We had approximately 2 days to explore Iceland for the first time. We arrived on an overnight flight from Los Angeles, which landed at approximately 6 a.m. LA time, which is about 1 p.m. Iceland time. So, in essence, between jet lag and the time change, we really only had one and a half days, with our flight leaving at 6 a.m. on Day 3.
I think it’s safe to say that most people fly into Iceland and base themselves in Reykjavík, which is actually a 45 minute drive from the airport. If you are going to hire a bus tour to explore Iceland, then I would suggest staying in Reykjavík, because all the tours start and end there. Reykjavík is very walkable, and there’s plenty to keep you busy.
However, if you are going to rent a car, Keflavik, where the airport is located, can be a wonderful and convenient choice! We didn’t have to drive 45 minutes to the airport on the day of our departure, at 4 am in the morning. We simply drove 5 minutes to the airport! Keep in mind that Keflavik is a very small town, and you need a car to get anywhere.
We stayed at the Hotel Keflavik, and were very happy with this accommodation.
I highly, highly recommend renting a car on a visit to Iceland. Driving is a breeze, roads are well maintained, there is little traffic, and it gives you lots of flexibility. We used Enterprise, which was a simple shuttle ride from outside the airport entrance. There were many car rental companies to choose from. We also returned the car to this location before our early morning flight, and it made our life very easy.
We made sure to specifically request an automatic car, because manual is quite common in Europe. The agent mentioned two things to keep in mind when driving in Iceland – 1) no turn on red at stoplights, and 2) headlights always need to be on. Also, as I had researched, the wind can very commonly tear the car door right off, so we had to use caution when opening and closing the doors. The wind gusts in Iceland are no exaggeration! We also opted for the extra insurance to cover these types of incidents.
We were going to pay for a navigation system, but instead the Enterprise agent recommended a handy wifi device that plugged into the cigarette lighter, and simply allowed us to use google GPS on our phone. It was something like $14 a day, and you could connect unlimited devices while in the car. This made for some happy kids while on a long drive and it worked like a charm.
Another thing that I recommend is to take a video as you do the “walk around” of the rental car. We pointed out existing dents and scratches and the agent jotted them down so we wouldn’t be charged for these later. This saved us, because when we returned the car, one of the major scratches had NOT been documented and they tried to charge us for the damage. We said ‘no way’ were we responsible for this damage, showed them the video of the pre-existing scratches, and that settled it! Phew!
Iceland has its own currency, which is the Icelandic krona (ISK). We were able to use our credit card for everything, from parking kiosks to cafes, but depending on your situation, you may want to have some ISK on hand.
Iceland weather is unpredictable and ever-changing. I was very concerned that the forecast showed nothing but rain and I thought about ditching the car rental and booking a bus tour. However, I’m glad I didn’t let the rain sway me. Although we did hit rain at some inopportune times, we also had plenty of driving and touring time that was dry. The wind is no joke, and neither are the downpours, so do not skimp on waterproof clothing and layers! It was the end of September when we visited and I was never so glad I had packed gloves, hats, waterproof jackets and ponchos!
THINGS TO DO
This all depends on your interests, but knowing that 2 days wasn’t enough to visit the South Coast, we narrowed down on our priorities to the following, which were pretty manageable in 2 days with an 11 and 9 year old in tow:
It took as about 20 minutes to get to the Blue Lagoon from our hotel in Keflavik. Make sure to book tickets ahead of time before arriving to the Blue Lagoon, or you may be disappointed that last minute tickets aren’t available. Buy tickets here.
This is strictly a personal choice, but swimming in the Blue Lagoon was not a priority for my family. We just wanted to see it. I looked and looked online and could not find any information about where to simply view the lagoon, so we took a chance. We parked in the main parking lot, followed the pathway to the entrance, and immediately to the left side of the entrance was access to the Lagoon.
You can read about our personal experience at the Blue Lagoon HERE.
Reykjanes Peninsula was a slight detour on the drive back from the Blue Lagoon. I had heard it was an under-visited but interesting area with geothermal activity, a lighthouse, and some great views of wildly crashing waves. Had the weather been a little nicer, we would have certainly spent some time exploring here, but it was drab and rainy, and we were just too tired (due to jet lag) to bother getting out to face the rain and wind. So, we simply drove around it, which took about an hour. It was desolate and otherworldly.
This is easily an all day adventure, and although it’s about a 3-4 hour to strictly drive it, you will need double the time to allow for stopping to explore. We couldn’t resist the urge to stop and take in the views in various spots, and get a closer look at Icelandic Horses, which we saw right along the route.
I will venture to say that you could spend several hours at Thingvellir National Park. We stopped off for about an hour because I wanted to ensure we had time for the other 2 stops. We did have to pay for parking via a Pay and Display kiosk, which graciously accepted credit cards.
Geysir is a large geothermal area, including the most popular and frequently erupting geysir, Strokkur. We parked at the first lot we came to with a store and cafe, but if I’d known, I would’ve skipped the first lot and driven directly to the second one, which was much closer to the geysirs.
Gullfoss Waterfall was our final stop, and not too far from Geysir. Gullfoss is absolutely amazing! We parked at the main parking lot by the store and cafe, mainly because it started raining and we needed to find a bathroom. However, be warned not to pay for the Toilets, there are free ones in the gift shop! If you want to skip the gift shop, you might want to opt for the parking lot that is closer to the Falls, which is right before the gift shop, but we missed on our way in.
We had to pass by Reykjavik on our way back to Keflavik, and we originally thought we’d grab dinner there to check it out. Parking is tricky, so have a plan and directions ahead of time so you know where you are going.
We were able to easily spend 2 days and touch upon the places described above. If I had 3 full days, I would’ve spent a half day in Reykjavik, and perhaps spent a bit longer in Thingvellir.
If I had 5 days in Iceland, I most certainly would’ve spent 2 of those days driving out to see Jokulsarlon Lagoon, and along the way seeing the black sand beaches and amazing waterfalls on the South Coast. And of course, if you are in Iceland over the winter, there is also a chance to see the Northern Lights!
If you have the time, you can easily spend a week or more exploring this breathtaking country, but 2 days is enough to scratch the surface!
View my other blog posts about our personal experience in Iceland:
Travel Resources to help you plan your Iceland vacation: