Encircled by mountains and the sea, Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital and the cultural pulse of Iceland. As of 27 October, Easy Jet will be adding two flights a week to Reykjavik. During the summer, Icelandair’s Tuesday and Saturday flights, mean it is easily reached for a long weekend for much of the year. The city offers a year-round programme of festivals, live music and other events both in the centre and surrounding areas. These include the Annual Arts festival, the RIFF film festival and the Jazz festival. The city, of course, boasts a rich tradition of musical talent such as Bjork and Of Monsters and Men. Or venture out in winter for cross-country skiing and the stunning Northern Lights as the aurora borealis are known. The best time to visit is between May and September during the long daylight hours. Glacier hiking is best done in early April to May or late October.
Places to Visit
Set amid black lava, Iceland’s most popular tourist spot is just a few minutes from Keflavik international airport and offers mineral rich water from deep in the earth. Bathe in the steaming blue water while soaking up its scenic beauty.
The National Museum.
Learn about Iceland’s history and cultural heritage. “Making of a Nation,” the museum’s permanent exhibition, showcases objects dating from the Viking Age through to modern times.
The Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center
This stunning building by Reykjavik’s harbour has several bars and restaurants, a design store and a music store as well as a concert hall. World-renowned Icelandic and Danish artist, Olafur Eliasson, designed the magnificent glass façade.
Thanks to Iceland’s geothermal energy virtually every town has a naturally heated pool. Begin your day with a healing soak in the hot pots of Laugardalslaug, the capital’s Olympic-sized pool. Then indulge in a thermal steam bath. This is a great way to meet locals, who are more than ready to chat.
Just a short ferry crossing or flight from Rekjavik, the beautiful Westmann islands are home to one of the country’s largest puffin colonies. Climb a volcano on Heimaey Island, the largest of the group, still hot after a 1973 eruption and see parts of the town still buried under the lava flow.
Head to Skolvordustiger and Laugarvergur with their boutiques featuring local young designers and independent music and bookstores. Bankastraeti is known as ‘Fleece Street,’ because of its shops selling colourful Icelandic outdoor wear. Visit Kolaportio flea market by the harbour selling everything from vintage vinyl records to fermented shark. Try the shopping centers Kringlan in Reykjavik and Smaralind in nearby Kopavogur for high street buys.
Where to Stay
The Hotel Ranga –about two hours drive from Reykjavik – is a good spot to witness solar winds interacting with magnetic fields of the aurora borealis. The hotel turns off its lights to enhance the impact.
The Reykjavik Natura is the completely made-over historic Hotel Lofleidir, a hothouse of 60s glamour. Centrally located, it is close to the Oskjuhid recreational area and Nautholsvik beach. Stay in one of the Natura’s themed rooms, which pay homage to Iceland’s stunning natural beauty. The picturesque flora rooms are decorated with works by the celebrated Icelandic artist, Eggert Petursson.
Where to Eat
The Old Harbour
Old fishing shacks around the harbour have been transformed into galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants. At Saegrefim, enjoy some of the best lobster soup in town and at Hamborgarabullon, the juiciest burgers.
Reykjavik’s oldest café, Mokka on Skolavordust Igur Street is the perfect spot to sit among artists and bohemians. Fortify yourself with a delicious waffle and a cup of Italian-style coffee. The décor hasn’t charged since it opened in 1958.
For fresh farm produce, try the new Grillmarkadurin at Sjavarkjallarinn. The restaurant offers New Nordic cuisine, which follows the seasons and creates mouthwatering dishes from fresh Icelandic ingredients.
Lava provides the name and the décor of this restaurant at the Blue Lagoon opened in 2007 and built into the side of a cliff. A glass staircase leads up to the bar where you can sip cocktails and enjoy a rooftop view of the lagoon. The nearby fishing village Grindavik supplies the fresh seafood. Try the pan-fried catfish and finish with Lava’s signature dessert of blueberry sorbet, warm chocolate cake and white chocolate skyr mousse.
Named after the most stylish postcode in the North Atlantic, the 101 Hotel is a great place for a night out. In the restaurant, the Indian-Icelandic chef, Gunnvant Armarisson, specializes in Icelandic cuisine fused with exotic flavours. Sample the kerala prawn curry with coconut cream, green chilli, ginger and coriander, the grilled beef tenderloin or pan-fried catfish.
The Fish Market
Try the nine-course tasting menu, which includes black cod served with tiger prawns and apricots, tender quail in a barbecue sauce and king crab with chili and lemon grass.
Over 100 restaurants and bars mark this intimate city, primarily on Lagavegur. Many cafes turn into bars at night. Icelanders tend to go out late after drinking at home as alcohol is expensive. Enjoy a beer –banned in Iceland until 1989 – in the dark and cozy atmosphere of Olstofan or dance at the Austur nightclub.
Icelandair flies direct twice a week (Tuesday and Saturday ) to Reykjavik from Geneva until 23 September. Easyjet has just announced that it will fly there twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) starting on 27 October. There is a cheap bus service into town from the airport.