Depending on your interests, this could be down to its remoteness, exotic surrounding scenery or somewhat surprising reputation as a party destination. It also helps that, far from being insular, Icelandic people are outgoing and extremely well educated – most will speak not only English, but several other languages as well.
Rest assured, you’ve never seen anywhere like Iceland. Subsequently, coming here and not getting outside Reykjavik is nigh on criminal. Thankfully, you can get an ample sample of the country’s natural wonders by exploring the Golden Circle, a well trodden route in Iceland’s south-west, around Reykjavik. Hire a car to see water spouting from the earth at Geysir and falling the other way at waterfall Gullfoss, or join a day-long Golden Circle tour from Reykjavik.
Getting into hot water
A positive side effect of the tectonic fault line running diagonally across Iceland, which is responsible for its unique landscape of volcanoes and geysers, is the endless supply of hot water found in the geothermal springs below the surface. Here you can shower as long as you like – guilt free. A far better way of enjoying the benefits, though, is to embrace the local tradition of spas. The Blue Lagoon is the most famous, but Reykjavik has numerous swimming pools, complete with adjoining hot tubs, and a dip is relatively cheap in what is an expensive country. Be warned, though: the pools have strict rituals associated with taking a dip, requiring you to shower before getting in the water, as Icelandic pools use little chlorine. There’s usually multiple hot tubs, all at different temperatures, and their reputation as a hangover cure is well founded.
Out on the town
Despite a once-authoritarian view on alcohol – beer was only legalised here in 1989 – Icelanders can now party with the best of them. The biggest handicap, though, are the prices, with a pint of beer costing up to £8. Perhaps as a result, Reykjavik puts even Spain to shame when it comes to going out late. It’s not uncommon to find the streets dead at 11pm but heaving by 2am. Ignore the tourist bars (the Ice Bar is a notorious trap), dress up nice (or you’re sure to feel pov) and bring a hedonistic approach to life. Beware that near constant daylight in summer can play havoc with your body clock, and make an all-nighter seem like a walk in the park.
Worth a look
The Blue Lagoon
A trip to Iceland’s iridescent hot pool and No. 1 tourist attraction is a surreal experience. Daytime (basically anytime in summer) might offer the best photos of you reclining in the milky blue waters, but it’s during the dark of winter when the lagoon comes into its own – the warm water is that much more appealing, and the wisps of steam blowing across the dimly lit surface add atmosphere aplenty. Just so you know, the Blue Lagoon is, a) a 45-minute drive out of Reykjavik and, b) not natural, but actually the effluent of a power station – best not to think about it.
History and culture
Only settled in the 9th century, Iceland’s Viking history is remarkably well documented, as shown by the National Museum. Locals also love a good story – Iceland boasts more authors per capita than any other country – and the historical sagas, an Icelandic precursor to the fantasy genre, found at Culture House, are the best examples.
Not your average romantic nightspot, The Pearl is a revolving restaurant sitting atop six giant water tanks which offers good views of the city. The water inside is, of course, hot.
Bonus points for: Being unlike anywhere else on Earth
Loses marks for: The cost – don’t even think about it in terms of Oz/NZ dollars or rand