By Amanda Little
If you have one day to spend in the Land of Fire and Ice, you may as well make it count. Maybe it's a long layover, making the most of the day, or a pitstop on a European tour. Either way, prepare for a magical city experience fringed with natural beauty.
If you know you're going to be in Iceland, be sure to book a ticket to the famed Blue Lagoon. Swim in pools of geothermal hot water rich in skin-softening silica, wander over arched bridges leading to small waterfalls and saunas, and watch the sun rise through the steam over snow-covered lava rock surrounding the lagoon. Maybe you'll even enjoy a drink at the swim-up bar or indulge in a cup of Skyr at the cafe. Whether coming straight from the plane or taking a day trip, the Blue Lagoon is sure to revitalize you.
This striking domed building stands out against the Reykjavik skyline almost as much as Hallgrimskirkja, but has many more attractions inside. Walk through a man-made ice cave, learn about glaciers, visit the planetarium, and learn about Iceland's volcanic landscape. You can also head down to the gift shop, the observation deck, or the unique on-site restaurant situated right under the full glass dome.
This stunning church is easily the most recognizable structure in Reykjavik. With columns leading up the central tower, fitted with a clock that sings every fifteen minutes, stained glass windows and a monument to Leif Erikson, this spot is urban picture-perfect. Guests are even invited to take the elevator up to the very top where they can look out over the entirety of the city sprawled out below them, with Perlan distinguishable on the horizon to the east, and a charming inlet with snow capped mountains to the northwest.
Hallgrimskirkja's little square leads directly to a pair of parallel cobblestone streets overflowing with restaurants, shops, cafes, and pubs. While anyone walking these roads will notice a surprising abundance of Thai restaurants, those looking for a good meal at a fair price should step into Cafe Babalu. The bright orange cafe offers everything from crepes to soups to sandwiches with Icelandic favorites as fillings. Or a lighter meal can be found at the completely original Reykjavik Chips, where you can order snack foods with a delicious Icelandic lager to wash it all down.
With a stairway into the sidewalk blasting rock music and covered in posters leading to the Punk Museum, the Phallalogical Museum cheerily lit up right across from the Hlemmur bus station, an out-of-the-way alley leading to the Dead Gallery where beautiful art can be admired, and the viking-like Solfarid monument sitting on the edge of the water as if poised to set sail, Reykjavik is a city just bursting at the seams with fun things to do.
Those with a refined taste might want to stop by Snaps, a low-lit restaurant that offers an exclusive feel that balances between privacy on one end of the restaurant and a classy vibrancy on the other end where the bar is located. Or perhaps challenge yourself at Hereford Steikhus, a classy restaurant decked in black and red that offers Icelandic foods like whale, puffin, and fermented shark. Those with a lower budget, a love of beer, or both might want to head to Svarta Kaffit, where anyone can join in the lively atmosphere with a pint and a burger.
If you've got a tour or a car, make your way out from the glare of the city's lights on a clear night and watch the sky. When radiation particles from the sun hit the Earth's atmosphere just right, a thick band of white light stretches across the horizon, causing the phenomenon known as the Northern Lights. Cameras pick up the light as green, yellow, or sometimes red, purple, and blue, but the light itself can be anything from a pale wisp across the sky to a white band bright enough to read by.