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How to Plan the Perfect Long Weekend in Iceland
Learn tips for making the most of a stopover or quick visit to Iceland.
Discover local gems, wild landscapes and can't-miss attractions on a trip to remember.(Getty Images)
Iceland is a hot place to visit right now, and it’s not just because of its smoky volcanoes and otherworldly geothermal pools. A variety of quick, nonstop flight routes from the U.S. have made the country more accessible than ever, and stopover options are helping Iceland earn a top spot on many travelers' vacation itineraries.
The best way to get a taste of Iceland in a short amount of time is to base yourself in Reykjavik and split your time between the city and some of the nearby regions to explore natural wonders and fascinating landscapes. In a few days, you can sample the country's impressive culture, cuisine and awe-inspiring landscapes. So, if you're ready to experience the Nordic island nation's beautiful scenery and incredible, must-see attractions, here are a few tips and recommendations for planning the perfect long weekend in Iceland.
If you arrive before 5 p.m., your first stop should be a trip to the iconic Blue Lagoon. (If you arrive later in the evening, plan to visit the lagoon before your flight when you depart.) Located about 20 minutes from Keflavík International Airport, the Blue Lagoon is Iceland's most popular attraction. Its geothermal pool with milky blue water sits surrounded by black volcanic rocks. You can swim in the lagoon, soak in a sauna, get a massage or silica mud mask, dine in the restaurant and drink at the swim-up bar, among other activities. Just make sure to book tickets and transport before you arrive.
After checking out the lagoon, head into Reykjavik to check in to your accommodations. There are a handful of hotels and hostels downtown and around the harbor and Airbnb options have become increasingly popular here. Depending on the time of year, it will get dark very early – or it will stay bright all day long. Regardless, Reykjavik's nightlife is buzzing year-round, so if you're a night owl, you can head out on the town and stay out until the wee hours of the following morning.
Devote a day to experiencing the best of Reykjavik, the country's vibrant capital and most populous city. The downtown area is easy to explore by foot, with most attractions clustered near the harbor and along Laugavegur, the main shopping and dining thoroughfare.
One of the most visited sites is Hallgrímskirkja, the expressionist stone church that dominates the skyline. Head to the top of the main tower for a picturesque view of Reykjavik's colorful houses and rooftops, the harbor and Esja mountain range in the distance. Other top attractions include the Harpa, a stunning prismatic waterfront opera house, the Old Harbour with its fishing boats and whale-watching tours and the National Museum of Iceland, where you can dive into the country's Viking heritage.
It won't take long to notice Iceland's quirkier side during your visit. Embrace the city's offbeat charms, and make a visit to attractions such as the Icelandic Phallological Museum, the bars dedicated to Chuck Norris and "The Big Lebowski" or the Icelandic Elf School.
Iceland's true allure lies in its incredible natural beauty, and the best way to experience the best of the country is to spend at least a day exploring its vast landscapes. You can join an organized tour, such as those from reputable outfitters Reykjavik Excursions or Gray Line Iceland, or rent a car explore on your own.
The most popular loop for daytrippers from Reykjavik is the Golden Circle tour. This circuit includes some of Iceland's most visited attractions: Thingvellir National Park, where you can see the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian plates; the Strokkur geyser and Gullfoss (or Golden Falls), two enormous waterfalls.
Two other popular daytrips include a journey along Iceland's South Coast and a day exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to the north and west of Reykjavik. The South Coast is a heavy hitter when it comes to big attractions. You'll see impressive waterfalls like Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, black-sand beaches and the picturesque village of Vik. Snaefellsnes is wild and remote with small fishing villages and windswept coastlines and the frequently photographed Kirkjufell mountain.
If you have an extra day to spare in Iceland, it's an ideal time to explore anything in Reykjavik that you didn't have a chance to see, or take a quick excursion from the city, like a whale-watching cruise. If you didn't make it to the Blue Lagoon on arrival, take a dip here before your flight.
About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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