Iceland is a destination that keeps growing in popularity. With its stunning landscapes including enormous glaciers, lava fields and hot springs, it’s easy to see why. It’s a common stopover location between Western Europe and North America, making the country easy to get to if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere.
While it may not seem like enough time, there’s a lot you’ll be able to see and do during while in Iceland in 48 hours layover. Whether you choose to how to spend 48 hours in Reykjavik only or explore as much of the country as you possibly can, you’re guaranteed a memorable adventure. Keep reading this guide to find out some of the ways you can best spend two days in Iceland, check out our 48 hours in Iceland itinerary.
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The Best Time to Visit Iceland
The best time to explore Iceland depends on your personal preference. Every season has its own benefits, so it’s up to you to decide the right time to visit according to what you want to see and do. Are you looking to enjoy a road trip, taking in the lush greenery of Iceland, or do you want to see what it’s like after being transformed by the snow?
The best weather in Iceland is during summer, particularly July and August. June sees 24 hours of daylight (you can see the midnight sun), and while sunshine at midnight is definitely a unique experience, it may not help with the jetlag! Summer is the most expensive time to be in Iceland because there are more tourists, so keep in mind you’ll have to pay a little extra during this period. Don’t go expecting warm weather, however. The average temperature is only around nine to 14 degrees Celsius, but it’s slightly better than the winter alternative of two degrees. That being said, if you absolutely love the snow, maybe the wintertime is for you.
When you visit Reykjavik you have to see the stunning aurora borealis (aka the northern lights), they’re visible anytime in between September and mid-April. The darkest months are November to February, meaning you’ll have more hours to see them. However, there is often heavy rain or snow during this period so the bad weather may get in the way of your plans. If you want to meet the cute puffins, know that they begin to emerge in April and May. Any time you have a layover in Iceland, even in the off-season of spring and autumn, you’ll have a wide range of things to do.
Things to do in Iceland
Still wondering how to spend 48 hours in Iceland? It can be hard to know where to even begin, so let’s start with a little Reykjavik travel guide.
Did you know that Iceland has a street art scene? Most of Reykjavik’s street artists are women, and there’s a lot of vibrant pieces to check out. It’s not unusual here to see entire houses and buildings painted in bright colours and bold, detailed murals. While a project named Wall Poetry is responsible for a bulk of the art, artists like Sara Riel contacted private real estate owners to seek permission for permanent murals on their walls. Many other business and homeowners commission artworks to brighten up their neighbourhoods. Most of these street art pieces can be found in the north of Reykjavik, around Nýlendugata, Hverfisgata and Laugavegur.
There are still a lot of things to do in Reykjavik in winter too. When you want to escape the cold, there’s also an impressive range of art galleries and museums to go and look at. It’s no exaggeration when I say there’s honestly something for everyone here. There’s the Settlement Exhibition, where you can learn about how the 10th-century Vikings lived, or the Volcano House, which can teach you all about Iceland’s geology, including its 130 volcanic mountains. There’s also the Living Art Museum, a non-profit that showcases experimental and innovative artworks, and the tiny Icelandic Punk Museum. For those into more traditional art, you can’t go wrong with visits to the Reykjavík Art Museum and the National Gallery of Iceland.
Among the other Reykjavik, tourist attractions are the Sun Voyager sculpture, the modern Hallgrímskirkja cathedral, and the small lake of Tjörnin in the middle of the city. Foodwise, there are tons of local dishes to try. Icelandic Street Food is one of the top places to go for families and groups of friends, and it’s very affordable by Reykjavik standards. There’s traditional local recipes, fantastic service, and free refills of lamb and shellfish soups. For something more extravagant, go all out at Ostabúðin.
Places to visit in Iceland
The first place you’ll want to visit is, of course, Blue Lagoon Iceland. It’s only 15 minutes from Keflavík International Airport, so it’s worth popping in for a visit before you make your way to Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon is also good for Iceland stopover ideas. If you flew in from anywhere other than Western Europe, it’s the perfect way to relax and unwind from your long flight. The geothermal spa is located inside a lava field and is one of 25 wonders of the world. It’s truly not to be missed while in Iceland. In addition to the lagoon, there’s also a sauna, a steam room, and a mask bar. You can enjoy cocktails at a swim-up bar, or even receive an in-water massage. The Blue Lagoon is known for destroying the look of your hair, so if you have long locks, try to keep them out of the water and use a lot of the leave-in conditioner provided!
Iceland is home to some incredible national parks. With only 48 hours in Iceland, Thingvellir National Park is the one to visit, as it is only a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik. This unique location shows the meeting of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. From the visitor centre, you can take in the beautiful view of the park. It’s a must for anyone interested in geography. Be sure to see the small yet beautiful Oxararfoss waterfall while you’re nearby.
You may also be interested in finding the site of the famous Sólheimasandur plane crash. It’s located at the black beach, in between the Skógafoss waterfall and the town of Vik. Here you’ll be able to take some stunning photos. It’s even more breathtaking at night during the northern lights.
Where to stay in Iceland
With only 48 hours to spare, you’ll likely be staying in Reykjavik or somewhere close by in the south. Options for accommodation outside of the city are limited regardless, particularly during winter. Here are some excellent options to consider when you’re deciding where to stay. We have also written an extensive guide on Where to stay in Iceland.
Hlemmur Square: This luxurious art deco hotel is set in the middle of the city. Though the building is from the 1930s, the rooms are modern, chic, and provide incredible scenic views. It’s suitable for those on a budget, as there are dorms available too on the third and fourth floors. The welcoming atmosphere of the bar and restaurant area if the perfect place to mingle with both locals and fellow travellers. Enjoy a craft beer or a cocktail from their fantastic mixologist while listening to some live music.
Skólavörðustígur Apartments: Booking an apartment in Reykjavik is ideal if you’re travelling in a group or with family. There’s also the added benefit of having a kitchen so you can save a bit of money by preparing your own meals if you’d like. Apartments at Skólavörðustígur start at 170 euros for one double bed and two singles. The rooms are beautifully decorated with a homey feel that’ll put even the most homesick of people at ease.
Ion Adventure Hotel: If you’ve got the extra money to spare, staying at this incredible hotel will be an unforgettable experience. It’s luxurious, eco-conscious, and a prime location for beginning your Golden Circle journey. Soak in the pool under the northern lights, and enjoy a farm-fresh meal while looking out at the lava fields. You’ll find it in Nesjavallavirkjun, 45 minutes from Reykjavik or just over an hour from the airport.
How to get around Iceland
The most popular and easy way to get around Iceland by yourself is by car. There are so many places to rent one once you land, and most rental companies can be found at the airport for your convenience. However, if you’re not an experienced driver and aren’t used to icy conditions and rapid weather changes, you may want to reconsider driving – actually we would highly recommend you don’t drive, as you are likely to get into an accident! Luckily, there are other ways to explore Iceland without missing out on anything.
If you don’t want to rent a car or book a tour, there are regular bus services around Reykjavik and throughout the entire country. If you’re going out for a drink at night, your safest bet is to call a cab to come and get you. Don’t bother pulling up the Uber app, as it’s not available in Iceland.
Tours to do in Iceland
One of the best day trips from Reykjavik has to be the Golden Circle Iceland. It’s the most popular trip to take in the south, as it allows you to see so many gorgeous places in a small amount of time. The Golden Circle Iceland self-drive is a popular trip, as you can stop to take photos and get a closer look whenever you like. However, if you’re visiting in winter or any time there’s snow, you’ll want to book a guided tour so someone can drive you, as the roads can get quite dangerous.
When going through a tour provider, the Golden Circle typically takes eight to 10 hours. You can take group tours by large and small buses, or book your own private tour if you prefer. Most take you to visit all the same major attractions, with some slight variations. You’ll usually begin with Thingvellir, which you already learned about earlier. Next up is Gullfoss, the most prestigious waterfall in Iceland. It’s a spectacular view, and you might even spot a rainbow while you’re there.
Another stop is Geysir, a geothermal field. The best way to describe it is a hot spring that occasionally spouts water up to 70 metres in the air. Although eruptions are becoming rarer, it’s a beautiful place to see nonetheless. Fortunately, the more reliable Strokkur is very close by and erupts almost every 10 minutes. Some tour providers, such as Gateway to Iceland, will also take you to the Secret Lagoon. It’s a smaller and more low-key hot spring, where temperatures of the water are 38 to 40 degrees Celsius year round.
Be aware that many tours to see the northern lights Iceland are assessed on a day to day basis based on weather reports and solar activity data. Almost half of tours are cancelled due to the conditions not being favourable. While that may seem frustrating, you’ll avoid having your time and money wasted this way. If you sign up for one of these trips, be prepared to have a backup plan to avoid being stuck and disappointed.
2 Day Itinerary for Iceland
Here’s a quick overview of what you can fit into two days in Iceland.
Go to the Blue Lagoon straight from the airport and spend an hour or two there. There’s secure luggage storage available for suitcases. Once you’re rejuvenated, catch a taxi into the capital city of Reykjavik and check into your hotel or apartment. Head out for some lunch at Icelandic Street Food, Old Iceland, or Apotek Restaurant.
When you’re finished enjoying the local cuisine, go exploring the local museums and art galleries that interest you. Walk if the weather permits, so you can check out the street murals and other outdoor attractions too. Enjoy dinner and a drink at Kopar or the Harbor Restaurant overlooking the old harbour. Book your Northern Lights tour for your first night, in case it gets cancelled and you can re book for your second day.
Start your day with a hearty breakfast at Bergsson Mathús or Café Haiti. Get ready to be picked up and hop aboard your bus or minivan ready for your Golden Circle adventure. Depending on the tour, you’ll be set for the next eight to 10 hours. After a full day of exploring you’ll be ready to take it easy, so grab some no-fuss street food for dinner at the new Hlemmur Food Hall.
There really are a lot of things to do in 48 hours in Iceland, and you can easily fit many of them in without too much stress. Now you know what to do in Reykjavik during a layover, and the must-sees around the Golden Circle and the south of Iceland.
Recommend budget tours in Iceland:
- Southern Iceland Glaciers, Waterfalls and Beaches Day Tour
- Small-Group Golden Circle Tour and Secret Lagoon Visit from Reykjavik
- ‘Game of Thrones’ Filming Locations Tour From Reykjavik
- South Iceland, Waterfalls & Glacier Hiking Small Group Adventure
- South Coast Full Day Tour from Reykjavik by Minibus
- Glacier Hiking and Ice Climbing Small-Group Adventure from Reykjavik
- Viking Horse Riding and Golden Circle Tour from Reykjavik
- South Coast and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Day Tour from Reykjavik
- Whale-Watching Tour from Reykjavik
- Langjokull Ice Cave and Glacier Snowmobile Day Trip
- Mountain Helicopter Tour with Summit Landing from Reykjavik
- Reykjavik Helicopter Flight: Reykjanes Peninsula and Volcanic Landscapes
- Iceland Helicopter Tours: Thingvellir National Park and Thórisjökull Glacier
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