10 Amazing Facts about Reykjavik (Island)

Iceland’s capital Reykjavik is home to just 233,000 people, just over half of which live in the city proper. Despite being a small city on the world scale, Reykjavik punches way above its weight due to its capital city status.

With almost two-thirds of Iceland’ residents living in the capital region, Reykjavik is one of the biggest small cities in the world. There’s plenty of things to do in Reykjavik all year round, from diving into the Viking Age history of the island to enjoying one of the many geothermal-heated pools.

To help with your trip planning, here are 10 fascinating facts about the Icelandic capital.

Reykjavik means ‘Smoky Bay’

Said to be inspired by the steam rising from hot springs, early settlers named the bay Reykjavik, which means Smoky Bay in Old Norse. The suffix -vik, meaning bay, is a common feature in place names throughout the Nordic region.

The city is a literary hotspot

In 2011, Reykjavik became the first non-native-English native city to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature. The reconigiton highlighted the “outstanding literary history” including the incredible importance off the Norse sagas but also the central role literature plays in the modern day.

It’s also a puffin hotspot

Reykjavik is the world’s only capital city with a major puffin breeding colony. More than half the world’s puffins nest in Iceland each year, so it’s perhaps no surprise that many make their way to the capital. West of the old harbour, the tiny Akurey island is home to more than 20,000 breeding pairs.

The tallest building in Reykjavik is a church

At the time of writing, the eye-catching 244 feet high Hallgrimskirkja is the tallest building in the city proper. Only an office building in the suburb Kopavogur is taller.

Since its completion in the 1980s, the distinctive hilltop church has become one of the most recognizable images of the city.

The Leif Erikson statue was a gift from the U.S.

Situated outside Hallgrimskirkja church, the well-known statue of Norse explorer Leif Erikson was gifted by the U.S. for the 1930 Althing Millennial Festival. The event commemorated the 1,000th anniversary of the first meeting of the Icelandic parliament.

Geothermal energy heats the city

It’s no secret that Iceland is one of the most volcanically active places on Earth. The country makes great use of all that energy just below the surface. Geothermal energy meets the needs of almost 90% of the nation’s hot water and heating requirements. It’s the same energy that creates the popular hot pools of the Blue Lagoon.

There are no intercity railroads in Iceland

Despite plans to build a high-speed rail line between the city and Keflavik Airport, a national railroad network has never been developed in Iceland due to the small population and complicated geology. However, there are two steam locomotives on display in Reykjavik. They ran on a small railroad used to help build the harbour breakwaters in the early 20th century.

There are almost no murders in Reykjavik

Despite the international popularity of Iceland’s Nordic noir crime writers, Iceland itself is very different from its fictional sibling. In 2019, Iceland’s minister of justice said there had been just 37 intentional homicides in the entire country in the previous 20 years.

It’s never been hotter than 80 degrees

While climate change is causing increasing temperatures in Iceland especially in the winter, Reykjavik remains one of the cloudiest and coolest capital cities in the world. In fact, the record temperature in Reykjavik is just 78.3 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in July 2008.

There are no McDonald’s restaurants in Reykavik

In fact, since the single restaurant’s closure in 2009, there is not a single McDonald’s anywhere in Iceland. Fast-food fans shouldn’t worry though. Visitors to Reykjavik can enjoy Taco Bell, KFC, Dominos and Pizza Hut alongside the local offerings.

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