Iceland is an incredible country, with impressive geological features and diverse terrain, it’s no doubt a bucket list destination for many. From lava fields to glaciers, and cascading waterfalls, this magical land is filled with exciting landscapes to explore.
The choice of what to do can be overwhelming, especially when considering the number of extraordinary things to see. I suggest making Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik your home base for your 3 days in Iceland, while you discover Iceland’s surroundings.
Let’s take a look at the ultimate itinerary to explore the magnificent country of Iceland in three days.
- How to Get to Iceland and Get Around
- 3 Days in Iceland: Day 1: Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik and Northern Lights Tour
- Three Days in Iceland: Day 2: South Coast Ireland
- Iceland in 3 Days: Day 3: Golden Circle Tour
- Boutique Hotels in Reykjavik
- Best Time to Visit Iceland
- Things to Know before you go to Iceland
- Are You Ready to Explore Iceland in 3 Days?
How to Get to Iceland and Get Around
If you are flying into Iceland from abroad, you’ll arrive at the Keflavík International Airport (KEF), located 50-minutes from Reykjavik. The capital city also has an airport, but it only services domestic flights or flights to Greenland.
Keflavik Airport is also only about half an hour from the Blue Lagoon. This is why most visitors tend to visit the Blue Lagoon on the first or last day of their trips. In this itinerary I have suggested visiting the Blue Lagoon on the first day of your Iceland vacation.
⇒ Don’t miss reading My Guide to the Blue Lagoon and is the Premium Package Worth it?
Getting from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik
The airport shuttle service provides fly buses that will take you to Reykjavik. You can choose your hotel as a drop-off point or the central bus terminal (BSI terminal) in the city centre.
There are 2 companies that run airport buses. You can buy tickets for the Flybus onboard Icelandair flights. Grayline is the other company.
⇒ Save Money & Time – Book Your Transfer from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik
Getting around Iceland
Without question, the best way to see Iceland is to Hire a Car. Not only will it save you a fortune it is the best way to see most of the sites in 3 days in Iceland. Most of the key sites are free eg the Golden Circle so if you have a car costs drop dramatically – especially if you are with a group.
And if you are going to hire a car for your Iceland trip then the best option is to pick it up at Keflavik airport. This will save you the transfer cost between the airport and Reykjavik. This is one of my top travel tips for Iceland.
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3 Days in Iceland: Day 1: Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik and Northern Lights Tour
There are plenty of things to do and see around the vibrant city of Reykjavik. The Blue Lagoon is only 20 minutes en route from Keflavík Airport and is an amazing place to see for your first stop.
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland. It’s recommended you book a ticket in advance to skip the queues to get into the lagoon. This is a must do during your 3 days in Iceland.
The steamy milky blue water is full of rich minerals including salts, sulphur, silica and blue-green algae. The temperature of the water remains between 37°C to 40°C (98°F to 104°F) year-round, while the outside endures the cold.
If you’re wondering what type of ticket to buy, how to use a camera in the lagoon, what to do with your hair (special conditioner is required) I have written a full Blue Lagoon Iceland Review which may help.
Before moving onto your next stop, Reykjavik, grab a bite to eat at one of the establishments at the lagoon. I had a fantastic lunch at the wonderful Lava restaurant at the Blue Lagoon. For Iceland, it was extremely good value.
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It will take you around an hour’s drive from the Blue Lagoon to Reykjavik city centre. Once you’ve arrived and settled in at your accommodation, get ready to explore some main attractions downtown. I suggest going by foot or renting a bicycle. There are lanes clearly marked by names and numbers, which are easy to access and make your way around.
Head to the harbour and then along the coast. You’ll come across some of Iceland’s prime tourist attractions like the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall, the Sun Voyager sculpture, and the tallest church in Iceland – the Hallgrimskirkja.
There is no entry fee to enter the church, but if you want access to the tower for sweeping views of the city skyline, there is a 10€ fee. And if you’re a coffee-lover, pop into Reykjavik Roasters for a divine cup of coffee.
Once you’re done exploring colourful downtown, make your way back to the heart of the city. There are streets lined with vibrant cafes, pubs, and restaurants, where you can get a bite to eat.
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See the Northern Lights
Northern Lights is a ‘must-see’ if you’re visiting Iceland from September through April.
The Aurora Borealis (known as the Northern Lights), is a phenomenon that occurs in the northern hemisphere when the sun’s charged particles enter the earth’s atmosphere. It creates an eerie green glow with an array of dancing lights in the sky.
Many people think the colder it is the greater the chance of a sighting. However, this is not necessarily the case. The northern lights are always going on – it is just whether or not you can see them. Therefore the key factor is cloud cover – what you need is a clear night. So visible stars are a good sign.
The Northern Lights can seldom be seen from within Reykjavik. Instead the best way to see the Northern Lights when you are based in Reykjavik is to take a night bus trip that essentially “chases” the lights. As these trips are generally cancelled if the weather is bad do book this for your first night in Iceland so you have options to try again.
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If the focus of your trip is to see this amazing phenomenon you may want to stay outside Reykjavik at one of the top Iceland Northern Lights hotel choices.
Book a small-group tour to see this spectacular wonder in action.
These are 2 great links for the Northern Lights:
⇒ a fantastic phone app to take photos of the Northern Lights
Tip: You will need a proper camera to shoot the dancing lights; cell phones cannot capture this magnificent event.
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Three Days in Iceland: Day 2: South Coast Ireland
Embark on a southern exploration to discover magnificent waterfalls, black sand beaches, volcanos and the village of Vik on your 3-day Iceland tour. You can take a full-day tour or rent a car from Reykjavik.
On your way, you will pass through lava fields and bare volcanic landscapes. Right from your car seat, you will see the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, that erupted in 2010 and put the society’s flights on hold.
Sólheimajökull is a glacier located 2 hours from Reykjavik. This will be the first place you’ll want to stop and walk around. Sólheimajökull is a remarkable 11-km long outlet iceberg you can climb.
If you’re a keen hiker, there are options for a remarkable one hour guided glacier hike. Alternatively, you can take a stroll around the area or go kayaking in the lake.
Vik Town and Black Sand Beach
After you’re done exploring Sólheimajökull, you’ll drive for around 2.5 hours until you arrive at Vik town and the Reynisfjara black sand beach. As the name says, the sand is black, and the beach is surrounded by incredible basalt columns, giving you an otherworldly feel.
Pst…While you’re here, keep a lookout for some adorable puffins on the hilltops and around the beach.
After you’ve explored the beach, take a short drive to the charming seaside town of Vik. There are some amazing places to explore here, such as the ice caves beneath Katla volcano, Dyrhólaey, and the Reynisdrangar Rocks. It’s also a good place to refuel, enjoy lunch and purchase goodies at the souvenir shop.
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En route on your way back, and the next stop for the day is the magnificent 60-meter high Skogafoss waterfall. It’s one of the largest cascades in Iceland. While you’re here, look out for the rainbows appearing in the mist.
The last stop for the day is the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It’s the ideal waterfall to take pictures from, as you can walk behind the thundering veil of water and take snapshots from inside a small cave.
There is a small cafe and souvenir shop in the parking lot, where you can buy refreshments and goodies for the road (open 9am – 8pm daily).
Note: Seljalandsfoss is one of the few attractions with a parking fee of 700 ISK (€4.51).
Iceland in 3 Days: Day 3: Golden Circle Tour
After yesterday’s south Iceland coast itinerary, today you’ll be exploring one of the most popular routes in Iceland – the Golden Circle Route.
You can either drive or take the classic Golden Circle day tour from Reykjavik. The full-day tour will take you around 6-8 hours, and most tours start at 8am or 9am and are back by 4pm – 5pm. This gives you ample time to explore the city in the evening, after your trip.
If you aren’t keen on a full-day tour starting in the morning, you can opt for an afternoon tour around the Golden Circle.
Pingvellir National Park
Pronounced Thingvellir in English, the park is a UNESCO world heritage site and holds historical significance – it’s the location where Iceland’s first parliament was held.
Thingvellir National Park is located 40-minutes from Reykjavik and has several attractions. It’s geologically unique, where you can see a continental divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
In the southern part of the park lies the largest natural lake in Iceland, the Thingvallavtn (Pingvallavatn). You can dive or go snorkelling here, or simply enjoy the scenery.
Geysir Thermal Area
After exploring the park, it’ll be a 40-minute drive to the Geysir thermal area. “Geysir” is a geyser in the geothermal area along the Golden Circle. Get your cameras ready to snap pictures of bubbling mud pots, springs shooting up boiling water and steaming air from the earth.
Along the way, before you arrive at the Geysir, you’ll pass by a lovely farm restaurant, the Efstidalur II, that provides some delicious foods.
Just a quick 10-minute drive from Geysir is one of Iceland’s most iconic falls found in the Hvítá glacial river. It’s a wide, two-tiered waterfall that cascades down a 32-meter drop. For me this was the most stunning waterfall in Iceland.
There are several viewpoints where you can take pictures from. Be mindful that you should wear waterproof clothing and shoes when exploring these spectacular natural wonders.
If you’re looking for something different on your trip to Iceland how about heading inside a Volcano? Iceland is the only place in the world where you can literally go inside a Volcano and it is surprisingly beautiful.
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Boutique Hotels in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has a fantastic boutique hotel scene with some great high end design options as well as some interesting concept hotels.
The classic Reykjavik boutique hotel is Hotel Borg. This was essentially Iceland’s first boutique hotel and is still modern in style and delivering on luxury. It also has a fantastic location on Austurvöllur Square, home to Reykjavik’s unique cathedral.
101 Reykjavik is a member of the Design Hotels group and is all about sleek and minimalist black and white design. It features the work of local artists and a very stylish bar.
Normally I would never recommend staying at a hostel. However, Reykjavik has two unique hostel concepts and staying at these may give you more cash to enjoy Icelandic lobster.
Kex is the Icelandic word for biscuit. This really has nothing to do with anything but this is the perfect place to stay for solo travelers who like a bit of luxury. They have a fantastic bar and restaurant with live music and wine prices that are dirt cheap for Reykjavik.
They offer singles and doubles (as well as dorms – shudder) which are simple in design but still clean and stylish as this is Iceland.
The second hostel option is the Galaxy Luxury Pod Hotel. This is luxurious budget accommodation (I think that is an oxymoron but will continue). The only option here is a dorm room but instead of a bunk bed you will have your own enclosed pod. And there is a virtual reality gaming room.
If you’re looking to keep all of your cash for full on day trips and Icelandic lamb Air bnb have loads of properties in Reykjavik so this could be a great way to experience real Iceland.
Best Time to Visit Iceland
Iceland has four seasons, and visiting during the different times of year will give you a varied experience. The best times to visit are during summer (May to September), and winter (November to March). Though there are stark differences between these two seasons.
In winter, many operators close and those who remain open concentrate on the Northern Lights tours, glacier exploring, skiing, and four-wheel-driving. The temperatures are colder and the days are much shorter.
The summer months, from June to August, are the best months to visit Iceland for all-round activities. The days are remarkably longer, peaking around June to July, during the Midnight Sun – when it’s never truly dark.
Personally I have visited Iceland in February, July and October. If you are keen on seeing the Northern Lights I would recommend visiting in October (I saw them twice on a 6 night visit). All activities are open in October and it is a good time to see the lights.
Things to Know before you go to Iceland
⇒ If you have not hired a 4 WD car check in with your hotel on where you are going to make sure that your car will be ok. Quite a few roads are 4WD only and they show up quickly.
⇒ There is no need to buy a SIM card for Iceland. Indeed my UK provider Vodafone covered me under my normal UK plan.
⇒ Also, there is wifi virtually everywhere in Iceland and it is almost always free. This is from the hotels to the major tourist attractions.
⇒ You can save a lot of money by grabbing your lunch at a supermarket. The supermarkets in Iceland are great – loads of good quality produce.
⇒ Icelandic chocolate is also delicious. We also bought crisps, dips etc at the supermarket for pre-dinner snacks. A key item you must try whilst in Iceland is the national yoghurt Skyr.
⇒ Wine is very expensive in Iceland. However, there are several ways around this. Firstly when you arrive in Iceland and go to baggage claim there is a giant duty and tax-free store. Iceland is I believe the only place in the world to have shopping that is both tax and duty-free.
⇒ Virtually everywhere in Iceland accepts cards – even the toilets. This is much easier than dealing with cash. It is also quite easy to pay individually when you are in a group.
Are You Ready to Explore Iceland in 3 Days?
This 3-day itinerary in Iceland will give you a good sense of what this incredible ‘Land of Ice and Fire’ is all about – and some of the best attractions to make your dream trip a reality. The welcoming vibe and beautiful landscapes certainly won’t disappoint you.
How many days do you need in Iceland? I’d love to know your thoughts and must-sees in this magnificent part of the world.
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