For nature lovers & nightlife enthusiasts, summer is a great time to make a south Iceland trip in 8 days. At least that’s how long I went for. Six years ago I was forced to travel +50 hours from Venice to get back to London (where I was studying) because a volcano erupted in Iceland that affected air travel throughout Europe. Ironically, that eruption has accounted for Iceland’s boom in tourism. So what will you learn/do/see/eat for a south Iceland trip in 8 days?
Blue Lagoon: stop here on the way from the airport to Reykjavik (20 mins from the airport, and about an hour from Reykjavik). If you stop on the way back, you may be stressed about missing your plane and not fully enjoy it. It’s a man-made spa with water fed by a local geothermal water plant located in a lava field, with water temperature ranging from 99-102° F. It was freezing outside when we went, and it was still awesome. Overrated? Yes. Worth it? Yes. Do eat at the Blue Lagoon restaurant. More about that below.
Golden Circle: probably the most popular day trip (we devoted the entire day, allowing ourselves to make stops and enjoy). Take snacks with you or eat at the cafes there in any of the the three stops:
1. Þingvellir National Park
2. Geysers at Haukadalur
3. Gullfoss Waterfall
Dyrholaey & Black Sand Beach at Vik
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Skatafell Waterfall & Glacier Hike
Seljalandsfoss & HIDDEN Gljúfrabúi – go the path after Seljalandsfoss and end up at one of the most beautiful waterfalls we saw on the whole trip. Most people probably go to just see Seljalandsfoss without realizing there’s a whole other beauty at the end of the road.
Skógafoss & HIDDEN waterfall – same here. Hike up the steps of Skógafoss and keep walking behind it to discover a whole other majestic, stunningly huge waterfall.
Downtown – all along and down the side streets of Laugavegur (also the main shopping street), bars are open until 1 a.m. on weekdays, 5am on weekends. When we left a bar at 3:30am on a Friday night, each bar on the way home still had a massive line to get in – I had never been so astounded by the energy before. Bar11 is known to stay open just a tad bit longer.
Drinking age is 20, some bars have a 22+ age policy to get in, and drinking on the street is prohibited – none of these seemed highly enforced when I was there. Men are aggressive. Not threatening, just aggressive.
Bars/clubs we went to: The English Pub (awesome, live band every day), The Lebowski Bar (you guessed the theme), and we heard The American Bar is also a lot of fun. If you’re feeling fancy, stop at Austur (a club, and DO dress well – you don’t want to be told you look a little too “artsy” to be there, as someone I know was).
– Blue Lagoon Seafood Restaurant: best catfish ever
– Grillmarkaðurinn (Grill Market): I’m ashamed to admit it, but we tried the mini burgers of salmon, whale & puffin. And all three were outstanding. The food seriously blew me away. We had to do it- it’s Icelandic food and when in Rome…
– Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (Hot Dog Stand): Bill Clinton said this stand had the best hotdog he ever tried. It really was delicious. I wouldn’t go planning my trip around this or be too upset if you didn’t make it, but if you’re in the city, definitely try.
– Nepalese Kitchen: just go. I never tried Nepalese food, and here I was trying it. DEE-licious.
– Noodle Station: coming from NYC where noodles are-a-plenty, we weren’t impressed. Is it good? Sure, and it’s not a crazy expensive meal. Do I specifically recommend going there? No, I’m sure your money can be better spent.
– Rent a car. You get to go at your own pace and are not limited in making stops. It’s not cheap to do so, but it makes the trip your own. The one big downfall of this is that you won’t learn about the different sites through a guided tour, which I think can be very worth it. The sites all around Iceland have very limited free reading material (surprising and honestly a little disappointing for me).
– DEFINITELY pack: waterproof warm jacket, waterproof hiking boots, water resistant pants
– Snacks for your long hikes (I brought a bag of protein powder, protein bottle, and many protein bars). Lifesaver.
And if you need a general packing list, here’s my one-page travel checklist. Saves me and my friends every time!
Airbnbs all the way. Let me know if you need recommendations in the city, in Vik, or by Jökulsárlón. Mostly we did our own apartments, but we also did bed and breakfasts, which was a great way to connect with locals, get recommendations, connect with other travelers, and just a day away from the city.