Reykjavík has a way of defying expectations. Just below the Arctic Circle, it’s the world’s northernmost capital, but thanks to the Gulf Stream the climate is fairly moderate. Beyond that, there’s a warmth of spirit here that seems to sustain people through winter’s darkness until the long June days when the sun sets at midnight and rises again three hours later. Music, theater and visual arts are flourishing, and the nightlife is considered some of Europe’s most exciting. Capitalizing on Iceland’s abundant geothermal springs, Reykjavíkers and visitors alike adore a good soak -- especially in the luminous turquoise waters of the nearby Blue Lagoon, the country’s most popular attraction.
If you can imagine Iceland having a hot spot, Reykjavik is definitely it. The city of more than 100,000 people (in a nation of about 269,000) is Iceland's chief port, the center of its cod-fishing industry and its capital. Located in southwest Iceland, Reykjavik is the northernmost metropolis in the world.
Thrust into the public eye in 1986 as the site of disarmament talks between the United States and the former Soviet Union, Reykjavik has existed since the ninth century. The name in Icelandic means "Bay of Smokes" for the steam rising from thermal springs that now supply the city's heating system.
Reykjavik sits on the edge of Faxa Bay and is surrounded by mountains, so it provides easy access to skiing and fishing. The University of Iceland is located here, and its Arni Magnusson Institute contains manuscripts describing early settlement of the area. The city is also home to the Althing, Iceland's parliament, which is the oldest in Europe. Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1918 and became a republic in 1944.
Reykjavik, which boasts that it is "the cleanest city on earth," has more than 50 museums and galleries, as well as two theater companies and a symphony orchestra. The Reykjavik Botanic Garden contains about 3,500 species.