Iceland: The Facts
Published: June 2009
During the white nights of summer, daylight in Iceland is all but endless. It's a rarity in the dead of winter, when the sun appears for only a few hours, huddling reluctantly at the horizon. Regardless of the season, visitors almost never have to worry about crowds.
Hotel Borg 11 Pósthússtraeti; 354/551-1440, fax 354/551-1420; doubles $245. Combines age, elegant solidity, and an unbeatable downtown location. Warning: Rooms near the elevator can be noisy.
Hotel Odinsvé 1 Thórsgata; 354/552-5640, fax 354/552-9613; doubles $185. Cheaper and more basic than the Borg; from the top floor the city lies before you.
Vid Tjörnina 3 Templarasund; 354/551-8666; dinner for two $70. Innovative seafood dishes, from curried squid to monkfish in a port sauce.
Gallery Restaurant Hotel Holt, 37 Bergstadastraeti; 354/552-5700; dinner for two $150. The city's most elegant and expensive restaurant, located within the sole Relais & Châteaux property in Iceland, and the only place I've ever eaten reindeer pâté.
Café Opera 2 Laekjargata; 354/552-9499; dinner for two $50. Lamb and seafood cooked at the table on hot rocks. Popular with the young and the romantic.
Café in Mal og Menning 18 Laugavegi; 354/515-2500. A coffee shop set within the city's largest bookstore. Perfect for a cappuccino with the newspaper.
Tiu Dropar 27 Laugavegi; 354/551-9380. A comfy basement coffee shop on the main drag. Order hot chocolate.
Café Paris 14 Austurstraeti; 354/551-1020. A lively, smoky, central spot, across from the Hotel Borg.
The choice of lodgings and restaurants is limited along the Ring Road; most travelers eat breakfast and dinner at hotels and pack picnic lunches. The nightly decision is whether to stay in a hotel or at a farmhouse with guest rooms or cottages. The former, generally neat and spare, welcome drop-ins; the latter usually require reservations but offer a closer look at Icelandic life. For a listing of farm accommodations, call Iceland's tourist board at 212/885-9700.
Day 1 Head south from Reykjavík; in 35 miles you'll pass vast lunar-looking lava fields. Stop at Seljalandsfoss, then go on to Dyrhólaey for hiking and amazing views. Stay at the Hotel Edda in Kirkjubaejarklaustur (354/487-4799; doubles $115), or on one of the surrounding farms.
Day 2 Drive 70 miles to Skaftafell National Park, where you can hike to a glacier and to the exquisite Svarti waterfall. Overnight at the friendly Hotel Skaftafell (354/478-1945; doubles $95).
Day 3 You'll reach Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon, 35 miles north of the park. Stay at either of the two Edda hotels near Höfn or at a farmhouse in the area.
Day 4 Cross through rugged terrain to Myvatn, with its deserts, lava fields, and craters. There are several hotels and guesthouses around Lake Myvatn.
Day 5 Explore Myvatn. Spend the night in Akureyri at the Hotel Kea (354/462-2200; doubles $180).
Day 6 Devote the morning to Akureyri. Detour from the Ring Road to visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, where Jules Verne sent Professor Liedenbrock and his nephew, Axel, in search of the crater where they started their "journey to the center of the earth." Stay on Snaefellsnes at Hotel Búdir (354/435-6700; doubles $110).
Day 7 Return to Reykjavík, four hours to the south.
Iceland: The Visitor's Guide by David Williams (Stacy International)-- An immensely useful all-around guide, available from Mal og Menning by fax (354/515-2505) or via its Web site.
Egil's Saga (Penguin)-- Anyone interested in Icelandic culture should look at the Sagas, such as this 13th-century tale, whose hero is variously a drunk, a killer, a magician, and a poet.
Independent People by Halldór Laxness (Vintage)-- The recently reissued epic by the novelist and Nobel laureate. (I wrote the introduction, in which I call it the book of my life.) -- B.L.
A Rainy Day in Reykjavík
thermal pool, an hour southwest of the city.
Bad weather only enhances
yet somewhat spooky
atmosphere. Don't forget
a bathing suit.