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Trip Report Iceland: The classic two day stopover trip

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This was the first two days of a 28 day trip I took in July across Europe.
Photos are at:

Iceland Air has just about the lowest prices from the northeast US to Europe and allows you to add a stopover, as long as you like, for no additional cost. So I decided it would be worth a couple of days to see the highlights. I flew JFK to Reykjavik (then two days later on to London, returned at the end of my vacation from Amsterdam to Boston with a change in Reykjavik). The flight from New York to Reykjavik is only five hours long (once you get up in the air, which at JFK took almost an hour on the runway). Halfway through the flight, at about 1 am I was awoken by a very bright beam of light – the rising sun!

I landed at 6:15 on June 23, one day past ‘mid-summer’. (which is a huge deal in the Scandinavian countries)

Reykjavik airport (actually Kefljavik) is small but modern and clearly set up for connecting flights, hardly anyone exited. But Greyline bus was waiting (I had reserved the ticket on line) and the ride to city was about 45 minutes . The landscape is rocky and barren with some hills in the distance. Almost no trees. Lots of blue wildflowers (Lupine, could see them as we were landing even).

Hotel Fron – Laugavegur 22A, (€121) Very modern. Room was of course not ready at 8am but they told me to have complimentary breakfast and I could check in around 9:30. The double room was very large and clean. Had a kitchenette with microwave, fridge and two burner stove top, TV with CNN. The breakfast was the usual – bread (toaster), cheese, meat, yogurt, juice and coffee. It was fine. The hotel is on the ‘main street’- a pedestrianized shopping street that is no wider than most American driveways. Five minute walk from just about any place in central Reykjavik.

Reykjavik is tiny – I had checked into the hotel by 9:30 and was out exploring by 10. I’d walked all over the city center including around the ‘lake’, went to the top of the bell tower, and had a hot dog all by noon. The church is a modern Viking inspired white concrete building that looks like a space ship and the view was pretty good. (600isk to take the lift). The houses in Iceland are built of steel and concrete (to withstand earthquakes) sided in corrugated metal – some of which are painted but the roofs (also metal) are the most colorful. So the view from above is more interesting than from street level. The architecture is pretty boring – basically squares, like monopoly houses. There are a few tallish (maybe 20 stories) apartment or office buildings and a couple of older (early 1900s) churches and municipal buildings. There is a big modern shiny glass concert hall by the harbor. But I have to say I was under-impressed. Not cute enough to be quaint, not old enough to be charming. Although a third of Iceland’s entire population lives in the capital (mostly in the sprawl surrounding the center) it wouldn’t even be a small city anywhere else (population about 100,000, but it feels much smaller). The vast majority of shops are touristy and most stuff is pretty expensive – mostly Icelandic woolens and tourist trinkets.

I had lunch at the city’s most famous ‘restaurant’ (Bill Clinton ate there, there’s even a photo of him eating there) – which is a hot dog stand down by the harbor. I will say the hot dogs were very good (with fresh and fried onion bits and mustard) and reasonably priced (with Coke it was 500isk or about 4€).

There is a lake in the center of city – really just a pond – but it has lots of ducks and geese and swans and flowers around it and is pleasant enough. At least in good weather – and apparently this is as good as it gets here – about 12-13C and mix of sun and clouds. The harbor has a couple of huge rusty whaling ships, a few smaller more modern whale watching boats, and an assortment of boats taking tourists on other excursions – to islands to see the Puffins, etc. You can get a tour to take you anywhere – on water to islands, bicycle tours, tours that include horseback riding, and of course the golden circle tour.

I had dinner at a semi fast food restaurant near the main square. Fish and chips and small salad – it was really good and only about 12€ (1990 isk). Definitely fresh. Came with a kind of special sauce that was really good. So good I ate there again the next night.

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