Ice on the black sand of Diamond Beach

Amazing Four Days in Iceland: Road Tripping From Reykjavik

Are you planning a trip to Iceland and only have four days to spend there? You might be wondering if four days in Iceland is worth it. Honestly, it’s not a lot of time but you actually can see quite a lot if you plan well.

In fact, you’re on your way to seeing the majority of the most popular things the island has to offer. While I definitely recommend spending more time in Iceland, if four days is all you have, then go for it. Four days in Iceland is better than no days in Iceland. Here’s how to do it.

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Four Days in Iceland Tips

To maximize your four days in Iceland, you need to be organized and prepared from the minute you step off the plane. Good planning means you know exactly what your are doing and you won’t waste time aimlessly driving around. Before you go:

Make a plan – when I started making plans to visit Iceland, I had a basic idea of everything I wanted to do. I decided road tripping from Reykjavik would be best because I could stay in an affordable hostel – since I was traveling solo – and build an Iceland road trip itinerary from Reykjavik.

As a first timer, at the top of my list of places to see in Iceland was the Golden Circle, Diamond Beach on the south coast and a few hot springs. An added bonus would be seeing the Northern Lights. Of course, I couldn’t make that happen but I had my fingers crossed.

Put your plan on paper, a spreadsheet or Google Maps so that you have access to it at all times.

Rent a vehicle – Once I started planning, I quickly realized that having a car would be key to seeing everything I wanted in my four days in Iceland.

Iceland’s international airport is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula. So having a car also eliminated waiting for a shuttle to take me to Reykjavik. I was able to start exploring the minute I left the airport.

I could also stop where I wanted and I wasn’t committed to a specific timeframe on a tour. I looked at the cost and it just made sense for me to rent a vehicle, even though I was solo. Here’s a few more details about my trip:

a white Fiat I rented in Iceland

iceland Trip Report

  • Month visited: middle of September
  • Weather: mostly clear, rain & sleet one day. Highs in the low 50’s F
  • Traveling with: solo
  • Time there: 4 days, 3 nights
  • Accommodations: hostel in Reykjavik
  • Vehicle: a 2wd Fiat car

Iceland Day 1: Reykjanes

I arrived at Keyflavik, (KEF) airport around 10:30 am on a redeye from Newark, New Jersey. If you fly from the east coast of the United States, the flight is only about 5 hours long. This will help you take advantage of your short four day stay because you can sleep on the plane and then spend your arrival day touring.

After I cleared customs and freshened up in the airport, I hopped on a shuttle provided by Green Motion to pick up my rental car. Their offices are a couple of miles from the airport. To be honest, I didn’t know they were offsite before I arrived but it ended up working out great logistically.

Since I would be spending a lot of time in the car, I wanted to keep some snacks with me so I wouldn’t have to search for places to eat. After checking my map, I headed to nearby Keyflavik, where there is a highly recommended grocery store called Bonus.

Since Keyflavik is right on the coast, I made a quick stop at the harbor to get a good look at my first, non-airplane view of Iceland – pinching myself to make sure I was really there. After that, I bought my groceries, and then I was officially off to see Iceland.

Southerner Says: for more info about what I bought at Bonus and exactly how much money I spent in Iceland – read how much it costs to go to Iceland. There’s also another Bonus right on the way to Reykjavik if you don’t want to go to Keyflavik.

the harbor at Reykjanesbaer, Iceland

The Blue Lagoon

For my first day in Iceland, I had planned to spend it wandering around the Reykjanes Peninsula. My first stop was the Blue Lagoon. Open all year, this geothermal spa is probably the most visited features in Iceland.

Even though it was pretty early morning and September, or low season, the parking lot was full of cars and tour buses. In fact, outside of Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon was probably where I saw the most amount of people my entire trip.

To access the spa and soak in the thermal waters, you need a reservation – which I didn’t have. I considered checking to see there were any time slots available, but once I saw all the tour buses, I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do right then.

However, what a lot of people don’t know about the Blue Lagoon, is that there are walking trails that you can access for free. I opted to do this and explore a little. The trails meander through the lava fields and around the pale blue lagoon. I wandered around until it got windy and started sleeting. Time to go.

the icy blue waters of the blue lagoon

Seltún Geothermal Area

As I warmed up in the car, I left the Blue Lagoon and continued my Iceland road trip south to the town of Grindavik, another lovely small Icelandic town. If you plan on exploring Reykjanes and the south part of the island, then you could easily base yourself here a couple of days or at least a night. There are some adorable cottages nearby that would be perfect.

I was headed to the geothermal hot spring area of Seltun, just 30 minutes from Grindavik. This park is part of the larger region of Krýsuvík, which is full of volcanic vents, hot pots and gurgling mud pools. What surprised me the most were the colors. Even in the rain, the hues were so vibrant.

The park has boardwalks and trails to make it easier – and safer – to walk amongst the sites and see the different features. Just make sure to heed the warnings and stay on the marked trails only. This ground in this area is unstable so even a misstep off a trail could mean getting hurt or even burned.

I really enjoyed this area way more than I anticipated. As someone who’s been to Yellowstone National Park and other thermal areas, Seltun is pretty darn amazing.

Kleifarvatn

A few kilometers north of Seltun is the gorgeous deep blue colored Kleifarvatn. This gorgeous lake is the largest lake on the Reykjavik Peninsula. Worthy of a stop – like most places in Iceland – I decided to walk down closer for a few photos of the black sand beach. Even in the rain, the colors are stunning. I can’t imagine what it looks like when the sun is shining.

If you do stop at Kleifarvatn, be conscious of where you pull off the road and park since the sand is very soft and it’s easy to get stuck. There were a couple of poor souls that had done exactly that and were stuck so deep in sand, I’m pretty sure a tow truck would have to pull them out.

After checking out some of the views and the unique lava in the area, I started to feel the effects of my redeye flight. Plus, the weather had gotten increasingly worse throughout the day. It was sleeting so hard, it hurt. I decided to call it a day and head to my hostel, B-14, in Reykjavik, and get settled.

Total driving for day 1 in Iceland – 106 miles

Iceland Day 2: The Golden Circle

Part of my four days in Iceland plan included driving as much of the Golden Circle as possible. If your aren’t familiar – the Golden Circle is a popular touring route with natural features along the way.

This scenic drive is called the Golden Circle because one of the most popular waterfalls on the circle, Gullfoss, means golden waterfall in Icelandic. For marketing and tourism reasons, they needed something to call the route, so voila, Golden Circle it was.

Since the Golden Circle is so close to Reykjavik, it’s one of the most popular things to do in Iceland. That means it can get a bit crowded.

Ideally, you should split up your Iceland road trip and drive the Golden Circle over the course of at least two days. But if you are like me and don’t have that kind of time, get ready to prioritize. Pick a few of the attractions and try to stick to an itinerary. I say try because the hardest part of the trip of the trip keeping myself from stopping every five minutes to take photos.

To get the most out of the Golden Circle on limited time, I suggest using the website IHeartReykjavik.com. They offer a self drive itinerary that I found very helpful. And while I didn’t follow it precisely, two very useful tips stood out: go early and drive the route in reverse. This way you can avoid some of the tour bus crowds.

Lucky for me, the rain from the day before had cleared. No sleet and clear weather would help my limited timeline considerably. These were my favorite stops on the Golden Circle.

Golden Circle stops on my four day Iceland road trip
The route I took on the Golden Circle

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site mainly because it’s the oldest Parliament site in the world. Since 930 AD yes that’s AD, Iceland’s Parliament met on this site until 1798. As you can imagine, this location holds special meaning to the country of Iceland.

Beyond the historical component, the nature and the beauty of the park is outstanding. It lies between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates so the movement of the plates has created a landscape full of interesting terrain.

Inside the park, there’s a visitor center that has a small cafe and shop. Pop in for info, a coffee, soup or a souvenir. You can also walk out to the Parliamentary Plains from the visitor center as well. Additionally, the park offers picnic tables and bathrooms so it’s a good place to break for lunch.

Thingvellir is only about 40 minutes from Reykjavik so it’s a super easy day trip for Reykjavik.

Gulfoss

Gullfoss, is another must stop on the Golden Circle. If you only have time for one thing, this is it. The waterfall is spectacular and in my opinion is comparable to something like Niagara Falls.

There are several trails and vantage points for the best views. By the time I arrived in the afternoon, it was again, extremely windy, so I didn’t venture to the viewpoint closest to the falls.

Even without getting close, the water from the falls blows so hard it feels like standing in a misty rain. With the wind, it was ten times worse. I’d had spent the good part of the day before wet from the rain, so my intention on day two was to stay dry.

Just a note: you don’t have to go to the closest viewpoint to get a good look.

the waterfall Gulfoss in Iceland

Icelandic Horses

After Gullfoss, I headed south on the Golden Circle till the route again turns east toward Reykjavik. Icelandic horses were something I was hoping to see on the Golden Circle and I saw plenty.

If you watch closely, there are several horse farms and places to pull off. Just make sure are welcome visitor and aren’t trespassing on private property when you stop.

To officially finish my drive on the Golden Circle, I ended the day with a gorgeous golden sunset on my way back to Reykjavik.

Once I got back to Reykjavik, all the restaurants around my hostel were closed. I was dead tired and didn’t want to go far so I decided to try the closest thing to fast food in Iceland – in of all places – a gas station.

Many of the gas stations in Iceland have food to go. It’s not cheap and my burrito cost $11 USD but it was probably the best burrito I’ve ever had.

When I returned to the hostel, one of the girls from my room said her aurora app was showing activity around Reykjavik, so we headed to the lighthouse downtown. That darker area is supposed to be one of the best places to see the Northern Lights near the city.

Sure enough, the Auroras were faintly visible. A surprising end to an epic day in Iceland.

  • Day 2 driving total – 224 miles
an Icelandic horse in a field

Iceland Day 3: the South Coast

Day three was my biggest undertaking yet of my four days in Iceland. Iceland’s “Ring Road” or Highway 1 goes all the way around the island. You would need several days or even weeks to drive it all.

My plan included the south coast of the Ring Road to Glacier Lagoon or Jokulsarlon and Diamond Beach. Those two features are about 280 miles and approximately five hours drive one way. And that’s if I didn’t stop anywhere.

Reykjadalur Valley

Once again, I attempted to stay on schedule but I couldn’t help myself and made a few unexpected stops to admire the landscape along the way. One of those places – about 28 miles from Reykjavik, is Reykjadalur Valley Hot Spring and Thermal River.

The name means steaming valley and that’s exactly what it is. As you drive out to the river, you can see the steam rising from the ground, the mud baths and the water that flows through the valley.

You can reach Reykjadalur via a turnoff at the little town of Hveragerði. I didn’t have time to hike out to the best part but it’s on my list for my next time.

Vik

Vik is a remote seafront town about halfway between Reykjavik and Glacier Lagoon. One of its most popular sites is the Lutheran Church that sits high on the hill with gorgeous views of the coast and surrounding area.

This was one of my must see’s in Vik but there were a lot of tour buses already there so just kept going. I knew I would be back this way in the evening and I figured I could stop then. However, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Jökulsárlón or Glacier Lagoon

After you pass through Vik, the drive on Highway 1 to Glacier Lagoon is just unreal with unimaginable landscapes and out of this world scenery everywhere you look.

Then, the scene arriving to the lagoon left me speechless. I had seen glaciers from afar in national parks before but to see one up this close is totally different. Let alone icebergs from the glacier floating around in the lake. I was even more surprised by the variety of the ice. Who knew there were so many different colors in glaciers?

Glacier Lagoon, the deepest lake in Iceland, is made with the meltwater from the nearby glacier, Breiðarmerkurjökull. Due to warmer temps and the ongoing shrinking of the glacier, the surface area of the lake has doubled just since since 1975. In fact, scientists estimate the lake will become a huge fjord in the future.

The area around the lagoon is known for it’s wildlife. You might see seals or Artic terns flying around. For an up close look at the icebergs, you can book a trip on a zodiac into the lagoon.

Getting to the lagoon is so easy. Simply exit Highway 1, park and walk right up to it. It’s that simple. Some of the areas are roped off so pay attention to where you walk. Parking is convenient as well. There are a couple of lots available. I parked in the first one with no trouble.

Diamond Beach

On the ocean side of the Highway 1, across the road from Jökulsárlón is Breiðamerkursandur or more commonly known as Diamond Beach. Here the waters of the lagoon flow via the river into the ocean and the smaller remnant pieces of the icebergs end up on the black sand beach. It’s one of the most impressive places I’ve ever seen.

The ice comes in a variety of different sizes, shapes and colors. What’s really interesting is as some of them get tossed around in the ocean, they end up looking like glass and yes, you guessed it – diamonds.

Trust me when I say that you’ll want plenty of time to wander and explore the beach. My suggestion is, go to this side first. A couple of other tips to keep in mind: you can walk across the road but it’s so much easier to just drive between the two features. The weather in Iceland can change on a dime so you’ll want to keep your vehicle close.

When visiting Diamond Beach, it’s best to have waterproof shoes and even a waterproof jacket. Also, don’t walk into the water. The waves are sneaky and there have been reports of tourists getting stranded on the icebergs.

Vik Once Again

As I headed west back to Reykjavik, I once again had to pass through Vik. My intention was to stop and see what I missed earlier but it was dark by the time I got there.

Still, since I had already planned on stopping, I decided it was a good time to grab a bite to eat. With a population of 318, Vik isn’t very big, so there’s not too many choices of restaurants open at night.

Luckily, I found a brewpub close by and it was the perfect stop. Quick, efficient and I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. If you are staying in Vik or just passing through like me, then Smidjan Brugghus is a must stop.

Northern Lights

Since I had seen the Auroras the night before, I kind of had a feeling they might be visible again. Driving along Highway 1was much darker and I knew I’d have a better chance to see them. I also had a better idea what to look for. If the auroras aren’t very strong, they appear as whitish-gray. The sky looks like it’s shimmering.

As I was driving, I started to notice some changes in the sky, so I pulled over. It just so happened that I stopped right by Skógafoss, one of the waterfalls I had planned on seeing but had to bypass in my quest to get to Diamond Beach.

I didn’t have a tripod – an necessity for getting good photos of the northern lights – but even without it, let’s just say I stood on the side of the road in Iceland at midnight and cried. It was breathtaking. My photos aren’t perfect but it’s a great memory.

  • Day 4 driving total – 492 miles
Northern Lights in Iceland
the auroras with Skógafoss in the background

Iceland Day 4: Reykjavik

Since the flight home to the states was a 9pm local time flight, I practically had all day to do whatever I wanted. Many people plan a visit to the Blue Lagoon before they leave but my plan was to see a bit of Reykjavik and some of what I missed the first day on the Reykjanes peninsula.

After I said goodbyes to the people I met at the hostel, I spent a few hours, walking and wandering around in Reykjavik.

I didn’t have a real itinerary planned but I knew I wanted to see the Old Harbor, Harpa Concert Hall and the Sun Voyager – a popular piece of public art that sits on the harbor in Reykjavik. Murals, coffee and fish-n-chips were also on the agenda. You can read about all that plus a few other things to do in Reykjavik.

There were a couple of geosites I still wanted to see near the airport so after I left Reykjavik, my four days in Iceland was ending right back where back where it began – on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Valahnúkamöl

One of the things I wanted to see on Reykjanes is a very unique feature called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This geographical wonder is where the longest underwater mountain range on the planet, comes ashore on land. There’s no where else in the world where you can see this phenomenon except in Iceland.

Lying at the southwestern tip of the peninsula, Valahnúkamöl are the lava cliffs along the Pacific Ocean, where the ridge rises out of the water. Wander around and take advantage of the walking trails, public art and even the nearby Reykjanes Lighthouse.

In fact, Reykjanes has several beautiful lighthouses that would make a good Iceland road trip quest if you’re into lighthouses.

I made a few more stops around Reykjanes and then headed to the airport. Fueling up the car and returning it to the rental company went smoothly. It had been a nonstop four days so I was looking forward to relaxing and having a nice meal, while I waited for my flight. My flight home went on without a hitch. Tired and content, my four days in Iceland had come to a close.

  • Day 4 driving total – 57 miles
The beautiful cliffs of Valahnúkamöl
The beautiful cliffs of Valahnúkamöl

Iceland FAQ

When is the best time to visit Iceland?

Summer is the the best – and busiest- time to visit Iceland. The days are long and the temperatures are milder. The downside to summer is you are less likely to see the Northern Lights.

The shoulder season or late spring and early fall, are the next best. Of the two, you have more of a chance of seeing the Northern Lights in fall of the year. Lastly, winter, I imagine is gorgeous but you have to be prepared that weather and road conditions might impact what you can do.

How Many Days do You Need in Iceland?

While you can see a lot in four days, a week in Iceland would be best. And ten days would be even better. If you want to drive the Ring Road around the entire island, I would plan at least two weeks.

Is Iceland safe?

Absolutely. I never felt threatened, unsafe or uncomfortable at all, anywhere and I drove around by myself the entire time. Even late at night. When I was in Reykjavik, I did place all my things in the back of the car.

Just a habit. I don’t know if that was necessary or not. Another good thing about Iceland is there is really no dangerous wildlife to speak of and that includes no snakes.

Four Days in Iceland Final Thoughts

So, how do I feel about my four days in Iceland? I loved it! I had a great time and it was one of my most memorable trips to date. Even though I didn’t see everything I wanted, it was a good start.

Yes, there were things I wanted to do that I didn’t get to. In fact, I didn’t have a time to visit even one hot spring but I’ll gladly trade hot springs – something I can do in the states – for the Northern Lights – which is uncommon to see.

Having a chance to see them two nights was a dream come true and something I really hadn’t counted on. Besides, they’ll be plenty of time for hot springs on my next trip to Iceland. And there will be a next trip.

Until then, see you on the road!

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6 Comments

  1. There are so many amazing trips you can do from Reykjavik that there is no need to drive the Ring Road when you have limited time. We have structured our trip in a similar way. You compiled an amazing list there!

    1. Thank you! And you are correct. There is so much to do on the Golden Circle. I missed so much. I’ll just have to go back. 🙂

  2. We had 4 days there as well and spent them a little differently but the highlights were definitely Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. Such breathtaking beauty. Your pic of Skogafoss with the Auroras is incredible, I would have cried too (I practically did!).

    1. I could have stayed all day at Diamond Beach. It was worth the long ride there. I’m so thankful I had the chance to see the Auroras. If only I’d had my tripod with me. Thank you. 🙂

  3. Hi Lori. We have been fortunate to have been to Iceland two times. Each time we took about 3 weeks to drive the Ring Road in October. We literally felt like we had the whole country to ourselves. Like you, we shopped at Bonus. We named it Bonus Pig because of its logo! Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach are some of our highlights too. There’s simply too many great memories to list!

    1. It’s my dream to go back and drive the entire Ring Road! And yes thank goodness for Bonus Pig 😀

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