Iceland is not just about jaw-dropping scenery. From dining at world-class eateries to checking out street art, here’s how to enjoy the Nordic hot spot.
1. Taste fine (and fast) Nordic cuisine
A latecomer to the burgeoning Nordic culinary scene, Icelandic chefs are making up for lost time. Chef Ragnar Eiriksson is the flag-bearer for New Nordic cuisine in the city, with five-and seven-course tasting menus at Dill restaurant. Little surprise tables are booked up to two months in advance. Or seek out Mattur og Drykkur in the Old Harbour precinct. The dishes here embrace Iceland’s rich culinary heritage, giving a modern twist to traditional ingredients that include smoked Icelandic lamb, whale and line-caught Arctic Charr.
And of course don’t miss the city’s famous hot dog stand, Baejarins Beztu, which has been in business for 70 years. The Reykjavik Food Walk is a great way to eat your way across the city in the company of local guides.
2. Take a dip in a public geothermal pool
Iceland is blessed with plentiful geothermal energy, and the locals love nothing more than a soak in the heated thermal baths of their local swimming pools. So while tourists flock to the pricey Blue Lagoon an hour from the city, you may want to seek out one of the city’s excellent public pools. Laugardalslaug is the largest in Reykjavik, with a 50m lap pool, steam room and a number of hot tubs.
3. Have a swing by lava fields
Not many may be aware that Iceland offers a number of superb golf courses ranging from nine-hole tracks to 18-hole championship layouts. At the links-style Keilir Golf Course, the fairways wend through ancient lava fields, while Sudurnes Golf Course offers a challenging coastal layout. Watch out for the third, where a 200m-drive is needed to make it over the ocean and reach the safety of the green. Up north, Akureyri Golf Club is the most northerly 18-hole course in the world, and home to the annual Arctic Open.
4. Scuba dive in the ‘Devil’s Jacuzzi’
Despite the icy waters Iceland offers a number of superb scuba diving sites. The most famous is the Silfra fissure in Thingvellir National Park, where divers and snorkellers can fin between the European and North American tectonic plates. There’s not much in the way of aquatic life, but the 100m visibility and dramatic underwater landscapes make it a popular day trip from Reykjavik.
A new option is an excursion to the ‘Devil’s Jacuzzi’ 30 minutes from Reykjavik. The underwater hot springs in Lake Kleifarvatn bubble up from the floor of an extinct caldera, infusing the clear waters with bubbles and geothermal water. ‘Like snorkelling in a glass of champagne,’ is how ecstatic visitors are describing it on TripAdvisor.
5. Get inside a glacier
Ever wondered what lies deep inside a glacier? ‘Into The Glacier’ tours first take travelers onto the icy plains of the Langjokull (‘Long Glacier’) in specially modified ice trucks. Here, tunnels lead you deep into caves dug out from the heart of the glacier to admire the magnificent walls of ancient blue ice. Feel like splashing out? Helicopter tours depart central Reykjavik and offer jaw-dropping views before dropping you off on the ice.
6. Heat up in a volcano
Glacier sounds a bit chilly? How about catching a ride into the heart of a volcano? The excursion to the heart of the extinct Thrihnukagigur volcano begins at Blue Mountains Country Park with a scenic three-kilometre walk through the lava fields to the upper slopes of the volcano. Here you’ll strap on your helmet and harness and step into an open-sided elevator – similar to that used by high-rise window-washers – and descend 120m onto the floor of the (thankfully empty) magma chamber
7. Discover gritty graffiti
There’s no shortage of excellent museums and art galleries in Reykjavik, but the city also boasts a thriving street art scene. It’s worth seeking out Guido van Helten’s works in the Old Harbour, and Sara Riel’s intricate piece ‘The Mushroom’ on Hverfisgata. Also look out for the striking mural on the corner of Vesturgata and Norourstigur. Painted by DEIH XLF, it formed part of the Wall Poetry-Urban Nation collaboration that paired up street artists and musicians ahead of the 2015 Iceland Airwaves music festival.
– TEXT BY RICHARD HOLMES
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.