iceland winter itinerary

Looking for the perfect 3-day Iceland winter itinerary? Lucky you, this is exactly how long my last trip was. Check below for ALL the information you could want, and feel free to copy it for yourself!

So while I was in Europe for winter, my friend, Caitlin, realized she had a three day weekend for MLK Day and wanted to go somewhere to see the northern lights. Since she had friends in Iceland, we wound up going there and managed to fit in the perfect introduction to this country.

Now, as you might guess since time was limited, we didn’t go around the whole of Iceland. However, we managed to see some big landmarks down south and essentially go around the Golden Circle. If you also only have a few days, this Iceland winter itinerary is the perfect one to follow.

Quick Tips for Your Iceland Winter Itinerary

  • Getting in: Chances are you’re flying in internationally. Just know there are two airports for Iceland. The one you’re arriving at is called Keflavik Airport, sometimes Reykjavík–Keflavík Airport. Don’t be fooled by the name – it’s a solid hour away from Reykjavík by car and takes up to 2 hours if you use the cheapest option – Flybus. The other airport is simply known as Reykjavík Airport and is maybe 20 minutes from the city center.
  • Stay Connected: Iceland has an eSIM option which is amazing! This means you don’t need to pop out your physical SIM card and can just connect via QR Code. It’ll work for other European countries as well.
  • Getting Around: If you’re in Reykjavík, you can walk around fairly easily and get to all the main landmarks and meeting points. If you want to base yourself here and do day tours to other places in Iceland, than you should be okay just walking. However, the popular option is, of course, renting a car. If you’re driving in winter, know that you will very likely have icy patches, so make sure your driver is comfortable with this!
  • What to Wear: Iceland can get cold especially when the sun goes down. Get a jacket meant for arctic temperatures and make sure you have gloves and something to warm your ears. Wool socks are a lifesaver as is anything Uniqlo Heattech! Might be a good idea to have some hand warmers as well! You can wear snow boots but honestly, I wore my running sneakers and was okay getting around. If you’re worried about icy patches, bring a pair of crampons with.
  • Popular Tours:
  • Good to Know: Winter in Iceland means the sun tends to rise around 11:00 AM and set around 4:00 PM. You still get a decent amount of light about an hour before and an hour after.

The Perfect Iceland Winter Itinerary

Day 0: Arrive in Reykjavik

landing in Iceland

Getting to Your Hotel

Okay, this part takes a little more explanation that normal because there are so many options. Here it is all laid out:

If you rent a car…

I mean, this is the easiest option! Pick up your car at Keflavík Airport and make your way into Reykjavík. It should take an hour once you get your car, and your best bet is to ask your hotel about parking options as they’ll know what to do.

If you want to take a taxi…

This is also one of the fastest and easiest ways to get into Reykjavík and will get you to your hotel in around an hour. However, it’s probably the most expensive rate I’ve ever seen in my travels! One way in a taxi will cost you a flat rate 21,500 ISK (~$150 USD). Just remember to ask about the rate; otherwise they’ll just run the meter. If you’re in a group of 4, this may be worth it as the price will come down to ~$37.50, which isn’t too much more than the cheaper options below.

If you have more than four people with you, consider getting a private van transfer. This option seats up to 8 and costs $240 USD, which means if you have all 8 people, it’s only $30.

If you want the least expensive option…

So, the cheapest option when I arrived was getting the Flybus. Getting it from the counter was 4,500 ISK (~$31 USD) but if you book ahead, it looks like it’s 3,699 ISK (~$25 USD). Here’s the thing, though, it won’t take you right to your hotel but to the BSÍ Bus Terminal in the city centre. When you book, you’ll tell them your hotel and then they’ll give you a certain color transfer ticket. Once you get to the bus terminal, cross through and wait for the smaller corresponding color shuttles. They’ll then drop you off at a stop close to your hotel, and you should only have a few minutes walk. The whole process took me about two hours and there was a bit of a wait at the bus terminal.

Also note: when we were there, they were scheduling the Flybuses to leave after the latest arrivals and not necessarily at specific times. Even when Caitlin got in super late, they had a Flybus waiting, so don’t worry if it looks like they stop at a certain time online.

Check into Your Hotel

Now, we stayed at the Reykjavík Marina Hotel which is nice and really fun on the inside. However, it’s a good 15-minute walk from the main parts of the city like the famous church, rainbow street, etc. That doesn’t sound like much but when you’re arriving in the dark, the sidewalks are kinda icy, and it’s a bit blustery – it just seemed like a lot of effort!

Instead stay more in the proper center where things are a bit more lively. This goes double if you’d rather base yourself in Reykjavík for this itinerary instead of staying somewhere different each night.

Here are some nice hotels right in the center:

Grab Dinner Near Your Hotel

Once you’re settled, grab something to eat. Honestly, I don’t think I had one bad meal in this country! Caitlin’s friend said the food is so top tier because the competition is so high and if a place isn’t good, it’ll quickly go out of business. I went across from Reykjavik Marina Hotel to Forréttabarinn, which was really good! They even had a bit of a set menu for a reasonable price. Downtown, I really liked Apotek Restaurant. It’s attached to the hotel of the same name, and we got a bunch of incredible dishes including one called the meat platter (more on that one later).

If you’re really feeling adventurous and get in in time, there’s this 3-hour foodie walking tour that takes you to 4-6 different restaurants. Good way to get to know the local cuisine. I’ve also heard Icelandic hot dogs are a must, and I have them bookmarked to try on a future trip.

Day 1: Drive Down towards Reynisfjara Beach

Today is all about exploring southern Iceland! For those of you who aren’t driving, this tour is essentially what we followed minus a few stops. And, obviously, we stayed south instead of coming back to Reykjavík.

hallgrimskirkja church in reykjavik

Morning: Enjoy Reykjavík

Now, we didn’t actually get on the road until the afternoon, so everything we did below, we managed to do in the few hours of sunlight we had. If you want, spend the morning enjoying Reykjavík in the daylight! From the little I saw, it’s a very walkable city. Caitlin managed to go out for an hour and do a little sightseeing but I was a bit lazier and just grabbed hotel breakfast and packed up my things.

Stop 1: Seljalandsfoss (~2hr drive)

First stop on your Iceland winter itinerary is the beautiful Seljalandfoss. This gorgeous waterfall falls almost 200ft (60m) high and you can walk behind the water itself. I’m not sure but I think they’re closed in the winter since you’d obviously get wet and it’s freezing. Either way, we didn’t get close enough to see.

If you have time, you can also check out Gljúfrabúi, a 40m (131ft) waterfall about a ten minute walk from Seljalandsfoss.

Skogafoss

Stop 2: Skógafoss Waterfall (~30min)

Next on your waterfall tour is the even more impressive Skógafoss. At 82 feet wide (25m) and 200ft tall (60m), it’s one of the largest in Iceland. If it looks familiar, it’s been featured in a ton of popular media and is a fairly significant backdrop in “Game of Thrones” Season 8 (won’t spoil it for you).

According to Icelandic folklore, one of the first Viking settlers hid a treasure chest behind the waterfall that no one has been able to find. If you have time to visit the nearby town of Skógar, you can visit the folk museum and see a gold ring that was apparently on the side of the chest and all that anyone could retrieve.

Another option for the ambitious is to climb the 370 steps to the top. Again, we skipped this because of daylight and also it was already icy getting to the bottom of the falls.

OPTIONAL DETOUR: Between Skógafoss and Reynisfjara is the famous Sólheimasandur airplane crash. This was also something featured on every Instagrammer feed in 2017/18. If you’re really hellbent on seeing it in person, this is when you’d want to go. However, know that it’s a good hour’s walk to get to the wreckage! As cool as the plane looks in photos, I don’t know that I’d want to spend 2 hours of winter daylight to get there… My friend wrote more about her misadventure in 2018 if you’re curious.

Stop 3: Reynisfjara Beach (~30min)

Reynisfjara is home to two famous Iceland landmarks – a black sand beach and the very photogenic basalt stacks. It’s a nice way to end the day and catch the sunset. Just be careful – the water comes up higher than you think. If the warning sign is yellow, the tides are high. We made the error of not paying attention to this (and also someone sprinting away from the edge) and wound up getting our shoes and pants pretty soaked. You know what doesn’t dry fast in the Icelandic winters? Shoes.

Once you’ve caught the sunset, be sure to stop off for some hot chocolate at the visitor center. If you’re here closer to lunch, you can also get regular food as well. We were here closer to dinner and already had plans to eat at our hotel, so we just grabbed something sweet to tide us over!

Stop 4: Skálakot Hotel (~40min)

Now you technically have two options for an overnight stay. You could go a little further to Vík, but I recommend circling back and checking into your accommodation for the night – Skálakot Manor Hotel. The hotel is both a farm and a hotel, which makes it feel all the more cozy and welcoming. I was obsessed with the rustic decor, and our dinner was delicious.

We also wound up getting massages here as the rate was pretty inexpensive for an hour’s back massage. They also have a little spa with a pool, and entrance is included with the massage, so, I mean, why not?

Finally, the best thing about staying here – it’s in a prime spot to view the northern lights! We were extremely lucky that we had such good weather and clear skies for our Iceland winter itinerary. As soon as it got dark out, we saw them and they were vibrant enough you could see them in shades of green and even orange.

Evening – Northern Lights

While I was traveling light and couldn’t fit my tripod into my bag, Caitlin had hers and managed to take a bunch (these are all hers!). Honestly, you can walk right out from the hotel and capture some really stunning images. However, if you feel okay driving in the dark, I recommend driving around to see even more views. Back by Skógafoss, you can see the falls lit up with some lights dancing overhead:

Skogafoss Northern Lights

Pretty insane, right?

Day 2: Drive the Golden Circle

On our second day, we essentially did Iceland’s Golden Circle. It’s a 300km loop that usually leaves from Reykjavík, though, of course, we were starting down south. If you’re staying in the city and doing tours, this is the tour that most closely matches our route.

Stop 1: Lava Centre

Because our friends were driving an electric car and needed to charge up a bit, we decided to visit the LAVA Centre. It’s a really cool, interactive museum that dives into Iceland’s volcanic history and the way eruptions have shaped its landscape. Kind of crazy to think how common they are! Definitely be sure to catch the movie as well – it’s pretty epic viewing.

Stop 2: Gullfoss Waterfall

From the museum, our first landmark of the day is Gullfoss!

I will say, if you’re here in winter, this might be a skippable stop. It’s very cool to see, but this was easily the windiest and coldest place we went to, which meant it wasn’t all that fun to walk around. Plus, we could really only see it from the view point above as the viewpoint below was closed off.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite beautiful either way, but if you have a huge list of places you want to see along the Golden Circle and are on a time crunch, don’t feel like you’re missing out NOT seeing Gullfoss. Just save for a warmer time when the winds aren’t so brutal and the water is gushing more!

Geysir, Iceland

Stop 3: Geysir Hot Springs

Next stop is the very epic Geysir Hot Springs. Caitlin told me this Geysir is where geysers all over the world get their name, and I can see why. Located in the Haukadalur Valley, you’ll want to walk around a bit and keep an eye on the most active geyser to see when it shoots up into the air. It apparently can erupt something like 230ft (70m) high. While we were there, I’d say it went off pretty reliably every 10-15 minutes.

lunch at Geysir

We then opted to get lunch across the street at Restaurant Geysir Glíma. They have quite a good selection and we feasted on a bunch of different dishes. If you only get one thing, make it the soup!

Thingvellir National Park

Stop 4: Thingvellir National Park

Ever wonder what it would be like to walk between two continents? Okay, me neither. But once I knew we were headed to Thingvellir (Þingvellir), I knew being able to walk between North America and Europe was too cool of an opportunity to miss even if it meant I’d be frozen solid by the time we made it back to the car. (I was so cold by this point, I was 75% sure I’d have stayed in the visitor center if it had been open).

The path is easy and downhill. I’d at least walk it to the Drowning Pool, which was once used for exactly what the name suggest.

Stop 5: Sky Lagoon

From Thingvellir, drive right over to the Sky Lagoon to warm up! Pretty much from here until you board your plane tomorrow, it’s all about soaking in hot springs and eating good food. Sky Lagoon is a little south of the main part of Reykjavík and is such a nice spot to go at night. We literally saw the northern lights over the city while soaking.

When you go, spend a little more on the Pure Pass so you can experience The Ritual, which is a fun, 7-step process that’ll make your skin feel buttery soft. It’s only about 2,000 ISK (~$14) more. There’s another higher pass called the Sky Pass, but I was told it wasn’t worth it because all it means is you have your own private changing room instead of the locker room style and it has a separate entrance into the pools.

We stayed here for maybe an hour or more before heading off to a late dinner to finish off the day.

Stop 6: Dinner in Reykjavik

After we thoroughly enjoyed the Sky Lagoon, we dried off and went into the city for some food. If you’re like us, it’s pretty late in the day at this point, but many restaurants should still have reservations until 9 and even sometimes 10pm at night. Caitlin’s friends recommended a few different restaurants and we settled on Apotek Restaurant, which is attached to the hotel of the same name.

Apotek has a cozy atmosphere and the interior decor is a nod to the building’s history as a pharmacy. More importantly, the food is absolutely incredible. We got a slew of dishes to share between the four of us and not a single one was a miss. The big one that sticks out in my memory is the aptly named meat platter. I also recommend asking for Hendrick’s Demise as a mocktail if you’re not drinking alcohol but want a treat.

Final Stop: Your Hotel

Time for bed! You could easily stay in Reykjavík for the night or drive over to a hotel near the Blue Lagoon. We stayed at the nearby Northern Lights Inn which has a free transfer to the lagoon, but you could also stay onsite at The Retreat or Silica Hotel.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

Day 3: Unwind at the Blue Lagoon

For you last day, be sure to book your flight later in the day so you can spend the whole day relaxing at the Blue Lagoon. The famous sky blue waters hardly need an introduction as they’ve been featured just about everywhere for the last few years including as one of one of the tourism board’s main photos.

Everywhere says most people spend around 2-3 hours, so we purchased 10:00 AM timed entry tickets. since our transfer to the airpot would be at 2:30 PM and our flight would leave at 4:30 PM. Honestly, even after 4 1/2 hours, I feel strongly that I could’ve stayed in for a few more hours. I should also note that I am exceptionally good at doing nothing lol.

One of the best things about the Blue Lagoon is that while you buy a timed entrance, there is no time limit! This means if you really wanted the most bang for your buck, you could get tickets for 8:00 AM and stay until 8:00 PM, which might be a bit too long, but seems like a fun challenge.

I’m working on a more complete guide that’ll answer any and all questions, but I’ll finish off with these two major tips:

  • Spend the extra $30 on the premium package. It comes with SO much more that’ll easily make up the difference with the basic package.
  • If you want to buy any beauty products just wait until you’re through security at the airport so you don’t have to worry about liquids and TSA.

We lounged about as much as you could possibly lounge before grabbing lunch at the onsite restaurant and catching our 2:30 PM transfer to the airport. Once there, we picked up some masks and hopped on our flight back to London!

Map of Our Iceland Winter Itinerary

Here’s a little map so you can get more of a visual of our trip and where we went.

Otherwise that’s all I have for our 3-day Iceland winter itinerary! It was a pretty perfect introduction to this incredible country, and we saw some truly stunning views. I definitely want to return for a longer road trip some day in much warmer weather.

For more wintry European travel:

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The perfect Iceland winter itinerary for 3 days

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