Last-Minute Travel Guide to Reykjavík, Iceland

Iceland's Sky Lagoon
Iceland's Sky Lagoon is a little more than 4 miles from downtown Reykjavik.Sky Lagoon by Pursuit

When the Fagradalsfjall volcano suddenly erupted earlier this year in Iceland, locals and tourists alike descended on the mountain to party like it was 1999. Or 1239. Anyway, which was the last time there’d been any volcanic activity out on the Reykjanes Peninsula (about an hour’s drive south of Reykjavík). Hot dog vendors set up shop as the lava continued to flow for months. There were even reports of faraway bars live-streaming the whole thing. The magma has since cooled, but the volcano is still a hit. Park the car, walk on the black rocks, and pretend you’re on the moon. That’s the thing about Iceland: It’s alive and always changing.

Call Iceland the Greater Outdoors, a frozen playground of epic road trips and midnight summertime hikes where, after a long day out in the wild, you’ll be rewarded with a Michelin-starred meal and a geothermal bath to soak away the pain. And with flights still way under capacity these days, Reykjavík is the perfect last-minute escape. Here’s how to get Björked.

Last-Minute Travel Guide to Reykjavík, Iceland

The Fagradalsfjall volcano
The Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted in March of 2021 for the first time in about 800 years. Hjördís Jónsdóttir

The first stop

Any co-worker who’s been to Iceland will give you the same hack: Go right from the airport to the Blue Lagoon, until your hotel room is ready. Which is (one reason) why the Blue Lagoon is teeming with tourists. Skip the crowds and head to Reykjavík’s newly opened Sky Lagoon, an infinity pool on the Atlantic ocean with a glass-walled sauna overlooking an active volcano. Sure, the whole thing looks like something out of The Bachelor, but the thermal waters are piping hot and the beer is ice cold. Plus, it’s open until 10 p.m. If the sky is clear, you can float beneath the Northern Lights.

The Sky Lagoon opened in the spring of 2021
The Sky Lagoon opened in the spring of 2021; among the surprises, the glass-walled sauna has views of the Icelandic president’s house. Sky Lagoon by Pursuit

The day trip

If you’re short on time, plug the Golden Circle into your rental’s GPS and check off three bucket list spots in one day: Geysir hot spring area (the largest in Europe), Gullfoss waterfall (which means “golden waterfall,” largely due to the fact that rainbows form in the spray above the falls on sunny days), and Dingvellir National Park, where the Vikings apparently had their parliament. The best part? You can still make it back to Reykjavík for a late-night drink at Kaldi, a local bar with an impressive collection of gin.

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The road trip

This seven-day drive is called The Ring Road for obvious reasons: one historic “highway” that encircles the perimeter of the island. You’ll stop at Skógafoss waterfall, Langjökull Glacier (home to the world’s largest man-made ice tunnel), and Kirkjufell (a mountain shaped like an arrowhead). But you’ll also have time for more unlikely spots like the volcanic deserts of Húsavík on the northern coast, where NASA once sent U.S. astronauts to train in the 60s.

Hafnarfjörður
Just six miles from Reykjavík one can hike the outdoors of Hafnarfjörður, with views of Hamarinn Cliff. The area is also said to be home to the elves who live in the Hellisgerði Lava Garden. Hjördís Jónsdóttir

After hours

Gunnar Karl Gíslason, founding chef of Dill restaurant, made his name by embracing local ingredients and homespun techniques with a modern twist. For example, taking dried cod, shredding it in a blender and mixing it with burned butter and white ale vinegar. The choice to go hyperlocal was intentional, but also necessary: The restaurant opened in the wake of a financial crisis that crippled Iceland and he couldn’t afford to import much. The bet paid off. Dill was hailed as a temple of New Nordic Cuisine, earning the country’s first Michelin star in 2017—only to have it taken away two years later. What’s Icelandic for ruh-roh?

Chef Gíslason (who’d briefly decamped to New York to open Agern) returned to Reykjavík like a man possessed, promptly buying out some of his early investors and moving Dill to a new location on the city’s main drag. He put his focus on a tasting menu strong on Nordic vegetables, sustainability and (lately) wild geese. The restaurant regained its Michelin star in 2020. Naturally, chef is now gunning for a second.

Late-night outings

If you want to know where to eat after hours, ask a chef. Dill’s frontman recommends the hip No Concept, where he reports the kitchen is open late and the pizza (of all things) is killer. He washes it down with a gin martini—light on the vermouth, with a twist of lemon. But you can ask for dealer’s choice.

Where to sleep

The Reyjkavik outpost of the EDITION opened this fall, and while the design is predictably sleek, the views are the main draw. The hotel sits on the waterfront staring out at Mt. Esja, the Snæfellsjökull glacier, and the Olafur Eliasson-designed, glass-walled Harpa Concert Hall (where Björk sometimes hangs out at the café). Don’t fight the jet lag. If you’re up early, grab a coffee at Reykjavík Roasters and walk to Brauð & Co. for the still-hot cinnamon buns (a hangover from Iceland’s Danish history).

The Harpa Concert Hall, designed by Olafur Eliasson
The Harpa Concert Hall, designed by Olafur Eliasson, recently saw Bjork performing live with members of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra Courtesy Harpa

How to stay warm

The Icelandic heritage brand 66°North was created in 1926 to protect local fishermen from the extreme elements. Like other high-end outerwear suppliers, the company uses Gore-Tex and Polartec fabrics (among others) to keep you toasty. But the construction is what makes 66°North worth talking about. The Jökla Parka costs a steeper-than-Everest $1,200. But the design has input from some of Iceland’s real search-and-rescue teams. You won’t feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man when you put it on.

66°North coats on display
The Icelandic brand 66°North is popular with local film crews; Will Smith and Jake Gyllenhaal have also been spotted wearing the brand’s parkas in the wild. Hjördís Jónsdóttir for 66°North

What to watch on the airplane

The Icelandic series Katla premiered on Netflix in the summer of 2021 and, despite the near-permanent sunshine, everyone was locked inside bingeing this creepy mystery. Katla plays like an Icelandic Lost; a year after a catastrophic volcanic eruption, a long-lost woman emerges from the ash looking exactly as she did 20 years ago. And she’s not alone. Spooky. Pro tip: Download the entire eight-episode series before takeoff and you’ll finish just as you pull into the gate.

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