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At a little under three hours away from London, and with an exclusivity bred of expense, a nightlife to die for and some amazing scenery on it’s doorstep, the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik has become the hip weekend break for those in the know. says OutUK correspondent Steve Bustin.
The country is small – the population of Iceland is only 270,000, and over half of Icelanders live in Reykjavik. The rest are thinly spread around the outside rim of the island, joined by a ring road which makes a good driving holiday. The interior of the island is harsh, rugged and virtually uninhabited. Reykjavik is a relatively small and compact city – think Guildford, both in size and in scope – you certainly don’t feel as if you’re in a capital city. Even the Parliament building is smaller than your average town hall. It’s not a particularly pretty city, although the view from the top of the cathedral (which itself is shaped to look like a lava flow) is worth a look – all the houses and roofs are painted in bright colours, and beyond the city fringes, dramatic mountains line the horizon.
Reykjavik makes a superb stopover on a trans-Atlantic trip being only four hours from the US.
The climate is milder than you might expect from a city within 500 miles of the Arctic Circle. The Gulf Stream brings warmth (but also wetness) plus the country’s biggest industry and the raw material for some of the best restaurants: fish. Also on the menu and worth trying are reindeer, blackbird and puffin. English is widely spoken, and menus often appear in both Icelandic and English.

GAY REYKJAVIK

The gay and lesbian scene has all but disappeared – not through under-use, but because Icelanders have embraced inclusivity, and every bar is now a mixed bar. The one gay-identified nightclub, Spotlight, sports the ubiquitous rainbow flag outside, but the crowd inside is as mixed as the ‘straight’ club next door. Everything starts late: £5 per beer or glass of wine ensures everyone drinks at home before hitting the bars at midnight and the clubs at 2 or 3. Check local listings on the net or when you arrive in town – there are some stunning clubs, most boasting top DJs, flown in from London or New York.

THE BLUE LAGOON

Another must-do while in Reykjavik is The Blue Lagoon – no, not a nasty encounter with Brooke Shields, but a huge spa development about an hours drive outside the city.
It is not actually a geothermal pool (and there are loads of those around the city) but was created by accident when waste water from a power station was pumped onto the lavaflows. Instead of draining away, it formed a pool of bright blue water rich in minerals which many claim to have healing properties.
The Blue Lagoon certainly makes for a warm and skin-enriching bathing experience.
Reykjavik is also definitely a city to go to get out of. The interior of the island has been shaped by both volcanoes and glaciers, and is a highlight of any trip to Iceland. The landscapes are harsh, angular and stunningly beautiful. You can see why tales of trolls were told by early settlers, and why NASA bought astronauts here to train for the moonshots – there is a definite resemblance to the lunar surface! It is impossible to access the majority of the interior in anything except a four-wheel drive, and even then it not advisable to go without an experienced driver. Several companies offer jeep tours to areas such as Landmannalaugar, a stunning valley surrounded my volcanic mountains of amazing colours, and containing a thermal stream for bathing.

GO TO HELL

The tours often take in Hekla, Iceland’s most famous and most active volcano - the phrase ‘Go to Heck’ comes from the days when Hekla was thought to be the gateway to Hell. In good weather your driver can take you off road, up the fresh pumice fields, close enough to the crater to see the steam – and if there is snow on the volcano, the dark melted areas clearly show the still-warm recent lava flows. You can even sign the volcano’s own visitors book! Other tours will take you to the glaciers where you can ride snow scooters and even take helicopter flights over the ice that gives the country it’s name.

OK, Reykjavik as a city isn’t as beautiful or dynamic as, say, Paris or Amsterdam – but if you’re looking for a combination of a fantastic club scene and some amazing natural sights, it’s one heck of a destination!

For more details on flights and hotel packages, visit Icelandair.co.uk or for further information on Iceland visit the official tourist board at icetourist.is.

Revised June 2015.

 

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