In 2017, we took advantage of Icelandair’s stopover program and spent 4 days in Iceland before continuing on to England. It was a trip filled with unique experiences that we will never forget! I’d encourage anyone visiting to get outside of Reykjavik and see Iceland’s natural beauty because it is stunning!
- Length of trip: 4 days / 4 nights
- Where I stayed: AirBnBs, Icelandair hotel
- Top highlights:
- Blue Lagoon
- Golden Circle
- Fjaðrárgljúfur & Jökulsárlón
- Glacier Tour
Top Attractions to Visit:
Blue Lagoon – time spent: 2 hours
When we were planning our trip to Iceland, we heard that the Blue Lagoon is touristy and overrated, but after visiting, we strongly disagreed. The Lagoon is so relaxing and is a great thing to do first if you land really early in the day like we did. It’s a nice recharge after the flight, and they have very nice locker room facilities, so you can freshen up and take a shower before spending the day in Iceland.
When you book your ticket, you will have to select an entry time. You can stay as long as you want beyond that window, but if you want to target a certain time of day, be sure to book in advance so you get the window you want.
Golden Circle – time spent: 6 hours
The Golden Circle is a circular route of top attractions in Iceland. The primary three stops are: Þingvellir National Park, Stokkur Geyser, and Gullfoss falls. A quick Google search will pull up many articles detailing the route and offering additional stops. In addition to the main three, we also stopped at the Kerið crater, but didn’t really find this worth the admission fee.
- Þingvellir National Park – the park had a fee for parking, but I believe it was under $10. There are some great panoramic views right across the parking lot, but be sure to take some time to walk down the main path further into the park. There is a great waterfall a the end and the path itself is a pretty walk. I also believe parts of this park were used in filming Game of Thrones!
- Stokkur Geyser – this is definitely Iceland’s biggest “wow” factor. The geyser erupts about every 7 minutes with an impressive shoot of water and fascinated crowds. Be sure to walk a little farther past the geyser to see Geysir, which will not be erupting, but is the original geyser from which all the others get their name!
- Gullfoss Falls – Gullfoss falls is Iceland’s Niagara Falls. They are an impressive sight to see and definitely worth your time to walk around and explore!
Waterfalls – time spent: varies
Iceland is home to many beautiful waterfalls. We visited the South shore and here are some of the ones we stopped at. If you go to one of the other shores instead, be sure to research what waterfalls they have there!
- Gullfoss Falls: see Golden Circle section for details
- Seljalandsfoss: this dramatic waterfall is definitely worth a visit. It is right off the main road and there is a trail to walk behind it. Be sure to venture beyond this fall a little ways and find Gljúfrabúi which is a close walk and hidden behind a cliff. There should be several people walking this way from Seljalandsfoss, so just follow the crowd to find it.
- Skógafoss – This is a much wider, but shorter fall than Seljalandsfoss. It is also a short distance off the main road.
- Svartifoss – This waterfall is found inside Skaftafell in the Vatnajökull National Park. The fall is surrounded by dramatic dark lava columns.
Fjaðrárgljúfur & Jökulsárlón – time spent: 1.5 hours each
These are two sights along the Southern shore that are a must see! Fjaðrárgljúfur is about a mile or two off the main road, but is well marked with signs. Make sure you follow the actual signage and not your GPS – we ended up almost off roading to the old parking lot when there is a much more updated place to park. This is a beautiful canyon that you can walk all around and view. Jökulsárlón is a glacier lagoon! Stop and see pieces of glacier float around before making their way out to the ocean. Some glacier pieces spend 7 years in the lagoon before eventually floating out! Keep an eye out for seals sunning themselves! Across the bridge is a black sand beach where you can sometimes see diamond like glacier pieces washed up on shore.
Glacier tour – time spent: 4 hours
Several companies in Iceland offer glacier tours from late spring through late fall. We used Glacier Adventure. The tour is pricey, but was our favorite part of the trip! We took what looked like monster truck over some pretty rugged terrain out to a glacier lake. We then took a little boat over to the start of the glacier and hiked around following our guide. They taught us all about the glaciers and we were lucky to have found an ice tunnel to climb in as well! It was a great trip. If you aren’t in Iceland during glacier tour season, you’re probably there in ice cave season! Lookout for tours of ice caves instead.
Reykjavik – time spent: half day
Reykjavik is Iceland’s main city and near the airport. We stayed here the final night before our early flight out. We felt a half day was perfect. We walked around the city and saw the sights and had a nice dinner.
Other notable stops:
- Reynisfjara (in Vik) – really cool black sand beach set under a mountain. Great panoramic views and cool to check out.
- Solheimasandur Plane Wreck – this was a plane that wrecked on the shore and is still there. We didn’t stop here because it is a little over a mile walk and it was cold, but could be one to consider!
- Seljavallalaug – outdoor pool fed by a natural hot spring. You have to hike out to it, but it is a pretty easy walk and a pretty view to get out there. This site has good directions on how to access the pool.
- Hveragerði town and Geothermal Park – this is a town built upon a hot-spring. Just driving around the area itself is an attraction. You’ll see steam rising from the streams and hillsides. Check out the geothermal park to see a steaming river and if you have time, the town has geothermally baked bread and several hot springs to take a dip in.
- Northern Lights: if you visit in the right season (winter and surrounding months) be sure to check out information on Northern Lights activity!
Tips and tricks:
- Trip length and where to go: we thought the south shore had the most to offer for a shorter trip like we had, so that’s all we really saw. Others swear by the west side, so check that out too. If your trip is on the shorter side like ours, the north and east shores are probably too far to really be an option. If you’re on a two-week trip in Iceland, try driving the whole ring road and circling the country!
- Don’t be afraid to rent a car! Driving is easy – there is one main road, often called the Ring Road that pretty much gets you anywhere. Gas is expensive, so be prepared for that.
- Download a google offline map when you have wifi for navigation and there is no need to get a GPS with your rental car.
- Everyone we encountered spoke English and was very helpful and friendly!
- Food and alcohol at restaurants is astronomically expensive. We made a stop and Kronan, the local grocery store and stocked up on non-perishables and saved a lot of money. Buy some bottled water here too, as a lot of the water has a funny taste if you aren’t used to it. If you want alcohol, get it duty free at the airport on the way in as it is way cheaper. Also, if you do eat out, check prices. Generally a really nice restaurant isn’t much more expensive than an average dining place.
- Weather: we traveled to Iceland in early May. We had quite a range of weather from warm sunny days, to rainy cold ones. Check the weather and pack layers so you’re ready for everything!
Kelly, Your blogs are so interesting and well written that it makes me want to go to all the places in your blogs. I hope to explore Iceland some day.