Are you planning a 3 day Iceland stopover? Need a guide on how to plan a trip to Iceland, so let’s get started! First of all this is a terrible idea. You need way more time than that. Like a few months. And then you end up moving here.. wait no, that me! But if the real world only allows you a couple of days here in this beautiful island let’s make the most of it.
How to plan a trip to Iceland – Getting here
Wow Airlines are probably the most popular airline to get to Keflavik, the main international airport, just outside Reykjavík. With airfares from $190 from Los Angeles LAX and €80 from Dublin the ticket will probably be the cheapest part of your trip. Be warned their baggage charges are expensive and they are very strict on weight limits too, the only free piece of luggage is a small 5kg carry-on bag. Other options include: EasyJet, Air Iceland, British Airways and Norwegian but they are all much more expensive. Flights depart very early to Europe, late in the afternoon/evening for the UK and US; and arrive late from Spain and the UK, and very early from the US. So you won’t get to do very much on your arrival/departure days. The below itinerary is based on flying from/to Dublin and you can change it around to suit your arrival and departure.
How to plan a trip to Iceland – Getting around
One of the most popular options is to hire a car for your Iceland trip. There are a lot of options here and IHeartReykjavik has written a useful post on car hire in Iceland. Do take into consideration the time of year you are travelling and get an appropriate vehicle. In winter you can get a lot of snow, especially up by the Golden Circle and even though a 4×4 is quite expensive, it’s worth it to not get stuck (which I have seen happen to many many people). Check out my post on driving in Iceland for some more useful information.
Flybus: Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavík (optional via Blue Lagoon). The main stop is BSÍ, a transfer to your accommodation is extra. Buy your ticket online or at the counter just before you leave the airport. Grayline also do an airport service to a different bus terminal.
Stræto: City and regional bus services (note you need a pass or else use exact change on the city buses though you can pay by card on regional ones)
Reykjavík Excursions or Grayline: Day trips – though there are a lot of operators offering day tours there are the most popular. They are big coaches and can be quite busy but they are also quite frequent.
You can stay in Reykjavik, which is the better option if you are taking day tours as the tour companies all leave from there, often with hotel pickups available. Prices are high and there is an accommodation shortage so book in advance. Airbnb is very popular and is more economical for groups, hostels are upwards of €50 a night. If you are driving then I suggest booking places along the way.
Day 1 – Blue Lagoon and Reykjavík
Either pick up your car on hop on the Flybus (from 2500ISK) and either head straight to Reykjavík or stop off at the Blue Lagoon on the way. The Blue Lagoon (Bláa Lonið) is the most famous of Iceland’s geothermal pools but not really my favourite pool as it gets quite busy. Having said that it’s close to the airport and if you’re arriving early in the morning or leaving late at night it makes sense to go then. There are some things to be aware of when visiting hot water springs in Iceland so check out my post on geothermal pools to get yourself prepared.
Next stop is Reykjavík and depending on how much time you have and your interests you can walk around the city and visit the following which I’ve described in more detail in my museums and places to visit in Reykjavík post. The most famous places are: Hallgrímskirkja Church; the Sun Voyager sculpture; the main shopping street, Laugavegur; Harpa Opera House and dock area; Rauðhus, pond and square; Penis Museum (1500ISK, open until 18:00), Saga Museum (2100ISK, open until 18:00), National Museum of Iceland (1500ISK, open until 17:00). For food options take a look atReykjavík Grapevine’s article on eating cheap-ish-ly in Reykjavík and you will want to sample the city’s legendary nightlife so download the Reykjavík Grapevine’s Appy hour app for your phone. Don’t even try to match the local’s for staying out late unless you are an insomniac.
Day 2 – The Golden Circle
Whether you hire a car or choose to go on a day tour the Golden Circle is usually first on everyone’s itinerary. It can get pretty busy but if you’re short on time it’s the easiest way to see a wide variety of Icelandic landscapes.
Þingvellir – this national park was the site of the old Alþingi from 930-1799, or national parliament, and is where you can see the American and European tectonic plates meet, an old church, some lovely waterfalls like Öxarárfoss, and nearby Bruarfoss. You can also go diving in the Silfra fissure. Parking is paid here.
Laugarvatn Fontana – a series of hot pots by a lake with some very cold pockets, This makes a quieter alternative to the Blue Lagoon.
Geyser (or Geysir) – the great Geyser doesn’t erupt anymore but Strokkur does every 5-10 mins. Refreshments here and at Gullfoss are quite pricy and you may want to stock up at the petrol station and shop in Laugarvatn instead.
Gullfoss – meaning Golden Waterfall, this is best visited in the evening where you might be lucky enough to see rainbows over the falls. It was proposed that this would be turned into a hydro-electric dam in the early 19th century and the daughter of the landowner, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, walked barefoot to Reykjavík as a protest and even threatened to throw herself into the falls.
Faxifoss – yet another pretty waterfall
Skaholt – the old bishopric before it was destroyed in an earthquake and moved to Reykjavík.
Stop off at Reykholt or Sólheimar for lunch and enjoy produce from the glasshouses you will see frequently in this part of Iceland. Nearby is Flúðir and the Secret Lagoon – another quieter version of the Blue Lagoon.
Kerið Volcano crater – where Björk played a concert floating on a raft. This volcanic crater has a lake in the centre and gorgeous views. It’s on private land, expect to pay 400ISK for parking and environmental protection.
The Golden Circle is about an hour’s drive from Reykjavík and the usual route is to do it in the order above, following Route 36 from the city and going clockwise, though this may not be possible in winter depending on road conditions. Of course you can do it in any order you like, and can also go via Route 1 to Kerið, which is quite nice in the morning and then clockwise or anti-clockwise as you prefer. Both geothermal pools stay open until 20:00 and later in the summer. Petrol/filling/gas stations are available at Laugarvatn, Borg, Reykholt, Selfoss and Flúðir. The above is a pretty packed day so would be too much for the shorter winter days – choose your highlights instead.
By Tour Bus
Reykjavík Excursions has a wide range of tours incorporating various combinations of the above, starting at 9500ISK.
Day 3 – South Iceland and Vík
It’s about a 3 hour drive to Vík from Reykjavík without stopping so if you are driving you might prefer to spend your second night somewhere in the Golden Circle or Selfoss, which itself is more a market town, though it does have a good range of supermarkets if you are self-catering and the Bobby Fischer Centre.
After you leave Selfoss it’s an hour’s drive to the first of your attractions and you are going to spend the day enjoying Iceland’s nature at it’s finest.
Seljalandsfoss – one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls and one you can walk behind so be prepared to get muddy! Just nearby is the lesser visited Gljufrabui.
Skogafoss – easily visible from the road as you pull up to Skógar, you can walk up a steep stepped path on the right to the top. But while you’re there head to the other side of town and the museum where there is a hidden ‘Secret Waterfall’ you’ll have all to yourself.
Eyjafjallajökull – the volcano that brought Europe to a standstill is on the left and its snowy peaks pretty and benign.
Vík and Reynisfjara beach are famous for sea stacks and also being one of Iceland’s many Game of Thrones locations as you may have noticed at Þingvellir. The black sand beach at Reynisfjara is just at the other side of Vík and has beautiful views of the sea stacks and the basalt columns. Be careful here as people have drowned after being swept out by the waves.
Fuel is available at Selfoss, Hella and Vík. Tip: the toilets at Reynisfjara require coins, but the fuel station at Vík doesn’t!
By Tour Bus
If you have any time to spare I suggest going to Keflavik via the coast road through Grindavik. And that is a short and sweet introduction to how to plan a trip to Iceland. Before you know it you’ll be planning your return! Check out my full Iceland gallery for more inspiration!