It’s easier than ever to spend three days in Iceland:
- WOW! Air frequently has $99 one-way sales to Iceland (and around $200 coming home)
- Icelandair lets you add a free stopover – up to 7 days – on your way to mainland Europe
- American, Delta, and United all fly there seasonally from their hubs
Of course, with all this competition, fares are rock bottom. I’ve seen them as low as $287 round-trip to visit the Land of Fire & Ice.
I say Iceland deserves a full week to appreciate. The weather is unpredictable and if you hit a rainy patch, that’ll be unfortch. That said, if you’ve never been it’s beyond worthwhile to add a bonus side trip to Iceland. A friend asked what to do with 3 days in Iceland, to which I said…
Even three days in Iceland is expensive
The rumors are true: Iceland will drain your wallet. The myths about $35 burgers, $10 beers, and $23 cocktails are all true. Their currency, the krona, is strong. The dollar is comparatively weak. Plus, Iceland is hot right now – can you blame them for jacking up prices?
Honestly, getting there is the cheapest part. But there are ways to save.
You’re not going to Iceland for the food, which is mostly burgers and fish. They have great burgers and fish, but you’re going to Iceland for the nature. Find a grocery store – a Kronan or a Bonus – and stock up on bread, chips, sandwich fixins, and snacks.
Of course, you should have a pint of their local beer – Viking or Gull – and try some of the freshest wild-caught salmon in the world.
But considering you’ll be in a car much of the time, and restaurants may be far, you’ll want to have some stuff from the grocery store, anyway.
Iceland now has a Costco! So if you’re a member, a drive to the suburb of Kopavogur may be in order to get everything you need at warehouse prices. It’s only 12 minutes by car from the city center.
Expect to pay between $50 and $100 per day to rent a car – obviously dependent on your dates, availability, when you book, etc. I typically see the best prices from Iceland Car Rental. And Plan Iceland is another great resource to save some money.
One more to consider is Reykjavik Cars, which also has low prices and is worthing checking for comparison.
You’re gonna wanna rent a car to see most of the iconic nature scenes in Iceland, like the Glacier Lagoon (Jokulsarlon), black sand beaches, and dozens of waterfalls.
Another huge thing to note is Iceland is obsessed with stick shift cars. If you want/need automatic, there’s an upcharge and also a shortage. So book early and shop around if it’s a dealbreaker (I know it is for me).
Hit the ground running
- Link: Flybus
Here’s the “tea.” Those overnight flights to Iceland are a bitch and a half. You arrive at 6am after not sleeping all night. You’re tired. The airport is small and well-signed, but you still have to navigate, find the rental car booth, and you’re probably hungry.
First step: breathe. 🌬
I’ve arrived to Iceland many times hungry, tired, and grumpy. So those are my associations with arriving – not the best.
There are several cafes and even a convenience store inside the airport after you exit. Do yourself a favor and buy some skyr (Icelandic yogurt), kleinur (Icelandic donut), and kokomjolk (chocolate milk). You’ll get some carbs, regulate your blood sugar, and gain energy to power through.
After that, you can deal with 1 of 2 scenarios:
- Get your rental car and drive outta that airport
- Get on the Flybus and ride to Reykjavik (~$20 to the city)
I recommend you rent a car. You can do well basing yourself out of Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city. But…
DO NOT VISIT ICELAND FOR REYKJAVIK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Reykjavik is cute and all, but honestly… there’s not much there. I hear so many people say, “Oh yeah we’re flying to Iceland and staying in Reykjavik” to which I always think: “Oh no.”
Reykjavik is fine. But it’s a tiny, tiny city. And beyond the main drag (Laugavegur and to some extent Skólavörðustígur), there are a few museums, some restaurants, and very touristy bars. They’re all expensive, there is no nature there, and quite simply… there isn’t much to do.
So get OUT of Reykjavik. Do NOT fly to Iceland to spend 3 days in Reykjavik.
That said, you can do some excellent day tours from Reykjavik for a few days, like…
The Golden Circle Tour
This tour covers:
- Geysir – the OG geyser
- Gulfoss waterfall
- Thingvellir National Park – the oldest parliament in the world, set on the Atlantic Ridge plate
All told, it takes 6 hours to complete. So it’s a great way to spend a day seeing some of Iceland’s best active nature from a base in Reykjavik. And, you won’t have to do any driving.
The Blue Lagoon
- Link: Blue Lagoon
This is another fun and iconic way to spend part of a day if you’re based in Reykjavik. Everyone wants that picture being surrounded by cloudy blue water wearing a silica mud mask with black lava rocks all around. But, you’ll pay for that experience.
Be prepared to spend at least $100 per person. By the time you pay the ~$63 entrance fee, a bus to and from (around ~$10 each way), and the food you’ll inevitably consume there, it adds up to a pricey excursion. You can cut corners by bringing your own food. And make the most of it by spending many hours.
I always tell people there are other, cheaper hot springs to bathe in. But people want that photo for the ‘Gram. (#doitforthegram) I mean, I get it. I’ve done it for that reason, too.
It’s an hour there by bus, and an hour back. If you stay a few hours and grab some food, this could easily fill a fun day. Grab some dinner when you get back to the city and have some beers by the harbor.
Rent a car for a day
Even if you don’t pick up a rental at Keflavik airport, you can still rent one in Reykjavik. There are car rental places all over. Hertz has a huge office near downtown.
From there, you could do a day drive to the Snaefellsness peninsula. Or Akureyri, Iceland’s second-largest city (about 4.5 hours north).
But, if you’re driving 5 hours each way, that’ll make for a very long day once you factor in stops. Some friends of mine recently did this while based in Reykjavik. They were tired when they got back, but glad they saw more of Iceland.
If you ask me, I’d just spend a night at the end of the drive and drive back the next day. But that requires more planning with an added hotel stay.
I mean yeah, there’s stuff in Reykjavik
And if you’ve never been to Iceland, you should definitely dedicate a full day to seeing the northernmost capital city in the world. It’s charming and colorful.
- Laugavegur – the “main drag”
- Skólavörðustígur – lots of cute restaurants and coffee shops, great for souvenirs and hand knits, and you can see the famous church at the end of the street (up the hill)
- At least one of the many museums dedicated to modern art, Icelandic history, or the Nordic sagas
- The “old harbor” – a quickly developing part of town with some excellent restaurants and art galleries
But really, visit Iceland for Iceland
I’d give Iceland a full week to properly drive the Ring Road – their main highway that forms a circle around the entire perimeter of the island.
Because most of the gorgeous scenery is not near Reykjavik, or even on the west coast.
But rather, the north or south coasts.
If you have 3 days, pick one. If you have a week, do both via the Ring Road.
With 3 days:
- Day 1 – Pick up car and spend night in Reykjavik
- Day 2 – Leave for furthest point on north or south coast. For north coast, stay a night in Husavik or Myvatn. For south coast, stay in Hofn or Vik
- Day 3 – Drive back to Reykavik/airport
You’ll only see a fraction of Iceland. But a lot more than most people ever see!
Whether you pick north or south coast depends on what you want to see.
- Isafjordur – a rugged and isolated village along a deep fjord
- Akureyri – the second largest city in Iceland
- Husavik – famous for incredible whale-watching
- Myvatn – a part of the earth with bubbling and (sulphuric) gassy hot pots!
The north coast tends to be sunnier and have better weather in general. This is especially important if you want to visit during winter.
If you go the north coastal route, I highly recommend stopping in Akureyri. It’s such a cute town. Saudarkrokur and Siglufjordur are also excellent places to stop for a drink/lunch/dinner/photos.
Lots of peeps go the other direction. The south coast has:
- Vik – the black sand beaches and huge natural basalt columns
- Jokulsarlon – the iceberg lake
- Vatnajokull – the largest glacier in Europe that covers 10+% of Iceland’s landmass – excellent hiking, too!
- Landmannalaugar – known for its red and blue earth and great hiking. Also hot springs you can swim in. I mean, just look at the pics
Either way, you can’t go wrong. Both coasts are stunningly gorgeous and so different from one another.
If you’re able to see both and drive the entire Ring Road, keep in mind the east coast is freaking wild, man – some of those turns over knife-edge cliffs still give me full-body chills just thinking about them.
Yes. There is always weather in Iceland. If you are there for 3 days, you might hit a period of rain, which would suck. But fear not: the weather is always changing. Layers are your friend.
In summer, the highs tend to be in the 50s or 60s, with lows in the 40s or 50s. The temps in winter hover right around freezing – 30ish degrees or so. Iceland is actually warmer than New York in the winter because the Gulf Stream moderates the temperature.
In summer, you will experience nearly constant daylight. In winter, constant night. And in fall and spring, the days are “normal” – about half and half, give or take depending on how close you are to summer or winter.
In any case, take:
- Lots of layers, even in summer
- Sturdy, comfortable shoes. You do not need high heels or penny loafers in Iceland. Think comfy tennis shoes or hiking boots
- Something waterproof. It will inevitably rain on you. Icelanders don’t use umbrellas, only tourists. Take a raincoat instead
If you go in winter, it’s germane to take a heavier coat with mittens and a hat. In summer, you don’t need it although it can still be blustery, especially along the coast when it’s windy. Be prepared for all types of weather all of the time.
In winter, you have an excellent chance of seeing the Northern Lights dance over you for hours. Perhaps take a blanket to spread over the hood of your car as you snuggle with your loved one and watch the spectacle of earth’s most wondrous light show in the dark, chilly skies. 😉
Where to stay
This could be a whole post on its own, but the gist is there are not many points hotels in Iceland.
There are only 3 chains and 8 hotels represented. They are:
- Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre – 70,000 points per night
- Hilton Reykjavik Nordica – 60,000 points per night
- Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel, Curio Collection – 70,000 points per night
- Blu Saga Hotel, Reykjavik – 66,000 points per night
- Blu 1919 Hotel, Reykjavik – 70,000 points per night
- 101 Hotel, Reykjavik, A Member Of Design Hotels – 25,000 points per night
- ION City Hotel, A Member Of Design Hotels – 25,000 points per night
- ION Adventure Hotel, Nesjavellir, A Member Of Design Hotels– 25,000 points per night
With Hilton and Starwood, you get the 5th night free on award stays. But even at 25,000 points per night, you’d need 100,000 Starwood points for a 5-night stay. Or with Hilton at 60,000 points per night, you’d need 240,000 Hilton points (!).
Paid stays at these hotels are $300 to $500+ per night. So unless you’re flush with points or don’t mind paying, your best bets are:
Plus, accommodations go fast. So even if you score a cheap flight, it’s worth seeing what’s available before you book a $200 round-trip flight, especially if it’s non-refundable. Between the car rental, hotels, and high food prices, it’s better if you can plan ahead AND jump on the quick deal – but it does take a little more planning/searching/looking around.
Even still, Iceland is so incredibly worth it. So gorgeous. And one of my favorite places on earth. Because it’s so popular now, you’ll need to plan a little more in advance. But ah, what an amazing place.
Iceland stopovers of 3 or 4 days are booming in popularity. And while I’d recommend a whole week in Iceland (at least!), it’s still worth it to pop in on your way to somewhere else in mainland Europe.
Watch out for sticker shock, cuz Iceland ain’t cheap. And points hotels are limited, and expensive. So are meals, drinks (buy booze at the airport duty free before you leave!), and car rentals.
But if you can swing it… it’s a life-changing experience and one of the most beautiful, welcoming, and pure places left on this planet. With some of the most incredible nature. Go to Iceland for Iceland, NOT for Reykjavik.
I’ve been to Iceland many many times and hope this provides an overview of what to expect and look out for, how to plan a brief (or longer!) trip, and where to stay.
I just got back a couple of weeks ago and still have Iceland on the brain. If you’ve never been, go go go! *wistful sigh* If there’s anything I missed, ask away!* If you liked this post, consider signing up to receive free blog posts in an RSS reader and you’ll never miss an update!
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