3-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter JetSettingFools.com

3-Day Iceland Winter Itinerary

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We made a last-minute decision to make a four-night stopover in Reykjavik, Iceland at the end of January while flying from the Netherlands to Costa Rica. Although we feared it might not be the best time to go to Iceland, visiting Iceland in winter is what fit into our travel plans. 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 Iceland Winter Itinerary.

 

Planning a Trip to Iceland in Winter

Going to Iceland in January presented a few challenges for our Iceland itinerary. First, we had fewer hours of daylight – during winter in Iceland there are only about seven hours total of daylight each day. On the upside, dark skies are necessary for viewing the Northern Lights, so we actually considered the short days to work to our advantage. Second, visiting Iceland in January meant we had to factor in the weather. While the temperatures are actually more mild than most people would think – Iceland weather in January has average high temps of 35*F – elements like wind and snow could quickly alter plans. 

 

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

On the first day of your Iceland 3-day itinerary, explore the sights, tastes and attractions in Reykjavik. Our Reykjavik itinerary for the day includes soaking in a thermal pool, exploring the city on a tour, 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. 

 

Thermal Pool

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 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.

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!

Why We Skipped Blue Lagoon

We opted to pass on the Blue Lagoon Iceland winter visit in favor of the local pool. Although it ranks as a top Iceland attraction, it’s an expensive experience. 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 on Viator

 

Reykjavik Walking Tour  

Reykjavik in January might be cold, but it’s still a fabulous city to explore! 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 further afield (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). From the church, stroll Skolavordustigur back to downtown Reykjavik for dinner.

3-Day Itinerary for Iceland In Winter Hallgrimskirkja JetSetting Fools

 

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.}

 

Reykjavik Map of Sights

Our Reykjavik Map pinpoints the locations of the top things to do in Reykjavik in winter. 

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

 

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Day Two: Golden Circle Iceland Winter Trip

On the second day of your 3 Days in Reykjavik, go beyond the city sights to explore the famous Golden Circle.

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 a geyser, a waterfall and a national park.

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 our Iceland travel blog post: Golden Circle Tour here.}

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

 

Icelandic Beer

Drinking beer was legalized in Iceland 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 our Iceland travel blog post: 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 our Iceland travel blog post: 6 best things to eat in Iceland here.}

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

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Day Three: South Coast

On Day 3 of your Iceland trip itinerary, tour the island’s southern coast – one of the best Iceland trips. Your South Iceland itinerary should include the region’s famous waterfalls and a black sand beach. 

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 and consistently scores as one of the best places to visit in Iceland. We took an Iceland South Coast Tour from the city to the small, coastal town of Vik, which is stunningly beautiful in Iceland winter time.

We think the South Coast is one of the best trips in Iceland – and the destinations are some of the top places to visit in Iceland in winter. The full day schedule includes visiting two of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls – Seljalandfoss and Skogafoss, which we think are both a must-see in Iceland winter. We also got a taste of winter hiking in Iceland by taking a short and snowy trek to a glacier.  The Iceland day tour also included stepping foot on black sand beaches to see the Reynisdrangar rock formations. {Read our Iceland trip blog post: South Coast Adventure Tour here.}

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

 

Iceland in Winter Itinerary Tips

Our top tips for your 3-Day Iceland Winter itinerary. 

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!

 

Iceland Roads: Self-Drive vs. Tour Bus

If driving in Iceland in winter, rather than joining a tour, 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. (Yet, we felt completely safe with our professional drivers at the wheel!)

Self-Drive Iceland Winter

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. But, we haven’t driven in winter conditions in years. Drivers with winter driving experience may have little difficulty navigating the roads in ice and snow. And, of course, just because you take an Iceland winter vacation does not mean the roads are going to be icy. If you are intent on driving in Iceland in December to February, you can find an Iceland road trip itinerary here

How To Get Around Iceland Without a Car

Getting around Iceland without a car is a little difficult and limiting. However, 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. Note: If we had been planning an Iceland summer itinerary, we possibly would have considered renting a car. 

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, read the reviews! 

 

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. We suppose there are pros and cons to visiting in any season. Iceland winter holidays can be cold and can be 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 too cold for 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.

 

What To Do in Iceland in Winter

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 info (a very good reason to go in February, if you ask us!). 

 

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. 

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. 

Want to add exciting adventure activities to your Iceland trip?! Search now for the best adventure activities – like rafting, glacier hiking and wildlife expeditions. 

 

Top Tips for your Trip to Iceland

Arrival to Reykjavik

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 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.

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

Departure from Reykjavik

Iceland travel tips: 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 Where to Stay JetSetting Fools

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! (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 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 about your Iceland itinerary in the comments!

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3-Day Iceland Winter itinerary by JetSettingFools.com

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 Iceland Winter Itinerary

  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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