Happy New Year readers!!! I hope you have started planning your travels for this year. Well read on, and I can promise by the time you are done reading, you will be adding at least one country to your bucketlist for this year-Iceland.
Talking of travel, Iceland has become much more accessible than ever, thanks to IcelandAir. If you haven’t heard already, you can add a stopover in Iceland at no extra airfare while flying to certain destinations in Europe. You can stay in Iceland from 1 day to 7 days without additional cost to your airfare. If the alluring beauty of Iceland is not good enough reason (rolling my eyes at ya!!!), then this deal should definitely be a reason to visit Iceland.
However, how do you decide where you want to go and what you want to see? It is a small endearing country, however, there is a lot to see. And when I say a lot, I was there for 10 days but saw about 40-50% of places in the entire country. The landscapes vary from volcanic mountains to staggering waterfalls to deep gorgeous fjords. A lot of people take about 3-5 days stopover in Iceland. Mind you that is not enough. Well, even 3 months may not be enough for this beautiful land of fire and ice.
Anyway, so if you only have 3 days in Iceland, what should you do, where should you stay and what all places should you definitely visit. You would want to visit everything of course-but that’s not practical. I am looking at ticket prices as I write this, because hey, Iceland is prepossessing!!! I can’t wait to explore more.
I am going to provide you with 2 itineraries here. I will provide with details about each of them. I have also provided maps for each day’s itinerary at the end.
If you are a first time visitor to Iceland, there are certain things that you definitely shouldn’t miss out. Yes, certain places may be a little touristy. However, as I have mentioned in some of my previous blogs, touristy in Iceland means just about a hundred people at one place or maybe 200. No more than that. Coming from San Francisco, and having visited some places such as Rome, Zürich, Hawaii, India, 100-200 people does not bother me at all.
Additionally, driving in Iceland is very easy. Most roads are one lane only. Also the signs are quite easy to understand as they are in English. You would be driving mainly on the Ring road or Route 1 which goes all around the country. However, you would be taking a few detours to see some areas in the interiors of the country. The road has been built such that the major attractions lie in its path so you would not be going too much out of the way to see all the places I’ve mentioned below.
A lot of people prefer to go to the Blue Lagoon right after landing in Iceland. However, after driving around for hours on end, I liked the idea of visiting Blue Lagoon on the last day before the flight. That was a relaxation day for me right before the flight.
Feel free to mix and match the places I’ve mentioned below..it’s a vacation..not a time-table. Also, give yourself enough time at every destination. Be flexible, plans can change and so can the weather in Iceland. Icelandic weather has a character of its own. That’s the only thing that matters in Iceland-the weather. It can change from bright and sunny to cloudy and rainy to windy and snowy in a matter of minutes.
So back to the places to visit
- Reykjavik downtown.
About 45 minutes from the airport, lies downtown Reykjavik. Just like any other downtown, but completely different..haha. Here you still have the sea and the mountains on one side and the hustle and bustle of the city on the other side. Visit the sun-voyager for some cool pictures. But definitely, don’t miss the Hallgrimskirkja (maps).
The intricate designing of this church is fascinating. It has a unique shape and you can pretty much see it from anywhere near Reykjavik downtown while driving. You can also visit the church tower to get panoramic views of the city. Make sure your visit does not coincide with the prayer timings, as access to the top is prohibited at that time. Since it is an active working church it may also be closed at certain times without notice. But it looks beautiful from the outside nevertheless and nothing says Reykjavik like Hallgrimskirkja. I would like to specially mention Kaffi Loki (or cafe Loki) right across from Hallgrimskirkja which serves some delicious crepes filled with the- oh so yummy Skyr. You have to polish it off along with their delectable coffee while enjoying the view of the church.
- Þingvellir national park.
This is a world heritage site. Not one but a double World Heritage site. And you have to visit it because you are going to be walking between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates. And here lies the only man-made or should I say Viking-made waterfall Öxarárfoss. You would be walking in the mid-Atlantic ridge and on one side would be Europe and on the other America–how cool is that. No wall to separate 😉 but just a ridge. Þingvellir is also the place where the first ever parliament in North Europe was formed. Apart from the historical significance, some of the shots from the famous Game of Thrones were shot right here. So GoT buffs, this place may hold a special significance for you.
If you are up for some adventure, then I would recommend you to go diving in the Silfra fissure. If swimming in 2° Celsius glacial water is on your bucket list, then here is your chance. However, keep in mind that the activity total can take up to 4 hours and if your plan to be in Iceland only for 3 days, then fitting this into the whole itinerary might be a challenge. Check my other blog which describes my experience in Silfra. Snorkeling in Silfra-Best experience in Iceland. The water is the clearest that you will ever see. The crystal clear water allows you to see 100 meters ahead of you underwater. Please drink the clear, cold crystalline water. It is the purest water you will ever find.
- Gulfoss waterfall:
Lying just along the Golden Circle is the massively spectacular Gulfoss waterfall. As you walk by the parking lot, you see a huge cloud of mist right above the falls. It plummets down into an abyss. Seriously you can’t see exactly where it falls, but only the Hvita river flowing.It is about an hour drive from Thingvellir. You can view the falls from two levels. The view from above gives you sweeping views of the Icelandic landscape with the waterfall and Hvita river. From the lower level, you can get up and close to the falls. There are protective railings, but please don’t cross them.
Just about 10 kilometers from Gulfoss is the phenomenal Geysir and from where we all got the word geyser. Iceland landscape is punctuated by numerous wonders of Nature and Geysir is the biggest one of them. Walking along the lava field, with the geysirs erupting every now and then, its a striking site.The biggest one-Geysir does not erupt anymore, but you have the other one named Strokkur. It erupts every 3-5 minutes. Every time it erupts, everyone gasps in one unanimous wonder at the beauty of nature.
- Faxi foss:
Faxifoss or Faxafoss is yet another waterfall in Iceland. It is about 9 minutes from Geysir. Breath-taking views, gushing water and misty air are all very refreshing. There is also a coffee shop with a nice deck with views of the falls. Again coffee and good views!! That’s all this girl asks and loves.
If you want to soak yourself in natural geothermal waters, then Laugarvatn Fontana (maps) is a great place to visit. They have an on-location bakery as well, where you can check out their geothermal cooking and try their geothermal or lava bread. It has a delicious earthy flavor to it. It tastes great with some butter spread on it along with their hot coffee. I am a coffee fanatic, can you tell?
- Kerid crater:
Start your second day at Kerid crater which is about 20 minutes from Laugarvatn. A volcanic crater that you can walk to the bottom of, filled with clear water is a splendid site to visit. Walk along the rim taking in panoramic views of the surrounding red rock which is unique to this crater, before climbing down the stairs to the bottom of the crater to the lake. The water is cold so not recommended for swimming.
Confession, I am a little partial to Skogafoss. When I first read about Iceland about 5-6 years ago, I saw a similar image first. Ever since that day I’ve been dreaming of visiting this one waterfall. Finally, I got a chance. I was so overwhelmed, that I ran from the parking lot to the falls. And I am not a runner. In fact, I hate running. So you can imagine, how excited I was. Take the time to climb those 500+ steps to the top of the falls, where you can see the lavish river culminating in the Skogafoss. On your way, you will be greeted by numerous sheep that dot the lush green landscape surrounding the falls. Pictures don’t do justice to the enormity of these falls. You have to visit it to truly admire its beauty.
Walking behind a beautiful waterfall while looking at stunning scenery with panoramic views of Icelandic fields. It is very windy and its fun. However, protect your camera gear as it can get really drenched in the mist created by the falls.
- Reynisfjara beach
Pitch black beach with strange scary looking waves coming at ya…This beach is located near a dormant volcano which has been under ice for 100+ years. This is the most Insta-worthy beach I’ve ever been too. Seriously, I am done with blue beaches and white sand. Give me some black beach. Okay, I am being overly dramatic here. I still love my blue beaches. But in all honesty, the stark contrast between the black sand which is solidified lava and the basalt columns hanging upside down is a sight to behold. Be careful with the waves and you will see caution signs everywhere as the waves sneak up on you.
Dyrhólaey offers panoramic views of the south coast of Iceland and is very close to the town of Vik. It is about 2.5 hours drive from Reykjavik. The massive arch rock makes for a great view and this is a great spot for some puffin watching which are the migratory birds found in Iceland in the warmer months. On one side you can also see the black sand beach which gives it a surreal almost eerie look. When I went there, I saw that the arch was inaccessible and it is not recommended to go there, although I saw some people walking to the arch. The reason is, it is very windy there and that makes it dangerous. Also, there are no railings on top of the arch.
Plan on staying in Vik for the night. Vik has some nice hotels, Airbnb. If you want to stay in a farm-house there are some options as well. Book in advance as the good places are always booked first. If you are looking for budget accommodation, there are a lot of hostels offering various options from shared rooms to private.
- Glacier lagoon:
Jökulsárlón or glacier lagoon is located about 2.5 hours from the town of Vik. It is a serene azure lake dotted by stunning blue icebergs. It is on the border of Vatnajökull National park. You can take the boat ride in the lake and if you are lucky, you can spot some seals enjoying the icy cold water. Chunks of ice breaking from the glacier sound like thunder. The view of Vatnajökull from the boat is alluring and you can get very close to the icebergs and the glacier as well. This glacier-Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, is actually a tongue of the larger Vatnajökull glacier.
If this glacier lagoon sounds a little touristy, visit the neighboring Fjallsárlón which is about 15 minutes away.
- Diamond beach:
The icebergs breaking off from the glacier float in the lagoon finally meeting the Atlantic ocean. As it flows into the ocean, the icebergs get washed ashore forming the famous diamond beach. They seriously glitter like diamonds when the sun’s rays hit them. This makes them look quite exquisite. If you go during the winter months, the icebergs washed to the shore are even larger and bluer.I would recommend to return to Vik to spend the night. However, if you want to stay closer to Vatnajokull, there are some accomodations here as well.
- Blue Lagoon:
The blue lagoon is a must when you go to Iceland. I know you must’ve heard, that it’s a tourist trap, crowded etc, But I would say you should not miss it. Blue Lagoon gives Iceland character and it makes for a memorable Instagram worthy story, right? Plan on spending at least 5-6 hours here. So if you have only 3 days, adjust your itinerary accordingly. Also, definitely try the Lava restaurant while you visit The Blue Lagoon. It has a very good menu with fresh seafood, great ambiance and you get to wear your bath-robe while fine dining, haha…Make sure you reserve well in advance as closer to the date of your visit, the slots may be full. Yes, you have to book a slot for yourself. Once you are inside you can stay there the whole day, hence plan on going there early.
So here are my two itineraries:
- Day 1: Keflavik airport → Reykjavik downtown → Thingvellir National Park → Gullfoss → Geysir → Faxifoss → Laugarvatn. (maps)
- Day 2: Kerid crater → Skogafoss → Seljalandfoss,/Vik (map1)
- Day 3: Blue Lagoon → leave for next European destination or back home
- Day 1: Keflavik airport → Reykjavik downtown → Thingvellir National Park → Gullfoss → Geysir → Faxi foss → Laugarvatn. (maps)
- Day 2: Kerid crater → Skogafoss → Seljalandafoss → Reynisfjara beach → Dyrholaey (maps) →Plan on staying in Vik.
- Day 3: Glacier lagoon → Diamond beach → leave for next European destination or back home. (maps)