Daring Foodie or Leisure Lover? Iceland Has Both Covered

Nov 2, 2015

Morning fog from the bay drifts past whitewashed houses with colorful roofs in Reykjavik. Just a five-hour flight from New York City, the Scandinavian-influenced capital of Iceland is awakening for the day when tourists from the night’s red eye arrive. The sleepy scene promises a quiet retreat, but adventure seekers will also find plenty to occupy their schedules and taste buds.

Pick and choose from these suggestions to create your own perfectly balanced long-weekend getaway.

Casual food:

  • Fresh baked bread: Every weekend the Kolaportid indoor flea market presents rows of secondhand clothes, cheap jewelry and other bric-a-brac. At the food stalls, you can sample baked goods such as rúgbrauð, a dense rye bread traditionally baked underground for 12 or more hours in the heated soil near hot springs.
  • Salmon, cod and lobster. Incredibly fresh seafood such as salmon, lobster, plaice and cod populate menus across the island. We especially enjoyed the namesake meal at Icelandic Fish & Chips and the savory lobster bisque at Saegreifinn, The Sea Baron.
  • White Russians. We saw White Russians on cocktail menus across Reykjavik, but nowhere matches the selection of 20-plus varieties at Lebowski Bar, themed after the 1998 film. Peruse menu options such as the classic vodka and Kahlua concoction, milkshake versions and the “Tree Hugger” with soy milk and hazelnut syrup.
Adventurous food:
  • Rotten shark. The weekend market also sells meats ranging from cured fish to tubes of horse meat. One booth offers tastes of Iceland’s infamous hákarl. This dish is prepared by burying a gutted shark in a shallow pit, where it ferments for 6-12 weeks before it’s hung out to dry for months. The resulting ammonia taste is so hard to stomach that a Facebook page is dedicated to those who try.
  • Minke whale, goose and puffin. For a culinary tour of the island, book one of the 10-course tasting menus at Fiskmarkadurinn or Grillmarkadurinn. At the former, we were pleasantly surprised by local game such as the minke whale and cured goose. Brave eaters can also try bites of horse meat and smoked puffin at Tapas Barinn.
  • Brennivin and Opal. For a round of shots, you can’t miss the bottle of neon-green liquor behind every bar. This is Brennivin, a pungent caraway-flavored drink nicknamed the “black death.” Another common sight is the red and white target label of Opal, a menthol- and licorice-flavored liquor. Non-drinkers can opt for the candy by the same name.
Casual activities:
  • Bus tour of the Golden Circle. The popular Golden Circle route takes travelers past erupting geysers, cascading waterfalls and Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian plates are drifting away from each other. Private tours are available for individualized itineraries, and bus tours are a more economical option.
  • Horseback riding. Ride a shaggy Icelandic horse with tours departing from Reykjavik. This offers a slow pace from which to enjoy the wildlife and volcanic landscapes.
  • Blue Lagoon. For the ultimate in relaxation, head to the geothermally heated waters of the Blue Lagoon. No matter the temperatures outside, the milky-blue waters are warm enough for spa treatments like in-water massages and scrubs, or for simply lounging with a drink.
Adventurous activities:
  • Snowmobiling on a glacier. Speed across a glacier surface on a snowmobile and take in views of craters and volcanic ridges. You can combine a quick one-hour ride with a Golden Circle tour, or take a multiday excursion.
  • Volcano hike. Book a tour in a 4×4 to remote volcanic landscapes, where you can traverse across freshly cooled lava. One tour even lowers you deep inside the crater of the now-dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano via an open cable lift.
  • Dog-sledding. Become a musher for an hour or a day as you ride behind a pack of huskies on a dog-sledding tour. These unique experiences are often pricey, especially if you need transportation to the sledding site.

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