The most northerly capital in the world, Reykjavik, has become somewhat of a tourist hotspot in recent years – American tourists alone last year outnumbered the entire population of the city. Upon arriving it is clear to see why: the island, whilst small in size and population (they are still awaiting the birth of the 1 millionth Icelander), is large in personality, with its unique blend of kitsch tradition and stylish modernity. Whilst in the winter daylight can be little as 4 hours a day, Reykjavik by no means goes to sleep in the dark. On a clear day, the Northern Lights can be strong enough to illuminate the entire night sky, allowing Icelanders and tourists alike to enjoy the many delights the city’s bars have to offer, often partying into the early hours. After all, sunrise at 11am is the perfect excuse for a lie in.
Flying direct from Bristol to Keflavik can cost as little as £100 return with EasyJet. Once there, the Flybus is a regular shuttle service that will take you direct to your hotel door. If arriving in the light hours, I recommend saving your nap for later, as the journey through the unspoilt countryside is breathtaking.
renting a car can prove a more cost-effective and adventurous option.
Reykjavik can easily be explored by foot, as long as you’ve packed good walking shoes! However, to see some must-see sights you will need to book onto a bus or boat tour. These can be arranged through your hotel/hostel and are highly efficient and punctual, if a little expensive. Therefore, if you drive and fancy exploring wider afield, renting a car can prove a more cost-effective and adventurous option.
Where to Stay
Reykjavik offers a wide array of hotels – all of which are relatively modern, with a greater chance of a room upgrade (as I got!) in the quieter winter months. For those on a tighter budget there is a great selection of hostels. Loft Hostel provides a clean, modern and warm accommodation with a great view.
Time difference: None!
Currency: Icelandic Króna
Iceland is notoriously expensive (a pint will set you back £7.50), however, budgeting and pre-booking tours helps massively. As food is particularly pricey, having breakfast included in your accommodation will save you considerable amount (especially if you stock up well on a buffet!). With 75 percent of Iceland’s population attending university, student discount is widespread and often very generous.
With 75 percent of Iceland’s population attending university, student discount is widespread and often very generous.
Arrive early and head to the coast to watch the sun slowly rise. The swirling orange and pink hues create a spectacularly dramatic skyline over the sea and mountains, which photographs really well.
From here, or from your hotel, pre-booked bus tours will take you to the Blue Lagoon, which takes about 50 minutes. Whilst entrance is pricey (from £38 each) it truly is an experience like no other. The natural 39-degree heat envelopes you as you enter, with the silica mud mask and floating bar creating a truly luxurious experience. Once inside, you can bathe in the lagoon for as long as you like, so stay until sunset (about 4pm), to fully appreciate the ethereal setting.
Head back into the city for dinner. If you’re feeling brave, there is a wide selection of esteemed restaurants selling traditional Icelandic food – such as Hakarl, a rotting shark dish. However, for those who are slightly less adventurous and/or on a tighter budget, Reykjavik boasts a wide choice of Italian restaurants – Devitos Pizza offering an 18inch for under £15.
Whilst in the winter daylight can be little as 4 hours a day, Reykjavik by no means goes to sleep in the dark.
After dinner, be sure to hit some of the many bars Reykjavik has to offer and dance until you can no longer feel the cold. It is important to note however, that the drinking age in Iceland is 20, and this is quite strictly enforced.
Grab a hot chocolate and a pastry on your way into the city. The National Museum of Iceland is a pretty, snow-covered walk 15 minutes out of the centre and provides a complete history of the island. If you’re looking for a slightly different cultural experience, the Icelandic Phallological Museum is nearby (however definitely not to everyone’s taste!).
Take a late lunch at the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand, reputed to be the home of the world’s best, for a quick and tasty snack.
As darkness falls, take a tour bus into the countryside to try and catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. It truly is an incredible phenomenon and the tour guides’ dedication (I recommend Sterna Travel) and evident pride really shines through. After you have fully marvelled at the beauty of the aurora, the tour will normally conclude at about 2am. If you are unlucky enough to miss the lights, don’t worry! You can try again any night of your trip or return within 3 years for free.