A traditional stopover for planes crossing the Atlantic, Iceland is more than just home to the volcano Eyjafjallajökull that stopped air traffic in 2010. Full of stunning contradictions such as sultry hot springs, icy glaciers, lush greenery, vast lava fields, dark winters, and endless summer days, Iceland certainly intrigues. Many people speak English and are used to tourists since the country has become a hot European travel destination in recent years. Want to make your stay memorable in this unforgettable country? Here are our tips for getting the most out of four hours or a few days in the intimate capital of Reykjavik.
Take a walk
Reykjavik is home to roughly half of Iceland’s population of 300,000. That said, the center of this capital city is fairly easy to navigate on foot during warmer months. No matter the time of year, pack at least a sweater and a windproof outer jacket — summer average temperatures are about 60°F / 15.5°C and the winds can be truly brutal. Stroll through the Reykjavik Botanic Gardens, investigate one of the many art musuems, or take advantage of free wifi in Austurvöllur square.
Drink coffee… or something stronger
Kaffi (coffee) is a necessity for many Icelanders. Many cafés have free refill policies on their drip, and delicious brews combined with cooler weather probably means you’ll be tempted to enjoy a second cup. Some of our favorite cafés in Reykjavik include Café Haiti near the harbor, and C is for Cookie, where both the coffee and sweets are sure to satisfy. Looking to people watch? Head to Bankastraeti, a lively thoroughfare filled with shops, cafés and restaurants.
Reykjavik is also justly famous for its bar and club scene, where the party doesn’t get started until after midnight on the weekends. The hottest spots change rapidly, but getting beers or shots of the traditional schnapps brennivín (nicknamed “black death” — watch out!) is how you’ll find many natives unwinding at week’s end.
Hit the seas
If you have a few hours, try one of many whale-watching tours. The views from the boats alone are worth the ride; other animals you may see include puffins, porpoises and dolphins. While humpback whales are more likely to be seen farther north, you may just get lucky.
Get out of town
Rent a car and drive around the Golden Circle where geysers, waterfalls and Iceland’s largest lake await. You’ll see wild horses and truly stunning scenery; there are plenty of tours that run if you don’t care to make the drive yourself. Last but not least, spend some time at the magical Blue Lagoon (pictured above). The aqua blue water is wonderfully relaxing, with waterfalls, steam rooms and a sauna to round out the unique spa experience. True, it’s often crowded with tourists, but once you slip into the warm water and perhaps get a drink from the bar inside the pool itself, you won’t want to leave. Even better, it’s about 20 minutes from Keflavik International Airport and has plenty of luggage storage, so you can indulge on a layover or longer stay.
Photo attribution: vulture labs