All Eyes on Iceland

Blue Sky News goes on the road, shows travelers new route to magical land

By Corinne Whiting

Published June 17, 2024

Read Time: 4 mins


REYKJAVIK, ICELAND – The sky was blue and the crowd was buzzing at gate C55 Thursday, May 16, as Icelandair geared up to launch its inaugural flight from Pittsburgh International Airport to Keflavik Airport.

Passengers milled between stations to nibble on pieces of theme cake and cookies, pick up PIT airport swag, and pet some of the airport’s gentle therapy dogs. Some posed for photo shoots with the Icelandic flight team in front of a gigantic balloon wall resembling the country’s flag.

Icelandair’s inaugural flight marked the return of nonstop flights between Pittsburgh and Iceland for the first time in five-plus years, and a lucky group of six media folks (myself included) got invited along for the ride.

We then spent five days and four nights falling (or re-falling) in love with one of the globe’s most sparsely populated countries — a land full of mystique and magic, waterfalls and volcanoes, not to mention a population of kind, hearty folks who are prolific readers and (largely) believers in elves, translated to “hidden people.”

After a comfortable and easy five-and-a-half-hour journey, we landed among the otherworldly lava rock landscape that immediately gets one’s sense of adventure and imagination flowing. These Icelandair flights will run four days a week seasonally, through late October, providing a great way not only to visit Iceland but to stop over there en route to a bounty of enticing European destinations, from Copenhagen to Madrid.

Here are some tips we picked up along the way.

Icelandair’s inaugural flight between Pittsburgh and Reykjavik lifts off from Runway 28L on May 16, 2024. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)

Island accommodations

We split time between the stunning South Coast, where Hotel Ranga served as an exquisite yet understated home base (blissfully far from all light pollution), and the buzzing — yet very manageable — city of Reykjavík, home to more than two-thirds of Iceland’s population. In the highly walkable capital, we stayed at industrial-chic Grandi by Center Hotel, not far from the waterfront.

And for our last night, settling into a dreamy room at Silica Hotel — an idyllic spot to spend a luxurious 24 hours on the edge of the Blue Lagoon’s healing waters — proved a perfect finale before returning to stateside reality.

Throughout their stay, many visitors choose to use Reykjavík as a home base for day-trip excursions around the island with knowledgeable tour companies like Reykjavik Excursions, while some rent a car to explore the 820-mile perimeter Ring Road at their own pace.

Hotel Ranga’s isolated location from light pollution makes it an ideal accommodation to view the stunning Aurora Borealis. (Photo by Stefan Liebermann)

Alluring adventures await

Hotel Ranga’s countryside location proves convenient for visiting must-see South Coast sites, from the majestic Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls to the Geyser geothermal area and exotic black sand beach at Reynisfjara, where puffins gather in summer months. We spent one unexpectedly enjoyable afternoon at nearby Icelandic HorseWorld befriending their sweet, wild-haired residents – who we learned have the gentlest disposition and are the world’s only horses with five gaits.

Options for adventuring in this country abound, with more waterfalls than have names, more than 30 active volcanic regions scattered across the island and (chilly!) waters that give folks the rare opportunity to go diving or snorkeling between tectonic plates. While the soothing waters and surreal moon-like surroundings of the Blue Lagoon gain much attention (for good reason!), you can find a geothermal swimming pool in almost any town in the country.

A short walk from the Blue Lagoon, the Silica Hotel offers comfort and hospitality in the heart of an otherworldly landscape. (Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland)

Dining discoveries

Seafood lovers will delight in Iceland’s culinary scene. Our favorite meals included scallops savored in the charming, light-filled dining room of Hotel Ranga and the salted cod with Portuguese influence (think chorizo sauce and smashed potato) at Reykjavik’s Dass. (This glitzy bar-restaurant also happens to be where we bravely sampled the national dish: fermented shark.)

A trip highlight was lunch enjoyed inside the Fridheimar Greenhouse, after learning about the eco-friendly ways in which this family-run operation grows tomatoes with the help of the island’s geothermal heat and the pollination of bees imported from the Netherlands. Here, at a large round table set among vibrant rows of vines, we happily feasted on unlimited, serve-yourself tomato soup with crusty bread, creamy butter and cucumber relish, plus fresh basil you could clip directly from the centerpiece plant. After shared skewers of seafood, chicken and veggies, we dove into memorable desserts like — you guessed it— tomato-flavored ice cream and sorbet.

On a lovely walking tour with Reykjavik Food Walk – Local Foodie Adventure in Iceland, we dug into bowls of lobster soup with coconut milk and Thai chilis at an old fish shed (whose name translates to “The Sea Baron”), and enjoyed beloved Icelandic hot dogs (80% lamb) served from a modest stand that’s been in operation since 1937. The standout dessert award of the trip no doubt goes to the still-warm, made-to-order Madeleine pastries, devoured in a cozy corner booth of brand-new Reykjavik hot spot Amber and Astra.


Booking the trip of a lifetime

Icelandair has opened up a whole new world to Pittsburgh-based travelers, and thankfully booking trips through late October is a breeze. With a nonstop, easy and relatively affordable flight now connecting us to unforgettable Icelandic wonders (and beyond), we are so grateful for another addition broadening our horizons even further.

Go to Top