Yes, we went to Iceland for the weekend – and all 72 hours were absolutely worth it.
The price tag associated with a quick Icelandic long weekend for three adults?
$750 + 50,000 pts + spending króna (money)
The non-financial price tag?
Zero vacation days + a great mental health break
We booked this trip very strategically given the short window of time we could all travel together. First, we targeted a long weekend so no one had to use vacation or personal days to make it happen. Second, most of us used points (Chase Sapphire all around) to book the flights, just leaving us with lodging and spending money to worry about while we were there. I am typically an Airbnb junky when traveling (domestically or internationally), and this trip was no exception – and because of the early arrival time I employed one of my new favorite (and recently learned) travel tips:
If you are arriving at your destination early in the morning, book the accommodations starting the evening before you arrive, this way you can immediately head to your lodging and relax/catch a quick caffeine nap.
Admittedly, this was made easier by finding a great deal on Airbnb, so it wasn’t quite as financially painful when we booked for the extra night. When you couple that with the added bonus of being able to go straight from the BSI (Reykjavik’s main tourist bus station) to the house, you have a total game-changer. We packed light for this trip anyways – backpacks only – just in an effort to keep ourselves agile throughout the experience. Not having to worry about overhead bin space, or having to drag rolling bags through the city, or just knowing you have a limited wardrobe to choose from all goes a long way in forcing you to relax and make the most of the short time you have in the place you’re visiting.
Being the consummate planner I wanted to make sure I didn’t over-schedule the 72 hours we had in Reykjavik – it was supposed to be fun and relaxing for the three of us – not a made dash. Balance was struck in making one dinner reservation and one event reservation in advance of our arrival, and leaving the rest of the time open to a few ideas we had been kicking around before our departure.
Our final itinerary looked something like this:
Friday, November 9th
- 8:00pm — Departed Boston-Logan
Saturday, November 10th
- 6:00am — Arrived at Keflavík International
- Took the RE Flybus from Keflavík to Reykjavik (booked in advance)
- 8:00am — Checked into our Airbnb (caffeine nap commenced)
- Brunch at Rok
- General touristy wanderings (Harpa, Sun Voyager, Hallgrimskirkja)
- Happy Hour at Apotek
- 8:00pm — Dinner at Mat Bar (made reservations)
Sunday, November 11th
- Visited the Vesturbæjarlaug pools (cheaper + closer than the Blue Lagoon)
- Lunch at Gló
- Visited Viðey Island by ferry from the Skarfabakki pier
- Dinner at the Hlemmur Mathöll food hall (specifically, KRÖST)
- 7:30pm — Icelandic Sagas: The Greatest Hits @ the Harpa (booked in advance)
Monday, November 12th
- Coffee at Ida
- Souvenir shopping + general wandering
- Late breakfast at Cafe Babalu (Gluten-free crepes!)
- Took the RE Flybus from Reykjavik to Keflavík
I’m also positive there were a smattering of random bars we popped into for the occasional delicious drink towards the latter part of our evenings.
While some of the items were repeats from the last trip, there were three distinct experiences we had that were new for all involved and worth giving special attention to:
The Vesturbæjarlaug Pools
Given that we were working within the confines of a short trip we opted to not go to the Blue Lagoon this time. Instead, we decided to try a more local and authentic experience by going to one of the neighborhood pools. While the local option may not offer in-pool drinks and mud masks, it absolutely did not disappoint. For approximately 1000 ISK (~ $9) – or included as part of the City Pass – we had access to a lap pool, several hot tubs of varying temperatures, a cold water immersion pool, sauna, and steam room (and gym, but really – who’s doing that on vacation?). If you’re short on time and want something that doesn’t cost you much financially, the local pools are a great alternative to the sometimes overwhelming and costly Blue Lagoon experience.
// The Blue Lagoon is 100% worth it when you are looking for the full, tried and true geothermal, Icelandic, picturesque, lavish experience. I highly recommend going – when you have the time to truly enjoy it without sacrificing time elsewhere.
This was the one thing we did that I wish we gave more time to – I almost feel as if the websites and guidebooks under-sell how amazing this little island off of Reykjavik truly is. We made a last minute decision to go across to Viðey Island that afternoon and were not in much of a rush to get to the pier – the assumption being that we could see most of what was to be seen in the couple of hours we’d be afforded. The reality being that the island has a beautiful terrain with tons of spots to explore – this really could have been a whole-day excursion, if we had the time. While we were there we managed to get to the top of several of the taller hills for some amazing photographs, as well as made our way to the Imagine Peace Tower (dedicated by Yoko Ono to John Lennon on October 9, 2007).
This mini daytrip was a great example of staying in the city, but also having a completely different type of experience, just a short distance away from where we were staying. The ticket price to get across to Viðey was also really affordable at 1550 ISK (or about $13).
Icelandic Sagas: The Greatest Hits
Because of this show we can now all say we’ve seen something at the Harpa! That little claim to fame aside – the show was also affordable (5000 ISK – or about $42/person) and hilarious. The show aims to cover the Icelandic Sagas in a two person show format – audience participation is random and compulsory-adjacent. Over the course of the show you get a sense of Icelandic history, culture and humor – all while in a casual “theater in the round” type of experience. Obviously, this two person theater troupe cannot cover the vastness that is the Sagas in 90 minutes, so you end up with a fast-moving, laugh-filled, high-level overview that leaves you wondering how the show is already over. If you’re spending time in the city and want to see a show in the Harpa I definitely would recommend looking into this one – plus the vibe of the show worked with the limited casual attire we could fit into our backpacks.
Short Trip Takeaways
The lead up to this trip was interesting in that so many individuals were surprised that we were traveling once again, for such a short period of time, and back to a place we’d already been. Most of which was strategic on our part…
On Traveling “Again”
I mean, why not? At the current moment we have the flexibility in our schedules and finances to travel several times a year – we also leverage credit card points, miles, and any travel loyalty program you can think of to help us supplement our travel whims. Speaking solely for myself – I find travel to be the best reset button one could ask for. Some find a weekend at home or a local adventure does the trick, but for me nothing wipes away a crazy few weeks or months better than jumping on a plane.
On Being International For A Weekend
Again, I will lead with…why not? We live in New England, and on this adventure we were in Iceland and through customs before a flight to California would have landed or a drive to NYC would have concluded. Just five short hours in the air and we were excitedly on our way to Reykjavik. Now, that isn’t the case for many destinations, but our geographic location gives us some advantages when it comes to getting to places like Iceland and the Western parts of Europe. We recently were in Toronto this past fall – something I will talk about soon – mostly on leveraging downtime during work trips to still feel like you’re getting some of that vacation advantage – and we were in the air for what felt like minutes before we were back on the ground in an amazing city.
Don’t let borders or passports be a deterrent to getting away – whether it be for a long weekend or two full weeks.
On Returning to Iceland
In this particular case it as purely because of ease – we were familiar with the area, having already been earlier in 2018, the price was right, and we knew we could have a great time without much thought or effort. This is also due, in large part, to how tourist-centric Iceland is. From the moment you step off the plane and clear customs it is simply easy to relax, enjoy, and explore the city and country as a whole. Plus, our travel companion had never been – and to me it is always incredibly fun to re-experience something through someone else’s eyes.
So, in conclusion – don’t think you have to take a week-long vacation in order to vacation the correct way. We managed to use zero vacation time for this trip and still had some pretty amazing experiences over the course of a long weekend. Leveraging points helps, no doubt about that, but that is also a fun game as far as I am concerned. I’m sure it is evident that I have a deep and real love for my Sapphire Reserve card, given the amount of airfare I haven’t had to pay for since getting it. That isn’t to say I don’t have an appreciation for saving up all of your miles and points for the big dream trip – it’s all in how you vacation – how you relax – and what works for you financially.
This works for us!
More soon – we’re off to Ireland in April! Longer trip, repeat destination, new adventures…