Things to See & Do
If you are planning on seeing the Golden Circle, we recommend you rent a car. Another option is going on a tour.
Þingvellir National Park (or Thingvelling for better google searches in English): Þingvellir is beautiful and it will take about two hours to walk all of the main trail. The park is in a rift valley where you find the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Do you remember your geology class from college? Parking is about two dollars and you do have to pay for bathrooms. You can use credit cards for both.
Great Geysir: This is a quick and fun stop. Take a short walk to the Great Geysir and wait for it to erupt. We had to wait about 6 minutes in between eruptions. Everyone huddles around the geyser and waits with their cameras ready, so of course, you should too.
Gullfoss waterfall: The pictures of this place DO NOT do it justice. The waterfall is massive, beautiful, jaw dropping, cool and all the other good adjectives in the world. Spend about 30 minutes at this stop, taking in the view and taking pictures.
Kerid Crater: A volcanic crater in southern Iceland. It's the furthest site of the Golden circle but worth a visit. FYI... there are no bathrooms there!
Between late September to late March you have the best chances to witness this amazing and beautiful light show. It also means there is less daylight and much colder temperatures. It is so worth it. There are tours that help you "chase" the lights. If you have a car you can venture out of the city in search for them.
Make sure to buy tickets ahead of time. The Blue Lagoon is pricey and touristy but fun, rejuvenating and worth it. Enjoy the white mud face masks…because Iceland. Entrance fees start at around $58 and include entry, a silica mud mask, towel and a drink of your choice.
Free Walking Tour
During the tour, you’ll most likely see the Parliament building, Harpa, some cool statues, the oldest neighborhood and oldest high school in Reykjavik, the pond, City Hall, and some other things we are probably forgetting. The tour is free and they accept donations at the end. Reserve your spot ahead of time here.
Settlement Exhibition 871+/-2
Learn about Iceland’s history. If you like museums, do it. If you don’t like museums, skip this.
Reykjavik Food Walk Tour
The tour is fun and you will eat tons of different and delicious things. They like to keep the restaurants and foods a surprise so we will not ruin it for you. It is on the pricey side though; tickets are about $100/person. Book ahead of time here.
The famous plane crash site. It’s not a short walk from the parking lot to the beach so bring food and water with you. It ends up being a 4km walk one way, so about 45 minutes. The plane site is great and if you are lucky you will get to see it without anyone there.
Home to the largest organ in the world. Make sure you go to the top and enjoy the views.
If you get sea sick then do not go on a day if the ocean is rough. The companies will often take you out again the following day if you don’t see any whales the first try.
Window shop on Laugavegur street and try to find the perfect Icelandic wool sweater.
Where to Eat & Drink
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
They’re hot dogs. Iceland loves hot dogs. So just go do it.
Vinyl Café (vegan)
If you are into that sort of food you will love it.
Have brunch at Laundromat Café (yes, you can do your laundry here).
If you want a splurge dinner, this is the place. Reservations required well in advance.
We ran into this place by chance and it turned out to be one of our favorite meals. Amazing Nepalese food!
They have an amazing lamb soup. You can sit at the bar and order the lamb soup, comes with bread and have a beer for much cheaper and faster seating than waiting for a table.
Have the milk ice cream, not creamy if you want to eat all of it and not be full after three bites.
Bonus Grocery Stores
N1 Gas Stations
Stock up on snacks, simple meals for cooking in your cottage accommodations, and all of the Icelandic chocolate. Look for the yellow and black sign with the pink piggy.
For some cheaper eats, go to a gas station! There is an N1 in Reykjavik that has an amazing smoothie bar. Some N1 are better than others. Good luck to you.
Barhop and check out Kaldi Bar, Skuli Bar, Sæta Svinid, and Micro Bar; all really great.
Where to Stay
Stay anywhere you can find and afford. Iceland is expensive. Reykjavik and Iceland in general is expensive. If you can find lodging between the Harpa and the Hallgrimskirkja, then you can walk to most of the sites in downtown Reykjavik. Airbnb and Booking.com are good resources to help you find lodging.
Other Tips & Resources
Length of Stay
8 - 10 days, but round up to 14 days if you can so you can explore Reykjavik.
From Keflavik Airport you can take a cab or Gray Line bus to Reykjavik (buy bus tickets ahead of time for about $22/ person here). The bus ride is about 45 minutes and there’s free WiFi.
If you're driving the Golden Circle: there are car rentals available at the airport, but the more affordable option is renting in Reykjavik.
There are yellow public transit buses. Buy tickets on the Straeto app or pay cash.
Hreyfill bæjarleiðir is the closest thing to Uber. Download the app and call a cab.
Gas Stations and Pins
If you rent a car...many gas stations around the country are unmanned and you can only pay with a chip and pin card. At the N1 gas stations you can buy prepaid gas cards, so if you don’t have a chip and pin card get a few gas cards before you start. Bank of America Travel Rewards has a chip and pin credit card. You have to request the pin ahead of time so plan accordingly.
Car Rental Insurance
If you rent a car... Before you depart, check if any of your credit cards offer car rental insurance coverage. We ended up getting a small rock chip in the windshield of the rental car. It took some paperwork and patience but we were able to get reimbursed for the damage fees (which were around $1000!) with our Citibank American Airlines credit card. Make sure you use the same card to reserve and pay for the rental.
Another helpful tool to have is a WiFi hotspot (rent ahead of time here). Pick up and drop off is very convenient - you can chose to pick up the hotspot at a local N1 gas station and return it by mail, but there are other options available. Plans start at around $9/day for unlimited data.
If your phone is unlocked, you can buy a SIM card either in Reykjavik or at the airport for around $30.
In our opinion, Iceland is very pricey. Budget accordingly so you can fully enjoy the time that you have there. Going with a larger group and buying food at the grocery store can help cut down costs.
Drink the cold tap water; they pipe in the purest glacier water you’ll ever drink. We didn’t learn this until much later in our visit after spending a lot on bottled water for no reason.
What to Wear
Dress appropriately depending on the time of year. We were there in October and it was very chilly, windy and rainy most days. Having warm layers, both a rain shell jacket and pants and good hiking boots made the experience much more enjoyable.
When you go to the bath houses bring your swimsuit (obviously), a travel towel, some flip flops, your toiletries essentials like soap and deodorant and a plastic bag for your wet swimsuit. You can rent towels for about $5-6 if you prefer.
Vedur – keep track of Iceland’s quick weather changes.
112 Iceland – Icelandic Emergency Services app.
Aurora Forecast – see what your chances of catching the northern lights are.
Thingvellir National Park – offers audio guides and offline trail maps of the park.
XE Currency Converter – convert local currency to and from Icelandic Króna.
Waze – much better navigation than Google Maps in Iceland!
Appy Hour - for all the best deals.
Straeto - The yellow bus app. See time schedules and routes. You can buy bus tickets on the app as well.
Hreyfill bæjarleiðir - download the app and call a cab.
Hand Picked Iceland - recommendations on where to eat and what to do.
The Iceland Restaurant Guide - no need to explain!
The Reykjavik City Guide - for more to see and do.
If you need a good souvenir, go buy Icelandic chocolate bars at Bonus grocery store to bring back home for friends and family (and keep some for yourself). There are all sorts of crazy flavors.