If you were able to take advantage of flying to Iceland for free but only have a day or two for your stopover, here are some tips on how to make the best of it!
Rent an Airbnb:
Depending on the season, you might have a full day of light or night so you want to be in a place that is super comfy with GREAT heat and hot water. My advice? Don't take chances on a hostel in these conditions! Find yourself a cozy Airbnb that'll be far enough away for a good night's sleep, but still walking distance to downtown, the harbor, shops, restaurants, and of course - affordable supermarkets.
My choice: a 2nd floor well designed two-bedroom abode with killer wifi, an open kitchen and common area, super comfy bedding, and next door neighbors that are keen on making your stay in Iceland a magical one.
Halldor and Tota, the owners of this place were just as much of a gem as the apartment itself! They were kind enough to offer assistance with just a light knock on their door. One day we even had breakfast with them and chatted about the history of Iceland, Vikings, and evidence that proved a Viking explorer named Leif Eriksson beat Columbus to the punch 500 years before he stumbled upon North America. Notes read descriptions of the land of vineyards, "Vinland", which research now points to being Newfoundland or (some believe) Cape Cod.
They also had the best insight and recommendations on affordable supermarkets just a short walk away so that we could cook up a low budget feast (delicious frozen lasagna, I'll tell ya) and save heaps of money to use for exploring.
We spent each day learning something new with them, as they were fellow explorers and had recently trekked South America as well, and they made sure we felt the warm Iceland welcome on behalf of their country. Halldor would always say, "We are one people: one human race", and you certainly feel that way when you leave!
Rent a Car and Visit the Golden Circle
We didn't have much time there, as I spent most of it sleeping and working on the blog (as usual). So after doing a bit of research on Expert Vagabond, we decided to rent a car and visit the Golden Circle - following his advice to a T. Alex also created a google maps road trip map so we wouldn't get lost. The upside was that we visited in July and had a good 22 hours of daylight with the remaining hours being a bit more like dusk, so we had ALL DAY to make the most out of our rental and explore.
We rented a car from Dollar Rent A Car for 90 euros for the day, which was an amazing deal for high season! We got a small red gadget of a car (no 4x4 so we didn't do much rough terrain, off-road driving) and went on our way! Check out the sites we visited (which were very easy to get to as there are only a few main roads) including Thingvellir National Park, Laugarvata, Strokkur Geyser in Selfoss, and Gullfoss:
Dine out once or twice:
Let's face it, Iceland is no Italy or Greece when it comes to delectable fares, and the prices of almost everything KILL most tourists' budgets. But you can't visit a country and not try their food so after visiting four restaurants with a 50% success rate, here are my two favorites:
It's top rated and highly acclaimed for good reason! The hamburger here is so delicious that even the street name is called Burgerjoint! The well known burger master, Tom Tommason, is the owner of this joint and the staff in this small, circular shack give great service. The beef is organic and the fries are fresh and delish. Supposedly there are now a few chains in Europe, have you been?
This tapas restaurant is a bit of a splurge if you have a backpacker's budget but it is totally worth it. Well designed, good service, and satisfying portions give this top restaurant two thumbs up from locals and visitors alike.
Kick yourself for splurging at the Blue Lagoon but get over it quickly (because it is awesome):
Blue Lagoon is expensive, yes we all know that. But if I read one more blogger advise visitors to skip it, I might scream. That's like saying visit NYC but skip Times Square, or visit Paris and skip the long wait to the Eiffel Tower. C'mon guys. Stop it.
Go to the Blue Lagoon because it's frickin' beautiful and awesome. No it's not 100% natural; most of us know that by now. And if you didn't know, sorry to spoil it. It's a geothermal spa and tourist attraction that receives its brilliant blue water from a nearby plant made 40 years ago. The plant uses water heated by underground lava flow to run turbines that generate electricity and provide a water heating system. The milky white water left after this process (the reflection off the sun makes it blue), still rich in minerals and at a safe heated temperature for bathing, transfers straight into the Blue Lagoon to offer a jaw-dropping spa experience.
Yes, for two people in the summer you can expect to pay over 90 euros so that's not fun. But the service is wonderful and it is a full out spa experience. They provide lockers with a wristband, clean showers, option for massages, restaurants, and the pool itself has different degrees of heat so you can search for the section that fits you. They also provide silica and salts to rub on your skin and small pools and seating areas throughout.
Save your money and just do it. You can't NOT do it. Your skin will feel magical afterwards and photos always come out awesome.
I was there in the summer so could not see the Northern Lights, but if you come during the right time (August - April) and want to, you can book a tour or use an aurora meter, which measures how strong the aurora is and whether or not you can see it right from nearby! It needs to be a clear, dark night to be able to catch it and over Kp 5.00 to be good (the higher the better).