FOR those looking to escape winter, heading to the world’s most northerly capital where evening spans most of the clock and temperatures hover around freezing may not seem an obvious choice.
But this is Reykjavik, where Icelanders turn their backs on hibernation and luxuriate in a drawn-out night life that revs up as the sun goes down.
This cosmopolitan city of just over 120,000 people has been partying long before Bjork put it on the map with a stream of funky cafes, cutting-edge restaurants and Icelandic-chic bars all catering to a kicking urban scene.
But it’s not just nocturnal Iceland drawing in the tourists. Set against a backdrop of snow-topped mountains, an ocean that wets the toes of the town, air as cold and clean as frozen diamonds, and incredible volcanic surroundings, it’s tough to find a better city anywhere in the world. From the heart of Iceland’s capital there are an abundance of sights and activities at your fingertips from thundering geysers to powerful waterfalls and the therapeutic waters of the Blue Lagoon, a vast thermal lake half an hour south of Reykjavik with a turquoise hue so impossibly bright that it looks Photoshopped.
Just a few steps from downtown Reykjavik at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina. Rooms are vibrant and unique with original styles that catch your eye and could never be mistaken for anywhere else you’ve ever stayed.
Outside, the view over Mount Esja and the dry dock give you the experience of accessible nature and maritime activity in one place. After a walk about, enjoy a cocktail from the lively Slipp Bar, also very popular with locals sampling ever-changing creations, all mixed with house-made syrups and freshly squeezed juices. And on the right night, you can even catch the Northern Lights from your bar stool.
Get Your Bearings
Enjoy a 360 perspective of the city by taking the elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja, a pale gray church in the centre offering a bird’s-eye view of the city’s colourful rooftops and surrounding mountains (admission, 700 kronur)Return to sea level to marvel at the city’s newest architectural landmark, The Harpa, unveiled in May 2011. Home to Iceland’s symphony orchestra and opera, this dazzling geometric structure sits like a jewel on the waterfront and is well worth a visit, even if only to gaze through the honeycomb-like glass facade, designed in collaboration with the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.
Have lunch at the offbeat Laundromat Cafe which offers daylong breakfasts at around 1,300 kronur and heartier dishes for around 1,900 kronur. The polished wooden bar is lined with shelves containing hundreds of used novels and a clutch of red leather high-backed stools and downstairs there’s an actual Laundromat, where people loiter over cappuccinos as their watch their clothes spin.
Spend the afternoon at the Blue Lagoon , a steaming turquoise playground of geothermal pools and mineral-rich mud between the city and the airport. Wade through clouds of vapour to discover saunas, a bar, and various grottos in which to spend a relaxing and otherworldly few hours. Entry, £28.
Have dinner at one of the city’s fish restaurants. Fish Company has funky décor and uses Icelandic ingredients to create dishes from around the world. A la carte mains include langoustine with lobster pizza, and a four-course set menu costs £44.
The nearby Fish Market has similar prices with a focus on Asian flavours.
Admire Nature’s Wonders
Spend your second day on a tour of the natural attractions that make up the ‘Golden Circle’ with Reykavik Excursions to see three of Iceland’s highlights – Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir geothermal area and Thingvellir National Park, before heading to Fontana’s natural steam baths on the edge of Laugarvatn lake. The tour covers some of Iceland’s most stunning sights, starting with the Geysir geothermal area where the Strokkur geyser shoots a column of water up to 30 metres (98 ft.) into the air every 4-8 minutes in a thrilling display of nature’s forces.
The tour continues with Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, created by the river Hvítá, which tumbles and plunges into a crevice some 32 m (105 ft.) deep and the historical and geological wonder that is Thingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year.
Before returning to Reykjavik, unwind in the hot tubs and steam baths at Fontana and enjoy some typical Icelandic rye bread slow-baked in the natural hot springs.
Wintertime in Iceland is also the perfect opportunity to spot the glowing green ribbons of the aurora borealis, especially luminescent this year because of sunspots casting a wide spectral aura over the North Pole. Tours run throughout the evening with Reykavik Excursions depending on weather conditions.
Party Like A Local
Stay out late on the town and sample Reykjavik’s nightlife. On weekdays most bars are open until 1am, with extended party hours from Thursday evening through the weekend, when the bars can stay open until 3am or longer. Most bars and clubs do not charge an entrance fee; however, expect to pay a small charge for entrance to live music venues.
Most of the bars are found close to Laugavegur and don’t impose a dress code – you can stumble into just about any bar wearing your Gore-Tex jacket and hiking boots, if you want to.
Kaffibarinn has a bohemian atmosphere and is even more popular after featuring in the film, 101 Reykjavik. It’s also a good place to try Reyka, the crisp Icelandic vodka filtered through lava. If you’re looking for some rock, head to Bar 11 to check out their riff heavy juke bar or Dillon located in a old house on the main street Laugavegur.
End the night at Austur, one of the hottest downtown clubs since it opened in Austurstraeti in 2009.
Go off the beaten track
Spend the third day letting the adreneline flow by exploring on ATVs. Start the tour by driving on mountain roads towards and over the mountain Festarfjall then head to the black sandy beach, Selatangar to explore the lava beach and old ruins before taking in more breathtaking scenery on the way back through the mountains.
Four nights at Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina costs from £262 per person based on two people sharing a double room, including breakfast. For more information or to book please visit http://icelandairhotels.com/hotels/reykjavikmarina or call +354 444 4000. Based on travel in May 2014.
Return flights from Gatwick to Reykjavik with Icelandair cost from £180 per person based on travel in May 2014. For more information or to book please visit www.icelandair.co.uk or call 0 84 4811 1190
For further information or to book a tour with Reykjavik Excursions, please visit http://www.re.isor call +354 562 1011
For further information or to book at tour with ATV Adventures Iceland, please visit http://www.atv4x4.is/ or call +354 857 3001
For further information on Laugarvatn Fontana please visit http://www.fontana.is or call +354 486 1400