Are you planning to spend a weekend in Iceland and want to make the most of your short journey? Here's our version of a perfect weekend trip to Iceland.
You land in Keflavik on a midsummer Saturday morning. Since you plan to take the returning flight home early on Monday and want to savour every moment of your short weekend stay, you have decided to rent a car which is conveniently waiting for you in the airport parking lot.
When you exit the terminal building you see a dark bank of sinister clouds in the North, but whether they are rolling in or rolling out is of no concern to you since you know how to pack for travel in Iceland; you packed light, but you packed well and the warm and waterproof layers are at the ready in your suitcase along with your hiking boots.
You collect your vehicle and head straight to the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. The drive is short and easy, and since you arrive early, you avoid the crowds and are one of the few people there. This is the perfect place to gather strength after the red-eye flight and experience the raw volcanic energy of the Reykjanes Peninsula directly.
After a couple of rejuvenating hours, you drive towards Reykjavik, feeling so refreshed that you decide to leave the busy Reykjanesbraut main road and make use of the longer but less congested Route 420 instead. This old seaside trail takes you through small rural neighbourhoods and strange lunar landscapes where abandoned houses and ancient fishing huts stand from patches of grass in the rugged lava fields, like the displaced artefacts of an abandoned museum dedicated to a long lost way of life.
In just over an hours drive you arrive in central Reykjavik, where you have booked your accommodation, and decide to treat yourself to a meal at one of the 5 best restaurants in Reykjavík, all of which are located in the city centre within walking distance from one another.
After the delicious but affordable feast, you leave the capital. You know that Iceland is home to countless sites and wonders well worthy of your time and attention, but since this is but a short weekend trip you have decided to limit your travels to the greater South-West region. Less will definitely be more this time around.
Kerið volcanic crater. Picture by Brad Weber, Wikimedia Creative Commons.
You drive through Nesjavellir, where pillars of steam rise from the all-encompassing mountains and follow the winding road until it takes you to Kerið, an otherworldly volcanic crater composed of red rock walls which embrace an opaque aquamarine lake in the crater's bottom.
A short distance away, the mighty Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland's single most popular attraction, awaits you. You follow a footpath all the way to the river's edge and as you look down into the gorge, you manage to get at least some sense of this waterfall's unspeakable power.
Your last stop of this long day is the Þingvellir National Park, where you walk the rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and explore the beautiful area which is fundamental to Iceland's history: the Icelandic parliament, Alþingi, was founded in Þingvellir in 930 and held its sessions here until 1799. This is the cradle of Icelandic culture, unchanged for millennia, and every rock and pebble has a story to tell.
Now that you have singlehandedly completed what is commonly referred to as the Golden Circle Tour, Iceland's most popular tourist route, you are ready to head back to central Reykjavík, driving through a landscape bathed in the soft light of the evening sun.
After a short visit to one of Reykjavik's many pubs, you head back to your lodging and get some much-needed sleep. Tomorrow's a big day.
Reykjavík is surrounded by mountains, many of which have popular and accessible hiking routes that provide a great view of the city. Mount Esja would be an ideal choice; throughout centuries, Esja has both been the delight of outdoor enthusiasts and a limitless source of inspiration for countless poets and free thinkers. Esja is "the mountain of Reykjavik”.
But you, however, have set your mind on the beautiful Reykjadalur (steam valley), which is situated in the mountains above the small town of Hveragerði, a thirty-minute drive from the capital. Reykjadalur is a geothermal area where steaming hot water flows down the mountains, forming a river to which locals and foreign travellers alike, flock to bathe and relax.
Unwinding in the hot river after a decent hike, surrounded by the mesmerising mountain colours, is an exceptional experience in and by itself, but you have chosen a more daring approach and booked a guided horseback tour; this day trip takes you even further into the mountains, which are full of hot springs, lava fields, and other natural wonders.
You return to Reykjavík late in the afternoon. There are countless ways to spend an evening in the city, but you decide to walk through the harbour district of Grandi, which in recent years has been developed from an industrial area to an artistic venue filled with workshops and galleries.
Close by, on the Vesturbugt harbour, you have booked the best value whale watching trip, which takes you out into Faxaflói bay where you spend the early evening hours marvelling at minke and humpback whales, whale-beaked dolphins and countless other extraordinary marine animals.
Upon returning to land you enjoy a late dinner at one of Grandi's many bistros and restaurants, before continuing your walk along the coastline. Eventually, you reach the Grótta Lighthouse Island, a walkers paradise in which a great number of birds have built their nests under the protection of the fierce Arctic Tern.
On your way back you locate Kvika, a wonderful little man-made thermal footbath in the middle of the rocky beach, where you dip your feet and take in the evening view of Faxaflói bay, the mountains of Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and Snæfellsjökull glacier. This is the perfect place to watch the scarlet midnight sun refuse to set and bid farewell to this strange island in the North-Atlantic.
Tomorrow you have an early morning flight to catch.