One glimpse at Iceland’s magnificent glaciers, otherworldly lava fields and magical Northern Lights and it’s easy to understand why it attracts tourists like a magnet.
Starting in May, Icelandair’s new nonstop service from Pittsburgh International Airport to Reykjavik will make an Iceland vacation more accessible than ever for Pittsburghers, with flights departing May through October.
Things to do in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is Iceland’s compact, pedestrian-friendly capital and a convenient base for tourists. Keflavik International Airport is a quick and inexpensive shuttle ride from the city center, so you’ll be downtown in a jiffy.
Iceland is known for its pristine waters brimming with marine life. Head to the Old Harbor, where numerous tour boat operators offer excursions. Hop aboard for an up-close look at majestic humpback whales and playful dolphins.
Continuing with the aquatic theme, the Reykjavik Maritime Museum is filled with imaginative, interactive displays that highlight the crucial role of fishing in the island nation’s economy.
The city boasts an array of architectural gems. It’s impossible to miss Hallgrimskirkja, the soaring modernist cathedral that dominates the cityscape with a distinctive form that was inspired by local basalt cliff formations. Equally striking is The Perlan, a nature museum housed in a futuristic setting consisting of six water tanks with a rotating glass dome.
Fly Over Iceland is a state-of-the-art spherical screen with sensory extras such as wind, mist, and scents, giving visitors the sensation of flying over Iceland’s spewing geysers and mighty mountains (while remaining safely buckled in their seats).
For an immersion in Icelandic bathing culture, visit Sky Lagoon, an outdoor volcanic swimming complex. The seven-step ritual, rooted in traditional Nordic hydrotherapy practices, includes a soak, cold plunge, sauna, cold mist, scrub, steam and shower. Try each step in the recommended sequence and feel your jet lag melt away.
Opened in 2021, Sky Lagoon is an outdoor volcanic lagoon that provides a restorative spa-like ritual rooted in Icelandic tradition. (Courtesy of Sky Lagoon by Pursuit)
The Golden Circle
Stunning waterfalls, volcanos and geysers make the Golden Circle, southwest Iceland’s circular sightseeing route, an essential part of any visit. The roundtrip journey from Reykjavik is approximately 155 miles, an easy day trip via rented car. Travelers also can book a full-day coach tour with one of the many companies that offer guided trips and let someone else do the driving while they soak in Iceland’s dramatic geological features.
Reykjavik Sightseeing’s full-day Golden Circle Classic tour stops at UNESCO World Heritage Site Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Springs — where the steaming water gushes towards the sky — and Gullfoss, a waterfall that’s so powerful you might want to bring a raincoat. Guides all speak fluent English, as does practically everyone in Iceland.
Iceland is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Ride Icelandic horses on the South Coast’s black sand beaches, snorkel in crystal-clear water and snowmobile on a glacier. Many tour companies offer these activities as add-ons to the Golden Circle itinerary.
As an itinerary add-on, outdoor enthusiasts can ride Icelandic horses on the South Coast’s black sand beaches as part of the Golden Circle route. (Courtesy of Horses of Iceland)
Icelandic cuisine is influenced by the unpolluted Arctic waters that surround it, so expect feasts of fresh-caught fish. Equally delicious is lamb, slow-cooked in a stew or as a hearty soup simmered with root vegetables.
Dine at Kol in Reykjavik and savor a three-course tasting menu that lets you sample a variety of traditional Icelandic recipes with enough modern twists to keep it exciting. It’s a good spot to dabble in the city’s booming cocktail culture, as they make their own syrups and infusions.
The country’s most popular street food will be familiar to Americans: the hot dog. You’ll see scores of stands selling pylsur, served on a steamed bun with a variety of tasty toppings, for a snack that’s wallet-friendly and delicious.
Once a furniture factory, Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre, has been imaginatively re-purposed into a sleek hotel. Local artwork and a retro collection of vinyl add to the vibe.
Thingholt by Center Hotels is located right off the main shopping street, with comfortable rooms and friendly service. A bountiful breakfast buffet, included in the room rate, may keep you full until dinner.