If Iceland’s recent economic disaster has an upside, it is this: You can now visit the beautiful, otherworldly Nordic country on the cheap (the currency exchange is much more favorable than it was six months ago) and feel good about boosting the local economy. Here’s how to do it in four days.
1. Take an Icelandair flight from JFK to Keflavík airport outside Reykjavík (it’s the only choice you have; prices start at $500, before taxes). The $12 Reykjavík Excursions bus (a.k.a. the Flybus) will get you to your hotel in about an hour. It’ll likely be dark upon your morning arrival, but don’t be alarmed by the rather barren landscape; you’ll be driving over an ancient lava field.
2. Stay at the stylish, centrally located CenterHotel Arnarhvoll (centerhotels.com), where you’ll get a spacious room and a generous, free breakfast buffet for a very reasonable $151 per night.
3. Reykjavík is a great walking city, so get your bearings by meandering along Geirsgata, which looks out over Faxaflói Bay toward the rugged Mount Esja.
4. If it’s Saturday or Sunday, wander into the Kolaportid Flea Market, where you can buy lopapeysa (traditional wool sweaters), hákarl (fermented shark meat), and kleinur (an Icelandic doughnut, twisty and anise-flavored). Stop at Sægreifinn (Geirsgata 8), a dive by the harbor, for the lobster bisque and grilled whale.
5. For a quick, free look at Iceland’s past, take the elevator to the sixth floor of Grófarhus (Tryggvagata 15) to the Reykjavík Museum of Photography. If the special exhibit doesn’t interest you, walk down the stairs, which are lined with archival photos. Proceed up the hill to the Culture House (Hverfisgata 15), a handsome building that houses Iceland’s treasures—the sagas—nestled in display cases under protective dim light. Check out the exhibit on the birth of Surtsey, a volcanic island that rose from the ocean floor in an eruption that lasted from 1963 to 1967.
6. Just a short walk away is Hallgrímskirkja, an immense Lutheran church whose architecture mimics volcanic-basalt columns. Take the elevator to the bell tower, where you’ll get a sweeping view of the little city.
7. Puffin-watching is awesome, but the puffins are gone in winter, so substitute a day trip to see the dancing flashes of the aurora borealis. Tour operators Reykjavík Excursions will take you well away from the city’s light pollution ($20; re.is).
8. For a food adventure, make a reservation at Lækjarbrekka (laekjarbrekka.is), a lovely formal restaurant housed in one of the oldest buildings in the city. Go ahead, try the puffin. Or some more whale. If you just … can’t, lobster and lamb are also on the menu.
9. Spend another day with Reykjavík Excursions roaming the so-called “Golden Circle”: Keriö (a sizable blast crater with a pond at the bottom, where Sigur Rós has played on a raft); Gullfoss (an immense two-tiered waterfall); Geysir (a collection of geysers for which all others are named); and Þingvellir National Park (where the Vikings first held Parliament).
10. And of course, the Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com). Make the famous geothermal baths your last-day excursion. Flights back to New York leave at 5 p.m., so take an 11 a.m. Flybus there ($42 for transportation, plus $7.50 to rent a bathing suit and towel). It’s one of those natural wonders that exceed the hype. Spend a few hours soaking—then back to Keflavík you go.