Iceland is vast, cold and fascinating. If you are taking a long weekend there, it can easily feel like you're not making the most of all that the incredible island has to offer. Now that Iceland's borders have reopened following lockdown with UK visitors welcome and plenty of COVID-19 checks in place, we have put together a four-day plan to make the most of your trip. Whether you are an adventure seeker or want a laid back weekend of lagoons and lunches, here's how you can plan out your once in a lifetime trip...
Things to do on day one
Morning: Get your bearings with City Tours
Reykjavik is a small city, but there is so much history and there are plenty of fascinating things to learn, see and do. To find out more about the town which populates two-thirds of Iceland, we would suggest taking the City Tour - which is brilliant and totally free! Setting off twice a day at 10am and 2pm, it lasts around two hours and is ran by a pair of friends who are fun and passionate about their hometown. They rely on donations, so if you enjoy the tour be sure to tip generously!
Take a tour of the city
Where to go for lunch: Kopar restaurant
Right by the harbour, this seafood restaurant has such stunning views of the ocean, so we would definitely recommend visiting for lunchtime rather than dinner so that you are able to take in the incredible sights before night falls (of course if you go in summer during the midnight sun, this is certainly less of an issue). The food there is sensational and while everything was lovely, we'd recommend trying the delicious catch of the day for a truly special visit.
Tuck in at Kopar
Afternoon: Try out Appy Hour for an afternoon tipple
You've seen the town, had some lunch so now it's down for a sit-down and a drink, right? Reykjavik can be pricey, particularly alcohol, so the app helps you to explore the city's best bars and pubs while enjoying reasonably priced drinks. We would definitely recommend checking out Sæta Svínið (which translates to Sweet Pig), Irish pub The Drunk Rabbit and the hangout for Icelandic locals, Dillons Bar.
Treat yourself to a cocktail at Sæta Svínið
Where to go for dinner: Resto
A short taxi ride or a 30-minute walk from the city centre will take you to the charming family-owned restaurant Resto. With their buttery fish soup, gorgeous goats cheese starter and perfected salted cod main dish, this restaurant is a very special place and an absolute must-visit. It nails Iceland's favourite foods; lamb and fish, while having a homely touch, and we would have visited time and time again if we had the chance!
Evening: Check out the Northern Lights
Have an expresso and shake off the sleepy first day vibes, because Northern Lights are essential viewing, and going on your very first night can be important. Take the Reykjavik Excursions bus ride out of the city where you have the best chance of catching the lights. It is probably about an hour's drive from the city centre, where there is minimal light pollution and essentially like being in the little of a snowy desert landscape (while fortunately surrounded by buses to take you home). Seeing the lights is in no way guaranteed and so it can be quite frustrating (buy a hot chocolate and a waffle there to cheer yourself up), but the Excursions Tour will let you visit again if you don't see anything - hence why you should visit on the first night!
Of course, when you finally manage to see them, it will make it all worth your while. The best time to see the lights is supposedly from September through to March, Iceland's winter months, and they are usually more like to be visible on a very clear night. You can check ahead of time to look at the weather forecast and the likelihood of seeing the aurora, so it will always take that bit of luck that you visited during the right weather conditions.
Take a chance at seeing the Northern Lights
Things to do on day two
Morning: Be amazed by the Golden Circle Tour
Grab an early breakfast - you'll need to make a morning start for the Golden Circle tour. This consists of three breathtaking sights all within reasonable proximity to one another - you can book on a tour or go by coach, but if you are a driver we would recommend taking a hire car so that you can explore at your own pace. Your first stop is Thingvellir National Park. Around a one hour drive from Reykjavik, its icy lakes, frozen waterfall and all-around natural splendour is a sight to behold.
Next stop is the Geysir - a truly miraculous large natural hot spring which bursts with up to 70 metres of water every few minutes. Surrounded by bubbling hot springs and stream in the air, the sight will leave you transfixed. The final official stop of the Golden Circle tour is Gulfoss, a vast, breathtaking waterfall. It is so beautiful, untouched and such a natural magnificent part of the natural scenery in Iceland you that you'll struggle to believe it is actually real. For lunch, there are little tourist cafes right by these gorgeous sites with some tasty options.
Afternoon: Go for a dip at the Secret Lagoon
Around 30 minutes drive from Gulfoss is the Secret Lagoon. Very different from the Blue Lagoon, it is a natural hot spring where you can swim in the gorgeous water while surrounded by snow, little geysers and boiling springs (which you are warned not to swim into, for obvious reasons). It is also very reasonably priced for a lovely experience - so be sure to visit if you have time!
Where to go for dinner: ROK
After a long day of sightseeing, stay in the town centre and chow down on the Icelandic-Spanish fusion tapas at ROK. One of the best findings experiences of our stay, diners are encouraged to order two to three plates each - and each one was better than the last. We would recommend the goat cheese and pear baguette, wild mushroom risotto and fish pie. The staff are also wonderfully helpful with recommendations and service.
Things to do on day three
Morning: Ride an Icelandic horse through the snow
With the help of Visit Iceland, we organised a visit to Laxnes Horse Farm with Grey Line to spend a couple of hour trotting through Iceland's awe-inspiring countryside on beautiful (and well trained) Icelandic horses. With a shuttle bus picking you up from the town centre, it is easy to do, and we promise that this is an unforgettable way to enjoy the stunning views. While the ride is very tame, and the horses very responsive, there are a couple of thrilling moments like stomping through deep snow or through shallow icy rivers. Trust your horse, they'll know what to do!
Ride an Icelandic horse through the snowy terrain
Where to go for lunch: Snaps Bistro
A sweet brunch spot loved by locals, tuck into a Croque monsieur or french onion soup with a cheese toast and this quaint restaurant, a well-earned treat after all that horse riding.
Afternoon: Pamper yourself in the Blue Lagoon
Simply a must visit, Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland's most fascinating (and relaxing) tourist attractions. While admittedly a little pricey, all will be worth it when you sink into the vast, steaming, blue lake and relax against the snowy backdrop of mountains. Be sure to plaster on a cleansing mineral face mask!
Where to go for dinner: STEIKHÚSIÐ
Located near the harbour, spend your final evening in town enjoying perhaps the greatest steak of your life at STEIKHÚSIÐ. With options include succulent fillet and sirloin with delicious sauces, salty mushroom and potato extras and fantastic starters, a visit to the restaurant will guarantee an incredible meal. You can also see their vast wine and drinks list via an iPad, fancy!
Tuck into a steak
Where to stay in Reykjavik
While there are plenty of hotels in the town, booking an Airbnb can give you a real feel of being at home in the snowy city - and are reasonably priced too! Our Airbnb was a Scandi haven, decked out with fur throws, tasteful furnishing and was always kept toasty warm for our return from the chilly outdoors. Since it is such a small city, it's also very easy to find a place within a stone's throw from the city centre, so get searching for your dream apartment.
Top tips for Reykjavik, Iceland
- Wrap up WARM, particularly when you go to see the Northern Lights. It gets extremely chilly. More is more.
- Pack moisturiser! During our trip, everyone struggled with dry skin. Whether it was down to swimming in hot lagoons, wearing plenty of layers of simply being in the cold air - packing something for your skin is essential.
- Everywhere takes cards. Taxis, hot dog stands, bars, cafes - everywhere. Don't worry about having cash - they have you covered.
- If you love taking photos of your trips but are worried about getting your phone wet in lagoons, try out this very cheap but handy waterproof cover from Amazon. It worked like a charm!
- Perhaps this goes without saying, but horses can be smelly! If you go riding, the farm has plenty of spare gloves, hats and warm boiler suits that we would recommend using to keep your own stuff smelling sweet!
- Brennivina is an Icelandic liquor and features in plenty of yummy cocktails. ROK has plenty of incredible cocktails featuring the yummy Icelandic special.
- If you have time, visit the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand for a pick me up snack. The famous hot dog stand serves lamb hot dogs with all of the trimmings. Why lamb? The island has 100 million sheep, meaning that they specialise in lamb dishes (as well as fish, of course). The hot dog stand was the first street food introduced to the city and is an absolute must-try.
- If you want to splash out on a meal, visit the Grillmarket for dinner. The menu includes Icelandic dishes including puffin and would be perfect for an anniversary or birthday celebration!
This article contains affiliate links, which means HELLO! may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. More information.