Enjoy Seven Days in Iceland
01 of 07
Day 1: Arrival in Reykjavik, Iceland
You can rent a car directly from Keflavik airport, but Reykjavik is only a short drive from the airport and a good place to start your journey and gather yourself. You can use the first day to explore the best attractions of Reykjavik. The capital is hip, eclectic and trendy, with friendly pubs, clubs, and cozy restaurants in the downtown area. The area is rich in historical landmarks and museums. If you arrive early in the day, book a 2 1/2 guided tour of the city.
02 of 07
Day 2: Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park is a short trip from Reykjavik, thus slowly easing you into your journey. The park is a place of great beauty, one of the many you will see on your way. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also home to the great Strokkur Geyser which erupts about every 8 minutes. It truly is a sight to behold. Gullfoss Waterfall, one of the most impressive in Europe, and also belonging to the Queen, is about a 60-kilometer trip, but well worth your time if you don’t mind a detour. Exploding geysers are in abundance in this area. Stay in one of the more affordable hotels in Arborg, half an hour south of the park.
03 of 07
Day 3: Jökulsárlón Lagoon and Höfn
Get an early start to reach Höfn, which is roughly 400 kilometers away (or about 4 1/2 hours). On the way there, be sure to stop at the impressive glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón. It is an absolute must see. You will drive past Iceland's famous black basalt beaches, as well as small villages, cliffs, and glaciers until you finally reach the fishing village of Höfn. The lobster dinners at the small local restaurants are to die for if you want to enjoy a typical meal. There are B&Bs and hotels in and around Höfn.
04 of 07
Day 4: Lake Mývatn
This is a day of true and pure Icelandic nature. From Höfn, you will travel north-eastward, towards a mountain-rich wilderness surrounded by extinct volcanoes, passing the spectacular East Fjords of Iceland. If you have time to spare, stop at Námaskarð pass for the boiling mud pools. At Lake Mývatn, you can enjoy a bath in the thermal springs right in the open air. The entire area is known for its rich bird life and biodiversity, so keep an eye out for flocks of colorful puffins while driving from one stop to the next. Myvatn has affordable hotels and guesthouses.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Day 5: Akureyri
Akureyri is considered to be Iceland's capital of the North. To get here after Day 4, it is a short drive of 90 kilometers. Welcome to a relaxing day in a small city very close to the Arctic Circle. You can spend the day horse riding, exploring the city, or white water rafting. Plan a visit to the small historic church at Víðimýri and a stop at the old turf and stone farm. The town itself boasts a Botanical Garden, and various museums and art galleries, making it the perfect place to rest before your journey back to Reykjavik.
06 of 07
Day 6: Hvalfjordur Fjord & Blue Lagoon
Accommodation is scattered along the way if you don't feel like booking ahead. You also have the option of spending a second night in Akureyri after Day 5 before coming here or getting here early and then continuing on to Reykjavik in the evening of Day 6 to spend the night there. Regardless of whether you wish to push through to Reykjavik or not, you have to stop at the Fjord. This leg of our driving tour also takes us to the famed Blue Lagoon, your final stop enjoying a relaxing natural bath before heading home. Do NOT rush this leg of the trip. Coming down from Akureyri offers spectacular views and scenery. Along this stretch of road, you may also encounter wild Icelandic horses.
07 of 07
Day 7: Return to Reykjavik
The capital of Iceland is only 45 kilometers from Hvalfjordur Fjord, so you get to spend a relaxed day here, absorbing all you have seen, while comfortably preparing for your flight back. Use this time to further explore the city if you wish, and enjoy a good farewell meal, Icelandic style. Drop off your rental car and take one of the airport shuttles to Keflavik Airport if needed.
Southeastern Coast of Iceland near Djupivogur
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Views from the Maasdam Cruise Ship of Holland America Line
While on an 18-day “Voyage of the Vikings” transatlantic cruise between Boston and Amsterdam, our ship, the ms Maasdam of Holland America Line, had planned to anchor off the small town of Djupivogur on the southeast coast of Iceland. Unfortunately, high winds prevented the ship from anchoring and using the tenders to take passengers ashore, many of whom had booked shore excursions to go bird watching on nearby Papey Island or to take driving tours of the surrounding area.
Since we couldn't anchor, the Captain moved the ship along the southeastern coast of Iceland, and I was able to get these nice photos of the gorgeous scenery.
A bird watching trip to small Papey Island is a popular tour from Djupivogur.Continue to 2 of 12 below.
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DjupivogurContinue to 3 of 12 below.
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View of the Djupivogur Harbor from the MaasdamContinue to 4 of 12 below.
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View of the Icelandic Coastline from the MaasdamContinue to 5 of 12 below.
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Vatnajokull National Park
Vatnajokull National Park is huge, taking up over 11 percent of the entire country of Iceland. It is dominated by glaciers, ice pack, and craggy mountains.Continue to 6 of 12 below.
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Snow-capped Mountains on the Southeastern Coast of IcelandContinue to 7 of 12 below.
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Snowcapped Icelandic Mountain Range in JulyContinue to 8 of 12 below.
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Southeastern Coast of IcelandContinue to 9 of 12 below.
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Green Mountains Along the Coast
Yes, those are small houses along the coast line. They are accessible via the ring road that encircles Iceland.Continue to 10 of 12 below.
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Lush Green Hills of IcelandContinue to 11 of 12 below.
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Icelandic WaterfallContinue to 12 of 12 below.
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Icelandic Waterfall ans Homes
How would you like to have this view from your window? Waterfalls and the sea.
Reykjavik, Iceland – World’s Most Northern Capital
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View of the nearby Mountains
Walking Tour of Downtown
Cruise ships using the northern route to cross the Atlantic often stopover in Reykjavik, the world's most northern capital. In addition, ships sailing on northern European itineraries to the Norwegian fjords or Arctic often cruise along the scenic coast of Iceland and include Reykjavik as a port of call. The city is a good one to visit on a cruise since the prices of local food and lodging are very expensive. Therefore, a cruise vacation to Iceland provides a great value to the vacation traveler.
Reykjavik is easy to tour on foot since the downtown area is relatively compact. It's a great place to walk, browse the fascinating shops, and stop in for a drink in one of the many watering holes. You can easily walk around and see some of the city highlights in a couple of hours, leaving the majority of your time in Iceland to do a tour outside the city to the Golden Circle or the Blue Lagoon.
Most cruise ships visiting Reykjavik dock a few miles from the city center, but shuttle buses run frequently from the pier to the downtown area. On our Maasdam transatlantic cruise, some walked into the city and said it took about an hour each way.
This photo gallery includes views of downtown Reykjavik and its huge Hallgrimskirkja Church.
This photo was taken from the deck of the Holland America cruise ship the Maasdam, which was docked in Reykjavik while on a transatlantic “Voyage of the Vikings” cruise.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10
Lonesome House in the nearby Mountains
This house is just on the opposite side of the harbor from bustling Reykjavik. It looks like it's in the middle of nowhere, doesn't it?Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10
Reykjavik Street Sign
Icelandic is a very difficult language for tourists to read or understand! It's even hard to make out the street signs.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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Downtown Reykjavik, IcelandContinue to 5 of 10 below.
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This huge modern church looks much like a space ship, doesn't it? The Hallgrimskirkja Church dominates the Reykjavik skyline.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Organ at the Hallgrimskirkja ChurchContinue to 7 of 10 below.
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Downtown Reykjavik and the Cruise Ship Piers
If you look very closely, you can see cruise ships docked in the distance in the upper center of the photo.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
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Downtown ReykjavikContinue to 9 of 10 below.
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View of Downtown from the Hallgrimskirkja ChurchContinue to 10 of 10 below.
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9 Things to Eat in Iceland
Don't call it yogurt, and don't tell an Icelander that you've had it anywhere else. This skim-milk product is technically closer to a cheese than it is to yogurt because it's strained and concentrated during the centuries-old production process — think a more tangy version of the Italian mascarpone. Skyr is naturally high in protein and low in fat and Icelanders are obsessed with it; the snack shows up on both breakfast and dessert menus (skyr cake, anyone?) and on the shelves at convenience stores (packaged to look suspiciously like yogurt). Such a perfect dish certainly comes with high demand — most of the cattle farmed in Iceland are farmed for the country's dairy industry.
Iceland’s Biggest Attraction – The Blue Lagoon
01 of 05
Soak in the Blue Lagoon’s Thermal Waters in Iceland
Every cruise port of call has a place that visitors must see. Even if your friends and family know only a little about the port, they will be sure to ask whether or not you visited this place. In Iceland, the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is the place everyone knows about.
In addition to scenic cruising along the spectacular coast of Iceland, cruise ships visiting Iceland usually include the capital of Reykjavik as a port of call. All ships will have half-day shore excursions that offer the opportunity to either swim or just visit the Blue Lagoon. Those who like to travel independently can book their own Blue Lagoon guided tour, take a public bus, or rent a car. The site is near the international airport at Keflavik, so it's also possible to visit on your way to or from the airport.
The 25-mile drive from Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon is less than an hour, and the road is well-marked. As you leave Reykjavik, the scenery becomes more stark, with black lava fields on both sides of the highway. It's much like similar roads on the big island of Hawaii.
I visited the Blue Lagoon on a shore excursion from the Holland America Maasdam, which was on an 18-day “Voyage of the Vikings” transatlantic cruise. On this visit to the Blue Lagoon, I was surprised to find that the geothermal spa is not on the coast. The Blue Lagoon is inland, and the road turns off away from the sea not long before you get to the airport. In addition, it's not even a natural lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is an artificial pit dug into the lava and filled with hot seawater from a nearby thermal power plant. The temperature of the water is about 38 degrees Centigrade (100 degrees Fahrenheit).
The color and density of the water are what differentiates the Blue Lagoon from other thermal baths (like the ones I've visited at Baldi Hot Springs in Costa Rica or the Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest). This bluish-white lagoon is surrounded by the black lava, and these striking colors and the steam rising from the lagoon makes for an amazing picture. It's almost like a milk bath, but the milky look comes from the suspended silvery-gray silt and minerals. This silt is like a sticky mud, and people smear it on their faces and bodies for therapeutic reasons (and maybe a little fun).
The entry fee into the Blue Lagoon is not cheap (about 40 euros), but it includes a locker and towel. The thermal spa also has larger lockers for those who need to store suitcases. You are required to take a shower before entering the lagoon, and you will want to take one when you get out, too. It's a good idea to cover your hair with a swim cap or even a shower cap from your cruise ship or hotel since the mud and minerals in the water really dries your hair out. Also, if you are on a tour, be sure to allow about 45 minutes to get showered, dressed, and have a few minutes to check out the cafe or gift shop before you have to meet up with your group.
The next four pages provide photos and more information on Iceland's Blue Lagoon.Continue to 2 of 5 below.
02 of 05
Black Lava, White Mud, and Blue Water
The silvery-gray or white silica is suspended in the hot water of the Blue Lagoon, but also sticks to the edges and bottom of the lagoon, making a nice contrast between the black lava and bluish water.Continue to 3 of 5 below.
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Although the Blue Lagoon is less than four feet deep in most places, the facility has lifeguards. However, instead of being dressed in a swimsuit, they wear coats and vests. Since the facility is open year-round, it can sometimes be very cold when you are not in the thermal bath of the Blue Lagoon. I've heard that your wet, steamy hair will freeze in the winter!Continue to 4 of 5 below.
04 of 05
I loved sitting under this hot waterfall at the Blue Lagoon, but it sure ruined my hair for a couple of days. The liberal use of conditioner cured the frizzies the muddy water caused.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
This warm, indoor relaxation room overlooks the Blue Lagoon and provides a quiet spot to rest after a spa treatment, the sauna, steam bath, or just swimming in the lagoon.
The Best Day Trips From Reykjavik
01 of 09
A Day at the Blue Lagoon
Naturally, the Blue Lagoon is the most popular destination for a day trip from Reykjavik. If you're in the mood to relax and float in the warm geothermally heated waters for a few hours, this is definitely the way to spend a day outside Reykjavik. You can get there by bus from Reykjavik's main bus station, or by car.
The Blue Lagoon is open daily year-round and doesn't cost much. Keep in mind that this is a day trip that suits adult travelers best.
02 of 09
The Golden Circle Classic Tour
Golden Circle's Classic tour is a full-day guided tour around Iceland and one of the most popular day trips from Reykjavik. Stops include Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, the famous Geysir, and several other popular must-see sights.
The tour departs daily year-round, with free pickup from your Reykjavik location.
03 of 09
A Day Trip to the Volcanoes
Turning a few volcanoes into a day trip from Reykjavik is becoming more and more popular. How adventurous are you? Iceland has numerous exciting volcanoes, so your trip can include as many as you like. Start with a map of them to get an idea of the locations.
Please remember that safety should come first when you visit an active volcano and keep a safe distance from any hot materials or sources of eruption.
04 of 09
A Day Trip Along Iceland’s South Coast
From May through September, this is a true all-day (8 am – 10 pm) guided tour of Iceland you shouldn't miss. The trip includes Skogarfoss waterfall and Skaftafell National Park, a boat ride on Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, and you'll see movie settings used for James Bond's Die Another Day and A View to a Kill, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
This full-day trip from Reykjavik is operated several times a week, with free pickup from hotels in Reykjavik.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
A Day on Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Snaefellsnes peninsula in western Iceland is one of the most popular destinations for visitors, with countless lava caves, hot springs, and waterfalls. On the peninsula, you'll also find Snæfellsjökull, a volcano-glacier 1,446 meters (4,744 ft) high, the highlight of Snæfellsjökull National Park.
To get from Reykjavik to Snaefellsnes, it's about a 2-hour drive. Take Iceland's ring road (Highway 1) west and drive through Hvalfjörður tunnel. Bring your camera.
06 of 09
Ride Viking Horses to Gullfoss and Geysir
This guided tour is great fun for all ages and a perfect Icelandic day tour for families! Everyone can enjoy riding on Icelandic horses bred by the Vikings, and after a relaxing lunch break, the tour leads to the famous Gullfoss waterfalls, the National Park of Iceland, and the unique Geysir area.
Departs daily year-round with pickup from your Reykjavik hotel around 10 am.
07 of 09
Blue Lagoon + Gullfoss Waterfall + Geysir
This is a very interesting full day tour of Iceland that includes lots of nature and scenery. The tour operator takes you to the Blue Lagoon, the beautiful Gullfoss waterfall, and then it's time to see the Geysir. Don't forget to visit the interesting greenhouse community of Hveragerdi.
The trip starts and ends in Reykjavik, takes a total of 10.5 hours.
08 of 09
A Day Trip from Reykjavik to Grímsey Island
Grímsey offers serene beauty with colorful marshlands, high cliffs, and countless birds. Although Grímsey is located on the Arctic Circle, the North Atlantic Current brings warmth from the Gulf of Mexico, creating mild Icelandic weather on Grimsey. Grimsey is a paradise for birdwatchers. Sometimes, polar bears from Greenland come ashore on drift ice here.
To get to Grímsey, you can use the air and ferry connections from Iceland's mainland. The 3-hour Saefari Ferry leaves from Dalvik (connected to Akureyri by bus) at 9:00 am on Mon/WedFri. Departure from Grímsey back to the mainland is at 4:00 pm the same day.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
A Day at the Blue Lagoon & Lava Caves
This 7-hour combination day trip from Reykjavik is the best way to combine two great guided tours in one day. It's an easy way to visit Iceland's most spectacular lava tube caves and craters and then you'll head to the Blue Lagoon for a bit of pampering and relaxing.
The tour departs on Saturdays and Sundays from Reykjavik.
The Most Unbelievable Reykjavik Day Trips
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Located halfway between central Reykjavik and Keflavik Airport, where all international flights to Iceland arrive, the Blue Lagoon is as convenient as it is spellbinding, with fluorescent blue water that seems too beautiful to be real. What's more is that the lagoon, owing to its geothermal feeding mechanism, remains at an inviting 104ºF year-round, which means that you can swim there no matter when your travel plans take your to Iceland.
The easiest way to visit the Blue Lagoon is using your own rental car, but it's also easy to book a Blue Lagoon tour from Reykjavik, or even to visit while on a long layover at the airport. In fact, Icelandic flag carrier Icelandair offers Iceland stopover packages that allow you to see destinations like the Blue Lagoon between flights, even if you've only got a few hours to spare.
If you have more time than a single day, an alternative to the Blue Lagoon (which, in spite of how awesome it is or maybe because of it, can get rather crowded) are the Myvatn Nature Pools, which are more secluded and sit among some creepy-looking lava fields.
02 of 04
Thingvellir National Park
Don't worry about trying to pronounce the name of Thingvellir National Park for now. Instead, focus on marveling at the incredible spectacle that unfolds there: The meeting of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Or, more accurately, their separation – they move apart as many as 2.5 cm per year.
To be sure, while you probably won't have long enough in Thingvellir to notice Iceland moving further away from the nearest land, you can explore the manmade treasures that sit inside the park, including the first Icelandic Parliament building, which is just one of the reasons the park is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Known in Icelandic as “Golden Waterfall,” Gullfoss rises more than 100 feet above its surrounding landscape, which combined with its fast flows makes it Europe's largest waterfall according to volume of water.
Summer is the best time to see Gullfoss in all its splendor, due to the melting of nearby glaciers, but you can enjoy it all year-round: Gullfoss sits on Iceland's aptly-named “Golden Circle” tourist route, which means that any Reykjavik hotel can arrange an easy day trip there – if you choose not to explore the country using your own rental car, of course.
On the other hand, Gulfoss is beautiful during the winter too, the snow around it often taking on the icy, blue color of the water. Unfortunately, you've only got a few hours of light to work with during the winter months, which means you've got to meticulously schedule this day trip from Reykjavik!
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Here's a fun fact about Geysir: Discovered – and named – in the late 13th century, it's the source of the English word “geyser,” among analogues in other languages. Of course, the splendor of visiting Geysir extends beyond the thrill of knowing you're visiting the “original” one. For one, there are no barriers around Geysir, which means that you can get as close as you'd like to the hole, keeping in mind of course that you alone are responsible for your safety.
TIP: Geysir sits in close proximity to a number of other geysers, namely Strokkur, which erupts far more frequently than Geysir itself, and whose surrounding pools give off a wide variety of beautiful colors, in addition to Geysir's brilliant turquoise.
9 Things Not to Do in Iceland
01 of 09
Don’t Take Pictures of the Locals
A camera pointed at a person or a seemingly inoffensive object can get you in trouble. If you are planning to take photos of people and their homes, people might get offended. Do not be one of “those” tourists who shove their cameras in everyone’s faces, especially if the person is not interested in posing. It is annoying in Iceland, oh and, pretty much every other place on the planet.
02 of 09
Do Not Touch the Swans
This might seem like an odd thing to say, but you will be surprised at what tourists do when they are away from home. The wild Icelandic swans can be brutal, especially when they are nesting. An adult bird can break a person's arm to protect its young. Not only will it hurt a great deal, but you will look like a fool to everyone else for trying to touch the swans.
03 of 09
Do Not Talk About Politics
Do not talk about politics or Icelandic history unless you are a buff who can speak with great authority. Discussing politics civilly when the topic comes up is perfectly acceptable, as long as you are not the instigator. And for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, refrain from saying things such as, “Iceland is like Norway’s adopted brother.” Just don’t. It is always a good idea to read up on the places you are planning to visit to avoid a social faux pas.
04 of 09
Don’t Be Loud and Obnoxious
Do not be loud and obnoxious. This is a good rule of thumb most everywhere, by the way.
With the exception of the lively weekend crowds in the downtown club districts, Icelanders are generally a quiet people. In fact, even the loudest most obnoxious local is still less rambunctious than your average intoxicated person from elsewhere in the world. How do Icelanders recognize foreigners? They look for the loudest person on the street. If you want locals to treat you like a rude drunken lout, just start shouting.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Don’t Complain About the Local Food
Locals love their delicacies of whale, puffin, fermented (a fancy word for rotten, in this case) shark meat, sheep’s head, and testicles. There is nothing more annoying than an ignorant foreigner who makes gagging noises while people are eating. You are in their country, so be courteous. If the delicacies do not appeal to you, then don’t eat them; it is as simple as that. There is a wide selection of more comfortable foods for you to choose from.
06 of 09
Don’t Enter a Sauna or Pool Without Showering First
Social gatherings in saunas and thermal pools are like a national sport in Iceland. What makes these pools so great is the strict hygiene rules that apply to them. Out of respect for these rules, you will be required to take a shower in your birthday suit before you may enter.
07 of 09
Be Natural (or Don’t Mind if Others Are)
Iceland had no distinguishable upper class for 700 years, so they are not as bothered as the rest of the world about going about their natural business. Don’t be surprised if you find someone burping, slurping, or farting in your general company. This is just the natural order of things. Join in, or pretend not to notice.
08 of 09
Don’t Be Sarcastic
Don't use sarcasm in Iceland. Your wit from back home likely will not be appreciated everywhere else in the world. English is not the first language here. Your jokes might get lost in translation, and your sarcasm might be considered as a sincere answer. The best recipe is to be sincere and friendly. If you are in the wrong, then just apologize and move on.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Don’t Try to Speak Icelandic
Unlike the rest of the non–English-speaking European countries, you have to get by speaking English in Iceland, unless you had formal tutoring in Icelandic. The language is astoundingly difficult to speak and even harder to pronounce. It is not that the locals will find you silly or incompetent when you are trying to speak their language; it is just that they will not recognize the words that are coming out of your mouth. To be courteous, you can get by with hallo for “hello,” bless for goodbye, and takk for “thanks.” Say the rest in English. Most Icelanders speak very good English.
The 8 Best Reykjavik Hotels of 2018
Best Budget: Hotel Hafnarfjordur
Just five miles from the tourism center of Reykjavik is Hafnarfjordur, a charming small town that is known to be one of the largest settlements of elves in Iceland (according to locals). The 71-room, Hotel Hafnarfjordur is a 20-minute drive to the Blue Lagoon or 10 minutes to Reykjavik, and offers clean, comfortable accommodations at a fraction of the downtown prices. Standard Double Rooms with kitchenettes range from 247 square feet to 365 square feet and have wood floors, large sunlit windows, cheerful décor, a couch and a television (although not flat-screen). There’s also free continental breakfast, parking and WiFi.
Top 9 Things to Do in Reykjavik
Go Shopping Downtown
Bankastræti 4, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
+354 551 2770
It would be easy to pick up a classic Nordic wool sweater — called lopapeysa in Icelandic — and call it a day, but you'd be missing out on the country's vibrant fashion and design scene. Spend time strolling down Laugavegur in Rekyjavik, the capital's high street, and you'll spot minimalist, nature-inspired jewelry designs at Aurum; locally made knitwear at Geysir; and eclectic home goods at Myconceptstore, a web-first shop that opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Iceland. Adventure travelers in particular should dedicate time to 66 Degrees North, Iceland's chic and practical answer to North Face. The outdoor gear purveyor began outfitting fishermen in 1926; today, more than 90 percent of Iceland residents rely on the brand to keep them stylish, warm, and dry in the island's unpredictable elements.