Get­away

The hot springs and North­ern Lights have been en­tic­ing ex­plor­ers to Ice­land’s rugged shores for cen­turies, but these days, there are just as many rea­sons to visit the cap­i­tal’s emerg­ing de­sign scene

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We visit Ice­land’s cap­i­tal Reyk­javík, whose boom­ing de­sign scene and cof­fee cul­ture is as much of an at­trac­tion as the coun­try’s hot springs and amaz­ing views of the North­ern Lights

THE CITY

Wel­come to the land of fire, ice and ground­break­ing ar­chi­tec­ture (such as the Harpa con­cert hall, pic­tured). De­sign­march, Reyk­javík’s an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of cre­ativ­ity (15–18 March; de­sign­march.is) turns 10 this year, and will bring the city to life with exhibitions, open studios and work­shops, cham­pi­oning the grow­ing wealth of lo­cal de­signer-mak­ers that ri­vals those of Ice­land’s su­per-cool Nordic neigh­bours. We ex­plore more of what the city has to of­fer both in­trepid voy­agers and cul­ture vul­tures. ➤

WHERE TO STAY

This may be the op­ti­mum time to visit Reyk­javík – cool-but-af­ford­able bou­tique ho­tels and B&BS are spring­ing up around town, but the city still feels low-key, free from swanky spas and in­den­tikit ho­tel chains. Our pick of the trendy guest­houses in­cludes the new Odds­son Hos­tel ( 2). A for­mer ware­house sit­u­ated on the wa­ter­side, it has been fur­nished with a mix of 20th-cen­tury classics by Et­tore Sottsass and Alessan­dro Men­dini, as well as cus­tom-made metal bunk beds by lo­cal de­sign stu­dio Döðlur. The heated rooftop swim­ming pool is a high­light (from £163 per night; odds­son.is). Vin­tage fur­ni­ture, books galore and a farm­house-style kitchen that guests can cook in are key to Kex Hos­tel’s ap­peal (from £87 per night; kex­hos­tel.is), while hotel­wise, we rec­om­mend the slick, cos­mopoli­tan trap­pings of Ion City ( 3, from £255 per night; ioncity.ion­ice­land.is).

BREAK­FAST AND LUNCH

First thing in the morn­ing, ei­ther head to chic, fern-fringed café Bergs­son ( bergs­son.net) for por­ridge with skyr, the Nordic an­swer to yo­ghurt, or pick up a re­ju­ve­nat­ing cof­fee at Nyc-style Reyk­javík Roast­ers (reyk­javikroast­ers.is). Soak up the caf­feine with one of bak­ery Sand­holt’s leg­endary loaves, be it sour­dough, a smoked pump­kin seed cob­bler or a bread made from enkir, the old­est grain in the world (sand­holt.is). Take your binoc­u­lars to re­claimed wood-clad The Coocoo’s Nest for lunch, and whale watch whilst eat­ing red onion and fish stew (coocoosnest.is). Al­ter­na­tively, head out fur­ther afield to Frid­heimar (frid­heimar.is), a tomato-grow­ing green­house with space cleared in the vines for a restau­rant, whose menu in­cludes lim­it­less bowls of its ex­cep­tional soup.

WINE AND DINE

Al­though housed in a for­mer salt fish fac­tory, Matur Og Drykkur ( 4, matur­ogdrykkur.is) is an ex­tremely cosy spot for din­ner. Start with the French cider spiked with home­made liqueur made from lo­cally-found yar­row plants be­fore pick­ing a ‘reimag­ined’ tra­di­tional Ice­landic dish, such as hal­ibut soup with mus­sels, ap­ples and raisins. Feel­ing brave? Opt for the lamb’s heart with rhubarb. Sim­i­larly warm is the wel­come at bar Loftið, where a med­ley of light bulbs dan­gles over­head. For a low-key sup­per, head to Mat Bar (mat­bar.is). This new diner has looks in­spired by the 1960s, but the cook­ing is ul­tra-con­tem­po­rary, mar­ry­ing Ital­ian and Nordic cuisines – try the po­lenta with pick­led car­rots or the cod’s cheek with cit­rusy gre­mo­lata.

ARTS AND CUL­TURE

Reyk­javík’s tallest land­mark is Hall­grím­skirkja Church ( 5), which, at 74 me­tres high is a peak ex­am­ple of Ex­pres­sion­ist ar­chi­tec­ture. It was fin­ished in the 1980s (after 40 years of con­struc­tion), yet still looks fu­tur­is­tic to­day. Also loom­ing above the fa­mously brightly-coloured tin houses that line the city’s streets is na­tive ar­chi­tect Óla­fur Elias­son’s con­cert hall and cul­tural in­sti­tute, Harpa ( harpa.is). Fa­mously con­tro­ver­sial due to its £144 mil­lion build­ing costs, the glass ed­i­fice [see open­ing page] is in­spired by Ice­land’s basalt col­umns. Lastly, The Nordic House (nordi­c­house.is) is a Modernist must-visit. Fin­nish ar­chi­tect Al­var Aalto de­signed the build­ing’s blue ce­ramic rooftop to mimic its moun­tain­ous back­drop. The cul­tural hub hosts a lit­er­ary fes­ti­val, a Fash­ion Bi­en­nale, craft mar­kets and pop­u­lar evenings of Ice­landic jazz mu­sic in its charm­ing bistro.

SHOP­PING

Along Lau­gave­gur – which trans­lates as ‘wash road’, as it leads to the hot springs where Ice­landers used to scrub their linens – there are plenty of in­de­pen­dent shops to ex­plore. For mod­ern home­ware, head to Hrím, which stocks global brands as well as botan­i­cal posters painted in-house, Ice­landic moss soaps and lo­cal suc­cess story Iris Hantverk’s beau­ti­ful pine clean­ing tools ( hrim.is). For trea­sure-hunt­ing, visit Ko­la­por­tið flea mar­ket ( ko­la­por­tid.is) to pick up vin­tage trin­kets, bonkers jew­ellery that Ice­landic songstress Björk would be proud to wear or vin­tage cash­mere – a relic of the Ice­landic wool in­dus­try, which new brand Farmers’ Mar­ket is re­viv­ing (farm­ers­mar­ket.is).

ES­CAPE THE CITY

What­ever the weather, there’s no leav­ing Reyk­javík with­out a wal­low in the nat­u­ral­ly­heated hot springs. Near­est the city is the sur­re­al­ist Blue La­goon ( 1) where the in­dul­gent should book the ‘pre­mium’ ticket for a fluffy bathrobe, al­gae mask, slip­pers and sparkling wine (£72; blue­la­goon.com). Hire a car and drive through the Fljot val­ley, past icy rivers and Ice­landic ponies to the newly opened De­plar Farm on the snowy Troll Penin­sula, a sheep farm re­pur­posed into a 13-bed­room re­treat, com­plete with min­i­mal­ist in­te­ri­ors, a spa and the op­tion to head out kayak­ing or re­lax in the salt­wa­ter pool (from £1,373 per per­son per night; eleven­ex­pe­ri­ence.com).

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