Spending a long weekend in Iceland? It may be the most perfect layover destination for those flying with the Iceland Stopover Pass on Icelandair. It’s easy to stop in Iceland for a few days without any additional cost, such as when traveling to and from Europe. Iceland was our unusual layover from South Africa to Paris, Paris to Iceland, then Iceland to Chicago. Ideally, Iceland in total can be explored in one week, but you can still see the major sites and cities with 2-3 days, or as a quick layover.
Best Time to Standby: It depends.
Although we had minimal difficulty flying standby from Europe to Iceland, and Iceland to North America, we still encountered many people taking advantage of the layover program and flights were almost full. Iceland is experiencing very high tourism at the moment, and we also found most sites to be especially crowded during the summer months.
Peak season for Iceland is mid-July through August during which you will get about 24 hours of daylight. Prices also soar during this time.
In mid-winter from November-March, you’ll only get about 5 hours of daylight, but you’ll have better chances of catching the Northern lights. Prices are lower during the winter season for rental cars, hotels, etc.
3 days, 2 nights
- The famous Blue Lagoon (some say it’s a tourist trap, but it’s still a really enjoyable and unique experience in itself!)
- The Golden Circle Route (a breathtaking drive that will only take half a day, as opposed to the week-long Ring Road route)
- Dinner in Reykjavik (the dining experience at one of Reykjavik’s top restaurants will surely go down as one of your most memorable meals…maybe ever!)
Affordable: Hotel Lotus (Reykjavik, $160-$180 per night/June-July; http://hotellotus.is) And when we say affordable, we mean “Iceland affordable”. You’ll quickly find out that Iceland is an expensive country, but this hotel is a great value even for international standards. If you only have 2 nights in Iceland, it’s a good idea to stay close to Reykjavik as your home base. Great breakfast. Very comfortable beds and sheets to cuddle up to after a long day of hiking. Right off of the main road, about 5-10 minute drive to downtown Reykjavik.
Van Rental: A very popular option for exploring the best of Iceland. Usually the best value for at least a week’s stay. There are two major van rental companies that advertise van rentals (and we’re sure there are probably a few more, but these were the two that continued to pop up throughout the trip). Kukucampers advertise rates as low as 69 euro per day (https://www.kukucampers.is/). Happy campers are also a very popular option (https://happycampers.is/), and even offers special rates and offers during the low season in winter.
The Golden Circle Drive
Get an early morning start from Reykjavik (we encountered a lot of tourist buses getting to most of the first stops between 8:00 and 9:00 AM, so try to leave earlier than that). Drive from Reykjavik to Thingvellir National Park (about 45 minutes) to see Silfra where you can see the two continental plates divide, one of Iceland’s smaller waterfalls, the site of Iceland’s first Parliament, and for all you GOT fans out there– they have the famous “wall”.
From Thingvellir travel to one of Iceland’s best kept secrets, Bruarfoss, the prettiest waterfall in all of Iceland! If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, this is a wonderful stop on the Golden Circle Route. It’s a 45 minute walk to Bruarfoss, but it’s an interesting one. You’ll encounter a group of friendly Icelandic horses roaming freely and few small waterfalls along the river during your walk before you reach the main event. Due to its closed off location, you will find that this is one of the less visited waterfalls in Iceland. You have to park on the side of the road in an inconspicuous location after the nearby parking spots were closed due to interfering with private driveways. Do not follow Google Maps to get here! It will take you through private drives which are no longer accessible for tourists. Go over the bridge across the river before your cross Highway 355, you will find a gravel parking area where you can leave your car. From there, you will walk 45 minutes each way with plenty of photo ops along the way.
From Bruarfoss you will drive to Geysir (about 15 minutes). Historically, this is the first geyser described in a printed source. It erupts every couple of minutes, which makes for great photo opportunities. There’s a nearby cafe and restaurant in case you work up an appetite after your morning travels.
Geysir to Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, Gullfoss waterfall is only a 10 minute drive. It’s worth the spectacular view– and be ready to get wet!
From Gullfoss we drove back towards Kerid Crater (about a 45 minute drive from Gullfoss toward Reykjavik). The Kerid Crater was one of our favorite photo stops. It was once believed to be a 3,000 year old explosion crater. There is a small entrance fee of 400 krona.
The Blue Lagoon
After a long day of traveling in the car, nothing sounds better than soaking in a geothermal hot spring with a glass of prosecco. Only 15 minutes from Keflavik airport, and 45 minutes from Reykjavik, it’s a great first thing in the morning or last stop of the night excursion.
If you’re booking a last minute trip to Iceland, tickets to the Blue Lagoon maybe difficult to secure for popular time slots in the mornings and afternoons. However, you might get reservations toward the end of the night and you really only need 2-3 hours there.In the summer, the Blue Lagoon will usually stay open until midnight. During the fall and winter hours, the Blue Lagoon will close early at 9/10 at night.
The Blue Lagoon has steam baths, saunas, swim-up bars and mask bars to take advantage of during your time there. There is no time limit to your stay. You will need reservations in advance to eat at the restaurant. You may also use the cafeterias with no prior reservations needed.
There are 3 levels of ticket you may purchase for the Blue Lagoon: 1. The Comfort Package, 2. The Premium Package, and 3. The Retreat Package. Starting with the Comfort Package, a towel, one drink, the silica mud mask and the entrance to the Blue Lagoon are all included. The Premium Package includes all of the above, with the addition of a bathrobe and slippers, a second mask, restaurant reservation and sparkling wine. The last package, the Retreat Spa, includes everything that is included with the first two packages as well as entrance in the Retreat Spa, a private changing room, the Retreat Lagoon (a private lagoon that is blocked off from the other public areas of the main Blue Lagoon), skin care amenities, and access to the spa restaurant.
Make sure to bring your flip flips or slippers, as well as a waterproof camera or phone. You may want to bring extra protection for your phone or camera as the silica may damage the phone if it’s not completely dried. Hair shampoo and conditioner is provided (make sure you condition your hair extra well BEFORE & AFTER the lagoon to avoid hair breakage and dryness). Bathing suit rentals are also provided at an extra cost. Check ahead for concerts happening at the Blue Lagoon, usually taking place on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck:
Best to get an early start to this increasingly popular tourist attraction. In 1973, the United States Navy crash landed on Solheimasandur’s black sand beach. This plane crash had a happy ending after all the crew members survived and now has become one of Iceland’s most iconic spots.
To get to the plane wreck you will follow Route 1 past Skogafoss before you reach the city of Vik. You will go east until you reach a turnoff point with signs that display the gravel road to reach the plane crash. You will need quite a bit of time to walk to the crash site. It took us 45 minutes each way while speed walking. It’s best to get to the plane very early in the morning or late at night to avoid the crowds.
Packing for Iceland’s weather can sometimes be a challenge, depending on what season you go. Make sure you take plenty of layers, as you can experience all 4 seasons during the course of a day. Here are some suggestions of items to pack:
- Fleece Sweater
- Soft shell North Face zip-up
- Packable rain jacket
- Warm hat
- Waterproof hiking pants
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Slippers/flip-flops for geothermal pools
- Waterproof camera or phone
- Reusable water bottle (Iceland’s water is one of the best! You can refill the water from any tap)
Iceland takes its food scene very seriously. If you want fresh and unique seafood (some of which you could only sample in Iceland), you’ve definitely come to the right place. Our favorite restaurants were located in Reykjavik, but there are also plenty of tasty options off the beaten path also. We also became big fans of the gas station hot dogs that have become a staple of the Iceland fast food scene.
- Grillmarkadurinn (The Grill Market): Whale, puffin and reindeer mini burgers as a starter. The Fish Gourmet is deeelicious! The cocktail list is also refreshing.
- The Fish Market: The Grill Market’s sister restaurant. Delicious seafood. Consistently voted one of Iceland’s top restaurants.
- Dill: Iceland’s first restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. Its focus is on new Nordic cuisine. You can choose between a 5- course and 7-course meal.