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Iceland is becoming a popular stopover destination on flights between North America and Europe, with Icelandair offering free stopovers in Iceland en route across the Atlantic. It’s also just a stunning country in general, so even if you’re not flying to Europe it’s well worth a dedicated trip.
If you live in New York the flight time is around 5 hours 45 minutes to Reykjavik (so less than the flight to LA) and if you fly from London it’ll take just 3 hours 15 minutes to get there.
Iceland is known for its magical landscape of volcanoes, hot springs, geysers and lava fields. Since the island is located far north it’s possible to see the Northern Lights here, although the climate isn’t always as ideal for viewing as somewhere like Norway or Finland.
As with any country there’s a lot to see and do but this Iceland 3 day itinerary will allow you to cover the basics, including Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle. I’ll also discuss some practical information, such as the best time to visit and where to stay.
Suggested Itinerary for 3 Days in Iceland
- Day 1: Reykjavik Sightseeing (+ Blue Lagoon if there’s time)
- Day 2: The Golden Circle
- Day 3: Iceland’s South Shore (or Blue Lagoon for a more leisurely itinerary)
Day 1: Sightseeing in Reykjavik – Blue Lagoon, Harpa Concert Hall, Phallological Museum, Hallgrimskirkja
I’d recommend booking a hotel for the entire three days in Reykjavik. The country’s capital is a great base for exploring the rest of the island and the majority of tours depart from the city.
Reykjavik may be small but there are actually lots of things to do since the majority of the country’s population lives here. It’s easy to explore on foot so book a hotel in the center and bring your walking shoes.
On your first day in Reykjavik you’ll want to explore some of the city’s major attractions and best restaurants. The food in Iceland is some of the best I’ve ever eaten, seriously. Every dish is so fresh and well-presented.
Opening hours for the Blue Lagoon are from 9am to 9pm. The Blue Lagoon is located just 15 minutes from Keflavík – Reykjavik airport so if you’re really short on time, it’s best to do it when you’re traveling from or to the airport.
When you visit will really depend on when you’re flying in and out of Reykjavik. If your flight lands early in the morning at Keflavik Airport on Day 1 then you could stop at the Blue Lagoon on your way from the airport to the city center, then do your sightseeing.
Alternatively, you could forgo the tour to the south of Iceland on your third day and do the Blue Lagoon instead. Doing the Blue Lagoon on your 3rd day would allow for a much more leisurely itinerary and you could spend the whole day here. It’s up to you. If you’re flying out of Keflavik in the afternoon/evening on day 3 then you could do the Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport.
Before I went to visit the Blue Lagoon I had always assumed it was a natural outdoor hot spring but it’s actually man made, with the geothermal water coming from the nearby geothermal power plant.The geothermal water is enriched with silica, algae, and minerals which have healing, nourishing and rejuvenating properties.Tickets prices vary but they start at around 6990 ISK for an adult ($53) and there’s one free drink included in the price, so you can order a drink in the swim-up bar. If you want to learn more about what it’s like, read my full article on swimming in the Blue Lagoon in winter.
The Blue Lagoon isn’t just a hot spring, it’s a destination, with a luxury hotel, spa and several restaurants on site. If you want to have a spa treatment and lunch then you could decide to make a whole day of it here. If that’s the case then definitely do it on Day 3.
Getting to the Blue Lagoon: You can get to the Blue Lagoon by taxi – the journey takes 20 minutes from Keflavik Airport or 50 minutes from downtown Reykjavik. Alternatively there’s a bus called Destination Blue Lagoon which takes you to the Blue Lagoon from the airport or the city. It can be booked online here.
Grab a coffee at Laundromat Cafe
Once you’re in the city and you’ve checked into your hotel, grab a coffee at Laundromat Cafe, which is a laundromat combined with a bar/restaurant. The concept is fun and quirky, allowing guests to do their laundry while they have something to eat or drink. The vibe is warm and welcoming with books, games, maps and free Wi-Fi to keep you occupied. This place is great for breakfast or lunch.
Snap a photo at Harpa Concert Hall
Next up, walk to Harpa Concert Hall, which is a modern concert hall and conference center with a crystalline glass facade inspired by the Northern Lights and the basalt Iceland landscape. You don’t need to see a concert here to admire its beauty; Harpa Concert Hall is a work of art in its own right. Located on the water with views over the sea, the hall is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera. By day the building glistens in the sun and at night the exterior is illuminated in LED lights.
Visit the Phallological Museum
Yes, there really is a Penis Museum in Reykjavik. Not far from Harpa Concert Hall you’ll find the Reykjavik Phallological Museum, which is a museum dedicated to the penises and penile parts of land and sea animals that can be found in Iceland. It sounds weird (which it is) but where else in the world can you gaze at over 200 penises preserved in formaldehyde? On display you can see penises of walruses, seals, polar bears and even the penis of a 95-year-old man.
Icelandic Punk Museum
Up the street from the Phallological Museum you’ll find the Punk Museum, which is a tiny museum located in a former set of public toilets! Yep, as you can probably tell from this article so far, Reykjavik is definitely offbeat and quirky. If you’re a punk enthusiast or interested in learning about punk history this is a fun museum. Guests are welcome to try on clothes, play the drums and listen to punk records using headphones hanging from the ceiling.
Eat a hot dog at Bæjarins beztu pylsur
You’d think the U.S would be the best place to order a hot dog but it turns out the best hot dogs I’ve ever eaten are in Iceland. Dating back to 1937, this famous hot dog stand serves delicious hot dogs that are great to eat as a snack while you’re walking around Reykjavik. I ate hot dogs here every day! Hot dogs cost 550 ISK (around $4 USD) and it’s the cheapest lunch you’ll find in Reykjavik. There’s something about the combination of the super soft bun and the unique taste of the mustard that makes these hot dogs just so moorish, particularly after a night out on the town.
Snap a photo with the Sun Voyager
Now that you’ve satisfied your hunger with a hot dog, take a stroll to the Sun Voyager to burn off the calories. This huge stainless steel sculpture of a boat is located on the waterfront overlooking the sea.
Hallgrimskirkja is Reykjavik’s most iconic landmark and one of the tallest buildings in Iceland. This concrete Lutheran church was named after 17th-century Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson and the design is inspired by the basalt columns that you’ll find across the country. It’s a striking building that towers over the city and if you want to take photos of Reykjavik from above, I’d suggest taking the elevator to the tower, which costs 1000 ISK (roughly $7.50).
Enjoy dinner and cocktails at Apotek
To finish your day, grab dinner at Apotek, which is one of the best restaurants in Reykjavik. Drinks are prepared by a mixologist in a lab coat and the cocktail menu has a pharmacy theme, with drinks organized into “painkillers”, “stimulants” and “tranquilizers”. I ordered the seared tuna with avocado puree and pickled watermelon, followed by the beef tenderloin. The food was out of this world!
After dinner drinks at Lebowski Bar
If you have some energy left then head over to Lebowski Bar, which gets its theme from the Big Lebowski movie by the Coen Brothers. This is a great bar for meeting fellow travelers and locals. Inside there’s a bowling alley, a southern-style porch, a ‘50s diner, and a ‘60s lounge bar on the upper floor. If you want to stay in keeping with the Lebowski theme then you should definitely order The Dude’s favorite drink, a White Russian. There are over 23 different variations of White Russians on the menu!
Day 2: The Golden Circle & Northern Lights
On day two of your trip you can visit the Golden Circle. While you can certainly rent a car and drive around Iceland, if you only have three days I’d skip the car rental and just book a tour to see the Golden Circle. On short stopover trips like these I usually can’t be bothered with the hassle of car rentals, especially when it’s so easy to get around by Uber.
We booked our Golden Circle tour with Reykjavik Excursions. We actually booked a combo package to see the Golden Circle and the Northern Lights. If you do this option you get a few hours to rest after the Golden Circle and then you go back out to see the Northern Lights.
Unfortunately the Northern Lights didn’t come out for us that night due to weather conditions and it was so unbearably cold. If you don’t see them then you have the option of going back out a second night for free but we decided to give that a miss and just enjoy Reykjavik instead.
When visiting the Golden Circle you’ll see:
Geysir Geothermal Park – The tour will take you to see the Strokkur geysir spurting out columns of water into the air every 4-8 minutes. If you visit in winter then make sure you wear hiking boots because the area can be quite slippy due to the ice.
Gulfoss Waterfall – Next up you’ll see the Gulfoss Waterfall, which is an impressive waterfall created by the river Hvítá, which plunges into a crevice some 32 m deep.
Thingvellir National Park – Finally you’ll visit Thingvellir National Park, which is one of the few places in the world where you can see the North-American and Eurasian tectonic plates above ground. The plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year.
If you decide to do the Northern Lights as well then you’ll arrive back in the city at around 18:30 and then you’ll have a few hours to rest before heading back out to see the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights tour lasts around 3 hours.
Dinner at Tapas barinn
If you don’t go to see the Northern Lights then you could relax in Reykjavik and just go to have a leisurely dinner. Check out Tapas barinn, which has an extensive menu of 50 different small plates. If you want to try traditional Icelandic cuisine, you can try the Icelandic Gourmet Feast, which costs 8,990 ISK (roughly $68). It begins with a shot of Icelandic “Brennivín” followed by six courses and a dessert.
Day 3: Iceland’s South Shore or Blue Lagoon
South Shore Tour
What you do on day 3 depends on how relaxed you’d like your itinerary to be and when you’re flying home. If you want to cram as much as possible into 3 days then you can squeeze in the Blue Lagoon on Day 1 and then see Iceland’s South Shore on Day 3.
The South Shore is one of the most scenic parts of Iceland. Reykjavik Excursions runs a South Shore Adventure which is an all-day tour that lasts around 10 hours and 30 minutes. The tour takes you to see Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which you can walk behind, and Skógafoss waterfall, which was used as a backdrop in Thor: The Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
After visiting the waterfalls you’ll stop at Reynisfjara black sand beach, which is one of the most breathtaking and rugged beaches in Iceland. Here you can see the Reynisdrangar rock formations and columnar basalt.
In addition, the tour takes you to Sólheimajökull glacier and a charming village called Vík, which is surrounded by high cliffs.
Dinner at Sjavargrillid
When you get back to Reykjavik, go for dinner at Sjavargrillid, which is run by chef Gústav Axel Gunnlaugsson, who traveled around the country looking for the real taste of Iceland. The interior of the restaurant is decorated with driftwood and other pieces that Gustav collected and dragged back to the restaurant from his travels.The meal I ate here was one of the most memorable meals in my life and I wish I could just teleport myself there to eat it all over again. My meal consisted of grilled & crispy langoustine with pan fried plaice, organic barley, golden beet, date and kale, followed by créme brûlée with strawberry, caramel, sorrel and cocoa nibs.
Alternative option for day 3: Museums & Blue Lagoon
If you want to fly out in the afternoon on day 3, you could visit the Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport. Or, if you’d just prefer a more leisurely itinerary in general, you could spend this last day exploring Reyakjavik’s museums, then visit the Blue Lagoon before spending your last night enjoying a nice dinner in Reykjavik.
Museums you can visit on your last day include the National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik Maritime Museum, Saga Museum and The Settlement Exhibition. You could also visit Þúfa, an art installation which was created by artist Ólöf Nordal in 2013. The installation features an 8m-tall grassy mound with a spiral pathway that leads you up to the top.
Where to stay in Reykjavik
I stayed at the Apotek Hotel, which is home to the Apotek Kitchen + Bar. This hotel is a centrally located boutique hotel with 45 rooms, housed in a building that was once a pharmacy called Reykjavikur Apotek. The building was built in 1917 by the former State Architect of Iceland, Guðjón Samúelsson. Rooms are cozy and comfortable, plus the food and cocktails in the Apotek restaurant are incredible. I definitely enjoyed my stay here.
Is three days in Iceland Enough?
3 days based in Reykjavik will allow you to see all the places I mentioned above. If you’re prepared to pack a lot into each day, then you can definitely see the best of Iceland in three days. You’ll be busy and there’s not really time for napping in your hotel room. If you want to rent a car and see other things, such as the Iceland Ring Road, then you’ll want to spend up to a week in Iceland.
If you’re visiting Iceland on a stopover or you just have a few days off from work then 3 days is probably all you have. You can definitely make the most of it and see Iceland’s best sights. However, like any country, the longer you stay the more you get to relax, move at a slightly slower pace and see more things.
Do I need to rent a car in Iceland?
For this itinerary and with only a few days in Iceland, I’d say ditch the car idea and just get around using taxis and tours. I don’t know about you but with such a short amount of time it seems like a hassle to spend time at the car rental desk on arrival and worrying about parking. If you’re planning to stay in Iceland for longer and you want to drive the Iceland Ring Road then definitely get a car and self-drive so you have the flexibility to stop wherever you want.
What’s the best time of year to visit Iceland?
That really depends on the individual. There are pros and cons to each season.
I went in the winter and Iceland looks magical with snow on the ground. I loved it. The downside is it’s freezing in winter and the days are short, so you don’t have many sunlight hours to see the sights and attractions. If you want to take photos, you only have a few hours to take them before it gets dark. However, you do have more hours to see the Aurora Borealis aka the Northern Lights. Temperatures in the winter months between December to February can reach as low as -30 Celsius, so make sure you pack ski gloves, a big puffy jacket and thermals. When we went to do the Northern Lights tour I had to spend most of my time on the bus because it was just so cold.
If you want to go hiking and experience Iceland’s dramatic scenery, then the summer months between June to August are a great time to visit. The days are endless (seriously the sun is up till midnight) and the weather is warm, plus there are plenty of festivals such as Secret Solstice Festival.
When’s the best time to go whale watching in Iceland?
For whale watching, April to October is the best time to see the orcas.
When’s the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
You can see the Northern Lights between September and April, although the best months for viewing are February, March, September and October.
Is Iceland Expensive?
Food and drink in Iceland is on the expensive side. I didn’t find it to be as expensive as Norway but it was definitely up there when it came to prices. Still, if you’re only in Iceland for three days then you won’t have much chance to burn through your cash.
Iceland’s currency is called Króna (ISK). The tours weren’t that expensive but eating out was.
A final word…
I hope you found this suggested Iceland itinerary useful. When you have only 3 days in a city you tend to want to fit in as much as possible but at the same time you don’t want to feel exhausted and burnt out. While it’s possible to probably cram Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon into one day and then do two full day tours, I tried to make this 3 day itinerary a touch more leisurely.