1, 2, or 3 Days in Iceland- How to get the most of your Visit
Updated: Jun 4
Iceland, the Land of Fire and Ice. I will start off by saying that only visiting Iceland for 3 days or less is robbing yourself of so many beautiful views that you just won't be capable of experiencing in that time frame. A trip to Iceland should realistically be a minimum of 10 days if you are looking to see the bucket-list locations and take a few side stops along the way. However, sometimes your travel itinerary, budget, or flight schedule can only afford you 3 days or less to visit, so with this list, you should hopefully make the most of the time you do have.
How to get to Iceland
Firstly, before you visit this amazing country, you must travel to reach the island nation, and this is usually done via air travel. Keflavík International Airport is without doubt the busiest airport within Iceland with over 4.6 million visitors and is the Airline Hub for Icelandair. The airport is located on the tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula which is roughly 31 miles or 50 Kilometers from Reykjavík city center and is about a 45 minute drive pending traffic and weather conditions. Most of the major airlines have flights to Keflavík but if you are visiting for 1-3 days, you most likely would be traveling on Icelandair due to their amazing layover options that offer you extended stays in Iceland for this timeline before allowing you to continue on to whichever destination you have next.
Arrival in Iceland
I personally recommend that no matter how many days you are visiting Iceland, especially if you are coming over from the USA, that you take a flight that will have you arriving into Keflavík International Airport early in the morning if possible. This will allow you to make the absolute most of your first day within the country.
The next step you should have already decided about before your arrival is whether you would be renting a vehicle during your stay, or if you were going to simply get around by the use of Taxi, private transfer, Public Bus, or by Tours. I am going to go out there and say it that if you happen to be traveling with a friend, significant other, or group, it will be much more budget friendly to get a rental car to drive yourself during your visit especially considering there are many hotels within Reykjavík that offer free parking.
The cheapest option to get from Keflavík International Airport to Reykjavík is by riding Bus 55 which will cost you roughly €15 one way but it will take you over an hour to reach the city and then you still will need to find transportation from the Reykjavík Bus Terminal to your accommodation.
Your other options include taking a Flybus or Greyhound Bus which will cost you roughly €55 for a roundtrip ticket if you are looking to be dropped off at a hotel. A private transfer will be more or less the same with a private shuttle as they will be making about the same number of stops. Finally you have a taxi which will more than likely cost you no less than €120 one-way. All of these options are also for a simple Keflavík International Airport to Reykjavik itinerary.
A rental car is not a cheap option either but then again, there aren't many things in Iceland that are. It will however give you an incredible amount of freedom to explore what you wish on your own timeline. Keflavík International Airport has plenty of rental car company options to choose from and it will end up coming down to what time of year you are visiting Iceland. If you are visiting in the later part of Spring, Summer, or early part of Fall when the weather is less likely to involve heavy amounts of snow and ice, you can simply rent a small mini or economy level car that will keep the budget lower as well as the fuel costs down. The only time you will need to look into a 4x4 vehicle for a shorter stay would be if you are planning on visiting in Winter (which is when I visited) because even though Iceland have some amazing roads, the weather conditions can still make them treacherous. I rented my car through Blue Rental Car but there are all of the typical companies as well such as Enterprise, Alamo, Thrifty, ACE, Budget, AVIS, Europcar, Hertz, Dollar, etc. With these companies, you can find various deals and prices that are as low as €35-€50/day, especially when renting a smaller vehicle.
First things First, Visit The Blue Lagoon
The reason I recommended above for both arriving at Keflavík International Airport early in the morning if possible, as well as renting a vehicle was so that your very first stop during your visit to Iceland could be probably the most well known/visited destination in the entire country. The Blue Lagoon is located 15 miles or 24 kilometers from the Keflavík International Airport which makes it perfect to stop at before continuing the additional 30 kilometers to reach Reykjavík. Arriving early in the morning will give you two major benefits. The first benefit is that your hotel will almost certainly not have your room ready early in the morning so you will have a wonderful activity to fill your time so you are not just waiting around for it to be cleaned. The second and even better benefit is that if you are able to arrive just after they open at 8am, you will get an hour or two of the waters mainly to yourself with very few crowds. The lagoon can get incredibly crowded as the day goes along with various tours and groups, so to really get the immersive and tranquil experience you should get there as early as you can. I also highly recommend you to pre-book your time slotted ticket as ahead of time as you possibly can because they do spots fill up rapidly due to the high demand of being one of Iceland's Most Instagrammable Spots. The lagoon tickets come in 3 tiers (the bottom tier that is listed as COMFORT will do just fine for most guests and costs anywhere from $63-$106/person depending on the time of day as well as the time of year that you visit.
Now if you are only visiting Iceland for a long layover or for 1 full day, you may decide to simply visit the Blue Lagoon and either stay at the amazing resort they have on site, or to go back and stay at a hotel near the airport for your flight out. That is a perfectly understandable choice and considering how expensive and time consuming the transport to and from the Reykjavík and the Reykjanes Peninsula is, that might be the best thing to do for your travel budget.
However, if you you are confident with your time management and are looser with your budget for the 1 day stay, you should absolutely venture into Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland and its largest city. For 2 and 3 night stays this is the obvious destination for booking your hotel or other accommodation. The city of Reykjavík can be explored without a vehicle by bike, foot, bus, or taxi, but a car most definitely makes it a bit easier to reach the further destinations of the city depending on where you are staying.
My top sites to see when staying in Reykjavík are:
(open sections for short detail & a photo)
The Perlan Museum & Planetarium
Beautiful building that includes an interactive and immersive museum, Real Indoor Ice Cave, Northern Lights Planetarium Show, and a 360 degree Observation Deck
The National Museum of Iceland
History Museum that has a permanent exhibition "Making of a Nation" as well as temporary exhibitions they display. Plenty of local artifacts to learn from.
Lutheran parish Church that is the largest in Iceland and is known for its distinctively curved spire and side wings. Construction began in 1945 and finished in 1986. The church has an observation deck at the top that is reached by a lift and offers incredible views of the city.
Great photo spot with the church in view and the street is lined with many shops and restaurants to choose from.
The statue is located in the center of Reykjavik City and depicts Iceland's first settler
The Icelandic Phallological Museum
Male Anatomy at its most distinguished
(No Photo, so enjoy this awesome sweatshirt photo)
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center
Beautiful and interesting architectural design of the building
Stainless-steel sculpture of a boat by Jón Gunnar Árnason sculpted in 1990.
Hilton Reykjavík Nordica Spa
This Spa was featured in the first season of the Netflix special Down To Earth with Zac Efron. It is a wonderful spa that includes a cold tub, a couple hot tubs, steam room, sauna, and relaxation pool.
Visit The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a scenic 300 Kilometer route that is centered around Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, the geothermal area where you can see the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, and Kerid Crater. This route hosts the majority of the tours that are hosted within Iceland. If you are visiting for 2 days then the Golden Circle should be your main activity for your full day. If you are staying for a 3rd day, you can seperate all 3 sections listed here into different days.
There are 2 main ways to explore The Golden Circles beauty. The first is to use one of the many tour companies that offer day trips from Reykjavik. Viator and GetYourGuide are two websites that help connect you with tour companies. Tours can range in price from $70-$300/person for group tours and much more for private or adventure tours. The second way to explore The Golden Circle is to have your own rental car and to self-drive the loop. This is what I did and I absolutely recommend doing it this way. The roads in Iceland are kept in fantastic shape, the speed limits do not go above 90km/hr or 55mph, and the road directions are easy to follow. Whichever way you decide, you will absolutely want to visit each of these locations listed below within the circle.
Þingvellir National Park
The drive from Reykjavik to Þingvellir National Park is roughly 40 kilometers and takes about 40 minutes. The number one defining feature of this National Park is that it is the only location in the world in which you can stand between two continental plates. The North American continental plate has been pulling apart from the European continental plate and once you park your car (pay-to-park if self-driving) and take the short walk to the Visitor Center you are greeted with a distinctive rift in the landscape that has a walking path right in the middle. The walking path will take you through some incredible geological displays of nature and the path offers you plenty of viewpoints of the National Park in the distance.
If you continue walking the path, just over 1 mile from the Visitor Center, you will reach Öxarárfoss which is a beautiful waterfall that flows in the warmer months and freezes over in the winter. Just past the waterfall begins what is called Dead Man Walk, this unpaved path will give you even more incredible views of the surrounding area and allows you to get a bit more of a hike in with far less people around.
Þingvellir National Park is about 240km² or 92mi², so visiting the visitor center as well as the continental divide is simply scratching the surface of the park, but for a quick visit, it will present the vastness of the park well.
Gullfoss translates to Golden Falls (which is the marketing reason behind the name of The Golden Circle) because on sunny days, the water will appear to be a golden-brown color. The parking lot for Gullfoss is roughly 35 miles and 45 minutes from the Þingvellir National Park Visitor Center. Once you are parked you will pass a restaurant, Cafe, and souvenir shop as you make your way down the short walk out to the Gullfoss Waterfall Lookout. This waterfall demonstrates the sheer power that water is capable of is and simply awe inspiring. In the summer, this waterfall has an average amount of 141 cubic meters per second and 80 cubic meters per second in winter. That is a whole lot of water constantly flowing through this area. Something to be aware of for safety is that the strong winds in the area will also push some of the water up into mist that can make the walkway quite slippery and necessitate the use of a rain jacket and/or waterproof footwear.
Geysir and Strokkur Geysers
This geothermal area consists of a couple of geysers as well as hot springs and boiling mud pits. Geysir has been described as the first geyser known to modern Europeans and consisted of a very consistent and explosive eruption that I would imagine was a sight to see. Due to various earthquake activity Geysir has slowed down in its eruptions and is now not as predictable to be viewed by visitors. Luckily, 50 meters away from Geysir is another geyser called Strokkur and it is erupts every 5-10 minutes alternating between small and large eruptions. There is a large viewing area encircling Strokkur and with an eruption so frequently, you can catch a few of them at various angles.
After looking at the geysers you can take the pathway up a rather steep hill to reach an overlook that gives you an incredible view of Haukadalur or "Valley of Hawks". Once you are finished taking in the beautiful views you can head back to the parking lot and go inside the visitor center there that includes another souvenir store and restaurant.
To complete your loop of The Golden Circle a stop at Kerid Crater, a volcanic crater lake formed about 6,500 years ago with an impressive caldera made of red volcanic rock, is a must. The parking is free, but there is an entrance fee of 450 Icelandic Krona (ISK) which is the equivalent of €3/$3.25 per person, charged by the land owners. The entrance fee is absolutely worth the price to be able to take the trail around the craters edge from above. The lake in the middle during the warmer months is a stunning and vivid aquamarine color while in the winter usually freezes over. There is a side of the caldera that is not as steep and can be descended without much difficulty, although in winter it usually becomes iced over so can present an extra challenge of getting back up after sliding down. I DO NOT recommend walking out to the middle of the lake when it is frozen over due to the risk of the ice collapsing, but I personally took the risk of walking to the middle and enjoyed the view. I will stress again that I STRONGLY DISCOURAGE walking on the frozen lake but it is up to you to weigh the risks along with other safety concerns and make your own personal choice.
Iceland Tips & Facts
The currency of Iceland is the Icelandic Krona or ISK (as of March 2023 €1=148 ISK and $1=136 ISK).
Iceland is a Credit Card friendly economy as most purchases are made with either credit or debit cards and major credit cards such as Visa & Mastercard are accepted.
Iceland drivers drive on the right side of the road, similar to the USA & much of Europe.
The tap water is not only Safe to drink, it is also some of the purest tap water in the world. It is almost entirely sourced from groundwater, and I personally loved it.
When visiting a pool or lagoon, guests are required to shower without your bathing suit before entering.
English is widely spoken and most Icelander speaks the language fluently.
Summer is the busiest time to visit Iceland due to the midnight sun and warmer temperatures.
Spring and Fall are the border seasons with lower prices and smaller crowds.
Winter has the shortest daylight and incredibly unpredictable weather that can shut the entire countries roads down (personal experience) but also is the best time to view the Northern Lights.
Even if traveling in Summer, pack a jacket, hat, gloves, and thermal layers because it can still get quite cold with the wind and weather patterns.
Stay flexible and never underestimate how dangerous the weather can be, especially during the winter. Road conditions can become undrivable very rapidly. Always stay up to date with conditions at Road.is and Safe.is
Gasoline is not cheap. This is not uncommon or a surprise for most from Europe or other parts of the world, but coming from certain parts of the USA it will be quite a sticker shock. As of March 2023 1 Litre of Gasoline costs 320 ISK ($2.29/€2.13) and 1 Gallon of Gasoline costs 1,212 ISK which is $8.70.
Unlike many places in Europe, you do not have to pay for water or bread at restaurants in Iceland unless you order bottled water.
If you have rented a car, adhere strictly to the speed limit, Iceland has a high number of speed cameras that will provide you with a hefty fine.
Another rental car tip is that whenever the vehicle is on your headlights must be turned on.
Be sure to double check when you are booking your rental car if you have a manual (usually cheaper) or an automatic (limited stock).
Restaurants are pretty expensive so look to alternative options such as picking up food in a grocery store and/or cooking it yourself to help mitigate these costs.
Þetta Reddast! "It will all work out okay"
Iceland is an incredible and beautiful country that understandably has become a tourist and instagram hotspot. Smart tourism will allow more people to be able to experience the beauty of this country while also preserving it for our future generations to enjoy as well. If you are only visiting Iceland for 1-3 days, this itinerary should be able to give you more than enough amazing experiences to go back home with. If the short visit expectedly is not enough for you and you either want to visit longer or come back for a longer visit, I will be creating a full Ring Road Itinerary that will go more in depth on this stunning country and how to see as much otherworldly beauty as possible. Once it is completed, there will be a link directly to it here. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions, do not hesitate to send me a message to my email at email@example.com or on my Instagram @travelinggibson.