What can you do in Iceland if you only have four days? Turns out a good bit. Although, I knew before I went that four days wouldn’t be enough time, it was all I could spare. That being the case, I decided that four days in Iceland was better than no days in Iceland. Could I see the things I had planned in just four days? The answer is mostly.
When I was planning my trip to Iceland, I had a basic idea of everything I wanted to do. At the top of my list was the Golden Circle, a few hot springs and Diamond Beach on the south coast. A bonus would be seeing the Northern Lights. Of course I couldn’t make that happen but I had my fingers crossed. Here’s a rundown of my four days in Iceland and my itinerary.
Southerner Says Road 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
- Transportation: a rental Fiat car non 4×4
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Iceland Day 1:
After arriving at the Keyflavik, (KEF) airport around 10:30 am on a redeye from Newark, NJ, I hopped on a shuttle to pick up my rental car at Green Motion. Their offices are a couple of miles from the airport. To be honest, I didn’t know they were offsite but it ended up working out fine.
To save some money and so I would always have a snack in the car, I had decided to buy food at the grocery store. So, after checking my map, I headed to the nearby town of Reykjanesbaer. It’s just a couple of miles from Green Motion’s offices and there’s a highly recommended grocery store, Bonus, nearby.
Southerner Says: read how much it costs to go to Iceland for more info about what I bought at Bonus and exactly how much money I spent in Iceland
Since Reykjanesbaer is right on the coast, I made a quick stop by the main harbor park to get a good look at my first, non-airplane view of Iceland. I spent a few minutes, pinching myself to make sure I was really in Iceland. After I finished there, I bought my groceries, and then I was officially off to see Iceland
The international airport is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula. With the exception of the Blue Lagoon, it seems this area of Iceland is often overlooked on itineraries. Reykjanes is a UNESCO Global Geopark with over 55 geosites. According to VisitReykjanes.com “a geosite is an interesting site because of the geological, geographical or cultural history of the region sites”. Since I was already there, it only made sense to check out a few of these sites and then head to my hostel in Reykjavik, later in the day. If I could stay awake.
The Blue Lagoon
Open year round, the Blue Lagoon is probably the most visited hot spring in Iceland, and since it was right on the way to my next stop, I decided to check it out. No surprise, it was packed! Even in September – low season – the parking lot was full of cars and tour buses. In fact, outside of Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon was probably where I saw the most amount of people my entire trip.
To take advantage of everything the Blue Lagoon offers and to get 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 you may not know about the Blue Lagoon, is that there are walking trails around the lagoon, 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 water. You can do a little or a lot of walking. I wandered around until it started sleeting and was so windy, I could barely stand up. Time to go.
As I warmed up in the car, I drove from the Blue Lagoon and headed south to the town of Grindavik, another small, lovely Icelandic town. If you want to explore Reykjanes and the south part of the island, then you could base yourself here a couple of days or at least a night. There are some really cute cottages that I would love to stay in.
From the Grindavik, I decided to drive through the geothermal area of Krýsuvík and visit Seltun.
Just 30 minutes from Grindavik, this unique area of Krýsuvík is full of of volcanic vents, hot springs and gurgling mud pools. The thing that surprised me the most were the colors. Even in the rain, the hues were so vibrant. I can only imagine how they look in the sunshine.
There are boardwalks and trails for you to explore the features. Be careful and stay on the marked trails. This area is volatile and unstable so don’t do anything that could get you hurt. I really enjoyed this area and speaking as someone that’s been to Yellowstone and other thermal areas, Seltun is pretty darn amazing.
A few kilometers north of Seltun is Kleifarvatn Lake. It’s the largest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula and has the most stunning black sand beaches. There are plenty of overlooks and places to pull off and enjoy the views. Just be careful that you don’t get too far off the road.
One of the first things I saw when I got the the lake was two guys stuck in the sand on the beach. I’m pretty sure their only option out was calling a tow truck. If the weather had been better, the gorgeous blue of the lake is the perfect place for a picnic.
After checking out some of the views and the unique lava in the area, I was starting to feel the effects of the redeye. The weather had gotten increasingly worse throughout the day and I could barely stand in the wind. The sleet even hurt when it hit you. It really wasn’t that cold but with the wind, it seemed colder than it was. I decided to call it a day and head to my hostel, B-14 in Reykjavik and get settled.
- Day 1 road trip report – 106 miles
Iceland Day 2:
Part of my four days in Iceland plan included driving as much of the Golden Circle as possible. The Golden Circle is a scenic touring route with natural features and stops along the way. It’s close to Reykjavik and easy to get to so it can get crowded. Why the name Golden Circle? Mainly because one of the most popular waterfalls on the circle, Gullfoss Waterfall, means golden waterfall in Icelandic. For marketing and tourism reasons, they needed something to call the route, so voila, Golden Circle it was.
The Golden Circle
Lucky for me, the rain from the day before had cleared. No sleet and clear weather would help my limited timeline considerably. Trying to see everything there is to see on the Golden Circle and Iceland in general, can be a bit overwhelming. Ideally, you should split it up 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, be ready to prioritize. Pick a few of the attractions and try to stick to an itinerary. I say try because the hardest part for me of the trip was not stopping every five minutes because something caught my attention.
Due to it’s popularity, many of the sites on the Golden Circle draw big crowds. To get the most out of my one day on the Golden Circle, I used a few suggestions from the website IHeartReykjavik.com. There’s 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. Tour buses have a starting time and point. It’s my understanding that most tours start on the south side of the Golden Circle. So if you start on the northside then you will be opposite and can avoid some of the crowds.
I’m won’t list everything I did on the Golden Circle here because I’m working on another more detailed post about all the stops – and a few I missed – for the blog. It’s just too much info to include here. However, here’s a few highlights.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site. The park is significant 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 ravines and crevasses. It’s really striking and otherwordly. There are plenty of hiking trails for exploring the lava and some of those cracks and crevices. You can even snorkel or dive the tectonic plates.
The park has a visitor center so you can pop in for info, a coffee, soup or a souvenir. From the visitor center, you can see and tour the Parliamentary Plains site as well. The park has a campground, fishing, hiking, picnic tables and bathrooms. Thingvellir is only about 40 minutes from Reykjavik so it’s an easy drive for the day if you don’t have much time but still want to explore some.
The aforementioned golden waterfall or 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, so my intention was to stay dry on day two. Just a note: you don’t have to go to the closest viewpoint to get a good look.
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 wasn’t disappointed. There are several horse farms and places to pull off and see horses if you keep your eyes peeled. Just make sure you aren’t trespassing when stopping.
To officially finish my drive on the Golden Circle, I encountered a gorgeous golden sunset before I headed back to the hostel for the night.
Once I got back to Reykjavik, all the restaurants around my hostel were closed and I was dead tired. So I popped into a what you would call the closest thing to fast food in Iceland, in of all places, a gas station. It was probably the best burrito I’ve ever had even though it cost $11 USD.
When I returned to the hostel, one of the girls from my room said the Aurora app was showing activity around Reykjavik, so we headed to the lighthouse near Reykjavik, which is supposed to be a good place to see the Auroras near Reykjavik. Sure enough the Northern Lights were faintly visible that night. A surprising end to an epic day in Iceland.
- Day 2 road trip report – 224 miles
Iceland Day 3
Day 3 was my biggest undertaking yet of my four days in Iceland. If I’m being totally honest, it was really too much. But I’m glad I did it. Although I think the Golden Circle is a must see and should be on everyone’s Iceland list, the south section of the Ring Road was simply spectacular. If I had to choose between the two, I’d choose the south road any day.
One again I had a hard time sticking to my plan because there are just so many unexpected places to stop. I also ended up giving a couple a ride to Vik. Hitchhiking in very common in Iceland and that slowed me down a bit. The highlights of the day were Diamond Beach and Glacier lagoon.
Iceland’s “Ring Road” or Highway 1 goes all the way around the island, therefore, the “Ring Road”. You would need several days or even weeks – for those lucky enough – to drive it all. My road trip plan only included the south portion of the of the Ring Road to Glacier Lagoon or Jokulsarlon and Diamond Beach. Those two features are about 280 miles or around five hours one way. And that’s without stopping.
I couldn’t help myself so I did make a few unexpected stops to admire the landscape or waterfalls I saw along the way. One of those places, about 28 miles from Reykjavik, is Reykjadalur Valley Hot Spring and Thermal River. The girl at my hostel, who I saw the Auroras with the night before, had mentioned it to me so I made a little detour.
The name means steaming valley and that’s exactly what it is. As you drive out to the site, you can see the steam rising from the ground, the mud baths and the hot river 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 is a remote seafront town about halfway between Reykjavik and Glacier Lagoon. One of it’s most famous sites is a church that has sweeping views of the coast and surrounding area. This was one of my must see’s in Vik but it was really crowded 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 – Glacier Lagoon
After Vik, the drive on Highway 1 to Glacier Lagoon is just out of this world. Unimaginable landscapes and scenery everywhere you look.
And then, arriving to the actual lagoon, leaves you speechless. I had seen glaciers from afar in several US national parks but to see one up close, is totally different. Let alone icebergs from the glacier floating around in a beautiful 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, scientist 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 ride on a zodiac into the lagoon.
It’s super easy to get to the lagoon. Simply exit Highway 1, park and walk right up to it. It’s that simple. Some of the areas are roped off so be sure to pay attention to where you walk. Parking is easy. There are a couple of lots and I parked in the first one with no trouble. In busier seasons, I have read that if you go to the additional parking it’s a little less crowded.
Breiðamerkursandur – Diamond Beach
On the ocean side of the Highway 1, across the road from Jökulsárlón is Breiðamerkursandur or more commonly known as Diamond Beach. The lagoon flows into the ocean and the remnant pieces of the icebergs, either wash on out to sea or end up on the black sand beach.
If I was speechless when I saw the lagoon filled with icebergs, I was even more speechless when I saw all the pieces of the icebergs on the black sand beach. Again, the pieces are all 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 or yes, you guessed it – diamonds.
Like me, you’ll probably want plenty of time exploring the beach. My suggestion is, go there first. A couple of other tips: you can walk between the two features but it’s so much easier to just drive between the two. The weather in Iceland can change on a dime so keep your vehicle close.
Make sure you have good waterproof shoes and a waterproof jacket. Also, don’t go too far into the surf. The waves are sneaky and there have even been reports of tourists getting stranded on the icebergs.
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 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 large, so there aren’t too many choices of restaurants open at night. I was cold, tired and ready to warm up but with no quick place to get food, I would have to go in somewhere to get something.
Remember the hitchhiker couple? One of them worked at a local Vik restaurant and I decided to go there. However, the restaurant was really crowded and no one ever came to take my order after they seated me so I just left. I still had a long way to go before I got back to my hostel. If it took that long to order, I would probably end up waiting on my food too.
Searching for other restaurants, I found a brewpub close and went there. Perfect. It was quick, efficient and I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.
More Northern Lights
Since I had seen the Auroras the night before, I kind of had a feeling they might be visible again. Driving Highway 1 was a much better place to see them than Reykjavik. I also had a better idea of what to look for. Sometimes if they aren’t very strong, they appear as whitish-gray. The can sky looks like it’s shimmering.
I started to notice the 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 road trip report – 492 miles
Iceland Day 4
My flight home to the states was a 9pm local time flight, so I practically had all day to do whatever. The plan was to sleep in a bit, see Reykjavik and what I missed on the Reykjanes peninsula. It was another beautiful day with mild temperatures in the 50s Fahrenheit. I was a bit tired from the day before but when I planned my four days in Iceland, I knew it would be non-stop. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t mind staying at a hostel. It was only a bed to sleep in since I was hardly there.
After I checked out and 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 plan but I knew I wanted to see the Old Harbor, the Harpa Concert Hall and the Sun Voyager. It’s such a cool piece of art. Murals, coffee and fish n chips were also on the agenda.
After Reykjavik, my four days in Iceland ended right back where back where it all started, on the Reykjanes Peninsula. There were a couple of geosites I still wanted to see, so after leaving Reykjavik, I headed back to the peninsula.
A unique feature of the Reykjanes Peninsula is that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the longest underwater mountain range on the planet, comes ashore there. There’s no where else in the world where you can see this except Iceland. Valahnúkamöl are cliffs that lie on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge so I made a stop there.
The cliffs are stunning and geologically unique. There are walking trails, some public art and even a lighthouse nearby. In fact, Reykjanes has several beautiful lighthouses that would make a good quest if you’re into lighthouses.
Bridge Between the Continents
Another geosite I visited on Reykjanes is brúin milli heimsálfa or the Bridge Between the Continents. This site features a 50 foot bridge that spans the rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Those same plates that you can snorkel or dive in Thingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle. Here, on Reykjanes, you can walk across the bridge or walk down to the rift under it. I barely had time to cross the bridge when it started to rain. Reluctantly, I decided to call it a day.
Fueling up the car and returning it to the rental company went smoothly. It had been a non stop four days so I was really looking forward to just relaxing at the airport. I’ll admit, I was thinking about the Blue Lagoon and how nice it would be to soak in it before I left but at least the airport wasn’t crowded. I was able to have a nice meal, with some wine even, while I waited for my flight.
So how do I feel about my four days in Iceland? Well, it’s definitely not enough time. But, it’s a good start. A week would be good, ten days even better and if you want to drive the entire Ring Road, I would plan on two weeks at least.
There were things that I missed. Things I really wanted to see and do. In fact, I didn’t have a chance to get into even one hot spring but I’ll gladly trade hot springs for Northern Lights. Seeing them two nights was more than what I’d anticipated. Especially since September is kind of early to see them. I can visit hot springs in the states but how often do I get a chance to see Northern Lights? Besides, they’ll be plenty of time for hot springs on my next trip to Iceland.
- Day 4 road trip report – 57 miles
Can United States Citizens Travel to Iceland?
Yes! Visit Iceland has all the details. Check their site often for changes. Remember that you still need a Covid-19 test within three days before you return to the United States. Visit the US Embassy’s website for Iceland for details of what’s required and how to get tested before you return to the states.
Are you ready to plan a trip to Iceland? Use Skyscanner or Expedia for the best prices on flights or Travelzoo.com for organized tours. Need accommodations? Booking.com has a great selection of hotels, cabins and even hostels and most have free cancellation. Check Tripadvisor for reviews and info.
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. After summer, the shoulder season, 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.
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.
Iceland Travel Tips
- If you take a redeye flight to Iceland, try and sleep as much as you can so you can get a good start as soon as you get there.
- Use the changing room in the bathrooms at the airport to freshen up.
- Visit Blue Lagoon when you arrive or when you leave since it’s close to the airport.
- If your time is limited, leave off things that you can possibly see at home or other places. For example, I visited Seltun in Reykjanes and didn’t stop at the geysers on the Golden Circle.
- Instead of returning all the way back to Reykjavik, like me, stay somewhere in between. I think Selfoss would be an excellent halfway spot for this itinerary.
- Keep snacks, drinks and a refillable water bottle with you. Iceland water is so good. You might even want to carry a soft-sided, packable cooler.
- Most car rental agencies offer navigation system but in my opinion it’s unnecessary. Google Maps worked just fine for me. Remember to download your maps for when you don’t have data or you can still use Maps to see where you are, you just won’t have instructions.
- For phone service, I used my international plan from Verizon and it cost less per day than renting a hot spot.
- Outside Reykjavik, gas stations are few and far between so fill up your vehicle with gas when you can.
- The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic Krona. Don’t pay in dollars.
- Credit cards are accepted most everywhere.
- Have a credit card or a debit card with a PIN for fuel purchases. Many gas stations do not accept credit cards without a PIN. You can also purchase a N1 (a popular gas station) gas card and use that to pay with.
- If you don’t want to rent a vehicle, there are a few public transportation options to Vik and Glacier Lagoon.
- Pay attention to where you park and walk. Don’t trespass. Always tread lightly and use Leave No Trace principles.
- Last but not least, don’t forget trip and travel insurance. Use travelinsurance.com to compare plans now.
Iceland Packing List
- The weather changes in a snap. Wear several layer and a rain jacket or poncho for pop-up showers even in warmer months.
- I packed a rain jacket and a heavier, packable coat.
- You might even want to take a change of clothes, in case you get really wet and even extra shoes, as you head out for the day.
- The wind in Iceland can be brutal. Make sure to open vehicle doors against the wind because doors blowing off is a thing here.
- Bring a cover for your camera to keep it from getting wet.
- If you plan on getting in hot springs invest in a waterproof phone pouch or phone case.
- A small packable tripod for video and photographing the Northern Lights is essential.
- A waterproof bag, backpack or fanny pack is a good idea. I purchased one on my last day at an outdoor store in Reykjavik and I wished I had it with me the whole time.
- A microfiber towel is helpful for drying off on when you get back in the vehicle. Even something dry to sit on is useful.
- Waterproof shoes like Blundstones are best. I wore boots the entire time so you really don’t have to pack dressy shoes unless you just want to.
- I’ve seen lots of questions about what kind of pants to wear. I just wore regular leggings and they worked out fine for me and they dry quickly. Avoid wearing jeans because they take forever to dry. If you want waterproof pants, the most affordable ones I found are these from Academy Sports.
- Again, it’s very windy in Iceland so bring along a hat or a beanie to keep your ears warm.
- Bring a pillow for sleeping on the plane or napping in the car. This is the one I carry everywhere and camp with.
- Good earbuds always come in handy on the plane and airport.
- You’ll also need an electrical outlet converter for European standards.