Of course, flights to Europe are never cheap; however, Icelandair’s carrot at the, erm, middle of the stick — a stopover! — made all the spending seem worth it. Here’s how to spend a 24 hour stopover in Reykjavík, Iceland:
8:00am: Chill out at the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, and in the Winter, Watch the Sunrise
With my arrival in Iceland aimed for early morn, it made the most sense to hit the famous Blue Lagoon for sunrise, which, in midwinter, comes at around 11 a.m. Plus, the spa is located halfway between the airport and Reykjavík.
Having already purchased my 35 Euro ticket beforehand — the absolute cheapest — I was set to his the thermal waters instantly, armed with both a towel and a robe. Word of advice: if you wish not to shell out extra monies for said items, bring them in your carry-on. Standing outside in the frigid air for more than a second sans accouterments would be downright unpleasant — despite the jaw-dropping view.
Beyoncé and Jay Z had given the place their seal of approval mere days before my arrival. While no such boldfaced names graced my waters, do expect the lagoon to be filled with bucket loads of Americans. There seemed not to be a local in sight (save for the staff) and while this doesn’t prevent one from having a time, I made a mental note to be sure to visit one of the pools dotted around the city to get a less touristic experience. After coating my face in silica (free!), I checked out the powerful waterfall, went for a stint in the glass-walled sauna and paddled to all corners of the lagoon before heading to Reykjavík while the sun was still up.
1pm: Selfies & Scenic Views from Hallgrímskirkja Church
The Flybus — tickets for which are purchasable mid-flight — drops everyone off at their hotel, making the arrival supereasy. I’d booked a dorm room at the rather new Bus Hostel, which is not situated right downtown but is certainly within walking distance. Thanks to some tips received at an Iceland media dinner here in Toronto, I had a very doable list of inexpensive ways to experience the capital.
Decked out in many a fur, one of my 15 roommates and I headed into town, with the Hallgrímskirkja church an easy first stop. It was a very clear day (I’d just missed the northern lights by, sigh, less than 24 hours) so a trip to the top was a must, affording us a 360 degree view of the city and out to the sea. Worth the 700 ISK if the weather is agreeable.
3pm: Shop Till You Drop
The two main streets — Laugavegur and Skólavörðurstígur— fork together and a bounty of shops are filled with hard-to-resist items like fluffy sheepskin rugs and, of course, a plethora of lopapeysa — 100% pure Icelandic wool sweaters. Brand new sweaters will set you back a pretty penny (most seemed to ring in around $300), however vintage shops such as Spúútnik carry lightly worn versions that go for about half price. Design keeners will enjoy shops boasting finds from Finnish labels and the like, and faux Vikings (aka metalheads) will probably fall for beer-guzzling horns. A neat little shop Fotografí sells cheap ’n’ cheerful prints of street scenes from across the town.
7pm: Start the Party!
KEX showcases local acts in a charming space that will appeal to both hipsters and to those who can’t resist the lure of cozily quirky décor. (“This is so Williamsburg…” —NYC resident) We caught Rökkurró, a local act lead by a flaxen haired singer that the foreigners enjoyed, but caused our local to turn slightly bitter (“Oh, a female vocalist! Oh, acoustic guitars!”). The place shutters by 11 p.m. and afterward we headed further into the center.
Following a pit stop at the Korean-themed K-Bar for some brews — avoiding the $30 bibimbap — we were led to Kaffibarrin, which was jam-packed and rather lively. At the night’s end, be sure to wolf down a hot dog, as seems to be tradition.
10:00am: Soak It Up
Late nights in tandem with jetlag do not make for an early rise, so my second day was admittedly far more low key.
A local pool was just the ticket; Laugardalur costs 650 ISKand you can spend as long as you like alternating between the various hot tubs — each with a sign boasting the temperature up front — and the main pool itself. The environment is very social, with people squeezed in to every corner and, to my relief, barely any English spoken.
12pm: Last Call
It’s hard to leave Reykjavík without checking out the waterfront Harpa building, which beckons with its LED-dotted façade, making for quite the nighttime impression. When not wooing onlookers with its modern beauty, the building serves as a concert venue and more.
Check out Visit Reykjavik to plan your trip.