10 Reasons To Go To Reykjavik

Tom Barber on the unique pleasures of Iceland's capital

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Iceland has a population of 320,000. That's it.

That's Reading, and a full third of those hardy Icelanders live in the capital, which explains why one of the most popular iPhone apps in town emits a warning if the person you've got the hots for is too close a cousin.

Still, the incest risk doesn’t stop this town from going off in a major way most nights, and there’s a rather pleasant by-product, too – if you're a foreign bloke who is better looking than the average elephant man, you may (OK, will) be chatted up by the local ladies desperate for some new DNA in the North Atlantic gene pool.

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The even better news is that Reykjavik is so small you'll never get FOMO as the place where it’s kicking off will be just around the corner. So get on that flight (three hours from London) to a place that has, after much post-credit crunch soul searching, realised it’s much better at fishing and producing bonkers creative types (exhibit A: Björk) than banking, and they seem far, far happier as a result. 

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Tom Barber is a founder of award-winning travel company originaltravel.co.uk 

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1 | Where to stay
“101” is the postcode of the oldest, most central part of town, hence the name of the perfectly located and quintessentially hip 101 Hotel. Not judging a book by its cover springs to mind: while externally the building is straight out of Slough, inside think clean lines, heated wooden floors, a beautiful people-magnet of a bar and even a billiards room.

101hotel.is


2 | What to see
The statue of explorer Leif Eriksson outside the extraordinary Hallgrímskirkja church (designed to look like Iceland’s basalt lava flows). A gift from the US, it acknowledges that it was a viking who discovered the Americas several hundred years before that charlatan Cristóbal Colón (as he’s unflatteringly known in Romance language-speaking Europe).


3 | Where to eat lunch
Despite translating as “sea baron”, Saegreifinn is as unprepossessing a place as you could imagine, from its scruffy harbour location and lurid turquoise exterior to knitwear-clad elderly locals and the half-hearted fishing theme (think pictures of fish and a solitary net hanging from the wall). Thankfully, however, it all becomes clear when you sit down and try the faintly curried lobster soup, washed down with a Gull beer.

saegreifinn.is 


4 | Where to have a drink
Kex is Icelandic for “biscuit”, and this former factory making said snack is now that most modish of concepts: the multi-functioning hostel/bar/art space/cafe/restaurant/barber shop. As such, you will doubtlessly swing by at some stage in your stay, so make an evening of it by drinking one of the bar’s draught craft ales. Except maybe the Lava, which is a stout coming in at 10 per cent proof, designed for locals making up for lost time since the ban on beer was lifted in 1989.

kexhostel.is 


5 | Where to dine
There’s more than marine life on the menu at Fish Company, a cosy basement that specialises in recipes and spices from around the world. Stick with the local lamb; it’s some of the best on the planet and more appetising than some other local specialities. On which, more later… 

fiskfelagid.is 


6 | Where to shop
Let’s play phrase association. “Farmers Market”. Did you think: “Trite faux-rural urbanity?” Well, in Iceland, they think: fashion label selling ironic knitwear and cosy duffel coats from the store on Hólmaslóð in the Fishpacking District, Reykjavik’s answer to... guess where?

farmersmarket.is 


7 | What to do
Enjoy a reminder of Iceland’s turbulent tectonics, diving with 100m-plus visibility in the rift valley between the American and Eurasian continental plates. A truly Bizarro World sensation.
 

8 | When in...
Refuel with a með öllu (“the works”) hot dog from Bæjarins Bestu, which has four stands sited across the city. The name says it all: it means “Best Hotdog Place in Town”.

bbp.is 


9 | Avoid
Any food with the words “rotten”, “shark”, “testicle” or “whale” in it. Not nice. Not nice at all. Oh, and also avoid calling Iceland part of Scandinavia – big no-no. 


10 | Where to party
It’s impressive for any club to stay top of its tree for five years, but Austur remains the go-to late-night spot, full of bright young things. Dress snappy, and wait for the ladies to produce the appy. 

visitreykjavik.is/austur