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How to spend 4 days in Iceland in winter (without renting a car)

Þingvellir (6)

I’m getting a lot of e-mails these days where people are asking me to help them plan their short winter stay in Reykjavík. To avoid having to write the same e-mail a million times I thought it might be a good idea to share a fairly typical 4 day itinerary that  I often send to those who contact me. I know, you think I write the posts on this blog to help you but It’s really just to make my life a little easier (and my e-mail inbox cleaner). Djók!

Because so many people are scared of driving in Iceland in winter this 4 day schedule is based on using Reykjavík as your base camp and taking day tours and excursions out of the city. If you are more interested in driving yourself you can also check out my Drive-it-yourself guides and the affordable car rental you can get through the blog .

4 days in Iceland in winter

This 4 day itinerary is great for:

– people on a budget (and those with a little more to spend)

– first time visitors 

– covering the highlights and leaving the rest for another visit

Because the vast majority of those who are sending me e-mails with questions about how they should plan their visit to Iceland at the moment are from North-America, I’m basing this itinerary on an early morning arrival and afternoon departure. All the Icelandair and WOW air flights flying to and from North-America follow this pattern and theses visitors are also the biggest group visiting Iceland at the moment.

If you are flying in from other areas you should still be able to use this itinerary to get some idea about how to plan your long weekend or winter break. You might have to tweak a thing or two but you can use the same general principles.

I’ve been quite relentless on this blog in saying that there’s more to Iceland than just the Golden Circle and the South shore but if you don’t plan on renting a car these areas are still probably the easiest and most affordable to get to and on a short visit you want to keep things somewhat simple – especially with the bad weather we sometimes get. I love the North and the Westfjords for example and think everyone should visit those areas but a long weekend in winter, on your first ever visit to Iceland, is not the time and the place for it in my opinion. But of course, like with everything, I’m sure someone will disagree.

Day 1: Arrival


I recently wrote a post about how to survive a 5 am arrival in Reykjavík like a boss which is a step by step guide how  to make the most of your first day in Reykjavík. In short I recommend in it that you take my Reykjavík walking tour at 10:00 and then spend the rest of your day exploring Reykjavík.

Whale watching is also a popular activity in Reykjavík and if you have your heart set on seeing one I would also recommend you check out the Walking and Whales combo tour.

If you think you can handle it and you’re one of those people that can take a nap without totally screwing up your whole system it might also be a good idea to book a Northern Lights tour on your first night here. Because you’ll probably be tired I would opt for the 19:00 departure which brings you back to town and under your duvet sooner than the later departures.

The reason I suggest you do a Northern Lights tour on your first night is because that way you maximize your chances of seeing them. If you don’t seem them on your first night you get to go again until you see them. If you don’t deal well with being outside in the cold when you are very tired you might want to leave this for the second night though.

Day 2: The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is the Eiffiel Tower and Empire state of the tourist trail in Iceland -it’s just one of these things that most people feel like they have to see and do. It’s the easiest, most convenient and probably the safest option for winter travel in Iceland because of the well maintained roads and the variety of options when it comes to tours. It’s also beautiful and on this route you will see Þingvellir National Park (one of the most beautiful places in Iceland in my opinion – especially during fall and snowy winter), the Geysir area and and Gullfoss waterfall. Whether you see anything else on the tour depends on which tour you do.

Choosing the right Golden Circle Tour

Like I mentioned before there are about a million tours available that cover the Golden Circle and you simply have to choose the one that suits your interest and budget best.

The Hot Golden Circle


The Hot Golden Circle Tour is fast becoming the best selling Golden Circle tour I offer through the blog. I always recommend this tour to people because it’s at a similar price as the cheapest big bus tours but the maximum amount of passengers on them are 19 people. The company that does these tours is also small and family run and obviously I like that. This tour finally includes a visit to the Secret Lagoon which is an old pool close to the town of Flúðir that gets its hot water from a nearby geyser. It’s kind of great – in a charmingly rustic way.

Golden Circle and Traditional Tastes

If you have some money to spend and you like a smaller tour with a many different aspects to it I cannot recommend the Golden Circle and Traditional Tastes tour enough. Everyone I’ve talked to that booked this tour through me loved it and it’s only available in winter. This tour will take you to all the main sites on the Golden Circle but also some lesser known spots where you’ll learn about (and more importantly taste) the local cuisine combined with a visit to Fontana Spa and  northern lights hunting. This tour costs a little bit but I think it’s probably the best value for money.

Golden Circle Super Jeep Tour


The Golden Circle Super Jeep Tour is a great option to combine two favorite activities in Iceland: A super jeep tour and the Golden Circle. This tour also includes a visit to Langjökull glacier so it’s a bit more of an adventure than the classic Golden Circle tours. The groups are also very small on these tours that makes the whole thing more personal.

The no frills or fluff Golden Circle Big Bus Tour

If you just want the most affordable option and you don’t care that you’ll share the tour with 70 people then the Golden Circle Bus Tour is your best bet. There’s less included than on the other tours and it’s more impersonal but you’ll also have more money to spend on beer when you return.

If you want more time in Reykjavík this tour is also available as an even less fluffy and shorter Express Golden Circle tour. This might also be a good option on the weekend if you want to sleep in after a big night out.

Day 3: The South Coast

The south coast is considered by many one the most beautiful areas in Iceland. If you’ve ever seen amazing photos from Iceland of massive waterfalls and expansive black sand beaches – this is where you’ll find these things. The great thing about combining a visit to the South Shore with a Golden Circle tour is that the two don’t overlap so there’s no repeat material (except the short drive between Reykjavík and Hveragerði).

Choosing the right South Shore tour

In winter your best bet is to do the South Shore Adventure tour. It’s a big bus tour, so it’s not ideal if you prefer smaller tours, but it makes up for that with reasonable price and daily guaranteed departures. I could recommend other smaller tours you could also do for a similar price but they don’t always reach their minimum amount of passengers and they often only have a couple of departures a week. You want the tour to work with your schedule and not the other way around. The other thing about this particular tour is that if they need to cancel due to bad weather and such you have more options to rebook

If you want to combine a visit to the South shore with an activity like Glacier Walk the Take a walk on the ice side tour is a great option for that. The main focus is the glacier walk (which is great – I was surprise how much I liked it) but the tour also makes a stop at the two biggest waterfalls on the south coast: Seljalandsfoss (the one you can walk behind – which isn’t always possible in winter though) and Skógafoss. You do have to trade in the black sand beaches for the glacier walk but it’s a great way to add some activity to our visit in Iceland. In case you’re one of those overly active ADHD types and sitting on a bus for hours is not really your thing.

Day 4: Departure and the Blue Lagoon

If you have been reading this blog for a while you will know that I’m not a big fan of the Blue Lagoon. I don’t want to get into why I feel that way (again), it’s just not for me, but you will then also know that I totally understand why you want to go there. There’s a reason why around 80% of all visitors that come to Iceland end up there at some point during their trip and if the Blue Lagoon is on your ultimate Iceland bucket list of course you should go for it!

To me it makes the most sense to do the Blue Lagoon on the last day before you go to the airport and here is why:

  • The Blue Lagoon is on the way to the airport so you don’t have to make a special trip out there, wasting precious time that could be used for some interesting full day tours out of the city.
  • In my experience from my own travels I always feel the last day goes to waste a bit because you usually don’t have enough time to do anything major but you still have too much time to just sit in the hotel lobby and twiddle your thumbs. This way you use your time to the maximum and you’ll be super relaxed for your flight.
  • If you are taking a bus from Reykjavík to the Blue Lagoon you can chose whether you go back to Reykjavík after your visit or whether you carry on to Keflavík Airport. The Blue Lagoon has a luggage storage where you can leave your luggage for a small fee.

Image via The Blue Lagoon

If you are flying out at 17:00 (5 pm) you need to be at the airport no later than 15:00. With that in mind it’s probably good to opt to leave the Blue Lagoon at 14:00 or 14:30 – depending on whether you’re taking a bus or a private transfer. To make a day out of it I would recommend you leave Reykjavík by 10:00,  book your visit to the Lagoon at 11:00 and then do lunch at Lava when you get out. If you are leaving with WOW Air around 15:30 you need to adjust these timings accordingly and probably skip the lunch.

Booking your visit to the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is such a popular destination that you now have to book your visit in advance or risk showing up there and being turned away because it’s booked out. If you are going to take the bus, which is probably the most affordable option, I would just suggest you book your ticket through the Blue Lagoon website and book the transfer in the booking process there. It’s the same price as if you would book it individually.

Alternatively you could also book a  private transfer to Keflavík Airport with an additional stop at the Blue Lagoon. I would especially recommend this for small group of friends and families.

Mix and match

Of course this is just a suggestion on how you can spend your 4 days in Iceland in winter. This itinerary is more focused on allowing you to experience as much of our nature as possible in the shortest amount of time but it isn’t maybe the most active of schedules. If you have an extra day, or if you want to mix things up, I have to mention the Snorkeling in Silfra tour too which is super interesting and fun and totally worth it.

This post first appeared on I Heart Reykjavík - Iceland Travel, please read the originial post: here

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How to spend 4 days in Iceland in winter (without renting a car)


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