Reykjavik is a vibrant, modern city, situated on a beautiful bay with a population of only 120,000. Established around 870 C.E. it now boasts a wealth of shops, hotels and unique architecture including the ultra-modern Harpa Concert Hall, where you may catch one of Iceland’s biggest exports, Björk, who frequently returns to try out new material in her native land.
The city’s world class restaurants manage to retain their Icelandic identity with fusion dishes combining traditional and imported ingredients, such as one restaurant’s offering of Puffin in pine and juniper sauce.
There are also plenty of local restaurants serving hearty home cooking, such as mutton soup, dried fish and the notorious Harkal. This local dish, made famous by extreme food shows all over the world, is credited back to the original Norse settlers. The toxic meat of the Greenland shark (a non-endangered species) is hung for 5 months, the rotting process causes the meat to ‘sweat’ out ammonia making it edible. The end result is a bit like eating cubes of rubber smothered in undiluted peroxide hair dye. Even hardened Icelanders recommend no more than 3 or 4 cubes and this is gratefully washed down with a shot of Brennivin, a strong Icelandic spirit.
As beautiful as Reykjavik is, visitors do not flock to Iceland simply for the capital city; the land of ice and fire’s landscape is unique and unlike any other in the world. Situated on top of the ridge separating the North American and Eurasian plates, Iceland is being slowly pulled in half by the tectonic activity happening deep in the earth’s crust. The North American plate is pulling the island west and the Eurasian plate is pulling it east so the rift is widening at about 1-5cms per year. It is still very early days in this geological process so as the gap gets wider Iceland is actually gaining more landmass because the gap is being filled with magma that is rising to the surface and being cooled into rock by the sea. Iceland will inevitably break apart into two separate land masses at some point in the future, but until then the rift is a spectacle every visitor to the country should see and we recommend taking the Golden Circle Tour to Þinghvellir national park for the best views.
Located a short drive from the airport is the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. As there isn’t much else in this area we recommend combining your visit to the spa with the transfer from the airport. ‘Arrival via the Blue Lagoon‘ tours are available, with a selection of pick up times, and the tour operator has a lock up on site for you to store your luggage while you enjoy the thermal spa.
As you drive though the striking rocky landscape it’s easy to see why Icelandic folk lore is full of tales about the trolls and giants said to inhabit the land. As you near the Blue Lagoon by coach you will notice a winding stream of phosphorescent water leading to the geothermal spa which glows an unnatural blue; this looks especially spectacular after dark as the water is illuminated and the cool temperature means the steam rises up into the air all around you.
Once you have braved the elements and slipped into the pool the water is 37-39°C and contains a high level of natural minerals and silica which is reputed to have healing properties. You can spend hours just floating under the little walkways and waterfalls. There is even a bar in the pool where you only have to rise out of the water for a few seconds to reach for your drink.
The geothermal pools that dot the Icelandic countryside are also excellent locations to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, and unlike in other countries that boast views of the lights, you can get a very good view just a short journey out of the city. Although it’s hard to predict when or even if they will appear, September and March are recommended as the best times to try, especially if it is a cold clear night.
Iceland is definitely different in every season and it is somewhere you might find yourself wanting to visit again and again, as there are so many exciting activities, from Glacier Trucking to Horse Riding and Scuba Diving in the Mid Atlantic Rift itself.
For a full range of hotels and guest houses please visit our Holidays in Reykjavik page, and once you have booked don’t forget to have a look at all of the exciting activities Iceland has to offer.