During the economic boom, Iceland could seemingly do no wrong.

By: By David Swanson


Getting There:
Icelandair flies to Keflavik — 30 miles from Reykjavik — from New York and Boston and seasonally from Minneapolis; Orlando, Fla.; and Toronto. Beginning July 23, Icelandair will offer service out of Seattle-Tacoma.

Transfers to the capital are available on Flybus, which drops passengers off directly at most city hotels.

Air Iceland flies to the main towns on the north and east coasts of Iceland.

What to do:
Reykjavik Excursions has coach tours throughout the southwest region.

Iceland Saga Travel can build customized itineraries.

For group and budget travel, consult Icelandair.

Where to eat:
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
Located at the corner of Tryggvagata and Posthusstraeti in Reykjavik

Where to stay:
Hotel Borg

Hotel Buoir

Hotel Ooinsve

Hotel Ranga

When to go:
Although days are short in the winter, Reykjavik temperatures are warmer than New York’s at that time, according to the Iceland Tourist Board.

For More Information:
Iceland Tourist Board

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Can you map your way around Iceland?  Try with this Geo Quiz.

During the economic boom, Iceland could seemingly do no wrong. Boasting the world’s fourth-highest gross domestic product, per capita, Iceland was indisputably cool, no pun intended.


The picturesque Reykjavik skyline

So, it was a shock when Iceland’s white-hot economy tumbled last October. But while fortunes may have melted for most Icelanders, today, dollar-lugging Americans will find this once famously expensive destination much more affordable.

“On the surface, very little has changed, other than it is cheaper,” said Robert Felch of Nantucket, Mass.-based tour operator Iceland Saga Travel.

During a February visit, Felch noted that, while some stores had closed and restaurants weren’t as full as they once were, a first-time visitor wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss. Outside the capital, the island’s tortured landscapes, immense ice caps and 10,000 waterfalls remained as alluring as ever.

The Golden Circle
Iceland is covered with the evidence of relatively recent and continuing geological upheaval and an easy way to experience its variety of landscapes is to join a tour of the Golden Circle. Last August, I plunked down $199 to rent a car from Hertz for a day — a price that is lower today — to tackle the route on my own.

Three sites in particular are worth a stop for along the 160-mile loop, starting with Thingvellir National Park, where the Vikings established the first democratic parliament in A.D. 930. I saw no ruins, but chuckled when I discovered this act was conceived at the exact junction of the North American and European tectonic plates, meaning the site was continually being pulled apart.

Further along is Geysir, where the “first” geyser was named. Although Geysir is dormant, nearby Strokkur erupts every five minutes or so. While modest by Yellowstone standards, the hot springs and bubbling vents make Geysir an Icelandic treat.

Even more awesome was Gullfoss, a voluminous waterfall that plunges into a narrow chasm. On the road back, I could spot the immense Langjokull icecap that feeds Gullfoss, appearing on the distant horizon like a looming bank of fog. Despite Iceland’s name, Langjokull was the closest I got to any of the frozen stuff in August. In fact, a heat wave produced temperatures well into the 70s during my visit.

Sixty percent of Iceland’s population lives in its capital, and it is worth a day’s exploration — and a couple nights, if your clients are the party-hearty type. The club scene is omnipresent on weekends, with Brits and Icelanders on a runtur, a pub crawl that lasts well into the wee hours. I was happy to be based at the 43-room Hotel Ooinsve, located four blocks from the main stretch of bars. Here, I could sleep with windows open, something not possible at hotels close to Laugavegur, the main drag that stays lively until at least 3 a.m. on weekends.

While I joined the runtur for a few hours one night, the cost of drinks — about $10 for a beer last August — kept me relatively sober, leading to a late-night hot dog and Coke at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, a snack bar and meeting place. The next day, I explored Reykjavik, where few buildings climb higher than three or four stories and boutiques are well stocked with sleek Norwegian fashions.

Piercing Reykjavik’s gentle skyline is Hallsgrmskirkja, a pyramidal cement church, while the harbor bustles with both cruise ships and fishing boats.  During my sunny visit, workers repaired sidewalks laced with a network of tubes winding beneath them — geothermal heating that keeps the paths ice-free in winter.

The island has dozens of spas fed by the hot stuff underground, but the most famous is the Blue Lagoon, an outdoor spa strikingly situated amid lava fields near Keflavik. Its opaque, silica-rich water is purported to be beneficial to the skin, and visitors spend hours slathering the warm mud on their faces. The facilities are modern and immaculate and the spa features an elegant new restaurant overlooking the lagoon while the futuristic geothermal plant steams away nearby, looking like a lunar space station.

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