Climbing Aboard a New Icelandair Route From Pittsburgh

The Land of the Midnight Sun beckons this summer. And luckily for Pittsburgh travelers, thanks to a direct Icelandair route, it’s never been easier to get there.

In mid-May, a group of six local media members joined the electric buzz at PIT’s Gate C55 before boarding Icelandair’s inaugural flight from our city to Keflavik Airport, located among the otherworldly lava fields of the Reykjanes peninsula.

Excited passengers bustled around the gate — diving into theme cookies and cake, taking selfies in front of a vibrant balloon wall of the Icelandic flag. We also got to listen to kick-off remarks from the flight team and to savor preflight cuddles with some of the airport’s friendliest, fluffiest (therapy dog) patrons.

Icelandair’s inaugural flight marked the return of nonstop flights between Pittsburgh and Iceland for the first time in five-plus years. The easy, five-and-a-half-hour flight will run four days a week seasonally. This provides a great option for pausing in Iceland for waterfall and volcano explorations on layovers. Our list could go on, but here are a few can’t-miss discoveries you might consider for your Icelandic itinerary, too.

Where to Stay in Iceland

To savor stunning South Coast sites, book a luxurious stay at the Hotel Ranga. This makes a lovely home base from which to explore dozens of majestic waterfalls, like Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, the Geyser geothermal area and the exotic black sand beach at Reynisfjara, where puffins convene every summer. After full days of adventuring, guests savor leisurely dinners of fresh scallops and salmon. Also enjoy vegetable-forward creations, even reindeer, enjoyed in the hotel’s light-filled dining room. Then, take evening soaks in hot tubs positioned under a tapestry of stars. (An aurora wake-up service is a convenient amenity when the Northern Lights are showing off overhead.)

Others may choose to use vibrant Reykjavík, the capital city that’s home to more than two-thirds of Iceland’s population, as a jumping-off point for day-trip excursions. Industrial-chic Grandi by Center Hotel is a no-nonsense base near the waterfront with a hearty (included) breakfast spread and hip lobby-lounge area in which to relax.

And for ultimate pampering, consider booking at least one night at Silica Hotel, not far from the airport. This dreamy retreat, just a ten-minute walk from the Blue Lagoon, has its own private lagoon. Sink into soothing, healing waters in the midst of a surreal lunar backdrop.

Where to Explore in Iceland

Aside from the typical ways to savor this country’s natural wonders (typically via the Golden Circle or 820-mile perimeter Ring Road), we found a few lesser-known delights.  At Icelandic HorseWorld, a horse breeding farm that’s home to around 100 horses, we enjoyed therapeutic petting sessions and demos showcasing these unique animals. They’re the world’s only horses with five gaits.

At Fridheimar Greenhouse, a hub of activity amid thriving, living organisms, we learned about the eco-friendly ways in which this family-run operation grows  tomatoes with the help of the island’s geothermal heat and the pollination of bees imported from the Netherlands. A post-tour lunch in the greenhouse features serve-yourself tomato soup (accompanied by crusty bread, creamy butter, cucumber relish and fresh basil clipped directly from the table’s centerpiece) and a sweet finale of tomato-flavored ice creams and sorbets.

An informative and palate-pleasing walking tour with Reykjavik Food Walk – Local Foodie Adventure in Iceland, allowed us to try local delicacies. We had bowls of lobster soup served at an old fish shed by the marina. Then, we dined on fermented shark sampled at glitzy new eatery Dass, to celebrated Icelandic hot dogs (80% lamb).

What to Eat

Around the island, delight in fresh seafood from scallops and salmon to various preparations of salted cod. Sample dried fish jerky at the Sunday flea market in Reykjavik. Find treats at Reykjavik’s Taste of Iceland; think locally-made jams, Circolo handmade chocolates, Saltverk products (beloved by Gordon Ramsay) and all things licorice. Did you know licorice is a favorite sweet — alongside ice cream — for most Icelanders?

At Lava Restaurant, built into an 800-year-old lava cliff on the west bank of the Blue Lagoon, guests can enjoy standout dishes like mushroom soup with coconut milk, lamb filet with potatoes, chimichurri, and carrots. Or, try a fish of the day caught from the nearby harbor in Grindavík. And, at sultry Reykjavik eatery Amber and Astra, diners savor feasts of salad Lyonnaise, steak tartare and mussels. This is topped off with made-to-order Madeleine pastries, pavlova and sorbet. A grand finale? Perhaps one of many white Russian cocktail varieties available at nearby Lebowski Bar. Thanks, Iceland; we’ll be back soon!

Story by Corinne Whiting / Photo courtesy of Icelandair

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