How To Spend The Perfect Long Weekend In Iceland

How To Spend The Perfect Long Weekend In Iceland

rugged terrain punctuated with ancient volcanoes, majestic
peaks and glacier-fed waterfalls, this ineffable land of ice and
fire has a pervasive beauty – meaning there’s no bad time of year
to visit. Summer is when the majority of the island’s three-million
tourists descend to explore the hot springs and geysers of the
Golden Circle. Longer days convert to maximal exploration – a
noteworthy point for time-poor travellers – but also means that
prices can be higher. By contrast, late September to late March is
primetime viewing for the elusive Northern Lights thanks to dark
winter nights.

Those looking to go beyond the basics and move away from the
masses should enlist the services of Adventure Patrol
– a boutique tour guide company owned by Icelandair pilot, Arnar
Már. Our guide, Egill Rafnsson, was also an amateur photographer
and a real superstar – literally; he’s had six number one music
hits in his homeland.

Day One – Arrival

Arrive in the evening and check in to Ion City Hotel. A taxi
from Kaflavik International Airport to the centre of Reykjavik
takes about 45 minutes and costs approximately €100. Post check in,
unpack and freshen up before heading down to The Grill Market on
Lækjargata Street. Here, chefs buy most of their seasonal produce
directly from local farms – dine on lamb, steak, arctic char or
local delicacies such as puffin. The kitchen uses fire, smoke, logs
and coal in the cooking process, so those with a palette for
barbecues and Old Fashioneds will be particularly pleased with
their smokey servings. Note the wallpaper is made out of fish
scales, though perhaps only after you’ve finished your salmon.

Day Two – The Golden Circle

Spend your first full day along Iceland’s most popular tourist
route – the Golden Circle. Rise early and fuel up at breakfast
because it’s likely you won’t have lunch until around 2pm or 3pm.
For a proper feed, Ion City‘s adjoining restaurant, Sumac, offers a
multi-course continental breakfast available from 7am. For those
who will always trade porridge for extra pillow time, head to
Sandholt bakery a few doors down from the hotel for grab-and-go

Leave your hotel by 8.30am and drive northeast to the Golden
Circle’s three main attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir
Hot Spring and the Golden Waterfall. At Thingvellir, you’ll
encounter the foundations of the first and oldest Viking
parliament, which was built in 930 AD. If you’re more of a
geography buff than history swot, shift your attention towards the
tectonic rift between the Eurasian and American continents, known
as Silfra. Here, divers and snorkellers can take the plunge between
two continents into no-man’s land.

From Thingvellir, head straight to the The Great Geysir to
witness this collection of hot springs intermittent bursts of
turbocharged water. After failed attempts to get the timing of your
Boomerang just right, return to your car sopping wet and smelling
of sulphur. Once you’ve dried off (best to pack a change of
clothes) swing by the Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) in the Hvita
River to check off the last item on your list.

After a jam-packed morning, stop at Fridheimar tomato farm for a
late lunch. Tuck in to four different types of tomato seated in the
greenhouses they are grown in for a true farm-to-table dining
experience. When hunger strikes again head to ÓX, a miniscule (and
award-winning) restaurant tucked behind Sumac on Laugavegur Street
for dinner.

Day Three – Thórsmörk & Eyjafjallajökull

Check out for an 8.30am departure. Drive by Gljufrabui and
Seljalandsfoss waterfalls and prepare to enter a world akin to
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as you near Thór’s Ravine in Thórsmörk.
A dramatic landscape of towering peaks and glacial rivers wind
their way through the valleys beneath. A hike around Thórsmörk will
take you past Eyjafjallajökull Glacier – but don’t revert to 2010
panic stations – it’s not due to erupt (again) any time soon.

Head back to base, which for today is Icelandair Hotel, to
recoup before your white-knuckled quad-bike tour of the south
coast’s black beaches. It’s a fantastic way of viewing this unique
landscape formed by the Katla volcano.

Day Four – Jökulsárlón Glacier & Lagoon

Day four’s focus zooms in on Jökulsárlón Lagoon, located in the
foothills of Iceland’s largest glacier. The area is famed for its
photo-worthy backdrop, so make sure you reserve enough cloud space
(or take enough film) to see you through the day. On the coastline
near the lagoon, two large chunks of ice – cast-offs from the
glacier – have melted to form “Diamond Beach”, a formation
indicative of Iceland’s ever-changing landscape.

On your way home, you’ll pass the formidable Lómagnúpur
Mountain. Time permitting, take the opportunity to go hiking in
Skaftafell National Park and see the Black Waterfalls. The route
takes about three hours, meaning a late supper is best eaten back
at the Icelandair’s Restaurant Berg. Choose from a generous a la
carte menu comprised of local food and produce sourced from Vík, a
remote seafront village in south Iceland. Then it’s early to bed
ahead of your final day.

Day Five – Glacier Hike

As your trip winds down, opt for a relatively easy
glacier-discovery walk (nonchalant sentences like this become par
for the course after a week spent surrounded by natural beauty) led
by experienced guides. Solheimajokull Glacier is a frozen
wonderland awash with white and blue ice crystals, deep crevasses
and opaque water cauldrons. Don’t get too distracted by the
snow-globe surrounds – your silver-tongued guide has plenty to tell
you about the evolving landscape.

Post-hike, it’s time to head to Keflavik airport to catch your
evening flight. Grab a bite to eat in the gourmet food hall before
you board and linger by the souvenirs in protest of your

The Lowdown

Things you should know…

Iceland isn’t the most wallet-friendly country so be sure to
budget during your stay. If you fancy a drink in the evening but
don’t want to pay extortionate prices, purchase alcohol at the
airport in duty free. Skimp on bottled water – Icelandic tap water
is outstanding and you can ask for a free refill almost anywhere
(alternatively dip your reusable water bottle into the nearest

Icelandic days are very short in winter so to avoid being left
in the dark by planning your excursions around the daylight

If you’re hiring a car during your stay, bear in mind that a lot
of the Icelandic highlands are only accessible in 4×4 jeeps.

Things to avoid…

Although touted as a “must-do”, the Blue Lagoon is one spot not
worth the stopover. Extremely crowded and overpriced, you might
also be surprised to know that the water is not natural geothermal
water, but instead comes from the offspring of a nearby factory. If
you want to soak up the warmth and wonder of a hot spring, choose a
natural one such as The Secret Lagoon – it’s the oldest of its kind
and is only a short detour from the Golden Circle route.
Alternatively, ask your guide or hotel concierge to recommend a
natural spring that coincides with your travel itinerary.