Iceland’s natural beauty and wonder, with its magical landscape full of waterfalls and rainbows, make it a top destination for couples seeking a romantic escape. The country has been finding itself on traveler’s bucket lists ever since the April 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The volcano’s airplane-grounding, news-making, ash cloud served as an advertisement for Iceland’s scenic outdoor adventures. Some tourist shops still celebrate its eruption by selling t-shirts, mugs, and totes, embellished with the phrase, “What part of Eyjafjallajökull don’t you understand?”
Back then, its weak economy also made Iceland an affordable destination. While the country’s lost some of the affordability appeal it had back in 2010, adding a stopover in Iceland onto a trip across the pond can help keeps costs down. Icelandair makes it easy to add a one to seven day stopover.
For a first class experience, consider booking the airlines Premium SAGA Class. When we did, sparkling wine was offered once we were seated and attentive service was provided throughout our flight. Our seats were comfortable and a foot rest folded down from the seat in front of us. It’s not as luxe as a first-class flight with a private bedroom, but it’s also about a tenth of the price. At least it was when we went.
Give yourself a chance to recover from jetlag and the general stress of air travel by not overscheduling day one in Iceland. As stunning as Iceland’s Golden Circle and South Coast are, they look even better to well-rested eyes. Besides the drive from the airport to downtown Reykjavik provides a feast for the eyes. One moment it looks like you’re on the moon; the next, you see so many vibrant greens that are simply gorgeous.
Reenergize from your travels with some of the best cinnamon rolls in Iceland at Braud & Co. (16 Frakkastígur, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland). They also serve up some pretty great coffee. Or, you could cross the street and get your coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, where you have a better chance of snagging a seat.
You should be able to find a parking spot near the bakery easy enough. We did when we visited at the end of July, one of Iceland’s busiest travel times. For more places to eat in Reykjavik, check out our 4 Top Reykjavik Eateries from Braud & Co. to Ban Thai.
From there, it’s a short walk to Hallgrimskirkja, the tallest church in Iceland. Before you go, you may want to visit a restroom. Their restrooms are only open during concerts and religious services.
Outside of the church, you can check out the Leif Erikson monument, given to Iceland as a gift from the United States back in the 1930s. Iceland-born Erikson was the first European to arrive in America. He and his men are said to have landed along the coast of Newfoundland, where they built a large house for themselves and a shed for their boat.
Once you’re done admiring the monument and the great church’s exterior, head on in to enjoy some of the best views of Reykjavik. Ride the elevator up to see all of Reykjavik’s brightly painted homes and buildings from an ideal vantage point. Don’t be surprised if you hear church bells chiming, they ring every fifteen minutes throughout the day.
For info on pricing and opening hours, check out the Hallgrimskirkja’s Visiting the Church page.
Go to the hotel, check in, and take a nap. The city will be there, ready for you to explore it when you wake.
If you book your stay at Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, make reservations at Vox restaurant and dine there on your first evening. Though our room at the hotel was quite nice, the modern Icelandic cuisine fused with international dishes served at Vox were reason enough to stay.
Go out for nightcaps at Lebowski Bar, because, well, Dude, why wouldn’t you? There you can enjoy your after dinner drinks surrounded by memorabilia from The Big Lebowski, including a signed photograph of John Goodman as Walter Sobchak holding the Folgers coffee can receptacle.
Lebowski’s drink menu includes draft beers, classic cocktails, and an entire menu dedicated to variations on the White Russian that The Dude (Jeff Bridges) drinks throughout the film. I ordered the Green Toe when we went. It was a tough choice between that, Jackie Treehorn, and El Duderino.
Bonus: You can walk there and back from the hotel. It’s a pleasant and perfectly safe thirty-minute stroll, though your walk may take longer if you stop into a shop, or two along the way.
Start early and follow the route less taken to make it back to Reykjavik with plenty of time to enjoy some romantic pre-dinner spa time. We ate our breakfast in the hotel before seven, were on the road by 7:20, and started snapping pictures at Gullfoss by 9:15 that morning.
Our Route Less Taken:
Start at Gullfoss, aka the Golden Falls. They’re named for the golden hue they often have. This is the last stop on the typical itinerary. When you’re there, be sure to walk around and explore the falls from every angle possible. It’ll give you the best chance of spotting a rainbow or two.
At 9:15 a.m. during the high season, there were only a handful of others there. When we were heading out, the first tour buses we saw were coming in.
Next stop, the Great Geysir and Strokkur Geyser. It’ll be a bit busier as it’s the second stop no matter which way you go. Surprisingly, the Great Geysir isn’t much to look at. It’s cool to see, because it was the first geyser known to modern Europeans. Geysir is derived from the Icelandic verb geysa, “to gush”. We get the word geyser from it.
Strokkur, aka The Churn, is the star of this show. It spouts hot water as high as one hundred feet into the air every few minutes.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, a breathtaking destination where two tectonic plates converge, is the last stop on our Golden Circle route. Here, you can hike along the continental divide and see stunning waterfalls. It’s a must-see destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers visiting Iceland.
Back in Reykjavik, end your day of adventure at Sky Lagoon, where you can soak in a luxury spa overlooking Karsnes Harbor. If you’re a shy person who appreciates a bit of privacy, invest in the Sky Pass. It includes private showers and changing rooms, as well as a journey through their seven-step ritual. We loved it!
Our advice for day three echoes some of our advice from day two: start early. Getting a jumpstart on the day is really a key part of getting the most out of any travel day in a popular tourist destination.
The south coast of Iceland is a beautiful region, but it also presents some dangers – mostly the sneaker waves on Reynisfjara Beach. Sneaker waves are large and powerful waves that approach the shore unexpectedly. These waves have a very strong undertow and can be particularly deadly due to the cold water temperatures here. Don’t turn your back on the ocean!
First up, Reynisfjara Beach, known for its black sand and basalt rock formations. It has made appearances in Game of Thrones, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Star Wars: Rogue One. This beach is the sort you want to bundle up to visit. Bring a warm hooded jacket and cozy boots, leave the bikinis and flip flops behind.
When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a warning sign that tells the story of a tourist who was killed by a sneaker wave. Even so, it’s a gorgeous place and worth a visit. When we were there, so was a plentiful flock of puffins. They’re a joy to watch flying about.
Today’s second stop is Sólheimajökull Glacier, also known as the “Home of the Sun.” Sólheimajökull recedes about the length of an Olympic swimming pool each year. If the conditions are right, you can see the glacier up close and personal. On our visit, we were able to touch the glacier. There are risks, like encountering quicksand, and posted signs do provide warnings for them.
The trip’s final stop, is Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, and one that you can hike behind. Standing at 196 feet high, it’s among the country’s most photographed waterfalls. The hike can be challenging and slippery, but is more than worth the effort. It may be best for small children and anyone with a balance issue to enjoy the waterfall from the safety of the platform situated across from the falls. Don’t forget to bring waterproof clothing, as you’re sure to get wet while walking behind the falls.
With its breathtaking landscapes, Iceland is worth a stopover on your next big trip, or a standalone visit! For more Iceland travel inspiration, you might want to check out one of our videos on Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, and Iceland’s South Coast.
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