Home of the vikings! Defined by its dramatic landscape with glaciers, hot springs, geysers, volcanoes & lava fields with beautifully protected National parks with most of the population residing in the capital, Reykjavik, which runs on geothermal power, there is so much to see & explore in this stunning land – a bucket list worthy trip!
Day 1: Fly in early AM. Grab rental car. Brunch. Perlan Museum. Hallgrimskirkja Church. Check-in to Airbnb. Check out Downtown area while dabbling in on Icelandic dishes.
Day 2: Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park, Geothermal bath at Laugarvatn Fontana Spa & Wellness Center, Geyser Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall. Early Dinner Stop at Friðheimar.
Day 3: Downtown shopping & dining. Northern Lights Night Boat Tour.
Day 4: Blue Lagoon.
Day 5: AM flight departure (off to London)!
Summer | Enjoy music outside during the brightest time of the year (June) at the Secret Solstice Festival. Join thousands of people in the center of the city at Reykjavik Pride (August).
Fall | Mix into the International Jazz scene at the prestigious Jazz Festival (first week of Sept). Partake in the Reykjavik Film Festival & Iceland Airwaves, jiving to new Icelandic & International music. Hit Iceland’s longest running festival, the Extreme Chill Festival which is full of electronic music & arts (Sept). Soak up the African Music, dance & culture at Far Fest Africa (Oct)!
Winter | Celebrate the end of winter at the magical & illuminating Winter Lights Festival while seeing the Oslo Christmas Tree light up (a decades worthy tradition) in December or check out the LGBT Rainbow Winter Pride Festival.
Spring | Indulge in Icelandic eats at the Food & Fun Festival (end Feb/early March). Grab the kids & partake in the fun at the Children’s Culture Festival which is solely dedicated to the kiddo’s (April)! Check out both the Vaka Folk Festival & Eve Fanfest + 2 of the top music festivals in Iceland: Aldrei For Eg Sudur & Tectronic.
Icelandair | Only option from Seattle & it was a great option!
Rental Car | Here we go back on the left-hand side of the road! First ask yourself, do you trust yourself driving here w/ a fluctuation in weather conditions? If so, go for it!
Tip: Boy are these ‘sedans’ tiny! If traveling with 4 people, upgrade to an SUV. We had to make 2 trips to our hotel to get our 4 suitcases over since we could only fit 2 in the trunk!
We also waited about 45 minutes for the shuttle from the airport to take us to the rental car, in which you stand in an overly crowded outdoor area with winds blazing through the crowds, maybe even rain! Make sure you have a big jacket to wear post-flight or you may be absolutely miserable! Check the monitors at the rental car place to ensure the Golden Circle is open. Unfortunately, we arrived, ready to go, and saw that the winds were so high, which can easily turn these little cars over, so the Golden Circle was shut down for the day. On that note, purchase extra car insurance because of such our harsh conditions & unpredictable weather. Drive super carefully or book a tour if you don’t trust getting behind the wheel yourself!
This is a hitchhiker’s paradise, so don’t be alarmed when you see them everywhere. IF you do choose to pick them up, they know the routine to help pitch in for gas – because that isn’t cheap here either (a common reoccurring theme you’ll experience here…)
Þingvellir National Park | Pronounced ‘Thingvellir,’ this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Vikings began Iceland’s AND the world’s first parliament in the 9th century. Iceland then declared independence from Denmark in 1944.
See the rift between 2 continents – the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates! See exactly where the earth descends where the plates move apart, about 2 cm annually.
Walk through the Almannagjá Fault.
The Plates Story | Way back when, ice melted from a glacier outside of the park, running with a river into Þingvallavatn Lake, then nearby Skjaldbreidur Volcano erupted, causing a lava blockage in the river which caused fire & ice to unite which ultimately resulted in Silfra, a gorgeous fissure with visibility reaching over 100 meters.
Tip: If you’re travelling the Golden Circle clockwise from Reykjavik, this will be your first stop!
Continue on & you’ll arrive at the Geysir geothermal area, where 2 geysir’s bubble, Great Geysir & Strokkur Geysir, within the Haukadalur Valley. Great Geysir, AKA ‘Geysir,’ has been active for 10,000+ years!
Tip: They go off about every 10 min, just have to be patient AND have the camera ready to GO!
A short drive after lies the beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall, one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. Watch as water thunders down, falling 105 ft, and admire the pretty rainbows that shoot from the spray from a number of viewpoints above.
Tip: There are steps down to a lower viewpoint of Gullfoss that are open during winter also, but be careful, they can become quite icy! I’m all about wearing snow boots here!
This is a good pit stop to use a restroom at the visitor center, but keep in mind, it does cost $! Something foreign to us residing in North America, but they’re nice & clean – go for it!
You can also grab a basic cup of joe from one of those plastic carafes, for a mere $5… Learned our lesson real quick – NOTHING is cheap here!
Laugarvatn Fontana Spa
A hidden gem on the Golden Circle, located between Þingvellir & the Geysirs! Warm up, relax & unwind dipping into their geothermal baths or steam room’s, truly soaking up the beautiful outdoors, in this gorgeous outdoor spa setting. Get into the Icelandic spirit & take a dip in the freezing Laugarvatn Lake while you’re at it!
Northern Lights Laugarvatn Fontana Tour: See the Northern lights while soaking up your bath time at night!
Enjoy a bite to eat at their bakery or Kitchen & Cafe after!
Try pot baked lava bread, where they bake the bread in the ground, dig it up & eat it! Take a bread tour, $12: Geothermal Bakery Tour
Location | Hverabraut, 840 Laugarvatn
Tip: If you want to enjoy a geothermal bath experience, but get overwhelmed by big crowds like you’d experience at Blue Lagoon, try this one! There were maybe 5 people in the water when we arrived, but has about 20 people at most! It’s less costly that the Blue Lagoon, at $34.
Note, the sand by the lake is black sand, so just know, underneath it’s heated by natural steam, so the ground is SUPER hot! Wear your flip-flops!
Where to Eat on the Golden Circle
All things tomato! Eat amongst the veins! Surrounded by tomato plants reaching the ceilings, grab a true farm to table lunch of tomato soup, home-baked bread & the best bloody mary you can have from the greenhouse bar, dining along the plants in a greenhouse. The tomatoes are all grown on-site, pollinated by imported Dutch bees in this greenhouse & powered by the earth’s internal heat.
Reservations | Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hours | 12PM-4PM – Time your drive! It’s ONLY OPEN FOR LUNCH! You don’t want to miss this good & wholesome food experience!
Tip: Book a reservation online at least a month in advance! This was a top highlight to our Golden Circle adventure – and here, I don’t even like tomatoes! I loved this restaurant! Drop by The Little Tomato Shop on your way our & pickup delicious souvenirs to take home! See the Icelandic horses that may be wandering out in the stable for viewing on your way in/out from the parking lot.
Golden Circle Tips
Pack a map! GPS is great to start with, but you lose service a lot along the way!
Self-Driving vs Tours: You can spend as much/little time at each stop which you’ll spend longer at some vs others with several photo opp’s. You can take your time. Of course, if you’re worried about getting lost (it really is hard to do) or dealing with driving conditions, Book a Tour.
Pull the car over, scrounge up a couple coins & spend some time feeding & petting the beautiful Icelandic horses.
Things to Do
Reykjavík boasts endless opportunities for fun & adventure, so… Where to start!?
Search for the big glass dome & you’ll have found the Epcot of Iceland, boasting a -5F, 300ft long indoor ice cave to explore, high-tech wonders of Iceland exhibits galore, & a rotating observation deck up top to stand & walk around on for a stunning panoramic view of Reykjavík!
Hours | Daily 9AM-10PM
Tips: To walk the chilly cave, a jacket & gloves are provided by the museum. No need to EXTRA pack for that.
There is a free shuttle, clearly marked the Wonders of Iceland, picking up folks outside of the Harpa Concert Hall, downtown on the waterfront, departing every 30 min, 10AM-7:30PM & departing Perlan at a quarter past & quarter to the hour with the last shuttle at 7:45PM. It’s free to all guests who have pre-booked a museum ticket!
Super family-friendly & interactive, so bring the kid’s! You’ll be treated with a family discount too!
There’s a cafe here to grab a bite to eat!
Designed in 1937 & constructed in 1945, this stunning active church, where mesmerizing minimalism meets modern religious grandeur, is now Reykjavík’s main landmark & the largest Church in its country. The towering iconic structure can be seen from almost anywhere in the city – it’s hard to miss! What stands out the most besides the beautiful architecture, is the 45′ pipe organ system, weighing 25 tons, inside that’s still active to do this day.
Hours| Vary season to season.
Services| Closed Sunday’s 10:30AM-12:15PM for Mass at 11AM.
Location | Hallgrimstorgi 1, Reykjavik 101, Iceland
Tip: Go to the very top for an incredible city view! I didn’t know about this until after leaving since there weren’t any signs or anyone directing us that way 🙁
You come to Iceland for THIS, am I right!? Well, in order to see the Iceland Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, you’ll need three key parts…
Clear Skies + Complete Darkness + Aurora Activity…
Doesn’t seem like that’s asking much, but you have to know when the best time is to go to get ALL three ingredients to make the dancing magic come alive in the sky!
Best Time to See Northern Lights |September – April
Aurora Forecast – Check this first!
Northern Lights Tours: By bus, boat, or jeep.
Tips: If you take a boat cruise tour, hold on for dear life! Handfuls of people were getting sea sick, folks were crying, felt like the boat ride from he**! Yes, we saw the sky light up which was amazing & exactly what we went out for, but the boat ride felt about 2 hrs too long & people were absolutely MISERABLE! Talk about feeling herded, standing shoulder to shoulder… This led us to fulfilling ourselves at the little bar on-board. Why not!? I would definitely of done a jeep experience if I could do it over again, but it’s all about getting out into the complete darkness which we were… So, in conclusion, if you get sea sick easily, go another route to see the lights!
If you noticed, they ‘hook you up’ with quite the snazzy jumpsuit to sport on-board. You may look like the abominable snowman, but sooo worth the warmth!!!
AND Even if it’s “Northern Light Season,” you still may not witness the magic… If rain hits in the evening, you’re out of luck, simple as that.
The most notorious geothermal spa in all of Iceland & now, one of the top 25 Wonders of the World & awarded one of the top 10 spas in the world! Touristy? Of course, but you HAVE TO experience it! I love the 30 min drive to it from the city which looks like a complete martian land, full of lava rock & green moss for miles! With it being so chilly here, mainly due to the wind, dipping in a 102F lagoon is just what you’ll want! The hot mineral-rich water is full of silica which does absolute wonders for your skin. Que the relaxation vibes….
Hours | 8AM-9PM, open year round!
Entrance Fee|Around 6990 ISK/$56USD depending on what package your purchase & kids 2-13 yrs old are FREE!
Book Online weeks in advance!
Blue Lagoon Tours – Although, if you have a rental car, just zip on over on your own!
Tips: Pack flip-flops, don’t chance your phone in the lagoon for photos or pack waterproof cell case, take a shower here (doesn’t stink like sulfur like the dwellings in the city do), enjoy your complimentary drink at the swim up bar & get as many free mud masks at you can! 😀
There’s NO TIME LIMIT, so SOAK IT UP! I recommend about a 2 hour stay.. Then you will be a super moisturized, yet pruned up looking raisin if any longer! :p
Relaxing in the cave is great for listening to a nice little audio guide to learn more about the Blue Lagoon.
If you suffer from psoriasis, they’ve been providing natural skin treatments since the early 90’s which are highly recommended to continue at home. Likely why Kim Kardashian visited here – just saying….!
Other Things To Do
Sun Voyager Statue: A steel ship sculpture of a ship along the old harbor waterfront.
Tip: Check it out at sunset. The colorful colors in the sky behind it over the water… Stunning!
Boat Tours: See puffins, glaciers, etc! Private boat tours or smaller.
Dog Sledding: Transfer services offered from Reykjavik!
Glacier Hiking: ICEland viewing at its best! Glaciers, waterfalls, black sand beaches, volcano views, etc!
Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach: The only geothermal beach in Iceland, w/ soft tan sand & no waves! A great place to soak up some sun & swim!
River Rafting & Beer-Tasting down the Hvita River with craft beers after rafting.
Silfra Snorkeling Tour 4-hour tour, snorkeling the unique continental rift.
CityWalk’s Free Walking Tour
Kolaportid Flea Market: Taste some fermented shark, check out crafts, shoes, etc! A lot of quirky goods here! Opened weekends, 11AM-5PM, right across the street from the hot dog stand!
Einar Johnsson Sculpture Park: Want to see some mind-boggling statues like you’ve never seen before? You’ll see some on the streets Downtown, but the actual park is a 2 minute walk from the Hallgrimskirkja Church. It has a beautiful garden to grab lunch in after too.
Tip: I could recommend it, but I haven’t been there, nor would I want to, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was researching things to do while I was there & saw Hið Islenzka Reðasafn… A penis museum!!! YES, 215 penises & penile parts from all the land & sea mammals that can be found in Iceland including… A human penis! No…. 😡 It’s a very popular museum too! Agh! If you want to raise an eyebrow or two, go for it!
Explore the Food Scene
ALL organic, non-GMO culinary surprises await you here – yesss! People eat late too… The crowds come out after nightfall… Talking 1AM & all the food outlets are PACKED!
Known for their fermented foods, have a try at it with fermented lamb soup, puffin (sad I know), whale, or shark! There’s even horse… Que heebie-jeebies.. No thank you! They’re also known for their fresh seafood (fish & chips were INCREDIBLE). A popular dish is fish gratin with cheese & potatoes.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur Hot Dog Stand: THE famous hot dog stand of Reykjavik, located in a tiny little food truck across from the entrance to the Flea Market.
Tip: The line gets LONG, so try it out earlier or later! Open until 1AM week days & 4AM weekends! Perfect for a late night snack after hitting the bars around town! 😉
Cafe recommendations: There are dozens of cafes & boy do they have GOOD coffee! No Starbucks here, sorry folks! 😉
- Reykjavik Roasters: Cappuccino’s, chocolate croissants, danishes.
- Sandholt: Order a pistachio palmier & a cappuccino to-go or sit down in the cafe for breakfast with pecan bacon pancakes or sunny side up eggs w/ gravlax.
- Kaffitár: Like the Starbucks of Reykjavik, there’s 8 cafe spots around town!
Stofan: Limited coffee selection, but the name means ‘living room’, so the place is decked out to spend in for hours of comfort!
- Kaffi Mokka: The oldest & possibly tiniest coffee shop in Reykjavik!
Dairy products are superior to anywhere else around the world. Their infamous yogurt, called Skyr is a must-try! It’s the healthiest food in all of Iceland! It’s a lot like Greek yogurt, but a bit thicker… Vanilla bean was my fav. Now even Costco carries it!
Then there’s cheese & ice cream which is some of the best tasting in the world!!!!
Visit the oldest cheese shop at Ostabudin. You can’t miss it in the heart of the city center. You’ll find big blocks of cheese, including the most popular, Gouda. They also have a variety of Icelandic jams that are great to grab for souvenirs. They pair really well w/ the cheeses.
Ice cream is a staple here, just like coffee is to us Seattle-lites! Doesn’t sound as appealing when its especially chilly, but.. You can’t walk a street without running into an ice-cream shop, so go for it! Ísbúð Vesturbæjar, Kjörís og Pylsur, Paradís, Eldur & Ís, & the most popular, Valdís, are to name a few.
Tip: If you have a rental car & are a big ice cream lover, make the hour trek out to Erpsstaðir Creamery. It’s a cute farm, offering homemade ice cream from the cows there which you may be able to see through their viewing window of the farm. You’ll likely be accompanied by their barn cat who will sit at the table with you, literally, on the bench, while you’re indulging too!
They’re known for rye bread! Some of the best places to try it other than at the Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Bath on the Golden Circle include: Bakarí Sandholt, Svarta Kaffið, Café Loki, Bergsson Mathús, Brauð & Co, The Coocoo’s Nest, Icelandic Street Food, Matur og Drykkur, Austur India Fjelagid, Grillmarkaðurinn, Sümac, Fish & More, Reykjavík Roasters, Seabaron, & Höfnin.
Restaurants & Bars
Bar 11: The rock hangout w/ live music.
Bjarni Fel Bar: All major sports events shown live on multiple flat screens. Serves cold beer & burgers.
Boston Reykjavik: Outdoor patio area, DJ, GOOD drinks, totally casual
Bryggjan Brewery & Bistro: Iceland’s first microbrewery & bistro w/ wine cabinet.
Cafe Rosenberg: Most popular live music venue.
Dill Restaurant: Simply fresh New Nordic Cuisine. Great selection of organic wines!
Grillmarkaðurinn: Really nice setting for a fancier night out! Homemade sourdough served w/ whipped butter & lava salt is amazing! Reservations highly recommended!
Hressingarskalinn: Downtown bistro-style rest & bar, w/ live music. Popular during day.
Hlemmur Matholl: Gourmet, upscale food court located in city’s main bus station. 9 rest & bars. Scandinavian dishes, pastry, ice cream parlor, Vietnamese street food, tacos, coffee, cakes, cocktails, slow-cooked fast food & steaks + burgers from the grill. Everybody can find something w/ variety!
Matarkjallarinn – Foodcellar: Situated in a 160 year old building in the center of Reykjavík. Icelandic brasserie style of food w/ the Food Cellar transforming into a cocktail club w/ live music on the weekends.
Pablo Discobar: A Columbia themed bar at the top of a three story building, voted the best cocktail bar in Iceland! Corny? Yes… But… Very cool! Below it, on the middle floor, sits its restaurant Compadre Burro. Nice tapas & steaks to feast on !
Sæta Svínið: Gastropub – doubles as a restaurant & bar + offers Icelandic dishes to dabble in like flatkaka, smoked puffin (our guys dabbled in 😡 ), minke whale, horse carpaccio, pig’s ear, etc. Great affordable stop for the courageous foodies out there!
The Dubliner: Longest established pub in all of Iceland!
The English Pub: Finest English pub in all of Iceland in the North end! Live music.
Tip: Hit Happy Hour daily if possible, just like the locals do to save $$! Easily search Happy Hours with this App.
Brennivin is Iceland’s signature alcoholic drink! Give it a swig!
If you want to enjoy 1 solid meal out a day, shoot for lunch over dinner. Do not blow your entire travel budget on dining out breakfast, lunch & dinner daily… We had our coffee & protein/yogurt in the AM, dined out for lunch, then would hit a Happy Hour – although cheaper, it still adds up fast!
Bao Bun: Little food truck located in the Square by Skúli Craft Bar. Serves heavenly, soft buns w/ 5 diff condiments to choose from. Fries are to die for! Icelandic cod rec!
Bergson Mathús: Menu changes daily, focus is honest, simple, good food. Vegetarian lasagna, fish & meat. Located next to Parliament & City Hall.
Bike Cave: Vegan burgers.
Dirty Burgers & Ribs: Fast food, buffalo wings, pulled pork, burgers, ribs. Fair prices, casual.
Ein Með Ollu: Best hot dog stand in central Reykjavik!
Grandi Mathöll: Old refurbished fish factory in the Downtown Grandi Harbor District transformed gourmet fast food. Tacos, banh mi, soup, upscale dishes, etc. Buzzing w/ people!
Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar (Burger Joint): Tiny joint, focused on grilled meat & simple toppings, soft buns, crispy french fries, & béarnaise sauce on side for dipping.
Icelandic Street Food: Their fast food including traditional Icelandic dishes, fish stew, lamb/falafel wraps & meat soup + classic Icelandic sweets.
Kumiko: Japanese tea-house/cake shop in Grandi area, near The Marshall House & Þúfa outdoor art-piece. Serves coffee, tea, cakes, drinks, lunch & brunch. Sig dish: “Power Rice Salad” w/ oven veggies & dressing.
Mathöll Granda: In Grandi area, filled with plenty of cheaper dining options: “Fusion Fish & Chips” – salmon focused, “upper-class street food” – Icelandic lamb, Korean & Vietnamese cuisine. The pop-up truck is a “guest venue”, where different chefs cook up something delicious. Something for everyone!
Núðluskálin: Noodle joint in Skólavörðustígur serving excellent food, quick service, fair prices. All bases for dishes are vegan, can also inc meat as toppings. “Noodles in a Fen” really are something else!
Ramen Momo: Little shop w/ hearty soups, homemade noodles & yummy dumplings.
Snaps Bistro (Brunch): Bloody Mary’s, more French than Icelandic: Moules frites, eggs benedict, & croquet madams.
Liquor | Be very aware and if not, you’ll find out after your first purchase of a $16 beer or $25 cocktail, that liquor is extremely expensive here! Any liquor stronger than 2.25% isn’t sold in grocery stores, so map out Vinbudin – a state-owned liquor store, where you HAVE TO purchase booze from. There’s 13 in the area, so you should have no problem walking to one nearby! Even stock up on duty-free when you land at the airport if you can! You won’t regret it!
Supermarket | Hit Kronan, their big budget-friendly supermarket, for some quick bites for in-between meals since it’s SO expensive to eat here! Talking around $30/plate, even for fast food!
Tip: Avoid 10/11, the most expensive grocery store in all of Iceland with prices 50% higher than elsewhere! If you do have to make a quick stop, just drop by in the day because unbelievably, they hike up their prices at night. Who knew a grocery store would do such a thing!? Forewarned!
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! We absolutely loved our stay here in this spacious, stylish & well situated in-town Airbnb! Two of us couples stayed w/ plenty enough room for us all – bigger than we expected! We could easily walk a couple minutes to town or the harbor to eat & jump on a boat to see the Northern Lights, then return to relax & cozy up in the super comfortable living & dining room space. The bedding was ultra comfy, the parking spot was really nice, everything worked, it had nice decorative touches throughout & it was really open with a lot of nice natural lighting. The host was so kind to let us check our things in early since a storm came through & threw off our original plans. It was perfect — despite the sulfur smell caused from any water turned on. The geothermal heating isn’t something we’re used to, but many are use to it here. Definitely would recommend this place & if we return, we surely will book here again!
Tips: Review the map carefully & find a place that is in the core city center so you can walk easily, everywhere. They range $27-$130/night (USD). Airbnb Listings If you’ve never used Airbnb, you can get $40 off your first booking using this discount code.
Hotel rooms are super tiny here! Rent an Airbnb where you can come back & relax at in-between your excursions as the town life really starts late at night! You’ll want to come back, change, cozy up, & enjoy a glass of vino/beer (great way to start since it’s so pricey out & about) in a bigger non-bed only, can barely walk around in kind of room. I could barely open my suitcase in the hotel room, it was THAT small! 4 of us tried to visit each other in one and were all pinned up against opposing walls. Bulky clothing to unpack, teeny-tiny bathrooms.. No thank you!
For me, rotten egg water is not for me when brushing my teeth, showering or washing my dishes. Purchase water bottles to use when brushing your teeth, run the shower for a good 5 min before hopping in, shower quickly & plan on leaving for a couple of hours to air out the sulfur smell that will take over the place in a quick matter of time. I showered at the geothermal bath facilities which didn’t have any sulfur smell. Again, you get that smell a lot here, think it’s expected, just not something we’re used to – heads up if you aren’t!
If for some reason your place doesn’t come with Wifi, don’t sweat it! Free public Wifi is available almost everywhere in Reykjavík, including all the shops, cafés, big hotels, & restaurants!
There is no shortage of adventure to be had in Iceland with its stunning scenery & lively tourism scene! A once in a lifetime experience, meant to be had…. Bucket list…. CHECK! Onward & out!