The arts-oriented culture, amazing food, other-worldly topography and healing waters are just four of the many reasons to head to Iceland.
Reykjavik stands as a true European cultural capital, while still maintaining a small-town feel. The hip factor is extremely high. Couple that with the steady stream of visiting Europeans of all stripes, just hanging out or there on business, and you’ve got the one of the coolest café society melting pots.
Start your adventuring in the Old City and work your way out. Reykjavik is full of art, with coffee bars and cafés providing the pit stops. Yes, there’s the Icelandic Phallological Museum filled with mammal penises, but that only takes a few minutes.
Visit any time. Like anywhere, visiting Iceland depends on what you want. Midnight sun? Go in June. Northern Lights? November through April. The biennial multidisciplinary Reykjavik Arts Festival is a cultural extravaganza in June. April through August sees a half dozen really good music festivals. The Fringe is in July. Pride is in August. Winter Pride is in March. The Laugavegur Ultra Marathon in July and the Reykjavik Marathon is in mid-August.
Make the food scene. The Food and Fun Festival is in March, but Iceland’s top chefs are busy reinventing the national cuisine all year long, embracing traditional foods and giving them a modern twist. Reykjavik’s Dill Restaurant is one of those at the forefront of this wave, with things like geothermally baked rye bread, salted cod, goose breast and incredible cheeses. The more casual Grill Market is another Reykjavik highlight. Grilled monkfish skewers, rack of lamb, grilled red fish, big steaks and puffin sliders (not kidding) top the menu here.
Get in the swim. Locals treat the public swimming pools like a social event, a way to start the day or unwind after work, year-round. Kinda like the pub. Check out the popular Laugardalslaug or the iconic, Art Deco Sundhöllin.
Head for the hills. The time you spend in the countryside will be what you talk about most when you get home. Iceland is the closest the Earth will ever get to looking like the moon. Sweeping beauty is absolutely everywhere, from the moss-covered lava fields to volcanic craters in the north. There is such a variety of breathtaking geology, you will find it hard to pick which tours to take. There’s something for all interests and fitness levels, from day trips to overnights. The big 4 x 4 trucks that take you out onto the glaciers have a Mad Max meets Monster Truck feel to them.
Trip up north. People stream to the northern city of Akureyri to watch the aurora borealis dance, sometimes all night. The geographical anomalies that dot this region are also a major draw, a veritable freak-show of sprawling waterfalls, volcanic oddities and geothermal go-sees. After you hike around crater ponds and explore lava ridges and caves, you can straddle the region’s giant fissure at the Grjótagjá Rift, standing with one foot on the Eurasian tectonic plate and the other on the North American plate. The Myvatn Nature Baths just east of the rift is a true delight; a man-made, mineral-rich, 36-degree hot spring pulling water from up to 2,500 metres below ground.
Hit the big spa. Spend an hour or two at the famous Blue Lagoon on your way back to the airport. Mucking around in volcanic mud is the perfect way to say goodbye to this arresting and mesmerizing land—and your skin will thank you for it.
When you go. Average July temperatures are 12 C but of course can reach the 20s. And because Iceland lies in the path of the North Atlantic Current, its winter temps are mild considering how close you are to the Arctic Circle—hovering around +2/-2 C. Icelandair has some great packages worth investigating that also include the northern city of Akureyri.