With just 48 hours in Iceland, I had to jam-pack my schedule to fit in the most important things I wanted to see. The top attractions include The Golden Circle Tour, The Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik, The Northern Lights, Glaciers, Waterfalls, Volcanos and Hot Springs.
While I got a glimpse into the country, I would do things differently if I went back. First and foremost, 48 hours is not nearly enough to see everything! Here are my suggestions to get the best use out of your time here.
- RENT A CAR! Iceland is so easy to navigate, most roads are two lanes, and there’s hardly any traffic. Your life will be so much easier, and you will save a huge chunk of time if you can drive yourself from destination to destination. Don’t get me wrong; the public buses are efficient and nice here. They can pick you up from practically anywhere at most hours of the day and night, BUT it’s a lot of shuttling around. Between taking a smaller bus to the bus depot to catch the larger bus that transports everyone all together, it adds extra time to every excursion. It’ll be much more convenient to get around on your own schedule without having to waste anytime in-between.
- SKIP THE WHOLE DAY TOUR OF GOLDEN CIRCLE. I am not in any way saying to skip the Golden Circle; it is the most popular tour in Iceland. However, spending an 8 to 10 hour day visiting it can take up way too much of your time. The tour highlights three incredible points in South Iceland including my favorite part, Gullfoss Waterfall. But there’s also TONS of other insane waterfalls all over the country not seen in this tour. If you’ve rented a car, you can get around the key points much faster and do more with your time. If you don’t rent a car, there are very few half day Golden Circle Tours, but they do exist!
- CHECK OUT THE REYKJAVIK NIGHTLIFE. Who knew Iceland was known for their nightlife? This tiny “village” is popping off! In downtown centered around Laugavegur Street, there are endless options for bars, clubs, and underground music venues. One night on the town would barely skim the surface. The bars start getting busy after midnight and stay open till 4 AM; Iceland is known to party late! You can also find awesome street art almost everywhere you turn downtown, adding unique character to this tiny town.
- ICELAND IS EXPENSIVE. Airfare to Iceland can be super CHEAP (hallelujah) with deals on Wow Airlines and Iceland Air all the time. All the more reason to book the trip?! The flight is cheap, and that’s about it. Iceland is the third most expense country in the world to buy a drink. A glass of wine at most bars; 22 euros. A burger at the Laundromat Cafe; 22 euros. Buffet breakfast at Alda Hotel; 20 euros. Veer off the main drag of bars and you can find prices a little cheaper, including at the super cool Kex Hostel and other local spots. Accommodations are also pricey! You can save money by booking an Airbnb; there are plenty of great options. Our adorable Airbnb was one block from Laugavegur the main street, for only 120 euros a night (while hotels around the corner were in the 300’s). We were walking distance to everything downtown, and there was a bus stop right in front of the complex.
- THE BLUE LAGOON IS A SPA. I certainly couldn’t visit Iceland without checking out The Blue Lagoon, spending a few hours here is entirely worth it! (Read all about it here). It’s about an hour from Reykjavik, so plan transportation accordingly (this is another thing a rental car would come in handy for!). Entry packages to the spa start around 50 euros, and for the most part, you’ll only find tourists here. If you’re looking for something less touristy and more rugged, you’d be better off going to one of the hot springs instead.
- GO TO A FANCY DINNER. With tourism booming in Iceland, the food scene has kept right up! There are many trendy and elegant restaurants with awesome chefs receiving rave reviews. While some of the traditional Icelandic food might throw you off a bit, like puffin and fermented shark, the menu’s also incorporate other local ingredients that aren’t so unusual. With only one night for a fancy dinner, I had to decide between Dill and The Fish Market, both at the top of hottest restaurants lists in Iceland. We lucked out; The Fish Market was able to fit us in for a last minute reservation. The charming old two-story building is right downtown, featuring a mixture of Asian and Icelandic food with a stunning decor inside. They have a creative craft cocktail list, as well as beer and wine, and a super cute bar area. Our meal was 120 euros for two and worth every penny; it was the best fish of my entire Europe trip! We did not want to miss the renowned Perlan building and the revolving restaurant at the top. While we didn’t have time to dine, we stopped in to have a drink only to find out you have to have dinner reservations to enter. Pretty disappointing especially considering the taxi ride there wasn’t cheap! We were able to make the most our time at The Perlan by getting wine from the cafeteria and taking in the incredible view of Reykjavik from the observation deck.
- THE NORTHERN LIGHTS AREN’T ALL YEAR LONG. So if one of your biggest draws to Iceland is to see the lights, plan a visit between September to mid-April. Just keep in mind, it will be freezing! It was chilly even in the middle of summer. The country is so far North the normal hours of daylight aren’t quite what we’re used to. During summer it was light out until midnight, barely dusk from midnight to four, and then light all over again. The winter is the opposite with sometimes only 3 hours of sunlight, so keep that in mind for planning purposes!
Iceland has so much to offer; Reyjakivk may be where the majority of the population resides but there is so much to discover outside of it. I suggest taking your time in this country, tour the backroads, venture out of the guided tours, explore nature, and enjoy the vast uninhabited land. Then, of course, take part in the happening music, food, and bar scene because you’ll need to warm up somehow!