Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland and with an urban area population of around 200,000, it is the home to two-thirds of Iceland's population. It is the center of culture and life of the Icelandic people as well as being one of the focal points of tourism in Iceland. The city itself is spread out, with sprawling suburbs. The city center, however, is a very small area characterized by eclectic and colorful houses, with good shopping, dining, and drinking.
When it started to develop as a town in the 18th century, Reykjavík had already been inhabited for almost a thousand years. Legend has it that the first permanent settler in Iceland was a Norwegian named Ingólfur Arnarson. He is said to have thrown his seat pillars into the sea en route to Iceland and decided to settle wherever the pillars were found. The pillars washed up in Reykjavík, and so that was where he set up his farm.
Although the story of Ingólfur Arnarson is not widely believed to be true by modern historians, it's clear that Reykjavík was one of the very first settlements in Iceland. Archeological remains confirm that people were living there around the year 871, and for the first few centuries of Icelandic settlement, Reykjavík was a large manor farm. Its fortunes steadily waned as other centers of power increased in importance. By the 18th century, the farm of Reykjavík was owned by the king of Denmark (under whose domain Iceland fell at the time). In 1752, the estate was donated to a firm, Innréttingarnar, led by Icelandic politician Skúli Magnússon. Innréttingarnar were meant to become an important industrial exporter and a source of development in Iceland, and their main base was in what is now the heart of Reykjavík. Although the company didn't achieve all its high ideals, it did lay the foundations of Reykjavík as it is today. In 1786, Reykjavík got a trading charter and it soon started to grow in importance.
The year 1801 is when Reykjavík went from being the largest town in the country to its capital. That year a new supreme court, Landsyfirréttur, was set up in the city after the abolition of Alþingi (which no longer had any legislative functions). The same year the office of the Bishop of Iceland was founded in Reykjavík, merging the bishoprics of Hólar and Skálholt. In 1845, Alþingi was re-founded as an advisory council to the king on the affairs of Iceland, located in Reykjavík and in 1874 it regained legislative powers. As the sovereignty of the country grew, so too did Reykjavík, which by the beginning of the 20th century had been transformed from a small trading and fishing village to a fully fledged capital.
The Second World War was a boom era in Reykjavík. The city wasn't directly affected by the many horrors of the war, but the occupation of Iceland by first the UK and later the US provided increased employment opportunities and inflows of cash that enabled the rapid expansion and modernization of the Icelandic fishing fleet. Reykjavík was a leader in this development and it grew very rapidly in the years following the war. New suburbs were built and the city started to reach across municipal limits, subsuming various surrounding communities. The city continued expanding until the financial collapse of 2008.
Due to its young age, and in particular its rapid expansion in the late 20th century, Reykjavík is very different from the other Nordic capitals. It lacks their grand buildings and the picturesque old quarters. Instead, it has come to resemble American cities with their sprawling suburbs and big motorways, as was recommended by the urban planners of the post-World War 2 era. Nevertheless, Reykjavík has a charm of its own, quite unique, shaped by the dualistic nature of this place which still doesn't seem to have made up its mind on whether it's a small town or a big city.
The weather in Reykjavík is notoriously unpredictable. One minute the sun may be shining on a nice summers day, the next it may change into windy, rainy autumn. Temperatures in Reykjavík are quite bland: they don't go very high in the summer, nor do they go much below zero during winter. It follows that the differences between seasons are relatively small compared to what people experience on either side of the Atlantic.
January is the coldest month and usually has some snow, while there is frequently no snow on the ground during Christmas in December. Summer is without a doubt the favorite season of most Reykjavík inhabitants. Many of them seem to imagine their city is slightly warmer than it really is and it takes little to get them to start wearing shorts and t-shirts or to go sunbathing in parks. Don't think too much about how silly it may seem, just join them in enjoying the season!
Wind is the main problem with the Reykjavík weather. The city is quite open to the seas, and the winds can be strong and chilling to the bone. Windy spots generally feel significantly colder than those with more shelter.