“I’ve got a few days in Iceland and I want to make the most of it.”
This is the usual request I receive from friends and readers alike, many of whom are stopping in Reykjavik on a quick layover with Icelandair. So I thought I’d provide a longer answer than usual for the Looptail, replete with some photos, for the best things to do during the weekend layover. Assuming you have three days, you can get a lot of ground covered and still join locals for drinks late into the night on the main streets of the capital – which is exactly how you’re expected to spend your weekend evenings.
1. Rent a car instead of doing a day tour. It’s one thing if you are there on a longer trip and can take your time exploring, but if you’re going to be there for a weekend, definitely rent a car at the airport and use this to see the sights. Parking is easily found in the capital, and having your own transportation means that you can navigate your way around the region at your own pace.
Tip: Pick up a SIM with data from Vodafone.is and use your phone as a GPS to get around. Data rates are reasonable, and if you don’t have a favourite GPS programme, try Waze (this is what I did and it worked great).
2. Use your rental car to stop at the Blue Lagoon on the way to or from the airport. The Blue Lagoon is situated 20 minutes from the Reykjavik airport, but close to an hour from Reykjavik proper. To maximize your time in town, definitely stop in the lagoon on the way to or from the city (for directions, see their website). Opening hours are until 8pm, 9pm or midnight, depending on the time of year. Bonus points for the awesome feeling of a crazy steaming lagoon in the night hours – it’s surreal. (Photos don’t turn out well, though.)
3. Take a day to see Reykjavik itself. For one day, run around town by foot to take in the port, the sights, and the amazingly colourful buildings.
- Don’t miss the 871 Settlement museum, which has interactive exhibits about the history of Iceland, centered around a Viking longhouse they’ve dated back to 871.
- There’s a fish restaurant right across from the Bonus supermarket that makes a great fish soup. Tourists will recommend Seabaron near the port, but locals recommended Fish. (Seriously, that’s what it’s called). Just ask anyone for the Bonus grocery shop, then walk across the street to the tiny storefront with the fish sign hanging above it.
- The same Bonus supermarket is good for snacks and eats if you are going to be needing provisions for your car ride.
- On the weekend, check out the Kolaportid fleamarket.
- For the Northern Lights, check forecasts online before deciding whether to hop in your car and drive out to see them. If you do, be sure your phone is topped up and you have blankets and snacks in case your car breaks down (make sure you have an emergency number to call as well).
- Don’t miss the main Hallgrímskirkja church, looming up over the city. You can take the stairs to the top, too. Worthwhile.
4. Don’t go to bed early on a weekend. Reykjavik on a weekend night is…raucous. Locals partake in “the Rúntur” – what my friend Inga explained as a late-night bar crawl on and around the main drag, Laugavegur street. Residents drink at home with friends first, then head out at midnight or later to overtake the bars, ending around 5AM.
Tip: after the bar-hopping ends, locals will be found eating hot dogs on the street, most notably at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.
5. Visit the Golden Circle: Geysir, Gullfoss and Pingvellir. See a geyser in Geysir, gorgeous roaring waterfalls in Gullfoss, and the place where continents meet and clash with crumbling stones and green grass as far as the eye can see. Iceland’s magic scenery isn’t to be missed, but if you only have a weekend the best way to get a “best of” is to do the Golden Circle in a day. This is easily undertaken because the ring road makes it hard to get lost. Just be sure you head back to the city before it gets too dark, as lighting is almost non-existent on the roads once you leave the capital.
For more photos from Iceland, please see my Legal Nomads post, Instagramming Iceland.