3-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter JetSettingFools.com

3-day itinerary for Iceland In Winter

We made a last-minute decision to make a four-night stopover in Reykjavik, Iceland while flying from the Netherlands to Costa Rica. It was our first time to the island nation and our list of things we wanted to see was extensive. We had three full days to explore and we were intent on making the absolute most of our time, cramming everything we wanted to see in our 3-day itinerary for Iceland in Winter.

Our winter visit presented a few challenges. First, we had fewer hours of daylight – about seven hours total each day. On the upside, dark skies are necessary for viewing the Northern Lights, so we considered the short days to work to our advantage in that respect! Second, we had to factor in the weather. While the temperatures are actually more mild than most people would think – averaging 31*F in January – elements like wind and snow could quickly alter plans.

Our 3-day itinerary for Iceland in Winter is meant for first-time visitors who want to maximize classic Icelandic experiences. 

 

3-day itinerary for Iceland in Winter: Day One

Thermal Pool

Start the day early and soak with the locals at the Vesturbaejarlaug thermal swimming pool. The outdoor pools – including four Jacuzzis – are open year-round with varying temperatures of Iceland’s thermal water (up to 110*F!). Watch as steam rolls off the water, light snow falls from the sky and the first light of day appears on the horizon.

Reykjavik Walking Tour  

For a fantastic introduction to the city of Reykjavik and Iceland, join a guided tour. There are many Reykjavik tours to choose from (walking, biking, segway, private – to name a few!), including the CityWalk Reykjavik free walking tour, which we took. Our humorous guide, Eric, provided insight into the Icelandic culture and people. He covered everything from the complicated Icelandic alphabet to the country’s progressive stance on gender equality to how Icelanders keep their hands warm while drinking beer outdoors in the winter. The tour departs at 10:30am from Parliament and lasts about two hours. Reykjavik sightseeing tours that venture to sights futher afeild (by car) are also an option. 

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland In Winter Reykjavik City Walking Tour JetSetting Fools

Fish for Lunch

Head to the Old Harbor and dine on the Catch of the Day or fabulous fish and chips at Reykjavik’s oldest restaurant, Kaffivagninn, established in 1935. Enjoy the views across the harbor toward Hallgrimskirkja, where we headed next. {Read about the 6 best things to eat in Iceland here.}

Stroll the Harbor

Walk the harbor on the edge of the city taking in the mountainous landscapes in the distance. Two sights to see along the way: the HARPA Concert Hall and the Sun Voyager sculpture. From the sculpture, cut back in to the city taking Frakkastigur Street to Hallgrimskirkja.

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja Church, which was built from 1945 to 1986, is an iconic symbol of Reykjavik. The unique design attempts to recreate the look of Iceland’s columned basalt rocks (like the ones visible on the South Coast). The 244-foot-tall bell tower can be reached by elevator for stunning views over the city ($7 USD).

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland In Winter Hallgrimskirkja JetSetting Fools

From the church, stroll Skolavordustigur back to downtown Reykjavik for dinner.

Northern Lights Tour

End the day by chasing the Northern Lights. We hopped on a Northern Lights Tour, and searched the sky for the magnificent and mysterious green glow. {Read about our Northern Lights experience here.}

 

3-day itinerary for Iceland in Winter: Day Two

Golden Circle Tour

A trip to Iceland wouldn’t be complete without making the 300km loop to the three major sights on the Golden Circle. Walk down a path past boiling pools of water to watch Strokkur Geyser erupt. Stand in awe of the massive Gullfoss waterfall. Stroll along the exposed edge of the North American tectonic plate at Thingvellir National Park. We experienced the sights on a Golden Circle tour, which made an additional stop at a geothermal greenhouse, where we tried fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes in the middle of winter. {Read about our Golden Circle Tour here.}

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland In Winter Golden Circle Tour JetSetting Fools

Icelandic Beer

Drinking beer was legalized to Icelanders on March 1, 1989, but the beer industry has come a long way in a short time. Microbreweries are popping up across the nation and there are a few pubs in downtown Reykjavik that specialize in craft beer, like Skuli Bar and Micro Bar. The Golden Circle Tour should get back to the city in time for happy hour! {Read about 3 places to drink Icelandic beer here.}

3 Places to Drink Local Beer in Reykjavik, Iceland JetSettingFools.com

3 Places To Drink Local Beer in Reykjavik, Iceland

Hot Dogs for dinner

As strange as it sounds, hot dogs are immensely popular in Iceland. The Baejarins Beztu Pylsur stand is the place to get a hot dog (or two!) with The Works. {Read about the 6 best things to eat in Iceland here.}

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland In Winter Hot Dogs JetSetting Fools

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3-day itinerary for Iceland in Winter: Day Three

Tour Iceland’s South Coast

Seeing the sights on the Golden Circle are just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended!). A trip to Iceland’s South Coast presents even more natural wonders. We took an Iceland South Coast Tour from the city to the small, coastal town of Vik. The full day schedule includes visiting two of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls – Seljalandfoss and Skogafoss – taking a hike to a glacier and stepping foot on black sand beaches to see the Reynisdrangar rock formations. {Read about our South Coast Adventure Tour here.}

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland In Winter South Coast Tour JetSetting Fools

 

More tips for a 3-day itinerary for Iceland in Winter:

Reykjavik Map of Sights

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter Reykjavik Map JetSetting Fools 

Arrival to Reykjavik

Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!) – and that’s the best way to get to Reykjavik! However, due to our unique circumstances (flight benefits earned from years of service with a major airline), we rarely buy airline tickets. That being said, when we do need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner or Flight Hub.

Stop at the Visit Reykjavik Official Tourist Information Center to pick up city maps. It’s also a convenient place to purchase a Reykjavik City Card, which grants access to city bus transportation, entry to the city’s many thermal pools and heaps of museums.

Departure from Reykjavik

Many flights – especially to America – don’t depart until early evening, creating a half day to continue sightseeing in Reykjavik, Iceland. Although we were unable to fit these sights into our schedule, we would have liked to!

Airport Transportation to and from Reykjavik

There are two major bus companies that transport travelers from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik. We chose FlyBus, for the price and convenience. The cheaper ticket drops off passengers at the BSI Terminal. For just a few dollars more, they drop off at specified hotel locations in the city. There are additional savings for purchasing roundtrip tickets.

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland In Winter Iceland Air JetSetting Fools

Iceland Package Tours

Complete package tours to Iceland can be booked through several companies. Intrepid Travel offers a variety of multi-day Iceland tours, including an 8-day Winter Iceland Family Adventure Tour. Shorter 2- to 4-day Iceland tours can be booked through various tour companies. 

Things to Note:

Thermal Pool Etiquette: There is strict Thermal Pool Etiquette, which includes showering completely nude before entering the pool. Follow the rules. Also, bring a towel. Most places will rent them, but no need to spend the extra money!

Northern Lights Tour: Book the Northern Lights Tour for the first night. Whether or not the Northern Lights will be visible is a very scientific process. If there is zero chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis, tour operators will cancel by mid-afternoon. If a tour is canceled, simply re-book with the company for the following night. During our visit, tours were canceled for the first three nights we were in town. Luckily, the tours operated on our last night and we were able to see the Northern Lights!

Self-Drive vs. Tour Bus: If self-driving, rather than joining a tour, be mindful of the road conditions. During our tours, we saw several cars that had slid into ditches. (Yet, we felt completely safe with our professional drivers at the wheel!)

 

Top Tips for your Trip to Iceland

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland In Winter Where to Stay JetSetting Fools

Where To Stay

In Reykjavik, there is a wide range of accommodations from budget hostels to luxurious hotels. We opted for an Airbnb apartment that was centrally located, affordable and quite cozy! (Save money on your first Airbnb stay by using this link to create an account!) It was an 8-minute walk to the city center, 10-minute walk to the Vesturbaejarlaug Thermal Pool and a 5-minute walk to the nearest hotel meeting point for tour departures (Hotel Reykjavik Centrum).

 
We have found that staying in apartments is often less expensive than hotel rooms – with the added benefit of a kitchen and, usually, more space. Iceland holiday apartments can also be searched on FlipKey (which is part of TripAdvisor) or on VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner

However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many Reykjavik hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip: Kvosin Downtown Hotel, Canopy by Hilton and Hotel LotusHotel Lotus Reykjavik. Or, find a deal on a hotel room by bidding on Priceline

Budget travelers may want to look at Reykjavik hostels, like Reykjavik Downtown Hostel, Loft Hostel and Falkinn Guesthouse. Travelers can also stay with locals for free with Couchsurfing

 

Before You Go

  • Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for the city. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia and Skechers. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
  • We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
  • It’s easy to get turned around or lost in any new city! Be sure to have a good map and/or guidebook prior to arriving.  
  • We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.

Want more travel planning tips? Head over to our Travel Planning page for our complete packing list and other travel resources!

 

Want a look through our lens? Click here for Iceland in Wintertime: a photo essay. 

 

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We want to know: What would you add to our 3-day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter? What did you like best about your winter visit to Iceland? Tell us in the comments!

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3-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter JetSettingFools.com

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter JetSetting Fools
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16 thoughts on “3-day itinerary for Iceland In Winter

  1. Lisa

    SO funny to stumble across this post from Pinterest! I spent a week in Iceland in 2014 (Actually, I was stuck there because of a volcano!) and am taking my husband for a long weekend next month. We are planning almost exactly this itinerary! It’s a good balance. We hope we get to see the northern lights, that’d be new for both of us! Thank you for sharing your trip.

    • Hi Lisa – We hope you get to see the Northern Lights!! We booked our tour for the first night…and it was cancelled every night we were there until the last night! It was frigid cold, but totally worth it! Enjoy your trip!! 🙂

  2. Good info. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to Iceland but if we do we’ll be back on this page.
    Love the plane pic, also like your Airbnb apartment which I checked out.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Thanks Frank! We were really amazed at how much we could fit into our short trip. If you do make it to Iceland, the apartment we stayed in comes highly recommended! Great space and fantastic host! 😉

  3. ruth

    Wonderful unique place. Riding the gorgeous Icelandic horses the highlight of my life. Could go back time and time again

  4. Okay..that guy is wearing a short sleeve shirt! he must be nuts. This looks nice, even though l am still not sure l want to visit Iceland. I hear it is wicked expensive :-).

    • It IS expensive – but, for us, it didn’t seem any more expensive than Australia (which is also wicked expensive!). The guy in the short sleeve shirt was a local taxi cab driver! He parked his car, got out and stood in line like it was summer. I was shivering even though I was covered from head to toe! ha!

  5. ooh! Iceland is in my bucket list… since so many years!! I was really impressed with your post. Most of the people I know that visited the island went in summer to avoid the cold… but you did so many things and pictures look amazing… So Iceland is for year-round too   Thanks for sharing!! <3

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