Iceland is the trendy new tourist spot of the year, hosting just over 1.7 million tourists in 2022 alone. From hiking glaciers to exploring active volcanic sites, there’s a reason film productions like Game of Thrones visit Iceland for a fairytale-esque experience.
For those looking for an adventure in the land of fire and ice, look no further than this ultimate three-day itinerary to southern Iceland and back. Ready to start planning? Follow the itinerary below!
Things To Know Before You Go
Before you set off on your Iceland adventure, keep the following travel tips in mind:
- Iceland is completely English-friendly, with all menus, maps, and signs translated into both Icelandic and English. Tourists will have no difficulty navigating the roads or browsing stores, even in the most remote areas.
- Despite the sulfurous smell, all tap water is drinkable. All water purchased in bottles derives from the same water found in taps.
- As a remote area with very few restaurants, fill up on groceries at a Kronan or Bonus prior to arriving in southern Iceland. For any alcohol, purchase it duty-free in the airport to save money on taxes.
- Tipping is not needed (or expected) for restaurants or drinks.
Booking Your Car Rental
While it may feel tempting to book through tried-and-true companies like Hertz, these American-owned brands can be nearly double the price compared to Icelandic-owned car companies. After doing plenty of research, we wound up renting from Lava Car Rental to save money on our car. Secure a GPS, portable WiFi, and volcanic ash protection for a slight extra charge. Icelandic weather is unpredictable, so spend the extra money to fully insure your car for any situation.
Other tips for driving in Iceland:
- Book your trip to southern Iceland May through August for a safer trip.
- Iceland is beautiful, but contains dangerous natural hazards. Stay safe by signing up for road text alerts at https://safetravel.is/.
- Be mindful not to speed, as Iceland can be strict on speeding laws.
- Gas is expensive, so be prepared to shell out for refilling your tank.
Where We Stayed
When planning your trip to Iceland, you’ll quickly learn that accommodations are—well, pricey.
Depending on your budget and comfort level, consider the following lodging options:
This was where we stayed and, despite the budget nature of it, we had a lovely time. We were a five-minute walk to the Skogafoss waterfall for incredible morning views, and the breakfast buffet was delicious and well-stocked.
Luxury: Hotel Skalakot
While we loved Guesthouse Kverna, we couldn’t help but admire the Manor Hotel Skalakot with its on-site spa and restaurant, horseback riding day tours, hiking tours, and family farm. For traveling in luxury, Hotel Skalakot offers all accommodations in one resort-like space.
Peaceful Dumplings 3-Day Itinerary
Day One: From Airport to Southern Iceland
Once you’ve arrived in Iceland, you’ll first need to pick up your car from your rental company of choice. After picking up the car, you can either go directly to Blue Lagoon (recommended if you’re only staying for three days) or start your journey down to southern Iceland.
We took our lunch stop in Selfoss (pictured above), an adorable town with picturesque views. After gathering supplies at the grocery store, we stopped at a food hall called The Old Dairy for lunch. This food hall boasts eight different restaurants, two bars, and dining options for all dietary needs. After filling up on a large lunch, we hit the road to drive the rest of the way to our hotel.
Depending on where you stay, don’t miss a stop at Skogafoss for some of the most iconic Iceland waterfall views. If you hike to the top and keep walking, you can explore two additional waterfalls along the winding trail.
Day Two: Explore Vik & The Majestic Black Sand Beaches
Start day two off with a drive to downtown Vik, a small village known for its natural beauty and red-roofed church. During your stay, grab a bite at Smidjan Brugghus for a beer and fries and visit Icewear for authentic Icelandic winter gear.
Next, drive over to Reynisfjara Beach to explore the caves, basalt rock columns, and impressive black sand shores. We were lucky enough to see puffins flying overhead, and this was our favorite view of the trip.
After soaking up all the Black Sand views, drive 21 minutes to the Dyrhólaey Lighthouse to spot puffins in their nesting grounds from May through August and witness the majesty of the Dyrhólaey Arch. Finish the day with a picnic by the lighthouse and return to your hotel.
Pro-Tip: If your car is not 4WD, make sure to park at the lower parking lot at Dyrhólaey and hike to the top, as the top parking lot can be treacherous to drive.
Day Three: Drive Through the Golden Circle & Return Your Car
For your last day in southern Iceland, it’s time to explore the iconic Golden Circle, filled with gorgeous waterfalls, historic Icelandic landmarks, and tasty treats. While there are a multitude of options to choose from, we recommend these can’t-miss stops:
Gljufrabui and Seljandsfoss
Seljandsfoss is famous for its stunning behind-the-waterfall views as you trek behind the cascading water. This hike is a quick out and back before you head to Gljufrabui, a waterfall hidden within a cave. Both cost a small parking fee, but are well worth it for their gorgeous views.
Þingvellir National Park
A historic landmark of Iceland, Þingvellir National Park is where the government of Iceland first formed. Þingvellir sits between two tectonic plates where you can snorkel or scuba dive for an unforgettable experience.
Once you’ve visited all the historic sites of Þingvellir, head back to Keflavik to drop off your car and either fly back or extend your trip a few days to experience all that Reykjavik has to offer.
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Photo: Dana Drosdick