City guide: Reykjavik

Despite not having the best run of luck recently, what with acts of God and economic downturns to deal with, Reykjavik is actually more accessible and affordable than you might think.

With its blend of Icelandic tradition and contemporary cool, Reykjavik offers a unique take on dining, design and dancing till dawn.

City break guide: Reykjavik
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City guide: Reykjavik

Art Deco fans will love the sublime design of the Hotel Borg. Like sleeping on a Poirot film set, the hotel has paid immaculate attention to period details without feeling over-styled or stuffy. Elegant and charming, the hotel concept dates back to the late 1920s and retains the air of Jazz Age decadence without feeling too formal.

The Icelandic are second to none at translating their heritage and tradition into contemporary design - you see it everywhere in Reykjavik and its this singular eye for style which makes it one of the most exciting cities to visit. Exemplifying this tradition is Farmer's Market, a local knitwear label with its own boutique close to the harbour, whose designers use Icelandic wool and local materials to create sweaters, cardigans and accessories that are a genuine fusion of old and new. Hipsters and label queens should flock to Kron Kron, Reykjavik's most directional designer concept store where cult labels and local designers compete in a fashion-off. For Icelandic skincare, hair treatments and beauty products, visit the Blue Lagoon store on Laugavegur where all products have been derived from Reykjavik's famous geothermal spa.

Reykjavik is a notorious party city – particularly in the summer when the sun shines 24-7. Kick off your evening with cocktails at the stylish 101 Hotel, then follow the crowd to the low-key but packed to the rafters Kaffibarinn - a perennial favourite with locals. Boston (Laugavegur 28b) plays on a vintage Victoriana theme and is another stylish after-dark bolt-hole, found up a narrow staircase off the main street. For something a little tamer, B5 is a slick, contemporary cafe-bar serving Scandinavian dishes throughout the evening.

Eat fish and chips Icelandic style at the contemporary cafe-bistro near the harbour, called simply Fish and Chips. Order the freshly battered catch of the day served with hand-cut rosemary chips and dollops of their signature skyronnaise - a low fat sauce made from curd and organic herbs.

For top quality fish in a fine-dining environment, Fish Market offers an Icelandic interpretation of Asian cuisine. Aside from the main kitchen, diners can get their dish cooked at the Robata grill or not-cooked at all, at the Raw Table.

Reykjavik has a lively cafe culture; the main centre is full of cosy little coffee shops, some more hidden than others, where people of all ages plug in their laptops and while away a few hours tapping away over pots of tea. The homely and reliable Tu Dropare (Laugavegur 27) is located in a basement off Laugavegur; with its eclectic Granny-chic feel its great for home baked cakes and mugs of hot chocolate.

Yoko Ono's Peace Tower on the island of Viday is a striking piece of public art created in memory of John Lennon and their joint quest for world peace and love. The tower emits a beam of light during Iceland's darkest months, (early October to mid-December, and then during intervals up until March) and although it can be seen from Reykjavik, its advised to take a ferry to Viday from Skarfabakki harbour, to see it up-close. Events run on Videy throughout the year, but the best time to visit is at winter, when you can warm up at the lovely island cafe, run by the stylish Hotel Holt.

Downtown Reykjavik and its main thoroughfare of Laugavegur can be walked in under an hour. The tiny, toy-town feel of the centre is remarkable. Walk off the main drag up to the residential streets to see the unique architecture of the city - the colourful wooden and corrugated iron houses which are unique to Reykjavik. Alternatively, a stroll down to the harbour will put you in touch with Iceland's industrial-side, where you will also see the trawlers coming in with the first catch of the day.


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