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See also: Reykjavík, Manitoba; in Canada
Reykjavík, Iceland

City seal
City nickname: "Stćrsta smáborg í heimi" (The smallest big city in the world)

Location in Iceland

CountyReykjavík has a county status.
ConstituencyReykjavík North
Reykjavík South
Area 274.5 km² (106 mi²)
 - Total (2003)
 - Density

413 / km²
Postal codes101–155
64°08' N
021°56' W
Municipal website

Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland, its largest city and the world's northernmost capital. Its latitude being 64°08' N, not far from the Arctic Circle (at 66°33' N), it receives only four hours of sunlight per day in the depth of winter, and in the summer the nights are almost as bright as day.

Table of contents
1 Geography
2 People
3 History
4 Administration
5 Economy
6 Demographics
7 Infrastructure
8 Sites of interest
9 Colleges and universities
10 Sports teams
11 Nightlife
12 External links


Reykjavík is located in southwest Iceland by Faxaflói bay;. The Reykjavík area coastline is characterized by peninsulas, coves, straits and islands. The city of Reykjavík is mostly located on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula but the suburbs spread to the south and east from it. Reykjavík is a spread out city, most of its urban area is in the form of low-density suburbs and houses are usually widely spaced. The outer residential neighborhoods are as well widely spaced from each other and in between run the main traffic arteries and a lot of empty spaces with little aesthetical or recreational value. The young age of the city has contributed the most to this kind of urban planning. The largest rivers to run through Reykjavík are the Elliðaár Rivers, not navigable by ships. Mt. Esja, at 914 m, is the tallest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavík.


The population of Reykjavík in 2003 was 113,387 (55,650 men and 57,737 women). The combined population of the Greater Reykjavík area in 2003 was 181,746. There are six other municipalities in the Greater Reykjavík area, those are:


870: Settlement

The first permanent settlement in Iceland by
Nordic people is believed to have been established in Reykjavík by Ingólfur Arnarson; around the year 870 AD; this is described in Landnámabók;, the Book of Settlement. Steam from hot springs in the region is supposed to have inspired the name for Reykjavík translates to "Bay of Smokes".

1752: Industry arrives

Reykjavík is not mentioned in any medieval sources except as a regular farm land but the 18th century was the beginning of urban concentration there. The Danish rulers of Iceland backed ideas of a domestic industry in Iceland that would help generate some much needed progress to the island. In 1752, the King of Denmark donated the estate of Reykjavík to the Innréttingar Corporation; the name comes from Danish (indretninger) and means enterprises. In the 1750s several houses were constructed to house the woolen industry that was to be Reykjavík's most important employer for a few decades and the original reason for its existence. Other crafts were also practiced by the Innréttingar such as fisheries, sulphur mining, agriculture and ship building.

1786: Chartered

The Danish Crown abolished its monopoly trading in 1786 and granted six communities around the country a exclusive trading charter, Reykjavík was one of them and the only one to hold on to the charter permanently. 1786 is regarded as the date of the city's founding, it celebrated its 200 years in 1986. Trading rights were still limited to the subjects of the Danish Crown however and Danish traders continued to dominate trade in Iceland and over the next decades, their business in Iceland expanded. After 1880 free trade was expanded to all nationalities and the influence of Icelandic merchants started to grow.

1845: Capital of Iceland

A nationalist movement gained much influence in the 19th century and ideas about Icelandic independence became widespread. Reykjavík as Iceland's only city was the melting pot of such ideas in the country. Advocates of an independent Iceland realized that a strong Reykjavík was fundamental for that objective. All the big years in the history of the independence struggle are quite significant for Reykjavík as well. In the year 1845, Alþingi;, the general assembly that Icelanders formed in 930 was re-established in Reykjavík but it had been suspended a few decades earlier when it was positioned at Þingvellir. At the time it only functioned as a advisory assembly that was supposed to advice the King about the matters of Iceland. The placement of Alþingi in Reykjavík effectively established the city as the capital of Iceland. In 1874 Iceland was given a constitution and with it, Alþingi gained some limited legislative powers and in essence became the institution that it is still today. The next step was to move most of the executive power to Iceland and that was done by the Home Rule in 1904 when the office of minister for Iceland was established in Reykjavík. The biggest step towards an independent Iceland was taken December 1,1918 when Iceland became a sovereign country under the Crown of Denmark, the Kingdom of Iceland.

1918–1944: Occupation and republic

In the 1920s and 1930s most of the growing Icelandic fishing trawler fleet sailed from Reykjavík and salt-cod production was the main industry but the Great Depression hit Reykjavík hard with unemployment and labour union struggles that sometimes became violent.

In the morning of May 10, 1940 four warships approached Reykjavík and anchored in the harbour, citizens were relieved to find out that those were British but not German. In few hours, the allied occupation of Reykjavík was complete without any violence. The Icelandic government had received many requests from the British government about allowing the occupation but they always declined on the basis of the Neutrality Policy. For the remaining years of World War II, British and later American soldiers built bases in Reykjavík, the number of foreign soldiers in Reykjavík became about the same as the local population of the city.

The economic effects of the occupation were quite positive for Reykjavík, the unemployment of the depression years vanished and a lot of construction work was done. The British built Reykjavík Airport, which is still in service today, mostly serving national flights; the Americans built Keflavík; Airport that has later become Iceland's primary international airport, situated 50 km from Reykjavík. In 1944 the Republic of Iceland was founded and a president elected in popular elections replaced the King, the office of the president was placed in Reykjavík.

1950s–1970s: Post-war boom

In the post-war years, the growth of Reykjavík began for real. A mass exodus from the rural countryside started mainly because of the better technology in agriculture that reduced the need for workforce in that sector and because of the population boom following better living conditions in Iceland. Young people in the prime of their lives were the most populous group that moved to the capital to live the "Reykjavík Dream", and the city became a city of children. The previously primitive village was rapidly transforming into a modern city. Private cars became common and modern apartment complexes rose in the expanding suburbs and much of Reykjavík lost its village feel. In 1972, Reykjavík hosted the world chess championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.

1980s–2000s: Modern metropolis

Reykjavík has in the last two decades become a significant player in the global community, the 1986 summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev underlined Reykjavík's new-found international status. Deregulation in the financial sector and the computer revolution of the 1990s have transformed Reykjavík yet again. The financial sector and information technology are now significant employers in the city. The energetic city of children has fostered some world famous talents in recent years such as Björk; and Sigur Rós;. This period is well described in the autobiography Sól í Norđurmýri by Megas and Ţórunn Valdimarsdóttur.

Historic population


Reykjavík is governed by the city council, directly elected by anyone over 18 and registered with domicile in the city. The council has 15 members that are elected for 4 year terms.

The city council governs the city of Reykjavík according to law number 45/1998 [1]. The city council selects people on the boards and each board controls a different field under the city councils authority. The most important board is the city board that wields the executive rights along with the city mayor. The city mayor is the uppermost public official in the city and also the director of city operations. Other public official then control different institution under his authority.

Therefore the administration consists of two different parts. The political power that the city council wields and other boards in it's authority and the official system where public official under the authority of the city mayor take care of administering the policy and the management.


The mayor is appointed by the city council, usually one of the council members is chosen but they may also hire a mayor that is not member of the council.


In the town-laws from
1907 the term city mayor public office was introduced but in the year 1908 applications for that position were requested. Two applications were received, one from Páll Einarsson sheriff and town mayor of Hafnafjörđur and another one from Knud Zimsem town councillor in Reykjavík. Páll was employed on the 7th of May and was the city mayor for six years. The city mayor received at that time a salary of 4500IKR anually and 1500IKR because of office costs.

Reverse timeline of mayors


Major industries/products




Car ownership in Iceland is among the highest in the world but Reykjavík is not severely affected by congestion though since the city is rather spread out. Wide multi-lane highways run all over the city connecting the different neighbourhoods and suburbs. Parking spaces are also plentiful in most areas. Public transportation only exists in the form of a bus system and is not very popular in this car friendly city. Route 1 (the Ring Road) runs by the city outskirts and connect it to the rest of Iceland.

Airports & seaports

The second largest airport in the country (after Keflavík International Airport) is positioned inside the city, just south of downtown. It is mainly used for domestic flights as well as flisghts to Greenland and the Faroe Islands. It was built there by the British occupation force during World War II on the outskirts of, then much smaller, Reykjavík. In later years there has been some controversy regarding the location of the airport since it takes up a lot of valuable space in downtown Reykjavík.

Reykjavík has two seaports, the old harbor near downtown which is mainly used by fishermen and cruise ships and Sundahöfn in the east city which is the largest cargo port in the country.



Most houses in Reykjavík use the geothermal heating system ''(see: Geothermal power in Iceland) It is the largest system of this kind in the world.

Sites of interest

Colleges and universities



Sports teams


Please see the Wikipedia article about the
Nightlife in Reykjavík

External links

Municipalities of Iceland (population over 2000)
Reykjavík | Kópavogur | Hafnarfjörđur | Akureyri | Reykjanesbćr | Mosfellsbćr | Árborg | Akranes | Seltjarnarnes | Vestmannaeyjar | Skagafjörđur | Ísafjörđur | Fjarđabyggđ | Borgarbyggđ | Húsavík | Grindavík | Hornafjörđur | Austur-Hérađ | Dalvíkurbyggđ |