Iceland is an easy hop-skip-and-a-jump from the U.S.
From the east coast, Iceland is the perfect initiation to doing Europe in a long weekend. The flight’s duration is just over five hours, making it a shorter flight from D.C. than to the west coast. It’s also an easy flight because it leaves at night and arrives first thing in the morning.
Two tips for the uninitiated:
- Taxes on alcohol are high. Buy alcohol at the airport tax-free within the applicable quantity limits. Trust us, you’ll have plenty of time to booze between finishing sightseeing for the day and heading out in Reykjavik where people begin partying after midnight.
- Bring various types of apparel. The weather is fickle. This gives life to the popular Icelandic phrase: “If you don´t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes.” An unrelated phrase is also worth mentioning: “If you get lost in an Icelandic forest, stand up.”
Reykjavik is a wonderfully walk-able flat city. The harborfront is highlighted by the opera house called Harpa. The building is a stunning piece of Danish architecture and is worth taking a peak inside.
Reykjavík Art Museum is the largest art museum in Iceland. The museum is housed in three distinct buildings in central Reykjavík – Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir, and Ásmundarsafn. The Museum regularly exhibits works by three of Iceland’s most renowned artists; Erró, Kjarval, and Ásmundur Sveinsson. Seeing the art is a budget deal considering that the admission ticket is valid to all three Museums on the same day. Plus, cartoon pigs after a transatlantic flight isn’t a bad sight.
Nearby is Reykjavik University where students mill about during the weekday.
Next, take a walk to church. The Hallgrimskirkja is easy to spot as the tallest building in central Reykjavik. The exterior and interior are best described as mid-century modern with clean lines and very few ornate details. The church is also an observation tower with an elevator to a viewing deck. Note the statue of Leif Eriksson in front of the church. It was a gift from the United States in honor of the 1930 Alþingi Millennial Festival, commemorating the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament at Þingvellir in 930 AD.
Day-trips from Reykjavik
A trip out of the city is required when you are in Iceland.
Reykjavik Excursions is a popular bus company that has English-speaking tour guides with an Icelandic sense of humor. One of the most popular tours is the Golden Circle tour, which takes you to the continental divide where Europe and North America meet, the Geysir, and Gullfoss, a truly remarkable waterfall. Another option is a tour along Iceland’s South Shore, which includes a visit to a folk museum, walk on a glacier, and walk behind waterfalls. Because Tom did each of these tours on prior visits to Iceland, we chose a tour to Iceland’s northwest Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We had a walk on a black sand beach, a hike along a crater, and gorgeous vistas of mountains.
Each of the tours shows the world outside Reykjavik is like nothing you have ever seen. It’s rocky and feels alien. Well worth the trip. The tours return to Reykjavik in time for a 9:00pm dinner.
Go for a swim
Like the sauna in Finland or karaoke clubs in Japan, geothermal pools are the place to be with locals in Iceland.
Since the advent of harnessing geothermal energy in Iceland, the tradition of public bathing has become deeply rooted in the local culture. Locals of all ages and professions frequent some of the hundred public pools for both health and social purposes; in order to unwind after a long day or to catch up on gossip with friends. The Reykjavik area has seventeen public swimming pools, most of which are outdoors.
The queen jewel of them all is the Blue Lagoon.
This is highly recommended as a way to detox after the weekend of partying on the way back to the airport. Reykjavik Excursions has a bus ticket to transit from your hotel to the Blue Lagoon and onto the airport. Most flights to the U.S. leave Keflavik airport late Sunday afternoon so you can sleep in, head to the spa, and feel refreshed for the return to the U.S.
Eat and Drink
On a weekend trip to Reykjavik, you’ll have two nights of food options.
On Friday, we suggest heading to Tapas Barinn. The tapas are delicious and the atmosphere is electric. These are not all traditional Spanish tapas, but are an initiation into local Icelandic ingredients including puffin, saltfish, and mussels.
On Saturday night, Sjavagrillid is well worth making reservations well in advance of arriving in Reykjavik. The minke whale and langoustines are amazing.
After dinner, head to Micro Bar, a micro brewery close to city hall and the settlement museum. There are loads of different beer options. Iceland does not have a long history of beer culture, but they are experimenting and good micro brews are now easy to find.
The bar and club scene in Reykjavik continues late into the night and into the early morning. It’s both fun and overwhelming. Expect to stand in lines once all of the locals begin their nights around 1am.
At the end of your evening, a late night snack should be had at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, the famous hot dog stand where Bill Clinton got a fully loaded dog. Icelanders love the hot dog. This is the best place to have one – they are boiled perfectly and come with a trio of sauces including two different mustards. Just do it.
Getting here and where to stay
Flights are available on Icelandair or Wow Air. Choose between the option to try to see the Northern Lights in the winter or the midnight sun in the summer when you will have nearly 24 hour sunlight. Transit from the airport to your hotel is available on Reykjavik Excursions. It is about a 50 minute bus ride to the main bus station and then from there a short 5-10 minute shuttle. We stayed at super modern Hotel 101. If you’d prefer a more economic option, many of the Center Hotel properties are equally lovely.
Why we’ll go back
There’s so much more of the country left to see. We’d love to catch the aurora; to see the midnight sun; to play with puffins.