I remember when I was young and discovered Iceland on the map for the first time. I curiously asked my parents, “does it mean that it’s a land made of ice”? I’m sure I am not the only kid who asked this question and won’t be the last!
While Iceland is not “a land made of ice“, it was named Iceland by Flóki Vilgerðarson, who was the first Scandinavian who deliberately sailed to the land which was then called Garðarshólmi. When Flóki got there, it was a very cold winter, and when he spotted some drift ice in the fjords he gave the island its current name, Ísland (Iceland).
Iceland (native spelling of Iceland is “Ísland”) is a mountainous Nordic European island country situated at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, between Europe and North America. Though not part of the continental mainland, the country is considered European. Despite the name, only 10% of Iceland is covered by glaciers, and it has a surprisingly mild climate and countless geothermal hot-spots.
The country has a population of about 320,000 and a total area of 40,000 sq mi, which makes it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík, with the surrounding areas in the southwestern region of the country being home to two-thirds of the country’s population. The nation’s capital is the most northern capital in the world.
Reykjavík (click here for a pronunciation guide) is the capital and largest city in Iceland. Its latitude makes it the world’s northernmost capital of a sovereign state. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of Faxaflói Bay. With a population of around 120,000 (and over 200,000 in the Greater Reykjavík Area), it is the home of the vast majority of Iceland’s inhabitants and is the center of culture and life of the Icelandic people as well as the heart of Iceland’s economic and governmental activity.
The city was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national center of commerce, population, and governmental activities. It is among the cleanest, best organized, and safest cities in the world.
Some random facts about Reykjavik
– Because of the name Iceland, the common misconception is that Iceland, and Reykjavik, is a constantly frozen winter-wonderland. Not so. Average mid-winter temperatures are no lower than in Toronto, Canada or New York City. Iceland’s coastal weather is moderated by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream which provides for relatively moderate weather conditions.
Average temperatures in Reykjavik are:
- Jan – Mar: 35-40 F (2-4 C)
- Apr – Jun: 38-52 F (3-11 C)
- Jul – Sep: 47-60 F (9-14 C)
- Oct – Dec: 32-44 F (0-7 C)
So while Iceland is no Miami, it also does not get very cold either
– Geographically speaking, Reykjavik is technically in North America, though it is considered European
– The official language of Iceland is Icelandic (íslenska), which remains very similar to 13th-century Norse. Don’t speak Icelandic? Me neither. No problem – unless you are from Iceland, you likely don’t. Most Icelanders also speak English and Danish, so you’ll be A-Ok
– Famous singer Björk is from Reykjavik
– Iceland is considered one of the safest countries in the world. Petty crime occurs, but is extremely rare
– Borgartún is the financial center of Reykjavík, hosting a large number of companies and three investment banks
– Reykjavík is a diverse city in terms of backgrounds and country of origin of the residents. Present-day Reykjavík is a city with people from at least 100 countries. The most common ethnic minorities are Poles, Filipinos, and Danes. In 2009, foreign-born individuals made up 8% of the total population. In addition to immigrant inhabitants, the city is visited by thousands of tourists, students and other temporary residents weekly, at times outnumbering natives in the city center. These visitors tend to be educated upper middle-class Scandinavians, other Europeans, North Americans, or Japanese.
Want to Go?
How to get in
Keflavík International Airport (IATA code – KEF) is the main airport for international flights to Reykjavik.
Icelandair is the main international airline of Iceland. Nonstop flights on Icelandair are available from the U.S. and Canada, with gateways in New York City, Boston, Halifax, Toronto, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Orlando (Sanford), Denver, and, Seattle. In Europe, Icelandair has flights to most major cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Helsinki, London, Oslo, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Bergen and Gothenburg.
One sweet perk of flying Icelandair is that you can stop over in Iceland for up to seven nights at no additional airfare if flying between Europe and North America with Icelandair, so you may choose to combine this with another European getaway.
Delta also operates some seasonal nonstop flights between New York and Reykjavik.
Flight costs depend on when you go and where from. As can be imagined, tickets are more expensive in the summer when the weather is warmer. For example, this July, flights will run you about $830 roundtrip from New York to Reykjavik. If you are flying from Seattle in July, you are looking at an astounding $1710 direct on Icelandair (though you may opt to take a connecting flight through New York instead which lowers the cost to $1210).
If you wait till December (when the weather is around 32°F) to go, prices drop dramatically. You can get a round-trip from Seattle for just $677 on Icelandair and from Boston for just $560.
Though I’d assume most people would not want to visit during the coldest period. Thus, the sweet-spot I have found is flying to Iceland from either Boston or New York in September. The fare from Boston is just $587 and the fare from New York is $607. I am calling this the $600 sweet-spot because not only is this such an affordable fare to visit a new country, it is also during one of the best times to go to Reykjavik when temperatures are around 47°F.
This could be a long weekend getaway option due to the relatively short proximity from the eastern United States. A flight to Reykjavik is just 5.5 hours from NYC – less than the time it takes to fly to California!
Hotels and accommodations
Depending on when you go, hotels can range from around $150/night for a standard room to well over $400. One strategy if flying for a long weekend is to leave on Thursday night and get into Reykjavik on Friday morning, store your luggage at the hotel, get to explore the city a bit, then check-in later. This way, you have 3 full days in Reykjavik at the cost of just two hotel nights.
If you are a Club Carlson loyalty program member, you are in luck as Club Carlson hotel brands are one of the only major hotel chains operating in Reykjavik. If you have points with Club Carlson, it could be possible to book your stay for free, depending on how many points you have.
For example, for a weekend stay in September,
- The Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel, Reykjavik, which is right in the city center, is showing as €294 or 66,000 Club Carlson points per night,
- The Radisson Blu Saga Hotel, Reykjavik, also in the city center (though less so than the 1919 hotel), is showing as €165 or 38,000 Club Carlson points or 10,000 Club Carlson points + €123 per night,
- Lastly, the Park Inn By Radisson Island, Reykjavik, also close to the city center, is showing as €194 or 13,500 Club Carlson points per night.
Iceland is a part of the Schengen Agreement. This means that U.S. and Canadian citizens may enter Iceland for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. You also need to show that you have sufficient funds and a return airline ticket. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see the Schengen fact sheet.
While in Reykjavik, you shouldn’t miss the Blue Lagoon which is a Geothermal Spa in Southwest Iceland, located almost mid-way between Keflavik Airport and Reykjavik, close to the town of Grindavik. This is one of Iceland’s main attractions.
The Blue Lagoon warm waters are said to be rich in minerals like silica and sulphur. Bathing in the Blue Lagoon is believed to have various medicinal benefits such as helping people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 98–102 °F. The Blue Lagoon also operates a Research and Development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water.
The Blue Lagoon is about a 45 minutes to drive from downtown Reykjavík. You may choose to use an organized tour to access the Blue Lagoon.
Read more on the Blue Lagoon and book your experience here.
I haven’t visited Reykjavik yet, though I have been wanting to for quite sometime. I am planning on taking a long weekend trip there this Fall. I look forward to it very much!
Have you been to Reykjavik? How was your experience? If you haven’t been, do you desire to visit?
Disclaimer: Since I have not yet visited Reykjavik at the time of this posting, this post was written through my research and textbook knowledge only and not from in person experiences. This post is for informational purposes only. Please note, experiences may vary.