The beautifully wild country of Iceland is the perfect place to spend a long weekend in, regardless of the season. The landscapes are mind-blowing with stunning waterfalls and geo-thermal pools and there are so many unique things to see and do! For these reasons as well as due to social media, in the last few years Iceland has become one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. Not only this but it is very easy to plan a trip to Iceland, especially with airlines offering great layover deals and packages here. Read on to find out all the best tips and things you can get upto when you have a long weekend in Iceland – the land of fire and ice!
When should you visit Iceland?
First off: when should you visit Iceland? The great news is that Iceland makes a perfect long weekend trip at any time of the year, whether you choose to visit in spring, summer, winter or autumn!
Many people choose to visit in the winter with the hopes of seeing the mystical Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). This is obviously the coldest time to visit and days are much shorter. Therefore bear this is mind as you won’t be able to fit in as much sightseeing as it is often dark around 4pm in the winter.
Summer however is the peak tourist season in Iceland. Whilst you won’t be able to see the Northern Lights during the summer, you’ll be compensated with the Midnight Sun – almost 24 hours of daylight and much warmer temperatures! Although bear in mind flights, accommodation and car rentals are significantly higher during this time.
Spring and autumn are also ideal times to visit. September until March is the peak viewing season for The Northern Lights so many people choose to come during spring (February and March) or autumn (September and October) so they still have a good chance of spotting The Northern Lights. If you want to see the Northern Lights on your trip to Iceland, this is probably the best time to visit as it is not as cold as the winter and there is more daylight than the 5 hours daylight Iceland gets in the winter so you’ll be able to see a lot of things in the day too. You will still definitely need warm clothes and a raincoat during spring or autumn!
So as you can see, any season is an ideal time to visit Iceland! It just depends on you, which season you would like to see, and if you would like to save money by visiting during the off-peak season!
Is a long weekend enough time to spend in Iceland?
Despite looking isolated and far away on the map, Iceland is surprisingly close to many Northern European countries. It is just a 3 hour flight from London to Reykjavik, and even a flight from New York to Reykjavik is less than 6 hours!
If you visit Iceland for 3 or 4 days on a long weekend you can get to see a lot of the country – distances are fairly small and many of the main tourist attractions can easily be visited. Whilst you definitely can’t see everything in Iceland on a long weekend, and the Ring Road itinerary takes about a week/10 days, as Iceland is a very expensive country many people choose to come for a long weekend in order to keep within a reasonable budget. A long weekend in Iceland can be the perfect solution if you really want to visit Iceland but you can’t afford to spend a week or more there. You can still see a lot in a short amount of time, plus you are saving a substantial amount of money!
Iceland Air and Wow both regularly offer short stopover deals for a really great price, making it even easier to spend a long weekend in Iceland!
Of course with only 3 or 4 days in Iceland you’ll need to plan ahead what you want to see and do. Have your accommodation booked, and decide whether you want to do a self-drive of Iceland or if you would rather do tours.
Should I self drive or do tours in Iceland?
You can either choose to explore Iceland by going on tours or you can rent a car and drive around yourself to see the sights. It is completely up to you. Whether you choose to do tours or self drive, either way you’ll still get to see lots of things.
If you would rather someone else do the planning and driving, pick tours. If you prefer independence, flexibility and don’t like to be near the crowds, driving around Iceland will probably suit you better. The roads are quite good. If you do rent a car it is preferable but not essential to get a 4×4. Click here to view car rentals from Keflavik airport.
Do know that most of the touristic places in the itinerary below are about 2 or 3 hours drive from Reykjavik.
Tours in Iceland
There are so many tours you can choose from. Just be sure to know what are the things you really want to see. Bear in mind that with some tours such as Northern Lights tours or puffin/whale watching tours, sightings are never guaranteed as it is controlled by nature. Therefore if there is one of these tours that you really want to do (probably Northern Lights for most people) make sure to do it on the first day. This way, if you don’t get to see it you will hopefully be able to see it on the second day as most companies will let you do the tour again for free if you don’t see it. Therefore make sure if there are any of those tours that you really want to do, that you do them at the beginning of your trip!
Even if you’re in Iceland in the winter, the sky is clear, it hasn’t rained and the conditions seem perfect you are still not guaranteed to see the Northern Lights. We spent 3 nights in Iceland in February and weren’t lucky to see them at all. If you really want to see the Northern Lights it is best to organise it via a tour. Tours often start around 8 or 9pm and you can arrange them for any night (so best to do it for your first night), although tours don’t always depart.
You see The Northern Lights are unpredictable and can appear any time after dark. It’s nature after all. Therefore by booking on a tour you have the best chances of seeing them as all night there will be someone analysing and waiting for the Northern Lights to appear. When they do, your tour operator will ring you and take you to see them. So if there are no Northern Lights that night, you aren’t sat up all night waiting for them to appear. This way you can still have a good amount of rest and you’ll only leave on the tour if there’s a very high chance of seeing them and you won’t be standing out in the cold for hours! If you don’t see them on your first night, and there is a high probability you won’t, they will just add you onto the tour for the following evening in the hopes you will see them then.
WHAT TO DO ON A LONG WEEKEND IN ICELAND
A good 3 day itinerary of Iceland would look something like this:
Day 1: Golden Circle (Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir and Strokkur geysers, Thingvellir) + snowmobiling (optional)
Day 2: Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfurárfoss and Skógafoss, Reynisfjara Beach, Vik
Day 3: Reykjavik and Blue Lagoon
Of course it totally depends on your flight times and if you will be doing tours or self-driving. You can alter the itinerary to suit you, even extending it to 4 days if that’s how long you’ll be here for. I am just giving you a template to work with so you know what are the best things to do in a long weekend in Iceland.
Iceland is full of magnificent waterfalls but if you only have a long weekend here there’s only so much you can see. Luckily The Golden Circle has some of Iceland’s best attractions and can be done on a day trip from Reykjavik.
The Golden Circle is a tourist route that involves three main sights: Gullfoss waterfall, Geyser and Haukadalur Thermal area, and Thingvellir National Park.
Gullfoss Waterfall is extremely impressive, as is the geyser and Haukadalur thermal area. Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice because despite it’s cool temperatures the land underneath is full of geothermal activity and fire. Geysers, hot spring and volcanoes dot the island. You can see Geysir and Strokkur here – the two biggest geysers. Strokkur erupts extremely frequently (around every 5-10 minutes) and reaches a height of 20 metres! Geysir on the other hand very rarely erupts (every few years perhaps). But when it does it reaches a height of 70 metres!!
If you need an adrenaline kick how about trying your hand at snowmobiling in Iceland? We managed to tag it onto our Golden Circle day trip. You can go snowmobiling on Iceland’s second largest glacier, go in ice caves, pop into a secret lagoon or go snowmobiling to see the Northern Lights! They have lots of different tours available, and even though I am not an adrenaline junkie I had an amazing time! Click here to check out all their tours.
Head to Yik, stopping off on the way at the stunning waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfurárfoss and Skógafoss.
Shortly before you get to Yik turn off at Reynisfjara Beach. The black sand beach is beautiful to walk along and is flanked with impressive basalt columns.
It’s a shame that many tourists who come to Iceland don’t take time to explore Reykjavik. They are so eager to get out and explore all the stunning landscapes, waterfalls, fjords and geothermal activity that Iceland has to offer (understandably!) that they fail to explore the capital city! Reykjavik is a lovely charming city (although it feels more like a small town) and definitely deserves at least half a day for you to explore the sights. Stroll along the main street Laugavegur and enjoy some fish at the harbour!
Also known as the Church of Hallgrimur, this is a very unique and impressive church in the centre of Reykjavik! It is one of the tallest structures in the country with the steeple an impressive 73 metres tall, so make sure to take the elevator to the top to get the best view of the city. From here you can see all the beautiful coloured houses and the mountains in the background, it is so beautiful!
The price to go up to the steeple of Church of Hallgrimur ISK 1000 (£5.70) and opening hours are 9-5 (last entry at 4.30pm).
Eat dinner at a revolving restaurant!
When in Reykjavik you must eat dinner one night at Perlan! Perlan restaurant is located in a futuristic looking building with a revolving glass dome!! The restaurant slowly but continuously revolves 360 degrees which is what makes it so unique! It also means the landscape outside you is constantly changing and you’ll never get bored of the fantastic views! There is also a cocktail bar here and the restaurant specialises in fine dining. You will need transport to get here as it is located in a park near to Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach. Click here to visit Perlan website and book a table.
Keep in mind Iceland, as with all Scandinavian countries is very expensive. Eating out will set you back. I did notice though, that whether I ate in a posh restaurant or a basic restaurant, the prices weren’t too different. This is why I am recommending to visit Perlan as the food is brilliant and it is not that much more expensive that other restaurants in Reykjavik.
Visit the Blue Lagoon on your final day en route back to the airport.
I recommend visiting The Blue Lagoon on your last day for 2 reasons. 1: If you get your hair wet here it becomes extremely dry, feels horrible and is hard to comb. It will take a few washes to feel normal again. And 2: The Blue Lagoon is located near Keflavik airport so it makes sense to visit on your way back to the airport. Reykjavik is 50km away from Keflavik Airport, with the Blue Lagoon being a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik so you want to avoid going back on yourself.
The Blue Lagoon is an incredible milky-turquoise colour and is the ultimate Iceland spa experience. It is a bucket list place to visit for many travellers, but entrance is very expensive. It’s also one of those places you know you have to visit but it probably won’t live up to the hype. Regardless I still think it is a must do in Iceland! It is an awesome experience even though you definitely won’t have the Blue Lagoon to yourself (although if you come earlier you have a better chance of it being quieter).
Remember to bring a towel as otherwise you will be charged for one.
You must book tickets beforehand. Click here to view the price packages. Note the prices vary according to the time of day you visit.
Tips for visiting Iceland:
Card is accepted literally everywhere in Iceland so if your card doesn’t charge for foreign transactions then you’ll be sorted! Many travellers to Iceland don’t take out any cash, however some still prefer to take out a little bit of cash just incase.
What to eat in Iceland
Whilst you wouldn’t think it, hotdogs (‘pylsur‘) are a must eat when in Iceland! There are hot dog stands everywhere and they are simply delicious! They are a mix of beef and lamb with a smoky flavour and lots of ketchup and mustard and fried onions ontop.
Food in Iceland and the whole of Scandinavia is very pricey and so the hotdogs make a more economical lunch option and are a firm favourite with both locals and tourists!
A lot of fish and meat is eaten in Iceland. Lamb and salmon are very common here which are so fresh and taste delicious. However you can sometimes even see some quite strange local delicacies such as puffin and fermented shark on the menu :(.
Where to stay in Iceland
If doing tours:
If you are only going to be in Iceland for a long weekend and you plan to do tours as opposed to driving around yourself, you should definitely make sure you stay in downtown Reykjavik. This will not only make it easier for arranging tour pick ups, but it can get pretty cold and windy in Iceland so if you are as close to the tourist sights and restaurants in Reykjavik as possible it will make your trip a lot more pleasant, particularly if you’ll be here during winter.
The taxis are expensive here so it is worth it to do a little research and check the location of any hotel on the map before you book. You’ll definitely appreciate spending a little bit more to have a really centrally located hotel when you get here!
Whilst Reykjavik is quite small, the city is quite spread out and some of the hotels are extremely remote without shuttle buses to the centre, which is why it is important to book somewhere central!
*Money saving tip*
Alternatively instead of booking a hotel you can book an apartment. This should save you some money as eating out in Iceland is expensive! You’ll be able to cook meals and prepare food for your day trips, thus saving a significant amount of money.
If self driving:
If you are planning to self drive around Iceland it will probably make sense to plan your itinerary first and then book your accommodation, to avoid too much driving or going back on yourself. For example if you are in Iceland for a long weekend you may want to stay one night in Yik and then the rest of the nights in Reykjavik.
Alternatively you could book an RV/camper van and then you don’t need to worry about accommodation!
What to pack for Iceland
Even if you visit during the warmer months it can still get cool in Iceland! Also it can get very, very windy so make sure you have enough layers! It can often rain in autumn, winter and spring so make sure to bring a rainproof jacket!
You’ll also want trainers/good walking shoes.
How to get from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik and vice versa?
Despite Reykjavik being 50km from Keflavik Airport, if you don’t have a car it is still very easy to get between the two. The companies Gray Line and Flybus operate a coach shuttle bus and can pick you up and drop you off from your hotel in Reykjavik. They can even drop you off at The Blue Lagoon if you wish.
Taxis are very expensive, so I do not recommend using them.
If you are looking for more ideas for short breaks in Europe click here.
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