Many of us wish we could travel for long periods at a time but realistically, family ties and work commitments make this much harder. If you only have 2 days in Iceland, you might be wondering how much you’ll be able to see and do. The answer is plenty: you’ll be surprised at just how much you can fit into just 48 hours if your itinerary is well-thought-out.
That’s where we come in. Having your own rental car means there’s no hanging around for public buses to arrive or tedious waits for a tour operator who has a minibus load of passengers to collect. Pick up your rental car – the clock’s already ticking on your 48 hours in Iceland and you don’t want to waste another minute!
2 Days in Iceland: Should you focus on Reykjavik or beyond?
The next decision you’re going to need to make is whether to concentrate on Reykjavík or venture further afield. Whichever you choose, you’ll have plenty of options.
First thing’s first: think about what makes you happiest. Are you likely to have the most fun in the city, with its plethora of bars, restaurants, museums and other visitor attractions? On the other hand, would you prefer being out in the countryside seeing some of Iceland’s jaw-dropping scenery?
The Reykjavík option
During your 48 hours Iceland itinerary, make the most of the drive from Keflavik by touring some of the Reykjanes peninsula on the way to and from the airport. A must for many visitors is the fabulous Blue Lagoon, just fifteen minutes from the airport. This luxurious spa is famous the world over, so book a slot in advance if you’re keen to soak in these breathtaking geothermal baths.
But what is there to see in Reykjavík itself? Take the road along its northern shoreline and pull in for a photo in front of the Sun Voyager sculpture. This iconic work of art drags your eye from the mountains beyond and is definitely worth a stop, as is the nearby Harpa Concert Hall. Afterwards, continue along to the Old Harbour. On a clear, calm day, this is the place to park up and head out for whale watching. If not, there are plenty of excellent restaurants.
Reykjavík has a wealth of visitor attractions, so it’s well worth hanging around. First, though, ride the elevator to the top of Hallgrímskirkja. The largest church in the country, its architecture is inspired by the basalt columns that you’ll find all over Iceland. The view from the top is exceptional, and you’ll have fun picking out some of Reykjavik’s most recognizable buildings and landmarks.
Call in at Perlan for some virtual touring. There you’ll see the Northern Lights at the Áróra show, where you can step inside a specially created ice cave with real snow and wonder at the magnificent Látrabjarg bird cliffs without having to drive to the distant Westfjords. With only 48 hours in Iceland to play with, it makes sense for Iceland to come to you instead of the other way around.
Learn a little about Iceland’s history with a visit to the Settlement Exhibition to see how the Vikings lived or take a closer look at a turf house at the Árbær Open Air Museum. Proving no subject is off-limits, the Icelandic Phallological Museum with the world’s biggest collection of penile parts and the Icelandic Punk Museum which occupies what was once an underground public toilet are two of the capital’s quirkiest museums.
Where to go outside of Reykjavik with only 48 hours at disposal
1. The Golden Circle
The most obvious choice for a day trip out of Reykjavík is to loop the Golden Circle. This scenic route involves a round trip drive of about 140 miles (ca. 225 km) and three hours, leaving plenty of time from your two days in Iceland to stop off and see the area’s three main highlights. In summer, when the days are longest, you’ll also have time for a dip in Laugarvatn Fontana, one of the area’s geothermal spas.
Tackle Gullfoss first: this magnificent waterfall has cut a majestic gorge, and the sight of the Hvítá River here is extraordinary. With something like 110 to 140 m3/s of water plunging over a cleft in the rock, you’ll soon see why. A path leads along the top of the falls so you’ll feel the spray on your face as you advance on your nature walk. On a windy day, prepare to get wet!
Backtrack to Geysir, where the sight of the Haukadalur Valley’s steaming vents and plopping mud pools will greet you. This geyser field is the most impressive of any in Iceland, and you’ll want to hang around to see its most famous landmark erupt. Strokkur, as it is known, sends boiling water gushing high into the air every few minutes accompanied by the gasps of the expectant crowd.
Use a little more of your 48 hour Iceland itinerary to complete the Golden Circle trio at Thingvellir National Park. Here, the North American and Eurasian plates are pulling apart, with this tear in the landscape serving as a reminder of nature’s awesome power. Stroll down into the Almannagjá gorge and admire the view from the Lögberg, or law rock, where the Althing (annual parliament) met for centuries.
2. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Hot on the heels of the Golden Circle is another scenic loop drive. This time, point your rental car in the direction of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, about an hour from Reykjavík. If you’re tackling Iceland in 2 days, this is a good way to spend a full day as you’ll experience a little bit of everything: beaches, glaciers, pretty harbors and a bit of culture too.
Start on the south coast and loop clockwise. It’s worth making a stop at beaches such as Ytri Tunga, which is home to cute seal pups if you time it right, and Djúpalónssandur, with its rounded black stones described by locals as Icelandic pearls. Over to the west, you’ll find the Snæfellsnes National Park; at its heart is Snæfellsjökull, the glacier that featured in Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Charming Stykkishólmur, on the north coast, makes a great pit stop. Its historic timbered buildings are a glimpse into times past but the busy harbor makes it clear that this is still a working port.
Other harbour towns worth a slice of your 48 hours in Iceland are Arnarstapi and Hellnar; you can hike there and back between the two in around an hour and a half if you’re keen to savor those coastal views.
The other obvious choice if you want to see some of the countryside within your 48-hour Iceland itinerary is to concentrate on Reykjanes. This is where you’ll land when your plane touches down at Keflavik International Airport but instead of rushing to get to Reykjavík, save yourself the drive and stay local.
One of the best places in Reykjanes to go hiking is to see the damage wrought by Fagradalsfjall volcano which erupted for a large part of 2021. Though the lava fountains and plumes of smoke are now consigned to the history books, the impact on the valley, with its cooled rivers of lava and sulfur-stained ground, is still easily apparent.
Another cool sight is the rift in the ground that shows where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart. You can park up and walk across what’s known as the Bridge between Continents, aka Leif the Lucky Bridge. Nature is a powerful force in Iceland and here, that’s plain to see.
Let’s not forget the peninsula’s most famous visitor destination: the Blue Lagoon. This luxury spa has been wowing tourists for decades. Making good use of the waste hot water from the nearby geothermal energy plant, its milky blue waters and swim-up bar are the ideal spot for reflection. Even in 48 hours, you’ve earned a little downtime, right?
Will you benefit from hiring a rental car?
It’s possible to spend 48 hours in Iceland and see some of its sights without your own wheels. However, having a car is going to help you prioritize every minute. You won’t waste precious time waiting for a bus, picking up others as you set out on a tour, or schlepping your luggage to your hotel on foot.
Cutting down on every instance of waiting time means that you can concentrate on what you came for: incredible Iceland. Didn’t we promise that you could fit a surprising amount into 48 hours in Iceland? Cars Iceland can supply you with a rental vehicle to get you around, so why not take a look and make a reservation today?