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Reykjavík’s charms lie in its contrasts. In summer the streets are washed by 22 hours of daylight; in winter there’s never-ending night.

Like any contemporary European city, it has fine museums, cosy cafés and top restaurants – plus surreal volcanic landscapes nearby.

See

Reykjavík's most attention-seeking building is the immense concrete church Hallgrímskirkja, yet the interior is puritanically plain. For a view of the city, take a lift up its 75m-high tower (00 354 510 1000; hallgrimskirkja.is; Skólavörðuholt; 9am-8pm Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm Sun Jul and Aug, 9am-5pm Sep-Jun; £1.50).

The bloodthirsty Saga Museum is where Icelandic history is brought to life by eerie silicon models and a soundtrack of screams. The café has a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding mountains (00 354 511 1517; sagamuseum.is; 10am-6pm Apr-Sep, 12pm-5pm Oct-Mar; £5).

As the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, so the Blue Lagoon is to Iceland. In a black lava field, the milky-blue spa is fed by water from the futuristic Svartsengi geothermal plant (00 354 420 8800; blue lagoon.com; 9am-9pm Jun-Aug, 10am-8pm Sep-May; £25).

Einar Jónsson is Iceland's foremost sculptor, famous for his symbolist works. For a taste, visit the Einar Jónsson Museum and its sculpture garden (00 354 551 3797; skulptur.is; Eiriksgata; opening times vary throughout the year; £3).

Iceland is a fantastic place for whale-watching - its waters are home to over 20 species of cetacean. Between April and October, Elding runs trips from Reykjavík's old harbour. From mid-May to mid-August, boats also visit 50,000 nesting puffins (00 354 555 3565; elding.is; £30).

Eat and drink

Shining white decor doesn't disguise the old-fashioned soul of Múlakaffi. Hearty local meals such as meatballs and roast pork are served here (00 354 553 7737; mulakaffi.is; Hallarmúli; lunch and dinner Mon-Fri and Sun, lunch Sat; meals £5-£10).

Owner-chef Úlfar Eysteinsson has built an excellent reputation at Þrír Frakkar. Specialities include salt cod and fish stew with black bread and non-fish foods, such as seal, puffin and reindeer steaks (00 354 552 3939; 3frakkar.com; Baldursgata 14; lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat-Sun; mains £15-£22).

Fiskmarkaðurinn infuses Icelandic seafood with Far-Eastern flavours, with a focus on local produce. The Farmers' Market menu mixes Icelandic specialities (lobsters from Höfn, halibut from Breiðafjörður) with chillis, papaya, and coconut (00 354 578 8877; fiskmarkadurinn.is; Aðalstræti 12; lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat and Sun; mains £15-£20).

The Hilton's five-star Vox serves seasonal dishes such as goose with caramelised apples, as well as sushi and 'smushi' - small squares of rye bread topped with fish, cheese or veg (00 354 444 5050; voxrestaurant.com; Suðurlandsbraut 2; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Wed-Sat; bistro every day; mains £15-£25).

Perched on the city's water tanks, Perlan revolves once every two hours. Views are superb, as is the nouvelle cuisine of reindeer with creamed barley (00 354 562 0200; perlan.is; Öskjuhlíð; dinner; £22-£33).

Sleep

Reykjavík Campsite is popular in summer, with space for 650 people. It has free showers, bike hire and a kitchen and barbecue area. You can buy gas and postcards at reception and use the nearby hostel's laundry room to wash clothes (00 354 568 6944; reykjavikcampsite.is; Sundlaugavegur 32; mid-May to mid-Sep; sites £4 per person).

Sunna Guesthouse has simple rooms with parquet floors. The rooms at the front have views of Hallgrímskirkja. Alternatively, choose between neat studio apartments for up to four people, or larger apartments to sleep eight (00 354 511 5570; sunna.is; Þórsgata 26; doubles from £45, apartment from £60).

Situated in a conservation area, Forsæla Guesthouse is a lovely option. Star of the show is the 100-year-old wood-and-tin house with old beams, which sleeps up to eight people. Three apartments have small but cosy bedrooms and sitting rooms, and fully equipped kitchens. There's a minimum three-night stay (00 354 551 6046; apartmenthouse.is; Grettisgata 33b; doubles from £50, apt from £70, house £210).

Characterful Hótel Þingholt was designed by architect Gulla Jónsdóttir, who used natural materials and took inspiration from Icelandic nature to create this boutique hotel. Rooms are snug with mood lighting and leather headboards (00 354 595 8530; centerhotels.com; Þingholtsstræti 3-5; from £140).

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