In our busy lives, we don’t always have time to take a week off to explore a new place. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t travel, it just means we must be good with time management.
You’d be surprised with how much you can fit in if you schedule effectively. While a couple of days won’t be enough to see all a country’s wonders, it’ll give you a great taste. So, let’s see how you can make the best of 48 hours in Iceland.
What’s the Situation?
Maybe you’ve locked in one of Icelandair’s (the flag airline carrier) famous free stopovers in Iceland between mainland Europe and North America. Perhaps you’ve used all your holiday up for the year and want a spontaneous getaway without committing to a full week.
Well, if you want to get a feel for the Nordic Island nation, a short-term trip is ideal. With the right tours, you can pack a lot of awesome activities into a few days. Or you can rent a car in Reykjavik and go on a self-drive tour. Here are some ideas for places to put on your itinerary in a short Iceland adventure.
We recommend doing this either on arrival or departure day when there isn’t time to commit to a road trip. Just walking around the capital’s downtown area and checking out the local architecture and street art is a fun activity.
We also suggest visiting Perlan, the pearl-shaped building on the hill, which serves as Iceland’s natural history museum. It’s one of the best museums around, as you’ll learn a whole lot about volcanos, glaciers and Icelandic animals.
In addition, on the top floor is a 360-degree observation deck, which gives visitors incredible views of the region.
You’ll also want to check out Hallgrímskirkja, the biggest church in the country and perhaps the face of Icelandic tourism. This church stands at 74.5 meters (244 feet) and its construction lasted a whopping 41 years to complete, from 1945 to 1986.
It really is a beautiful structure, whose design is inspired both by Christian architecture and Iceland’s landscape.
For more Icelandic architecture, visit the Harpa Concert Hall at the harbor and take a look around. This building is fairly new, having been completed in 2011 after a four-year construction process.
Its glass exterior is inspired by the hexagonal basalt columns that occur naturally after volcanic eruptions in Iceland.
The Golden Circle
If you only have one full day in the country, use it to complete the Golden Circle. This is Iceland’s most famous tourist route and for good reason.
With geothermal and geothermal activity, wide-open uninhabited landscapes, and massive waterfalls, this route includes several features that are characteristic of Iceland. Typically, visitors stop at three sites along the route: Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss waterfall and Þingvellir National Park.
At the first site you can see Iceland’s most active geyser, Strokkur, which erupts around every 6-10 minutes. The Gullfoss waterfall fills a huge valley and is a spectacle to behold, dropping 32 meters in two stages.
Þingvellir was the meeting place of Iceland’s parliament for centuries, and you clearly see the result of plate movement here. Since Iceland sits atop two of the earth’s tectonic plates which are moving apart very slowly, as the plates move apart, Iceland slowly splits in two.
At Þingvellir, you can see the huge crevice which has been created over millennia and grows by 2cm per year. There are many other stops along the Circle, such as geothermal spas, volcanic craters and tomato farms..
We advise taking your rental car, locking in the three main sites, and stopping whenever you notice something else that catches your eye. Only stop when it’s safe to do so, of course; there’s no pulling over allowed on highways in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon / The Sky Lagoon
Any Icelandic holiday, even a short one, isn’t complete without a visit to one of the country’s famous geothermal pools. These luxury spas utilize naturally heated water, generally from nearby geothermal power stations, and pump it into a space.
The Blue Lagoon is the best-known of its kind and continues to attract thousands of visitors each day. The lagoon itself is huge, big enough to cater to hundreds of people simultaneously.
Other facilities include a bar and mud mask station in the water, a sauna, steam room and two restaurants. The Blue Lagoon is about a 45-minute drive from Reykjavík, and actually closer to the international airport.
For this reason, the spot is a great last stop on departure day, on your way back to Keflavík. You must book a time slot in advance, but once you’re in, you can stay as long as you want.
The Sky Lagoon is a more recent addition to Iceland’s geothermal spa family. Having opened in May 2021, it has a distinct new feel, and the location is unmatched. Sky Lagoon is in Kópavogur, only a 15-minute drive from downtown Reykjavík.
However, that’s not the best part of this natural attraction.
The pool looks out onto the bay, with only a couple of meters between the pool’s edge and the ocean. On a clear day, you can see the distant glacier, Snæfellsjökull, over 120km (74 miles) away.
The Sky Lagoon also includes an in-water bar, steam room, and a sauna with a huge window as one wall. Which pool of the two should you visit? Both, if you have the time, but if not, whichever attracts you more.
The South Coast
If you want to take an overnight trip away from the capital, into rural Iceland, drive along the south coast. Once you leave Reykjavík, there are remarkably less people and buildings, and the country’s landscape is at your full disposal.
In addition to views of volcanos and glaciers, you’ll have the opportunity to see incredible waterfalls and glacial lagoons.
Stop first at one of the country’s most remarkable waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss, which you can walk all the way behind. Next along the coast is Skógafoss, another bedazzling waterfall.
This one drops right onto flat ground, so you can stand close enough to feel the water’s mist as it reaches your face. If you walk up the steps on the right-hand side of the fall, there are more like it waiting to be discovered behind.
We recommend stopping at the town of Vík too; it has a peaceful fishing village vibe with great restaurants. Close to Vík is the Reynisfjara black sand beach, from which you can see the Reynisdrangar rock formation.
The next waterfall along the coast is Svartifoss, found in Vatnajökull National Park. There are numerous hiking trails in the park to choose from but seeing Svartifoss is a real treat.
The fall is framed on either side by basalt lava columns, naturally formed into hexagonal shapes. Finally, aim to reach Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon before ending your south coast trip
This lagoon is filled with bright blue glacial meltwater, and you can take a boat trip This lagoon is filled with bright blue glacial meltwater, and you can take a boat trip through it. Floating pieces of ice are all around, and a seal or two may pop their heads up to say hello. After your stay, it’s best to return to Reykjavík. The town of Vík has some great places to stay for overnighters.
Short vacation to Iceland
It’s clear to see the vast number of things you can do with 48 hours in Iceland. Undoubtedly, you’ll want to come back and spend longer here, but a two-day trip is a strong start that will be equally worthwhile. With this as a foundation, you’ll have a much better idea of what you want to see the next time around.