Things To Do in Reykjavik on a Short Stopover in Iceland

If you were able to take advantage of flying to Iceland for “free” (by way of a multi-day stopover) but only have a couple of days to visit Reykjavik, here are some tips on how to make the best of it!

Where to stay / what to do / where to eat: Reykjavik, Iceland

Where to stay in Reykjavik:

Depending on the season, you might have a full day of light or night during your visit, 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.

Where I stayed in Reykjavik: I booked 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.

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!

Never tried Airbnb before? Here’s $40 off your first booking when you sign up using this link.

Where to rent a car in Reykjavik on a budget

We rented a car from Dollar Rent A Car for 90 euros per day, which was an amazing deal for high season! We rented a small red gadget of a car — no 4-wheel drive so we didn't do any rough terrain/off-road driving.

Because we were on a budget, we rented it for just 24 hours and made the most of that time; we walked everywhere else, in the city. If you are able to drive a manual vehicle you’ll find it is cheaper than renting automatic. Parking was never a problem.

 
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Visit the Parks & National Parks along the Golden Circle

We didn't have much time in Reykjavik, as I spent most of it adjusting to the time difference and working on the blog.

After doing a bit of research on Expert Vagabond’s website, we decided to rent a car and visit the Golden Circle -- following his advice closely. Alex also created a custom Google Maps road trip map so we wouldn't get lost.

  • FYI: save an offline map for Google Maps access even when you don’t have phone service or WiFi.

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; we had ALL DAY to make the most of our rental and explore. 

Check out the areas 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:

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Where to eat in Reykjavik without breaking the bank

Let's face it, Iceland is no Italy or Greece when it comes to delectable fares, and the prices of almost everything KILL many 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.

 
 

Hamborgarabulla Tomasar: 

This restaurant is 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 provide 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?

Forrettabarrin:

This tapas restaurant may not have been on a tight budget but is a reasonable splurge for budget travelers — yes, it is totally worth it. Well designed, good service, and satisfying portions give this top restaurant two thumbs up from locals and visitors alike.  

Bonus - Supermarkets:

As I mentioned, I was actually quite impressed with Reykjavik’s supermarket scene. Their frozen meals were perfect for a budget traveler or traveling couple, and were both delicious and filling. If all else fails, head to the supermarket!

You Decide: Is Blue Lagoon worth visiting?

Blue Lagoon is expensive, yes we all know that. But if I read one more blogger urgently 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. Here’s my take on it…

 
 

Go to the Blue Lagoon because it's beautiful. 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, still rich in minerals and at a safe heated temperature for bathing (the reflection of the sun makes it blue), 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. 

Is Blue Lagoon worth it? I think so. Is it touristy and a little pricey? Absolutely. But it is one of those experiences I recommend treating yourself to — you deserve it! Your skin will feel magical afterwards and photos will come out awesome. 

Tips on Seeing the Northern Lights

I visited Iceland 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 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). Have you ever seen the northern lights? Iceland isn’t the only place you can catch them!

I hope you find these tips helpful during your short stopover to Iceland. Let me know how your visit goes!

xx, O.