Iceland’s tourism has been on the rise and rightfully so. Its majestic beauty is one for the books, and it is one of the easiest European countries to get to from the States. Not to mention, airlines such as WOW air and Icelandair are making Reykjavik their primary stopover before traveling on to other European cities. So if you find yourself in search of a quick getaway, consider this beautiful country and use the itinerary below as a guideline to optimize your time in the land of fire and ice.
The best way to see Iceland is by renting a car and driving. For your first day, head south towards Seljalandsfoss waterfall, one of the more prominent waterfalls located in Iceland. If you are an animal lover, be sure to pull over on your way to the falls and say hello to the friendly Icelandic ponies.
After getting your animal fix, continue on your excursion towards the falls. Upon arriving to Seljalandsfoss, make sure to pay the parking meter–a new system that was recently implemented. Parking is 700ISK for the duration of your visit. If you have planned your visit during the summertime, you are in for a pleasant surprise as you will be able to walk up behind the falls for a spectacular view. Best to wear a rain jacket as well as a pair of shoes with treaded soles as the rocks can be slippery from the water of the falls.
After your mini hike around the falls, jump back in the car and head to waterfall number two–Skógafoss. Skógafoss is located approximately 28 minutes south of Seljalandsfoss, and you will be able to see it from the main road. The waterfall standing at 49 feet is one of Iceland’s largest, so a must-see for visitors. If you are lucky and happen to catch it on a sunny day, search for the rainbow produced from the mist of the falls. Unlike Seljalandsfoss, the parking here is free, but again be prepared to have your rain jacket handy.
Once you have gotten your fill of waterfalls, move on to the next place on your expedition–the Black Sand Beach, Reynisfjara. As if the black sand was not impressive enough, the massive basalt columns, which resemble a rock pyramid, are the perfect eye-catching structures to complete the scenery. If your timing is right, you will be able to observe puffins nesting on the columns along the coastline. Of note, it is not to recommended to go into the water as the waves are very powerful, and the current is strong.
When you are ready for lunch, head over to the nearest city, Vik, to enjoy some food and get away from some of the crowds. Right in the heart of the little city, you will find Strondin Bistro & Bar, a quaint restaurant offering a variety of Icelandic fare. Try the Icelandic Lamb Soup to warm up from the cooler weather, or the Cheeseburger is also an excellent choice.
After enjoying some comfort food, start the trek back towards Reykjavik, making a stop at the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier along the way. Featured as the southernmost glacier, Mýrdalsjökull sits on top of the active volcano, Katla, which is known to erupt every 40-80 years with the last eruption having taken place in 1918. Of note, you are able to walk on the glacier, but be sure to pack the appropriate equipment and shoes if you plan to do so.
To complete the drive in the south, plan for a pit stop at the Seljavallalaug pool on your way back to Reykjavik. This once hidden gem is becoming increasingly popular, although there is still no charge to use the pool, and changing rooms are available. That being said, the changing rooms are not private in the sense that you can change in a stall. It is essentially an open room where you can go to change in and out of your swimsuit. Additionally, it is a walk to the pool (approximately 15 minutes) so plan accordingly as the terrain can be a bit slippery from recent rains.
After taking a dip in the pool, make your way back to the car, and continue on your journey back to Reykjavik. If you are in need of a pick-me-up after your whirlwind day, stop in at Eldstó Art Cafe, a small cafe located approximately 16 minutes past Seljalandsfoss on the right-hand side. The Swiss Mocha is quite the treat, and if you are in the market for volcanic pottery, this is the spot.
For dinner, opt to dine at Icelandic Fish and Chips for a meal of fresh fish that is brought in every morning. Upon entering the venue, you will see a blackboard on your right that will display the various choices of battered fish for that day; otherwise, you can peruse the menu for one of their everyday selections. You cannot go wrong with one of the blackboard options as they come highly recommended, but if you are looking to splurge, try the Grilled Langoustine, which is grilled and flavored perfectly and worth the extra money.
If you are traveling to Iceland between the months of September and April, look into a Northern Lights tour as a way to top off the evening. Many of these can be booked through your hotel.
For the second day, spend the time exploring the favored Golden Circle by beginning with the Kerið Crater. The crater which is now filled with water creating a lake is surrounded by red volcanic rock. There is a 400ISK entrance fee to observe the lake, and it can be paid at the booth near the parking lot.
From the crater, begin to make the drive to Friðheimar for lunch. This dining venue is located in a greenhouse, where the owners produce tomatoes primarily, but also cucumbers. Reservations at this locale are mandatory, but there is always the option to get tomato soup with bread at the bar along with one of their famous Bloody Mary’s, which is claimed to be one of the best in the world.
Once you have indulged in your tomato-based lunch, commence driving to the next destination on the Golden Circle path–the Geysir hot spring area. Even though the great Geysir is not as active these days, the area is also home to over a dozen other geysers, such as Stokkur, which erupts approximately every ten minutes or so. Of note, there is no admission fee to survey the geothermal field.
After getting your spouting spring fix, travel east for approximately ten minutes, and you will reach the Gullfoss waterfall. The cataract, claimed to be one Iceland’s most notorious waterfalls, is two-tiered and boasts a cumulative height of approximately 104 feet. Additionally, you can catch views of the impressive waterfall from the Gullfoss Cafe, which serves sandwiches, salads, and cakes on a daily basis.
If you are an ice cream lover, be sure to check out the dairy farm, Efstidalur II. This farm located approximately 30 minutes from the Gullfoss waterfall serves up some of the best locally made ice cream. If you are traveling with children, this tourist attraction is a must, because guests are able to watch the cows and even pet the calves.
From the farm, start to make your way back to Reykjavik stopping by at Þingvellir National Park along the way to see the infamous Silfra fissure. The fissure located in the park is the result of two continental plates which have drifted apart from each other and continue to do so at about two centimeters every year. The unique thing about this location is that it affords divers and snorkelers a rare opportunity to swim between two tectonic plates. Tours to partake in this activity can be booked online in advance of your trip. Of note, if you are only driving through to see the fissure as well as the National Park, you have to pay to utilize the parking lot, and they do issue tickets for those who do not follow this rule.
After you are done taking in the sights along the Golden Circle, proceed on to Reykjavik. When you arrive to the city, find your way to Hallgrímskirkja, the massive Lutheran church found in the city center. Given this is one of the tallest buildings in Iceland, it provides magnificent views of the city from its high tower. It is free to enter into the church; however, it costs 900ISK to go up and see the aerial vistas of Reykjavik.
For dinner, work your way over to Sushi Social originally named Sushi Samba. This well-known restaurant in Reykjavik offers menu options that reflect a fusion between Japanese and South American cuisine. The fish is fresh, the menu is creative, and the atmosphere is fun. If you’re a lover of shrimp and tuna, the Hot Maguro is a must-try from the menu.
If you have any energy left after the jam-packed day, drive over to the Blue Lagoon as the later hours make for less crowds. Ticket prices vary based on what you are interested in and have to be purchased in advance online. If you are fighting the urge to stay awake at this point in the day, head over instead to Íslenski Barrin for a night cap. This local restaurant and bar is a great place for drinks as well as an ideal location to experience the Icelandic way of eating fermented shark with Schnapps. If you happen to make it here on a Sunday evening, you are in for a treat as they have a pianist that plays some great classics, including songs by Frank Sinatra.
If you have an extra day, head north towards Akureyri to explore another side of Iceland.
Things to know before leaving:
Currency: The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic Krona. Major credit cards are widely accepted; however, it is best to carry some Icelandic Krona for admission to some of the sites outside Reykjavik.
Tipping: Tipping is not common in Iceland, nor is it expected as the gratuity is usually included in the total bill; however, if you would like to show your server a little extra gratitude, add 10 percent to the bill.
Heads up: Iceland has some of the cleanest water so no need to buy bottled water. Plan to pack an empty water bottle, which you can keep re-filling from the tap to save you a little extra money.