First of all, a big hat tip to the marketing team behind the IcelandAir stopover - where you if fly Icelandair across the Atlantic, you can stopover in Iceland for up to seven nights at no additional charge. It turned, 'why go to Iceland?' into 'why not go to Iceland?' for us, and the country completely blew our minds (and our wallets - its as expensive as you've heard!).
Unfortunately, this means we spent less than 72 hours outside of the airport, but check out our highlights below to make the most of your time in Reykjavik and surrounding southwestern Iceland.
SEE & DO
I Heart Reykjavik Golden Circle Tour - including the Secret Lagoon - Yes, this is the tour to do because it gives you the most exposure to Icelandic landscape in the shortest amount of time, but not all Golden Circle tours are created equally.
This tour has a max of 19 passengers, which you will appreciate when you are constantly waiting for everyone to get on and off the bus at each attraction.
- Key highlights: geysers in the geothermal valley of Haukadalur, the Gullfoss waterfall, and Thingvellir National Park.
- It also has a stop at the Secret Lagoon (instead of the typical tomato thing), and our tour guide even offered to play bartender so we didn't have to get out of the lagoon. So nice!
- Pick up directly from your hotel/hostel is a sweet bonus. Leaves daily before 9 AM.
- Make reservations in advance!
- Blue Lagoon - You've seen the photos, you've heard the hype. You just have to do it.
- Plan a late afternoon flight out of Reykjavik, and hit Blue Lagoon on your way to the airport.
- Make sure to book your ticket in advance, and choose a time around 8 AM (especially in Winter) in order to see the sunrise.
- Spring the for the Premium tickets. You'll thank yourself later for the shoes, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
- Pro tip: When you leave the locker room, you'll see a wading pool to your life. Go into this pool, get warm and exit into the lagoon through the door in the back of the pool. LIFE CHANGING.
- Save time before you have to catch your Flybus to the airport - the most exquisite views are the landscapes just around the lagoon.
- Icelandic Phallological Museum - Honestly, there aren't really words to describe this place. We stopped into the gift shop for the giggles.
- Sandholt Bakery - After a red-eye flight from the East Coast of the US, this bakery was like a little ray of sunshine in the dark (10 AM sunrises aren't for the faint of heart). Pastries galore, warm ambiance, and enough coffee choices to put you right side up.
- Svarta Kaffid - After a cold, rainy day in Iceland, nothing sounds better than soup in a bread bowl. Great pub atmosphere with limited seating, local beers, reasonably priced. Laugavegur Street.
- Saemundur Gastro Pub - Located on the ground floor of Kex Hostel, this gastro pub pairs a beautifully designed dining room/bar with delicious local food. Happy hour also includes food specials. (Pro tip - free bread for all imbibing patrons!) Check their postings for live music.
- Hlemmer Square - A no-particularly-exciting-frills hotel/hostel combination in a central location in Reykjavik. Clean rooms, nice bar with a happy hour, and free coffee in the mornings for guests. Excellent location for tour pick-ups, and right on the main strip of roads with restaurants/bars.
- Kex Hostel - A trendy, millennial-style hostel. Slightly off the main road (read: make sure your GPS is connected before trying to find this place), but still centrally located for getting around to sights. The main bonus here is - you won't feel trapped if the erratic Icelandic weather cancels all your carefully planned day trips. Restaurant and bar area furthered mentioned below.
TIPS & TRICKS
- Duty Free shops in the airport - There is a reason why you see all the Icelandic locals loading up on alcohol purchases in the duty free before you leave - alcohol is heavily taxed in Iceland, and makes an expensive drink even harder to justify. If you like to partake, plan to pick up a bottle or two at the airport to enjoy back in your hotel lounge.
- Take the Flybus into town - Clearly signed, cheapest option and dropped us right off at our hotel.
- Mentally prepare to spend money - It really is expensive.
Things I wished we had time to do:
- see the NORTHERN LIGHTS, as the weather didn't cooperate while we were there.
- come back in the summer, rent a car and go on a road trip.
- ice cave tours - here is a helpful guide on how to to do it.
- snorkeling in Silfra.
- and in my dreams, this 14-day photography workshop looks amazing.