Although three days may not seem like a long time, in Iceland 3 days may feel like a lifetime. After just one long weekend in this beautiful but surprisingly compact country, you can enjoy dozens of adventures, great food, and unique hotels. From waterfalls, glaciers, and geysers to natural wonders like unique lava fields and hot springs – Iceland is a must-see destination for every traveler. Here is a complete 3 days in Iceland itinerary featuring food, adventure, and places to stay – adapted for 2021 and beyond. For a longer, 6 days in Iceland itinerary check out my other article, and don’t forget to pick up some helpful Iceland travel tips as well.
3 days in Iceland Itinerary – Day 1, Arrive in Reykjavik
Most flights arrive in Reykjavik very early in the morning, around 6 am, so it is best to book a car online ahead of time. Car insurance in Iceland is notoriously expensive, so be sure to call your credit card and confirm that they will cover your rental car before you book. This way you can save money and time upon arrival. When you arrive at the airport, go to the rental car desk and pick up your vehicle, then, head to Reykjavik.
As of this writing, July 2021, a covid test is required to come back to the United States. Since you must take the test within 72 hours before traveling back and since with this itinerary you are only staying in Iceland for three days, I suggest getting the test as soon as you arrive. This way you can get the chore out of the way and enjoy the itinerary without stress. In order to schedule your test, you’ll need to visit Travel Covid Iceland and prepay. I suggest booking the earliest available slot, as you can always come in later in the day. Once you get there, the line may be very long… in fact it was so long we thought we may miss the puffin tour, the next stop on our itinerary. However, the line moved very quickly and was extremely efficient – altogether we were in and out in under 30 min. A relatively painless experience, considering the situation.
3 Days in Iceland Travel Tip:
With the 3 day itinerary for Iceland, take the covid test as soon as you arrive. To book you’ll need to visit the Travel Covid Iceland. Take the earliest slot available, on weekdays the test site is open from 08:15 – 12:00 and 12:45 – 16:00.
With the big chore out of the way, it’s time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in Reykjavik. Drive to Reykjavik’s picturesque Old Harbor Pier (the same area where the puffin boat will depart) and pick one of the coffee shops in the tourist area to have breakfast. We enjoyed a stop at the Rost coffee shop with some brilliant views.
Puffin Tour Iceland in Reykjavik
With breakfast out of the way head over to your boat which will take you out of the harbor and close to several islands where you can watch puffins in their natural environment. The tour is a relaxing and easy way to start your Iceland itinerary without too much pressure. As an alternative, you can also take a whale-watching tour out of the same harbor. Those are also great, but there are more people per boat. The tour that we took only had about 11 people on the boat, which, to me, is perfect.
Harpa Opera House and Lunch in Reykjavik
Although Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland, most people do not view Reykjavik as the central attraction. Since as far as world capitals go, Reykjavik is relatively small and quiet, I would not recommend spending much time here. However, the Harpa Opera House is definitely worth a visit. The stunning glass building is home to the city’s opera, fine restaurants, and beautiful shops. When we visited (July 2021) it was closed for reconstruction but is due to reopen in August 2021. Even if you can not go inside, do take a look at the outside of the structure building, which also includes several water features. . If you are able, on the other hand, this is a great place to enjoy lunch after the puffin tour (the building is 15 min walk from the Old Harbor so you do not have to repark your car). Other options for lunch include several restaurants in the Old Harbor, including one that specializes in muscles, Hofnin.
Begin South Shore Road Trip
Now that you’ve had the opportunity to explore Reykjavik, it’s time to head out to see the main attraction, Iceland’s unique nature, and geological features. Although at this point many similar Icelandic itineraries will encourage you to drive out to see the so-called “Golden Circle” I’m going to suggest otherwise. While the golden circle is certainly interesting, its main appeal is that it is close to Reykjavik and can fit neatly into a short stop-over. Since you have more than 24 hours in Iceland, I would encourage you instead to skip a portion of the golden circle, portions of which are not as impressive as other things on this itinerary. We will make two worthy stops on the circle, however, later in the trip.
Icelandic Itinerary Travel FAQ: Is it better to book tours in Iceland?
You should probably drive instead of joining a tour in Iceland. Your experience will be less crowded, more customizable, and maybe even cheaper. Consider that a one-day group tour from Reykjavik for two people can easily cost more than $300. On the other hand, you can rent a car for close to $300 for three days (assuming you have free insurance coverage from your credit card). To me, this is a no-brainer. So why do so many bloggers recommend group tours instead? Remember, often bloggers get a complimentary group tour in exchange for mentioning a tour on their blog. On the other hand, getting a rental car for free is very difficult. I do make an exception to my group tour rule for those locations you can not visit alone (such as the puffin boat trip and the ice caves, which we will discuss later).
Iceland South Shore Drive Stop 1: Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls
The incredible Seljalandsfoss waterfalls are a sight to behold. In addition to being a very impressive site as you approach them, a unique feature of these falls is that you can actually walk behind them and experience the falls up close. For this hike be sure to wear a waterproof jacket and pants as you will definitely get wet. The pictures and the experience is absolutely worth it. The hike itself is fairly quick from the parking lot (about 15 to 20 min) and not very difficult as long as you are comfortable with heights.
Iceland South Shore Drive Stop 2: Skógafoss Waterfalls
While offering travelers a different perspective than Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the no less impressive Skogafoss waterfall requires a short hike up a few hundred stairs. While this might sound intimidating, in reality, you can take it easy and everyone who comes out here makes it up the stairs eventually. If you have time, a hike from the top of the stairs takes you onto a hill for a different view of the river that feeds Skogafoss.
Iceland South Shore Drive Stop 3: Reynisfjara Beach and Reynisdrangar pillars
Reynisfjara beach is located near Vik in South Iceland. This black pebble beach is lined by Reynisdrangar pillars, large basalt columns shaped by the ocean. The stacks are about 50 feet high and extend either side of the beach for about 300 meters (984 feet). The waves here are rough and they create a large puff of white water when they crash against the shoreline. Reynisfjara Beach is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland for both days trips from Reykjavik or longer stays along the south coast.
Iceland South Shore Drive Stop 4: Dyrhólaey
Dyrhólaey is a promontory in the southern part of the Icelandic coastline. It is composed of a steep cliff that rises 545 feet above sea level and ends in a flat tabletop. Dyrhólaey has an interesting history, which includes being an old Viking farm, a World War II airbase, and a stop-over for migrating birds. In 1978, Dyrhólaey became the first National Nature Reserve in Iceland. It is home to some of Iceland’s most breathtaking natural attractions: Tjörnalaug, Europe’s largest bird watching cliffs; Reynisdrangar, large rock stacks that rise from the sea; Dyrhólaeyjarvatn lake with its many plant species. Dyrhólaey is a great place to watch puffins.
Itinerary for Iceland Travel Tip:
To get to Dyrhólaey you’ll need to drive over a dirt road for about 20 min on a narrow uphill road. The best time to visit is early in the morning when the traffic is light or not existent. I suggest saving this rough terrain stop for the early morning of your second day of this 3 day Iceland itinerary.
3 Days in Iceland, Day 1 – Dinner
One of the most popular dishes in Iceland is lox salad, which consists of boiled potatoes, eggs, and onions with lox (smoked salmon). Smoked salmon salad is a great dish that can be served either as a meal or as an appetizer for larger meals. It’s perfect for breakfast or lunch because it has proteins from the eggs and potatoes, but also plenty of vegetables so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on vitamins or minerals. Halldorskaffi in Vik is a great restaurant that does the Icelandic lox salad particularly well. This restaurant is conveniently located across the street from the few hotels in Vik including the Vik Cottages which I recommend for your first night.
Iceland Trip Night 1 – Hotel Suggestion
Vik is a sparsely populated area and only 225 people live here full time. But its primary location next to Reynisfjara Beach makes this tiny town a prime tourist attraction. Vik has an interesting history too – it was likely settled in the 9th century, by the original Vikings in Iceland. This tiny town with its interesting history and unique culture is an ideal place to stay on your first night in Iceland on this 3 day in Iceland tour. Cute Vik Cottages is an ideal place to spend the night, as they are both rustic and luxurious as well as conveniently located next to the town’s attractions. Although many first-time tourists chose to stay in Reykjavik the entire time, I think this fun and unique location is a much better choice, especially on the first day of your three days in Iceland tour.
3 Days in Iceland, an Itinerary – Day 2 – Ice Caves and Beyond
I suggest waking up early on the second of your 3 days in Iceland so that you can visit Dyrhólaey without the potential traffic. It is only a short 15 min drive from Vik.
Iceland Day 2, Morning: Explore Iceland’s Natural Wonders
After you’ve had breakfast, set off on an adventure that starts almost right outside your hotel, takes you over the Katla Volcano and into the heart of the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier. You start by boarding the impressive Super Jeep which carries you over diverse terrain, much of it impassible on a normal vehicle, especially after November.
The tour starts off with a visit to Yoda cave, a natural cave located in the Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland. Discovered on January 31, 1986, when an earthquake caused a chunk of ice to break off from a glacier and expose the cave. Since then, the cave has become an attraction but it is accessible only during the relatively warm days of summer. Yoda Cave is so-called because its opening looks like the”Star Wars” character Yoda’s face.
Next, you will stop for a visit to a Mars-like landscape formed by glaciers, that looks like something straight out of a movie
And finally, if you are visiting in the cooler days when the ice caves are still intact, you will have the opportunity to explore the glacier wearing ice cramps. However, when we came here the ice had mostly melted. We did however get a chance to see a part of the Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland’s fourth largest ice cap. Overall the tour was a lot of fun and a great change from the long drive of the previous day. You can book this tour here: https://guidetoiceland.is/book-holiday-trips/ice-cave-katla-2
The tour should cost approximately $300 USD for two people. Although Iceland’s currency is gladly accepted you can book easily ahead with a US credit card.
Iceland, Day 2, Afternoon: Stretch Your Legs With a Hike
Now that you had time to rest in the comfy seat of a super jeep, it’s time to continue the adventure. Here you have some great options of what to do next. The Golden Circle runs 186 miles to three of Iceland’s famous natural attractions: Gullfoss Waterfall, Þingvellir National, and Geysir Geothermal Area. Earlier we already visited Gulfoss Waterfalls, but another attraction worth visiting here is the Geysir.
Although Geysir (the original geyser and the place where the word originates) is not active anymore, Haukadalur Valley has a number of hot springs and geysers. These include the powerful Strokkur and Smidur, as well as Litli-Strokkur. Strokkur, the most well-known hot spring in the country, shoots huge jets of boiling water up to 40m (130ft) high. Strokkur is a spectacular display of nature that erupts approximately every five to ten minutes. It is worth the trip, especially if you’ve never seen a big geyser before. This area is located within a quick drive of Reyjkavik and is only a short detour from your next hotel. The short and easy hiking trails surround the tourist favorite Haukadalur Valley.
A second alternative is to visit Geldingadalsgos, Iceland’s currently active volcano. If you want to just do a short hike, a quick 20 min hike from the parking lot will provide you with faraway views of the volcano. If you are up for about 2 hours of climbing, however, you can get close enough to safely view the hot lava spewing forth.
And finally, if you choose to, you can stay in Vik and enjoy one of the many hiking trails around the Katla Volcano.
Whatever you decide to do, before it is too late, head to your next hotel, the fun and unique Camp Boutique Flóahreppur, a glamping experience close to Reykjavik, but also a world away.
Iceland Itinerary, Evening of Day 2: Fjöruborðið Restaurant and Camp Boutique
Before you head in for the night, stop by Fjöruborðið Restaurant, a delicious local eatery famous for its lobster bisque. Its location on a black sand beach means it’s perfect for an after-dinner walk. Next, head over to your hotel for the night, Camp Boutique.
Camp Boutique is a charming, tent-hotel on the South Coast of Iceland, located on a large estate, Loftsstadir Vestri, about 40 minutes drive from Reykjavik. This area used to be a family farm. The hotel is a collection of well-appointed bell tents each tastefully decorated in a Scandinavian style. Additionally, on-premises you’ll find a service house that offers a well-equipped kitchen, comfortable living area, and excellent bathroom facilities. In addition, there is another common area building, well decorated and stocked with games, a large dining table, and a fireplace. The unique luxury of this place offers more than just a place to sleep – it may just become one more unforgettable stop of one of your favorite days in Iceland. The prices here are quite reasonable and staying at this hotel will run less than $50 Euro per night.
Do They Speak English in Iceland, and Other Languages Questions
Many tourists wonder “Do they speak English in Iceland?” The answer is “yes!” Although Icelandic is notoriously hard to learn you won’t have any problem communicating because everyone in Iceland speaks perfect English.
3 Day Iceland Tour – Day 3 – Blue Lagoon and Fly Home From Keflavik International Airport
Day 3, Morning – Visit the Stunning Blue Lagoon
Chances are you will not find many multi-day in Iceland itineraries that neglect to include the Blue Lagoon. And this is for a good reason.
The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions. The stunning milky-blue water stands out against the black lava fields and creeping grey moss. It is a perfect temperature for post-hike relaxation, at 102 degrees F all year round.
The lagoon can be found on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland. This region is known for its barren landscapes as well as cone-shaped volcanoes. It is located only 15 minutes from Keflavik International Airport, and about 30 minutes from Reykjavik, the capital.
Its location makes it the ideal first or last stop for Icelandic tourists. Many visitors to Iceland consider this stop the highlight of their trip.
So today is a good day to relax and soak your tired muscles from all that hiking. The restaurant at the Blue Lagoon is outstanding, so you do not need to go far for lunch. If you splurge for the medium package (honestly only a little more expensive than the basic package) you can enjoy a delicious lunch in your bathrobe with the view of the water.
My most important travel tip for the blue lagoon would be to show up early. If you come right at opening time (8 am) you will have the entire pool to yourself, and have a chance to take some great pictures.
I hope you have enjoyed this Iceland Itinerary. Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts, if I’ve missed anything and if you have any questions. Be well and I’ll see you on the road!
Viktoria aka Traveltipster