6 December 2012 by Alex Stewart
The compact Icelandic capital, the most northerly capital in the world, makes a perfect city break for a weekend or an ideal base from which to explore Iceland further or watch the Northern Lights.
Filled with Viking history, colourful architecture and quirky people, it's renowned for its high-octane nightlife and vibrant music scene. Combining small town innocence with a big city zest for life, Reykjavik boasts world-class museums and galleries, stylish accommodation and great places to eat and drink, just beware the excessive Friday night runtur, a weekly pub crawl around the stylish nightspots.
Reykjavik has a host of accommodation options, including the stylish Reykjavik Marina in the up-and-coming downtown harbour district and contemporary Hilton Nordica, which has a wonderful spa and renowned gourmet restaurant. Our pick of the best places to stay at various budgets are listed below though:
One of Iceland's finest hotels, Hotel Borg, boasts a superb location on a neat little square in the heart of Reykjavik. The hotel, comissioned in 1930, is decorated in an art deco style and combines old-world elegance with modern day sophistication. Black-and-white photographs of bygone Reykjavik decorate the walls. All of the rooms have custom-made furniture and high-spec amenities, whilst the restaurant provides an excellent introduction to some of Iceland's more adventurous dishes, from goose to smoked eel.
Hotel Reykjavik Centrum
Stood on one of Reykjavik's oldest streets, the superior Hotel Reykjavik Centrum couldn't be better located, at the heart of the Old Town and around the corner from Parliament Square. Rooms are all elegantly decorated, service is second to none and the adjoining restaurant, Fjalakotturinn, is one of the best places to eat in the city. Remnants of a Viking longhouse, together with Iceland's oldest known human remains (dating from around 870AD) were discovered during construction and are now on display in the basement.
Reykjavik is an active city with much to tempt you out of your hotel. If you'd rather save money to spend on whale watching, glacier trekking and any of the other excursions available, then the great value Hotel Frón, a modern, friendly place is perfect. From its bright blue façade to its exposed bricks and beams and contemporary artworks, the hotel mixes traditional with modern to great effect.
When in Iceland, make sure you try the Icelandic lamb, lobster and the local delicary 'skyr', which is a yoghurt-like dairy product and a staple in the traditional Icelandic diet. With an abundance of superb natural ingredients, there's no reason to even think about trying the traditional hakarl, putrified shark meat that's been buried in the ground.
One of the trendiest restaurant in Reykjavik, this restaurant is decorated in chic Nordic style with plenty of wood, stones and reindeer hides to keep you cosy. The menu features plenty of Scandinavian staples like game and salmon with modern twists, all served on stones and wood platters. Try their taster menu to sample a little bit of everything!
Sjavargrillid (Seafood Grill)
Another great food establishment in Reykjavik specialising in seafood, barbecue and Scandinavian cuisines. The restaurant is decorated in Icelandic style, along with objects sourced by the chefs as they traveled around Iceland.
Lækjarbrekka is a traditional restaurant housed in one of Reykjavik's oldest buildings; it has built its reputation over 20 years. Traditional dishes are diverse and delicious; Icelandic lamb, lobster, puffin and game are favourites here.
At the heart of the über cool Reykjavik Marina hotel, the Slipp Bar is the place where locals hang out; the new hotel opening adjacent to the Reykjavik Dry Dock has made this one of the coolest bars in the capital and a great place to experience exciting events such as Icelandic music and art over a drink from the impressive selection of wines and cocktails on offer.
This bohemian bar, on Bergstadastraeti, is another great place to enjoy a drink or two. in the daytime it offers coffee and casual coziness whilst in the evening it transforms into a lively party spot. Once partly owned by British musician Damon Albarn, this happening venue, which featured in the cult film Reykjavik 101 is frequented by local hipsters and visitors alike; it can get crowded at weekends so be prepared to queue.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon, found in Grindavik at the Reykjanes Peninsula, is a must when in Iceland and is best visited on the way from or to the airport. The Blue Lagoon is the country's most famous, but far from only, geothermal spa. It was accidentally created in 1976 during building work at the nearby geothermal power plant. In the years that followed, people began to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. Those with psoriasis or other skin conditions noticed an incredible improvement in their condition.
Today, the Blue Lagoon, set in the rocky wilds where plumes of steam issue from the milky blue water, is one of Iceland's must-visit attractions and a great palce to recuperate, offering wellness treatments, massages, a Clinic Hotel, steam rooms, saunas and total relaxation for visitors. You can even enjoy a cleansing cocktail without leaving the water.
The 75m tall tower of Hallgrimskirkja (Hallgrimur's Church) dominates the reykjavik skyline and looms over the city; it can be seen from almost everywhere and serves as a navigational landmark for people walking through the city streets. Finished in 1974, the impressive basalt catchedral reflects the rugged landscape around it. Open daily, pop in for the afternoon classical concerts that often use the enormous pipe organ hosued here; 15m tall, it has more than 5,275 pipes. Alternatively, climb the tower for stunning panoramic views.
National Museum of Iceland
Established in 1863, the museum spent much of its early life moving from venue to venue before opening in its present location in 1950. These days, it's the place where iceland's past meets its present. Visit for an understanding and insight into the history of Iceland and browse a wealth of well-curated artefacts from throughout the eras.
To remind yourself that Reykjavik was settled by marauding Vikings, visit the Saga Museum, where life-like wax sculptures tell the story of the city's settlement.
Snowmobile & Golden Circle
Tour the Golden Circle to see an amazing combination of Iceland's finest sights and discover some of the best fun that can be had on the glaciers! Take the traditional Golden Circle Bus Tour and see Þingvellir National Park, the famous Geysir area and the magnificent Gullfoss waterfall. It's also possible to undertake the tour in a tricked out Land Rover on a Superjeep Safari.
Then, go on an exhilarating one-hour long snowmobile tour. Snowmobiling is available all year round, but the best months are April to June, when you can make the most of long hours of sunshine and good snow conditions on the glacier.
Glaciers and volcanoes from the air
A never-to-be-forgotten trip showing the sharply contrasting faces of Iceland's natural features from air. This is a magnificent tour over the worldfamous Eyjafjallajökull glacier and volcano. We fly over the site of the 2010 eruption and witness up close the effects of this powerful natural wonder.
Other places of interest en route include Hekla, another famous Icelandic volcano, Thingvellir National Park, site of the world's oldest parliament, Geysir, one of the world's outstanding geothermal areas, the Gullfoss waterfall and the rhyolite peaks of Landmannalaugar.