Iceland's Blue Lagoon. Credit: Getty
By Cristina Velocci
Special to amNewYork
When Icelands three main banks failed in October, it sent the countrys currency, the Icelandic krona, into a spectacular freefall, in which it lost nearly half its value. Once considered prohibitively expensive, the four-star hotels, flashy nightclubs and world class restaurants in the capital city Reykjavik are now half-off. Just a five-hour flight from New York, taking advantage of the Reykjavik has never been easieror more affordable.WHAT TO DO
Billed as one of Icelands must-sees, this 190-mile circular route encompasses a triad of natural wonders, including Ã?ingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site where the Vikings first established parliament in 930.
Walk through the craggy AlmannagjÃ¡ fissure, the deep rift where two tectonic plates are tangibly splitting apart, before continuing on to the geotherÂ¬mal Geysir, the progenitor to all other geysers. Cap the tour off at Gullfoss waterfall where the white water cascades over two-tiers before taking a dramatic drop into the Hvita River.
810 HveragerÃ°i, 011-354-480-4800, eldhestar.is
The small Icelandic horses are not only the same pure breed the Vikings had a thousand years ago, theyre also the only kind in the world to have five gaits instead of fourthe fifth being the tÃ¶lt, a smooth mix between a trot and a gallop that shows off the horses muscular, industrial strength.
Head to Eldhestar, an eco-friendly horse farm 30 minutes outside the city where an exhilarating ride takes you through meadows and over lava fields.
240 GrindavÃk, 011-354-420-8800, www.bluelagoon.com
This infamous geothermal spa on the Reykjanes Peninsula was accidenÂ¬tally created from the salt-water effluence of a nearby power plant.
The milky blue water is not only steaming hot but also mineral-rich its said to have therapeutic properties that combat psoriasis, jet lag and hangovers. Smear thick white silica mud on your face and body to slough off all the dead skin.
WHERE TO STAY
Posthusstraeti 11, 011-354-551-1440, en.hotelborg.is
When it was built in 1930, the 56-room Hotel Borg was Icelands first luxury hotel. It retains its original luster thanks to a recent renovation that carefully restored its Art Deco interiors while upgrading with such modern touches as Bang & Olufsen phones, flat-screen satellite TVs, heated towel racks and fluffy down comforters. Rates range mostly between $140-$225.
WHERE TO DINE AND DRINK
Adalstraeti 2, 011-354-511-1212, sjavarkjallarinn.is
Widely regarded as the finest in town, this restaurant, set amid the stone walls of the oldest cellar in ReykjavÃk, features unusual presentations of innovative French and Thai-influenced cuisine. The signature dish of tender langoustine in foie gras sauce and black truffles is served in a Mason jar.
BÃ¦jarins Beztu Pylsur
This small waterfront shack has been serving hot dogs since 1935. Saying the magic words eina mid Ã¶llu meaning give me one with everything gets you the works: a snappy pup over a bed of crispy fried onions layered with ketchup, sweet mustard and rÃ©moulade sauce. Or simply order a Clinton, which comes the way President Bill had it on his visit here with just mustard.
Bergstadastraeti 1, 011-354-551-1588, kaffibarinn.is
Whether its the London Underground sign above or the clamor of unruly patrons thats more conspicuous is hard to say, but this bohemian dive part-owned by Blur frontman Damon Albarn packs in artists, musicians (locals Bjork and Sigur Ros are known to stop by) and hipsters on a regular basis.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Currency: As of press time, $1 U.S. dollar = 114 Icelandic krona.
Room service: ReÂ¬gardless of where you choose to crash, make sure to request a room facing inward to avoid being kept up all night by the raucous revelers filling the streets until 5 a.m.
Tickets: Icelandair is currently offering a Budget Getaway package for travel through April that includes roundtrip airfare, two nights hotel, roundtrip airport and hotel transfers and Scandinavian breakfast each morning for $799 per person. Flights from New York start at $499.