Knowing what I know now, here’s what we *should have done* during a 3-4 day stay in Iceland, including some of the basics.
Packing List – Don’t forget your coat, hat, gloves, boots, and other cold weather gear; it’s cold even in the summertime. You’ll also want a bathing suit so you can take a dip in the hot springs.
Airport – You’ll fly into KEF (Keflavik, also known as Reykjavik-Keflavik International Airport). The airport is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Reykjavik.
Rent a Car – A car allowed us to have maximum flexibility to stay as long as we wanted at the stops along the Golden Circle Tour. It also allowed us to get away from the mass of tourists riding on the tour buses. Caution: As I wrote about earlier, the rental car agencies provide shuttles from KEF to their locations, but typically will only transport one person per reservation. Anyone else will have to wait (for about a half an hour) outside the airport with the bags. This isn’t a big deal, but caused us some confusion initially. Also, get the GPS. It’s well worth it.
Hotel – We stayed at Hotel Holt, a charming hotel off of a quiet street less than a 15 minute walk from downtown Reykjavik. It wasn’t luxurious, but that’s not what we normally strive for anyway. We were more interested in the short walk to downtown for a reasonable price. If you don’t have phone service, make sure you download or print maps and directions to your hotel before you leave home.
Day 1: Arrival and Reykjavik Tour
- Check into Hotel.
- Take a walking tour with CityWalk. The tours are free; instead, you pay whatever you think the tour was worth. They give tours approximately four times a day – 10:00, 11:00, 1:00, and 3:00. The only catch is you have to make a reservation and their booking schedule is only open 4 days in advance. If you’re not going to be around to make a reservation, you can try emailing them to see if you can get an earlier reservation.
Day 2: Golden Circle Tour
- Leave early in the day to avoid the tour buses.
- Driving around the Golden Circle takes about 3.5 hours, but adding in the various stops makes this a full day. Make sure you have a full day to devote to this drive – you don’t want to feel rushed.
- The Golden Circle Tour typically includes five stops. I’d add a couple more. Plug the following into your favorite map site to get detailed directions. There are also plenty of signs along the way.
- Pingvellir (a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can see the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates)
- Geysir (a geyser that goes off every 10 minutes)
- Gullfoss (a huge waterfall)
- Lunch at Fridheimar. Make reservations.
- Take a dip in the hot springs at the Secret Lagoon. It’s not as well-known as the Blue Lagoon, but it’s cheaper and less crowded than it as well.
- Kerio (a volcanic crater)
- Once you’ve made your way back to Reykjavik, head out to Icelandic Fish and Chips inside the Volcano House at Tryggvagata 11 for fish and chips.
Day 3: Tour with Always Iceland or Drive Along the Southern Coast
- If you can swing the cost, book a tour with Oli at Always Iceland. It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth it. Oli was a great host.
- Otherwise, drive along the southern coast. This blog has some great maps and tips. We haven’t done this drive ourselves, but the blog has a ton of information and can help you plan your trip.
Day 4: Into the Glacier
- Book an Into the Glacier tour from Reykjavik to the Ice Caves or drive yourself to Húsafell. The tour from Reykjavik takes the entire day – about 9-10 hours. If you drive yourself, it’s about a 2 hour drive, but be sure your maps are taking you to the right Húsafell.
Day 5: Travel Home
I’ve spoken with a lot of travelers who have visited Iceland and all of them loved it. I know we can’t wait to go back!