With its diverse terrain and awe-inspiring geological features, Iceland is no doubt a “bucket list” destination. With frequent, relatively short flights departing from the United States daily, this stunning island nation is rapidly growing in popularity as a prime vacation spot. More and more people are discovering the otherworldly allure of Iceland and traveling to the northern island for extended weekend getaways. While one could easily spend weeks exploring this magical destination, it is possible to capture the essence of the “Land of Ice and Fire” in 3 days. Simply make Iceland’s capital Reykjavik your home base and explore from there.
Here is the best itinerary for 3 days in Iceland:
Day 1 in Iceland
Day 1’s itinerary will depend on your arrival time. If you arrive in Reykjavik the previous day and get caught up on rest, it’s time to hop on a tour. If you arrive in Reykjavik mid-morning or afternoon, your first day in Iceland is the perfect time to unload and explore the capital city.
Day 1, Option 1: Golden Circle Tour
The Golden Circle is an absolutely breathtaking sightseeing route in southern Iceland. The Golden Circle loops from Reykjavik to Thingvellir National Park to the Gullfoss Waterfall to the Geysir and Strokkur geysers to Laugarvatn and Apavatn Lakes to Skalholt Cathedral.
Thingvellir National Park is a site of major geological and historical significance. Located in a rift valley dividing the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate, it is also the location of Althing, the first national parliament of the country, which was established in 930 AD and active until 1798. Although mostly dormant, Geysir or “The Great Geyser” is the namesake for all geysers. Strokkur, on the other hand, erupts every 5 to 10 minutes.
The entire Golden Circle Classic Tour runs approximately 8 hours and 30 minutes and departs from Reykjavik at 8:30 am, 9:30 am, and 10:30 am every day of the year. For the more adventurous (or for those with more time), the Golden Circle Jeep Tour with Snowmobile runs 9 to 10 hours and departs from Reykjavik at 9 am daily.
Day 1, Option 2: Explore Reykjavik
Reykjavik and the surrounding area is home to over two-thirds of the Icelandic population, so there is plenty to do in this vibrant city. Start your vacation off right by grabbing a healthy meal and coffee at Glo Café. The popular health food restaurant is all organic and uses minimal ingredients, which is generally true of authentic Icelandic cuisine. Glo also features a full coffee bar. Coffee is an important beverage in Iceland and is consumed at breakfast, following meals, and with a mid-afternoon snack. Even better, Glo is very reasonably priced.
Glo Café is conveniently located on Reykjavik’s main shopping street Laugavegur, so after your meal, spend some time perusing the many shops along this bustling street. After you’re finished shopping, head to Hallgrimskirkja. One of Iceland’s most iconic landmarks, Hallgrimskirkja is a working Lutheran church and one of the tallest structures in the country. Take the elevator to the top for a panoramic view and to help you see the layout of the city. If you’re thirsty, head back to Bravo for one of the longest happy hours in Reykjavik. If happy hour isn’t your thing, there are plenty of great restaurants nearby. Traditional Icelandic food usually consists of fish and lamb, but you can find a wide variety of food, in a wide range of prices, dotted throughout the city.
Night 1: Northern Lights Tour
When visiting Iceland during the colder winter months, the northern lights are an absolute must-see. In fact, Iceland is largely a bucket list destination due to this atmospheric phenomenon. Outside the faint glow of Reykjavik, on clear nights from September 1st through April 15th, the Aurora Borealis dances in vibrant greens and blues across the sky, and this tour gives you the best opportunity to see one of nature’s best performances.
The Northern Lights Mystery Tour lasts 3 to 5 hours and departs from Reykjavik at 8 pm (September 15th through March 31st) and 9 pm (September 1st through April 15th).
Day 2 in Iceland
Since your second day in Iceland is completely free, this is the day to embark on a longer tour. There are a few options.
Day 2, Option 1: South Coast and Waterfalls Tour
This tour showcases even more of Iceland’s diverse landscape. From glaciers and mountains to beaches and waterfalls, southern Iceland has it all. Throughout the day, view the basalt rock stacks of Reynisdrangar rising out of the water, framed by Reynisfjara Beach. Reynisfjara is a black sand beach once named one of the most breathtaking non-tropical beaches in the world. Next, walk behind famed Seljalandsfoss Waterfall and take in the majestic falls and the scenery from inside a small cave. Nearby Skogafoss Waterfall is one of the largest in Iceland at 200 feet. While you are here look for the rainbows hiding in the mist. This tour boasts some of Iceland’s most picturesque scenery.
The South Coast and Waterfalls Tour lasts about 9 hours and leaves from Reykjavik at 9:30 am daily.
Day 2, Option 2: Inside the Glacier – Waterfalls, Hot Springs and Langjokull Ice Cave Tour
This is the tour for those seeking a bit of adventure. This tour takes you to Langjokull Glacier, which is the second-largest ice cap in Iceland. Not only will you get to view the glacier from the outside, you will also get to take an exhilarating trip inside the massive ice formation! The truck will navigate through man-made ice tunnels to a natural ice cavern. From here, you will walk deeper in to Langjokull to view the various, deepening colors of ice.
On the route to Langjokull Glacier, you’ll experience Deildartunguhver Thermal Spring and Barnafossar Waterfall. Deildartunguhver is the highest-flow thermal spring in the country at 180 liters per second. Barnafossar is a beautiful waterfall that flows out of a lava field.
The Inside the Glacier Tour lasts approximately 10 hours and 30 minutes and departs from Reykjavik at 8:30 am daily.
Night 2: Quick Dinner
After a long day of sightseeing, you will most likely want to grab a quick snack. A trip to Iceland is not complete until you have visited the famous Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. Meaning “the town’s best sausages”, this iconic hot dog stand serves hot dogs until 1 am Sunday through Thursday and until 4:30 am on Friday and Saturday. Order a hot dog with everything on it!
Day 3 in Iceland
It’s time to relax! Your third and final day in Iceland is the perfect day to unwind at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. One of Iceland’s most popular and famous attractions, the Blue Lagoon is rich in mineral salts, sulfur, blue green algae and silica. These active ingredients relax the mind and nurture the body. Order refreshments directly from your entrance wristband as you bathe in the turquoise waters. It doesn’t get much better than this. The Blue Lagoon does get busy, so it’s wise to book a tour well in advance!
The Standard Blue Lagoon Tour lasts as long as you want it to last and leaves from Reykjavik at various times throughout the day.
Night 3: Beer Tour
On your third night in Iceland, try heading on a beer tour at Olgerdin Brewery. During the tour, you will learn about the history of Icelandic brewing, while sampling the local offerings. You will also taste the beer substitute consumed by locals during prohibition! Plus, sample Brennivin, a local spirit similar to unsweetened schnapps.
The Taste the Saga Beer Tasting Tour lasts about 2 hours and departs from Reykjavik at 6 pm on Thursday through Sunday.
After the beer tour, take time to unwind and process everything you have experienced in 72 hours.