined on the basis of the Neutrality Policy. For the remaining years of World War II, British and later Americanmarker soldiers built bases in Reykjavík; the number of foreign soldiers in Reykjavík became about the same as the local population of the city.

The economic effects of the occupation were quite positive for Reykjavík: the unemployment of the depression years vanished and a lot of construction work was done. The British built Reykjavík Airport, which is still in service today, mostly serving domestic flights; the Americans built Keflavíkmarker Airport that later became Iceland's primary international airport, situated 50 km from Reykjavík. In 1944 the Republic of Iceland was founded and a president elected in popular elections replaced the King; the office of the president was placed in Reykjavík.

Post-war development

In the post-war years, the growth of Reykjavík accelerated. A mass exodus from the rural countryside began, largely due to improved technology in agriculture that reduced the need for manpower, and because of the population boom resulting from better living conditions in the country. Young people in the prime of their lives were the largest group to move to the capital to live the "Reykjavík Dream", and the city became a city of children. A once primitive village was rapidly transformed into a modern city. Private cars became common and modern apartment complexes rose in the expanding suburbs. Much of Reykjavík lost its village feel. In 1972, Reykjavík hosted the world chess championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.

Reykjavík has in the last two decades become a significant player in the global community. The 1986 Reykjavík Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev underlined Reykjavík's new-found international status. Deregulation in the financial sector and the computer revolution of the 1990s have transformed Reykjavík yet again. The financial sector and information technology are now significant employers in the city. The city has fostered some world famous talents in recent years, such as Björk and bands Múm and Sigur Rós.

City Administration

Reykjavík City Hall
The City Council governs the city of Reykjavík according to law number 45/1998 and is directly elected by those aged over 18 domiciled in the city. The council has 15 members who are elected for 4 year terms.The council selects members of boards, and each board controls a different field under the city council's authority. The most important board is the City Board that wields the executive rights along with the City Mayor. The City Mayor is the senior public official and also the director of city operations. Other public officials control city institutions under the mayor's authority.Thus the administration consists of two different parts:
  • The political power of City Council cascading down to other boards
  • Public officials under the authority of the city mayor who administer and manage implementation of policy

Political control

The Independence Party had overall control of the city council from the party's establishment in 1929 until 1978, when they narrowly lost their overall majority. From 1978 to 1982 the People's Alliance, the Social Democratic Party and the Progressive Party formed the majority of the council.

The Independence Party regained overall control in the 1982 elections, and held it until 1994. At that election its opponents had formed an alliance, called Reykjavíkurlistinn, or the R-list. That alliance had overall control until 2006. In the May 2006 elections the electorate could choose between five different parties, three of which had formed the R-list. The Independence Party obtained 7 members of the council, and thus failed to gain overall control, but together with the Progressive Party, and its one council member, they were able to form a new majority in the council which took over in June 2006. In October 2007 a new majority was formed on the council, consisting of members of the Progressive Party (1), the Social Democratic Alliance (4), the Left-Greens (2) and the F-list (1) (liberals and independents), after controversy regarding REI, a subsidiary of OR, the city's energy company. However three months later the leader of the F-list formed a new majority together with the Independence Party. Ólafur F. Magnússon, the leader of the F-list, was elected mayor on 24 January 2008, and in March 2009 the Independence Party was due to appoint a new mayor. This changed once again on 14 August 2008 when the fourth majority of the season was formed, when the Independence Party and the Progressive party took over again, with Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir becoming mayor.

The Mayor

The mayor is appointed by the city council; usually one of the council members is chosen but they may also appoint a mayor who is not a member of the council.

The office of mayor was introduced from 1907, and in 1908 applications for that position were requested. Two applications were received, from Páll Einarsson, sheriff and town mayor of Hafnarfjörðurmarker and from Knud Zimsem, town councillor in Reykjavík. Páll was appointed on 7 May and was mayor for six years. At that time the city mayor received a salary of 4500IKR per year and 1500IKR for office expenses.

Timeline of mayors

Mayor From To
Páll Einarsson 1908 1914
Knud Zimsen 1914 1932
Jón Þorláksson 1932 1935
Pétur Halldórsson 1935 1940
Bjarni Benediktsson 8 October 1940 4 February 1947
Gunnar Thoroddsen 4 February 1947 6 October 1960
Auður Auðuns and
Geir Hallgrímsson
19 November 1959 6 October 1960
Geir Hallgrímsson 6 October 1960 1 December 1972
Birgir Ísleifur Gunnarsson 1 December 1972 15 August 1978
Egill Skúli Ingibergsson 15 August 1978 27 May 1982
Davíð Oddsson 27 May 1982 16 July 1991
Markús Örn Antonsson 16 July 1991 17 March 1994
Árni Sigfússon 17 March 1994 13 June 1994
Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir 13 June 1994 1 February 2003
Þórólfur Árnason 1 February 2003 30 November 2004
Steinunn Valdís Óskarsdóttir 30 November 13 June 2006
Vilhjálmur Þ. Vilhjálmsson 13 June 2006 16 October 2007
Dagur B. Eggertsson 16 October 2007 24 January 2008
Ólafur F. Magnússon 24 January 2008 21 August 2008
Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir 21 August 2008 Incumbent


The population of Reykjavík in July 2008 was 119,900, the combined population of the Greater Reykjavík Area being about 200,969. Six of the municipalities of Iceland are in the capital city area, those are as listed below:
Historical population of Reykjavík.
Year City Metro
1801 600 -
1860 1,450 -
1901 6,321 8,221
1910 11,449 14,534
1920 17,450 21,347
1930 28,052 33,867
1940 38,308 43,483
1950 55,980 64,813
1960 72,407 88,315
1970 81,693 106,152
1980 83,766 121,698
1985 89,868 --
1990 97,569 145,980
1995 104,258 --
2000 110,852 175,000
2005 114,800 187,105
2006 115,420 191,612
2007 117,721 196,161
2008 119,848 201,585


Borgartúnmarker is the financial centre of Reykjavík, hosting a large number of companies and three investment banks.

Major companies


Reykjavík Airport.


Per capita car ownership in Iceland is among the highest in the world at roughly 522 vehicles per 1,000 residents, though Reykjavík is not severely affected by congestion. Wide multi-lane highways run all over the city connecting the different neighbourhoods and suburbs. Parking spaces are also plentiful in most areas. Public transportation consists only of a bus system (called Strætó bs) and is not very popular in this car-friendly city. Route 1 (the Ring Road) runs by the city outskirts and connects it to the rest of Iceland.

Airports and seaports

Reykjavík Airportmarker, the second largest airport in the country (after Keflavík International Airportmarker), is positioned inside the city, just south of the city centre. It is mainly used for domestic flights as well as flights to Greenlandmarker and the Faroe Islandsmarker. It was built there by the Britishmarker occupation force during World War II , when it was on the outskirts of the then much smaller Reykjavík. In recent years there has been some controversy regarding the location of the airport, since it takes up a lot of valuable space in central Reykjavík.

Reykjavík has two seaports, the old harbour near the city centre which is mainly used by fishermen and Cruise ships and Sundahöfn in the east city which is the largest cargo port in the country.


There are no public railways in Iceland, due to its terrain, but the locomotives used to build the docks are on display.



Abundant water and volcanic activity in Icelandmarker have provided Reykjavík with a unique opportunity. Most houses in Reykjavík use the geothermal heating system. It is the largest system of this kind in the world.

Cultural heritage

The "Culture House" was opened in 1909 and has a number of important exhibits. Originally the National Museum and Natural History Museum, in 2000 it was re-modelled to promote the Icelandic national heritage. Many of Iceland's national treasures are on display, such as the Poetic Edda, and the Sagas, in their original manuscripts. There are also changing exhibitions on various topics.



Reykjavík is often dubbed "the nightlife capital of the north". It is famous for its nightlife during the weekends. Icelanders tend to go out late so bar that look rather quiet can fill up suddenly—usually after midnight on a weekend.

One of the main causes for this is that alcohol is relatively expensive at bars. People tend to drink at home before going out. Beer was banned in Iceland until 1 March 1989, but has since become popular among many Icelanders as their alcoholic drink of choice. Beer, however, is expensive: half a litre of beer in an Icelandic bar can cost between 600 and 850 krónur (approx. US$5–7, €3–5, or £3–4 ). Consequently, revelers will often leave home late and are already inebriated when they arrive at the bars in the city centre.

There are over 100 different bars and clubs in Reykjavík; most of them are located on Laugavegurmarker and its side streets. It is very common for an establishment that is a café before dinner to turn into a bar in the evening. Closing time is usually around 6 am at weekends and 1 am during the week.

New Year's Eve

The arrival of the new year is a particular cause for celebration to the people of Reykjavík. Icelandic law states that anyone may purchase and use fireworks during a certain period around New Year's Eve. Most places that sell fireworks in Iceland make their own rules about age of buyers; usually it is around 16. The people of Reykjavík spend enormous sums of money on fireworks, most of which are fired as midnight approaches on December 31. As a result, every New Year's Eve the city is lit up with fireworks displays.

Main sights


Secondary schools


Sports teams

In 1976 the winter friendship games were hosted in Reykjavík. These are in substitution of the Winter Olympics which were also hosted that year.

International relations

Twin towns — Sister cities

See also



External links

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