Reykjavik & Reykjanes
The northernmost capital of Europe is also its westernmost and its name, Reykjavik, translates as “Smokey Bay.” The city is situated in a geothermally active area and the first settler of Iceland, Ingólfur Arnarson, gave this name to the bay, as he saw steam rising near a cove upon his arrival. Today, this is the most densely populated part of Iceland, a home to over 200,000 individuals, nearly two-thirds of the total population. It should be taken into account, though, that only about one-fifth of the whole island is considered habitable. The rest is covered by lava fields, icecaps and desert plateau. Reykjavik is surrounded by mountains while the city itself is fairly flat and not far above sea level. It spreads over an irregular peninsula, projecting westwards into the Faxaflói Bay and is surrounded by water on the west, north and south sides. Unsurprisingly, Reykjavik is the trade center of the island, with more businesses and less unemployment than anywhere else in the country.
This part of the country plays a central role in many of the Sagas. However, Reykjavik remained a tiny village from the time of settlement until the mid-18th century, with only around 5,000 inhabitants in the year 1900. In spite of its rapid growth since then, it is still small, compared to most European nations, yet this small but modern capital has earned its place as a vital part of the Iceland experience, next to the midnight sun and the otherworldly landscapes. The city is vibrant in cultural life and just a short distance to incredible nature making it an ideal place to visit. There is also a larger variety of recreational activities in the capital area than in any other part of the country. One of the country’s best salmon rivers, Elliðaár, runs right through Reykjavik and is yet unpolluted and clear. It offers anglers a rare opportunity to land a salmon not far from a busy motorway. Other recreational options include midnight golfing, horse trekking and whale watching.
In the year 2000, Reykjavik held the title of European City of Culture, an acknowledgement of the vigorous cultural life, including its various festivals and a remarkable selection of artistic events. At the same time, the capital has been called the hottest one in Europe because of its dynamic nightlife. The adjoining towns also offer attractions, such as the unique and very popular elf-spotting tours, an annual Viking feast, guided tours to historical places of interest and the largest shopping mall in Iceland.
Reykjanes Peninsula (56 km from Reykjavík)
Reykjanes means the “Smokey” or “Steamy Peninsula” and is the south-westernmost corner of the country. It bears the signs of a volcanically active area with its prominent old shield volcanoes and rows of craters. In 1778, Iceland's first lighthouse was built on top of a hill in the area and rebuilt in the years 1907 – 1908. It is well worth a visit to see its magnificent view from the top. Just offshore, a 52 m high rock pillar called Karlinn (often translated as “The Old Man”) protrudes from the sea. About 16 km offshore, the 77 m high rocky basalt island of Eldey (“The Fire Island”) is home to the largest colony of gannets in the world. In the past, at least three other islands were also created in submarine eruptions but vanished shortly after the eruptions ended due to constant sea erosion. Reykjanes is the geological meeting point of two continents, a crossing between the old and the new world.