A 3 Day Itinerary for Your Stopover in Iceland
I’ve created this itinerary for anyone who’s visiting Iceland for a long weekend or on a stopover. Iceland is actually perfect for both of these things because Icelandair have an excellent stopover programme, which allows you to extend your stopover for up to 7 days for free!
It’s also perfect for short breaks because Iceland is crazy expensive, so the less time you spend there, the less money you’ll use up on food, drink and hotel nights! You’ll be packing a lot into your 3 days on this incredible island of fire and ice, but it’ll be worth it.
I’ve built the contents of this itinerary on what Andy and I enjoyed the most from our trip to Iceland, and have also taken into account what will give you the most varied and broad experience of the country.
You won’t be able to see everything, but you’ll have an amazing time. Iceland is an incredible place. It’s beautiful and dramatic, it can be bleak and harsh, and it’s always utterly breathtaking. Make the most of your time there by following my 3 days itinerary for Iceland!
Day 0: Arrive in Keflavik Airport
The only way to get around Iceland is by booking private transport, or renting a car. There are no busses or trains. If you want to drive, make sure to arrange to pick your car up at the airport. If you don’t fancy driving, you can book transport with a tour company.
There are companies with large coaches, but you’ll find a longer wait to fill up the bus and then an even long wait to you drop everyone off at their individual hotel.
Instead, we recommend looking for a company with smaller minibuses so your pickup and drop off is faster.
PM: Stop off at the Blue Lagoon
A view of the steamy waters at the Blue Lagoon on a sunny winter morning.
The Blue Lagoon is a semi-natural wonder. The lakes are man-made, carved from the basalt rock that covers the Reykjanes landscape. And the water is geothermal, coming from deep beneath the ground. First it circles through pipes in a nearby factory, losing around half it’s heat, and then it travels to the Blue Lagoon and fills up the baths.
The water is still as fresh as when it came out of the ground as it remains inside the pipes. It has a high silica content which can give it a milky look, and is around 40 degrees C! That creates hot steaming pools against a magical backdrop of lava beds.
Most transport you book will incorporate a stop off at the Blue Lagoon if you want, since it’s almost directly between the airport and Reykjavik. It’ll cost you only a little more, and there are large lockers to store your luggage at the lagoon itself.
Andy and I grabbing some of the free silica mud you’ll find out in the lakes. It was hilarious smearing this all other our faces like everyone else in the lagoon!
In terms of Blue Lagoon packages, we would advise just getting the cheapest one. The other packages give you extra things you don’t really need. For example, a dressing gown, slippers and a towel. We brought our own towels, and didn’t feel you needed the dressing gown and slippers unless you plan to spend the day there. They would only be useful for eating in the on-site restaurant.
You also get a mud mask in the more expensive packages, but the Blue Lagoon has free silica mud all around which is just as good. If you want to splash out, consider booking an in water massage instead, but definitely just grab the Basic entry ticket.
You can learn more about the Blue Lagoon in our detailed article here.
When you first arrive, you can grab some food from the Blue Moon cafe (unless you’ve already eaten on your flight), and then head into the water for the rest of the evening. Andy and I spent around 2 hours in the water and honestly, that was more than enough. You tend to get a headache after a while (bring bottled water into the lagoon with you as you dehydrate in the heat), and it’s also a little boring after a while.
Once you’re finished enjoying the Blue Lagoon, ride your pre-booked transport to your hotel and get a good night’s sleep.
17 Places to Visit in Iceland
Day 1: Explore The Golden Circle
Today you’re heading out on a tour of the three most famous locations in Iceland, altogether referred to as the Golden Circle. They are: Thingvellir National Park, Stokkur geysir and Gullfoss waterfall.
Thingvellir National Park is the location of the first parliament in the world in 930AD, known as Althingi in Icelandic. It’s also an impressive location where the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate are pulling apart, creating a large valley in between. This new land is actually created from lava and grows at a rate of 2cm per year! You’ll have some time to explore this beautiful location.
The valley of Thingvellir national park, created from two tectonic plates pulling apart. You can also see some of Iceland’s volcanoes in the distance!
The second place you’ll visit is Haukadalur Valley, home of the geysers. The original geyser was known as The Great Geysir, which means ‘to gush’ in Icelandic, and was discovered by Europeans in 1294. This was the first of its kind we’d ever seen and so the Icelandic name for this one particular geyser because the name we now call them all.
The Great Geysir actually stopped erupting regularly after an earthquake, so you’ll actually get to watch the magnificent Strokkur geyser. It erupts every 7 minutes an incredible 20 meters in the air. This was one of the coolest things Andy and I saw in Iceland. It really makes you jump when it erupts with an almighty roar, covering everyone watching in a fine mist of water.
The amazing Strokkur geyser erupting in Haukadalur Valley on the Golden Circle tour.
Finally, the other main location you’ll visit is Gullfoss waterfall. There are no words to describe the majesty of this natural wonder. The intense thundering sound of it surrounds you and it’s so big, you find yourself just standing there, staring, trying to take it all in!
There’s also a really interesting story surrounding Gullfoss and it’s almost destruction, which you can read in my full article on the Golden Circle tour.
Andy and I combined our Golden Circle tour with snowmobiling, but we wouldn’t advise it. It left us with very little time at the main sights and a very arduous snowmobiling experience. It took 1.5 hours in a coach driving up a glacier to reach the snowmobiling site alone! It was also very expensive. We feel that there are better things to spend your money on in Iceland than snowmobiling (which can be done anywhere). It’s better to get the full Golden Circle experience instead by taking it as a stand alone tour.
Gullfoss waterfall as seem from in front. You can see other people on the second higher viewing platform, parallel to the slight rainbow we saw.
PM: Eat at the Reykjavik Old Harbour
Once you arrive back, take some time to wind down and relax before heading out to Reykjavik’s old harbour. Use google maps to help you navigate to it from your hotel, or grab a tourist map from your hotel’s reception.
The Old Harbour is by the sea and will give you chance to admire the wonderful Sun Voyager Statue, which looks like an arty version of skeleton viking ship, and the Harpa Concert Hall, which looks like it’s made of fish scales, beforehand. Once you reach the old harbour, pick pretty much any restaurant and enjoy some fresh fish and chips!
To learn more about these sites in Reykjavik, head to our article on 24 hours in Reykjavik.
Day 2: Tour Reykjanes or The South Coast
This day is a choice day for you. Both of these locations are incredible to visit and both will take you a full day. We would personally recommend touring Reykjanes because it was more otherworldly and you will spend less of the day travelling to reach each place. But if you’re a big waterfall fan, then the south coast tour is for you. Check out the description of each below and take your pick.
You’ll be collected for each tour between 8-9am.
The Reykjanes Tour…
Wooden walkway leading you past the hot Volcanic pools and steaming rivers of Krysuvik.
On this tour you’ll visit two amazing geothermal sites: Krysuvik and Gunnuhver. These are areas of Iceland which are actively boiling and steaming due to the volcanic activity beneath the surface! You can wander around and through to billowing steam and admire the colourful red, landscapes. This was an awesome experience, and felt like we could be on Mars (apart from the breathable atmosphere, of course)!
You’ll also visit the Krisuvikurbjarg coastline to see the atmospheric basalt rock stacks which protrude out from the ocean. On our tour, Andy and I climbed up the nearest cliff to admire the coastline view, which was breathtaking. You can also head a little closer to the black rocky beach if you want to and see the basalt columns closer up.
Basalt columns on the Krisuvikurbjarg Coastline eroded into unusual shapes by the sea.
Finally, you’ll take a tour around the Reykjanes lava fields landscape and stop off to admire the following places of interest:
An ancient shipwreck covered in rust, sat where the ocean used to reach, which is now long out of sight.
The bridge between continents. This is another location which marks the two continental plates pulling apart (like Thingvellir). They create a valley of fine black sand and there’s a bridge connecting the two sides, which you can walk across.
The magical Strandarkirkja church, which was built on the site of a miracle. Some sailors boat was sunk in a storm and they prayed for survival. An angel appeared and guided their bodies to shore, meaning they lived through the night! They built a church to mark the spot.
To get more information about these sites and see photos, head to our article on 17 Incredible Things to See in Iceland. You’ll also find more pictures of the south coast tour there.
…/or/ The South Coast Tour
The focus of this tour is really waterfalls and beaches. You’ll get to visit two extraordinary waterfalls: Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. There’s no doubt that these natural wonders are amazing to see! Andy and I love waterfalls, so this part of the was a joy for us.
Skogafoss waterfall is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland standing 60 meters tall and 25 meters wide. You can get very close up to the base of it, but bar in mind you’ll get soaked by the spray (our cameras were not happy)! Skogafoss is amazingly powerful, loud and an truly impressive scene.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall is completely different. It’s tall and thin, falling off a cliff overhang so it’s a bit wispy, but amazingly there’s a cave behind it. The Icelander have created a pathway around this cave so you can actually walk behind the waterfall! This is a must do if you take the south coast tour.
The mighty Skogafoss waterfall you see on the south coast tour.
The other main focus of this tour is the most southerly village in Iceland, Vik, and it’s beautiful black sand beach. Reynishverfi beach has stunning caves of basalt and sparkling black volcanic sand. It’s also the windiest place Andy and I have ever been to. We had to fight to walk into the wind, so it was lots of fun! There are basalt stacks here for your to admire too- the famous Reynisdrangar stacks.
The final experience on this tour is walking to the base of Myrdalsjokull glacier. It takes around an hour and you’ll get to wander over the black rock covered with powdery white snow, until you reach the glacier front. You even can reach out and touch it if you like! The ice looks dirty from the distance, but up close you can wipe away the dirty it’s picked up on the journey down the valley, and see the blue glacier ice underneath. It’s pretty magical.
The unusual landscape on the walk to Myrdalsjokull glacier, which you can see in the distance. Can you also spot the incredibly blue glacier ice?
PM: Head back to Keflavik airport
You’ll arrive back late from this day’s exploring. For the Reykjanes day it’s not too bad at around 5.30, but for the South Coast tour it can be as late at 8.30pm.
Depending on your hotel’s location then, you may just want to eat in there tonight, especially if you choose the south coast tour. However, if you still have energy and want to discover more of Reykjavik, head to Laugavegur Street where you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants. This is one of the main streets in the city and is said to have a great atmosphere at night.
If you don’t like anything on that street, it soon becomes Skólavörðustígur street (all up hill, I should warn you) so you’re bound to find something there instead.
Day 3: Icelandic Horse Riding and Home
For this final tour you’re going the ride on the Iceland’s most iconic symbols- the Icelandic Horse. Andy and I chose the Lava Tour and it was beautiful. Rolling fields of black lava covered with green moss and mountains in the background. This is the most popular tour, but you can choose others, such as ones which follow the Kalda river to show you a slightly different landscape.
Whichever tour you chose, just make sure it’s a morning tour and the timing fits in with your flight home in the afternoon. Don’t forget to check that your hotel will store your luggage too as you’ll be arriving back from this tour around 1pm.
Gemma on an Icelandic horse as part of our Lava tour just as the snow started to fall!
Andy and I loved Icelandic horse riding. We’re big animal people and just being near animals makes my day, never mind actually riding one! It was amazing. The horses are very cute and friendly, perfect for novice riders. As part of the tour we got to walk and also attempt a tolt, which is faster. It’s a specific gait unique to Icelandic horses and is part way between a walk and a trot.
The whole riding part of the tour took just less an 2 hours, which was ideal really. We both felt a bit bow-legged after that amount of time (the horses are quite squat and round), so unless you’re a horse rider, I’d go for a shorter tour. On our tour, it was winter, and we experienced sun for the first part and then snow for the last half! Iceland is known for it’s changeable weather, and we saw that first hand on our horse riding tour with Ishestar.
If you want to know more about what to expect from a riding tour, check out our article here.
PM: Head back to Keflavik airport
After you’re dropped back off at your hotel, grab some sandwiches and snacks from your nearest shop. You can then either eat your lunch before or after your transport, depending on the time of your flight.
If you have some time to kill, you can always walk up to Hallgrimskirkja church. This is an epic building meant to symbolise the basalt rock that forms much of Iceland. Andy and I didn’t realise this on our visit, but you can actually head up the tower of this church to get an amazing view of Reykjavik from above! Definitely head inside to check out the view if you have an evening flight and time to kill.
So there you have it, a 3 day whirlwind itinerary of Iceland. This long weekend will allow you to experience some of the best natural wonders and landscapes that Iceland has to offer. It will also undoubtedly leave you wanting to come back again in the future to see more of it!
Also I want to mention quickly, the reason I haven’t included seeing the Northern Lights in this itinerary is for a couple of reasons. You aren’t guaranteed to see them- it’s actually quite rare. Andy and I tried 3 times and saw nothing! And the tours often involve staying out until 1-2am, which is too late if you’re up early each day on long tours. Don’t try to pack too much in, try to see the Northern Lights next time.
To find out more about many of these experiences (including our failed attempt at seeing the aurora), click on the links throughout this article or check them out below 🙂
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