The city of Reykjavík got its name, which translates to ‘smokey bay’, from the many hot springs seen here by Iceland’s first settler, Ingolfúr Arnarson, when he first reached the land. Many of these hot springs were concentrated in what is now called Laugardalur.
A more direct translation of this area’s name is ‘pool valley’, because throughout much of the history of Reykjavík, it was in the hot pools here that it was traditional to wash laundry. Women would walk up ‘the water road’, what is now Laugavegur, the city’s main shopping street, to reach them.
This was the area’s main purpose for centuries, and the women who used to make the journey are memorialised in sculptures throughout the city. The practice ended in the 1930s when Iceland was undergoing an infrastructural boom and plumbing became more commonplace.
Since then, it has undergone development as a recreational area as a residential area has bloomed around it.
Laugardalur is best known for having the largest swimming pool in Iceland, Laugardalslaug, which is complete with a slide and hot pools; it is heated by the same geothermal waters that gave Reykjavík its name. Adjacent to the pool is a gym.
There is also the capital’s main sporting arena in the area, which is also used for concerts on occasion. Popular sports in Iceland include handball, basketball, and ever increasingly, football, and all are practiced, played and watched in this arena.
It is here where Iceland’s internationally renowned national football team do most of their training.
Surrounding Laugardalur and the arena is one of the city’s many large, green spaces, complete with a campsite; the Secret Solstice festival is held here yearly. There is also a botanical gardens within the park, one of the northernmost in the world, and Reykjavík’s Family Park and Zoo.
Iceland’s only zoo, it is home to largely the breeds of farm animal that have developed in Iceland, such as Icelandic goats and horses. It also displays some of the island’s invasive creatures, such as mink, some that have been introduced recently, such as reindeer, and some that have been here longer than people, such as seals and Arctic Foxes. There is also a foreign reptile exhibition, and a small exhibition of birds.
Near the Family Park and Zoo are more activities tailored to families. A carousel, a train, and boating activities are all available; segways can be rented; and there is a playpark.
Those who are seeking culture can find a wealth of it within close proximity to Laugardalur. The art museum of Ásmundarsafn is dedicated to the Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson, with works in and outside; changing exhibitions of contemporary artists often share this space. The Sigurjón Ólafsson museum, meanwhile, honours the sculptor it was named after, and hosts many cultural events in summer.
Within Laugardalur, there are several places to get food. A well-known hot-dog stand parks outside of the pool, and there is a cafe that serves ice cream and snacks near the zoo.