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What Should I Do In Iceland For 5 Days in July?

by on July 9, 2013 · 60 comments

in Carlson, Club Carlson, Delta, Iceland, Trip Reports

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Although I’ve been enjoying summer so far on the east coast hanging out with family and friends, barbecuing, spending some time out on the water and generally just taking advantage of the gorgeous weather we’ve been having – when I sit still for too long, the travel bug starts to bite me. I have a few free days at the moment and I started looking around for where it might be interesting and offbeat to travel right around now and I came across some great low-level award availability on Delta to Iceland.

Delta low-level availability can be difficult to wrangle, especially if you live in a non-hub city and have to build in Delta domestic connections, but don’t discount your SkyMiles since you can usually use them to get to one interesting destination or another if you have a little flexibility. Earlier this year I went to Milan on Delta and Alitalia to/from Italy. Granted, it was a mixed award (Medium Delta there, low level Alitalia on the way home), but I still got good value from my SkyMiles.

I ended up booking a long weekend in Iceland from JFK to Reykyavik using just 100,000 Delta miles and $47 for business class. I had searched Expertflyer for Iceland Air business class availability to see how it compared to Delta’s, and there wasn’t a single seat available within the next two weeks on the JFK-KEF route.

Decent Low-Level availability

Decent Low-Level availability

I could have also booked the same trip for 125,000 Flying Blue miles and the same taxes, but I opted for Delta. I’d rather save Flying Blue miles (or transfer opportunities) for their half-price Promo Awards or maybe trying out Air France’s La Premiere first class one of these days.

The same ticket would have cost nearly $3,600. I know that’s super expensive (and I would never pay that) – especially considering the flight is basically the same length as flying from the east coast to San Francisco, but prices are prices. Economy was $1,200, so no matter how you look at it, SkyMiles saved me a good amount of cash.

I also used my new Club Carlson credit card to get me 4 nights of hotels for the price of two nights on points. For a total of 76,000 Carlson points I got 4 nights of rooms that were selling for 200 Euros (Iceland is not cheap), so each point got me about 1.3 cents each in value. For the night in between my two two-night stays I opted to stay at a non-points hotel in the center of town to experience something different. It is a top 10 TripAdvisor property that I was able to get reasonably, so stay tuned for that review.

Now onto the fun part- planning what to do! I don’t have enough time to do the ring road and I figure I’ll do that in the winter when I can see the Northern Lights/ Aurora Borealis. This time around I want to do some outdoorsy stuff like whale watching mixed with hanging out in Rekyavik and just taking in all the small-town capital has to offer. However, as always, I’m open to hearing what sage TPG readers have to offer. I’ve been reading a lot of differing opinions on what to do. Some say the Blue Lagoon is amazing.. some say it’s a contrived tourist trap, like fellow blogger LandLopers in this interesting piece “5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Iceland

I'm excited to cool off from the scorching NY weather

I’m excited to cool off from the scorching NY weather

Some of my initial thoughts: Midnight Sun Whale Watching, Jeep Tours on the Glaciers, Pony Trekking, Blue Lagoon, Thingvellir National Park, eating and drinking Icelandic specialties.

Any and all feedback is appreciated, especially if you have a tour guide/company that you recommend.

If you want to follow my travels as they happen, make sure you follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Jerry

    iceland in the summer is usually peak season that’s why hotel rates are rising

    5 days in Iceland is way enough to enjoy the trip

    the best period of the year during summer time is the first week of the summer when you can see the sun going up and down (or down and up) within the same hour

    otherwise the other period is winter to enjoy northern lights :)

    Radisson Blu there is a great hotel

    the alternative would be the icelandair hotel reykjavik marina

  • Stephen

    I just got back (a few weeks ago) from a week in Iceland. I had a fantastic time seeing the country, using Reykjavik as a base. However there’s not that much going on in Reykjavik itself- you can “see” Reykjavik in a couple of hours – so I wouldn’t plan on spending too much time in the town itself.

    I highly recommend the “Inside the Volcano” tour (http://www.insidethevolcano.com/), where you get lowered into the (empty) magma chamber of a volcano. I believe it’s the only place in the world you can do this, and it is truly spectacular.

    The South Coast is spectacular and easily accessible. If you’re happy with a (very) long day then you can go as far as Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, where you can go on a short boat ride amongst the icebergs. The Golden Circle is very popular, as it takes in three of the biggest sights close to Reykjavik (Gulfoss waterfalls, Thingvellir and Geysir).

  • Stephen

    I just got back (a few weeks ago) from a week in Iceland. I had a fantastic time seeing the country, using Reykjavik as a base. However there’s not that much going on in Reykjavik itself- you can “see” Reykjavik in a couple of hours – so I wouldn’t plan on spending too much time in the town itself.

    I highly recommend the “Inside the Volcano” tour (http://www.insidethevolcano.com), where you get lowered into the (empty) magma chamber of a volcano. I believe it’s the only place in the world you can do this, and it is truly spectacular.

    The South Coast is spectacular and easily accessible. If you’re happy with a (very) long day then you can go as far as Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, where you can go on a short boat ride amongst the icebergs. The Golden Circle is very popular, as it takes in three of the biggest sights close to Reykjavik (Gulfoss waterfalls, Thingvellir and Geysir).

  • Neel

    Definitely recommend the Golden Circle tour…I did mine in July a few years back. Weird seeing a geyser operate in full daylight at 1 AM, but worth it. Yes the Blue Lagoon is a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s still pretty cool if you have 2-3 hours to kill. If I remember right it’s on the way to the airport, so you can actually get a transfer from the airport to the lagoon and then go to your hotel. Icelandic food isn’t the best, but the puffin is worth trying. hey also have great lamb. Oh, and you have to hit up the famous hot dog stand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%A6jarins_Beztu_Pylsur)- they are very delicious.

  • glen

    DO NOT try the hákarl (fermented shark meat)! I will agree with Anthony Bourdain — it is “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing.”

  • brazilflyer

    I did Iceland last year in November. As long as it’s not a cold, rainy day, consider the Icelandic horse outing. It’s fun to interact with the horses. Blue Lagoon is certainly nice, but it can get quite busy. If I were going now, at peak season, I’d prefer seeking out smaller, more intimate spas instead of the Lagoon.

  • Traveling Drunkard

    How often do you look at these awards out of FLL instead of MIA? I’m based in Fort Lauderdale and often check both and am amazed how often low level international availability much better starting out of FLL instead of MIA.

  • Traveling Drunkard

    Oh, and Golden Circle Tour, Blue Lagoon, try to get in some trout fishing if you’re into that, and Reykjavik is a fun town. Avoid the shark, it’s awful, and definitely try Puffin, it’s fantastic.

  • Santastico

    “Just 100,000 miles????!” In my opinion it is a lot of miles to fly just 2,600 miles each way on biz class.

  • Jerry

    you can contact igtours (website http://www.igtours.is)

    surprisingly, they are cheap and service is excellent

    when you email them, they spend a lot of time to give good advices for an upcoming trip

    i was giving their contact details this winter by a friend and went thru this agency

    i didn’t know what to do and the guy answered all my emails :)

    i did Golden Circle, South Coast, Northern Lights evening trip and ended my trip with a stop at the Blue Lagoon spa (before afternoon is the best time to avoid the crowd)

  • Jerry

    my favorite restaurant in Reykjavik is definitely Sjavargrillid

    probably one of the best restaurants i’ve visited in years :)

  • Dieuwer

    I was in Iceland last week for 4 days. I walked around Reykjavik, did the
    Golden Circle tour, and went to the Blue Lagoon for an 1 hour massage treatment.
    I would say that in general the outdoors is great, but everything else boring. Service in restaurants is slow and surly. Prices are high in relation to quality. Nightlife sucks unless you are a drunk teenager.

    Note that I would NEVER redeem 100,000 Skymiles for a trip to Iceland.

  • LarryInNYC

    Going myself (with family) for about two and a half weeks in August. From what I’ve read 5 days seems a bit long for Reykjavik alone but, as you say, too short to do the ring road (which is our plan — in 18 nights, we’ll spend either two or three in Reykjavik).

    Obviously, it won’t fit in with your hotel points plan, but I’d consider splitting your trip between Reykjavik and one other destination — perhaps in the Western Fjords. Say, 3 nights in the capital and 2 nights in the country.

  • Ben

    I was hoping someone would mention the hot dog stand, they are good even if you aren’t drunk! It can be difficult to find, but if you ask anyone, I’m sure they will know what you are taking about. I think it is close to the Central Bank of Iceland building or the Customs House, near the harbor.

  • Ben

    I think I ate at B5, they had good lobster soup, but the mussels weren’t so great. The bar across the street was fantastic, but I can’t remember the name. I happened to be there for pride a few years ago and it was so much fun. Whale Watching was good and we spotted several, the puffin watching, was not so great because you can’t really get that close to them. I would love to spend 5 days just in the city, it is a phenomenal place. There is a geothermal pool just outside the city center, you can take a bus or taxi there: laugardalslaug. Its very cheap and less touristy than Blue Lagoon. That being said, I would still recommend Blue Lagoon. Seeing Gullfoss and Geysir will give you a good break from the small city. Enjoy Iceland, it’s probably my favorite destination.

  • Frank

    I strongly recommend seeing either Thorsmork or Lanmanalagar.
    The landscape is otherworldly. There’s actually a trail that connects the two
    points called the Laugavageur Trail, but you can do a bus/car ride + day hike
    to one of those points from Reykjavik.

  • Kerri

    The White Night Hike with GoEcco was incredible and the highlight of our trip to Iceland. These guys are a national treasure, and the scenery is amazing. We also enjoyed the Blue Lagoon, a one of a kind experience, I would not miss it.

  • Jerry

    i agree, there are so many cheap flights to Iceland that it would not be worth redeeming 100k miles

  • Jerry

    glacier hiking is a wonderful experience

  • Brian Day

    Iceland is a great place! The Blue Lagoon is a must if this is your first trip to Iceland! It is really easy to get from KEF to city center of Reykjvik by way of the bus. Make sure you check out the Hallgrimskirkja church on the top of the hill, the views from the top are amazing!! The northern lights are only visible during a cold clear night. Also coffee shops are night life are abundant!

    Enjoy!

  • Kevin

    +1 for the hotdog stand. It’s downright mysterious why it’s so good. Don’t ask questions, just ask for one with everything.

  • duffman

    we are planning a similar trip this winter and are going to refrain from using poitns/miles because the Iceland Air flights are so damn cheap (~ $550)! Yes, I know i’ll have to suck it up in coach but it’s a short flight and not worth the 100k (even skypesos) IMO.

    summer prices might be different in which case it makes sense..

  • joeypore

    I was literally just planning a trip to Iceland when I happened upon this story. Although… Easyjet flies from Manchester, and Airberlin from Munich and Dussedorf I believe, and I can 10,000 AA miles to get from Paris (where I’ll be anyway) to Reykjavik. 100k is quite a bit to spend on just one destination… That’s nice that you’re going straight from JFK though… When I go to Europe about twice a year, I like to go to as many cities as I can. But obviously you travel a bit more than I…haha

  • alana

    this is great. I’m gonna be in reykjavik for six months starting September so this is info will come in very handy. thanks all.

  • JohnnieD

    Sorry Brian, ‘just 100k’ for this trip is a pretty bad deal even with skypesos.

  • LarryInNYC

    I’m going in August, family of four, and paying about $650 a ticket on Delta.

  • thepointsguy

    What better way would you recommend flying business class without shelling out more than $50?

  • thepointsguy

    So how would you recommend flying business class without spending more than $50?

  • thepointsguy

    Business class? Where?

  • thepointsguy

    It all depends on your situation. I personally have more miles/points than I use so I’d rather burn 100k skypesos than sit in coach for a 5.5 hour redeye flight. But I understand those who’d rather fly coach. All a matter of preference

  • thepointsguy

    Nice- coach was $1200+ on my dates

  • LarryInNYC

    Only booked four or five weeks ago and had a reasonable (but visibly decreasing!) choice of dates. Got lucky, I guess!

  • Dieuwer

    “Opportunity Cost”

  • CanadaUSABC

    I just went to Iceland a few weeks ago. I think instead of taking a tour rent a car and drive the Golden Circle… gives you so much more flexibility. It is a bit expensive but if you have at least 2 people i think it’s worth it. I paid ~$120 USD a day including the CDW. Easy to navigate can also pass through some small little villages along the way. You can also hit the village of VIK where there are puffins. Also if you’re adventurous you can eat some Whale

  • Bre

    My husband took me to Iceland in March of this year as a surprise early birthday present and it was fantastic! The Blue Lagoon is a must, but we also went scuba diving right in between two tectonic plates at Silfra, which is only about a 40 minute drive from iceland. The water was 2C so we wore dry suits, but the visibility was amazing! Because of the drysuits and the great guides we managed to stay warm and lived to tell the tale. If you aren’t certified you can go snorkeling and still see just as much. Check out Scuba Iceland and tell Finni that Will & Bre sent you. It’s a once in a lifetime experience!

  • Britt

    My family and I rented a car and went and saw a bunch – our favorites were Skogafoss (smaller than Gulfoss, but you can climb behind/under it) and the Vestmannaeyjar Islands, the latter of which you can see areas buried by a volcano in the 60′s or 70′s, puffin colonies and stunningly beautiful cliffs.

  • http://paddyinba.blogspot.com/ Quickroute

    Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle, Bar Scene (crazy albeit young crowd), Geizers

  • Alan

    You’ve got a ton of great suggestions, so I won’t add much. If you do make it further north, the Myvatn Nature Baths are great… a very non-touristy alternative to the Blue Lagoon.

    For those looking at other dates, we actually went in October and had a blast. Since the tourist season ends at the end of August, you can imagine the lack of crowds in October. At times we went hours without seeing another person (even on the ring road) and had the parks all to ourselves.

    All I can say is, if you’re at all outdoorsy, it’s a great place to visit… one of the unique places on the planet.

  • Alan

    Ignore the naysayers… you’ve got the points, burn them. They’re valueless until turned into an actual flight. It’s a great place to visit and you won’t regret it for an instant.

    We took 2 weeks and drove the ring road, but in 5 days, I’d spend some time in town, spend a day on the golden triangle and rent a car and spend a day or two on the

    Snæfellsnes a bit north.

  • M Cohen

    I spent 3 days in Iceland at the end of February as the
    start of a trip around Europe earlier this year. I really enjoyed it, and here
    are some recommendations:

    -I personally enjoyed the Blue Lagoon, and would recommend it, but I can see
    how the LandLopers blogger arrived at the conclusion he did.

    -Reykjavik is surrounded by several beautiful natural areas in a ring called
    the Golden Circle, mentioned in some of the comments below. Thingvellir
    National Park is along this route. Several bus companies in Iceland offer
    Golden Circle tours, stopping at some or all of the sites along the route. I
    took a tour with Bustravel Iceland (bustravel.is) and was very pleased. The
    tour was called the “Golden Circle Afternoon” tour (5-6 hours rather
    than the full 8 hour tour, which they also offer), and cost 6,500 ISK ($51.34).
    The guide, Ingvar Jonsson, was excellent – very knowledgeable, friendly, and
    happy to answer questions. I didn’t think I missed out by not taking the longer
    tour, but maybe people who have would disagree.

    -I agree with the other posts that the fermented shark
    meat wasn’t good. I didn’t try puffin though, so I can’t comment on that.

  • Bre

    Upgrade to economy comfort on Iceland Air- it’s not that much more and it only gets you European business (ie the middle seat is blocked out) but if you are going overnight it helps you hit the ground running!

  • spedder

    I opted to do the full-day Golden Circle tour, which was around 8.5 hours. This gave loads of time at each location (actually probably a bit too long at Geysir) but did give you a chance to wander round in a leisurely fashion and get loads of photos. I would still recommend the full day version, but I agree I don’t think you’d be sacrificing much to do the afternoon or evening versions instead if it’s more convenient.

    I did the Golden Circle tour with Iceland Horizons, which was good – they use minibuses rather than coaches so it’s a smaller group. For the South Coast I used Iceland Excursions who were excellent.

  • LarryInNYC

    Alan: I’ll be spending two weeks on the ring road in August. Any suggestions / input you have is gladly welcomed.

  • Auður – I heart Reykjavík

    Don’t miss the Reykjanes peninsula (like 90% of the tourists that only see the airport and the blue lagoon) – it’s so easy to get to and quite breathtaking (renting a car is the best/only way to do it). Also, Snæfellsnes if the weather is good.

  • Karen Kurta

    Just got back from an 8-day photography trip to Iceland. The island is magnificent (and we only saw half of it). Vik is a picturesque little town and not too far from Rekjavik. Skogafoss and Gullfoss are not-to-miss waterfalls. Hellnar is a cool little town on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, which has a lot to see… I could go on for days, it was really an awesome trip!

  • John

    Pointsguy–think I saw you on the cape this past weekend but wasn’t sure if it was you so didn’t stop to chat.

    As for Iceland, I was there earlier this year (splurged for Icelandair Saga class, not worth the price but it was a special occasion) and had an amazing time. Reykjavik is a small city so you can see most of it in a day, but I found it charming and easy to navigate. Icelandic people were friendly and there were some fun stores to explore.

    Nightlife is fantastic (mostly only on Friday and Saturday), if you know where to go. It gets started late like 2AM. Yes, there are tons of drunk young people of course, but they are not all teenagers. Also there are plenty of nice bars or live music if that’s what you’re into.

    I also did a long weekend. I think most of the organized whale watching or horse back riding trips are organized group tours but we did our own thing. We rented a car to pick up on arrival and drove everywhere very easily. One day exploring the city. One day on Golden Circle, then one day on a road trip to the South Shore (Amazing waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss and the Ocean at Vik). Stayed in Reykjavik the whole time.

    We stopped at the blue lagoon on the way to the airport on the last day. I wouldn’t make it a focal point of your itinerary, but before a flight its perfect. Its touristy but a surreal place and definitely worth the visit.

    Would’ve liked more time to explore further out and can’t wait to go back.

  • Cara

    I’ve been to Iceland 3 times and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that country. The last time I was there, my husband and I took a 4×4 tour with Iceland Rovers (http://www.icelandrovers.is). We took a day tour that brought us up to Langjökull glacier (or at least we tried to). The vast “nothingness” which you will see for most of the trip coupled with some Sigur Ros music provides a surreal experience. It’s a bit pricey but definitely worth every penny. Of course, do try the usual “ring road” tour and the Blue Lagoon. As for food, I usually stuff myself with hotdogs from Bæjarins Beztu or Viki Vaki on Bankastraeti. And I never fail to visit Sægreifinn for their lobster soup. If the weather is nice, take the elevator up the top of Hallgrimskirkja for a nice view of the city and the surrounding mountains.

  • Susan4

    I was in Iceland last year. I strongly recommend you take a tour or two. My favorite part of Iceland were the tour guides! They will tell you so much about the country. Everyone in Iceland is well educated (and they all are VERY well informed on their ’08-’11 financial crisis)

    We did a small group tour of the Golden Circle with David, the owner of Iceland Horizon tours. He was so informative and interesting I would have enjoyed the tour even if we had never left the parking lot.

    One other thing. We arrived late and forgot to use an ATM at the airport. We never did need cash during our 4 days there. Credit cards are used everywhere, even for a cup of coffee at a food stand.

  • globetrotter

    How do you guys drive on the right hand side of the road plus the stick shift? I won’t rent a car in Europe until I master a manual car. I remember when we visited Europe in summer of 95, it was quite difficult to rent an automatic car. If there was one available, it cost twice as much to rent.

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  • wers

    I have found renting an automatic car no more expensive than a stick shift in Europe.

  • Chanel @ La Viajera Morena

    Oy was just there the other day and it was frigid. One thing you should def do is bring your coat. There are some great suggestions below too :D

  • DanG

    Reykjavik is largely accessed by foot from most hotels. (Excluding the Hilton)

    I was at the Hotel Holt, which I highly recommend. I could pretty much walk to anywhere in Reykjavik…

    Things I would recommend:

    1. Rent a car. There are bus tours, and the bus tours can be fun. However it’s a friendly country, and it’s not the kind of place where you can get lost in and be worried. (unless you leave the roads, I guess although I did that too.) Bring a map though, because most GPS units don’t always work well there.

    2. Two words: Eat Fish. I don’t even like many types of Fish, but frankly…The best fish I’ve ever eaten was in Iceland. I have friends who route from Europe to NY via Iceland just to pick up smoked salmon on the way home…

    http://www.fishandchips.is is memorable, and yes…

    The Hot dog in Iceland is so weird, that it’s amazing. Not like anything back home…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%A6jarins_Beztu_Pylsur

    Some of the bars in Iceland are coffee houses and serve breakfast in the morning, and get more alcoholic as the day progresses. I haven’t been there in a few years, but there is a reason why Starbucks hasn’t really done much there. The local coffee is really, really good.

    3. Swim. It’s kind of a national obsession there. There are public swimming pools in just about every town, and they’re happy to allow guests from all nations. They have an almost limitless supply of electricity, so they take advantage of it…Even if they don’t swim in the ocean.

    The Blue lagoon, which actually is wastewater from the power plant, is completely touristy, crowded and fun. It’s also near the international airport, so if you have an afternoon flight….It’s a fun place to hit in the AM.

    4. Read the signs. I remember going to Þingvellir, looking at a serene setting below the rocks, and thinking wow…This is really beautiful.

    That is before I read that this is where the government used to Execute their prisoners there… Pretty harsh history, but interesting.
    The residents are very serious about their independence. They grow and raise most of their food. They import as little as possible, and they’re proud of it. They got hit hard during the economic downturn…
    In the summer from JFK – Icelandair has a day flight a few days a week eastbound. I always found that it was preferable to the overnight flights…

  • Kate

    I’m going to Iceland next week, and THANK YOU for mentioning the volcano! I hadn’t heard about it, and I’m ALL ABOUT that kind of adventure. :)

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  • Harold
  • NYCguy

    I don’t think people realize just how expensive flights to Iceland really are, especially when you’re planning something at the last minute, or a short while out. Most deals you see through Travelzoo and the like really require you to book months in advance and be stuck to their set itinerary while staying at the Hilton – which isn’t even downtown. Further, those “cheap” flights are usually available in shoulder seasons when weather can be quite drizzly and even more unpredictable than usual (obscuring the northern lights), or you end up missing out on the midnight sun. Both times I went were during times I wanted to go, and no deals were available. Sure, I could have saved hundreds of dollars by taking a deal months in advance at a time of year required by the deal, but then the likelihood of me seeing the northern lights would have been that much worse. I’d rather spend the money up front and have a better possibility of seeing them the first time around than requiring a second trip. Fares in the $900 – $1,400 in economy are not at all uncommon. While I don’t know that I personally would have used 100k miles to fly business on that short of a flight (I probably would have just used miles for economy), but that’s your preference, and kudos to you for finding a way to actually use miles on this route! But at the end of the day, flights to KEF *are* often expensive, and if I had Delta miles to use, I most certainly would have used them on this route.

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