With cheap flights to Iceland increasing for long weekends, and many people doing what I did and making the most of Icelandair’s free stopovers, you might find yourself with a few days based in Reykjavik wondering how to make the most of your time and see the highlights, without spending all your time travelling. Listed below are my top five picks of what to do in and around Reykjavik, split into a 2-day itinerary and handily mapped out for you:
Day 1: Reykjavik
Spend your first day acclimatising in the city of colourful corrugated iron (protection against the weather) and rocket ship cathedrals (…I have no explanation for that one).
1. National Museum of Iceland
Start your morning at the National Museum of Iceland for a crash course in Icelandic history and culture. There’s plenty of science and history here right up to the 21st century. Don’t miss the cross-segment of soil going back a thousand years with indisputable evidence of Iceland’s volcanic past, or the recreated turf house interior.
For lunch, stroll back towards the city centre and hunt out the incredible Messinn – Reykjavik’s #2 rated restaurant on TripAdvisor and most worthy of that accolade. By going for the lunch menu you’ll miss both the crowds and the eye-watering dinner prices so difficult to escape in Iceland. I can personally recommend the Arctic Char.
After lunch, go on a whale watching trip, head up Hallgrimskirkja for views over the colourful roofs and across the harbour, or go on a walking tour to learn more about the city. Don’t forget to check out the many tourist shops and pick up some souvenirs.
3. Northern lights
The northern lights are unmissable – if you’re lucky enough to catch them. Book onto a bus tour to get shepherded to the best places, or hunt out your own spot – just make sure to get away from the city lights. Check the forecast before you go to make sure it won’t be cloudy.
Day 2: Volcanoes & waterfalls
On your second day, pick up a hire car and head out of the city early in search of the landscapes that Iceland is so famous for. If you’re doing this in winter, double check the road conditions and don’t go the full route – remember how few daylight hours you’ll have.
If you don’t want to drive, book onto one of the tours from Reykjavík – either Golden Circle or Southern Coast.
The Niagara Falls of Iceland. Only 1.5 hours from Reykjavik, this is the highlight of the famous Golden Circle route. Refuel on some snacks at the top for panoramic views, then wander down the walkway to get up close to the top of the falls. Geysir is only ten minutes away if you want to see the thermal eruptions of Strokkur – it erupts every ten minutes or so.
5. Southern coast
Then head south along Route 1 towards Vík’s black sand beaches. It’s 2 hours to the village if driving straight, but on the way there and back there’s plenty to see – Seljalandsfoss where you can climb a track behind the waterfall, Eyjafjallajökull visitor centre (yes, THAT volcano) and Skógafoss waterfall. Plus the views on this drive of Iceland’s coastline and cliffs are incredible.
It’s a 2 hour drive back to Reykjavik. Vík is a natural stopping point, but if that’s too much driving for you stop at any point earlier.
For a couple more days, check out my itinerary from last October, or for a week or more hire a car and take the ring road all around the island.