Making the most of one day in Iceland
August 31, 2016 3:47 PM   Subscribe

We have a one full day stopover in Iceland on our way from Montreal to Spain. We are arriving late on a Monday night and leave again relatively early on a Wednesday morning.

We have previously very much enjoyed bus tours (even ones aimed obviously at very elderly folk), and have been considering signing up for this one. But is that really the best use of our time? Neither of us have been to Iceland before and may never be again. We are a later thirties couple taking our first vacation in a very long time WITHOUT our kids. We love geology, architecture, food, drink, and museums. Tell us what we must do!

We are flying in and out of Keflavik International, but are staying in central Reykjavik both nights.
posted by 256 to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I just spent two weeks driving day trips/loops from our base in Reyk. From Reykjavik, the golden circle option is a good one if you don't want to self drive or don't have any more obsessive interests. I would definitely ensure þingvallir is included in whatever golden circle tour you take.

The Blue Lagoon, while a bit of a factory machine to and fro, is awesome once you step out on the deck to slip into the lagoon itself.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:54 PM on August 31, 2016

I have to say, at the end of our first day we felt like we had seen a week's worth of beautiful things. (We did an 11 day road trip) Normally I wouldn't say tour in most destinations, but I feel like this is the perfect option for you.
When you only have one day I feel like you wont miss much by not self-driving.

This would be my vote for tours.

posted by ReluctantViking at 4:13 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

That tour includes a stop at a tomato greenhouse, which we thought was really cool when we visited last year. The golden circle is definitely the thing to do so there will be tourists aplenty, but all the sights are worth seeing. Depending on when you get back in the evening from the tour, I would also recommend going to a public pool for some hot tub time. A very Icelandic experience!
posted by wsquared at 4:17 PM on August 31, 2016

Other people may disagree with me but I think the best bang for your buck is to spend the entire day in Reykjavik proper and just explore the city! There are some really great restaurants, a craft beer scene, several museums (we loved the National Museum of Iceland, and there is a Penis Museum if you feel like giggling a lot), friendly people, the gorgeous Hallgrimskirkja church (pay to go up to the top and get a 360 degree view of the city and icebergs!), etc.

We spent a week in Iceland and our favorite time was just exploring the city. Of course, we also did the Blue Lagoon, the ring road tour, and even camped on a snow-covered lava field for 3 days to watch the Northern Lights and soak in a hot spring, and those were lovely too, but I would cut them if I didn't have the time.
posted by joan_holloway at 4:19 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Blue Lagoon and a Golden Circle tour are probably the best use of your one day. Would you consider self driving? Bus tours can be slow and I always like to be the one who decides how long I want to stay in a place.
posted by tealcake at 4:20 PM on August 31, 2016

I was in Reykjavik for a one-day stopover earlier this month. I thought that the city was not really that impressive (in terms of architecture, food, etc, and was also pretty expensive. I rented a bike and biked out of the city and that was very much worth it.
posted by Doc_Sock at 4:32 PM on August 31, 2016

The Blue Lagoon is nice enough but eminently skippable if you're short on time. Ultimately, it's a pool. You should be out looking at the alien weirdness of the Golden Circle landscape. However, it looks like, if you get the earlier tour, you should be back to the city by 3-ish. The Blue Lagoon closes at 8 on weekdays after Aug 31. You might have time to end the day there.
posted by praemunire at 5:26 PM on August 31, 2016

I've been to Iceland twice and plan to go back. The south coast has 10 times the beauty of the Golden Circle, which if you do a tour is really limiting and crowded. I second ReluctantViking's recommendation for a day tour of the south coast. I'd also spend some time in Reykjavik if it's an option.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:26 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is no bad answer to your question. Messing around Reyjavik or taking the Golden Circle tour would both be awesome. A day that could include some of both would be double awesome. Conceivable, therefore, that it might be better to do the slightly shorter version that includes the waterfall, the geyser, and the Þingvellir on that same site you linked.
posted by sheldman at 5:42 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Forget the Golden Circle, unless you want to be among diesel belching buses and masses of tourists.

Instead, rent a car at the airport and leave early in the morning for Jokulsarlon. That's the famous lagoon with the icebergs in it. The trip there takes four hours because of all the scenic stops along the way ( waterfalls, strange shaped mountains, vast expanses of lava sand and rivers and infinite glacier melt)

The road to there is paved and wide. We did the trip in a day, then had a lovely dinner in Reykjavik at the end of the day. Easily a highlight.
posted by seawallrunner at 1:05 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dude, if you don't go to the EVE monument I am going to be sorely disappointed. I hope your trip works out to everyone's enjoyment.

Your former fleet-mate,

PS - if you were somehow hoping to sneak away and do this without the wife's knowing, or why else didn't you mention it in the post above, then sorry for being a spoil-sport.

Fly (literally) safe bud.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:55 AM on September 1, 2016

Response by poster: Oh, we're going to the EVE Monument. And, conveniently, when they took the snapshot of player names was during the brief window when my wife was also playing, so she is perhaps more excited about that than I am.

I actually was even considering just showing up at the CCP offices, since they are apparently pretty cool about giving random people tours.
posted by 256 at 2:44 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was in Iceland for the first time a couple weeks ago, and I'll say this, one day just isn't enough time there!

I think if I had one day I'd likely spend the time in Rekyjavik. Lots of museums and art galleries (a few near that Eve Online monument). We travelled with a German activist friend so we had to see the piece of the Berlin Wall that they have at the Höfði house. Or you could just walk up the tourist section of town Laugavegur and check out the restaurants and tourist shops there. We skipped the rotten shark and the sheep heads but we ate loads of awesome baked goods. Coming from Canada, you likely will find the food and alcohol pretty expensive, but there is some great places to eat in Reykjavik (if you eat fish it is incredible there). I really liked the Culture House which has a collection of artwork which reflects different aspects of Iceland and Icelandic identity. I never got tired (though you might) of Viking, Saga and Icelandic settlement history museums. We found the Penis museum kind of an interesting experience maybe you'd find it funny but my wife found it a bit unsettling largely because of all the foreskin lampshades. It struck me as a very personal collection, like a weird uncle's attic. I didn't go with them but the rest of my family really enjoyed the public pool which they both described as the best public pool they ever went to. Blue Lagoon looks cool in the pictures but we skipped it as it seemed kind of crowded and expensive for what it was (looks like it is cheaper during the winter schedule which is good for you). To us it seemed, especially after soaking in geothermal water that we hiked to in the mountains, kind of redundant. If my son was a bit older I think he and I would have gone on this tour: Inside the Volcano. I think if we would do it again I might try this tour of the Golden Circle.

But really there is so much to see - south coast is awesome, the golden circle and various side trips are cool (there were loads of tourists at the major sites when we were there if that bothers you), we walked into the mountains near Hveragerði where there is a lot of geothermal stuff happening with the highlight being a "hot river" (more of a creek) that you can swim and soak in, near the end of the trip we explored around Snaefellsnes in West Iceland which was a highlight for me. For my son taking a tour of lava tubes was pretty cool. Personally, we'd all go back in a second, we really fell in love with Iceland.

You might want to watch this maybe? Might give you some ideas.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:01 PM on September 1, 2016

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