December 10, 2003 -- If you've been reading this newsletter for a while, you know I like Iceland. Only five hours from the East Coast, I think Iceland is one of the world's most sophisticated and fascinating destinations for a short break. Where else are you going to find glaciers, volcanoes, a continental rift, and about 250,000 breathtakingly gorgeous people whose idea of recreation is hot tubbing throughout the winter?
Flights to Iceland from the US are monopolized by Icelandair, the national carrier; fortunately, their prices are pretty reasonable. Go-Today (www.go-today.com) just announced some unbeatable packages, with pretty good hotels, for long weekends in Reykjavik.
Go-Today's flights depart on Thursdays, so you'll spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Iceland, and come back on Monday. You can fly out between Jan. 9 and March 26. Don't worry too much about the weather; Iceland isn't nearly as cold as New York or Chicago. Expect temperatures in the blustery 30s and 40s, moody and beautiful.
Packages start at $349 plus airline taxes per person, double occupancy, from Boston and Baltimore, and $499 plus taxes from Minneapolis. (Expect taxes to be around $100.) This is a fabulous price in a notoriously expensive country. For your $349/499 you get the Fosshotel Baron, where I stayed in the winter of 1997. It's a clean, cozy, friendly place on the edge of Reykjavik's tiny city center, just a few steps from the city's main shopping street. The rooms are nothing special, but see if you can talk the hotel into upgrading you to one of their studio apartments with kitchenettes. (For more on the joy of having a kitchenette in Reykjavik, see this column.)
Extra nights cost only $43 per person. That's $86 per couple, a big savings over the Baron's standard double room rate of Ikr 8,700 ($118.44). Book at www.go-today.com/IS_FGAA.ASP if you're interested.
Go-Today's prices beat Icelandair's weekend prices, but Icelandair has a slightly cheaper package if you're willing to accept more inconvenient dates and hotels. Icelandair's "Midweek Madness" package offers Monday departures from Baltimore, Boston, Orlando and Minneapolis, two (not three) hotel nights and flights back on Thursday.
Midweek Madness is $299 from Baltimore and Boston and $349 from Minneapolis and Orlando for flights between Jan. 6 and March 28. But you get stuck at the Hotel Loftleidir, which requires a $10 taxi ride or a public bus ride to get to the city center, and sometimes the buses don't run all that often. The Loftleidir is a fine hotel with a pretty good restaurant, but we think the Go-Today package is a far better value in terms of both days and hotel location. If you're interested in Midweek Madness, though, book it at www.icelandair.com.
So What Do People Do There?
Three days in Reykjavik during the winter must include some swimming. The famed Blue Lagoon (www.bluelagoon.is) is an unmissable experience. After a moment's chill standing out in a bathing suit in 40-degree weather, you're dunked into a steaming lake of 100-degree water, where you can paddle around at your leisure among a bizarre landscape of lava rocks as healing mineral salts pamper your skin. The city's several public swimming pools are also fun; they're where Icelanders go to unwind after work. The tourists all go to the one on Sundlaugavegur because it's close to downtown, but if you're willing to take a bus out to the suburbs, the Árb&aeling;jarlaug pool on Fylkisvegur is open late, is full of attractive locals, and offers an amazing view of nearby valleys during the day.
Shopping-wise, Laugavegur is studded with goldsmiths working in the intriguing Icelandic style, which has Celtic and naturalistic influences. The nation is also famous for its wool products, and it seems like every third Icelander is an artist or sculptor of some sort.
You should take at least one day trip outside the city with a company like Reykjavik Excursions (www.re.is). They can take you riding on the shaggy little Icelandic horses, onto a glacier using a four-wheel-drive truck, into the continental rift where primitive Icelanders held early parliaments, or along the "golden circle" route of geysers and earth-shattering waterfalls.
Weekend nightlife in Reykjavik is legendarily insane, with pubs and clubs throughout downtown Reykjavik running into the wee hours and pretty much every local from ages 18 to 60 participating enthusiastically.
For more information, check out our Hanging Out in Reykjavik guide at www.frommers.com/hangingout/reykjavik.
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