My Perfect Winter Getaway: Reykjavik, Iceland (Who Knew?!)

After such an unexpected, bitterly cold NYC winter, I was much looking forward to leaving my beloved, albeit frozen, big apple for a few days.  Who wasn’t stir crazy from too many days inside staying warm. Time to get outta Dodge. 

Photo Credit: Stefaan Pomme

So while most people were flying South, researching affordable airfare to Aruba or package deals to the Mayan Riviera – I welcomed a trip near the Artic… hello REYKJAVIK, ICELAND.  Crazy, right?  As my friends quipped “were you out sick the day they taught geography?  You are headed in the wrong direction…Are you misspelling, and you mean IRELAND not ICELAND!”  Such cynicism! So I started to question my internal compass. Perhaps there is an unknown by product of the polar vortex, and my usually sound judgment was severely impaired by NYC temperatures consistently in the teens? Truth be told, the only thing I knew about Iceland is that the great chess champion, Bobby Fisher, lived there. I dimly recalled many global economic summits being held there. I found this reassuring as would the world’s leaders gather in an uninhabitable – albeit neutral – setting? However I was well aware that the Aurora Borealis could be spotted from Iceland and that was enough of a draw for me.  

There are no words to describe such a striking event except to expect the unexpected.  I was awestruck.

I just couldn’t resist this incredibly inexpensive junket being offered by Icelandair. For a modest $739, including round trip airfare in/out of JFK – a mere 5 and a ½  hour overnight flight-  I stayed four nights/five days at the excellently located Center Hotel Plaza which included a full, diverse buffet breakfast every morning. In addition, a 3+ hour cruise out of Reykjavik’s harbor to view the phenomenal “Northern Lights” was included and to further sweeten this deal, a trip to the fabulous Blue Lagoon, a natural, geothermal outdoor pool and accompanying spa, was also a part of this particular package.  The Blue Lagoon even threw in a free drink and samples of their natural skincare products.

Photo Credit: Jessica Anand

Photo Credit: Amel Talisayon

Needless to say, all the jokes about trolls and elves attacking me in my sleep, sleeping in an igloo, living on reindeer meat,  four hours of daylight, and an incomprehensible language did not prove true. Yes, there is a consonant driven Icelandic language but everyone, fortunately, speaks English. There were about 7 – 8 hours of daylight; the sun came out about 10 AM this first week of February. However, come summers, there is almost 24 hours of daylight. I searched high and low, no elves excepting as souvenirs in gift shops. Trolls? Totally subjective! No snow houses anywhere, but many bright, shiny greenhouses for growing vegetables and fruits illuminate this strange landscape.

There is an unearthly beauty to Iceland, it looks like no where else – excepting possibly the surface of the moon – roughly cratered by centuries of lava flow, it is not naturally green and grassy, but eerily earthy and icy. 

Photo Credit: Helgi Skulason

Photo Credit: Vinod Krishnan

It’s the natural phenomena unique to this unusual country that present its key attractions. The volcanoes, geysers, waterfalls, glaciers, a rugged yet evenly aligned coastline, and that ultimate sighting – the Aurora Borealis- uniquely define this peaceful little country. Iceland has a tiny population of approx. 320,000 (most of their citizens reside in Reykjavik) no army, and quite literally, a cool, calm, collect way of life. Yes, the city of Reykjavik has its share of interesting museums, especially The National Museum of Iceland, and a wonderful waterfront full of interesting, outdoor artwork acknowledging their Viking heritage, and architecturally bold, modern edifices hosting the day to day  operation of a country. And I had a great time walking its hilly streets, browsing some diverse art galleries, shopping for the familiar patterns inherent in Icelandic outerwear (these people know how to stay warm while still looking fashionable) and admiring some lovely residential neighborhoods.  But this is an outdoor oriented city gorgeously surrounded by blue skies and serene, snow peaked mountains which constantly remind us to leave the comforts of urban life and come enjoy the natural world.

Oh, lest I forget….it was 35 degrees while I was in Iceland, not a dot of the white stuff, while NYC was snow packed and 22 degrees.

You can rent a car, and quite easily do Iceland’s famous “ring drive.” Experience the wonders of walking on a glacier or under a waterfall; feel the warm earth of a geo thermal terrain while viewing the numerous volcanoes defining this unique habitat; marvel at a spouting geyser, and explore several breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But there are so many affordable bus tours (they pick you up right at your hotel) with knowledgeable, helpful tour guides, why bother?  Yet the zenith of this sojourn is the cruise away from the city lights (bundle up, the boats travel an hour and a half north of the city) for a view of the Northern Lights, that ultimate, fantastic neon light show.  Passenger only, small cruise ships depart the small harbor of Reykjavik about 9 PM for ideal viewing time around eleven pm.  And should there be too much cloud cover preventing this magnificent spectacle, you are welcome, free of charge, to take the cruise over until you finally get the chance to view this wonder of nature.  There are no words to describe such a striking event except to expect the unexpected.  I was awestruck.

Photo Credit: Stefan Kristinsson

Photo Credit: William Olson

Food is costly, I admit, but oddly enough, Iceland is known for their inexpensive hot dogs (a special kind of lamb is mixed in the beef) and a seemingly limitless selection of beers and burgers. Hearty soups and breads abound (highly recommended) and of course, a fish dinner is the obvious splurge. Walk down to the harbor where numerous seafood restaurants circle Reyjkvik’s small harbor, and order the catch of the day.

Oh, lest I forget….it was 35 degrees while I was in Iceland, not a dot of the white stuff, while NYC was snow packed and 22 degrees. My heavy UGG boots, sweaters socks and thermal tops lay unused, a waste of suitcase space. So all you jokers – and you know who you are – who had the last laugh? Glad I didn’t listen to the naysayes and packed my bathing suit for use in the 80+ degree outdoor, volcanically warmed pool!

Have you experienced your own perfect winter getaway this year?  Share below!


By: Joanne Theodorou


This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.




  • Marcia says:

    Wow, you really lucked out – great deal on the flight and fabulous temperatures. Who would have thought Iceland would be warmer than NYC? I’m going to have to look for some deals to Iceland.

    • Used York City says:

      For sure, Marcia! It’s great to take advantage of close flights while you’re in NYC!

  • I am really surprised it was 35 degrees while you were there. I thought it would be subzero temps. I also thought they’d have 24 hours of darkness. I’m learning a lot through you! Now that I know that turning into an icicle isn’t guaranteed, I may actually consider heading there to see the Northern Lights.

  • Johanna says:

    You’ve made me want to get up and go. The scenery and phenomena look otherworldly. And the town appears like a toy town!

  • Mike says:

    I really liked that birds-eye view of the houses with all the varied colors. Lamb hot dogs? Yes please.

  • Leigh says:

    How I’d love to come across a deal like that. I laughed when I read your sentence – were you sick the day they taught geography? I think your friends were as I don’t think Iceland ever gets brutally cold. I also took a 10 day winter holiday trip to eastern Canada this winter and although cold it was an outstanding trip.
    Iceland has been on my radar for decades literally – but one day soon I’ll get there.

    • Used York City says:

      Eastern Canada is gorgeous, too! I had the opportunity to explore the Outaouais region a few years ago and absolutely loved it…look forward to checking out more of Canada over the years!

  • Looks lovely. We have been enjoying lots of snowfall here; and if I recall there was even a chance to spot the Northern Lights this winter (but it was overcast).

    • Used York City says:

      That’s amazing, Betsy! Looking forward to checking out your blog to see where you hail from!:-)

  • Kadri says:

    Wow wow wow, your photos looks just amazing. Iceland has been on my list for a long time, can’t wait to visit it one day, and the same thing is with to see the Northern Lights.

  • To see the Northern Lights is a dream of mine. How lucky you were to see them!. I can’t believe how cheap your weekend package was…what a great deal.

    • Used York City says:

      It’s always so great to score a good deal to a place on your bucket list! Even better when it exceeds all expectations:-)

  • Jackie Smith says:

    Love your bravery in going North instead of south to get away from the winter weather in New York! Living in the Seattle area we are sun-seekers and can’t quite bring ourselves to go anywhere colder or wetter than here in the winter. Lovely photos!

    • Used York City says:

      That’s completely understandable, Jackie! Here’s hoping spring weather hits you guys soon!:-)

  • Iceland looks like an incredibly beautiful and interesting place to visit…one of these days perhaps….unfortunately it is so far aw from us down-under! Have a wonderful weekend ahead. i am joining you at Travel Photo Thursday.

    • Used York City says:

      You guys have some pretty beautiful scenery yourselves down there…and one could argue much better weather, too!;-) Thanks for dropping by, Jill!

  • Nancie says:

    This is the second post I have read about Iceland today. I am in love! :)
    I spent the winter in Chiang Mai, and had a wonderful time. Now I am just waiting for spring in Korea. I thought it had arrived this week. Sadly, today proved that early temps this week were just a tease!

    • Used York City says:

      Oh, I do hope it comes soon for you! Do you get those beautiful cherry blossoms in Korea?

  • Muza-chan says:

    Great pictures, especially the one with the green umbrella :)

  • Scarlett says:

    Such an incredible and beautiful place!! Glad you enjoyed!I went when I was a kid but I was too young to really appreciate it, I’d live to go again! Xx

  • Shaun says:

    I knew! Reykyavik is a pretty sweet weekend getaway or 3 day stop over on the way to/from Europe. Great nightlife, food, people, and scenery!

    Nice post and pics!


    • Used York City says:

      Thanks Shaun! And you’re right, it can also be a great stopover as part of a longer trip, too!

  • Heather says:

    I would love to see Iceland, preferably in the winter! There’s just something so thrilling about the thought of luxuriating in the Blue Lagoon with snow and ice all around. Plus, Northern Lights!

  • Maria Falvey says:

    Stunning vistas – Iceland… I say Go For It Any Time of Year!

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