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What to Do in Iceland

Visit Glaciers, Explore Lava Fields and Sample Nordic Cuisine

Boats in port at the Old Harbor in Reykjavik

Iceland is not a popular travel destination, but a recent study found it to be the happiest spot on earth. On a recent visit, we saw why its 300,000 inhabitants — listed in the phone book by first name — have a lot to smile about. Under their feet sits the world’s largest magma pool providing enough geothermal water to heat more than 90 percent of their homes. The denizens, who descended from the Vikings a thousand years ago, also enjoy a sustainable supply of hydroelectric power derived from the country's enormous glaciers and abundant rivers.

When you first set foot in Iceland — a mere five-hour flight from New York — you arrive with the feeling that this is what it must feel like for astronauts when they land on the moon. In fact, astronauts used to train on this northern European island nation (the size of Ohio) that sits in the North Atlantic Ocean. The volcanic landscape is positively lunar, with acres of pitted lava fields stretching to the horizon in supernatural splendor.

Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel in Reykjavik, Iceland

WHERE TO STAY IN REYKJAVIK

Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel: A historic hotel offering upscale amenities in the heart of Reykjavik.

Hotel Borg: An Art Deco landmark located across from the parliament building.

Your first stop must be the magical Blue Lagoon, appearing mistily near the airport, and a great place to unwind after your flight. The approach to this luxurious outdoor spa is completely otherworldly, with its fields of jagged lava rocks dotted with steaming pools of fluorescent aqua. Milky rivulets thread across the black terrain glistening in the sun, which hangs out until past bedtime in the summer months.

The Blue Lagoon Spa Shopping in Reykjavik
The Blue Lagoon Spa holds six million liters of mineral-rich geothermal seawater
There's plenty of opportunity for traditional, and not so traditional, shopping

The lagoon itself is massive, holding six million liters of mineral-rich geothermal seawater, renewed every 40 hours and renowned for its healing powers and skin care remedies. The silica is especially curative and can be ladled directly from chalky deposits in the water and applied to your face and body with immediate results. Small quantities of the stuff are sold for large currency in the spa shop, so be sure to stock up while you’re in the water. Signature treatments are offered on an air mattress in the lagoon, including an algae wrap, salt glow and silica massage. Don’t miss the spectacular Lava Bar & Restaurant afterward, where the fresh fish fare is as great as the view.

When you emerge from this setting, entering any city would be a surprise but Reykjavik is astonishing. Simultaneously quaint and modern, charming and futuristic, Reykjavik offers the ultimate cool adventure. The world's first rental hydrogen cars are available from Hertz which are well-suited to exploring the city's tidy, colorful streets.

Sunset at Kolabrautin in Reykjavik, Iceland

WHERE TO EAT IN REYKJAVIK

DILL Restaurant: Locally-sourced, seasonal fare on the edge of an urban wetland and wild bird preserve.

Kolabrautin: Stunning ocean views and forward-thinking Nordic cuisine are the draw at this harbor-side restaurant.

MAR: Fresh seafood and drinks in the Old Harbor.

Slippbarinn: Invite friends for late-night craft cocktails and shareable small plates in one of Reykjavik's hippest neighborhoods.

SUSHISAMBA: Japanese and South American fusion cuisine comes to Iceland at this hip eatery.

Since there are more sheep than people populating the country, the trendy Nordic boutiques are filled with wool products, as well as fine jewelry. Find hand-knit wool sweaters and accessories, as well as local designer fashions and one-of-a-kind souvenirs at the Nordic Store. After you've had your fill of shopping, try a shot of Black Death at the Ice Bar, or at one of the many hip clubs around town. We recommend dinner at prir Frakkar. Be sure to try the whale sushi, although our favorite culinary experience was dining on bread baked in the earth (underground magma doubles as a convection oven) slathered with butter, which we consumed in the crisp, outdoor air with geysers erupting nearby.

The striking scenery of Iceland is characterized by endless lava fields and centuries-old glaciers

Neck-craning natural wonders can be found around every bend: glaciers, fjords, volcanoes, waterfalls and fields filled with lupines and lava. Horseback riding through the lava landscape is a great way to see the sites, or drink in the view from the many outdoor hot tubs (called “hot pots”). The locals swim and relax daily in the numerous geothermal heated pools.

Jeep tours are a popular way of exploring the Icelandic countryside

Other summer highlights include white water rafting and whale watching. Or take a trip to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, northwest of Reykjavik and visit Hotel Hellnar for a yoga class at the foot of the majestic Snæfellsjökull Glacier. There, as you're enjoying the cobalt waves of the Atlantic rhythmically slapping against a black lava beach, you'll feel like you're exploring one of the world's last unspoiled natural wonders.

For more information visit www.icelandnaturally.com

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