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! If you’re visiting in the winter, check out my 4-day winter itinerary here.
The summer offers the midnight sun: almost 24 hours of sunlight so you can really pack a lot in to your 4 days! This itinerary is filled with waterfalls, day trips from Reykjavik, tips for visiting Blue Lagoon, what to eat, and where to stay in Iceland. Iceland’s population is about 350,000 people, with about 2/3 living in Reykjavik, so most of the country is quite remote.
The best time to visit Iceland is year round and summer is a beautiful time to visit the country. The summer is mild, with temperatures reaching around 10-15 °C and with almost 24 hour daylight there is loads of sunlight to enjoy outdoor activities and stretch your days out. While the winter months offer unique experiences like visiting in Ice Cave, the summer months bring wildlife and natural wonders to life.
What to Wear in Iceland
July is the hottest month in Iceland and averages around 10-15°C (about 50°-59° Fahrenheit) so you will want to pack some layering options. Because the weather changes so frequently in Iceland, having options to bundle up in the cooler mornings and take off layers during the middle of the day will make your trip that much better. In the summer, you will want to pack a mix of tshirts, sweaters and pants (comfortable outfits to do a lot of walking in). Make sure to pack a waterproof jacket and shoes that can get wet (or bring extra changes of socks) but I wouldn’t bother with an umbrella in Iceland because of the wind!
Where to Stay in Iceland
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 all 3 nights in Reykjavik with some options for the best day trips in Iceland. If you’re up for driving, you can still stay in Reykjavik and return nightly. I like staying in one place rather than moving every night so a 4-day/3-night itinerary is ideal!
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. 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 makes food very expensive.
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
There are an abundance of day tours from Reykjavik, such as visiting the Golden Circle, southeast Iceland, westfjords, and more! Blue Lagoon is a wonderful option for those who don’t mind spending a bit more on a relaxing day at the spa, or if you’re on a road trip you can stop at the natural hot springs on the side of the Ring Road.
Day one: Arrival, Blue Lagoon OR Golden Circle Day two: Southeast Iceland (Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Vik, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach, Hotel Adventure) Day three: Day Excursion Day four: Reykjavik
Day one: Arrival, Blue Lagoon/Golden Circle
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa in southwest Iceland with a range of prices: comfort (cheapest), premium (mid-range) or luxury (most expensive). 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. If you’re looking for a relaxing visit, start at the Blue Lagoon but if you’re looking for an adventurous start, head to the Golden Circle.
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.
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.
This makes for quite a long day, but it will be worth it to make it to all the stops! You can book a day trip through Arctic Adventures or another tour company, or rent a car and see more for yourself. Self-driving in the ring road allows for greater flexibility to see more places, as well as avoid crowds. I recommend stopping at Seljalandsfoss (the waterfall you can walk behind) and Gljufrabui (the waterfall through the crevise), Skogafoss, Vik to stop for lunch, the Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón Glacier. This makes for about 8 hours of driving total, but you’ll have lots of sunlight to get through the day. One thing to note is if you do rent a car, make sure you hold on to your doors!
If you have time, you can stop at the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach or Sólheimasandur airplane wreckage: This epic 1973 plane crash is on the black sand beaches in southeast Iceland. Everyone on the plane survived! It’s only accessibly by walking about an hour from the road on the black sand beaches but it’s worth the adventure! Be cautious and watch the weather: high winds may cause sand storms and it’s hard to find on the best of days. The coordinates are (63 27.546-19 21.887).
Day three: Day Excursion
To be honest, there are so many amazing experiences to choose from, it all depends on your budget and interests! I do recommend getting out of the city and exploring another region of Iceland. You can snorkel in Silfra (between two tectonic plates), go whale watching, see Elephant Rock, go puffin watching or walk through Lava Fields.
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.