It tops bucket lists across the globe and having just enjoyed a short break-in Iceland I can see why, and I agree, it’s a must-do experience. What’s more, with a new low-cost airline operating out of Reykjavik, this unique country is even more accessible and affordable than ever before.
Often referred to as the land of fire and ice, there is much, much more to this sparsely populated country which, for those of you with an appetite for facts and figures, has roughly the same population as the city of Coventry.
Setting out from Stanstead, we took a three-hour Play Airline flight directly to Reykjavík. Play is a new Icelandic airline already recognised for great service and a laid-back vibe resulting in a more relaxed flight environment – or in other words, we felt like we were already on vacation before even leaving the tarmac in Blighty. With the world reopening and travel becoming accessible again, Iceland is the perfect destination and it’s open to everyone.
On arrival in Iceland, we took the city bus to downtown Reykjavík, about an hour’s ride away. Frankly, I would not have cared had the bus journey been twice as long as once you sit back and relax, the views along the coast road are absolutely breathtaking. We stayed in Grandi, one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik with its dockside charm and stunning views of the snow-capped hills. This area boasts its fair share of fashionable eateries, ice cream parlours, shops and museums. By the way, make sure you have your camera to hand as the ten-minute walk into the centre of Reykjavik presents endless irresistible photo opportunities.
Whether you stay for a short weekend vacation or a two-week holiday, Iceland has something for everyone and will certainly keep you busy. With just a weekend jaunt ahead of us, we decided to keep to the city centre and surrounding areas. After dropping off our bags at the Grandi Hotel, which is located at the centre of Reykjavik’s booming creative quarter, we took a walking tour of Reykjavik which delved into the country’s fascinating Viking history and showcased the city’s wonderful landmarks including the stunning Harpa Concert Building, home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera, and Reykjavík Big Band; each holds regular concerts throughout the year. There were also insights into some more recent Icelandic traditions – ‘Tree Of The Year’ being my particular favourite. I found the appreciation of things we very much take for granted in the UK, rather endearing, to say the least. Endearing is also a fairly appropriate word to describe the Icelandic people, as well as friendly, hospitable, and fiercely proud of their nation, they really did make our short trip utterly superb.
Our walking tour was brought to a final hoorah with a quick browse in some of Reykjavik’s exciting shops – make sure you check out 66°North, an outdoor and adventure clothing and equipment brand combining urban style with durability, that has become hugely popular and (shhhhhhhh, nobody knows this yet) will be opening a store in London later this year.
After working up an appetite in the spring fresh air, we dined at Monkeys, a rather unique eatery located in Klappastigur where guests are greeted with an exotic fusion of Japanese and Peruvian influences. The lavish surrounds, walls adorned with flourishes of tropical vines and opulent, jewel-toned furnishings, give way to a menu combining refined Japanese dining with a heady twist of Peruvian spice – known as Nikkei cooking which finds its origins in the second half of the 19th century when Japanese immigrants began to settle in Peru. We enjoyed a range of dishes from lightly salted cod fillet in miso and mirin marinade to grilled tiger prawns with a zing of citrus salsa – however, my stand-out dish was the spicy cerviche, a colourful small plate of tuna with an almighty punch of citrus, just the right amount of salt, a kick of chili and something I can’t put my finger on – it’s chef sorcery at its best frankly! The culinary team at Monkeys has created an exquisite dining experience to delight the senses and I wouldn’t hesitate to rush back – like tomorrow!
On our second day, we ‘took part’ in FlyOver Iceland, Reykjavík’s newest attraction and this immersive experience is a must for anyone visiting Iceland’s capital city. Situated in the downtown Grandi area, this attraction gives you the opportunity to feel like you are literally flying over the whole island during every season making you wish you were staying in Iceland for a year. FlyOver Iceland has utilised state-of-the-art technology to deliver the actual feeling of flight. Flyers are suspended, feet dangling, before a 20-meter spherical screen as the experience takes you on a truly immersive journey you will likely never forget. Tickets for this impressive attraction cost upwards of around £28.
I have to say that up until this point, everything about Iceland has been incredibly enjoyable and absolutely action-packed, what better to do then, on our final day, than find our inner zen at the jewel in Reykjavík’s crown – The Sky Lagoon. Dark, sophisticated interiors meet sprawling lagoon pools and cascading waterfalls, and opulent luxury hotel vibes give way to the fresh aroma of Icelandic spring which permeates the air – this is a place and a half.
It feels like a high-end hotel inside, with a beautiful restaurant boasting exciting culinary offerings including incredible cakes, a cocktail bar, and lounge, and a well-stocked store selling the lagoon’s own range of indulgent bathing, skin, and hair products – if you take just one thing home with (along with cracking memories) let it be the original body scrub, it’s phenomenal!
A quick change into our swimwear and we are transported to a paradise of turquoise blue bathing pools peppered with natural rock islands to relax on and even perch your drink (yes, that’s right, there is a frikking swim-up bar!). Immerse yourself in the warm embrace of water, and steam, whilst taking in superb ocean views, I imagine whatever time of year you visit, the breathtaking vista will not fail to mesmorize. Losing track of time here is easy – and actively encouraged!
After you have fully relaxed you can then try the seven-step ritual which starts with – if you are brave enough – a dip in the icily cold plunge pool, a rather exhilarating experience that literally steals your breath. The Sky Lagoon Sauna is the perfect tonic after that arctic blast and is home to the largest window in Iceland, with views straight out over the icy ocean and onto snow-capped mountains – if you are lucky, you could spot the odd frolicking seal too.
After the sauna, it’s onto the rain chamber where a refreshing drizzle rejuvenates the skin before moving onto the main event – The body scrub! All part of the fun, couple and friends alike are slapping salty scrub onto each other’s backs before heading for the steam room to let it melt into the skin. This is an Icelandic elixir frankly, I could not believe the way my skin felt after showering it off and heading off for another dip in the lagoon. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so deeply relaxed, which is clearly the point. You simply cannot miss The Sky Lagoon if you are visiting Reykjavík, it stole the show for me. Something to note – it does get busy and it is advisable to book, you really do not want to be disappointed!
Feeling thoroughly relaxed, but with a slightly heavy heart, we headed back to our hotel for an early night ahead of a red-eye flight back to the UK. The stylish, industrial Grandi Hotel is more than just a great place to stay, it is quite a lively gathering place for those in the know, with a bar and a restaurant that is always full of life, the rooms are spacious and offer a combination of comfort and modern luxury. The hotel is well equipped with a relaxing lounge, cocktail bar and a fantastic restaurant serving up a creative and contemporary menu, the team behind this hotel (which is part of Center Hotels, a homegrown chain managed by three generations of an Icelandic family), have curated a finely tuned guest experience which ticks all the boxes, including authentic Icelandic experience, which is why we were there.
Our whistle-stop tour of Reykjavík was incredible, I only wish we could have stayed longer, Iceland might be cold for the most part, but it has a very warm heart. Pack your bags and catch the next (Play) flight there, tell them I sent you…
The Grandi Hotel
Address: Seljavegur 2, 101 Reykjavík
Tel: +354 595 8580