Icelandair announced last week that it will start service from Philadelphia to Reykjavik (PHL – KEF) in the summer of 2017. From May 30, 2017 through September 20, 2017, they will fly four times a week between Philadelphia and Reykjavik. That’s big news for Philadelphia International Airport to gain another direct international flight (last year Qatar starting flying direct to Doha). For travelers in Philadelphia (like me) who have dragged themselves to Newark (or JFK) in past years via Amtrak, shuttles or private cars, having a direct flight is fabulous. The fact that Icelandair offers a fantastic stopover program is just an added benefit. So Philadelphia travelers, now is the time to start planning your Iceland visit.
My first trip to Iceland (Reykjavik) was two years ago in November. At the time, I planned the trip last minute (less than a month out) and my travel agent thought I was mad as she was suggesting sunny warm destinations to escape the East Coast Winter. I went against her advice and decided rain or snow, it was time to visit Iceland. The airline’s stopover program made it even more attractive as I could stop over in Reykjavik and continue onward to London for a quick three day visit using my Hyatt points to stay at the Andaz Liverpool street for free.
Many people are surprised that the flight time is about 5 1/2 hours from the East Coast. That’s about the same time to the West Coast, the only difference is that you need a passport for this flight. Once in Reykjavik, flights to the rest of the Europe are quick hops.
Icelandair Stopover Program
Most people book a point to point with a return airline ticket visiting one city on their vacation. Icelandair crafted a fantastic option to woo more passengers and visitors – a free stopover in Reykjavik (up to 7 days) on your way to another European city (London, Paris, Amsterdam anyone?). Knowing that many (or most) folks don’t have Iceland at the top of their vacation list (you really should), they provide a great reason to have a two city vacation and experience a taste of Iceland for one to a few days. So compare prices of direct flights and then the stopover pricing (with additional costs like hotel, tours, food) and see if there is value in having two vacations in one trip.
Icelandair Travel Buddy Program
The Icelandair Travel Buddy Program is a new program that I haven’t tried yet but want to – it is currently on hiatus as it was such a hit, I think they were overwhelmed. You can arrange to have a local (Icelandair employee) show you the sights as your travel buddy for the day sharing a passion for food, culture, adventure, health, lifestyle or nature. How fun does that sound? I’m keen to request a travel buddy next summer if the program returns. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet locals and see the city through their eyes. As someone who travels solo, I love this idea.
The Icelandair Flight
I wrote about the Icelandair business class, Saga, seat on my flight from Newark to Reykjavik. Originally booked on the Coach Plus option (a bit more leg room and lounge access), I was upgraded upon check in to the larger business class seat (two rows ahead of my coach plus seat) but not provided the full business class meal or bar service (the seat surprise was enough for me as I got a viewing of the Northern Lights during the flight when the captain told us on the left side of the plane to look outside at the lights in the distance).
Iceland in Four Days (the long weekend)
My four day Iceland itinerary was planned to experience the highlights in and around Reykjavik. It was a winter November but surprisingly warmer than Philly at the time. It was a concern for locals that winter had not given them much snow yet. Warm being in the 30’s Fahrenheit. The odd part to get used to was the lack of sunlight – I arrived in the dark at 6:30 a.m., there was a few hours of late light but wasn’t until my last day that the sun would brightly appear after a quick rain shower. I at breakfast by candlelight each morning which I quite liked.
My four day itinerary is easy to do all year round (except for the Northern Lights which are a winter bonus).
Iceland Need to Know
- The airport is approximately one hour from the center of Reykjavik. The buses to/from the city run frequently and you can buy a ticket at the airport (or even onboard the flight using the touchscreen television)
- In my experience, cash was not needed and I used my Visa card the entire weekend for all purchases. This cashless society was a new experience for me.
- The Northern Lights tour in winter are a hit/miss. The tour operators will decide late afternoon if they are going or not. Many will give you a second trip if you don’t see the lights. So best to plan your Northern Lights tour the first night to give you ample opportunity to try again if needed. The hotel and visitor center can call tour operators for last minute bookings. I had friends take the big bus tour (cheaper) and see the lights, while I opted for the more expensive and private SuperJeep tour (only four people in my Jeep) that goes out in a caravan of Jeeps (we had six on our tour). What matters is if your tour operator goes to one fixed spot or a few spots chasing the lights.
- The Northern Lights tour are late night, leaving after 9 pm and arriving back near 2 am. There is no bathroom on the tours so be prepared.
- It’s not as expensive as you’ve heard. There are plenty of food options from the famous Hot Dog Stand to Grillmarket as well as bars and markets. Like anywhere else all depends on what you want and how you plan. I opted for the luxury, art deco historic hotel, Hotel Borg and used small tours.
Philly to Iceland in Summer
Many of my friends have experienced the long days of light in summer in Iceland. You can read their about their adventures:
Roaming Required – Iceland Roadtrip Series – Why Iceland is a Must!
Boomeresque – Touring Iceland’s Golden Circle Route from Reykjavik
Landlopers – 31 Weird Facts About Iceland That Will Amaze You
They got to see the Puffins on the South Coast and the greenery of summer. They rented cars to drive around the country viewing waterfalls, glaciers and lagoons. Their photos are in stark contrast to my dark, moody photos during my visit. It just shows how the country is beautiful in both light and dark. So when Icelandair starts service from Philadelphia next summer, hopefully, I’m on board to return to Iceland to see more of this pretty cool country.
If you’ve been to Iceland, share your highlights to help others plan their trip next summer.