Having visited and loved Iceland last September, I was intrigued when I saw Iceland Air’s adverts promoting an Icelandic stopover on a transatlantic journey. Expecting it to me much more expensive than a direct flight with another airline, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it actually worked out cheaper than any of the airlines featured on Skyscanner. And so, lo and behold, we organised a 24-hour sojourn in Iceland en route to Washington DC.
In the end, the 24 hours ended up being 21 hours (the plane from Manchester departed an irritating 2 hours and 58 minutes behind schedule, just 2 minutes short of the delay that would allow us to claim back a hundred quid) but that was still enough time to have a sample of the delights of Iceland.
Reykjavik is small, but despite being only the edge of civilisation somehow manages to be unashamedly hip. Mason Jar lights and craft beers abound, and there appeared to be a good collection of hipster beards. The setting is beautiful, with sweeping views out over Faxa Bay to the mountains beyond. The roads from the bay lead up a sloping hill to the imposing, art deco-style Hallgrímskirkja, a skyscraper-cum-Game of Thrones edifice that I suspected was designed to make you, in a very Protestant way, fear the majesty of an all-powerful deity.
On the downside, one thing Reykjavik is not (especially for us post-Brexit Brits) is cheap. A bed in a dorm in Kex Hostel, which may be the most hipsterish hostel I’ve ever stayed in, set us back £50 each, for example. Luckily the exchange rate between the pound and the Icelandic krona is not easy to calculate quickly, so I adopted the ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach as I handed over my card for various, mostly food-based, purchases.
After a lovely dinner of salt cod, celeriac and sweet onion (and beer) at the gastropub attached to the hostel (again, only in Iceland), we ambled round the city centre and the shoreline before getting some drinks in at Laundromat, a relaxed bar/café that, given its decoration choices of rainbow-organised books and various world maps, seems to have taken inspiration from my flat. Although it was around 11pm-ish by this point, the dusk outside and the people tapping away on MacBooks whilst sipping beer made it feel more like 6pm happy hour – nights apparently start late in Iceland and go on until the early morning. Unfortunately, our early tickets for the Blue Lagoon meant that a full Reykjavik night out wasn’t really an option, and by midnight we found ourselves down by Faxa Bay, eating the delicious Icelandic delicacy of bitafiskur and watching the seemingly endless sunset cast beautiful colours over the horizon.
The next morning, we got back on the fantastically well-organised Reykjavik Excursions shuttle bus, and went to the Blue Lagoon, which lies between Reykjavik and the airport at Keflavik. This is pretty ubiquitous on the Icelandic tourist itinerary, but deservedly so. It’s a geothermal hot pool with lurid blue, steaming water, silica mud face masks and (most importantly) a swim-up bar, where you can scan a wristband to top up the Prosecco. After soaking ourselves and having a chat to a lovely Canadian, Lana, we also treated ourselves to lunch at the accompanying Lava Restaurant, which was a very tasty rack of lamb with celeriac, sweet onion and juniper…mmm. From there, it was a twenty-minute drive across the desolate landscape of lava fields back to the airport to board the plane to Washington DC.
While this was a short stopover, Iceland is a fantastic destination. From a previous trip, I can definitely recommend glacier walks and a tour of the South with Extreme Iceland, the Golden Triangle of Gulfoss, Geysír and Thingvellir, and exploring lava fields on the strange-gaited horses at the friendly and family-run Íslenski Hesturinn. I will definitely be back one day (perhaps once our currency is no longer plumbing the depths of the international money market), preferably in the winter to do some dog sledding, ice cave exploration and, hopefully, some northern lights spotting. It’s a beautiful place, and definitely worth a visit!
- Eating dried fish, sipping malt extract drink and watching the beautiful sky over Faxa Bay.
- Sipping Prosecco whilst immersed in geothermal waters.
- Delicious food and excellent beer.
- Having only 21 hours to spend.
- The knowledge of what those 21 hours did to my bank account.
Coming next…. Icelandic foods, lust over Greenland, Thomas Jefferson.