Short trip? Long trip?
The two lengths of trips I would recommend are 4-7 days or 14+ days. If you decide to stay in Iceland for 4-7 days, read my tips below. If you decide to stay 14+ days, you'll want to travel around the entire country. Might I suggest on a Happy Camper?
Where to stay
If you're planning to stay in Iceland for a week or less, definitely stay in Reykjavik each night. It allows you to stash your stuff in your room while you drive out of the city for a few hours and see the sights. Traveling back at night is fast and you'll have plenty of food options in Reykjavik.
For those of you who are on a budget and love design, I would recommend the Kex Hostel. Gorgeous Ace Hotel-esque decor paired with a stunning bar, restaurant, and even a barbershop tucked inside an old bank vault makes this a popular destination for hip, attractive, beard-laden travelers. The hostel rooms are clean and the bathrooms, although shared, are single-use and quite nice! I'm always wary of hostels and found my stay at the Kex to be incredibly enjoyable.
Cheaper than a hotel, more expensive than the Kex. AirBnb has hundreds of apartments and homes throughout Reykjavik. Just make sure you're staying in close-proximity to the restaurants and bars in Reykjavik.
I cannot stress this enough, get a car...and better yet, an SUV. Most people who go to Iceland assume they need to take excursions to get out of Reykjavik and see the country. Sadly, the excursions are about $200+ each and you get shuttled around with about 50-100 strangers. NO FUN. Renting a car was by far the best decision we could have made. Because of this, we were able to see all of the sites completely by ourselves. There were a few places we drove that would have been impossible to get to without an SUV (gravel roads), so upgrading to an SUV is very important. I've rented a couple of times from Procar and had an amazing experience. Opt for the GPS and the Self-Drive tours and you'll have a great time.
Things to do in Iceland
The Golden Circle
When you get to Iceland, all you'll hear about is the Golden Circle. It's the easiest place to shuttle tourists to on busses because the landmarks are conveniently located in a circle. Geysír, Gullfoss and Kerið are really great sights on the Golden Circle. However, when you get to these places, you'll be sharing the sights with hundreds of tourists. I much prefer the places below, most of which you'll practically have to yourselves!
This is a secret hot spring. You'll have to do some googling to find exact directions. It's tricky, but worth it. When you get there, do some hiking up the hill behind it and hop around in the moss.
This is a given. It's the #1 tourist attraction in Iceland for a reason. Unlike anything you'll experience in the world. My huge tip: Get there as they're closing. We got there 1.5 hours before they closed for the night and we practically had the place to ourselves.
This is a beachside town with black sand beaches. They're incredibly gorgeous!
This is one of my FAVORITE things in Iceland. You have to have an SUV to get there and drive about 15 minutes off any roads on a moon-like terrain to get there. Completely worth it.
This is a geothermal steamy area with good (optional) hiking!
Reykjanesviti Lighthouse & hike
There's a huge cliff over here and a picnic table for lunch. Highly recommend climbing up the hill and enjoying the seaside views.
Just next to the lighthouse and cliff. Large steaming area that looks like Mars!
Seljavallalaug Hidden Pool
A secret hidden pool that will hopefully be unoccupied by the time you get there.
Things to do in Reykjavik
Food & Drink
I'm addicted to the oat milk latte from this place. Hands down the best coffee in Reykjavik!
Kex Hostel Restaurant/Bar
Great breakfast, good dinner, and live music on certain nights. Even if you aren't staying at the hostel, you're welcome.
Great lunch spot!
The Laundromat Café
A great spot if you're missing home. Especially great if you're a New Yorker. The food is delicious and the decor is wonderful.
Great vegetarian restaurant. A good choice if you're looking to eat healthy for a meal.
One of the best meals of my life. Great fancy spot for dinner. Beautiful decor and delicious cocktails.
A Big Lebowski themed bar! Great menu of white russians if you're into that sort of thing.
The tallest building in Reykjavik. Take the elevator to the top and take in the colorful buildings in Reykjavik.
If you can, try to catch a show at the Harpa. If not, simply visit during the day and have lunch or a drink. The architecture is absolutely breathtaking and you have to go inside to see the best part!