REYKJAVIK — Two days in Iceland? No problem. Everything you’ve heard about the country’s unique natural beauty is true. I saw the most spectacular views I have ever seen during my short stay. Volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, geysers, waterfalls and tectonic plate borders all within a three-hour drive. Iceland is like no other country. Whether you have two days or two weeks, it lives up to the hype.
Above: Our writer Chelsea gets into the swim of things shortly after arriving in Iceland.
Arriving in Iceland
Icelandair offers stopovers for up to seven days to passengers flying across the Atlantic. At no additional cost, it was a no-brainer to take advantage of this opportunity on our way home from Europe. It is essentially a bonus vacation. We were on borrowed time travelling with a toddler so we opted for a short two-night stopover.
Though our visit was brief, we planned an "Iceland in a Nutshell" itinerary that allowed us to explore just enough to decide we would love to return.
We landed at Keflavik International Airport, about a 40-minute drive to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. There is no Uber or Lyft in Iceland so keep this in mind when deciding how to get around. A taxi from Keflavik to Reykjavik will set you back 15,000 króna, ($160 CDN). Renting a car at the airport was the best decision we made. If you do your homework, you can find great deals. Our three-day car rental was more affordable than a return taxi trip to the airport. It also provides the freedom to explore Iceland at your own pace and is convenient if your hotel isn’t in the city centre.
Above: Chelsea enjoys a soak with her daughter in a thermal spa before enjoying Icelandic cuisine.
I’m a strong believer that the entirety of Iceland’s beauty lies in the countryside. I may be a tougher critic than most but my general impression of the city was underwhelming. Reykjavik striked me as slightly outdated with a few too many sprays of Eau de Sulphur.
Though considering the city’s remoteness, you have to appreciate it for what it is. Iceland’s breathtaking countryside and natural sites speak volumes, so their cities don’t have to.
Despite its small population, many rave about Reykjavik’s hopping nightlife. I wouldn’t know anything about this since I was in bed with my toddler eating Domino’s by midnight. Domino’s pizza in Iceland? I know what you’re thinking: in a country known for its wild lamb, hearty soups and local seafood, eating Dominos is blasphemous. Most kitchens were closed by 10 p.m. and late-night options were limited. Eating at a reasonable time opens the doors to delightful Icelandic cuisine. Dining in the city can be pricey but some popular cheap eats are Reykjavik lamb hot dogs with brown mustard, traditional lamb stew and fresh cod fired up on the street.
Above: Chelsea rents a car and heads off to enjoy all the eye candy Iceland has to offer.
The Golden Circle
Travelling the Golden Circle — a 300km journey — is the most efficient route to appreciate Iceland in limited time. Hop in the car and give yourself five hours to see, explore and photograph Iceland’s natural wonders. The drive itself is three-hours long.
I had the pleasure of passing wild horses, herds of sheep and the occasional seasoned hiker roaming the landscape. The route showcases spectacular natural sites, including the famous Great Geysir, Gullfoss Waterfall and Thingvellir National Park. The Golden Circle is full of surprises with volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs and rolling hills along the way. This serene drive is an absolute must-do.
The Northern Lights
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights.
A hopeful view of the aurora borealis is one of the main draws for travellers. After two unsuccessful attempts, I will advise against making this the single motivating factor to visit — nature is unpredictable. Visiting between October and March and driving out to desolate locations with no light pollution will maximize your chances of seeing this natural phenomena. It’s worth a shot; you may get lucky and catch a glimpse. But If you don’t, just remember that there is so much more to Iceland than the Northern Lights.
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa
Easily one of Iceland’s most popular attractions, the Blue Lagoon should be on your itinerary. Contrary to what many think, it is not a natural hot spring. It is a man-made lagoon fed by run-off water from a geothermal plant. It doesn’t sound luxurious, but you’ll eat your words once you’re floating in 38C, milky blue, mineral-rich water. Attendants roam the lagoon offering complimentary silica masks and the swim-up bars offers cocktails and Icelandic Skyr smoothies. With a drink in hand surrounded by volcanic rock, warm blue waters and picturesque surroundings,this was relaxation at its finest — even with a baby.
We booked our visit months in advance to reserve an early morning time slot. It’s best to enjoy a few quiet hours before the crowds rush in around noon. The price per adult is 85 euro ($135 CDN) and children must be at least 2 years old to enter and are free up to the age of 13. We may have exaggerated our daughter’s age because this was one attraction I wasn’t going to miss, and rightfully so.
Travelling to Iceland was eye-opening. As a former "couldn’t care less about nature" person, my perspective has shifted. I hope to return to explore more of this country’s endless beauty.