With frequent fare sales on Icelandair and cheap deals on the country’s new budget airline, Play, taking the 5-hour journey to Reykjavik from the U.S. east coast is easier than ever. From wonderful walks, to fine dining, to lagoon lounging, Reykjavik makes the perfect weekend getaway. While we sometimes spend just 24 or 48 hours on a weekend trip, we highly recommend spending no less than three nights in Reykjavik to get the full experience.
In our “weekender” posts, we’ll tell you where we stayed and what we did on brief trips to interesting cities around the world. Here’s what we did in Reykjavik.
Getting to Town
The one problem with heading to Iceland from the U.S. east coast is that the overnight flight isn’t very long and the time difference is only 4-5 hours depending on the season. Particularly when you’re wined and dined in business class (awe, such problems), you’ll barely be drifting off to sleep when it’s time to wake up and face the early morning. (Check out the link at the end about our b-class experience that we got for less than some economy fares to Europe).
The good news is getting to Reykjavik from Keflavík Airport is very easy. You can take the FlyBus, which is coordinated with each arrival and costs $25 USD per person for the 45 minute ride to town. The bus will drop you off at the main terminal in Reykjavik and you can take a smaller shuttle from there — but we always walk from there. It only took 15 minutes (in the snow) to get to our hotel last time.
Note that taxis are very expensive, like $200+, so the FlyBus is probably your best option. There’s no need to rent a car for your weekend stay, but if you’re moving on from Reykjavik to other parts of the island, we highly recommend using Blue Rental Car. This isn’t sponsored. We’ve rented from them 3 times and had great experiences.
Where to Stay
Alda Hotel is an affordable place to stay with spacious rooms, friendly staff, and a great location in walking distance to many points of interest in town. We also really liked the cosy lobby, where we were able to hang out and have a few drinks from the cooler while we waited for our room.
We would recommend staying here for two nights and booking your last night at the Silica Hotel at the Blue Lagoon for an extra special experience. (More on that below).
Check In and Check It Out
Since you will arrive early in the morning, the best move is to leave your bags with the hotel staff and head out to explore Reykjavik, which is a surprisingly small town for a European capital.
Wander the streets, check out the cool architecture of the famous church, Hallgrímskirkja, and the Harpan concert hall. Walk along the gorgeous bay and admire the Viking sun voyager sculpture.
Wake Up and Explore the City
The next day you’ll want to continue to explore the old town. Take a stroll down one of Reykjavik’s oldest streets, Laugavegur, and check out all the shops, restaurants, and bars in the area.
You may want to walk down to the docks or into one of the tourist centers to explore options to get out on the water either for puffin sighting or whale watching (depending on time of year). If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could opt to do a day trip to the Golden Circle — but we’ll write more about that in a post about spending a week in Iceland.
If you want to simply stay in town, you can check out some of the city’s many museums — perhaps even the penis museum (yup, you read that right, though it’s technically called the Icelandic Phallological Museum). There’s also the National Museum of Iceland, which has some pretty cool Viking artifacts.
Dine Around the Town
We need to mention that Iceland is very expensive! So plan carefully. You may want to stop at the grocery store and keep some breakfast, lunch, and beverage options in your mini fridge in the room.
For a cheap(er) option, you have to try the famous hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Or get a delicious soup bread bowl and domestic beer at Svarta Kaffið (which is still somehow shockingly expensive).
For an outstanding Icelandic lunch with a stunning view, check out Cafe Loki across from the church. We loved the mashed fish and surprisingly delicious rye ice cream. (Note: Due to the popularity of this restaurant, we called ahead and reserved a table upstairs.)
If you want to splurge on dinner, Fiskmarkadurinn (The Fish Market) is one of our favorite spots in the world: delicate seafood, sushi fusion, Icelandic lamb, wonderful wine selection, and great ambience. We also love the restaurant at Apotek hotel. We haven’t tried Dill, but hear great things about this Michelin-star restaurant, too. (We thought Grillmarkaðurinn was just OK in comparison but it also gets high ratings). You should make reservations well in advance for any of these options.
Enjoy a Luxurious Treat
After your two nights in Reykjavik, you’ll be ready for some luxury at the Blue Lagoon. You can get a timed ticket to the main lagoon or you can spend the night at either Silica Hotel or the Retreat. We’ve been to the Blue Lagoon many times, and while it’s certainly touristy, we absolutely love it.
While the Retreat looks gorgeous, it’s too expensive for our budget so we opted to stay at Silica, which is still pricy but 100% worth it. Our hotel package included a welcome drink, a 4-course dinner for two at Lava (a restaurant onsite), entrance to the main lagoon and a private lagoon for Silica guests, and a wonderful breakfast spread. So when you add it all up, our stay was actually more reasonable than a night in town with a tasting menu at Fish Market.
Silica Hotel was such a relaxing experience. We especially enjoyed the private lagoon, which we shared with only 3 to 5 other guests — and we actually had it to ourselves in the morning before leaving. This was a winter trip, so it was super cool to take a dip in the warm lagoon with snow and occasional hail whipping through the winter breeze. The best part was that an indoor pool led to the outdoor area — so you didn’t have to get out of the water in the cold air.
The dinner at Lava was fantastic, the room was comfortable, and the location by the airport was convenient.
We did have a mishap with our transport, Destination Blue Lagoon, which was supposed to pick us up at a bus stop near Alda Hotel and take us to a main terminal but never did (and they never answered the phone). That’s how we know the taxi is $200! They refunded us the $50 USD for two tickets after I emailed them, but it was freezing that day and we waited 40 minutes for the no-show shuttle. Plus we had to spend the extra $150 on the taxi. Oh well. Not everything goes smoothly, and we got to warm up in the Silica lagoon later. Life is good and we’re so incredibly happy that we’ve had these wonderful experiences! We had no problem catching our Destination Blue Lagoon bus from the lagoon back to the airport the next day, and we’d definitely still use them again. Next time we’ll just walk to the main bus terminal in Reykjavik (which you should note is a different location than the main FlyBus terminal).
After a morning swim in the private lagoon and a delicious breakfast, we checked out of Silica at noon and headed down to the main lagoon to catch our bus to the airport.
We still had plenty of time before our flight, so we decided to check out the Saga Lounge — Icelandair’s airport lounge, which is included with a business class ticket. This is one of our favorite lounges. Even though the food offerings are minimal, the space is huge, and you can easily find somewhere to relax with a glass of wine and a few snacks while you look out at the planes on the apron. You’ll want to save your appetite for the excellent food on board anyway.
We’ve traveled with Icelandair on about 14 flights over the years in economy and business class — and we find them to be an affordable and comfortable way to get to Iceland and certain parts of Europe. While the economy experience is certainly no-frills compared to some other long-haul options, the business class is an exceptional experience for the price. Learn more in our recent blog post: Icelandair Business Class: 2 Things We Hate and 6 Things We Love
Have you been to Iceland or flown Icelandair? Would you take a dip in the Blue Lagoon in the middle of winter? Let us know in the comments.