“Are you crazy”? that seemed to be the question of the day when I told friends and family that I was going to Reykjavik for a long weekend in Iceland (4 days) in November. I explained that the flight from Newark to Reykjavik (Iceland) was about the same to the West Coast of the U.S., they said “that’s not bad, I didn’t realize Iceland was so close” (most people don’t). My travel agent even tried to persuade me to go to South America instead “there’s no rain!”, I laughed and said “with me, there’s always rain, even when there shouldn’t be” (see Sydney trip). My decision for a weekend in Iceland was a quick one, booking three weeks out, as I had vacation days to use or lose. With the stopover option, I was able to add London (3 hour flight) for a spot of Christmas markets, shopping and chocolate (it helped that I had two Hyatt free night certificates from opening up their credit card earlier this year). I redeemed British Airways Avios to fly direct from London to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving in Club World (home in time for dinner) rather than Icelandair back to Newark via Reykjavik.
Iceland has quickly emerged as the country to visit (a friend did the $850 Groupon for a quick weekend inclusive of air and single supplement) or maybe it’s all the “stopover” ads I’ve seen from Icelandair. Icelandair let’s you stopover in Iceland for up to 7 days on your way to/from a European destination – so basically two vacations in one! With some quick research, I quickly realized that there’s more to the country than the Blue Lagoon, for which I had zero interest, and the erupting 2010 Eyjafjallajokull volcano (referred to as E15 which is easier to pronounce).
With such a quick visit to Iceland, this was not the time to rent a car on my own and wing it (maybe in the summer months, but not winter) so I would book two tours – The Golden Circle and The South Coast (note that you can actually buy tours on the Icelandair flight from the IFE system). The only uncertainty was a Northern Lights tour as the week’s weather was scheduled to be rainy and cloudy each day. Before I left, I resigned myself to not seeing the Northern Lights, yes I was sad, but you can’t predict nature. With so many factors needing to come together, the tour vendors usually decide by 6pm if they will offer the tour or not. If you go out and don’t see the Northern Lights then the vendor will allow you to go the next night offered for free. The tours leave generally at 8 p.m. and don’t get back until near 1 a.m.so it was a bit tricky to plan ahead.
My Weekend in Iceland Itinerary
Amtrak from Philly to the Newark Airport station, transfer to the Air Train (cost $5.50). Flight at 7:55 p.m. I booked the Economy Comfort class which was a coach seat with the middle seat blocked out, 1″ extra of pitch, priority check-in, lounge access and a meal (I requested a special meal) with wine on the flight.
Arrive Reykayvik at 6:35 a.m. (dark and rainy). The city center is 45 minutes from the Keflavik (KEF) airport and it’s super easy to take the bus there. You have two options – FlyBus or Gray Line (each way about $19-25). I took the FlyBus to the bus station and switched to a minibus to the hotel (the plus option), on the return, I would take Gray Line as they were located around the corner from my hotel, Hotel Borg. As with my London trips, I like to go to sleep immediately so I reserved the room for Thursday (added cost but worth it for me). After my nap, I planned to wander the city center (easy to do) and check out Northern Lights tours (canceled). I had pre-booked a reservation for an indulgent dinner at Grillmarkadurinn (The Grill Market) as backup.
Early breakfast by candlelight at Bergsson Mathus before the Golden Circle Tour with SuperJeep (expensive, about $350, but max is 6-8 ppl). We would visit Þingvellir or Thingvellir National Park (site of the first parliament), Geysir geothermal area with various types of pools that erupt, Gullfoss Waterfall and then add on snowmobiling on Langjökull glacier (additional cost about $190). We would also do a bit of off-roading along the way. Dinner reservation at Laekjarbrekka for traditional Icelandic foods.
Breakfast repeat at Bergsson Mathus before the South Coast Iceland tour with GeoIceland (small tours max 18 ppl, cost about $110) to the Black Sand beaches of Reynisfjara near the town of Vik, Waterfalls – Seljalandsfoss and Skógafuss and the glacier tongue of Sólheimajökull.
I really liked starting the day with breakfast at Bergsson Mathus. I booked a small walking tour (max 12 ppl) of Reykayvik with Auður of I Heart Reykayvik (a must read Iceland travel blog) from 10 a.m. – noon (approx. $40). I wanted to do the tour when I arrived on Friday but it was fully booked so I advise you to book early as it’s popular. With evening flights back to the U.S. after dinner you could go home but I decided to stay over and fly to London on Tuesday morning (this turned out to be a great decision!)
This was my weekend in Iceland itinerary and I hoped for the best (the free upgrade to business class on the flight was a nice start to my trip). My weather app showed no sun for the entire trip to Iceland and London so I was resigned to experience the country in the rain and fog. Lucky for me (I don’t often say that) my birthday trip to Iceland would have a few surprises waiting that would make for a fabulous trip rain, fog and all!