Food and Travel (UK)
Snowmobile trips across icy landscapes, geothermal bathing, the northern lights, and don’t forget hot cinnamon rolls – there’s little this capital city doesn’t offer winter travellers
On the one side there are wilds, whipped by winds and laden with snow, but on the other, it’s geothermal hot springs, candlelit restaurants, cafés turning out fresh cinnamon rolls.
This delicious cold-hot contrast – along with the chance to see the world-famous aurora borealis – is the hallmark of the Icelandic winter. And it’s exactly this that makes capital Reykjavík one of the true northern stars on this winter city list, as it always delivers in December, January and February.
The stark contrast begins from almost the moment you land. Hop from the airport into a taxi, and make for 101 Hotel 101hotel.is – you’ll be welcomed with a flickering lobby fire and slick monochrome interiors, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows that let you watch the snowflakes dance outside. Then, as they pile up in the historic old town streets, join locals catching up over great food and drink. Wrap up for the 10-minute walk to Braud & Co braudogco.is where the city’s finest artisan pastries are served up in a street art-covered building. Freshly baked croissants, vanilla buns and cinnamon rolls taste even better when they’re eaten following the chilly meander past quaint panelled buildings painted in red and navy.
The feasting continues at Dill dillrestaurant.is where organic, sustainable produce is showcased over a tasting menu – starring the likes of carrot with buttermilk and barley, and skyr, the Icelandic strained yoghurt staple, for dessert. Or try Matur og Drykkur maturogdrykkur.is where Icelandic classics are reimagined in an old salt fish factory by the harbour.
When you’ve had your fill of Reykjavík’s fine eats, it’s time to discover Iceland’s remarkable natural beauty: explore
Langjökull glacier by snowmobile, go whale watching, visit
Katla Ice Cave. Or, of course, chase the northern lights. In these darkest months of the year – the sun rises as late as 11am and slinks below the horizon as early as 3:30pm in winter – seeing the natural flashes in the clear night skies is more likely than ever. Tours departing from downtown will take you to prime viewing spots, where you’ll nibbles waffles and sip tea while on the look-out. But to get another hit of that Icelandic hot-cold contrast there are few better places to head for viewing than the Blue Lagoon.
Here, west of the city centre, snow softens the black volcanic landscape – and steaming geothermal pools of aquamarine water let visitors poach comfortably in the cool evening air. As a day visitor you can bob here as late as 9pm, watching for aurora borealis flickering in the skies. But book into one of the two design-forward on-site hotels, and you get significantly more sky-gazing time. The Retreat bluelagoon.com/accommodation/ retreat-hotel is the luxury option, with contemporary rooms in warming volcanic greys – and in some cases, doors leading right into the warm lagoon waters, allowing for an impromptu dip at leisure. A dedicated northern lights wake-up call will ensure you don’t miss the show, no matter what time of night they appear.
How to pass the time while you’re waiting? A mud treatment in the spa is certainly one option, but you’d be remiss to miss the on-site Moss restaurant. One of the finest in Reykjavík, headed up by former London Texture chef Agnar Sverrisson, it turns out minimalistic plates with almost exclusively locally soured ingredients – even Icelandic-grown wasabi.
Clockwise, from top: ice meets warmth in this winter-savvy city; the Blue Lagoon offers year-round balm; fine eats reimagine Icelandic classics; Matur og Drykkur, in a former salt fish factory