Windswept volcanoes. Black sand beaches nuzzled against rugged coastlines. Secret hot springs hidden in misty valleys while majestic waterfalls cascade from every hill.
Welcome to Iceland.
It’s a destination unlike any other in Europe. Its unique landscapes and natural wonders perfectly complement the modern capital of Reykjavik with its café culture and boozy, rambunctious nightlife.
Iceland is known as both the Land of Elves and the Land of Fire and Ice. It’s a country where you’ll find smoldering active volcanoes and vivid blue glaciers side by side. Horses and sheep dot the countryside, colorful puffins flock along the cliffs, and whales breach the choppy Atlantic waters that envelop this tiny island.
It’s easy to see why Iceland has become such a popular destination in recent years (all those cheap stopover flights have helped greatly too).
And, while it’s not the most budget-friendly country in the world, there are still ways to see the sights without breaking the bank!
If you’re planning a weekend getaway or want to drive the entirety of the island, this list of Iceland itineraries will ensure that you see the best the country has to offer!
Take a tour of the city
I always like to start my trips with a free walking tour. They’re a fantastic way to see a destination, learn about its history and culture, and get all your questions answered by someone who knows what they’re talking about. City Walk and Free Walking Tour Reykjavik both offer great free tours of the city. They’ll help you get a sense of Reykjavik so you can decide what you want to revisit later. The tours are donation based, so just make sure to tip your guide!
When you’re in need of a coffee or snack, go for a stroll down Laugavegur, a shop- and café-lined street in the center of the city. This is the oldest (and coolest) street in Iceland, and you’ll find everything from expensive couture to dollar stores here. Be sure to stop in a bakery for a pastry or a coffee. My personal favorite is Mokka Kaffi.
Visit a museum
After that, make your way to the National Museum of Iceland, where you will learn everything you need to know about this tiny Nordic nation. The most famous piece in the collection is the Valþjófsstaður door, a piece carved in the Middle Ages that illustrates the saga of the lion and the knight. The museum does a fantastic job of giving you a robust history of the country without being boring.
Go for a swim
Once you’ve gotten tired of walking, go for a refreshing swim in the Laugardalslaug Geothermal Pool. Swimming and saunas are how locals relax and unwind after work. It’s basically a national pastime. This pool is Iceland’s largest and was built in 1968. It’s actually a whole complex with hot tubs, a thermal steam bath, a waterslide, and even mini golf! If you have extra time, check out the nearby garden and zoo too.
Take in the nightlife
End your day enjoying the city’s famous nightlife back around Laugavegur. This is one of the best party cities in the world, so there’s something for everyone. Just make sure to go during happy hour so you don’t blow your budget (alcohol in Iceland is not cheap!).
Explore the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle — comprising the Gullfoss waterfall, the Strokkur geyser, and Þingvellir National Park — is the biggest tourist draw in Iceland, so you’ll want to start your second day early and head out of town in a rental car (or on a tourist bus). As tourism booms in Iceland, these sites can get a little crowded, so make sure you get there early (especially in the summer and on weekends).
The round-trip journey is around 250km, so plan accordingly when it comes to food and fuel (if you’re driving). If you’re driving, you’ll also be able to stop regularly to see the many Icelandic horses that you’ll pass by.
Experience the famous Blue Lagoon
This is one of the most iconic destinations in Iceland. The pools are quite large, and the whole area is steamy, with the water a stunning milky-blue color that is rather photogenic (which is why the lagoon is so popular on social media). It’s a beautiful and luxurious way to end the day, and a great place to relax right before you depart.
Personally, I think the place is a bit overhyped, as there are tons of free, secluded hot springs all around the country. Of course, if you’re short on time and don’t plan on leaving the city, then it’s the perfect way to end your trip!