Iceland | 4-day Winter Itinerary

Ice cave tour with Arctic Adventures in Iceland

Iceland has been my favourite vacation destination to date and it’s not hard to see why. The country has everything I love about travelling: amazing natural attractions, fun city adventures and a manageable itinerary! My first visit was a 10-day road trip on the Iceland Ring Road with a few days spent in Reykjavik. My 10-day Ring Road itinerary is here.

Although you could easily spend a few weeks exploring the county and still not see everything, spending a few days in the country will give you a taste of what Iceland has to offer. This itinerary is filled with suggestions for seeing top attractions in Iceland, day trips from Reykjavik, tips for Blue Lagoon, what to eat, and where to stay.

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Scenery in Iceland of mountains reflecting in a nearby body of water

When to Visit Iceland

The best time to visit Iceland is year round. This may not seem helpful but you really cannot go wrong with visiting Iceland in any month. The summer months are milder and have almost 24 hour daylight so there is loads of sunlight to enjoy outdoor activities and stretch your days out. Winters are still mild and offer the opportunity for unique experiences like visiting the Icelandic Ice Caves, walk on a glacier or see the Northern Lights. The shoulder seasons (typically April/May and September/October) are a great time to visit if you’re on a budget and don’t want to visit during the colder winter months.

The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is September to late March, when the nights are longer and darker. If your main goal when visiting Iceland is to see the Northern Lights, plan to spend a few nights outside the city for your best chance. The Northern Lights are fickle and need absolute darkness and no cloud coverage for the best experience. I’ve now been twice and haven’t seen them yet!

What to Wear in Iceland

When you visit, you’ll likely hear “if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait five minutes”. While this seems like a joke, it’s so true! One minute it could be pouring rain and the next it’s a bright, sunny sky. Generally, Iceland climate is cold and windy for most of the year but the temperature is fairly moderate due to the ocean and Gulf Stream. July is the hottest month in Iceland and averages around 10-15°C (about 50°-59° Fahrenheit). The winter months average around 0 °C (32 °F) in southeast Iceland and about -10°C in the north. If you don’t like the colder winter months but want to enjoy the unique experiences Iceland has to offer in the winter, stick to the southern part of Iceland.

Year round, you want to pack a lot of layering options. Because the weather changes so frequently in Iceland, having options to bundle up in more layers if you’re cold, or stripping off layers when you get warm will help you have a pleasant experience in the country. In the summer, you will want to pack a mix of tshirts, sweaters and pants. In the summer, you will want long sleeve shirts, warmer sweaters, long pants, snow pants, a winter jacket and winter boots. Year round, make sure to pack a waterproof jacket and shoes that can get wet (or bring extra changes of socks), and I wrote a pretty extensive packing list for Iceland winters here. I wouldn’t bother with an umbrella in Iceland because of the wind!

Where to Stay in Iceland

It would take about 10 hours to drive non-stop from the west side of Iceland to the east, which gives you a sense of how small the country is. You can easily spend the 4 days in Reykjavik and plan to do a few day trips from the city either by renting a car or booking tours from Reykjavik. This itinerary spends 2 nights in Reykjavik and 1 night in southeast Iceland for maximum enjoyment.

Travel Iceland on a Budget

BudgetYourTrip.com is an incredibly handy and accurate tool to determine a budget for a trip. I use this to plan all my trips to get a good sense of how much I need to save to travel. See my post here about budgeting for a trip. Something I didn’t quite grasp when doing my budget was how expensive food is in Iceland. While Iceland sustainably sources their groceries, and many fruits and vegetables are grown year-round in greenhouses using geothermal energy (of which there is an abundance in Iceland), Iceland imports a lot of food/farming equipment and has a 14% VAT tax on food which drives prices up.

Ways to save: shop at the BONUS Grocery Store to stock up on food. Shopping at local grocery stores and making your own food is always an easy way to save on food. Another tip is to eat out for lunch instead of dinner to save a few bucks. Stop at the natural hot springs that are on the side of the Ring Road rather than go to Blue Lagoon.

4-day Iceland Itinerary

In your research, you will likely find tours from Reykjavik for southeast Iceland or the Golden Circle. I personally love the southeast coast the most and recommend this area of Iceland.

Day one: Arrival, Blue Lagoon OR Golden Circle
Day two: Arctic Adventures Excursion (Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Vik, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach, Hotel Adventure)
Day three: Arctic Adventures Excursion (Ice Cave, Reykjavik)
Day four: Reykjavik

Day one: Arrival, Blue Lagoon/Golden Circle

If you’re looking to enjoy a relaxing time in Iceland, Blue Lagoon is the way to go. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa in southwest Iceland with a variety of experiences: comfort (cheapest), premium (mid-range) or luxury (most expensive). If you’re looking to start off your time in Iceland on an adventure, head to the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is an area in southwest Iceland with three of the top tourist attractions: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall.

Blue Lagoon: To start, the Blue Lagoon is about a 20 minute drive from the Keflavik airport or 50 minutes from Reykjavik. In the interest of saving time, I recommend either spending your first day or last day at the Blue Lagoon to minimize travel time. Book an airport transfer from the airport to Blue Lagoon, spend a few hours at the lagoon and then book a transfer to Reykjavik for the night. Is Blue Lagoon worth it? If you enjoy spas and taking time to relax, absolutely! The comfort package allows you to visit without breaking the bank. If you plan to have lunch/dinner at the Lava Restaurant, I do recommend the Premium package for 2,000 ISK more (about $20 CAD).

Golden Circle: You can book a tour or rent a car and drive to the Golden Circle yourself (about a 2 hour drive). A tour is easy to book and allows you to sit back and enjoy the drive; however, you have much more freedom renting a car and driving yourself. You’ll find there are a lot of places to stop along the way for scenic pictures and a beautiful drive. Most tours include a stop at the Gulfoss waterfall, Thingvellir National Park and Geysir Park.

Almannagjá Mid-Atlantic Rift in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

Reykjavik: After the Blue Lagoon or the Golden Circle, head back to Reykjavik to stay for the night. There are plenty of options and staying anywhere west of Highway 40 is a reasonable walk to downtown. Anything close to the Hallgrimskirkja (Church) is in the centre of downtown and the hustle and bustle of Reykjavik. If you didn’t grab dinner at the Lava Restaurant in Blue Lagoon, or went to the Golden Circle, stop for dinner on Laugavegur Street: Old Iceland Restaurant is fantastic (try the shark – Hákarl), or try Messinn for fantastic seafood dishes and a charming atmosphere.

Day two: Arctic Adventures Excursion (Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Vik, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach, Hotel Adventure)

For the second and third day, I recommend booking an Arctic Adventures excursion to avoid having to drive in the winter weather yourself: it can be quite terrifying, especially if you’re not used to driving in snow and ice. I recommend the Ice Cave 2-day tour, including a hotel stay in Vik in the winter. This tour stops at Seljalandsfoss (the waterfall you can walk behind), Skogafoss , Vik to stop for lunch, the Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón Glacier before heading to your hotel for the evening. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the Northern Lights!

Story Time: Legend has it that a viking (Þrasi Þórólfsson) put his treasure in a chest behind the Skogafoss waterfall. Later on, three men at Skógar decided to retrieve the chest and eventually got a hook on the chest ring and, when they pulled, the ring detached and is can be found in the Skógar Museum. The chest can still be found at the bottom of the rainbow.

Day three: Arctic Adventures Excursion (Ice Cave, Reykjavik)

Breakfast is included in the price of the excursion, and you’ll be picked up to switch vehicles to go to the ice cave. The vehicles have huge tires that are definitely required for driving on a glacier! You cannot do an Ice Cave tour by yourself.

The ice cave is SO COOL! The light blue caves are new ice and the black ice caves are because of the ash that is in the ice (makes sense of course!). This is a very unique Iceland experience so I highly recommend it if you visit in the winter.

If there’s time, the bus driver may make one stop at the black sand beach and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. It is likely that it will be so windy that the black sand will be whiping up around you! One thing to note is if you do rent a car, make sure you hold on to your doors!

You’ll be dropped off at your hotel/hostel around dinner time. Head down Laugavegur (a great shopping street) and to Hallgrímskirkja (closed Sundays and you may get to go up to the top for panoramic views of the city). If you’re very hungry, the Iceland Street Food restaurant is all-you-can-eat with free unlimited coffee/tea and treats, so fill up for one price!

Day four: Reykjavik

For breakfast, stop at Brass Restaurant or Sandholt, or grab some food at BONUS to save some money on eating out. Reykjavik is a very walkable city, so put on your comfortable shoes and spend some time getting to know Iceland’s capital city. There are a variety of murals to search for, museums to enjoy, free attractions like the Sun Voyager and Harpa Concert Hall.

The City Card is worth it if you are spending most of the day in the city before heading to your flight out of the country. My personal favourite museums are the Settlement Exhibition and the Icelandic Phallological Museum (for those who don’t take things too seriously). The Settlement Exhibition is a museum that was built on an archaeological dig that uncovered a viking longhouse in the city. The museum is very interactive and offers a great overview of the settlement of the vikings in Iceland.

If souvenir shopping is more your style, shop along Laugavegur and, if you didn’t get to the night before, stop at Hallgrímskirkja for panoramic views and the Sun Voyager statue on the waterfront.

4 thoughts on “Iceland | 4-day Winter Itinerary

  1. Wow, those ice cave pics and glacier lagoon pics are SOOO stunning! Can’t believe Iceland is a real place, so gorgeous haha.
    Next time I travel there, I’ll definitely be taking a bus trip like this one – sounds like the bus driver’s knowledge and insights were invaluable/super interesting!
    Awesome trip, awesome pics, awesome post! 👍🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love to read your blog and like vicariously through you! I definitely need to visit this magical place they call Iceland. So many amazing things to see and you ladies saw so much in a short time! Loved seeing more photos from your trip and learning about the sites. Very inspiring!

    Liked by 1 person

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