3.5 days in Iceland: A place unlike any other
Why did I choose Iceland?
I’ll start off saying that this is still my favorite trip of all time. Iceland has done a great job boosting tourism and has received a lot more visitors in the past year. If you love untouched nature, Iceland is a must go. I loved how empty it was and feeling like Dustin and I were the only ones there.
Iceland had been on my bucket list for a while and I was planning on traveling there in November during Thanksgiving as Dustin and I always make a trip out of the extra days we get off for Thanksgiving. We had been wanting to see the abundance of waterfalls, the Blue Lagoon, and wild Icelandic horses with our own eyes.
Fortunately for us, I found out that my team from work was going to Iceland for a business conference in September before we bought our tickets! We took advantage of that and decided to head there slightly earlier and make an adventurous trip out of it.
Easy, since everyone speaks English
Click here to check the currency exchange
My Travel Time
If you want to see the northern lights, the best time to go is September to mid-April because this is when there are full dark nights. During the summertime, there are “white nights,” which means it never gets fully dark. White nights are great as well because there’s more daylight to see everything and explore everything Iceland has to offer. September was a great time to go as it wasn’t snowing yet, there was still a good amount of daylight and we were able to see the northern lights.
It was cold, but I was never freezing when hiking or walking around and felt the need to run indoors. A jacket is still necessary as it’s a little colder than NYC fall weather.
Click here to check the weather
Click here to check when the sun rises and sets
My Flight Details
Airline: Icelandair, JFK – KEF (6 hour flight); we took a red eye so we could get there bright and early to enjoy a full day in Iceland
Egcellent tip! Icelandair offers a ‘Stopover’ option. If you’re flying from the US to Europe or vice-versa, Icelandair allows you to “stopover” (a long layover) in Iceland for up to 7 nights at no additional cost. This is a great way to save a few extra bucks, especially if you wanted to visit Iceland, but also another country.
If you’re just planning on visiting Iceland, Icelandair is not the only available airline. There is also WOW Air, which is a budget airline. I suggest using a travel meta search engine to make sure you’re booking the cheapest flight based on your travel needs.
My Hotel Details
Check out my hotel hack for cheaper rates in this post
Hotel Leifur Eiriksson
This is where we stayed in Reykjavik, the capital city located on the southwest of Iceland. It is at a great location, right next to Hallgrímskirkja, the famous church. It’s right in the city center and just a quick walk to restaurants, grocery stores, shops, and bars. It’s very convenient and there’s a parking lot by the church (free parking) if you’ve rented a car. We stayed here for only a night before we headed off to other parts of Iceland. It was around ~150 USD with Wi-Fi and breakfast included. I wouldn’t say it’s the most luxurious hotel to stay at it but the price was great for where it was located. It saved us a lot of time when sightseeing since everything is close by.
Country Hotel Katla
We wanted to explore more of Iceland, which is why drove to Vik (south of Iceland) and to the east of Iceland as well. The best spot to return to was Vik throughout our road trip so we stayed at Country Hotel Katla for 2 nights. It is around 150 USD per night. The rooms are made of wood, making it feel super cozy. We had 3 beds in our room, so if you happen to be traveling in a group of 3, you could all share one hotel room here, which is a big cost saver! They have parking available and a restaurant attached to it, which is super convenient. Breakfast is included in the price.
Egceptional Tips for Iceland
Rent a car: if you really want to see Iceland, you’ll need to get out of Reykjavik. There are plenty of tours that can take you to the main spots (closer by to Reykjavik), but it’s super expensive. As you know, tours are always on a schedule, leaving you less time to venture off your own. A lot of things I found interesting, like Icelandic horses, aren’t in a tourist area and I would stop the car right next to where I saw a field of horses to pet them. Renting a car lets you go on your own time and gives you more flexibility, which is something I think you definitely need when exploring Iceland. The roads in Iceland are easy to drive on and there’s barely anyone on it – open, clear roads, the best! Parking is free for the most part; sights on the Golden Circle are more likely to ask for small parking fees.
Eating out? Confirm restaurant’s opening hours: In Iceland, the restaurants close a lot earlier than in big cities, even in Reykjavik. Our first night in Iceland, we didn’t realize how early restaurants close (a lot close around 9PM), so we were running around trying to find something we wanted to eat before closing time.
Buy food from grocery stores: Iceland can get quite pricey. Food is definitely expensive. To save a little, I went to the grocery store to buy fruit, vegetables, bread, lunch meat, cheese, skyr, and bottled smoothies. Dustin and I would make our own sandwiches and have this for lunch. It’s cheaper and saved a lot of time for us since we would each eat when the other was driving from one stop to another. Although pricey in accommodation and what you consume, the great part of Iceland is that everything you’re there to see is nature and the natural wonders that are further out from Reykjavik are free. A lot of the tourist spots have an entrance fee, but all my favorite hikes and waterfalls were free.
My Iceland Trip Itinerary
~3-4 hours of driving (We started our drive on the Golden Circle, but I’ve included the drive from the airport/Blue Lagoon in this calculation)
Blue Lagoon: We arrived to Iceland early and went straight to the Blue Lagoon from the airport. The Blue Lagoon is closer to the airport than to Reykjavik. The ticket to enter the Blue Lagoon includes a bus ride from the airport and to your hotel area. If you plan to rent a car, it is probably easier to rent a car from the airport so you can drive yourself back to the airport when you’re leaving Iceland. There are several different packages you can buy for the Blue Lagoon. We chose the standard package, which is the cheapest option (includes mud mask and entrance to the lagoon). We brought our own towels so that we didn’t need to pay for one at the lagoon. We were planning to use our towels when we went to other natural hot springs during our hikes as well. You’ll have to book a time to enter, but if your flight is late and you check in for your time later, it doesn’t really matter. You can also stay in the Blue Lagoon for as long as you want, despite there being an “ending time” on your ticket. Food and drinks are available at the lagoon, which is where we picked up a quick lunch.
Thingvellir National Park: This park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of two tectonic plates, which is so cool! Great views of Iceland’s landscape (but that’s pretty much everywhere you look). In case you need a pit stop during your road trip, there are bathrooms available. Small fee for the parking as well.
Bruarfoss: This is my absolute favorite waterfall in Iceland – but it was so freaking hard to find. In fact, we got lost so many times, we almost passed up on it until we saw someone covered in mud come back to the parking lot. We asked for directions and asked if it was worth it. She did not hesitate one bit to say it was amazing and she was right. The water is a bright blue color, which is unlike any other waterfall color in Iceland. It’s a hidden gem. I want to show everyone I love this waterfall! *If you need clearer directions, feel free to reach out to me via blog, Instagram, or email!
Geysir: Strokkur is one of Iceland’s most famous geysers and erupts once every 6-10 minutes. There are several other bubbling geysers in the area as well.
Gullfoss: This waterfall is huge! It kind looks like it’s in the shape of a pizza slice. It was the biggest/widest waterfall I saw in Iceland.
Dinner at Alibaba: One of the very few restaurants that close at 12 am. It’s a place for a quick bite.
Vöffluvagninn: Best waffle ever. Dustin and I love food and luckily we live in NYC, which is filled with so many food options. I found this waffle food truck online and it had great reviews. We happened to pass by it and we had a rough night trying to find a restaurant for dinner before it closed; this waffle turned our night around because it was absolutely delicious. It was warm, crunchy, but soft on the inside. It was not too sweet and I want another one. I think about it all the time.
Hallgrímskirkja: The church lit up at night is stunning and a must see. I actually prefer the look of the outside at night.
~3 hours of driving
Hallgrímskirkja (inside and went to the top for the view of Reykjavik): We went back here in the morning to see the inside and go to the top. There’s an entrance fee – the view from the top is the iconic color toy houses you see in a lot of photos. It’s a great view of Reykjavik as you can see all the different angles from up there.
Braud & Co: We stopped at this bakery as we saw some great reviews and on our walk to the Bonus (our favorite grocery store in Iceland with great prices), we passed by this bakery and the smells were exploding through the doorway. We got a cinnamon bun and a loaf of bread and it’s definitely worth the try. (Note: if you’re looking for Bonus supermarket, look for the huge pink pig logo)
Reykjadalur (hot river): I’ve said a lot of things are my favorite on this trip, but this is definitely my favorite part of my entire trip. It’s a unique experience and who doesn’t love being in a natural hot spring on a cold day? We hiked through the Reykjavdalur valley to get to the hot river, which is only a few miles round trip. This is a natural hot spring/river in the middle of the valley. There’s a clear wooden walkway around the hot river, so you won’t miss it. If you’re a more private person and you plan on going into the hot river, I suggest changing into your swimsuit before. There are “changing rooms”, which are just open dividers and not very private. (Note: We didn’t bring our Nikon camera since we would have to leave it on the side while we were in the hot river, but we did take some on our phones. Will post them after I dig into my phone archives!)
Kerid: A volcanic crater along the Golden Circle. It was very different from a lot of the other sights in Iceland. It’s windy when you’re walking along the edge, so make sure to stay warm and careful when walking around the crater.
Seljalandsfoss: A unique high waterfall that you can walk behind, making it different from the others.
~5 hrs of driving
Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach): Beautiful basalt columns along the beach (nature rocks).
Jökulsárlón: A glacier lagoon in the southeast of Iceland on the edge of Vatnajöokull National Park.
Diamond Beach: Across Jökulsárlón Jokulsarlon is diamond beach. The glaciers from the lagoon break apart and flow down to the beach. The big blocks of ice (icebergs) then float up to the diamond beach shore. It’s pretty cool (pun, ha!) to see parts of the glacier up close.
Fjallsárlón: A glacier lake nearby the two sights above
Svartifoss: This is my second favorite waterfall after Bruarfoss. We hiked 30-45 minutes to get there. This waterfall is in Vatnajöokull National park and the waterfall is surrounded by dark lava columns – beautiful!
~2-3 hours of driving
Skógafoss: This waterfall was in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty! You can walk up close to the bottom of the waterfall. It’s wider than Svartifoss and Seljalandsfoss.
Eyjafjallajökull: As we were driving back to Reykjavik before heading back to NYC, we saw this snow covered volcano. This volcano has most recently erupted in 2010.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: Lunch! If you’re in Reykjavik, you have to go to this hot dog cart. It was crunchy, delicious, and the best hot dog I’ve ever had. I’m not exaggerating!
There is so much to do in Iceland and so much to see. If you’re going for 4 days, this is a great first look of Iceland. It’s on my radar to come back as I only visited the bottom half of the country on this trip and would love to go up North.
We skipped the abandoned plane and Fjadrárgljúfur (a canyon that was also in the ‘Cold Water’ music video) as it wasn’t on the top of our lists to see, but I wanted to mention it for those that might be following this trip itinerary that we did drive past it and you can make a quick detour to those places.