Famed for its Viking
history and high-energy nightlife, Iceland’s capital is also the perfect
pitstop for a range of activities: be it bobbing in a geothermal pool,
spotting puffins or taking in one of the world’s best dive sites.
Geothermal pools and spas Set in a black lava field, the Blue Lagoon
spa is fed by water (at a perfect 38C) from the futuristic Svartsengi
geothermal plant. Its silver towers, roiling clouds of steam and people
daubed in blue-white silica mud provide an off-the-planet scene. There
are two steam rooms, a spa, café and restaurant; it’s a 45-minute drive
from the city centre (240 Grindavík; from £28).
Laugardalslaug Geothermal Pool is the largest in Iceland, and a place where children play, teenagers
flirt, business deals are made and everyone catches up with the gossip.
It also has the best facilities: an Olympic-size indoor pool (28C), an
outdoor pool, four hot pots (38°C–44°C), steam bath, whirlpool, and
curling 86m water slide. Get there via bus 14 (Sundlaugavegur 30a;
6.30am–10pm weekdays, from 8am weekends; from £3).
The dinky Blue Flag Nautholsvik geothermal beach,
on the edge of the Atlantic, is packed with happy bathers in summer,
thanks to golden sand imported from Morocco and an artificial hot spring
that keeps the water at a pleasant 18C–20C. There are sociable hot
pots, a snack bar, changing rooms, and canoes and rowing boats. Get
there on bus 19 (Ylströnd; free admission 15 May–15 Aug, £2.80 rest of
Animal watching Iceland is a fantastic place for whale wathching– its waters hold more than 20 species of cetacean. In Faxaflói bay
you’ll come across white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises and minkes;
migratory humpbacks are also spotted. Between April and October, Elding
Whale Watching runs three-hour trips from Reykjavík’s old harbour (Old
Harbour; from £45).
Known for crash landings and frantic
fluttering on land, the puffin is surprisingly graceful in water and
spends most of its year at sea. Between May and August it comes to land
to breed, and around 50,000 of these clumsy and endearingly comic birds
nest on Lundey and Akurey, two islands just offshore from Reykjavík.
Visit them on the one-hour Puffin Express boat trips, which sail from the harbour several times a day (Old Harbour; from £20).
less than a mile west from the city centre and you reach a red and
white lighthouse, a lava-strewn beach and a windswept golf course.Seltjarnarnes– where the air has a salty tang and fish-drying racks sit by the shore
– is a haven for birdwatching. Some 106 species have been spotted and
the offshore island of Grótta is a natural reserve (accessible on foot
at low tide but closed in nesting season, May–July). Expect to see
Arctic terns, eider ducks and fulmars.
Horses are an integral part of Icelandic life and the sturdy, short
local horse is a gentle breed, ideal for inexperienced riders. Horse
farms around Reykjavík offer some truly unforgettable tours:
from trotting through lava fields under the midnight sun to riding to
the beautiful Gullfoss waterfall and the hot springs at Geysir (from £35
for a one-hour countryside tour).
The tiny, uninhabited island of Videy,
just a few minutes offshore, is criss-crossed with paths and makes an
ideal day trip for walking. Strange modern artworks (including Yoko
Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower), an abandoned village and shipwrecks give a
melancholy feel and the walks are eminently peaceful. Pick up a trail
map at the harbour (return ferry from Old Harbour or Skarfabakki pier;
Iceland’s waters offer 100m visibility, lava ravines, wrecks and thermal chimneys, making it a special dive destination. One of the best sites in the world is Silfra at Þingvellir
– a freshwater rift that runs between the Euroasian and American
continental plates. Dive Iceland runs a half-day tour from the city,
half an hour away (£193, including pick-up, two dives, equipment and
Transport Icelandair flies to Reykjavík from London Gatwick, Heathrow, Glasgow and Manchester, while Wow Air
flies from Gatwick, easyJet from Edinburgh, Luton and Manchester,
Iceland Express from London Gatwick and Jet2 from Edinburgh, Leeds
Bradford and Newcastle (from £170 from Gatwick). Keflavík Airport is 30
miles west of the city; the easiest way to get there is on the Reykjavik Excursions Flybus,
which can drop you off at your hotel (50 minutes; £11 to city centre,
£14 to your hotel). The city is easy to traverse on foot or by bus .
Where to stay Rooms at Sunna
are simple, with honey parquet floors, and several have good views of
Hallgrímskirkja church. There are studio apartments that sleep up to
eight, and breakfast includes home-baked bread (Thorsgata 26; from £70).
CenterHotel Arnarhvoll offers views of the bay and Mount Esja. Rooms, though small, have large
windows letting in all that lovely Nordic light; head to the basement
for a sauna and steam room (Ingólfsstræti 1; from £100).
The city’s most historic hotel, Hotel Borg,
had an overhaul and now super-smart beige, black and cream décor,
parquet floors, leather headboards and Bang & Olufsen flatscreens
are standard throughout (Posthusstraeti 11; from £190).