Jennifer Sabo, youth programs manager at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., was joined by her best friend, Janet, from L.A. "With the temperature around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, Iceland was quite a change," Jennifer says. "But everywhere we went, we were amazed by mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, and winter festivities. Even getting pelted by hail while on a hike couldn't begin to dim our enthusiasm."
Blue Lagoon After a bracing run from the locker room, we immersed ourselves in the 100-degree waters of the Blue Lagoon. Rich in salt, silica, and other minerals, the geothermal water is pumped from deep under the earth. After rinsing off the sulfury smell, we strolled around and took photos (011-354/420-8800, bluelagoon.com, from $33).
Prikið I was shocked to see prices twice as high as in the U.S. We found affordable meals at Prikið, a café/pub popular with students (Bankastræti 12, 011-354/551-2866, prikid.is, hot chocolate $4).
Bæjarins Beztu We also liked the hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu (Tryggvagata and Pósthústræti, 011-354/894-4515, $3) and the lobster skewers at Sægreifinn (Geirsgata 8, 011-354/553-1500, saegreifinn.is, $22).
Fish market From mid-January to mid-February, the Viking month of Thorri is celebrated with a midwinter feast featuring unusual foods, such as hákarl (putrefied shark meat). You can try hákarl in the fish market for about $2.
Nasa We went to the club Nasa to see a Scottish group called the Reel Thing and Iva Nova, an all-girl band from Russia (Austurvöllur 2, 011-354/511-1313, nasa.is, from $7).
Gullfoss We spent a day exploring the Golden Circle, a trio of natural wonders about an hour outside Reykjavík. We started with a hike through Thingvellir National Park at dawn (which was around 9 a.m.; dusk was around 6 p.m.). After we passed Thingvalla Lake and crossed the crevasse that separates the North American and European tectonic plates, we got back on the road. The next stop was Gullfoss, a two-tier waterfall between snow-covered cliffs. Then, at the geyser field, we watched one erupt and marveled at the steaming, boiling vents scattered along the icy ground.
Winter Lights The theme of this year's Winter Lights Festival was Light in Motion. Over three days, events and activities take place in churches, schools, museums, and clubs. The festival kicked off with a parade that had the crowd, accompanied by a five-piece band, traveling through the streets. As we walked, we came upon choruses, fire-eaters, and dancers in light-encrusted costumes.
Öskudagur On Ash Wednesday, or Öskudagur, kids in costumes visit stores and sing for treats. A walk down Laugavegur, Reykjavík's main shopping street, is a must. You might recognize some of the songs, such as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," even when they're sung in Icelandic.