3 Day Itinerary: Iceland

Iceland has become a popular tourist destination over the years and for good reason. It is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I have ever visited. I went for the first time with family in 2015 and loved it so much that I went back in 2021. For my first visit, you can find my blog post here. Although I explored some of the same sights during my most recent trip, I wanted to share my itinerary as I felt that it was an entirely different experience. It was snowing during my visit in November 2015 and while it was of course still cold during the October 2021 trip, it was much more bearable and I was able to rent a car. I believe that would be my number one tip when going to Iceland…rent a car. Could you visit without renting a car? Of course! I did so the first time and got around through tours just fine; however, there were moments of feeling rushed and restricted.

If you don’t have a lot of vacation days to spare, you can do a quick 3 day trip when travelling from the east coast of the US. Sure you won’t be able to do the entire ring road, but with this itinerary, you will see plenty without feeling too overwhelmed either. I purchased a package through Icelandair, here is a summary of my booking:

Package Cost: $599/person (booked for two individuals)

  • Nonstop Airfare from IAD to KEF through Icelandair
  • 3 Night Accommodation at CenterHotels Laugavegur
  • Sky Lagoon Pure Pass Experience
  • Northern Lights by Boat Tour
  • Hop On Hop Off City Sightseeing Bus (did not utilize)

Car Rental Cost: $358.59

Day 1: Arrive in Iceland, Golden Circle

We arrived in Iceland around 6:30AM so that meant we had the entire day ahead of us. Many people choose to visit the Blue Lagoon either once they arrive or before they fly out because it’s near the airport. It’s definitely a great way to knock the lagoon off your list at a convenience; however, since I went to the Blue Lagoon during my other trip and was going to the Sky Lagoon, we didn’t opt for this.

Instead we found that it was the perfect opportunity to hit the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a route in southern Iceland that loops from Reykjavik that hits beautiful, popular tourist destinations. It takes around 3 hours without stops, so I planned for a full day to include lunch along the route. First we stopped at Kokulist Bakery for some goodies for the road trip. It’s nearby the airport and had a variety of baked goods to purchase. It was actually so good that we stopped on our way back to the airport at the end of the trip.

With baked goods in hand, we headed out to our first stop.

Thingvellir National Park

This national park is best known for the fact that it’s the only place in the world where you can stand between two continental plates. You can set up an excursion to dive between the plates where you can place yours hands on each plate, essentially being in two continents at once. While we didn’t partake in that activity, we were able to take in the views of the luscious greenery expanding for miles. Because we were short on time, we didn’t do any hikes or explore different areas. We went to the main lookout point and then walked along the pathways there.

The Great Geysir

From the park we headed to see the infamous geysers, which is about an hour drive. You’ll know when you’re close by the geysers when you start to smell the sulfur aka eggs. There’s a clear parking lot and then right across the street is a sectioned off area where you’ll find the an abundance of hot springs. Not all of them have erupting geysers, but they are so beautiful and intriguing to look at. The springs are roped off and please respect those boundaries.

The Great Geysir erupts frequently so you will definitely have the opportunity to catch it and set up for the perfect picture. Overall, this spot is a must visit, but you do not have to allocate much time here.

GullFoss Waterfall

Just 30 minutes away from the Great Geysir, you will find Gullfoss waterfall which is in the canyon of the Hvítá river. This waterfall is grand and a gorgeous sight. It doesn’t involve much walking to get from the parking lot to the waterfall, but once you hit the falls there are areas that are quite slippery and difficult to get to so you will want to wear proper shoes.

Lunch At Fridhmeimer

From the waterfalls we headed to lunch at Fridhmeimer, which is just 30 minutes away. This spot is an absolutely must for a unique dining experience. If you don’t like tomatoes then you would want to skip it though as it’s based on a tomato farm and all dishes are tomato based even the beer! You’ll want to make reservations in advance by booking a table online on their website.

The main item on their menu is an endless tomato soup bar with a variety of bread options for dipping. You might be thinking, what’s so great about tomato soup? The freshness of course makes it delicious but then being surrounded by the vines itself and basil to just tear off to put in your dishes make it just an overall great experience.

Kerio Crater

After our stomachs were full on tomatoes, we headed to Kerio Crater which is incredible. It was raining by the time we got there, but it didn’t take away from the beauty one bit. The water was still a turquoise blue hue and the contrast to its surroundings just made from an unreal sight.

The crater is easy to get to and just 30 minutes from Fridhmeimer. You’ll get to a parking lot and pay a small fee at a booth and then walk up some stairs to get to the surrounding areas of the crater. You can also go down a small flight of stairs to get to the water. The view from the top is of course better, but still worth it to go down there as well.

The crater is the last stop of the Golden Circle. From this point, it is just an hour drive back to Reykjavik. I really enjoyed the Golden Circle and felt it was an easy way to see so much already on our first day. It’s the perfect activity for your first day in Iceland if you’re arriving early and need to kill some time before checking into your accommodation.

Day 2: Waterfalls, Black Sand Beach, Northern Lights

Our second day in Iceland involved an early start and full of activities from morning to night. Fill up on breakfast and coffee at the hotel because you’ll need the energy for this. This trip takes you along the southern part of the island and allows you to hit some amazing places.

Make sure to fill up on gas before you leave Reykjavik as you’ll be on the road for a bit and won’t pass many gas stations. Also note that if paying by credit card, be sure to remember the PIN on your credit card as the gas stations will ask for it.

Seljalandsfoss falls

The first stop was seljalandsfoss falls which you’ll reach in about two hours. The first time I visited these falls, it was snowy and icy so I wasn’t able to actually go behind the falls. The weather was much nicer this time around and I’m so glad I was able to get up close to these falls. Be prepared to get wet.

gljufrabui waterfall

This waterfall is sort of a hidden gem. Many people will just visit seljalandsfoss and then hit the road again and if you go with a tour, you likely wouldn’t have much time to explore this unique spot. Right down the trail, you’ll come across a small entry way where you’ll have to walk into a cave to find this stunning waterfall. This was probably one of my favorite spots of the day as you’re tucked away and get to witness water coming straight down just inches away from you. Prop yourself up on the large rock and you’ll get an amazing photo opportunity. Just be mindful of the time you spend here as it’s a small space and everyone wants to get a nice photo.

skogafoss & Lunch

About 25 minutes from Seljalandsfoss, you will come to Skogafoss. Another waterfall that is easy to access as you just park and take a short walk to the falls. You’ll almost always see a rainbow along the waters which makes for a magical viewing. While this waterfall is huge and great to see, it’s also my least favorite of all the waterfalls I’ve seen in Iceland. You can also walk up a set of stairs to see the view from the top, which I did during my first trip but felt it wasn’t necessary to do again.

Near the entrance of Skogafoss, you’ll see this red food truck. Do not ignore. Here you will find the best fish and chips. This beer battered, perfectly fried fish is the best I have ever tried. The owner catches the fish fresh every day and prepares the batter with four different beers. It was honestly so good and I think it about quite often.

Kvernufoss falls

Just down the road, you’ll find a trail to another waterfall that is sort of off the beaten path. We basically had the place to ourselves and as much as I want to avoid this place becoming like Skogafoss with great crowds, I also want others to enjoy this beautiful spot.

It’s a short hike from the parking lot and 10000% worth the stroll which is beautiful in itself. You can also go behind this waterfall so prepare to get soaked.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

The last location for us on this drive along the southern island is the black sand beach. There were other places that I wanted to go afterwards and you definitely could, but we had to head back to Reykjavik to have time for dinner and reset before our northern lights tour. Since this drive isn’t a ring like the Golden Circle, you have to account for how far you drive away from Reykjavik and the time it’ll take to get back.

The black sand beach is a gorgeous spot with as you can imagine, black sand. You’ll want to stay away from the water as the currents are strong and there are plenty reported deaths due to it. So just take in the beauty from afar. There’s a little cafe at the parking lot entrance where you can warm up after exploring the grounds a bit.

Fueled on coffee, we headed back to the city which took around two and half hours.

Northern Lights By Boat

We regrouped at the hotel then headed out to dinner. I’m always craving Asian cuisine, so we tried out a Vietnamese restaurant as pho sounded extremely comforting. As you can imagine, it was just okay but still hit the spot of what I needed.

As part of the package we purchased, a northern lights boat tour was included. The northern lights in Iceland are most visible during the winter months, so I didn’t really have high expectations to see them on this trip. I saw them during my last trip, but it took a while as we drove around on the tour with snow flowing down. We finally came across them and to be completely honest, it was very underwhelming. The movement was slow and it was overall pretty faint, so it just looked like a long cloud across the sky. Also during that time, you could really only see the hues in a photo taken with a DSLR camera. For those who aren’t aware, the northern lights are white to the blind eye. It’s not visibly vibrant and green like the images you see, so you have to go in knowing that or you’ll be quite disappointed.

So, lets just say I came into this tour with low expectations but my experience this time around was far better than the first. It didn’t take long for us to spot the lights and while there was a little bit of overcast, it was still very clear what was considered the northern lights. They were actively moving across the sky and although it was white, it was noticeably different than the clouds. Another thing that made this so much better was the advancement in technology. The iPhone can capture the hues so all we had to do was put the phone towards the sky in video mode and you could see it in real time. Witnessing the northern lights during this trip made me realize just how amazing the phenomenon is.

This was the perfect way to end our second day in Iceland.

Day 3: Fagradalsfjall Volcano, Sky Lagoon

On our third day in Iceland, we took it a little bit easier. We allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit after two jam packed days. My original plan was actually just to explore Reykjavik fully on this day, but decided instead to go explore Fagradalsfjall volcano during the first half of the day.

Fagradalsfjall Volcano

In 2021 Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted and lasted far longer than originally predicted. For six months, lava was flowing and visitors could hike to see the incredible sight. I was hoping to see the active lava during our trip, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. However, it was still incredible to visit the volcano and see the lava rocks and steam still coming out of the formations.

The hike itself can get quite intense and steep, but was overall moderate. We ended up not going to the way top due to the fact that lava wasn’t flowing, so we saw enough by the midway point and wanted to get back into town in time for our next activity.

Sky Lagoon

Also part of the package was entrance to the Sky Lagoon, which was a new spa that opened up that year. While the Blue Lagoon is absolutely unreal and beautiful with its milky blue waters, I really enjoyed the Sky Lagoon. It’s much smaller, so I might have felt different if it was jam packed but I loved the modern space and infinity style pool.

The Sky Lagoon also includes a seven step spa treatment, which was really fun to experience. It includes a cold plunge, sauna, steam room, and more. Similar to the Blue Lagoon, you get a bracelet that tracks the number of drinks you order and then you pay for it when leaving. You’re limited to three drinks, so don’t expect to relax with drinks all day.

I would highly recommend visiting the Sky Lagoon, the Blue Lagoon, and a natural hot spring so you can make your own comparisons.

Day 4: Explore Reykjavik, Travel Back Home

Our final moments in Iceland called for exploration of Reykjavik. The city is small, so you really can explore it in just one day or in our case, half a day.

We started the day off early with a visit to Braud Co. to pick up some fresh pastries which were incredible. They’re known for their cinnamon rolls and they did not disappoint. Nearby was the infamous Hallgrimskirkja church (fourth photo below). While we didn’t go inside the church to get views of the city, it’s still a must stop for this unique architecture. Next, we had breakfast at Sandholt where I was also tempted by their wide selection of pastries.

After breakfast, we walked over to Pufa Hill (second photo below) which is an art installation and quite the walk from the main city center. It’s definitely a cool installation with an odd surprise at the top of the hill, but might not be worth the walk to some people.

The walk back to and through the city center included stops for donuts, hot dogs, and a stroll along the rainbow street. Note that eating hot dogs is an absolute must in Iceland. I am personally not a fan of hot dogs at all, but for some reason really enjoyed the one from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur which is the infamous place in Reykjavik. As a non-hot dog lover though, I didn’t love it enough to have too much of it but my travel partner is a hot dog lover and ate at least five during our short time in the city.

This trip to Iceland was simply amazing. It reminded me how much I really love the country and all it has to offer. I could never get bored of visiting (although my wallet wouldn’t be too happy since it is definitely expensive there) because of all the amazing nature aspects to it.

From the east coast, Iceland is a great place to visit for a short (or long!) trip and I’d encourage everyone to visit if they can. It’s unreal and by far one of my favorite places. Iceland was the trip that truly sparked my passion for international travel and allowed me to see how feasible it was to travel while working in the corporate world, so I truly hold this place close to my heart.


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