Like any true Millennial, my International trip planning began with an extensive search on Pinterest. And there was by no means a shortage of information. After all, my goal was to pack as many activities as I could into a quick 4-day trip. The possibilities seemed endless- so I pinned an obnoxious number of posts, screenshot some photos and honestly didn’t look at any of it until we arrived in Iceland.
While I’m partially Type A, I also love a spontaneous adventure. We purposely didn’t plan anything ahead of time- aside from a flight, a place to sleep, a rental car & the Blue Lagoon. (There was no way I was going to miss the infamous Blue Lagoon.) I knew I wanted to get to Iceland, talk to some locals and then plan our daily itinerary.
Because most people like to do a little more planning than I did, I wanted to share my newfound knowledge of Iceland and how to pack as much as possible into 4 days. I should also mention that I went in January- the middle of their winter season.
If you’ve done any kind of research, you know that Iceland is full of waterfalls, geysers and glaciers. And I wanted to see it all, so here’s our day by day itinerary:
DAY 1: THE BLUE LAGOON & CITY OF REYKJAVIK
We arrived at Keflavik International Airport around 6 a.m. so we had the whole day ahead of us. As I mentioned before, I purchased tickets to the Blue Lagoon prior to leaving the U.S. Since it’s on the way to Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik, your best bet is to visit either on your way into the city or on the way out. It gets crowded, so I recommend purchasing the earliest tickets you can. It was still dark outside when we arrived, but by 10:45 it started to get lighter. Swimming in the springs while the sun rose was an awesome experience.
Once our fingers were nice and pruned, we went back to the changing rooms, got dressed and made our way to Reykjavik. Traveling for work has its perks, because we were able to book two nights at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica on HHonors Points. It’s a great hotel in a central location, so if you’re not planning to rent a car, that’s ok. Most tour companies will pick you up at the hotel for an additional fee.
After checking in, we ventured out to explore. First stop was Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran Church with a gorgeous view of the city. Across the street was Loki Cafe, where we ordered some traditional Icelandic food- meat soup and Lamb toast were our menu choices.
We walked around for a few hours, stopping at shops and food trucks, then ended up at the Sólfar Sun Voyager sculpture and Harpa Music Hall.
DAY 2: GOLDEN CIRCLE & THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Remember those waterfalls and geysers I mentioned? Driving around the Golden Circle route is a great way to see them. While you can easily book a bus tour, we saved some money and drove the route in a rental car.
Our first stop was Þingevvlir National Park, often spelled Thingvellir, where you can walk around the park, hike a bit, or go scuba diving or snorkeling in Silfra– the only place in the world you can dive/snorkel between two tectonic plates (the Eurasian & the American).
Once we had our fill of Þingvellir, we ventured onto stop #2, Geysir.
The only flaw in my “plan as you go” plan was I forgot about not having cell service. While there are plenty of places in Iceland with wifi, it was difficult to navigate with only the rental car GPS. Of course the easy solutions are to either download offline maps or get a hotspot so you can connect to wifi on the go.
The tricky thing about Iceland is that places are not necessarily required to have “postal codes” like we have zip codes in the U.S. This makes tourist travel a little more difficult, but almost any local can point you in the right direction.
We tried to screenshot step-by-step directions to each attraction on the Golden Circle route. And our method worked for the most part; we only found ourselves following behind a tour bus once.
Now back to the Geysir. This is in fact the original “geysir” that all other “geysers” are named after. It no longer erupts but it’s still a great stop.
There’s another geyser just a short walk away called Strokkur. It erupts every 6-8 minutes and is known to reach up to 40 meters high.
After the geysers we took a quick stop in the restaurant across the street to refuel before heading to the next attraction. You’ll find restrooms, shops and food at nearly every stop along the Golden Circle route, which is convenient on a nearly all-day tour.
Next was Gullfoss, one of the most impressive waterfalls we saw. As with each stop, there’s a short walk on a trail and/or stairs to get you to the best viewpoint, and it’s usually worth the effort.
We had some sleet and rain at this point on the trip, but even with less than ideal weather, the views were amazing.
After Gullfoss we drove to Kerið Crater Lake, which isn’t an official stop on most bus-driven tours. That’s the benefit of having your own car, since it is on the way back to Reykjavik.
You can even walk down to the bottom of the lake to get a different view. Again- worth the effort to go down and hike back up.
As we made our way back to Reykjavik, we were pleased to find out that the Northern Lights tours were not cancelled like they were the night before. We purchased two tickets on the large bus tour with Reykjavik Excursions, which picked us up at about 8:30 pm from our hotel. Little did we know the tour would take us out about an hour away, from the light pollution of the city, back to Kerið Crater Lake. While we could barely see the lake at night, it was amazing seeing the stars shine so brightly in the sky. We waited about an hour before the tour guides pointed out the formation of the Northern Lights. As I mentioned before, we did not have ideal weather and there was a lot of cloud cover, but we did get to see them. The lights come and go very quickly- and a DSLR camera picks up the color much better than the naked eye. Don’t count on your iPhone to capture a photo if the lights are faint.
I’m glad we went on the tour, because it allowed us to search for the lights on our own the next night and know what we were looking for.
DAY 3: EAST WATERFALLS & GLACIER HIKE
Our third day consisted of a lot of driving, with more amazing stops as we headed East. We decided to spend two nights in Reykjavik then drive to Vik for a night before flying out of Keflavik the next day.
First stop was Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. If you haven’t figured it out yet, “foss” means “waterfall” in Icelandic. Here you can hike up a set of slippery stairs to the right of the waterfall and actually walk behind it. You get pretty wet- the con of going during winter. But it’s nothing a little blast of heat in the rental car can’t fix.
Next was Skógafoss, the last of the waterfalls on our trip. Again, more stairs, but you get a completely different view from the top.
The sun came out just in time for our biggest excursion of the trip, glacier hiking on Sólheimajökull. We booked a tour with Arctic Adventures who provided all the gear we needed and more. The tour was about 3 hours from start to finish and was relatively easy- aside from the hail storm that hit while we were halfway up the glacier.
In all honestly, the storm added to the experience. Because once we got to the top, the sun came out just enough to light up the ice and let us appreciate the beautiful scenery.
After the tour we ordered a glass of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Not sure if I was just cold or it really was that amazing. Once we defrosted, we made our way to Vik for the night.
DAY 4: BLACK SAND BEACH, ARCHES & PLANE WRECK
We woke up to a homemade breakfast by our hosts. Complete with bread, sliced meat, cheese, jam, hard boiled eggs and more. We found our hostel on Airbnb.
It was our last day and we had a full schedule. First was the Black Sand Beach, or Reynisdjara.
Our host warned us about the waves at the beach and I thought “ok…it’s not like we’re going for a swim” but I quickly found out what she meant. The waves are so high and crash so hard that the water comes up the beach just about as fast as you can run from it. We almost got caught a few times.
From the beach you can see the “points” or Reynisdrangar to the left and the “Cave” or Halsanefshellir on the beach.
To the right of the beach are the “Arches” or Dyrholaey. You can see them from the shore, but they’re only a short drive away so we went out to take a closer look.
Just another short drive away, is the D-3 Plane Wreck. Now don’t be fooled, you park near the road then walk about 2 miles to the plane.
Allow yourself an hour and a half to two hours (depending on how fast you walk) to get to the plane wreck and get back to the car. We cut it a little close considering we had to drive a few hours back West to catch a flight.
Even with time constraints I couldn’t miss a photo opp with the infamous Icelandic horses.
While I’d love to spend weeks in Iceland hiking and traveling further up North, it is absolutely a trip you can do in 4 short days. It’s an amazing country and I encourage everyone add it to their travel list.