The world's most northerly capital, Reykjavík may be small, but it thinks big, with a vibrancy that belies winter's 20-hour gloom (save for the Northern Lights). In the Icelandic summer's almost 24-hour daylight, do as the locals do and soak up a bit of geothermal energy with daily dips in the city's numerous public swimming pools. Drive through otherworldly lava fields to bubbling mud pools, or stroll the Old Harbor to see local artist Jon Gunnar Arnason's stylized Viking ship sculpture, Sun Voyager.
Things to Do
Scale the church belfry atop Hallgrimskirkja's soaring white tower to view Reykjavík's colorful low-rise cityscape far below. Follow the seaward gaze of the statue of Viking explorer Leif Ericson, the first European to reach America, epitomizing the intrepid Icelandic spirit over 1,000 years of discovery. Examine preserved medieval saga manuscripts in the Culture House and how Vikings really lived in Settlement Exhibition 871 +/- 2, a Viking dwelling buried under lava around 871 and excavated in 2001.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Reykjavíkians may start the party late, but they party long, with trendy clubs clustered around the city's main street, Laugavegur. It's here that the vibrant music scene that produced Björk and Sigur Rós was born. Keep up with the local throng on a rúntur, a distinctively Icelandic pub crawl. Take in Olafur Eliasson's shimmering south façade at the waterside Harpa Concert Hall.
Restaurants and Dining
Bring along a strong stomach for exotic sea specialties such as hákarl (fermented shark, cured and then hung for up to five months, with a strong fishy taste and ammonia smell), or lundi (smoked puffin). Wash it down with brennivin (Icelandic schnapps), and finish with the sweet, runny cheese-like skýr. Of course, Reykjavík is as international as any world capital, with Indian, Italian, Thai and vegetarian cuisines found downtown, along Laugavegur or around the Old Harbor.
You're just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle, but a dip in the Atlantic at Nauthólsvík Beach is plenty comfy, thanks to a geothermal heating system that counters the ocean's chill. At the city's main public swimming pool, Laugardalslaug, soak in the steamy "hot pots" after zipping down the water slide. On the way to Keflavík Airport, float in Blue Lagoon's milky-blue therapeutic waters. Escape to the sea for a whale-watching expedition or head inland to Gulfoss's plunging waterfall.
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