27 Sep 48 Hours in Iceland
Place: Reykjavik, Iceland Layover
When: Mid June
Cheap stopover flights through Reykjavik to the UK and other parts of Europe have become all the rage, and they’re a brilliant marketing tactic on Iceland’s part. Aidan, his sister Maddy and I were booking a trip to Ireland for June 2016 and immediately said yes to 48 hours in Iceland the second we saw one of these deals with WOW airlines. Don’t let the name scare you, the flight was very pink and otherwise completely fine. We flew through Iceland at the start of our trip and that was the right move; we were fully energized to pull an all-nighter and the experience wasn’t tainted by any end of vacation woes.
You can see a good bit on one of these layovers if you’re traveling in summer because the sky is completely light until 2 or 3 in the morning. We took full advantage of the nighttime daylight.
Note: Iceland ain’t cheap, and in case you didn’t gather it from the name, it’s cold. These layover flights were created to boost tourism because most vacationers are seeking affordable warmth, and you’re looking at Scandinavian prices and wearing everything you own while you’re Iceland. It’s absolutely worth it for two days to see this magical place, and we did it as affordably as possible, but be prepared to bundle up and pay up.
Day 1: Land in Reykjavik
We landed around 2pm, picked up our rental car at the airport and went in search of a good family friend’s apartment in Reykjavik where we were staying. There are plenty of great Airbnbs available in the city for around $50/night. Our friend’s pad was on Blómvallagata west of downtown and just a 10-minute walk from the water.
We popped into the apartment and hustled, famished, to the waterfront for seafood. We chose Saegreifinn (The Sea Baron) for soup, bread, and no bullshit fish skewers you order at the counter and receive at a long wooden bench, possibly squeezed in beside fellow visitors. We couldn’t resist trying a skewer of whale and it was, unfortunately, one of the most delicious, juicy meat I’ve ever tasted.
With our bellies full, we walked back to the apartment and packed the car with a map, water bottles, and warm clothes for our overnight expedition.
Nighttime Drive to Vik
Set up your GPS in advance or get situated with your map if you’re old school like Aidan, and set out to Vik with stops at Selfoss and Skógafoss (both tough to miss) along the way. Fuel up and stock up on snacks on your way out of town. We left Reykjavik around 6pm on this adventure and returned home at 3am, and it was still so bright out at 3 it was hard to fall asleep.
Let your epic drive begin. Selfoss is your first waterfall stop, and you climb up a set of stairs to explore it from the top, where you’ll discover a world of rock art. Some of my favorite photos from the trip were taken here.
Then on to Skogafoss, with loads of otherworldly scenery in between. This is the foss where the Griffin siblings really let their hair down:
Leaving Skogafoss, you’re just 30 minutes from Vik, where that beloved little smiling church looks over a black sand beach. After a frolick in Vik, drive home, have a glass of wine because your body is v. confused, and hit the hay around 3:30am.
Day 2: The Golden Circle
We woke up at 10am feeling very confused about which day, and which life we were in, grabbed coffee and salmon toast at Cafe Loki and headed out on our slightly customized Golden Circle tour that took us from Reykjavik to:
- Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park
- Strokkur Geysir
- The Secret Lagoon
- Impromptu stop to pet Icelandic ponies
We can’t knock the Blue Lagoon because we’ve never been, but we took local advice to do our thermal bathing at the Secret Lagoon instead to save time, money, and have an equally spectacular experience. It was fantastic, cheap, not crowded at all, and there were floaties.
We got back to Reykjavik at dinner time, just in time to drive into the town center for some Icelandic hot dogs (yes) and a pint. Downtown Reykjavik is great, but we were toast and trying to save our pennies for the week in Ireland ahead of us so we packed up for our flight and packed it in early.
If you find a cheap flight to wherever you’re headed in Europe with a Reykjavik stopover and have two days to spare, do it. Winter would provide a completely different experience and some opportunities to spot the northern lights, but summer provides the daylight hours that let you maximize the time. No matter when you go, this place truly feels like another planet.