Best of Iceland in 3 to 6 Days
With only a few days on your hands, you can experience a fair number of Iceland's major attractions. You can take organized day trips from Reykjavík or explore the surrounding area yourself with a rental car. Ask travel agents or tour operators about special offers within Iceland that allow you to fly one way and take a bus the other. Theoretically, you can drive the Ring Road—the most scenic route, which skirts the entire Iceland coast—in two days, but that pace qualifies as rally-race driving, and you won't see much. You should plan on at least a week to travel the Ring Road, enjoying roadside sightseeing and relaxing in the tranquil environment along the way. Side jaunts add significant time, as secondary roads are often not paved. When traveling outside Reykjavík, always allow plenty of time to make it back for departing flights.
If You Have 3–4 Days
Start by taking a leisurely tour of Reykjavík. The mix of the old and new in the capital's midtown is seen in the 19th-century Alþingishús and the Ráðhús, barely a decade old. Colorful rooftops abound, and ornate gingerbread can be spotted on the well-kept older buildings. Make sure you visit one of the seven outdoor thermal swimming pools, a great way to relax after a day of sightseeing and fun for the whole family.
On Day 2 head out to the countryside for the famous Golden Circle tour, and take in the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir hot springs area, and Þingvellir National Park. There are many organized tours that cover this route, or you can rent a car yourself.
If you leave on Day 3, stop at the surreal Blue Lagoon, for a late morning–early afternoon dip that will leave you refreshed and is only 20 minutes from the airport if you have an afternoon flight connection.
If you have an extra day, wake up early and head north to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on Iceland's west coast. The Hvalfjörður tunnel cuts travel time dramatically. On emerging from the tunnel, bypass the town of Akranes and drive north to Borgarnes. Just north of it, turn west (left) on Route 54 out on the peninsula and head to the tiny village of Arnarstapi. If you left the capital before 9 am, here is a good place to have lunch and take a stroll along the shore, watch small boats come and go, and marvel at the seabirds as they dive and soar. Afterward, enter Iceland's newest national park, Snæfellsjökull, and marvel at the mystical moods of this mountain as you circle north to Ólafsvík en route to Stykkishólmur. It takes a little over two hours to drive back to Reykjavík from here.
If You Have 6 Days
Complete the three full days of the tour above. Then you have two options:
Option 1—Northern Journey: On the morning of Day 4 fly northeast to Akureyri. With a rental car visit the numerous historical houses here, such as Matthíasarhús, Nonnahús, Laxdalshús, and Davíðshús. After lunch, take some time at the Lystigarðurinn. Next drive east to the Lake Mývatn area, taking in Goðafoss and maybe even Dettifoss along the way. Spend a good part of Day 5 around Mývatn, visiting Dimmuborgir lava formations, Námaskarð sulfur springs, and the shoreline birding areas. Return to Akureyri and stay the fifth night (or you can take the last flight back to Reykjavík). On Day 6, leave the north on a morning flight back to Reykjavík, and if time permits, duck in for a quick dip in the Blue Lagoon.
Option 2—Southern Gems: Leave Reykjavík early on Day 4 and take your rental car south along Highway 1 through the towns of Hveragerði and Selfoss and past the stunning waterfalls of Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, beneath the glacier Eyjafjallajökull (each is off a short spur road). The sea arch of Dyrólaey, with its beautiful black beach, is just before the town of Vík, where you can spend the night. Continue east on Day 5 over wide lava flows and broad sandy plains to Skaftafell National Park and, farther east, to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, where you can take a boat trip through the chunks of glacier floating in the water. Turn around and retrace your route west, where you can spend the night near Hella. Leave early on Day 6 to head toward the airport, through the villages of Stokksheyri and Eyjarbakki, stopping for a dip in the Blue Lagoon if there's time.
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