Reykjavík – The Littlest Big City in Europe

Up until the 19th century Reykjavík was nothing more than a sleepy fishing outpost with dirt roads hemmed in by majestic mountains. Fast-forward two hundred years and Iceland’s capital has made a name for itself as the small but scrappy Mid-Atlantic hub for art, music, food and design. Great things come in small packages. Right around 125,000 people, in fact. And those majestic mountains that surrounded the city 200 years ago? They’re still here too.

A European Capital in Miniature

Unlike its Scandinavian brethren—Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen—heaving under prodigious histories, royal houses and swelling populations, Reykjavík has the ambitious, creative spirit of a young frontier city coupled with the aesthetics and forward-thinking mindset of a Nordic capital. Stately parliament house? Check. Over-the-top Gay Pride Festival? Check. Michelin-starred restaurant? Check. Reykjavík delivers an unexpectedly powerful punch when it comes to cultural institutions, world-class architecture and a banging nightlife.

History Underfood, Hope Overhead

Although there are very few remains from Reykjavík’s earliest past over a thousand years ago, recent construction downtown laid bare the remnants of the first Norse settlers and a subterranean exhibition was set up around the excavation site, giving visitors a look into the deep past of this seemingly young nation.

From its depths to its heights, one of the most recent additions to Reykjavík’s skyline is Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower, a memorial to her late husband John Lennon. The tower takes the form of a powerful column of light visible from all around the city. Its base is styled as a wishing well with the words “imagine peace” in 24 languages, under which are buried over a million wishes collected by Ono over the years. The artist chose Reykjavík as the tower is powered solely by renewable energy and, in line with the message of peace, Iceland has no army.

A Fest for the Eyes, Ears & Mind 

The austere tower of Hallgrímskirkja church, Þingholt’s narrow streets and charming old homes, the dazzling refractions of Harpa’s edifice and the ever-present colossus of Mount Esja looming across the bay—it is a delight to wander the old city.

This same neighborhood is the backdrop to Reykjavík’s legendary Iceland Airwaves, which Rolling Stone dubbed the “hippest long weekend on the annual music festival calendar”. And in the spring, the city pulls on its spectacles for the high point in a nation of book lovers, the Reykjavík Literary Festival, including the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami. No matter your tastes, there’s never a dull moment in this capital.

From its colorful houses and halls, to the colorful characters that fill them, a trip to Iceland isn’t complete without a visit to the nation’s beating heart. At ILT we want our guests to have a personal connection with our remarkably warm and personable city.


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