Reykjavik shines in the winter. The aurora borealis sends luminescent green ribbons dancing across the night sky. Disco balls flicker until 5:30 a.m. on the weekends. And on New Year’s Eve the city blazes with fireworks and neighborhood bonfires. During the day, partake in the city’s cozy cafe culture or relax in a geothermal hot tub. Sunlight may be in short supply, but residents know how to keep the season lit. Here are some other ways Reykjavik “sleighs” in the chilly months.
Immerse yourself in one of Reykjavik’s hot spots. The mineral-rich turquoise waters at the Blue Lagoon may be crowded with tourists, but when locals want to soak away the day, they head to one of the city’s public swimming pools, or sundlaugs. Heated by geothermal activity, the outdoor pools are open all year. And, as every Icelander knows, there’s no better way to warm your bones than to sink into a steamy 100-degree tub.
Did you know? Pools in Iceland are no place for never nudes. You must strip naked and shower before entering the lightly chlorinated water. Rush the process and you risk being scolded by one of the pool wardens.
Snorkel in Iceland … in the winter? Yep! In Thingvellir National Park, you can snorkel and scuba dive year-round in Silfra, a rift between the Eurasian and North American continental plates. Float above the craggy ravine lit in otherworldly blue light. The water is so crystal clear, you can often see for 100 meters. At 36–39 degrees, the water is crisp but a dry suit will keep you comfy.
Did you know? Silfra is filled with glacial meltwater, which has traveled through porous lava rock for some 50 years. Forget your Brita filter. You won’t findcleaner, purer water than this anywhere.
When building in Iceland, it’s best to first check with the elves, known as huldufólk, or hidden people. Tales of the enchanted creatures derailing construction projects that disrupt their domiciles, usually in boulders or hills, abound (think broken bulldozers and workers felled by freak accidents). Learn about these incidents and more at the Elf School. The headmaster, Magnus Skarphedinsson, has devoted over 40 years to researching elves and has interviewed more than 900 of his fellow citizens about their personal elvin encounters.
Did you know? Elves prefer to stay out of sight, but the odds of catching a glimpse of one goes up on Christmas, when they’re known to throw wild barnyard parties, and New Year’s Eve, when they’re out searching for a new rock to reside in.
Even when it’s below freezing outside, Icelanders line up for ice cream. Try one of the weird and wonderful flavors at Valdís. The gelato shop encourages requests, which has led to some pretty unusual options, including beer, bacon, and curry with coconut and chili, as well as two of its most popular flavors — Tyrkisk Peber (a salty licorice candy) and salted peanut and caramel. All in all, the shop’s gelato geniuses have churned out more than 400 flavors since opening five years ago.
Did you know? Icelanders love ice cream road trips. Going on a drive to get ice cream is such a part of the culture that they even have a word for it: ísbíltúr.
Despite its proximity to the North Pole, Santa doesn’t visit Iceland. Instead, 13 trolls, called the Yule Lads, make the rounds. On the 13 nights leading up to Christmas, children leave a shoe on their windowsill for a Yule Lad to fill. Good kids wake up to candy. The naughty ones get rotten potatoes. Each of the merry pranksters is named after his favorite bit of mischief: Skyr Gobbler eats up all the yummy Icelandic yogurt, Door Sniffer tracks down baked goods with his huge nose, and Sausage Swiper hides in the rafters and snatches smoked sausages.
Did you know? The lads’ mom, Grýla, prefers to boil tots rather than give them presents. Her trickster sons also used to be way more scary than merry. But in 1746, the government banned parents from frightening their kids with Yule Lad horror stories.
Answers: 1. 80 2. Clothes 3. Björk 4. 2 5. power plant or geothermal plant 6. swimming pool 7. Elves 8.Coca Cola 9. books 10. Beer
Icelanders beat back the cold, dark days with plenty of oven heat and fresh-baked treats. People take days off of work to prepare for the Þorláksmessa luncheon on December 23, which honors Saint Thorlak, Iceland’s patron saint, and cook for Christmas Eve dinner the following day. During these festive feasts, the tables overflow with delicious desserts, such as kókosmjölskökur, small chocolate-coconut cookies and vínarterta, a cardamom-scented shortbread cake layered with prune filling. Marens-kornflexkökur, fluffy, chewy meringues punctuated with dark chocolate and crunchy cornflakes, are particularly popular, and, lucky for us, super easy to make. Brighten up your holiday with the following recipe.
Recipe courtesy of Saveur
Having a hard time staying active in the darker months? We feel you. Winter weather often means indoor workouts at the gym. And let’s be real — that elliptical machine doesn’t stand a chance when Netflix and snuggly blankets are waiting for you at home. If you need a little extra motivation to get moving, take a cue from Reykjavik’s residents and head to the nearest rink.
When the temperature turns frigid, the city’s Tjörnin Lake becomes a swirling kaleidoscope of ice skaters. Named one of the world’s top skate spots by National Geographic Traveler, the lake’s downtown location makes it a particularly fun place to glide.
If you live in a warmer climate, man-made rinks can be just as fun (and a lot smoother). Don’t worry if you’re a wobbly baby deer in the beginning — Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir aren’t around to throw shade! With a little practice, you’ll soon be showing off your swizzels and wiggles.
Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Pink have all recently flashed smiles adorned with tooth gems. Think these blinged-out smiles are a new fad? Not by a long shot. Dental decoration trends have gone in and out of style for thousands of years. While we recommend you keep your pearly whites naturally bright, here are a few glittering examples of history’s fashion-forward bites.
Vikings had terrifying teeth. Not because of a lack of oral hygiene (although that might have exacerbated the situation), but because some had deep horizontal grooves etched into their front choppers. Anthropologists suspect these carvings were dyed red to strike fear in their enemies.
Breath mints too boring? Want a fancier way to freshen your mouth? Follow the ancient Mayans’ lead. The social elites added jade inlays to their teeth partly as a way to purify their breath.
Wealthy Etruscan women were wearing an extreme version of gold grills as early as 7th century BC. They’d remove their front teeth and replace them with a gold appliance that held teeth welded with ornamental gold wire. Only those rich enough to have others prepare soft foods for them could afford this fashion choice.