Reykjavík is the perfect base for trips to the Blue Lagoon, gushing geysers and dramatic waterfalls that make up Iceland’s other-worldly landscape. Home to achingly hip bars, intimate clubs and live music venues, Reykjavík also offers a stellar nightlife. Eat some yummy rotten shark or check out the Northern Lights in the winter.
The Blue Lagoon
Just outside Reykjavík is the Blue Lagoon, a giant outdoor geothermal bath, rich in natural mineral salts and algae. In winter, the lagoon is surrounded by snow, making the contrast between the cosy warmth of the water and the icy-cold air irresistible. The milky blue waters top a toasty 40°C, which can make it hard to drag yourself out, especially when the air temperature is below freezing.
Waterfalls and National Park
A popular day trip from Reykjavík is known as the Golden Circle and takes in the geysers of Geysir and Stokkur, the waterfalls at Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park, the former setting for the annual Viking assembly, thought to be the world’s oldest parliament as it was founded in 930AD.
Fresh seafood, rotten shark…
Reykjavík has a surfeit of restaurants serving fresh melt-in-the-mouth fish. If you’re feeling particularly brave and have a cast-iron stomach, try local delicacy, Hakari, aka rotten shark, which has been left in the ground for a few months. It’s worse than roadkill on a plate and honks of mouldy cheese and rotting flesh. Eating the stuff is a macho rite of passage for the tough Viking-descended Icelanders.
Snorkelling and diving
Snorkel or dive between the American and Eurasian continents at Silfra Rift in Thingvellir National Park. Only 50km from Reykjavík, the rift is flanked by huge rock formations and the startlingly clear waters offer visibility to 100m. The water is so clean that you can take your mask off and enjoy a refreshing drink. It’s a tad nippy at 2°C as the lagoon is filled with melted water from a glacier about 50km away, so you’ll have to wear a dry suit. See dive.is.
And a random fact
More than half of all Icelanders believe in elves and trolls, known as the ‘hidden people’. Legend has it that when God visited Eve, she only had time to clean up half her children, so she hid the others. As punishment, God said the children would stay hidden forever. Nowadays, Iceland’s building projects are often moved to prevent damaging the rock where the hidden people are believed to live and some gardens have tiny wooden houses for elves.
WHEN TO GO: Winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights, while summers are milder with 24-hour daylight between June and August.
GETTING THERE: Icelandair (icelandair.co.uk) flies to Reykjavík twice daily.
VISAS: South Africans need a Schengen visa.
CURRENCY: Icelandic krona. 1 GBP = 187 ISK.
LANGUAGE: Icelandic, but everyone speaks English.
GETTING AROUND: Rent a jeep or go on a tour to visit attractions outside the city.
GOING OUT: A beer is 800 ISK.
ACCOMMODATION: Dorm beds cost from £15 a night.
GET MORE INFO: inspiredbyiceland.com; visiticeland.com