How to Spend Two Days in Iceland
Maybe you’ve heard about it from a friend or family member, maybe you’ve just seen some incredible pictures on Instagram and been dying to go, or maybe you found a cheap flight to Iceland. Either way, Iceland is an incredible place to visit.
If you’re short on time, planning a couple days in Iceland can seem overwhelming. What the heck do you do once you get there? We’re here to help you plan your two days in Iceland to maximize your stay.
Day 1 – Arriving in Reykjavik
Most flights from the US will arrive into Reykjavik early in the morning. Iceland operates on the same time zone as London, so despite the relatively short time, you’ll be at least five hours ahead of home. Keflavik International Airport is about a 45-minute drive from the center of Reykjavik. However, Iceland currently does not have Uber or Lyft.
If you are not renting a car, the best ways to get from the airport to downtown Reykjavik are by bus or private transfer. Express buses start at $25 each way, while private transfers will generally cost twice that or more depending on the company. For either of the aforementioned options, you’ll want to book in advance. (Note that during the winter, you won’t want to rent a car, as the weather outside the capital region can be unpredictable.)
Taxis are also available but tend to be the most expensive option available. It’s also worth noting that there are large portions of downtown Reykjavik that are bus-free zones. If your accommodations are inside one of these areas, you will be dropped off at the nearest bus stop outside of it.
The Blue Lagoon
With the relatively short overnight flight, chances are that you haven’t gotten much sleep and you’re feeling pretty jet lagged. That’s why your first stop from the airport should be the Blue Lagoon! If you’re not familiar, the Blue Lagoon is a large geothermal spa. The water is like bath water, so regardless of the outside temperature, it feels great. When we went, it was in the 20s outside and aside from the frozen hair, we didn’t even notice.
The Blue Lagoon is situated about 20 minutes from the airport, but still 45 minutes from downtown Reykjavik. Since you’re already out there, it makes sense to stop by one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions.
With how early you’re arriving, there’s also a good chance your accommodations won’t be ready for a few hours, so it’s a great way to kill time. Private shuttles and minibuses give you the option to add the Blue Lagoon to your ride from the airport to downtown for a reasonable fee. In most cases, the driver will stay with your belongings in the vehicle. If you’re not comfortable with this, the Blue Lagoon also has lockers available for rental at a reasonable price.
Basic admission to the Blue Lagoon starts around $60 per person and can vary depending on time and date. There are different admission levels, but the basic “Comfort” package includes towels and one drink. You can also add on extras such as floating in water massages and other treatments. If you’re in the mood to splurge, I’d highly recommend booking at least a 30-minute massage. It’s truly a one of a kind experience. Getting a massage while floating in hot water is an experience that words just can’t do justice.
A couple hours at the Blue Lagoon should be enough to help get rid of your jet lag for a while. Once you’re done at the Blue Lagoon, it’s time to quickly rinse off and head off to your hotel or rental property.
Once you’ve checked in at your place, you’re probably going to want to take another more thorough shower before heading out. The water from the Blue Lagoon can really wreak havoc on your hair, especially for those with longer hair.
Once you’re clean and dressed, it’s time to go explore Reykjavik. The downtown area is pretty pedestrian friendly thanks to the bus-free zones. Take a few hours to stroll the streets and check out sites like the Hallgrimskirkja and Tjörnin lake. During the winter, you may see even locals ice skating on the frozen lake.
Northern Lights (winter only)
The Northern Lights truly are a sight to behold. Seeing them in person absolutely lives up to the hype. The Northern Lights can be visible in Iceland from late September to late March.
However, the lights are unpredictable more than a few hours out and depend on several factors including weather and electromagnetic activity. Because the Northern Lights can’t be guaranteed, I’d recommend booking a tour for your first night there. Any good tour company will offer a sighting guarantee. If you don’t see the lights during your time out or the tour is cancelled due to weather, they’ll take you out another night free of charge. While these guarantees are often good for a few years, you’re already in Iceland and want to see the lights! Give yourself as many chances to see the lights as possible and book a tour your first night.
I’d also recommend booking a Northern Lights tour instead of trying to spot them on your own. Guides across different companies are in constant communication and know the best areas to spot them and where to look. While you can find them on your own, the tour companies have much higher success rates. To see the Northern Lights, you typically need to drive out to remote areas to avoid light pollution and I wouldn’t recommend driving dark, remote roads during the winter.
Day 2 – Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s most popular sightseeing routes and no trip to Iceland is complete without it. The Golden Circle consists of three main attractions: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. Each of these is worth seeing in their own right, but being able to see them all in one day is truly incredible.
Þingvellir National Park is located in a rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are drifting apart. The natural views in this park are stunning and varied. For you Game of Thrones geeks like myself, some of the scenes north of The Wall were filmed here. At Geysir, you will see an active geyser that erupts every 5-7 minutes. If you’re lucky enough, you may even see a double or triple eruption. Gullfoss is not to be overlooked as one of Iceland’s most beautiful and scenic waterfalls.
If you’re visiting during the winter, I’d recommend booking a guided tour that includes the Golden Circle. While there are many companies that will do this, I can’t help but recommend Moonwalker. They’re a small, family-run company that is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about Iceland. We booked a small group tour with them, but ended up being the only ones on the tour. Our tour with Bessi Jonsson was honestly the best tour we’ve taken anywhere at any time. The tour included the Golden Circle, snowmobiling on Langjökull glacier, ice caves, and a few other surprises along the way. Bessi’s infectious sense of humor kept things fun throughout the day. He made sure we had the best experience possible and were taken care of at every turn. No, they didn’t ask for this recommendation. That’s just how great the tour was.
A guided tour of the Golden Circle can take anywhere from 6-10 hours, but plan on it taking up your entire day. Tours will generally pick you up at your accommodations unless you’re staying in a bus-free zone. In that case, you will be picked up at an agreed upon location close by.
If visiting during the summer and renting a car, you can squeeze in a self-guided viewing the Golden Circle on Day 1 of your visit to Iceland. Plan about 4-6 hours to complete the full loop and take in all the sites.
Day 2 – Evening
Make sure you make your second evening’s plans flexible. In the case your Northern Lights tour was cancelled or wasn’t successful, you’ll use this evening to try again. If you’ve already had a successful sighting, use this time to enjoy some local cuisine, take in a concert at the Harpa, or party til the sun goes down (jokes on you if it’s summer).