REYKJAVIK, Iceland (Reuters Life!) - Reykjavik, with its endless summer daylight, long winter nights, glaciers, waterfalls and geysers, is a photographer’s paradise and a great holiday destination.
Reuters correspondents help you make the most of Europe’s northern-most capital, which sits on the Faxafloi fjord and offers bargains since the Icelandic kronor is worth up to 30 percent less against the U.S. dollar and the euro, than before the economic downturn a year ago.
8:00 a.m. - Fuel up at the breakfast buffet at the Fosshotel Baron, on Baronstigur, overlooking the fjord. For 1,000 kronor ($8.30) feast on cereals, fruit, cheese, sausage and a sweet Icelandic yoghurt/curd concoction called skyr. Icelanders also love herring (sild) and you can get it pickled, in cream or pungent mustard. The buffet includes a bottle of cod liver oil!
9:00 a.m. - Stroll two blocks to the waterfront drive, Saebraut, to see a stylized viking ship sculpture, “Sunship,” its prow pointed out to the sea across which the Norsemen sailed and, according to legend, reached North America.
Walk up the hill to the stark Hallgrimskirkja church, with its statue of Leifur Eriksson staring out to the new world. The church took 34 years to build and was only completed in 1974. Its austere design and concrete construction were very controversial at the time. Take an elevator up the 75-meter (yard) church tower for a view of the city.
10:00 a.m. - Shop on Laugavegur where there are marvelous woolen and jewelry stores and the “66 Degrees North” outdoors-wear shop.
Iceland is famous for its knitwear. The Alafoss wool shop has a city center store and also an outlet in nearby Mosfellsbaer, which is a short bus ride away, where sweaters or cardigans cost as little as 3,500 kronor ($30).
1:00 p.m. - Some locals still like to eat a Viking specialty, Hakarl, which is a shark that has been buried in the ground for six months until it rots. But most residents enjoy fast food and hot dogs (pylsur), which are widely available from street stands, gas stations and cafes for as little as 230 kronor ($2), as well as the ubiquitous bowls of lamb stew.
2:00 p.m. - Pop into the National Museum on Hringbraut for a look at Reykjavik in Viking times. Exhibits of swords and bronzes focus on the “Settlement” period of Iceland’s history from 870 to 930 AD, when Norwegians first came to live here.
Alternatively, hop on a number 18 bus for the short ride (280 Kr, or $2.50) to Perlan and the Saga Museum, for a livelier look at Viking history. The kids love it.
8:00 p.m. - Dinner at Sjavarkjallarinn (The Seafood Cellar) is a must, as are reservations. Its fusion cuisine is innovative and comparable to the best restaurants in the United States or Europe.
It specializes in seafood, but you can also order zebra meat, which is served carpaccio-style as part of an appetizer called “Zebra Black & White.” Icelandic Salted Cod is the most delicate imaginable and seafood soups are seasoned with Asian spices. Dinner for two with wine will cost at least 200,000 Kr ($170).
Midnight - Take part in the runtur, basically a pub crawl. Icelanders tend not to drink during the week, but on Friday and Saturday nights they wander from bar to bar in one big street party. In winter, when daylight lasts barely eight hours, there is the chance of seeing the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.
10 a.m. - Relax at the Blue Lagoon spa. Located some 40 km (25 miles) west of Reykjavik, near the Keflavik international airport, you can take a bus for 5,000 Kr ($41) which includes admission to the vivid blue pools, saunas and steam baths set in a black lava field. The water comes from the geothermal power plant next door. When the outdoor temperature is freezing, steam rises from the 38-degree C water where visitors can swim, daub themselves with exfoliating silica mud or get a massage.
Admission plus a treatment and towel and robe rental costs about 8,500 Kr ($70) per person. A cafe serves sandwiches and there’s a fancy restaurant where you can eat lamb and seafood and sip wine.
4 p.m. - After the spa for those returning home the airport is only a 20 minutes drive away, or visitors can head back to Reykjavik for dinner.
8 p.m. Laekjarbrekka, on Bankastraeti in the city center, specializes in traditional Icelandic fare. Try the prix fixe for 5000 Kr ($41) lamb special or the one featuring puffin (lundi), the cute clown-faced birds that symbolize Iceland.
Puffin is served sushi-style in a salad, as hors d‘oeuvres or grilled with vegetables in a rich berry sauce as an entree. Unlike many exotic meats that compare invariably to chicken, puffin does not. It tastes like tough liver.
Reporting by Steve James; Editing by Patricia Reaney