Geothermal hot springs and mineral baths. Northern Lights. All-night parties and cozy cafes. Any and all of these experiences can be had with a visit to Reykjavik, just a short flight from both Boston and New York (and an easy connection for other U.S. cities).
Where to Stay
A Green Getaway
The Grand Hotel, Iceland’s largest, is a certified Nordic Ecolabel hotel, and has conservation policies in place for energy and water consumption, as well as continuous recycling and waste reduction efforts. Management chooses environmentally friendly and organic products and services “whenever possible”; the hotel’s restaurant offers a daily organic breakfast.
A Sleek Retreat
Designed by local architect Gulla Jonsdottir, Centerhotel Thingvolt celebrates modern Icelandic architecture, with an emphasis on clean lines, neutral hues, and natural materials. Sky Lounge and Bar, located on the top floor, offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and fun cocktails (try the only-in-Reykjavik “Sex on a Glacier” – vodka, Curacao blue, and Sprite). And should you venture out, the hotel is situated right downtown, so if you take advantage of Reykjavik’s legendary nightlife, you’ll never be too far from your home base.
Where to Eat
Lobster + Soup = Bliss
Located on the waterfront, the Sea Baron features the freshest seafood, served in a casual and friendly setting. I rarely visit a restaurant more than once during a vacation – with such limited time, I try to sample as many places as possible. I broke this rule for the Sea Baron, visiting it three times in a week, each time to get a bowl of their incredible lobster soup. It comes in a generous mug, with bread to dip. The broth is creamy yet light; the lobster rich; the vegetables crisp and tender. Just writing this makes me want to book another flight, just so I can have another taste.
An Artful Breakfast
The Grey Cat Café serves a fantastic breakfast in a cozy setting that doubles as a bookstore. The American-style offerings include generous portions of eggs, bacon, pancakes, and other staples; the coffee is brisk and satisfying. Guests are welcome to browse the books while they wait. Across the street from the National Theater, it’s a great place to brush elbows with the arts- and theater crowd.
Only In Reykjavik
The first rays of what photographers called “the golden hour”, that amazing time just before sunset, kicked in just after 9 p.m. My new friends and I sat in a geothermal riverbed in Iceland’s “Smoky Valley”, about a 45-minute drive outside of Reykjavik. We were about halfway through our White Night hike, a four-hour trek that didn’t get going until late in the day – but still enjoyed full sun for most of the journey. I’d never started a hike so late – but then again, I also never sat in a river that was a balmy 80 degrees. Sveinn, our guide, poured us a few glasses of wine and passed out sandwiches and mugs of soup (heated, of course, in the river). I leaned back into the warm creek bed and took in the view of the surrounding mountains.
Music from the Source
The reputation of Reykjavik’s music scene—a haven for indie rock, sweeping orchestral pop, and electronica—has been growing in buzz, and I had heard 12 Tonar, a downtown music store/indie record label, was the place to check out new bands. I browsed the staff/publisher recommendations, and requested five albums to sample. The clerk directed me to a cozy lounge with multiple portable players and coffee tables with the newest weekly arts and entertainment papers – but first, he offered me an espresso. I sipped my coffee and listened to the music, delightfully unhurried. Even better – once I found a few bands I liked, I cross-referenced them against the local arts listings to see if any would be performing during my vacation dates. (Sadly, they weren’t – but my album purchases became the soundtrack of our trip, and are still cherished souvenirs.)
Why I’ll Go Back…
Iceland’s land-based wonders are perhaps only slightly less famous than the celestial ones. The Northern Lights, typically visible from September through early April, paint the sky in brilliant colors, and are visible from most parts of the country. On my recent visit, the conditions weren’t quite right to see them – so this is just an excuse to return!
Have you visited Reykjavik? Leave a comment and share your best travel tips!
Image: Visit Reykjavik