Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland. It has a latitude of 64°08' N, making it the world's northernmost capital of a sovereign state, and is a popular tourist destination. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of Faxa Bay. With a population of around 123 300 (and over 216 940 in the Capital Region), it is the heart of Iceland's cultural, economic and governmental activity.
Reykjavík is believed to be the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland, which, according to Ingólfur Arnarson, was established in AD 874. Until the 19th century, there was no urban development in the city location. The city was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national centre of commerce, population, and governmental activities. It is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world.
Reykjavík is located in southwest Iceland. The Reykjavík area coastline is characterized by peninsulas, coves, straits, and islands.
During the Ice Age (up to 10,000 years ago) a large glacier covered parts of the city area, reaching as far out as Álftanes. Other parts of the city area were covered by sea water. In the warm periods and at the end of the Ice Age, some hills like Öskjuhlíð were islands. The former sea level is indicated by sediments (with clams) reaching (at Öskjuhlíð, for example) as far as 43 m (141 ft) above the current sea level. The hills of Öskjuhlíð and Skólavörðuholt appear to be the remains of former shield volcanoes which were active during the warm periods of the Ice Age.
After the Ice Age the land rose as the heavy load of the glaciers fell away, and began to look as it does today.
The capital city area continued to be shaped by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, like the one 4,500 years ago in the mountain range Bláfjöll, when the lava coming down the Elliðaá valley reached the sea at the bay of Elliðavogur.
The largest river to run through Reykjavík is the Elliðaá River, which is non-navigable. It is one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the country. Mount Esja, at 914 m (2,999 ft), is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavík.
The city of Reykjavík is mostly located on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, but the suburbs reach far out to the south and east. Reykjavík is a spread-out city: most of its urban area consists of low-density suburbs, and houses are usually widely spaced. The outer residential neighbourhoods are also widely spaced from each other; in between them are the main traffic arteries and a lot of empty space.
Borgartún is the financial centre of Reykjavík, hosting a large number of companies and three investment banks. Old whaling ships Hvalur 6, 7, 8 and 9.
Reykjavík has been at the centre of Iceland's economic growth and subsequent economic contraction over the last decade, a period referred to in foreign media as the "Nordic Tiger" years, or "Iceland's Boom Years". The economic boom led to a sharp increase in construction, with large redevelopment projects such as Harpa concert hall and conference centre and others. Many of these projects came to a screeching halt in the following economic crash of 2008.
In 2009, Reykjavík was listed as the richest city in the world in 2007 by The Economist Group.
Safnahúsið (the Culture House) was opened in 1909 and has a number of important exhibits. Originally built to house the National Library and National Archives and also previously the location of the National Museum and Natural History Museum, in 2000 it was re-modeled to promote the Icelandic national heritage. Many of Iceland's national treasures are on display, such as the Poetic Edda, and the Sagas in their original manuscripts. There are also changing exhibitions of various topics.
Reykjavík is famous for its weekend nightlife. Icelanders tend to go out late, so bars that look rather quiet can fill up suddenly—usually after midnight on a weekend.
Alcohol is expensive at bars. People tend to drink at home before going out. Beer was banned in Iceland until 1 March 1989, but has since become popular among many Icelanders as their alcoholic drink of choice.
There are over 100 different bars and clubs in Reykjavík; most of them are located on Laugavegur and its side streets. It is very common for an establishment that is a café before dinner to turn into a bar in the evening. Closing time is usually around 4:30 am at weekends and 1 am during the week. The Iceland Airwaves music festival is annually staged in November.