Cold and mystical, as well as beautiful and wild, that’s Iceland. The local people are extremely warm and welcoming, despite the cold temperatures. We spent three days in this small and secluded northern island known as Iceland and tried to experience as much as possible during our short stay. Here is my itinerary for a long weekend in Reykjavik Iceland, from Icelandic spa to Northern Lights.
- Arrival in Reykjavik: Friday night.
- Day 1 (Saturday): Spa day at the Blue Lagoon. Check this post to read all you need to know to plan your visit. In the afternoon we got back to our apartment for a short rest and in the evening we explored the city centre of Reykjavik.
- Day 2 (Sunday): full day tour around Iceland to explore the most popular waterfalls and geysers (more on this below). In the evening we went to hunt down the Northern lights. Read this post with all my tips on how to plan this and ensure you have the best chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis. You can do the Northern Lights tour any night, regardless of your other daily activities, as it starts quite late, around 8-9 pm.
- Day 3 (Monday): We spent a bit more time in Reykjavik and visited the harbour, before going to catch our flight late in the afternoon.
Planning your trip to Iceland
There are a few airlines that will take you to Keflavik International Airport, which is 50 km away from Reykjavik. We travelled with WOW air from London, which was a first for me and despite their funny name the staff and the flight was quite pleasant. They are a low-cost Icelandic airline. The other low-cost option is easy jet as well.
Before we even got to Iceland, I had already pre-booked all the activities and planned the whole weekend. Iceland is the first country I have been to where I didn’t have to use any cash! Yes, we spent 3 days there and I didn’t have to withdraw any money, they accept cards everywhere! So don’t rush withdrawing local money unless you need it. This doesn’t mean that I was able to save any money as Iceland is expensive! These northerners have a very high living standard and I say this as someone who lives in London… However it’s all worth it, so try to plan your spending in advance as much as you can.
Things to do and places to visit
You can go for walks and see the central part of Reykjavik, but to be honest the impressive destinations are outside of the city. This is why we booked daily tours that were taking us to some very beautiful places, as far as 2-3 hours away from the city. We used the evenings to explore the town and explore the main shopping street – Laugavegur. If you have time during the day, the harbour is a nice destination in Reykjavik as it’s beautiful and you can try some fresh seafood there.
I wanted to see the Northern lights like most people who go to Iceland. The problem is that if you are planning your trip in advance, there is no way to know when you will have the best weather conditions for this beautiful natural event. Read this post to find out how we managed to see the Northern lights despite spending just 2 nights in Iceland with lots of rain as well! I have included all of my tips to ensure you have the best chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis.
The Blue Lagoon
Looking for the ultimate Icelandic spa experience? Then you need to visit the Blue Lagoon, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. Read my dedicated post about the Blue Lagoon and everything you need to know to plan your visit.
Waterfalls & Geysers
There are so many waterfalls in Iceland that you will have to travel for months probably to see them all. If you are in Iceland for a short stay, like we were for a long weekend, then booking a one-day tour to see the best of the Icelandic’s nature would probably be best. The sights of interest are spread across the island and you really need someone to guide you if you don’t have any time to waste.
After checking quite a few tour companies on tripadvisor, I finally chose a tour that seemed to thick all the boxes. The Golden Circle tour by GeoIceland was a great choice as it took us to the most popular destinations. The guide was very knowledgeable and the group was relatively small, less than 10 people. It was a very wet and rainy day, which wasn’t particularly pleasant, but otherwise the tour was great. Here are the some of the places we visited.
The Gullfoss waterfall is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland and although it’s not the biggest waterfall, it certainly is magnificent. There is a great story about how this waterfall was preserved. Many years ago there were plans to use it to produce electricity, but a woman called Sigríður Tómasdóttir, made it her life’s mission to preserve the waterfall and eventually she succeeded and the waterfall is protected.
Another beautiful waterfall we visited:
If you are a Game Of Thrones fan, you might also find it interesting that you will see the actual Wall from the film. It doesn’t have the icy effects, but the shape is quite similar and it’s definitely quite interesting to see it as a fan.
Geysir hot spring & Haukadalur geothermal area
One of the amazing things about Iceland is that despite the cold temperatures, the land is bursting with fire. Iceland is highly geologically active with many volcanoes, hot springs and geysers. The Haukadalur area is a popular tourist spot, where visitors can see Strokkur (picture below) and Geysir, which are the two biggest geysers there. The first erupts every 5-10 minutes and can reach up to 20 m height, while the second one can reach up to 70 m, but eruptions are very rare and may not occur for years.
The ground is so warm in this area you can actually feel it when you touch it and the water running around the springs is so hot that it can burn you so you will see a lot of warning signs.
Reykjavik has the atmosphere of a small town, but it’s somehow widespread. When you book your accommodation I highly recommend that you book somewhere central. This applies to whichever city you travel to normally, but it’s especially important for Reykjavik. Some hotels are too remote and unless they offer a shuttle to the central part of the city, you are pretty much stuck there. Of course you have the option of taking a taxi, but that would be quite expensive. Walking is only an option if you are close to the centre, as temperatures were quite low and it was snowing and raining half of the time, we visited in January.
We booked an apartment on Hverfisgata street, which is right next to the main shopping street Laugavegur. We decided not to book a hotel as we couldn’t find anything that’s available and more affordable in the central part of the city. The apartment was really nice and modern, very well maintained, with new furnishing. We actually felt really comfortable there and had a large kitchen full of appliances that allowed us to prepare breakfast and food for our long day trips around Iceland. This also saves you money, because dining out is quite expensive there. The price we paid for 3 nights was 370£.
Transportation and getting around Reykjavik
One of the things that really impressed me in Reykjavik is the transportation system. Public transport is not very popular there, at least amongst the tourists. Instead there are two coach companies (Flybus & Gray Line) that will take you to any of the popular destinations directly from your hotel or nearby your hotel. They have a strict schedule across the city and they will pick you up from where you are staying, all the way to the airport or to the Blue lagoon for example.
Taxis are quite expensive so these coaches (sometimes minibuses) are the best way to get around. The airport is 50 km away from the city so we booked a Flybus in advance. Even if your flight arrives late, they always have a bus waiting outside. When you get on the bus from the airport, make sure you give them the hotel details correctly as at some point during the trip the passengers will be divided three ways and you might have to change and get on one of the minibuses, but they explain everything to you. The system is designed for tourists and seems to work very well. In terms of comparing the two companies, most people say they pretty much provide the same service. We used Flybus and they were great.
Normally I am all about trying the local food, but in Iceland I didn’t feel particularly adventurous. Some of their local specialities are quite strange. Fermented shark, Puffin bird and fish jerky are some of the more popular examples. Salmon and other seafood is worth trying over there as it’s very fresh and all local. Lamb seems to be a popular meat, but I don’t eat lamb so didn’t try it.
Their bakeries are quite impressive. We had this for breakfast – homemade sourdough bread with jam and something like cream cheese.
I really liked their local yogurt, called Skyr. It’s made from skimmed pasteurised milk, but it’s quite thick and creamy. It’s quite popular for its nutrition – high protein, low-fat product, roughly 12% protein, 3% carbohydrate, and 0.5% fat. Which is quite attractive to most consumers, but Icelandic people consume it on a daily basis.
As I mentioned several times, Iceland is a bit pricey, so if you are planning a longer trip there, it’s a good idea to book an apartment so you can prepare some food yourself. When we went to a local, popular supermarket to buy some food for the apartment, we spent about 80£ on no more than 10 basic food items, so you can imagine if you have to dine out every day. A panini and fruit mix costed about 25£ at a local cafe. A pint of local beer was about 7£.
So this is Iceland in a nutshell. I wish I could spend more time and explore this island even further. I hope you get to visit this beautiful Nordic country as well! If this post has helped you plan your trip or simply inspired you to visit Iceland, then let me know in the comments below! :)