Arriving at Keflavik International Airport
After flying from New York JFK for about 5.5 hours, I arrived in Iceland at Keflavik International Airport (KEF). Note there are two airports in Reykjavik, one is for international flights and the other for domestic/Greenland flights. I will say it’s a little odd arriving at KEF as normally you are quarantined to go straight to immigrations; whereas, at KEF you enter the normal departure area with other departing guests and have access to the restaurants, stores, and ATMs in the vicinity. Although you can enter them, you must be a departing passenger to use the facilities and show your departure ticket.
I made the mistake by going to an ATM upon departing the gate without realizing the ATM gave you currency in USD, Euros or British pounds so be sure to look above the ATM for what it gives you. Also to note, there really is no need to withdraw the local currency as credit cards can be used for everything with no additional charge.
Eventually you do make it to immigrations and customs which is seamless to get through. KEF is a small airport so it’s easy to navigate. If you’ve rented a car, it’s easy to find the right rental car desk in the arrivals area. I chose to use the Flybus airport shuttle operated by Reykjavik Excursions. I had arranged ahead of time for a roundtrip price of about $55 USD. I believe a taxi will run you about $120 USD one way. Certainly a taxi is much more convenient and less wait time but I found the Flybus to be easy to use and convenient. The Flybus will take you to the main terminal in Reykjavik where you will board another bus to take you to your hotel. Be sure to specify what area/hotel you need to be dropped off to get you all of the way there.
Even at 9:30 in the morning, it was pitch dark outside and I got my real experience with limited sunlight.
- For less costly transportation into the city, take the Flybus.
- There is no need to withdraw the local currency from an ATM… credit cards are welcome everywhere.
- Go straight to customs and immigration and ignore the stores/restaurants as you can’t buy anything without a departure ticket. There is a Dunkin’ Donuts in the arrivals area if you need a snack upon arrival.
Iceland is known to be pretty expensive but you can find accommodations at reasonable prices (less than $300 USD per night), especially during the non-peak seasons as I was visiting in late November. Being a loyal Hilton Honors member, I chose to stay at the Canopy by Hilton. I must say I really enjoyed my stay at the Canopy for many reasons:
- I thought the hotel had a hipster vibe to it but was still practical when it came to amenities and functionality.
- The rooms were well-appointed and spacious enough.
- The complimentary breakfast for all was wonderful each morning.
- The customer service was great overall.
- There are a few eating options in the hotel from fine dining to convenience.
- You can even use one of their record players in your room and they have a huge library of records throughout the lobby.
- The Canopy is also located just off the main shopping street, Laugavegur, a 10 minute walk to Hallgrim Church, and 10 minute walk to the Old City where many restaurants/bars and tourist attractions are. It was easy to go back to the hotel wherever you were in the city.
Most people recognize the Hallgrim Church located in Reykjavik. I think it’s the most iconic attraction of the city and certainly a unique church. The church is made of concrete and has a statue of Leif Eriksson on the plaza in front of the church. You are able to take an elevator to the top of the tower for about $8 USD. The elevator is small, only holding 6 people, so the line can get long. I wanted to see the sunrise from the tower so I arrived at the church right at sunrise and experienced no line. On the way down, there was a very long line. The tower allows you great vantage points to see all of the city, water views, and surrounding mountains so it’s definitely worth going up.
The church is gorgeous and fun to photograph from all angles so be sure to go around the church. The inside of the church is rather simple as it’s intended to be with the focus being on the giant organ being played.
Travel tip: Experience sunrise at the top of the tower for some great photo opportunities and be sure to visit in the evening as well. The church photographs well no matter the time of day.
Panoramic Views from Atop
Here is a selection of photos from the top of the tower at Hallgrim Church at sunrise. I used one of those wide-angle lenses attached to my iPhone to better capture the grandeur. Notice the colorful rooftops and buildings.
Walking Tour of the City
I thought I’d share my walking tour itinerary of the city as I tried to see the city all in one day and there is a lot to see. I always find it’s fun to have a loose itinerary and get lost exploring.
- Start at Hallgrim Church
- Short walk to the Solfar, Sun Voyager statue at the water’s edge
- Short walk to the Harpa performing arts center
- Short walk to the Old Harbor area
- Short walk to Landakotskirkja, the city’s Catholic church
- Short walk to The Pond area along with seeing what I can only believe is millionaire’s row of stately homes
- After a walk around the Pond, you’ll be in the Old City to explore
- Short walk back towards Hallgrim Church on either Laugavegur or Skolavoroustigur streets for shopping and back to hotel
I really loved the architecture of the buildings and homes throughout Reykjavik. They were all so quaint and colorful and well taken care of. Here are some of my favorites:
I didn’t go out all on the Icelandic cuisine as it’s heavily seafood based but there are many types of restaurants to choose from including the hot dog stand which is quite popular in Reykjavik as there are many. Be ready for stick shock as all restaurants are expensive and don’t expect refills on soft drinks.
Here are a couple of restaurants I’d recommend:
- Jamie’s Italian which is Jamie Oliver’s restaurant. Be sure to have reservations. Great food, great atmosphere, located in the Hotel Borg
- Gandhi’s Indian fantastic Indian food… try the Butter Chicken. Great atmosphere in a cellar like setting located just around the corner from Jamie’s Italian.
Be sure to try a hot dog stand as it’s the cheapest meal (under $7 USD) you’ll get there and quite good.
Travel tip: In my experience, I found that tipping was not expected. If you do tip, it’s best to tip in cash (even USD) or let them know you want to tip prior to settling the bill as there is no line for a tip. My waiters seemed a little bothered by it. A tip of 10% is sufficient should you choose to tip and no service charge has already been added.
I really enjoyed Reykjavik for its charm, being completely walkable, and the Icelandic people. It is a very calm city and you rarely hear police sirens of any sort. I wish I could have enjoyed a performance at the Harpa so plan ahead and take in a performance when you visit. I can’t wait to go back in the warmer months to see all that the city offers. Although pricey once you get there, you can generally find a cheap flight to Reykjavik.
Above is a picture of me and the Christmas Cat. There are many Christmas traditions, myths and beliefs in Iceland. The Christmas Cat comes to eat you if you don’t get a piece of new clothing on Christmas Day. Check out the traditions here.
One last thought on Reykjavik, be prepared to board your flight outside in the snow… my younger sister Lindsay joined me on this trip to Iceland.