The most perfect snowfall we’ve ever seen was at around 10am on a dark winter morning, walking to a pharmacy in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. Despite being ill, the fresh blanket of soft white snow had me delighted beyond words, we had never been snowed on before! Making footprints in the blank snowy canvas of the sidewalk and catching little flakes on our eyelashes are just some of the many great memories we made in Reykjavik. It might not be at the top of everyone’s list now, but Iceland’s tourism industry is growing exponentially, so what better time to visit? It’s not as difficult to get to or as isolated as a lot of people think either, in fact, it is perfectly placed to provide a stopover for those travelling between Europe and North America, or vice versa. While you could connect your flights within a few hours, we think you should spend at least a few days discovering all Reykjavik has to offer, believe me, you will not be short of things to do! We’ve put together a short guide to help you make the most of your Reykjavik stopover;
One Day Stopover
Catch the bus straight from Reykjavik airport to Blue Lagoon and spend at least a few hours bathing in the geothermal waters. Grab a drink at the swim up bar, put on your natural mud mask and soak away the stresses of flight time. There are a few different tickets you can get, from standard right up to luxury (we went for luxe and it was our most expensive date ever!), but whichever you choose, book in advance to skip queues and make the most of your time. Once you’re dried off and completely relaxed, catch the bus into Reykjavik and have a wander through the centre. Get yourself to the west end of Laugavegur (the main shopping street) and spend the afternoon strolling down the length of it. You can’t miss Hallgrimskirkja church, one of the tallest structures in Iceland. It was designed to mimic the basalt lava flows of the Icelandic landscape and is even more breathtaking in the snow if you are visiting during the winter months. You’ll be pretty hungry by now, so stop by Reykjavik Chips for the best fries in town, a dozen sauce options and a good quality beer to refuel. Super cheap and delicious. At the end of Laugavegur, head out to the water for a peek at the Harpa concert hall and Sun Voyager sculpture before boarding the bus back to the airport
Two Day Stopover
You’ll want to get out and see the classic attractions inside the golden circle today. First, stop at the UNSECO world heritage site of Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates fissure and drift apart. Secondly, at the top of the circle is Gullfoss waterfall, a purpose built pathway will lead you close enough to feel the mist from this incredible force of nature. You have never seen a waterfall like this one before – the drop is so sharp, from a distance, it’s as if the river simply vanishes at the point of the crevice. A third stop in the Geysir area completes the trio inside the golden circle. Home to the famed Great Geysir, bubbling mud pools and plenty of other geothermal awesomeness. Fun fact, this is where the word ‘geyser’ found its origin. Bonus sightseeing on this full day trip is all the beautiful scenery throughout the entire drive, in any season. If you can hire a car, this is the most fun way to explore the golden circle and be flexible, but if you aren’t confident driving, there are plenty of bus tours you can jump on that will do this itinerary for you. You’ll get loads of extra history and information this way too. Tonight, head to Islenski barinn to try Iceland’s famous Hákarl – a fermented shark dish (there are vegetarian friendly options also!), then wash it all down with a few bottles of Viking beer and forget all about what you just ate
Three Day Stopover
Time for a little horseback riding on those adorable Icelandic horses you’ve been seeing all about the place. If you can book in with Islenski Hesturinn then do, however there are plenty of options around when it comes to this activity. It’s particularly special to do this in the winter months over the snow covered lava fields – be careful you don’t lose any toes though, extra socks are a must! You’ll want to stretch your legs out now, so head up to the pearl at the top of the city for awesome views back over Reykjavik and a couple of cheeky cocktails. It’s a nice walk, but you can also bus up if the hill looks a bit too much after all those Viking beers… Remember to book your northern lights experience for tonight, then grab a massage, relax and prepare to stay out late for the lights. Before you’re due to be collected for your night time adventure, pop into a convenience store to stock up on snacks for the evening, and wrap up warm. Congratulations, you’ve made the most of your Reykjavik stopover!
If You’re Staying Longer
There are loads of great things to do if you have some more time in Iceland. Whale watching and puffin spotting are great activities for animal lovers. Keen diver’s simply MUST take the opportunity to dive between continents in Thingvellir National Park. There are also plenty of epic landscapes to discover outside of the Reykjavik area – dazzling waterfalls are in abundance and there is a black sand beach near Vik where you can see some hexagonal basalt column formations (similar to Giants Causeway in Ireland). If you continue along the south coast, you can explore the unique blue ice caves and vatnajökull glacier. Car hire is a great option for maximum flexibility and economical use of time, but there are plenty of good bus tour companies operating all year round – we used Gray Line a few different times during our trip
We stayed at 4th Floor Hotel right in the city centre which was great value for money. It is more of a hostel as the bathrooms are shared, however the rooms are all private. Ours was spacious, clean and warm. The included breakfast each morning was great – a large buffet in the downstairs restaurant with lovely service and big selection of food. They also packed us breakfast to go on the last morning, even though it was a 4:30am pick up on New Year’s Day! Due to the great location of 4th Floor, tour pick ups and airport transfers are very easy to arrange and you are within walking distance of everything in the city. It is practically on the main street and is in close proximity to the water’s edge too. Wherever you choose to stay, being in or very close to the centre is definitely the way to go, you will save a tonne of time and hassle getting around during your visit. This is a mid-range price point, but there are more budget and luxury options available in equally good locations
Have you visited Iceland yet? What was your favourite experience?