Hi All! Everybody on this forum is so helpful so I thought I would start here. We are traveling to Iceland at the end of May with another couple on a stop over on our way to Ireland. We have decided to stay four nights in Iceland. Our goal is to see Reykjavík and the southern coast possibly a little bit further than Vik. So possibly two nights in Reykjavík and two nights somewhere near Vik? Since we are going in the summer there will be a lot of daylight and we want to fit in as much as we can without overdoing it. I have scoured the Iceland guide from Rick Steves and am so confused as to what to see and where to go. Everything looks beautiful and I’m not sure where to get started! We will see the volcano if it is active, go to blue lagoon, drive the golden circle and also to the south coast. We are renting a car and are looking for hotels or Airbnb recommendations as well. We are in our 50s and are active but do not want to do anything too strenuous. It would be fun to do a glacier walk if anyone has a recommendation for that. We are up for anything! Any and all information would be appreciated. Thank you all so much and looking forward to seeing Iceland for the first time..
I would not drive the day of arrival but I would stop at the Blue Lagoon where you can store your luggage while you bath in the lagoon before checking into your hotel or Airbnb in Reykjavik. Afterwards explore Reykjavik.
The next day (day two) drive the Golden Circle from Reykjavik. On day three drive the south coast which sounds like another day trip from Reykjavik. After driving the Golden Circle and south coast there's probably an area you might want to revisit on day four.
I am not familiar with what the RS guide suggests but I found the Free Walk really interesting and did that the first morning (since my flight arrived so early that day)- the downtown area is quite compact and the guide provided an overview from ancient history to modern politics with humor and insightful "insider" information you might not otherwise learn.
I also loved the Settlement Museum. And went to the famous french fry place RS must mention? A full day for Reykjavik was just right, for me. The second day I used a very small "eco" tour (I didn't rent a car) to access the Golden Circle. The driver was not a fan of the huge tour bus companies and planned the timing so we would be arriving at a location well before the big groups came! It's something to think about, because as we would be departing, 3-4 of the giant buses would pull up and their crowds disembark. You might consider that for your driving itinerary, get an early start, etc.
I can't help with the glacier! I loved Iceland, and also the airport shopping!
We too did the Citywalk "free" walking tour on both of our trips. We did that on the first day as it keeps you outside and in the fresh air, which helps to keep us awake. Plus, it gives you your bearings and then for the rest of the trip you sort of know where you are.
I too would just to Reykjavik on arrival day, and then rent a car for the next day, depending on weather of course.
Depending on your flight times, you might just do the Blue Lagoon either upon arrival or before you head back to the airport. On our last trip this summer, we did it on the way to the airport which worked well for us.
Our April trip a few years ago (before Rick had published an Island guidebook) included a custom trip with Icelandic Mountain Guides https://guidetoiceland.is/tour-operator-tours-holidays/icelandic-mountain-guides-arcanum/1731 .
The guide did the driving, and arranged lodging for us. We covered much of the southern coast from Reykjavik and back, stopping at many volcano and waterfall sights. We also did an extended glacier hike, with crampons, ice axes, etc. Very professional, and safety was always the prime concern.
We later rented a car and did the Golden Circle and also points northwest of Reykjavik on our own.
Chances are your east bound flight will arrive at the crack of dawn as others have mentioned. I was at my city center hotel by 8 a.m. and had a lot of time to kill before my room was ready at 2 p.m. Most hotels are used to this but if you're doing AirBNB double check their policies. I would not immediately rent a car and drive somewhere jet lagged, but that's just me. As suggested by others I also recommend the free walking tour. It was worth the time and information, though I did take it on my second to last day there - earlier in the trip would have been more helpful. I really enjoyed a food walking tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik - quite a variety of food and I had a super interesting guide.
FWIW all the things you mentioned can be done as day trips and alleviate the need to rent a car. I did a large bus tour of Golden Circle, small bus tour to south coast, and a large bus northern lights tour (not an option for you in May). As has been mentioned all of the buses go to the same places and pretty much arrive at similar times, so it's a matter of your preference for transport and guide quality. GeoIceland was my small bus tour and they were great.
I was there in late October so I had the opposite amount of sunlight you will have, but imagine you'll want to pack eyeshades to get a decent nights sleep. And note that your outbound Europe flight is probably going to leave pretty early in the morning if it is a non-stop (usually between 7 and 8 a.m.). REK airport is small and efficient, but it does take a solid 45 minutes to get there from city center, so keep that in mind when planning.