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Reykjavik

Reykjavik

Reykjavik's foundation is equally romantic and beguiling as its location, set on the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by a lunar volcanic netherworld, with the shadowy hulk of Mount Esja in the background. Legend has it that 'Arnarson' a viking leader named the place Reykjavik ('Smokey Bay') after the steam rising from the hot springs . Today, these numerous geothermal springs, running beneath the city, provide almost all the heating and water in the city. The only by-product of this system is a faint odour of hydrogen sulphide, especially evident when showering. But the low level of fuel emissions gives the city clean air and crystal clear skies. The lack of pollution is also due to the comparatively small size of the capital.

The city's nightlife is perhaps fuelled by the fact that most Icelanders let go of their weekday Nordic calm and instead reveal the fiery Celtic side of the their heritage (the Vikings kidnapped many Scots and Irish on their way over), especially evident in their friendliness and openness to foreign visitors.

During the day, Reykjavik is a far more sedate place with trim houses, rubbish-free streets and an easygoing pace of life. There are bountiful cultural attractions, countless cafés, six geothermal swimming baths and a myriad of day trip opportunities into the stunning hinterland. One of the most charming things about Reykjavik is that everything visitors would want to see is handily located within walking distance. Cultural festivals are also currently multiplying and maturing, as Iceland begins to establish its cultural identity.