Iceland is easily one of my favorite countries. I spent four days in Reykjavik in December 2014, and had a blast. Here are some tips if you're planning a short trip to Iceland!
Flights to Iceland can be really pricey from the U.S., especially because there are so few carriers. My best suggestion, if you have the travel time, is to book a flight on Iceland Air to another destination which has a layover in Reykjavik. Iceland Air is great because you can extend that layover for up to 7 nights, at no additional cost. So if you fly from New York to Denmark, you can take a five day layover in Iceland, and see an extra country.
As well, WOW Airlines has hella cheap flights from Boston to Reykjavik.
Where to stay
Two things to keep in mind.
1) Iceland is really expensive.
2) There is only one main street where just about all the action goes down, called Laugavegur.
I would strongly recommend staying at a place near Laugavegur as excursions typically depart in this area. It's also the center of the nightlife culture.
I stayed at a hostel called Kex, which I would highly recommend. It was clean, and the ambience was fantastic. The bar at Kex is a spot where locals frequent, so there is authentic cultural interaction here. It's also a great spot if you're into the well-trimmed beard/classy lumberjack vibe.
Things to do
Glacier Hike: This is far more of a walk than a hike, so do not be concerned if you are not in the most fit shape of your life. I loved this guided tour because I felt safe (harnessed), and I learned a ton about the history of the glaciers and why they are disappearing so fast. I definitely recommend this tour, especially because these glaciers will not last. Experience them while you can!
Blue Lagoon: Let's just get this out of the way- yes, the Blue Lagoon is touristy as fuck. It's also awesome as fuck. You know how you go to Paris, having dreamt of seeing the Mona Lisa, and when you get there the painting is bite sized and everyone is cramming to get a shitty picture and you leave wishing you had spent the day at that awesome carnival across the park? Yeah, the Blue Lagoon is not like that. It's HUGE. It's RELAXING. It's BEAUTIFUL. It's also very clean and extremely well organized. There is even a bar in the lagoon where you can use your wristband to get drinks. Wine and a big ass spa? YAS please!
Skogafoss/Black Sand Beach: Although I am not a big fan of the Golden Circle Tour (see below in Overrated), I did love the waterfalls. My personal favorite was Skogafoss. Check out how majestic this place is! The black sand beach is also stunning and worth a visit, although the water is impossibly cold year round. I was able to see these two places as part of the Glacier Hike, but renting a car and exploring different waterfalls would be AWESOME!
Geothermal Energy Exhibition: I was hungover and not particularly keen on hanging around a museum for an hour, but I have to say this place was fantastic! Iceland is leading the world in renewable energy. The guides here are geothermal engineers who are so fascinated and passionate about what they do, it's contagious! You will learn how the plant is working to use Iceland's natural geothermal heat to provide clean water and affordable heating to citizens. The exhibition includes fantastic media, and you'll even be able to see the plant in action! Don't miss this!
A Day in Reykjavik: Reykjavik is small. You really can explore the city in a day. Grab a coffee, peruse the shops, stop by the Penis Museum (yes, it's real), and buy yourself a dick shaped bottle opener. For dinner, enjoy a whale steak and some puffin (Iceland's specialty), before landing at a ridiculous(ly awesome) bar called the Lebowski. Make sure to spend $20 to spin the wheel; you could win 10 free beers!
Golden Circle Tour: I reckon that if you and some friends rent a vehicle and explore the golden circle on your own, and you stop at a few extra places, this could be fun. Unfortunately, I took an organized tour and it was pretty anticlimactic. The coolest part was the beginning, where we visited the Geothermal Energy Exhibition (mentioned above in things to do), but after that I faded out.
You'll definitely see some waterfalls, Golfoss being the most famous, but more than anything you're just trapped in a van or bus listening to someone talk at you. The geysers were nice enough, but only for about 10 minutes. You’re not missing out if you skip this one.
Things I wish I had done
Paragliding: Contrary to its name, Iceland is actually lush and green in summer. Paragliding over the mountains and waterfalls would be just stunning! Even in the winter, although cold, I imagine soaring over the glaciers would be mesmerizing.
Snowmobiling: The only reason I did not go snowmobiling in Iceland was because I was going in Finland the following week with my sister. Snowmobiling is a blast! If you love adventure, this is for you!
Midnight Dog Sledding: Because I was in Iceland during winter, where there is only sunlight 3 hours a day, I was not able to do this. In summertime, however, the sun never sets, and you can take a ride, being steered by huskies, under the midnight sun!
Stock up on liquor at Duty Free before leaving the airport. Your wallet will thank you.