THE INSIDE TRACK • March 2023
Are you making the most of your Avios? Our Reward Flight Saver could have you winging your way to a new destination for just Avios plus as little as £1.* In this new series, we suggest the places to go and the perfect weekend itineraries…
For only 27,500 Avios plus £1* for an off-peak return flight in Euro Traveller, you could be sitting in a geothermally heated pool somewhere in Iceland’s tiny capital – one of the fastest growing cities in all of Europe. Time to pack your thickest coat as local writer Egill Bjarnason whisks us on a blue-skied 48 hours to the Arctic edge…
A grill at Pósthús Food Hall
Fermented shark – famously disgusting and reeking of ammonia – is perhaps Iceland’s best-known contribution to human culinary habits. I’d say this is somewhat unfair – Icelandic food is some of the freshest you’ll eat. Fish is what the nation does best, alongside welcoming tourists. The two industries overlap on the Old Harbour in Reykjavík, where you’ll find unpretentious, hole-in-the-ground Sægreifinn (‘The Sea Baron’) and the upscale Slippbarinn serving a hot skillet of today’s catch. For breakfast, fabulously designed Anna Jóna is the hottest new hangout. Learn the Icelandic word for ‘food hall’ – mathöll – and you’ll never run out of options. Since Hlemmur Mathöll opened at a former bus terminal in 2017, these indoor courtyards with about six to eight food vendors have grown to eight locations. Try Pósthús Food Hall and Grandi Mathöll.
Beer was banned in Iceland until 1989 (while strong liquor remained perfectly legal) for reasons not fully comprehended by anyone to this day. Modern Reykjavík, however, does not suffer for this. Craft bars are just about everywhere; Session Craft Bar has the finest selection but Kaldi Bar is better for a fun atmosphere. You’ll notice weekend nightlife here goes strong into the wee hours: people party at home until around midnight before hitting downtown for djammið – Icelandic for ‘going out on the town’.
The National Gallery of Iceland
Roughly two-thirds of Iceland’s 370,000-strong population live in Reykjavík and the urban sprawl known as the Capital Region. The concentration allows Reykjavík – or Iceland, for that matter – to punch well above its weight culturally. Unlike most capitals, however, Reykjavík does not have one major museum with morning queues and online bookings. The National Museum of Iceland comes closest. This three-floor venue houses both permanent and temporary exhibitions; the most prized item is the tiny Eyrarland bronze statue from around 1000 CE, widely understood to represent the Norse god Thor with his hammer. Second in line is the National Gallery of Iceland, showcasing a 20th-century collection of paintings, while Reykjavík Art Museum at Hafnarhús wins for modern art.
Taking a dip at Hvammsvík
Hot water in Reykjavík smells of sulphur and is one of few basic necessities people in Reykjavík pay less for than the average European. A geothermal abundance has benefits beyond warm homes and long showers: every neighbourhood has its own outdoor public pool, known as a sundlaug, where locals meet and mingle in multi-temperature hot pots. For a luxury version, try the boutique Hvammsvík Hot Springs with a view over Whale Fjord, some 40 minutes by car from the city. For an entirely natural bath, Reykjadalur by Hveragerði is a valley of hot springs with a small river warmed to bathing temperatures by the geothermal activity, accessible on foot only.
Moss suite at the Retreat at the Blue Lagoon
And then there is the Blue Lagoon, visited by two million people a year. You’ve doubtless seen pictures of its steamy surface. But to the side, in a quiet pocket of that middle-of-the-moss property, is another lagoon available only to hotel guests at the exclusive Retreat at Blue Lagoon. The most expensive rooms have a private, walk-in lagoon all to themselves. Others come with access to the Retreat Spa and meals from the Michelin-rated restaurant.
Egill Bjarnason is an Icelandic journalist based in Reykjavík. His debut non-fiction book, How Iceland Changed the World, was published by Icon Books in 2021
*Reward Flights are available to any Executive Club Members with an Avios balance. In addition to your Avios, the only cash amount required for Reward Flights is to cover the taxes, fees and carrier charges. Your chosen date of travel will determine whether you pay a peak or off-peak Avios amount. When booking Reward Flights, you can choose all peak dates, all off-peak dates or a mixture of the two. Reward Flights are subject to availability.
The price referenced here is for a Reward Flight Saver fare and based on an off-peak, return fare for one passenger travelling in Euro Traveller (Economy), from London. All prices and Avios amounts quoted are correct as of Febuary 2023.