Five of the Best: Reasons to go to Reykjavik in 2016

It’s the stealth-cool capital of Europe, don’t you know

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By Charlotte Cox 

It's January. Which likely means: 1. You'll be in the grip of new year's resolutions. 2. You'll be staying in and generally being wholesome. And 3. You'll be really quite bored.

So we suggest you cheer the whole thing up by doing a spot of travel planning. Just think: this time next month, you could be in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik – and here are five reasons why that it is A Very Good Thing.

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IT HAS AN UBER-COOL MUSIC FESTIVAL

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So you'll have heard of Sónar Barcelona, right? The one where on-point DJs take over the city and turn it into one big ol' electro bash? Well, if you pick it up and transfer it to Reykjavik, things get a whole lot cooler – and not just because of the -10 degree temperatures. For a start, the Icelandic edition of the festival (18-20 Feb) is far more intimate – capacity at the Harpa Concert Hall is a snug 3,500 compared to 80,000 in Barca. This means you can get up close to some of the world's most cutting-edge electronic artists (Hudson Mohawke, Squarepusher, Boys Noize, Annie Mac) against a spine-chillingly atmospheric Arctic backdrop. And, of course, claim unusual-festival bragging rights ('oh, you're going to Glasto? How very mainstream…').

Sonar Reykjavik, 18-20 Feb. Three-day festival pass: £95

IT HAS NATURAL WONDERS APLENTY

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It's an unwritten rule that you can't leave Iceland without going whale watching. Tours depart right from Reykjavik's Old Harbour (elding.is) and you can see not only minke whales, but also white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises and humpback whales. Blimey. And the natural spectacle doesn't end there – within easy reach of the city are Stokkur, a natural geyser that shoots boiling water 40m into the air, and Gullfoss, a dramatic 32 metre-high waterfall (re.is). And then, of course, there's the Blue Lagoon (closed till Jan 21 for renovations), where you can bathe in geothermal spa waters that are a soothing 38 degrees. Also known as: our kind of nature.

IT'S FOODIE HEAVEN

All this festival-going and nature appreciation is going to leave you feeling pretty hungry – and that's where Reykjavik again proves it stealth-cool credentials. At the hip Sushi Samba, above, you can dig into, well, sushi obviously; but also a seven-course Icelandic Feast that includes smoked puffin, Arctic charr and reindeer (sushisamba.is). Or, head to Grillmarkadurinn for locally sourced steak and seafood cooked on custom-made coal grills. But one thing that's non-negotiable is  Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – which translates as 'the best hotdog in town'. It may be a small street-food stand by the harbour, but it attracts Frankfurter-loving foodies around the clock and even counts Bill Clinton as a fan. That's one hot dog indeed.

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THE NIGHTLIFE: OH, YES

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Amsterdam? Done it. Berlin? Too obvious. When it comes to European party capitals, Reykjavik may be more under the radar, but that makes it the destination of choice for those in the know. At weekends, the bars and restaurants that line Laugavegur fill with hip locals in search of a good time. First stop: Kaffibarinn, fronted with a London Underground sign and formerly part-owned by Blur's Damon Albarn. Skuli Craft Bar is the place for artisan ales, while Bryggjan Brugghús serves beer direct from its in-house brewery. Then all that remains is to party deep into the night at Paloma Bar, above, playing the finest in alternative electronica, or Húrra, which welcomes up-and-coming local DJs. Boom.

THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

The ultimate bucket-list experience, the dazzling Aurora Borealis need no introduction. And the good news is, the first months of the year are a great time to catch the Northern Lights in all their glowy grandeur. A wide range of coach trips and personal guides are available from the city – see aurorareykjavik.is for a list of the best. Add these natural highs to Reykjavik's hip music festivals, high-end restaurants and happening nightlife scene, and suddenly 2016 is looking mighty fine indeed.

GETTING THERE

Iceland Air has travel packages from the UK to Sónar Reykjavik from £319. Flights depart from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham, and packages include flights and a festival ticket, with hotels also available.

The Flybus shuttle service runs 45-minute transfers between Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavik, from £10 

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