Reykjavik Travel Guide

Colourful, creative and charmingly offbeat, Reykjavik is the world's most northerly capital and one of its premier city break destinations. This Nordic wonderland has everything from calm open spaces to highbrow museums and a buzzing nightlife, so it's absolutely worth a visit.

The city traces its history to the late ninth century and the days of legendary Viking, Ingolfur Arnarson, who founded a settlement in southwest Iceland. He named it Reykjavik or 'Smoky Bay' after the steam rising from hot springs. Today, this source of heat and water allows Reykjavik to warm its heart without burning fuels, and the crisp, clean air is delightful.

Winters are long and bleak, though, and Reykjavik's northern latitude ensures the sun makes no more than a brief appearance every day. Despite this, the city is definitely a hot spot that's renowned for its colourful houses, striking architecture and wild nightlife, and culture lovers will find many fascinating museums. These include the Icelandic Punk Museum, which chronicles the rise of Iceland's punk music scene through artists such as Bjork and Sigur Ros, and the Saga Museum, which is often called the Viking Museum. Visitors can also bathe in steamy public geothermal swimming baths.

It's worth spending some time walking the downtown area, as its quite unique. There are eateries that serve up traditional fare such as boiled sheep's head and blood pudding, and independent boutiques sell items such as Icelandic wool clothing and volcanic rock pottery. Another must-see feature is the street-art scene. The often whimsical murals showcase aspects of Icelandic life, culture and nature.

Travellers who want a true sense of Icelandic culture should visit the Old Harbour area, which lies in the northern part of Reykjavik's historic centre. The district has a charming, traditional seafaring atmosphere that captures the authentic Iceland through vibrant-coloured, renovated fishing sheds that have been repurposed into stores, cafes and restaurants.

Reykjavik's setting on the southwest corner of Iceland is another drawcard. Panoramic views surround the majestic Mount Esja, which rises behind the bay, and vistas stretch as far as the crystalline Snaefellsjokull Glacier, which is almost 125 miles (200 km) away up the west coast. The city is well placed to be a springboard for southern Iceland, and many of the country's best-loved attractions are within easy reach.

For the most part, Reykjavik has a small-town atmosphere as its centre is easily explored on foot, and the quaint whitewashed wooden buildings and colourful houses are interspersed with plenty of open space. Even those who come to indulge mainly in the hedonistic nightlife will leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.