Conquering Iceland: Everything You Need To Know

Conquering Iceland: Everything You Need To Know
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Where To Stay: There are only two places to stay in Reykjavik as far as Im concerned: The grand dame of Icelandic class, The Hotel Borg, and the uber-modern chic of the Hotel 101.

Hotel Borg: Originally opening in 1930, The Borg is the Plaza, Ritz or Savoy of the island. Centrally located on Austurvllur park and just off the main drag of Austurstraeti, it is literally the perfect starting point of any journey. The rooms are exquisitely adorned in Scandinavian design, complete with flat screen televisions, rain showers and free Wi-Fi.

Hotel 101: Another great location, the 101, bears the distinction of being Icelands first boutique hotel. All the requisite design touches are in place: mountains of neatly arranged coffee table books in the lobby, vast collection of contemporary art, and the perfect bar to start your night out at.

What To Do: Local hot springs like Nauthlsvk Geothermal Beach are a hub of the Icelandic social scene even with the weather teetering around 50 degrees F. The hot spring (cleverly disguised as a public pool, complete with synchronized swimming competition when we attended) was a perfect 100 degrees.

One cannot have a trip to Iceland without doing at least one outdoorsy thing. We did four in two days, all impeccably handled by UK-based outfitter, Black Tomato.

Day 1:

  • 10 AM: Depart from the hotel for a 20 minute drive to pick up our all-terrain vehicles for a three hour ATV tour scaling Reykjaviks surrounding highlands.
  • 1 PM: It was off to the middle of nowhere, a desolate landscape that could easily have been another planet for an hour of exploring lava caves. The claustrophobic or those afraid of the dark need not apply.
  • 3 PM: We were off with our driver to the Blue Lagoon, one of the highlights of the trip. Dont listen to the locals who claim its too touristy and expensive IT IS but it is a sight to behold. Like a modern oasis, the lagoon attracts visitors from all over the world. The main goal is relaxation, and there are countless ways to do it. I recommend booking an in-water massage in advance (approx $50 for 30 minutes and $35 for admission to the lagoon).

Day 2:

  • 9 AM: Pick-up for a private snorkeling expedition between the tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park truly unforgettable. Fully equipped with thermal dry suits, our guide taught us everything we needed to know before diving into the near frozen waters. Once again, it was unlike anything wed ever experienced; the water was so clear you could literally see for miles.

    *Looking to save a little dough with Icelandic excursions? TheReykjavik Welcome Card grants free admission to many of the citys museums and thermal pools. A 48-hour pass is 1,900 kronur, or about $15 at 128 kronur to the dollar.

What To Eat: From the perfect pit stop en route to the town’s main tourist attraction (Hallgrmskirkjachurch) to the recommended restaurant that serves Mink Whale on a kabob, here’s a taste of Icelandic gourmet.

Mokka Kaffi: With no Starbucks in the country, we were forced to fend for ourselves. Just off of Sklavrustgur is a stylish and simple caf that notably does not open until 9 AM. A more than decent cup of espresso will help you forget the fact that you havent slept; I recommend the Swiss Mocha, a combination of espresso with hot cocoa that is perfect for any grey morning. Definitely get the Belgian waffles with whipped cream and thick toast with marmalade and cheese. It’s the perfect pit stop en route to the towns main tourist attraction: Hallgrmskirkja church. Sklavrustgur 3a,Reykjavik, 552-1174

Saegreifinn (The Sea Baron): Our first true Icelandic meal. Sea Baron is located on the harbor and is known for one thing: Lobster soup. Recommended by almost everyone who I asked, this delicious concoction is served piping hot in glass bowls with plastic spoons and hot sliced baguette. Dark tan in color and speckled with red oil, it’s filled with generous pieces of succulent local lobster, red and green peppers, seaweed and secret spices. In addition, I have to recommend the Mink Whale, a local delicacy, served on a kabob; it can best be described as salty tasting steak. Geirsgata 8; 101 Reykjavik; 354-553-1500;

Babal and Tiu Dropar: Difficult to find a suitable (and non-adventurous) lunch, both of these cafes combine unique atmospheres, tasty coffee and delicious fare. Babal, Sklavrustgur 22a, 354-552 2278; Tiu Dropar, Laugavegur 27, 354- 551-9380

Seafood Cellar: The most elaborate meal we had was at Seafood Cellar, where we opted for their chefs exotic tasting menu for 8,900ISK (approx $50). Sampling a number of local menu items from cod to lamb, the meal ended in a Las Vegas-style grand finale of dessert atop smoking dry ice. Aoalstraeti 2, Reykjavik, 354 511 1212,

Silfur: Located inside the Hotel Borg, Silfur (Icelandic for the color silver) is the perfect homage to Icelandic cuisine. The menu is filled with local delicacies like whale, horse and lamb. Posthusstraeti 11,Reykjavik,Iceland, 354 578 2008,

Fish Market: The hottest table in town; reservations are highly recommended. This two-floor culinary mecca boasts unique local sushi, smoked puffin and sublime cocktails made with Reyka Icelandic vodka. Adalstraeti 12, 354-578-8877,

*Word to the wise: Stay away from the late night pizza and go directly to the Bjarins hotdog stand for a smoked Icelandic dog (I recommend it covered in raw and fried onions, with local mustard), or try a waffle from a street vendor.

Where To Shop: As most clothing is imported, there are two local brands that stood out for their local flavor as well as high quality design.

Andersen & Lauth
: An Icelandic fashion original established in 1934. There are locations in Reykjavik for both men and women’s mod design staples. As luck would have it, we encountered a 60% off end of season sale that brought the price of a 80,000ISK leather jacket down to 32,000ISK (approx $200). Andersen & Lauth womens, located at Laugavegur 94; mens, Laugavegur 7.

66 North : The ultimate in outfitting the locals. In my opinion, if it’s good enough for the extremes of both midnight sun and 20+ hours of darkness, it’s good enough for anywhere in the USA. Bankastrti

For more info on when to go and how to book your trip, check out Reykjavik, Iceland: The New Miami?

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Thingvellir National Park is a must-see spot on the island.

The Hotel Borg is the Plaza, Ritz or Savoy of the island.

The Hotel Borg

The Hotel Borg

Another of Reykjavik's top hotel destinations, the Hotel 101.

Spend an afternoon relaxing in one of the public pools at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach.

For the super adventurous: book an ATV excursion with the help of UK-based outfitter, Black Tomato.

Reykjavik scenery spotted along the ATVing route.

Another of Reykjavik's activities fit for the adventurous (and the non-claustrophobic) – the lava caves.

Exploring the lava caves is just one of many excursions that the city of Reykjavik offers.

Book it to Iceland's natural geothermal spa, Blue Lagoon, for a day of relaxation in the water that stays warm year-round.

Thingvellir National Park

A private snorkeling expedition between the tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park is a truly unforgettable experience.

Snorkeling between the tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park.

The geiser at Thingvellir National Park.

Mokka Kaffi - the perfect pit stop en route to the town’s main tourist attraction: Hallgrímskirkja church.

Mokka Kaffi's most recommended meal: order up the Swiss Mocha, Belgian waffles with whipped cream and thick toast with marmalade and cheese.

The view from the top of Hallgrímskirkja church.

Saegreifinn (also known as Sea Baron) is located on the harbor and is famous for its Lobster soup.

The Sea Baron's famous Lobster soup is served piping hot in glass bowls with baguette on the side.

Tiu Dropar – one of the city's popular lunch spots.

Opt for the chef's exotic tasting menu at Seafood Cellar for approximately $50.

Silfur (located inside Hotel Borg) is the perfect spot in the city to test out Reykjavik's local delicacies like whale and horse.

The Fish Market  – the hottest table in town boasts unique local sushi and smoked puffin.

An elaborate sushi platter at The Fish Market provides plenty of food to go around.

Ditch the late night pizza – opt for a smoked Icelandic dog at Bæjarins hotdog stand instead.

Iceland's version of late night pizza.

One of the city's shopping hotspots: Andersen & Lauth

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Reykjavik, Iceland: The New Miami?

Reykjavik, Iceland: The New