Between its geothermal hot springs, volcanic black sand beaches and the Northern Lights, Iceland is a land of seeming opposites; dark and light, fire and ice. Fly into its capital city Reykjavik (which means Smoky Bay), a five-hour hop from JFK, into the colorful metropolitan hub that mixes art and culture with breathtaking surroundings.
Reykjavik is a vibrant city of unique shops, restaurants and stunning modern landmarks. Spend the morning exploring its well-manicured streets with pastel-colored houses and contrasting roofs in red, blue, green, yellow and pink. Joe and The Juice is the perfect place to fuel up with its selection of juice combos like Hangover Heaven (apple, elderflower and mint) and coffee. For expansive views, ride to the top of Hallgrimskirkja, a 49-foot tall modernist Lutheran church, which is the tallest point in the city. Those hoping to take in incredible ocean views can head down to the Atlantic Ocean waterfront and view the stunning steel Sun Voyager sculpture by Jón Gunnar Arnason. The Reykjavik City Card, which for one rate enables access to the city’s thermal pools, museums, city busses and the ferry to Viking-era Videy Island—a serene island of grassy meadows and hills featuring installations by Richard Serra and Yoko Ono—is a great deal.
Opt for the 99-room, art deco style Hotel Borg by Keahotels, a cozy pick with an onsite restaurant, spa and gym. Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre is a modern hotel across six connected houses, offering bikes and even babysitting services. Costs in Iceland are higher than comparable hotels in the U.S., but visitors can cut costs by staying at hostel-style accommodations such as Loft Hostel, a centrally-located find offering single and dorm-style rooms and an onsite bar with a giant balcony.
Eat and Drink
Around Reykyavik, visitors will come across Iceland’s most popular national foods: hákarl (fermented shark), harðfiskur (dried fish), svið (sheep’s head) and Lundi (smoked puffin). Prized (perhaps, not surprisingly) for its fish, Fish and Chips offers a delicious fisherman’s stew which comes with traditional black bread and butter. Saegreifinn is a seafood paradise featuring grilled spears of trout, salmon, shrimp, cod, scallops, redfish, catfish and other local catches of the day. Pair any of the seafood options with traditional drinks like Maltextrakt, an Icelandic sweet beer beverage, or Brennivín, an unsweetened, vodka-like 80-proof beverage made from potato mash.
Guided Day Trips
Your Day Tours visits spectacular sights like the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, Sólheimajökull glacier and the dramatic Reynisfjara black sand beach. The tour guides provide insight on all historic sites, as well as a taste of Icelandic candy Djúpur, which is liquorish with chocolate and pepper. The Golden Circle tour visits the steaming, sulfuric Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss waterfall (as seen on Game of Thrones), Faxi waterfall and Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park, where the splitting of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are visible. A drive to the Snæfellsjökull (Snæfell Glacier) National Park is about a three-hour drive from Reykjavik. It has endless lava rock formations and black sand beaches. To see the Aurora Borealis, the colorful blue, green and sometimes red and purple lights in the sky—a result of solar particles entering Earth’s atmosphere—visitors can simply look up on a clear night. But to get a good, crisp view, they will need to drive outside the city. Reykjavik Excursions offers Northern Light excursions to experience the magic.