During summer last year I spent 3 nights in Iceland and really got to like it!
I used 25,000 United Miles for the flights to get to Reykjavik. I made the trip while I was in Germany and Lufthansa has direct seasonal flights to Reykjavik from Dusseldorf, Hamburg and Berlin (but none from their hubs Frankfurt and Munich!). However my return date was just after the seasonal cut-off so I needed to fly back through Oslo and Stockholm to Cologne.
The outbound flight (just a day after the Lufthansa strike) was on a A320 and just had 10 passengers. So we all had a small section of the plane to ourselves not just a couple of seats 🙂
It was a beautiful day and the approach over the ocean was spectacular.
While most of Europe was still summerly warm – Iceland greeted me with a fresh breeze and 45 degrees.
The airport is about 45 minutes out of town and there is an ample amount of buses to take you downtown. From the sky high rates that day I could gather the city would be crowded, but I found a good rate at Hotel Fron. Not surprisingly they were overbooked and offered me free lunch in their Brasserie and a night in another hotel just down the road. I agreed and had my USD $100 lunch which still left me quite hungry (yes food is not cheap in Iceland).
The new hotel (forgot the name!) was brand new but really simple. I remember seeing the warm comforter which I thought was overblown, but thought differently once night fell.
Reykjavik is a surprisingly urban town with a beautiful, walkable city center. Many coffee shops and small restaurants mix with interesting retail shops. Also the harbor and the nearby opera house make for good sightseeing.
The next night I stayed at the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel. I was upgraded to a suite which provided great views of the city airport (only supports prop planes). The room itself was remodeled with nice hardwood floors. However most of the hotel and the bathrooms are pretty old. The breakfast hall was freezing and teeming with tour groups. Also the hotel is about 10-15 walk from the city center – not a bad location but one can do better.
I spend the day at the Blue Lagoon Iceland which was my favorite part of my trip – it wasn't just stunning to look at – it was also very relaxing to swim in!
To my surprise it was full of older folks from the US and Canada. Few Europeans mingled in (given that Iceland labels itself as somewhat European) and even fewer Icelanders.
As the lagoon is just next door to the airport it's an ideal sight for a layover.
The water is actually 'waste water' from the nearby thermal power plant , which after surfacing and heating the plant is being directed into the lagoon. The black lava rocks stand in sharp contrast to the white washed bottom and sides from the waters sediment. With the blue sky and sunshine it's one of the best colors you'll see in nature.
After an unpleasant night at the Park Inn Reykjavik (which is a dump, please avoid it) I took the Golden Circle Tour which is a famous tour taking you in a day to the most famous sights around Reykjavik.
You will see the hot spring Strokkur shoot a column of water up to 30 meters (98 ft.). We also visit the magnificent Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, created where the river Hvítá tumbles and plunges into a crevice some 32 m (105 ft.) deep.
The wind was furious that day hitting 70mph and driving snow/hail and rain. At many sites we could barely leave the bus and had to crouch down to not be toppled over by the wind. Just a reminder this was in early September when New York City still had 85 degrees every day!
Switch on your computers audio to hear the fury of the wind!
My flight back took me over the storm on an SAS 737 and it was the first time I did see the flight attendants scared by turbulence and dropping everything to sit down in a passenger seat to buckle up for the turbulence. It wasn't very long – but very intense 🙂