Reykjavik, Iceland’s Interesting Capital

Iceland has no army, navy or air force. It is a Nordic country surrounded by the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean. There are no railroads but the Ring Road circumnavigates the island. It is a unique destination with breathtaking landscapes and many surprises.

With a population of 325,000, it is the most sparsely populated country in Europe and has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Violent crimes are nearly non-existent and Icelandic policemen do not carry guns. What is equally surprising is most inmates get to go home for Christmas.

Reykjavik, the world’s most northern capital, has a population of 120,000 and another 50,000 live in the Greater Reykjavik Area. It is the heart of cultural, economic and governmental activity.

The Esja (Ess-ya) Mountain Range, north of the city, is very popular for walking and hiking. The city is spread out along a small peninsula with Reykjavik Domestic Airport and long distance bus terminal in the southern half. The International Airport is 48 kilometres away at Keflavik with buses and taxis available to bring passengers into the city.

Because the city is so compact, walking is the best way to see it. Lauygavegur is the main street with interesting stores and restaurants but what is really impressive is the cleanliness of the city. No one would think of discarding a candy wrapper, an empty coffee cup or empty bottle.


Skolavoroustigur Street leads up to the largest church in the country, the magnificent Hallgrimskirkja. It is one of the tallest buildings in Iceland. Construction began right after WWII but it wasn’t finished until 1986.

The church gets its name from Reverend Hallgrimur Petersson who wrote Iceland’s most popular hymnbook. It is a beautiful church, simple but elegant and the organ lends to its charm with 5,275 pipes. We were there on a Sunday evening, in time for an organ recital. It was amazing how one person at the keyboard could fill that huge church with melodious sound.


For a nominal fee, visitors can take the elevator to the 15
th floor, 75 metres above ground. Two flights of stairs lead to the top of the tower where openings on all four sides provide unforgettable views of the city.


Outside the church is a huge statue of Leif Erickson who discovered Vinland. It was given to the city by the USA to commemorate the 1000
th anniversary of the Althing (National Assembly). Iceland has the oldest democratic government in the world. The inscription reads:
Leifr Ericsson, son of Iceland, discoverer of Vinland
The United States of America on the 1000th
Anniversary of the Althing AD 1930


Sun Voyager:
to celebrate the 200 anniversary

In the center of Old Reykjavik there is a lake called Tjornin. In the summer it becomes the home of at least 40 species of birds. In the winter it becomes a skating rink. Walkers and joggers use the paths around the lake extensively.

City Hall is a post-modern construction built on concrete stilts with tinted windows and moss-covered walls, making it look like it is rising out of the lake.

Austurvollur was once part of the hayfields that belonged to the first settler- Ingolfur Arnarson. Today it is a favourite spot for picnics, lunches, open-air concerts and political demonstrations. Icelanders when they get really worked up about an issue may resort to throwing eggs.

The statue in the centre is Jon Siggurdson who led the campaign for Icelandic independence from Denmark. When the Nazis occupied Denmark, the people asked for independence and got it on June 17, 1944. Incidentally, there is a statue like this in Winnipeg. One of the largest Icelandic settlements in Canada is at Gimli, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, with 26,000 inhabitants declaring Icelandic ancestry.

The Alpingi (Anglicized as Allthing or Althingi) was originally sited at Pingvellir some thousand years ago. The modern Alpingi or Icelandic Parliament was moved to Reykjavik in 1881. Icelanders take their democracy very seriously and over 80% turn out to vote.


The Harpa is a brand new concert hall and cultural centre built with glass panels that catch the light and sparkle brilliantly. At night the building keeps changing colour and lights up the harbour. Another outstanding piece of architecture is the Perlan (Pearl in English) a complex built on huge hot water storage tanks on Oskjuhlio Hill. The viewing deck offers a 360- degree panorama of Reykjavik and the surrounding mountains. The mirrored dome on top of the tanks contains the Perlan, a fine dining venue, offering a wonderful view of the city far below.

For more information: www.icelandtravel.com