Iceland seems remote, but from the East Coast, it's a five-and-a-half-hour flight — less time than it takes to get to L.A. Spend a day partying in Reykjavík, then get out of town into a seriously otherworldly mindset.
Day 1: Most flights to Reykjavík from the U.S. are red-eyes, so you'll be landing as the city awakens. Pick up a rental car, drop your bags at the sleek Kvosin Downtown Hotel (from $275 a night) or at Kex, a hotel-hostel in a former biscuit factory with a great gastropub (from $124 a night). Devote a day to exploring the city's thermal pools and waterfront. At night, keep the name Gunnar Karl Gíslason in mind. Iceland's greatest chef has created a mini-empire downtown, starting with Dill, which serves elegant multicourse tasting menus based on the island's native ingredients, such as wind-dried catfish and whipped lamb fat. For lighter fare, an anonymous pizza-and-cocktail spot is one floor up, and a branch of cult Copenhagen beer bar Mikkeller & Friends is on the top floor.
Day 2: After a long night out, head an hour east to Nesjavellir and unwind at the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel, a spaceship-looking structure in a remote lava field (from $275 a night). Sip a scotch at the bar, which stands on stilts over the rocky terrain. The place was designed specifically to showcase the northern lights; check out the show through the bar's oversize glass windows — or while soaking in the natural hot tub just outside.
Day 3: Head about 80 miles north to the chambers of the world's largest man-made ice cave, carved more than 2,500 feet into Langjökull glacier; an eight-wheel-drive vehicle (a former NATO cruise missile launcher) ferries you to the ice cap. Your mind blown, retreat back to Reykjavík, a two-hour drive south.
Day 4: Before your afternoon flight home, tour the Reykjanes peninsula, stopping at Valahnúkur to peek over the jagged ocean cliffs. Make a final stop at an unlikely attraction: the Icelandic Museum of Rock 'n' Roll, and learn why this tiny island has produced so many innovative artists, like Björk and Sigur Rós. It's on the way to the airport, and well worth an hour of your time.
Direct flights to Reykjavík depart from 10 U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C. (5.5 hours), and Portland, Oregon (7.5 hours). The airport is a 45-minute drive from downtown Reykjavík.