Yes, its surrounding landscape (colossal glaciers, spouting geysers) is mythic. And its Viking history is an epic that Jerry Bruckhiemer couldn’t recreate. But though its history looms large, Reykjavik (translation: “smoky bay”) is all contemporary culture, food, and style. Add to that a high standard of living, and it’s little wonder that the U.N. deemed Iceland the best country on the planet last year. So make like Leif Erikson and explore.
Punk meets couture meets boho at Aftur Studio (Laugavegur 28), a rustic loft filled with flouncy dresses, blazers, and shawls made in a patchwork of found fabrics. (Aftur is Icelandic for “again.”) Fígúra (Skolavordustigur 22; +354-696-3913) is a jewel box of a shop where brash ’80s iconography meets ’40s style in funky dresses, tees, and leggings by Icelandic, Scandinavian, and Euro designers. At graffiti-splashed Naked Ape (14 Bankastraeti; +354-551-1415), streetwear and silk-screened threads hang on racks set up like jungle gyms.
SLURP AND SUP
For centuries, Icelandic diet revolved around salted cod, but today’s chefs work wonders with all locally caught species. Sjávarkjallarinn or Seafood Cellar (Aðalstraeti 2; +354-511-1212) uses unlikely ingredients (like Tainori chocolate and zucchini blossoms ) to mind-blowing effect. Silfur (Posthusstraeti 11; +354-578-2008) does French cuisine with a Nordic accent amid satin string curtains and plastic chandeliers (very Louis XIV’s dining room, if Philippe Starck designed it after a disco bender). Along the harbor, family-run Saegreifinn (Geirsgata 8; +354-553-1500) is an English fish and chips-style joint that serves heavenly lobster soup.
You’ll want plenty of fuel for later: Whether darkness lasts seven hours or 78 minutes, locals approach the night with Viking intensity. (Think Ibiza with layers.) At bi-level Cafe Oliver (Laugavegi 20a; +354-552-2300), DJs drop dubs until dawn as guests knock back shots of Brennevin, a native caraway schnapps tenderly referred to as Black Death.
Rest like dapper 1930s diplomats, royalty, and matinee idols at Hótel Borg (Posthusstraeti 11; +354-551-1440), a recently renovated art deco temple. 101 Hotel (Hverfisgata 10; +354-580-0101) taps into the city’s modern design sensibility, and its lobby is a buzzing late-night hangout. Next door, 101 Gallery continues the hotel’s art theme with sculptures, paintings, and photos that range from playful to irreverent to iconoclastic.
No trip would be complete without a glimpse of Gullfloss, the thundering waterfall that’s part of Iceland’s famed Golden Circle, the eighth wonder of the world. Schedule a magical mystery tour with Reykjavik Excursions (+354-562-1011).
Blue Lagoon (240 Grindavik; +354-420-8800) spa may be one of Iceland’s biggest attractions, but the steaming pool built on a black lava plain never feels crowded. Maybe that’s because you’re somewhere between seventh heaven and Shangri-la, submerged in turquoise geothermal heated, mineral-rich seawater. Slather yourself in fortifying mud, float for a while, then book a massage. It’s only 40 minutes from the city (tip: go en route to the airport) but feels a universe away.
And if it seems too good to be true, just blink. It’s only the smoke in your eyes.