Iceland is magnificent in any season – but especially so in the winter. With exquisite landscapes and a fascinating history, we were absolutely dazzled by the enchanting island. Planning a winter Iceland itinerary does have its challenges, but there are benefits, too! We created a perfect 3-Day Iceland Winter Itinerary that showcases the best of the country during the winter months.
Why Plan an Iceland 3-Day Itinerary in Winter?
Spending a full three days in Iceland in winter was a last-minute decision. We were flying from the Netherlands to Costa Rica at the end of January and were able to squeeze in a quick four-night stopover in Reykjavik. Although we feared it might not be the best time to go to Iceland, visiting Iceland in winter is simply what fit into our travel plans.
Iceland in 3 Days
At first, we were hesitant to try to visit Iceland in 3 days; the country is expansive, and the natural sights are numerous. Would it be worth it to go all that way to Iceland for 3 days? We carefully considered the best way to arrange a 3 Days in Iceland Itinerary and came up with our ideal plan.
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 (and then a bit more!) into our 3-Day Iceland Itinerary.
Planning a Trip to Iceland in Winter
Going to Iceland in January presents a few challenges. Certain factors need to be considered when planning an Iceland itinerary to ensure you will enjoy your trip.
First, there are fewer hours of sunshine – and not just because of cloudy skies. During winter in Iceland there are on average about 6 hours of daylight each day. Throughout January, the days get longer – and, by the end of February, there are 9 hours of daytime (which, is still a pretty short day for sightseeing!).
Second, it is essential to factor in the weather when visiting Iceland in January. While the temperatures are actually milder than most people would think – elements like icy roads, wind and snow can quickly alter plans.
Advantages of Visiting Iceland in January
Despite the obvious downfalls, there are a few spectacular things to do in Iceland in the winter – namely, the Northern Lights.
While short days can be problematic for most sightseeing, on the upside, dark skies are necessary for viewing the Northern Lights. Therefore, we considered the short daylight hours to work to our advantage.
Iceland Weather in January
Make no mistake, the Iceland temperature in January is cold and often accompanied by snow and ice – but we didn’t consider this to be a total disadvantage. The barren landscapes are beautiful when covered in a layer of white, sparkling snow.
Furthermore, while the Iceland weather in January can be frigid, the average high temps are about 35° Fahrenheit – so well above freezing. We give more details about the temperatures and Iceland winter weather at the end of the post.
The Best Iceland Itinerary: 3 Days
Our Winter Iceland Itinerary is the best way to spend 3 days in Iceland. In addition to the must-see sights, we include tips on what to eat and top local experiences. Fellow travelers can use our guide to plan their perfect 3-day trip to Iceland.
Unsure of how many days to spend in Iceland? We include suggested Iceland itineraries for shorter and longer trips below!
How Can I Create an Iceland Summer Itinerary?
The focus of our Itinerary for Iceland is wintertime activities – but with just a few easy tweaks, it can be an ideal Iceland Itinerary for Summer. We provide more tips in the post where summer activities can be substituted for wintertime sights.
3 Days in Iceland: A Day-by-Day Guide
Our detailed 3-Day Iceland Itinerary provides a day-by-day plan for your trip. We organized each day to maximize sightseeing and experiences. Additionally, we provide essential tips for traveling to Iceland. Everything you need to know is included in our Iceland 3-Day Itinerary!
Save, Pin or Bookmark this blog post so that you can easily access it while planning – and during! – your trip!
3-DAY ICELAND WINTER ITINERARY
Our 3-day itinerary for Iceland in Winter is meant for first-time visitors who want to maximize classic Icelandic experiences. At the end of the post, we include our top Iceland travel tips for longer (or shorter!) trips, information about Iceland winter weather and other things to do in Iceland in winter.
Day One: Reykjavik Winter Experience
On the first day of your Iceland 3-day itinerary, explore the sights, tastes and attractions in Reykjavik – the capital and largest city in the nation. Our Reykjavik itinerary for the day includes soaking in a thermal pool, exploring the city on foot, eating local cuisine and going to the top of the iconic church bell tower. Then, after dark, search for one of the best Iceland attractions in winter: The Northern Lights.
Start the day early with a trip to a thermal pool – one of the absolute best things to do in Iceland in winter. Soak with the locals at the Vesturbaejarlaug thermal swimming pool. The outdoor pools – including four Jacuzzi tubs – are open year-round. The pools are filled with Iceland’s natural thermal water; the hottest pool has temperatures of 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.
Thermal Pool Etiquette
Before entering the pool, it is important to understand (and follow) the rules. There is strict Thermal Pool Etiquette, which includes showering completely nude before entering the pool. Also, bring a towel. Most places will rent them, but no need to spend the extra money if you have your own!
Alternate Option: Blue Lagoon
We opted to pass on the Blue Lagoon Iceland winter visit in favor of the local pool. Although the Blue Lagoon ranks as a top Iceland attraction, it’s an expensive experience and requires transportation from the city center. Being short on time, we didn’t think we would get value out of the trip to the Blue Lagoon and much preferred the local thermal pool experience. However, if the Blue Lagoon tops your list of things to do in Iceland, you can book a tour in advance on Viator.
Reykjavik Walking Tour
Reykjavik in January might be cold, but it’s still a fabulous city to explore on foot! For a fantastic introduction to the city of Reykjavik and Iceland, we recommend joining a guided tour. There are many Reykjavik tours to choose from (walking, biking, segway, private – to name a few!), but we decided to take the CityWalk Reykjavik Free Walking Tour.
Free Reykjavik Walking Tour
On our tour, the 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.
There are two daily Reykjavik City Walk tip-based tours – at 10:30am and 2:00pm. For this Iceland trip itinerary, we recommend taking the morning tour that departs at 10:30am and lasts about two hours. Reserve your spot here!
More Reykjavik City Tour Options
Too cold for a walking tour? Consider touring the city by mini-van. As a bonus, the Reykjavik sightseeing tour ventures to sights further afield that are not easily reached on foot. Get the details!
Seafood for Lunch
After the tour, 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, the restaurant serves filling meals – and patrons can enjoy the views across the harbor toward Hallgrimskirkja, where we are headed next.
Pro Tip: For our top tips on Iceland food, read our blog post: The Best Things To Eat in Iceland.
Stroll the Harbor
Walk off your lunch with a pleasant stroll on the harbor. As you walk north on the edge of the city, take in the mountainous landscapes in the distance. There are two sights to see along the route that you will want to make sure you see: the HARPA Concert Hall and the Sun Voyager sculpture. From the sculpture, cut back into the city taking Frakkastigur Street and route your way to Hallgrimskirkja.
An iconic symbol of Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja Church, which was built from 1945 to 1986. The unique design resembles columned basalt rocks that are found throughout the country (like the ones visible on the South Coast). Visitors can take an elevator up the 244-foot-tall bell tower for stunning views over the city (ticket required). From the church, take Skolavordustigur Street back to downtown Reykjavik for dinner.
Pro Tip: Find a map of our recommended Reykjavik sights below!
Northern Lights Tour
End the first day of your Iceland in Winter Trip by chasing the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon that creates a magnificent and mysterious green glow in the sky. The best chance to see the Northern Lights is during the dark winter nights, away from city lights.
How to See the Northern Lights
Whether or not the Northern Lights will be visible is a very scientific process – and there are no guarantees that it will occur. Therefore, to increase your chance of seeing the Northern Lights on your Iceland winter trip, we recommend booking a Northern Lights tour for the first night of your trip. Book your tour now!
If there is zero chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis, tour operators will cancel by mid-afternoon. If a tour is canceled, participants can simply re-book with the same 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!
DIY or Tour
Visitors with their own transport can drive into the dark countryside in search of the spectacle, but we found it much easier to hop on a Northern Lights Tour. Local guides know the best spots and communicate with each other to share where they can see the lights.
Pro Tip: For more details about seeing Aurora Borealis, read about our Northern Lights experience.
Iceland Itinerary Summer Substitution
Although the Aurora Borealis is active in the summer, the skies don’t get dark enough to clearly see them. However, one of the fun summertime evening activities is a Midnight Sun Whale Watching Tour. Find out more here!
Day Two: Golden Circle Iceland Winter Trip
On the second day of your 3 Days in Reykjavik, explore the sights on the famous Golden Circle. After your full day tour, partake in a local experience by drinking delicious craft beer and indulging in tasty Icelandic hot dogs.
Golden Circle Tour
A trip to Iceland wouldn’t be complete without making the 300km loop to the sights on the Golden Circle. The three major sights on every Golden Circle Iceland tour itinerary include an erupting geyser, a massive waterfall and a historic national park. Even in the wintertime, the Golden Circle attractions are a must-see!
In addition to the three main attractions, visitors can opt for tours that include extra stops along the route. For our Iceland trip itinerary, we booked a Golden Circle Tour that also included a stop at a Geothermal Greenhouse, where they grow fresh tomatoes in the middle of winter. Book it now!
Pro Tip: Read more about the attractions and add-on options for the tour in our blog post: The Best Golden Circle Tour.
Iceland beer history is quite intriguing; for 74 years – until 1989 – drinking beer in Iceland was illegal. However, times have changed. Iceland microbreweries are popping up across the nation – and brewers are intent on creating unique locally-produced craft beers. As craft beer gains in popularity, the number of pubs in downtown Reykjavik specializing in craft beer are also increasing.
Get a taste of what is brewing in Iceland at one of the dedicated craft beer bars. While the beers are not cheap, some places offer happy hour pricing.
Pro Tip: Find out our top recommendations for the best bars in our blog post: The Best Places to Drink Craft Beer in Reykjavik.
Hot Dogs for Dinner
An Iceland travel itinerary wouldn’t be complete without including a stop at the famous Baejarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand!
Seriously, as strange as it may sound, hot dogs are immensely popular in Iceland. We recommend throwing caution to the wind and ordering them like locals do: With The Works. The unique toppings are what makes the hot dogs taste extraordinary. Trust us on this one – it’s a must-eat!
Day Three: South Coast Exploration
On Day 3 of your Iceland winter itinerary, tour the island’s southern coast, which is home to some of the country’s most breathtaking scenery.
Tour Iceland’s South Coast
Tours to Iceland’s South Coast allow visitors to witness a few of Iceland’s most beautiful natural wonders. The region consistently ranks as one of the best places to visit in Iceland – and the top sights can be reached on a full day tour.
Blanketed in snow, the South Coast is perhaps even more beautiful in wintertime – and we think the destinations are a few of the top places to visit in Iceland in winter. The top attractions are the country’s most famous waterfalls (coupled with the frozen land around them, waterfalls are really a must-see in Iceland winter!).
Other sights include glaciers and icebergs (depending on which tour you choose!). However, the most photographed tour stop is the coastal village of Vik, where there are black sand beaches and unique rock formations. Reserve your seat!
Pro Tip: For a full description of what to expect on the day trip, read our blog post: Iceland South Coast Tour.
Reykjavik Map of Sights
Our Reykjavik Map pinpoints the locations of the top things to do in Reykjavik in winter that we recommend seeing on Day 1 of our 3 days in Iceland. Use this map for your One-Day Reykjavik City Tour Itinerary.
More Things To Do in Reykjavik, Iceland
Have more time to explore the sights in Reykjavik? Consider visiting these top attractions. Pro Tip: Save money on admission to top Reykjavik sights with a City Card.
Built as a geothermal water storage facility, Perlan is also an entertainment hub that houses Iceland exhibitions, a planetarium, a restaurant and a viewing platform that provides 360-degree views.
There are numerous museums in Reykjavik that are aimed to educate and entertain. Some of the most popular Reykjavik museums are the Viking Saga Museum, the Settlement Exhibition, the National Museum of Iceland, The Icelandic Phallological Museum (aka The Penis Museum) and the Punk Museum (which is housed in an old underground bathroom).
Reykjavik Thermal Pools
We include a visit to the Vesturbaejarlaug Thermal Pool in our 3-Day Iceland Itinerary – but there are other local Reykjavik pools that visitors can visit. Two of the more popular pools are Laugardalslaug and Sundholl.
What To Do in Iceland in Winter: By Month
When we were filling our Iceland trip itinerary, we had no problem coming up with Iceland things to do in winter. The top Iceland attractions – the Golden Circle, Reykjavik sights and the South Coast – are incredible to see in every season.
Things To Do in Iceland in December
If you are wondering what to do in Iceland in December, don’t worry! There is plenty to do! Visiting Iceland in December is a great time to see the Northern Lights…and in Reykjavik in December, the city is decorated in Christmas lights! If you plan to travel to Iceland in December, keep in mind that it’s the month when the days are shortest.
You can use our above outline as an Iceland In December Itinerary – and if you are looking for more things to do in Reykjavik in December, you can use this event calendar.
Things To Do in Iceland in January
If you are traveling to Iceland in January – like we did! – you will find lots of things to do! Although it is the coldest month in Iceland during winter, we witnessed breathtaking landscapes and the Northern Lights. Weather can be unpredictable, which is why we don’t recommend driving in Iceland in January.
Things To Do in Iceland in February
If you travel to Iceland in February, expect similar weather conditions to January. An Iceland February holiday is highlighted by seeing the Northern Lights, soaking in warm thermal pools and taking in the sights of the winter wonderland. If you are visiting on the last weekend in February, you can attend the Annual Icelandic Beer Festival (a very good reason to go in February, if you ask us!).
Best Time to Visit Iceland
Trying to figure out the best time to travel to Iceland can be difficult – and ultimately depends on the kind of experience you hope to have. There are pros and cons to visiting in any season. Iceland winter holidays can be cold and bleak, but frozen waterfalls and the Northern Lights are the highlights.
Summers are cool and bright, but many of the natural sights can be overcrowded with tourists. We thoroughly enjoyed the Iceland winter activities…but look forward to someday visiting Iceland in July, too!
When is Winter in Iceland?
Officially, winter in Iceland is the same as the rest of the northern hemisphere: mid-December to mid-March. But that doesn’t really help much if you are wondering how to plan a trip to Iceland based on weather. If you are trying to plan an Iceland winter trip (or attempting to avoid Iceland winter months), we recommend looking at historical average high temperatures to decide if the winter months in Iceland will be suitable to you.
Iceland Weather by Month
We must admit, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Iceland winter wasn’t as cold as we thought it would be. The Iceland weather in December is only a few degrees cooler (based on average high temps) than New York City.
So, when is the best time to go to Iceland for the best weather? To help you determine when the best time to travel to Iceland is for you, we have listed the average high Iceland temperatures (in Fahrenheit) by month.
The average high temperature for Iceland in January is 35 degrees.
Iceland in February average high temperatures are 37 degrees.
If visiting Iceland in March, average high temps are still a chilly 37 degrees.
Iceland in April is only slightly warmer with an average high temperature of 41 degrees.
It gets a little warmer in Iceland in May with an average high temp of 47 degrees.
Summer begins in Iceland in June with an average high temp of 52 degrees.
Iceland in July is the warmest month with an average high temperature of 55 degrees.
Still summer, Iceland in August is the second-warmest month with an average high temp of 54 degrees.
It begins to cool off in Iceland in September with average high temps reaching 49 degrees.
Iceland in October has average high temps of 44 degrees.
It turns cold in Iceland in November, with average high temps reaching 38 degrees.
The second-coldest month, average high temperatures for Iceland in December are 36 degrees.
How Many Days in Iceland?
Deciding how long to spend in Iceland depends on your interests and budget. We thought 3 days in Iceland was enough to see the highlights, but we could have easily spent 1 week in Iceland or longer! Below are our tips for how many days to spend in Iceland.
Weekend in Iceland
On an Iceland weekend trip, we recommend following Days 1 and 2 as outlined in our above 3-day trip to Iceland. Alternatively, you could let a guide plan your complete 2 Days in Iceland Itinerary and join a tour – like this one! – that includes iconic sights and activities.
Iceland Itinerary 4 Days
With 4 days in Iceland, you can fit a few more top attractions into your Iceland travel itinerary. We recommend following our above 3 Days in Iceland Winter Itinerary – and then add the following activities to your 4-day trip to Iceland: Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik museums.
Iceland Itinerary 5 Days
With 5 days in Iceland, we recommend following Days 1 and 2 of our 3-day Iceland Winter Itinerary, on Days 3 and 4 go on an overnight tour to explore the South Coast and an Ice Cave. On Day 5, spend the morning at the Blue Lagoon and the afternoon at Reykjavik museums.
Iceland Itinerary 7 Days
With 7 days in Iceland you can really get a good look at the country! We recommend following the above outlined 5-Day Iceland Itinerary, but extending the overnight tour to a multiple night tour. You can choose from several multiday tours for Iceland.
Iceland Package Tours
Complete package tours to Iceland can be booked through several companies. Intrepid Travel offers a variety of Iceland multi-day tours, including an 8-day Winter Iceland Family Adventure Tour. A shorter 2- to 4-day Iceland tour can be booked through various tour companies.
Iceland Roads: Self-Drive vs. Tour Bus
If you plan on driving in Iceland in winter (rather than joining tours) be mindful of the road conditions. Iceland winter travel can be dangerous, especially for travelers not used to driving in wintry conditions. We were glad we decided to visit Iceland without a car; during our tours, we saw several cars that had slid into ditches on the slick roads. (Yet, we felt completely safe with our professional drivers at the wheel!)
Self-Drive Iceland Winter
Of course, just because you take an Iceland winter vacation does not mean that the roads are going to be icy. Furthermore, drivers with winter driving experience may feel confident navigating the roads in ice and snow.
Although we can certainly appreciate the lure of an Iceland winter road trip, we simply had no desire to drive on Iceland roads in winter. If you are intent on driving in Iceland in December to February, you can find an Iceland road trip itinerary here.
On a side note: If we had been planning an Iceland summer itinerary, we possibly would have considered renting a car.
How To Get Around Iceland Without a Car
Getting around Iceland without a car can be a little difficult and limiting. There are not good public transportation routes for sightseeing outside of the city. That said, there are numerous day trips from Reykjavik in winter that transport passengers to the best sights on the island. We relied solely on Reykjavik Excursions for our tours in Iceland in January. The day trips were affordable, well-planned and had knowledgeable guides.
Iceland Day Tours Winter
Whether you are traveling to Iceland in November or wondering what to do in Iceland in January, day tours are an excellent option. Excursions in Iceland winter range from bus tours to the Golden Circle to private tours that include snowmobiling on glaciers. You can search through the many day tours from Reykjavik in winter on Viator.
Top Tip: To find the best Iceland winter tours, don’t just rely on the best price – read the reviews from fellow travelers to seek out the best experiences!
Iceland in Winter Itinerary Tips
Our Iceland travel itinerary is packed with the best sightseeing for 3 days in Iceland in Winter. Now that you know what to see, do and eat, we have a few more essential tips for your 3-Day Iceland Winter itinerary – including how to get there, where to stay and what to pack!
How To Get To Iceland
Iceland is best reached by plane (but it is also possible to get to the island nation by cruise ship). The Keflavik International Airport near Reykjavik has flights from the United States and Europe. There is a Reykjavik Airport, but the service is that airport is limited to domestic flights.
Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!) – and when we do need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner.
Airport Transportation to and from Reykjavik
The Keflavik Airport is about 45 minutes from the city center by car.
There are several ways for travelers to get from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik city center. We used FlyBus, for the price and convenience. The cheapest ticket drops off passengers at the BSI Terminal, but for just a few dollars more, travelers are dropped off at specified hotel locations in the city. There are additional savings for purchasing roundtrip tickets.
Where To Stay In Iceland
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! 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.
Use this link to create your Airbnb account – and save money on your first stay!
However, for travelers 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 Lotus Reykjavik. – or start searching for the best place to stay in Reykjavik on Booking.com.
Pro Tip: When searching for accommodations, look for apartment or hotel locations that are close to pick up points for Reykjavik tours!
What To Pack for your Trip to Iceland
We have just a few last tips for your trip! Find all of our packing advice in our blog post: My Packing List.
Iceland is cool or cold year-round – so it is important to be prepared with weather-appropriate clothing. We recommend layering clothes and bringing a water-resistant jacket for your top layer.
I made the huge mistake of not buying boots for my trip to Iceland in winter. While my everyday Skechers were fine for city walking, the failed miserably on our day tours to the Golden Circle and South Coast. And, even though I was wearing numerous pairs of socks for our Northern Lights outing, my feet were frozen. In hindsight, boots are essential for visiting Iceland in winter!
The Iceland landscapes are exquisite. Don’t rely on a camera phone to capture the sights! Instead, upgrade to an actual camera that will perfectly photograph the scenery. We use a Canon Rebel with an 18-135mm lens. The camera comes bundled with a starter kit, which is perfect for beginner photographers.
We think travel insurance is essential – especially on a winter Iceland trip! Not only is it useful in the case of canceled flights or lost luggage, but it is crucial in the unfortunate case of illness or injury abroad. If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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