An hour or two shorter flying time than to other destinations in Europe makes Reykjavik the ideal location to spend a long weekend. Spend three days exploring the otherworldly landscape of Iceland, reminiscent of the desolate slopes of the Scottish Highlands combined with the surface of the moon.
Depending on the time of year, there is the opportunity for your trip to coincide with either endless daylight or the ethereal Northern Lights to enhance your trip. Whatever time of year, any visit to Iceland should aim to maximize spending as much time outdoors as possible to take advantage of the combination of overwhelming natural beauty and unique geological features on display.
Itinerary: 3 nights in Reykjavik. Day 1: Explore Reykjavik. Day 2: Day trip to West Iceland/Golden Circle. Day 3: Day trip to Southern Iceland, including hot spring, such as the Secret Lagoon.
Day 1: Reykjavik.
After checking into your accommodation, head down to Laugavegur Street, the main shopping and dining area in downtown Reykjavik. Here you find dozens of restaurants, interesting boutiques and a lively bar scene. I recommend Resto, for a cozy meal featuring local ingredients, located off the main drag on Rauðarárstígur 27-29.
From Resto, it’s a 10-minute walk to the Hallgrimskirkja, located at Hallgrímstorg 101, the striking cathedral and iconic Reykjavik landmark, which is particularly fetching while illuminated at night.
If you fancy an after dinner drink while getting your beard trimmed, perhaps a take on the Icelandic hipster scene, at Quest: A Hair, Beer, and Whiskey Saloon, is in order.
Day 2: West Iceland
Today’s explorations will be dependent on the mode of transportation chosen. Those with an SUV-rental, can self-tour the Golden Circle (a 300 km loop which includes Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall), which can easily be accomplished in a day.
Alternatively, or if the crowds are a little overwhelming, veer off the tourist loop and head up Route 52, and explore Western Iceland including waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafoss.
Those that prefer not to drive themselves can choose from among the dozens of van and bus tours which offer guided tours of the Golden Circle, among countless others itineraries. Possibilities include trips to see the Northern Lights, glacier hiking tours, volcano tours, whale watching, etc. Prices can range from approximately 5,200ISK ($50) for a basic Golden Circle tour to 42,000 ISK ($400) for the Inside the Volcano tour.
If you return back to Reykjavik in time for a cultural excursion before dinner, there are several interesting museums located in the Laugavegur Street vicinity. Depending on what strikes your fancy, options include the well-regarded Saga Museum or the brow-furrowing Icelandic Phallological Museum. If the collection of over 200 penises did not ruin your appetite, try a casual dinner of an Icelandic hot dog, which are made extra delicious with the addition of a variety of toppings (like bacon!). Hot dog stands and restaurants are all over Reykjavik, but Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, Tryggvatagata 1, claims to be the best.
Day 3: South Iceland
Hit the road early as South Iceland awaits. Spend your morning visiting sites such as Kerid Crater, where the milky blue waters once supported Bjork who performed atop a floating raft, and Urridafoss waterfall, the most voluminous waterfall in Iceland.
A half hour drive from Kerid Crater, is the Secret Lagoon, one of the many geothermal bathing options in Iceland. You can expect a pleasant mix of Icelandic locals and tourists relaxing in the steaming mineral water, enjoying an ever-changing sky, while sipping frosty beers as they floated about on pool noodles. They’ll even rent you a swimsuit if you forgot you own.
For dinner, head back downtown. Tonight, fish is on the menu. If you are feeling flush and remembered to make a reservation, The Fish Market, at Aðalstræti 12, would be a fine choice. A more modest option is the Kaffivagninn, reportedly the oldest restaurant in Reykjavik, located between the Whales of Iceland and Saga Museums at Grandagarði 10.
Most travelers to Reykjavik will arrive at Keflavik International Airport, which is located a 40 minute drive from downtown Reykjavik. Your options for transportation into the capital are:
taxi, with a cost of 15,000ISK (equivalent to $120 USD)
bus, with a cost of 2,400ISK ($24 USD)
car hire, which will cost approximately 20,000ISK ($190) for a 4×4 SUV for 3 days.
or bus transfer via the Blue Lagoon, 4500 ISK ($43 USD), not including Blue Lagoon entrance fee.
- If your budget allows, I recommend renting the 4×4 vehicle from Keflavik International Airport so that you can make the most of your 3 days in Reykjavik. A smaller car will cost less, but if you plan on exploring the countryside, 4×4 vehicle larger tires are a must.
- If renting a car is not an option, I recommend taking the bus into Reykjavik, and then doing the transfer via the Blue Lagoon on your return (or vice versa depending on your flight times). You can book your transfer online when purchasing your Blue Lagoon tickets, and can be done before your departure to Iceland, via the Blue Lagoon website.
- Leave yourself plenty of time getting to the airport, particularly if you are planning on the Blue Lagoon transfer. If you are returning a rental car, expect to wait at least 10 minutes for the shuttle to take you to the main terminal.
Notes: For the complete write-up for my Reykjavik trip and additional Iceland resources, visit here.
Price: $430-though many travelers take advantage of the free Icelandic Stopover program through Icelandair and visit on their way to another destination in Europe.
DC-airports serving Reykjavik: BWI, IAD
Airlines: From IAD – Iceland Air
From BWI: WOW Airlines
Length of Flight: About 6 hours from Washington
When to Go:
Anytime! For long days for exploring, visit in the late spring through summer. For a chance to see the Northern Lights, go from late September-March.