Reykjavík boasts all the trappings of a modern European city, as well as an interesting old town, whitewashed wooden buildings, and rows of brightly painted concrete houses. Nearly everything of interest is within walking distance of the old settlement.
Not only is Reykjavík ('Smoky Bay') the world's northernmost capital, it's also one of the newest, having established itself only in the late 19th century. Despite its name, it is now known as the 'smokeless city' thanks to its incessant winds and reliance on geothermal heat.
The barren lava fields that surround Iceland's solitary international airport are an eye-grabbing introduction to this near-Arctic island, belched out of the mouths of volcanoes (some still active), awash in midnight sun from May to August, glistening with glaciers, geysers, hot springs and waterfalls, and with a medieval saga or two to tell through vivid figures like Grettir the Strong and Auður the Deep-Minded.
Reykjavik stopped being seen as merely a way-station for trips into Iceland's remarkable hinterlands even before the Sugarcubes launched Björk and her catchy brand of unintelligible yodelling. Besides an interesting man-made history, the city also gets a high approval rating for its exuberance and disarming intimacy, and for the appeal of its decidedly European urbanity after the otherwordly wilds of the surrounding countryside.
Facts for the traveller
Off the beaten track