Where to even start! I plan every trip meticulously before I go because so far I've only been able to stay less than a week. Lots of things book up, so it makes good sense to get things organised before you go. What kind of holiday are you looking for? Do you want lots of activity? Do you want a relaxing time? Or a combination of the two? Do you want to explore on your own terms? Or see as much as you can for free?
Types of Things to Do If this is your first trip then I recommend doing a little of as much as possible. A day tour, a day in museums, a day around the city, a day in a hot spring for example. It is also good to allow time to be flexible in case something comes up that you want to do, or in case a tour is cancelled you may need some free dates to move it to. More on this below.
Consider also who you want to spend your time with. Do you want to be fully alone? Or would you like a small group tour that is capped at 16 travellers? Or are you on a tight budget and need to consider a large bus tour? For my first solo trip I had this itinerary;
Day One I booked a Northern Lights tour due to depart a few hours after arriving.
Day Two was a small group tour around the South Coast which would be a long day out and hence didn't allow for another lights booking.
Day Three I left free for sleeping in, exploring Reykjavik, visiting a leisure centre for the hot water and a second Northern Lights tour which got cancelled due to cloud cover.
Day Four I went on a Golden Circle tour. My Northern Lights tour from day three was rearranged for this night. It was cancelled again due to cloud cover.
I departed 3am the next morning for my flight home.
Websites For all my trips I use Guide to Iceland.is *. This website collects tours from different operators and has them all in one place. It is so easy and time saving. All our bookings are then stored in one place so you can access all tickets and information at once.
Pulling it together You should have a rough idea of what you want to do. Scribble them all down and then we can pull it together
Check your day trips list - how long are they? Are they all day? A couple of hours? Can you plan two trips in one day?
Are the trips you want to go on available when you are in Iceland? Some trips are only available in summer/winter. Check that you are going the right time of year to see what you want to see.
If you have lots of one type of trip to choose from, do you prefer small group or bus? Do any of them offer anything more that you want? For example some northern lights trip offer a little extra treat that others don't. Or a day trip might have a different stop off as part of their package to others.
Do they pick up from your accommodation?
Is there anything that you could do on the day that you fly in order to save a full day to do something else? Many travellers go to the Blue Lagoon on flying days for this reason.
Is price a factor?
Do you have rest time built in, or time to do something last minute?
Don't forget local events or places to go that require less money or travel. Iceland has lots of museums and exhibitions and some unusual activities. Such as bar crawling with locals*, festivals such as Iceland Airwaves, and even an Elf School. While you are planning all this remember to self care. If you tire easily, plan in a rest day. If crowds will drain you, book small group tours.
Packing for the day You'll want essentials such as a water bottle, weather protection, sunglasses, camera, snacks (very essential) as well as anything specific for the trip you are booked on. Always check the details on the tour receipt for what is provided and what you will need to bring. During one tour I saw one very unequipped traveller made to purchase a coat mid-journey because the weather was too cold for the tour company to allow her to continue. The cheapest coat is over £300 from the shop she went to. It is always better to bring too much and have to leave things in the minibus than have a trip or your finances potentially ruined through lack of preparation.
Cancellations On my first trip to Iceland I was deeply shocked when a trip was cancelled due to the weather. At the time I had no idea how common this was. I have since had at least one trip cancelled or changed due to weather on every visit to Iceland so far. The key is to plan time in your trip for potential movement of bookings. if you plan in at least one rest day towards the end of your trip, it creates room to move a trip into in the event of cancellation. If you have no free time for movement, you will just get a refund and won't have any ability to rebook until your next holiday to Iceland. The weather dictates everything there.
This is especially true of the Northern Lights. Seeing them is completely dependent on cloud cover. Even if Iceland has the best Northern Lights for the last decade, you won't see them if there is cloud, and if there is too much cloud the tours won't even run. Almost all tour companies will move your tours to the next available date (i.e. usually the next day). So I like to plan my own little game to hedge my bets. I'll book one Northern Light tour for the start of the holiday. If it is cancelled then I will move it to the next night, and so on until I see the Northern Lights. Then I'll book another one. This way I spend the least amount of money on hunting and don't have to carry a cancelled trip onto my next holiday.
It is always best to order your plans in order of how important they are to you. Do your absolute must-dos first. If they get cancelled you will still have a chance to do that activity. This will maximise your holiday time and minimise the chance of you coming home having seen a fraction of what you wanted to see.
If your trip is cancelled, there are lots of things to do instead. I recommend making a list ahead of time for day and night activities so you aren't wasting time sat around feeling sad that your plans have fallen through. For example;
Going to a museum.
Visiting the beautiful Harpa and possibly watching a play.
Taking the bus to somewhere else.
Visiting the leisure centre and lounging around with locals.
Going to a special place for food.
Visiting markets or local shops.
Going to a bar in the city and learn Icelandic with residents.
On my very first trip I spent more time than I would have liked sitting in the hostel at a loose end because trips were cancelled and I had no back up list.
Good luck planning! And as always if you need help, reach out.