Coming from the UK, I often see holidaying in Europe as an opportunity for a long weekend away rather than a full week long holiday so I can save on money and time off from work but one week in Iceland is a must! There’s more to see in Iceland than Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon and doing the Golden Circle, although these along make for a mighty 3 day trip if that’s all the time you have! You’ll soon catch yourself chasing waterfalls, watching the sunset on the black sand beaches and marvelling at the icebergs of Europe’s largest glacier so pack your hiking boots and get to Iceland!
Before we jump into the itinerary, just a few points on getting around Iceland.
I would highly recommend renting a car in Iceland, the island is bigger than you think with the drive between places we visited being between 2.5 – 4.5 hours each way. It is expensive over there so the car rental may be alot but it’s worth it to have the freedom to explore and see everything from Reykjavik down the South coast. It’s also worth paying a bit extra to have an SUV, especially in the winter months; the snow is no joke and the roads can be icy and we definitely felt much safer being in an SUV.
We rented our car from Enterprise, picking it up from Keflavik airport, and luckily got a good deal through a friend but I also had Sad Cars recommended to me by someone else to try and get a bit more of a bargain!
One last top tip on driving in Iceland is to check safetravel.is, specifically looking at the Alerts for any worrying weather to avoid and the Travel Conditions to see which roads are open or closed and they state they are in. We checked it every day before heading out to drive to be safe and didn’t run into any issues on the days we wanted to drive but there were hurricane force winds one day and we definitely wouldn’t have driven in those conditions!
Touchdown in Reykjavik! From here, pick up your car rental, jump in a taxi or get on your coach into the town and make your way to Sky Lagoon.
This lagoon recently opened in April 2021 and is now a competitor to Blue Lagoon (and is far better in my opinion!). Change into your swim suits and head into the relaxing heat of the lagoon. As you step in, make your way around the open aired cave to a hot spring come infinity pool, grab a drink from the bar and watch the sun set over the water.
The sun sets pretty early in winter (it’s pretty much night time by 5pm) so when you’re ready, leave the hot springs behind, check into your accommodation and then head out for some dinner and a mooch around Reykjavik town. Don’t stay out too late though as it’s a relatively early start tomorrow for the Golden Circle.
Rise, shine and ready to leave by 9am today to make sure you reach the first stop in the Golden Circle for sunrise and can do the whole circle within the 4.5 hours of sunlight you get per day in winter.
I would recommend doing the golden circle spread between 2 days so skip the first stop (and do it on day 6 instead) and head straight to Geyser to skip out on the crowds who would have gone to Þingvellir National Park first. The Great Geyser actually no longer erupts but Strokkur is still active and will give you an eruption every 10-15 minutes. It’s truly an amazing and unique sight and luckily, there’s no long hike to get there, just a 5 minute walk from the Geyer Vistior Centre parking.
After Geyser, head on up to Gulfoss to see this magnificent waterfall. You can’t get too close in winter as the steps are closed off as it’s far too icy and slippery to get up and down them but even from a distance, the waterfall is a sight to behold and one of the best falls I’ve ever seen.
For food, stop by Friðheimar, an Icelandic greenhouse that specialises in growing tomatoes and you can sit and have a tomato based meal, surrounded by the growing plants. It’s super sustainable, sitting in a lovely atmosphere sitting with tomatoes growing all around you and the staff will tell you all about how they grow the fruit.
Not a usual stop of the Golden Circle tour but Kerid Crater Lake is also pretty cool, although this is the one stop where you do have to pay to enter but it’s the equivalent of about £2 or $3. In winter it’s all iced over and I will admit, I think this would look much better in summer as the lake is bright blue and surrounded by red volcanic rock but even in winter, you can walk around the whole thing and it’s still pretty cool.
After staying in Reykjavik for 2 nights already, it’s time to actually explore the town! Stop for a breakfast pastry and coffee at Röst by the harbour with a nice view over the sea before heading out.
From here, you can walk up to Harpa Concert Hall to see the modern architecture of Iceland and make sure to head inside to see the beehive-esque windows from both angles.
Then take a walk along the sea front up to the Sun Voyager pointing out to sea before heading up to see the famous and visually impressive Hallgrímskirkja Church. It’s one of the most famous landmarks in Reykjavik and stands out in the otherwise flat town. Marvel at the unique architecture of this Church from the outside and make sure to head in for another unique perspective; the Church is surprisingly minimal from the inside and you can take a lift to the top for views across Reykjavik.
If you have time, end the day my heading up to Perlan. I wouldn’t say Perlan is an absolute must and it is a bit expensive for what you get but may be worth doing if you enjoy museums and exhibitions. In Perlan, you can learn all about the history of Iceland, geothermal activity and the wildlife as well as watch a Northern Lights experience and walk through an ice cave. Make your way to the top for open views across all of Reykjavik and feel free to stop for a bite to eat.
Lastly for day 3, if it’s a clear sky head on out and search for the Northern Lights. You can check Northern Lights forecasts ahead of time to see if it’s worth your while; you’re in need of very dark, clear skies and a bit of luck!
Now it’s time to start road-tripping through the South of Iceland and make your way to Vík, with plenty of stops along the way. It’s about a 2 hour drive to stop number one so again, I would head out at around 9am to maximise the winter daylight hours. Head down to the 2 waterfalls named Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui, conveniently located just a short walk away from each other, for a view of the falls. You do have to pay to park here but it’s a small fee. You’ll soon learn there are many waterfalls throughout Iceland and Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous ones outside of the Golden Circle however, I think Gljufrabui is underrated. Not many people were walking round to Gljufrabui but it’s hidden in the mountains and you can walk through to see it up close and personal.
Only 30 minutes along from here is the third and final waterfall of the day, Skógafoss. The ground is pretty flat here so you can walk up to the bottom of this beautiful waterfall and then there are also some stairs you can scale to see the falls from above.
Another 30 minutes on from Skógafoss is the famous Reynisfjara Beach. You will feel like you’re on a different planet standing on the black sand, looking out to see. At the end of the beach is Hálsanefshellir Cave where you can look at the unique basalt columns that frame the cave. Just a note, when at this beach, so stay wary of the water and don’t turn your back to the ocean as this beach is known for it’s sneaker waves.
Finally, it’s time to head to Vík. Many blogs recommend to stay at Reynisfjara Beach for sunset however, there is also a black sand beach in Vík that is much quieter and prettier for sunset than Reynisfjara. You can see the famous rocks in the sea at Reynisfjara from here and it is truly beautiful at sunset. Vík is a very small town so there isn’t much to explore at night, just head out for a nice dinner and rest ahead of the rest of the road-trip tomorrow.
You are looking at 5 hours of driving today up to Jökulsárlón Glacier (2.5 hours each way) but it’s totally worth it and was the highlight of my Iceland trip. Jökulsárlón Glacier is the largest in Europe and covers 8% of Iceland, as you drive to the lagoon, you will see the glacier peaking out of the mountains several times and it’s hard to comprehend how huge it truly is.
Park up at the lagoon of Jökulsárlón where the glacier breaks off into icebergs that lead out to see, it’s a once in a lifetime sight! It is mighty cold here so make sure to have your hat, gloves, scarves and big coats on to keep you wrapped up!
You can then walk towards the sea to Diamond Beach, aptly named as the ice on the beach sand beach really do looks like diamonds glittering in the sun. There’s ice from the glacier here coming in all shapes and sizes and you can easily spend an hour just walking along the beach, inspecting the shapes of the ice. Once you’ve got your fill, head back to Vík and watch the sunset over the mountains on your drive home.
It’s time to head back to Reykjavik and finish off the stop of the Golden Circle that you missed on day two – Þingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are splitting away from each other at a rate of 2cm per year.
Drive from Vík to Þingvellir (named Thingvellir in Google Maps) for views across the lake and it’s here that you can also snorkel between the tectonic plates at Silfra although it was too cold for me to want to do this in December! The best thing to do here, aside from snorkelling, is to hike alongside the tectonic plate. The most popular stopping point here is Almannagjá Gorge however, if you keep going, there is a lovely waterfall called Öxarárfoss to check out and even further up is Langistígur where you can stand between the 2 tectonic plates. I found that not many people actually hiked up this far but it was much better than Almannagjá Gorge!
It doesn’t seem like much to do in a day but with the drive back from Vík and spending a few hours hiking around Þingvellir, the sun will soon be setting and you can head back to Reykjavik for a chilled out evening or take any covid tests that are needed for returning home (depending on the rules at your time of travel).
The final day and end it with a classic Iceland tourist spot – Blue Lagoon, which is situated very close to the airport so convenient for flying home later that day. I must admit, I found Sky Lagoon to be much better than Blue Lagoon, so if you only have time for one, I would definitely suggest Sky Lagoon, but if you have time for both, Blue Lagoon is still a very cool experience! The steamy water is milky blue, full of minerals and is a natural by-product of a nearby geothermal power plant so take a few hours to relax here, put on the free silica mud mask and have a drink at the in-water bar.
The final stop on our Iceland tour is to drive to the West, again very close to the airport, to the Bridge Between Continents, and walk across the two tectonic plates – one minute you’re on North American plates, next you’re on Eurasian! You don’t need long here, it’s just a passing visit before heading back to Keflavik airport for your flight home.
Where To Stay
Whilst in Iceland, we stayed in 3 accommodations in total and 2 of them being guesthouses which were a first for me!
The first place we stayed was Refurinn Guesthouse in Reykjavik; this was actually my first time staying in a guesthouse and I loved it! Reykjavik is known for being a bit more on the expensive side so we wanted a place with a kitchen to be able to cook some meals rather than eat out all the time and this place felt like a home away from home and was in a great location, only a 5-10 minute walk into the centre of Reykjavik.
The second place was Guesthouse Carina in Vík, again following suit with another guesthouse to save money and this was a winner too! This place was super homely and every room has a view, whether it be of the mountains or out to sea, but even if they didn’t, there is a glorious breakfast room which is all glass for amazing views. Vík is a small town so it’s easy to get everywhere from anywhere and this accommodation had parking right outside for us.
The final place we stayed was Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel in Reykjavik for out last night; this hotel was really lovely, their rooms are beautiful with a bohemian vibe and there is a bar area where you can sit and have a drink, have dinner or sit with your laptop with free water, tea and coffee at all times. Another great location only 5-10 minutes from the centre but from the other side of town.