Thanks to a range of factors including European stopover flights, Game of Thrones, and dramatic volcanic eruptions, Iceland has become a thriving tourist destination in recent decades. It’s one that lives up to its rugged and beautiful expectations, but defies them as well, offering far more than a cursory glance at a travel brochure may suggest.
Reykjavik, the capital and most populous city, has become a hub for an innovative dining culture that combines avant garde Scandinavian cuisine with the country’s own personality. While any trip to Iceland will include a stint in the city, the country’s true splendor is found beyond, so consider an easy extension along the country’s southern coast. In the summer, the revelry of the midnight sun awaits, while in the winter, Iceland is a hub for Northern Lights excursions.
Flag carrier Icelandair retains the most robust schedule of direct flights to Reykjavik, with eight gateway cities in the U.S. A wide range of stopover routes to European destinations, with one to seven day Icelandic stays, are available.
The newest entrant into Reykjavik’s luxury hotel scene is The Reykjavik Edition, with the trendy micro-chain debuting its Icelandic property in November. The 253-room hotel is adjacent to the shimmering Harpa Concert Hall, one of the city’s most iconic attractions, and brings its signature sultry vibe to the city, refined to Reykjavik standards by blending cozy hygge aesthetics with a contemporary Scandi style. Guest bathrooms feature contiguous white tiling connecting the walls and floors, offering a private hamma-like feel. A forthcoming spa, speakeasy bar, and rooftop bar and lounge will soon join a bustling lobby bar as key amenities.
When The Retreat Hotel at the Blue Lagoon debuted in 2018, it became Iceland’s first full-service five-star resort. Located an hour from the city, guests at the property benefit from access to a secluded, cordoned-off area of the Blue Lagoon, replete with a multi-step spa and sauna area incorporating numerous elements, from shocking cold plunges to hot saunas. Rooms offer unique views of the mossy, rocky lava field surroundings, and guests receive direct cell phone lines to reach their personal hosts for any further needs or whims.
Farther afield down the southern coast is Hotel Rangá, which embraces its remote locale to offer a rustic aesthetic more akin to a quirky mountain lodge than the super-modern leanings widely prevalent elsewhere among Iceland’s choice stays. Suites are themed from different continents, and include private balconies or patios, while a series of hot tubs dot the property’s exterior. Rangá is an homage to Iceland’s wilderness and is ideally positioned to capitalize on it.
The towering Hallgrímskirkja, a church perched atop the city’s highest point and raising another 244 feet into the sky, tops the list of Reykjavik’s must-see sites. The imposing white stone structure is designed to be evocative of the island’s columnar basalt rock formations, while a statue of explorer
graces its front courtyard. Harpa is also designed to be evocative of Iceland’s geometric basalt outcroppings, though with angled glass facades and colorful, eye-catching displays. A walk between the two spots is a good chance to see the waterfront Sun Voyager statue.
The Blue Lagoon remains Iceland’s most-Instagrammed locale. It offers an immersive, though crowded, experience, with captivating milky blue waters and mud facial masks. Minutes away is Fagradalsfjall, the latest volcanic operation to garner international attention. Newly opened last year and closer to Reykjavik city center is the Sky Lagoon, a thermal spa which offers more of an adults-getaway mood, with tall black rock walls offering myriad private nooks and crannies throughout its main pools, a direct view of the grand and frigid sea beyond, and a signature seven-step spa ritual.
No trip to Iceland is complete with an abundance of waterfalls. Within proximity of the southern coast, the massive Gullfoss, wedge-shaped and emptying into a steep, narrow cavern, is an impressive show of force. The misty, flowing visage of Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s most recognizable, and visitors can trek up a 400-step climb for a view from the top. From there, it’s a short trip to Seljalandsfoss, where those willing to get wet can walk behind its curtain of water for an unparalleled view. Don’t skip the famous black sandy shores in Vik.
EAT & DRINK
Reykjavik’s first Michelin star entrant is Dill, from chef
Gunnar Karl Gíslason.
The restaurant is noted for its new Nordic tasting menu, and for stamping Iceland’s place on the culinary map.
has since gone onto open Tides at the Edition, with an a la carte menu focused on seasonal Icelandic fare. Matur Og Drykkur, or literally, “food and drink,” features a six-course tasting menu, with dishes like house-made charcuterie paired with a fizzy, funky orange wine, or a granita with apple and celery, whose beverage pairing, limoncello, is poured right atop. Moss, The Retreat’s signature restaurant from chef
offers five and seven-course tasting menus, as well as a vegan tasting menu, and has become a destination in its own right.
It’s not all about fine dining in and around Reykjavik. The city has a growing cafe and bakery culture, with Braud Bakery emerging as a standout, and several go-tos for craft cocktails, including Jungle Bar and Apotek Kitchen + Bar. Iceland also has a particular affinity for hot dogs, with the historic
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
reigning as the kingpin—ask for “everything” when ordering, which will include a trio of sauces plus fried and raw onion. Cap a day with a visit to Eimverk Distillery, producers of gin, brennivín, and Flóki single malt whisky.
The writer was hosted by The Reykjavik Edition.