Iceland has become a wildly popular destination over the last few years and with very good reason. Regardless of whether you have one week or only 3 days in Iceland, you will have a wonderful time; from exploring beautiful Reykjavik, relaxing in one of their famous hot springs or seeing some of the stunning and unique landscape, there is something for everyone here.
That is actually something I can attest to personally as well, I (very unusually) had my hen do in Iceland and had the pleasure (and slightly stressful!) task of devising an itinerary for myself and 12 other ladies ranging from ages 13 to 82, all with wildly different interests and activity levels.
I did A LOT of research before booking this trip and below is the itinerary we ended up doing. We had the best long weekend in Iceland and it worked really well for everyone, with the final cut including a private Golden Circle tour, relaxing at the Blue Lagoon and spending one day in Reykjavik.
Is 3 Days in Iceland Enough?
Honestly, it depends what you want out of the trip. If you are looking to “do it all” then no, 3 days in Iceland isn’t long enough. However, if you are looking to see some of Iceland’s most beautiful sites and have a mini Reykjavik city break (which is surprisingly often missed in many Iceland travel guides), 3 days is plenty.
First, a note on my travel style; over the years I have moved away from itineraries that promised to “maximise my time” and require 18 hour long days slogging around all over the place to spend 10 minutes somewhere, take a quick picture and then hurry to the next place. It’s exhausting and honestly, a lot of itineraries I read I just do not think are possible to undertake in the time frame specified.
I have now slowed down my travel and moved away from trying to tick as many boxes as possible on my trips to actually trying to see and do less, but actually properly experience them. Another couple of unexpected side effects of this has been that I come home less exhausted and stressed than when I went because I haven’t been running around like a headless chicken. The memories stay with me longer as I actually spent some decent time somewhere learning about why whatever I am seeing was worth me taking the time to visit. Finally, it’s a bloody great way to actually spend some proper quality time with whoever you are travelling with.
Consequently, this Iceland itinerary is not jam packed, but for those that do still need their adventures more full throttle, I have added in some additional activity suggestions to incorporate should you feel the need.
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How To Get To Iceland
All international flights arrive at Keflavik International Airport, a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik (except if you’re travelling from Greenland, in which case you’ll arrive at Iceland’s domestic airport).
Iceland is very well connected and you can get there from a many countries in the world, with frequent direct flights from Northern America and large parts of Europe. I recommend using Skyscanner to find the cheapest and most convenient flights from around the world. I don’t think I have ever booked a flight without comparing prices here first!
How to get from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik
You need to be aware that the streets in Reykjavik city centre have some heavy traffic restrictions in place and taxis and buses cannot generally access the area. This means that if you choose a hotel around here, you will have a short walk from the closest point your transportation can get and your hotel. I still chose to stay in central Reykjavik regardless as the pros far outweighed the cons; see the section at the bottom of this article on where to stay in Reykjavik where I go through these.
There are a few choices for getting from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik and my party tried out all three between us to accommodate different flight times!
1. Coach Transfer
There are several companies that operate these, with regular services running this route. However, a lot of services will only drop you at the BSI main bus terminal in Reykjavik which means that you will then have to get another bus or a taxi to your accommodation.
For this reason I recommend this Flybus service as they will actually drop you at your hotel (or if your hotel is in central Reykjavik, the nearest bus stop). It is approximately £7 per person more expensive each way than services that take you to the BSI, however you would still then need to find and pay for your own transport to reach your accommodation. Booking it all in one is more convenient as you don’t have to make a second booking and on the research I did, was also cheaper.
Another great advantage of using Flybus is that they schedule collection 35 to 40 minutes after your actual flight arrival time, even if you were delayed, making it a lot harder to miss your bus!
2. Private Car Transfer
If you’re in a bigger group like we were, this may well work out more cost effectively; it was about 20% cheaper for us than the option above with 8 of us travelling in a vehicle (a Mercedes Sprinter van). They meet you in the arrivals hall and will of course drop you as close to your hotel as possible .
We used Snæland Travel and they were excellent; on time, a pleasant, roomy vehicle and friendly drivers. They also offer a 10% discount if your book a round trip with them.
Definitely not the best choice in my opinion, it is the most expensive option (£165 one way for a regular sedan with 4 passengers), you don’t get collected from the arrivals hall and the taxis we used weren’t nearly as spacious and nice as the vehicles used for the private transfers we booked.
How to Get Around Iceland
You really only have two options; you can self drive or take tours. Public transport isn’t really prolific in Iceland, so I discounted this pretty quickly as it wouldn’t have given us the flexibility and convenience we needed for our trip.
I personally think that for a shorter trip, go with the tours rather than the self drive; I think it’s more convenient and makes better use of of your short time here.
However, all the reports I have heard of self driving here is that it is a fairly straightforward and popular way to get around Iceland and you can hire vehicles either from the airport or from Reykjavik. You just need to be careful about driving off road and in byad conditions, perhaps unless you’re used to it, doing a self drive in the depths of the Icelandic winter isn’t a great idea. Also, I noticed (as in a few destinations), Apple Maps doesn’t always take you to the correct destination, so I would recommend making sure you have Google Maps downloaded for this trip instead.
Day 1 Iceland Itinerary: Explore Reykjavik
Something about the unique beauty of the Icelandic landscape seems to have everyone forgetting that they have a pretty great city to explore. I personally really liked Reykjavik; it was relatively quiet, very clean and I loved all the independent boutiques and cafés everywhere. Unlike many cities, I also found my time there quite peaceful and relaxing, helped by the huge lack of vehicular traffic in the city centre as well!
Side Note: I have heard that Reykjavik can be absolutely overrun with tourists in the summer months and the experience can be very different. I am a massive advocate of off season or shoulder season travel and this is one of the many reasons why! For reference, we travelled to Iceland in March.
Another thing I loved about Reykjavik was it was so walkable and with the exception of airport transfers, we didn’t need to get any transport outside of our pre-booked tours, which was part of the reason we had chosen to stay in the location we did.
The route below will take you to some of the best things to see in Reykjavik in a day and starts and ends from the Sandhotel, our chosen accommodation in Iceland. As it is circular walk, you can however join it wherever makes most sense for you. You can also move this to your final morning in Iceland if your flight arrives later in the day.
Self Guided Reykjavik Walking Tour
Wander up to Hallgrímskirkja Church, the tallest building in Reykjavik. It is quite impressive to look at and definitely quite unique in it’s architectural design! Take a wander through the grounds or take the elevator to the top of the church to get a birds-eye view of the town.
Next, walk west through Hjómskálagarður Park to the National Museum for an overview of the history of Iceland. Then go north alongside Tjörnin Lake, through Old Reykjavík, the historic quarter, towards the Old Harbour. Here has lots of museums and restaurants, as well as Omnom Chocolate factory. Book ahead for a tour, or just have a look in the shop (and buy a chocolate bar or 20!).
Continue walking east along the coast where you will see Harpa, Iceland’s beautiful, honeycomb shaped concert hall. You can go for a wander inside, or book a guided tour. Here, go south back through Old Reykjavík and then turn left down Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s Main Street. There are lots of boutique shops and cafés round here, so stop for a browse interspersed with lots of coffee and wine breaks.
Depending how much time you spend in places, this will take you anything from 3 to 6 hours and is a great way to enjoy Reykjavik and see some of the best sites this city has to offer.
Day 2 Iceland Itinerary: Private Golden Circle Tour
The most popular tour in Iceland is the Golden Circle tour, which traditionally takes in 3 of Iceland’s most famous sites; Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss Waterfall and and the “original” Geysir from which all others got their name.
We opted for a private Golden Circle tour with Discover Iceland which was just superb. First of all, these sites are popular and all were busy. Our driver did the route in reverse so that we could see the spots when they were quieter, which worked really well.
Discover Iceland specialise in luxury Iceland tours and has a great selection of both unique and classic tours; I would highly recommend this company if you are on a luxury trip to Iceland.
Because it was a private tour, it was also customisable so we could spend as long as wanted at the sites and got to do a few unscheduled stops such as visiting some Icelandic ponies, a coffee and ice cream stop at a local farm and even visited a black sand beach on the way back. You can read my full review of our private Golden Circle tour here.
Book Here: A Private Golden Circle Tour
However, there are lots of options for a group tour to visit the Golden Circle as well; they generally take around 8 hours from Reykjavik and also can be combined with lots of other activities such as the Blue Lagoon, glacier snowmobiling, the Secret Lagoon and the Northern Lights.
While these are the cheapest option, I am personally not a fan of big coach tours; for me it really takes away from the experience and feels like being on a school trip where I just feel like I’m being “herded”. If you can, look for a small group tour, they generally run to a maximum of 19 people and are always my go to when I travel, if a private tour is not an option. It’s not as pricy as you may think either, the small group tour I recommend below is less than £20 extra per person than the cheapest coach tour available.
Day 3 Iceland Itinerary: Visit The Blue Lagoon
Another one of the Iceland’s most popular activities is the Blue Lagoon. A man made geothermal pool lagoon, it is heated by the residual water from the nearby power station. The water is a bright blue with a mist coming off it from the heat, which is full of minerals such as sulphur and silica, great for your skin and awful for you hair!
I was in two minds as to whether to go or not as I wasn’t too sure if it was just an over-hyped tourist hotspot, but it fitted well in our Iceland itinerary due to the number of people in our party and my aim to book activities that would appeal to everyone. Luckily, I was wrong, yes there are lots of tourists here, but the lagoon is huge and they control visitor numbers quite well with an hourly entry capacity restriction.
You can just spend a couple of hours here, or make a day of it by stopping to have lunch in the Blue’s Lagoon’s Lava restaurant (the food is fantastic), having some drinks at the swim up bar and booking an in water massage. There are three different package options; you can read my full review of the Blue Lagoon Premium Package for more information and to help you choose the right package for you.
One thing to know about the Blue Lagoon is that you must pre book and you cannot just rock up, they do not accept walk in bookings. I would recommend booking admission tickets and your transfers together directly from the Blue Lagoon for the best price and easiest booking experience.
Additional Iceland Activities
If you are lucky enough to have longer than 3 days in Iceland, or would like more activities to pad your time out, the activities below are others we considered and all can be easily done if you are basing yourself out of Reykjavik.
If you are visiting between September and March, then you have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. You are less likely to see them in Reykjavik due to the light pollution, unless it is an exceptionally clear night and the lights are particularly active. Our hotel recommended strolling along the waterfront as the best place to try and spot them from within the city.
Luckily Northern Lights tours from Reykjavik into the remote wilderness (and therefore darkness) are frequent, generally 2 to 4 hours long and can be done via a variety of transport methods, boats, ATVs, coaches, minibuses and even luxury yachts!
Top Tip: Due to it not being guaranteed that the Northern Lights will grace you with their presence, many companies offer free trips on subsequent nights if you didn’t see them or the tour company know there is virtually no change of them making an appearance and therefore cancel your trip.
If you wish to take advantage of this offer, I would therefore advise you to book on your first night so you can rebook for subsequent nights if you are not so lucky. However, this can tire you out very quickly, particularly if your days are action packed as well, so bear this in mind when planning your Iceland itinerary.
This is a great alternative to the Golden Circle Tour. Exploring some truly isolated places (the largest village you will pass through is Vik, which has a population of less than 300), the scenery down here is stunning (we saw some of it on our Golden Circle trip).
Tours will generally take your through lava fields seeing active and snow capped volcanoes, with stop offs as Sólheimajökull glacier, Reynisfjara black sand beach and Skógafoss & Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. Be aware this trip is longer than the Golden Circle with more time spent in the vehicle; you will be out for at least 10 hours and probably nearer to 11.
Book Here: South of Iceland Tour from Reykjavik
You Might Like: South Coast Small-Group Tour from Reykjavik
Many of the whale watching tours depart from the Old Harbour just outside the city centre of Reykjavik, which is no more than a half an hour walk from the hotels I recommend later in this article. Tours run all year round, but your best chance of spotting them is between May and August when the seas around Reykjavik are one of the best places in the world to spot humpback and minke whales, as well as white-beaked dolphins, and harbour porpoises.
Tours can last anywhere from two to six hours and you can also combine them with a short detour to see puffins, entry to the Whales of Iceland exhibition, or even a Northern Lights Tour from the water.
Top Tip: Dress warm as it is cold out on the waters, although many tour operators offer overalls to put over your clothes as well. You cannot wear too many layers here, even in summer! Like the Northern Lights tours, companies will also often offer complimentary tickets for a tour on an alternative day if you don’t manage to spot any on your first trip, so if you do want to do this, try and book on your first day here.
Unlike the Blue Lagoon, this is actually a natural geothermal spring, as well as being less commercialised, less busy and significantly cheaper. The oldest swimming pool in Iceland has been welcoming bathers since 1891 and is still a popular spot with the locals. While it doesn’t require pre-booking, it is highly recommended as it is much smaller than the Blue Lagoon.
Entry tickets for around £22 per person are available here. You can also book tickets that includes return transfers from Reykjavik (1.5 hours each way) or alternatively, incorporate it into a Golden Circle tour as it is very close to this route.
There is a restaurant on site, as well as complimentary shower and changing facilities, toiletries and lockers to store your things. Towels and swimwear are available for an additional charge.
Book Here: Secret Lagoon Admission Tickets
You Might Like: Secret Lagoon Admission with Return Transfers
Combine with the Golden Circle: Secret Lagoon & Golden Circle Full Day Tour
Travel Tips for 3 Days in Iceland
I have a fair few travel tips for Iceland, but to be honest, for the most part it is a fairly straightforward country to travel to. Hotels is always an important one for me so I have included a section on where to stay in Reykavik, as well as my take on the all important question of how expensive is Iceland, my packing tips and of course the best places to eat.
How Expensive is Iceland?
Yep, it’s expensive. However, this itinerary was my self proclaimed graduation in travel planning; I managed to book a luxury trip to Iceland for 13 people with a range of budgets, preferences and activity levels for less than £900 each, including all spending money (but not taking into account any souvenirs).
This included 3 nights at the Sandhotel, a luxury boutique hotel that is also one of the best places to stay in Iceland, private tours and transfers (except our transfers to the Blue Lagoon) and two nights out at nice restaurants, one girly night in with takeaways and wine and one late night with more than a few cocktails!
It is absolutely possible to plan a luxury trip to Iceland without spending a fortune, despite it having the reputation as one of the most expensive destinations in the world, it just takes a lot of researching and deal hunting and then make sure you pre book as much as possible to minimise costly surprises.
I also advise travelling in the off season or shoulder season (we went to Iceland in March) as in the summer the costs of accommodation particularly can go through the roof.
Aside from that, my biggest tip is if you like to have a drink, download the app ‘Appy Hour‘, it tells you the times of the happy hours in all the bars and restaurants in Reykjavik, saving you an absolute fortune.
What to Pack for a Trip to Iceland
Right, now no one fall off your chairs, but I’m going to controversial here and say Iceland is not as cold as you may think. Windy, yes, rainy, definitely, but if you’ve spent any time in the northern states of America or Canada during the winter, this will be a breeze.
Now our itinerary I have detailed above wasn’t too “hardcore” in terms of activity level and there are only a few things I would recommend packing if you are looking at doing something similar. I also managed to fit all of this into hand luggage!
- Waterproof Jacket: if it’s windproof, even better! Iceland is windy and rainy and if you’re going anywhere near a waterfall or geyser, you will get spray blown all over you. If it’s winter, bring a waterproof winter parka.
- Hiking Boots or Trainers: I brought hiking boots and would have been just fine in trainers (a.k.a. sneakers). Unless you are planning on hard core hiking, I really don’t think hiking boots are necessary, just make sure you have some sort of practical shoe that is ideally waterproof.
- Layers: Unless you are visiting in the depths of winter, I don’t think they need to be thermal. I visited Iceland in March and the thermals made me too hot. I do think layers are a good idea though to hedge your bets.
- Travel Tech: Must have items wherever you travel to, a universal plug adaptor and portable power pack!
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
Staying in beautiful hotels is a big part of my travel experience; usually I am spoilt for choice, but in Reykjavik you only really have a few options if you want to stay in a luxury hotel; most of the accommodation options appear to be cookie cutter Holiday Inn style tourist hotels on the outskirts of the city that I suspect have sprung up quickly in response to the tourist explosion in Iceland over the last decade.
For those that aren’t as fussy about hotels as I am, the pros of staying in this kind of accommodation is that they are generally cheaper. Parking is also more abundant and you will find tours, taxis and airport transfers can drop you right outside your hotel as vehicles are only restricted in the city centre.
However, on the flip side, bear in mind but it also means that if you want to get to Reykjavik city centre (which is where the majority of the great restaurants, bars and things to do are), you will either have to take a taxi (which aren’t cheap) or have a longer walk. Even if you enjoy walking, take into account what time of year you are visiting, in winter you may find your tolerance for being outside greatly reduced.
Top Tip: Most of the recommendations below are available to book through the luxury hotel website Mr & Mrs Smith. They have a beautifully curated selection of boutique hotels that never fail to disappoint, along with a best price guarantee and a Mr & Mrs Smith ” Extra” with every booking.
For Sandhotel we got a complimentary selection of handmade chocolates from the in-house chocolatier.
Our hotel of choice, I really cannot recommend Sandhotel highly enough. The location couldn’t be better, smack bang on the main street of Laugavegur. There is so much within walking distance and because of the lack of traffic, is quieter than you would expect for being in a city centre.
The staff were excellent, the décor beautiful and they had Nespresso machines in the rooms, my all time favourite hotel room amenity! They also have a petite restaurant and wine bar on site that service a delicious a là carte breakfast, as well as a small menu throughout the rest of the day. Grab a table by the window for the best people watching spot in town.
Side Note: I ultimately settled on this hotel above the others as I felt it represented the best balance of value and luxury from all of the the options I considered. I felt it was reasonably priced already, but they ran a 30% off bed and breakfast rate at Mr & Mrs Smith that I took advantage of, an offer that I have seen repeated several times since.
Ion City Hotel
Just a few doors down is Ion City Hotel, another boutique hotel of a similar standard. Ever the hotel lover, I did have a little nose around when we there and I don’t think I would have been disappointed if we ended up there either!
Their higher level rooms also have lots of extras with great mountain views and private saunas on the balconies. The on site restaurant Sumac is worth visiting even if you don’t stay here; run by Iceland’s Chef of the Year, it serves mostly fusion North Africa cuisine set in a beautiful urban yet rustic vibe environment.
Located in downtown Reykjavik, Kvosin Hotel has the best of both worlds with metered parking outside (which also means taxis and transfers are able to drop you right at your hotel door) and is still a superb, central location (a ten minute walk from the hotels above). I don’t think it is quite as luxe as the other hotels on this list, it is still definitely beautifully decorated with large rooms and by all accounts, some fairly fab staff.
101 Hotel is also located in downtown Reykjavik, this design hotel is a monochrome lovers and modern interior lover’s dream! The exterior is not pretty, but walk in and it’s a whole different story. They have larger than average rooms with luxe furnishings with many rooms also featuring open plan bathrooms. They also have a basement jacuzzi and steam room as well as an on site restaurant and cocktail bar.
Where to Eat in Reykjavik
I love food and spend lots of time researching restaurants wherever I go. These are the restaurants that were on my shortlist and I have indicated the ones I actually visited. Reykjavik has a really great foodie scene with both international and traditional Icelandic options.
As we stayed at Sandhotel in the city centre, I have added the walking distance from the hotel to the restaurant as a helpful guide. If you are staying at another of my recommendations, Ion City Hotel, the distances should be fairly similar as it only a few doors down.
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Restaurants in Reykjavik
Rok Restaurant (5 minute walk): my personal favourite, this stylish yet cozy vibe restaurant has excellent friendly service and serves Icelandic style and totally delicious tapas, perfect for a relaxed evening. To top it all off, the upstairs has great views of Hallgrimskirkja church and they have a champagne happy hour. You see why it’s my favourite!
Gastro Pub at Kex Hostel (8 minute walk): I am not a hostel kind gal, but I make an exception for Kex. Set in an old biscuit factory it serves great food in an industrial, edgy but laid back vibe with a smashing happy hour. The best value menu in town.
Dill (6 minute walk): The only restaurant in Iceland to have ever been awarded a Michelin star, come to this intimate place for the seven course tasting menu with accompanying wine flights. It is small, so reservations are absolutely essential.
Snaps Bistro (6 minute walk): eternally popular, this bistro serves French classics with an Icelandic twist in an informal but cozy atmosphere. They also have a great bar.
The Laundromat Café (7 minute walk): cool, funky and laidback, come here to browse the extensive library and do your laundry, all while enjoying a burger and glass of vino.
Fiskfélagið (12 minute walk): a seafood restaurant serving both Icelandic and global dishes. Get there a little early to enjoy a cocktail in one of their rocking chairs.
Grillmarkaðurinn (9 minute walk): this is a grill restaurant in a modern setting. They do some dishes for the more adventurous, think puffin, reindeer and minke whale!
Top Tip: If you are in a party larger than 2 or are keen to secure you place at certain restaurant, I highly recommend you book in advance as none of these places are huge.
Takeaways & Casual Dining
Durum (2 minute walk): a low key takeaway place with limited seating inside, I can promise they do a decent pizza, with sandwich, kebab, salad and soups also featuring on their menu. They also do (mostly healthy) breakfast options
Gló (2 minute walk): a laid back restaurant and takeaway place that specialises in healthy food with fresh local ingredients, including vegan and gluten free options. This is one of several locations in the city. We had takeaway from this place and from Durum above for a girls night in the hotel!
Cafés & Bakeries
Brauð & Co. (3 minute walk): for bread and pastries that will knock your socks off (I remember the cinnamon bun I had here with very fond memories), this little café serves coffee, cake and other baked goods. Very limited seating so plan to eat on the go.
Sandholt Bakery (10 second walk): another delectable bakery, but with a breakfast and lunch menu with plenty of seating should you fancy something more substantial. Good luck walking through the pastry counter when you walk in, I succumbed to the rainbow coloured macaroons!
Final Thoughts: 3 Days in Iceland
I had just the best girls trip to Iceland and was so pleased with how it all turned out, it took my best researching and planning skills but I managed to book a luxury trip to Iceland without breaking the bank!
Spending a long weekend in Iceland is absolutely possible, but I do recommend not going to wild and packing your itinerary, take some time to relax and enjoy what an incredible place this is.
Spending one day in Reykavik helps with this as well, it is a beautiful city and helps you slow down, wander round and treat yourself to a cocktail while you’re at it. While Iceland is known for being an adventure destination, you can still add a bit of relaxation and luxury in there for a truly memorable trip.
– Check Mr & Mrs Smith for a curated list of the best luxury boutique hotels in Iceland.
– Alternatively, you can view & book hotels in Reykjavik at Booking.com, Agoda or Hotels.com.
– Check flight routes and prices with Skyscanner to find the most affordable and convenient flights into Iceland.
For private tours, we used the fabulous Discover Iceland. If you are looking for a group tour, try Get Your Guide for a great range of different options and easy price comparison.
– Book Flybus airport transfers, or if your are travelling in a larger group or would like a private transfer, try Snæland Travel.
– Click here to buy your Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland, my favourite guide book brand that I almost always purchase when travelling to a new destination.
– You can check out my full list of tried, tested and recommended Travel Resources here.