By Nicole Tringali
Stuffed into the A train during yet another heat wave in the smog-filled city of New York, commuters might imagine themselves heading to the frozen food section of their favorite grocery store and leaning into the open popsicle freezer. But where can that relief be found in August?
Iceland is a great alternative to sweating at the local subway station, though the island nation is not as cold as it sounds, with high temperatures in the 50s this time of year. Icelandic summers offer long days, which is perfect for the traveler who is looking to explore the geological marvels of the region and get spa pampering by the midnight sun.
The tiny island nation is defined by its numerous glaciers, fjords, highland plains and geological phenomena like geysers, volcanoes, hot springs and waterfalls, but it can be tough to take it all in. When choosing which to visit, consider the time frame. For a short trip, “stay in Reykjavik and take tours from the city,” said Jon Gunnar Benjaminsson, sales and project manager for Nordic Visitor. “I would not drive around in that short time.” A week to 10 days is ideal for seeing more of the country, he said, or you can cram many sights into a four-day tour package which runs between $825 and $1,360, depending on accommodations.
When staying in the city, luxury abounds. Hotel Borg (hotelborg.com) a four-star hotel in Reykjavik starts at $360, depending on the room, while a night at the Plaza (plaza.is) will cost anywhere from $297 to $620. The Nordica Hotel (icehotels.is) is $280 a night for a single standard room decorated in an elegantly minimalist style; the hotel also has a spa.
Once you’ve settled in, stop in at the Reykjavik Tourist Center and get a tourist card, which allows access to pools, buses and museums and costs up to $35 for 72 hours. Laugardalslaug, the largest of the 16 geothermal public pools, is frequented by tourists and residents alike. After a soak, learn about Icelandic Viking history at the National Museum, which costs $10 without a pass. The revolving restaurant Pearl (perlan.is) and the Saga Museum sit atop one of the city’s hot water tanks and offer a great way to see panoramic views of the city. Other eateries like seafood restaurant Sjavarballarinn (sjavarballarinn.is), Italian restaurant La Primavera (laprimavera.is) and French gem Silfur (silfur.is) show off the diversity of the cosmopolitan city.
After seeing the sites, take a break at Laugar Spa (laugar.com), a five-star health resort, to relax with an aromatherapy massage; then, lounge in the saltwater Jacuzzi or a six-meter-wide waterfall shower. Blue Lagoon health spa (shown in photo below, bluelagoon.com), just a 40-minute drive towards Keflavik, is a natural lagoon known for the healing power of silica mud, mineral salts and blue-green algae, all proven beneficial to skin. Try the Nourishing and Relaxation Treatment with algae.
Since Iceland is about the size of Virginia, a day trip out of the city is within reach. The Westjord’s Latrabjarg Cliff, a 14-kilometer cliff in the westernmost part of Europe, becomes a bird-watching hotspot in the summer, when many avian species migrate to the location, where seals can be seen lazing on the shore below.
“It is a very special feeling to go there,” said Benjaminsson. He also recommended the Breidavik bed and breakfast, a working farm located off a white sandy beach where a single with a private bathroom and breakfast costs $134 a night.
Not far from the cliff is Akureyri. Located just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, it’s also ironically the warmest Icelandic climate, frequently reaching 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The city is known as the nation’s cultural capital because of its numerous museums, including the Natural History Museum and the Botanical Gardens. In the summer, take in the local flora in the open-air gardens – the most northerly in the world. On an afternoon walk, veer toward the city’s western shore to gaze upon the Eyjafjordur Fjord on the outskirts of town. Finally, settle in for a relaxing evening at Hotel Kea (keahotels.is).
For another quick day trip, try the Golden Circle Tour. The popular six-hour Jeep tour starts at Thingvellir National Park before stopping by the waterfall Gullfoss; Geysir, the original geyser for which all others were named; and the volcanic crater-turned-lake, Kerio.
Finally, for the homesick Manhattanite searching for a piece of the Hamptons, the Black Beach south of Vik on the southeastern tip of Iceland has been rated one of the best beaches in the world. And though it’s too cold to bare a bikini, the view of cliffs and glaciers meeting the Atlantic Ocean is what keeps the beach occupied, and the lighthouse may also evoke Montauk nostalgia. Stay at the quaint Hotel Hofdabrekka (hofdabrekka.is), a rustic lodging with double rooms and hot tubs or “pots” as locals call them.