Reykjavik’s cold streets are home to an abundance of good food, friendly faces and museums marking its place on the map as one of the world’s most creative countries.
The world’s most northerly capital, Reykjavik sounds more like somewhere from Game of Thrones than a vacation destination (indeed, much of the show is filmed in Iceland). Despite the foreboding name, the only thing cold about this progressive city is its climate. The atmosphere is so mellow and friendly that even the police force has an Instagram account dedicated to the joys of Nordic living, with more than 165k followers. Visitors can explore the city by foot on one of the many free daily walking tours. The Reykjavík City Card offers free entry to an impressive selection of museums and galleries and all public pools, plus unlimited bus travel.
Nauthólsvík Beach: There’s no need to choose between Iceland and a beach holiday; this golden stretch of paradise proves that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Visit the man-made geothermal beach for a dip in waters that feel tropical all year round.
Sundhöll pool: Reykjavik isn’t short on geothermal pools. Sundhöll is the oldest indoor swimming pool in the city and is housed in a beautiful art deco building.
Reykjavik Appy Hour: Drinks aren’t cheap here, and visitors can easily drink their vacation budget away in one round. This nifty app uses your location to alert you to which bars nearby are offering half-price drinks.
The Blue Lagoon’s azure hue is caused by the presence of silicate minerals. These steaming waters in the lava fields of Grindavík offer wondrous benefits for your skin, and with average temperatures of 99–102F, it’s hard to resist taking a dip in this otherworldly lagoon.
Hallgrímskirkja is impossible to miss. This Lutheran church’s awe-inspiring tower, said to have been inspired by the basalt lava flows that have shaped much of Iceland’s landscape, is visible from almost anywhere in the city. It also serves as an observation tower, offering postcard views of Reykjavik.
The Golden Circle is a populartourist loop that passes through central Iceland, taking in the breathtaking Thingvellir National Park, the geothermically active Haukadalur valley with its famous Geysir (the original spring from which all others derive the name), and the thundering Gullfoss waterfall.
Where to eat
Dill: Traditional Nordic ingredients with a modern twist in an intimate downtown setting. T: +354 552 1522; dillrestaurant.is
Gló: Fresh produce sourced from local farms takes center stage in this bright, vegan-friendly eatery. T: +354 553 1111; glo.is
The Lebowski Bar: The Dude abides in the heart of Reykjavik. Expect mouthwatering burgers and 16 varieties of White Russian.
T: +354 552 2300; lebowskibar.is
Where to sleep
KEX: With an amazing sea view and central location, this old biscuit factory that’s been converted into a trendy hostel is a magnet for hipsters.T: +354 561 6060; kexhostel.is
Hotel Holt: Home to Iceland’s largest private art collection, this is as much a gallery as a hotel. T:+354 552 5700; holt.is/english
Alda Hotel: Check out the barber bar, where you can enjoy champagne and chocolates while getting a haircut. T: +354 553 9366. aldahotel.is
Reykjavik Art Museum: Showcasing the creativity of Iceland, from the psychedelic pop art of Erró and mystical natural world of Kjarval to the pioneering sculptures of Ásmundur Sveinsson, Reykjavik Art Museum — the largest art museum in Iceland — holds more than 20 exhibitions a year. artmuseum.is
The National Museum of Iceland: From the island’s first inhabitants to the year that Björk’s first record was released — and all the Vikings, witches and volcanic eruptions that came in between — the country’s history is exhibited in marvelous detail at the National Museum. thjodminjasafn.is
Árbæjarsafn: This former farm is now a Tolkien-esque museum, dedicated to recreating Icelandic village life in times gone by. The old-world ambience is sewn into every detail — you might even spot a milk maiden or two. borgarsogusafn.is
Suzuki Midnight Sun Run 2016: What better way to take advantage of the summer solstice’s almost 24 hours of daylight than running a half-marathon under the midnight sun? Catch it on 23 June. marathon.is/midnight-run
Secret Solstice Festival: Radiohead are set to headline this year’s event under the midnight sun. A line-up of international and local talent will keep revelers partying well into the day. 17-19 June. secretsolstice.is
Reykjavik Arts Festival: The dazzling Harpa concert hall is home to this year’s Reykjavik Arts Festival. It’s set to feature the San Francisco Ballet, currently under Icelandic Helgi Tomasson’s artistic direction. May-June. en.listahatid.is
Where to shop
Laugavegur: Home to a bustling stretch of fashionable boutiques, cool vintage shops and quaint eateries by day, Laugavegur gives over to the buzz of bars, popular restaurants and trendy clubs at night.
Skólavörðustígur: Stretching from Laugavegur to Hallgrímskirkja, this picturesque street is home to 12 Tónar, the legendary record store that was once a meeting point for musicians such as Sigur Rós and Björk.
Nexus Comic Book Store: The city’s only comic book store, Nexus is the hub of all things sci-fi and fantasy. It hosts events such as Free Comic Book Day and author signings.
Kolaportid flea market: Situated in Reykjavik’s old harbor area, Kolaportid is the biggest flea market in Iceland. Open every weekend, it offers up the usual assortment of knick-knacks, antiques and vintage goodies, as well as more unusual finds such as dried fish and fermented shark.
When to go: The Icelandic summer (June to August) is characterized by balmy temperatures and almost 24 hours of sunlight. Visitors can skip peak-season price surges by opting to visit in spring or autumn when there’s a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
Dial code: +354
Tourist board contact: The Icelandic Tourist Board ferdamalastofa.is/en