Reykjavik's marketing team has recently had a burst of mother-effin' genius and is capitalizing on long layovers through their main airport, KEF. Almost as brilliant as Matthew McConaughey selling Lincolns. If you find yourself there (likely via WOWair's sweetly cheap flights), know that you don't really need more than 3 days in Reykjavik — especially if you're there in winter and you want to chop off your hands to save Jack Frost the trouble.
Can you do everything there is to do in Reykjavik in 2 1/2 days? Almost. Will you sleep? Not much, no. But damnit, you'll have "done" Reykjavik. [Insert pro-feminist statement here.]
So, that said, here goes nothing:
DAy one: Explore the city on foot.
You just took a redeye flight and it's 3 AM your time. Part of you may want to fall over, but DON'T SUCCUMB. If it's October through March, just stand somewhere near the harbor (or, really, anywhere), unbutton your jacket, say a prayer, and let Mother Nature help you realize that you're alive, you're awake, you can apparently feel your eyelashes freeze, and there's a big, bright world out there to experience. It won't take you that long: Reykjavik's population is only 120,000, and it feels like it. Dink around, grab some bitchin' tomato soup and cheesecake at Babalu cafe, and then...
Book it to Hallgrímskirkja.
It's around $7.12 USD for admission and the wait may or may not be terrible, but the views from the top of the church tower are definitely worth it — I highly suggest sunrise or sunset, but they'll always be good. Hello, old, snow-covered volcanoes rising out of the sea. I could look at you for years.
At some point, check into your hostel/hotel/stranger's couch.
Shannon and I stayed at Kex Hostel. Beautifully designed, super hip, great breakfasts, totally vintage-retro, good prices, great location. Just avoid the excursion desk if at all possible. You'll have a more...how you say, "free market" experience on your own time (read: just book it on the 'net after you've done your own adequate research on all the viable options).
See the northern lights, duh.
Because that's probably what you came for, if you're anything like Shannon. She tells me that the auroras aren't gonna be as bright for a while, so get your butt in gear NOW. Once you're there, you essentially have three options:
1) Book a tour. In talking to a bunch of people, it seems like the success of your tour largely depends on the weather and the mood of your driver and less on the company itself. Some people see them on the first day (we were lucky enough to, though they were more of a fog to the naked eye than anything), some don't; some leave by midnight, some stay till 3 AM. If you do go the tour route, I'd advise going on your first day — most, if not all, tours will let you keep coming back for free until you see them.
2) Rent a car. That is, if you're cool driving in a foreign country and on potentially icy roads at midnight. I am not one of those people (especially with Shannon's life in my hands). Otherwise, a seriously awesome option, mostly because you won't be around foreign tourists who don't seem to understand the phrase, "YOUR FLASH IS RUINING EVERYONE ELSE'S EXPERIENCE, PLEASE STOP."
3) Go to a spot and see them in town. This sounds like a load of BS to me, which led Shannon literally running back to the hostel at 3 AM and finding me to tell me to put a damn coat on and come outside because "they're like frickin' ribbons in the sky, yo." A huge benefit to Kex's location (and, no, Kex has no idea I'm writing this and thus is totally not paying me) is the fact that they're about 2 feet away from the harbor. Right from there, the sky was going crazy. Greens, purples, and, no lie, ribbons. Steps away from the hostel. Unfortunately with the harbor being so wide open and me not having a tripod no photography worked out, but you'll just have to take my word for it and look at the other pretty pictures.
Day two: The Golden Circle tour.
Because that's probably what you came for, if you're anything like me. PLATE TECTONICS is essentially what gets me out of bed in the morning. You'll be able to walk along the rift between the North American and Eurasian plates and spend hours thinking about the fact that everything you've ever seen (literally) has to do with the ground you're walking on at that very moment. Sigh. I should've been a geologist.
But when it comes to logistics — I'd go with IcelandHorizon over Reykjavik Excursions. IcelandHorizon takes you to an extra super impressive waterfall (Faxafoss); ReykEx takes you to some tomato-growing greenhouse that both Shannon and I slept through. Both, for the record, take you to Gullfoss (Golden Falls), Geysir, and through Þhingvellir National Park. It's gonna be totally, completely amazing however you go about it, but it'll be just a little bit more amazing with another waterfall thrown in there — or, hell, you could do all the driving yourself and it'll probably be even better.
Eat hot dogs, get fish n' chips, just be merry.
The semi-famous "Icelandic hot dog" is found at a teeny little red stand along the harbor, and the place is called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Apparently they're about as iconic as Reykjavik food gets, which, I suppose, is saying something. Don't get me wrong: It was a good hot dog and it's gonna be the cheapest (yet still decent) meal you'll find in Reykjavik...but it was still a hot dog. Definitely try to put fish n' chips higher up on your list. Just do something right tonight because tomorrow? Tomorrow is gonna suck.
Save the worst for day three: The Blue Lagoon
Just right now, I'm gonna tell you point blank: Don't do it. Don't you do it! You may want to, but just don't. Instead, take this time to tour the South Coast, go to the Secret Lagoon, or just go to some random hot spring/natural pool literally anywhere else but the Blue Lagoon. Why? Because the Blue Lagoon is a fart in a field of lilacs (and it smells like it, too). It's Kim Kardashian's diary on a shelf of Hemingway novels. I won't continue, just read our entire rant devoted to it if you're aching for more metaphors.
But if you have to do it, the bus ride out and back will be awesome. It's one giant lava field, baby, and lava fields are where it's at. Feel free to think about those as you enter the Stepford country club that is the Blue Lagoon.
And lastly, if you do wind up at the Blue Lagoon, we dare you to stick your head underwater. Those screams you're hearing? Those are the dementors coming after you because you know better. Okay, just kidding, they're not dementors.
...But we're not kidding about the screams.