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Visiting Iceland: 4 Day Itinerary to Save Both Time & Money

Updated: Jun 23

"I thought Greenland was green!"

"Greenland is covered with ice, and Iceland is very nice!" - D2: The Mighty Ducks

If you haven’t heard, Iceland, an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is home to less than 400,000 residents. And beautiful snow and glaciers. And an epic site for the Northern Lights. And the Blue Lagoon.

So, what are you waiting for?

Worried you can’t see it all in just a few days? Worried your bank account can’t handle the prices?

With tourism booming, it’s easier than ever to base your travels out of Reykjavik and select various tours to see all the country has to offer. Or you can rent a car and decide to self-tour to several key attractions. Check out this 4 day itinerary to Iceland, which includes ways to save money on food and activities!

4 Day Itinerary in Winter

After doing our research and discovering that the Keflavik international airport was almost 45 minutes from Reykjavik and bus transfers were at least $30 per person, we decided it was more economical to rent a car. This was an easy way to keep in our budget and save money in Iceland. While we were there in December (and landed in a snow storm), the country does a great job of salting and scraping the roads. I am not used to snow driving but felt confident to drive given our snow tires and the road conditions. But please be aware of icy roads and make sure to check current conditions before driving. If you do choose to drive in Reykjavik, I would also recommend downloading the Parka app for parking. It makes it easier to pay for spots and can be downloaded for free. If you plan to go into northern Iceland or the ring road, you are required to rent SUVs with specialty tires and equipment.

Our main goal when visiting Iceland was to maximize our chances of seeing the Northern Lights. Best bets for viewing are between August and March, but the longer the night sky, the better the odds. However, winter snow flurries mean the cloud cover will impede views as well. So while winter is the best season, the odds are still not in your favor. However, we decided to try for the best and were rewarded on our first night in Iceland!

These ideas are geared toward the winter season, but Iceland offers many other activities during the summer months when the sun is long.

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See the Northern Lights & Golden Circle

You can book a separate tour, but to save money, we found it better to group this excursion with a day tour of the Golden Circle. This Viator tour is a group bus tour that offers hotel pick up. The Golden Circle includes the most active geyser in Iceland, the Strokkur geyser at the Geysir geothermal field. Roam Thingvellir National Park to see ancient geological formations and the old Althing parliament site. Lastly, visit the Gullfoss Waterfall, which is part of the glacial river Hvítá and falls into a 62-metre (203 ft.) deep canyon.

You could also decide to chase the Aurelia Borealis on the water. Get Your Guide is a great resource to find tours and activities abroad.

Blue Lagoon

The geothermal spa is a perfect getaway. You can spend the day relaxing in the pools with drinks and a face mask. The Blue Lagoon is about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik, so a rental car or transfers are required. Make sure you book your timed reservation well in advance.

Glacier Hike

Where else can you easily do a glacier hike? Take a day tour out to Sólheimajökull Glacier from Reykjavik with Troll Expeditions. This tour includes a full day of sights, including two waterfalls (Skógafoss and Seljalandson) and the famous black sand beach (Reynisfjara Beach). The glacier was amazing in early January with a recent snowfall making the mountain just magical. We were given crampons (hallelujah!) to scale the icy path and ice picks/harnesses (more for the show). It was truly a winter wonderland and our time was almost solidary given the weather conditions.

Explore Reykjavik

The city is quite beautiful and worth spending at least an afternoon wandering Rainbow Street and taking a tower view of the city from Hallgrimskirkja. This uniquely designed Lutheran church has the largest organ in the country and is one of the tallest buildings in Iceland. It’s free to enter, but you can purchase tickets inside for further entry to the tower (via elevator). This provides sweeping views of the city and mountains surrounding it.

Walk along the water and see the Sun Voyager, a quirky sculpture of a Viking ship. Not life changing, but a pretty view along the water.

Best Eats

Cheap eats in Iceland are hard to come by, but the Sea Baron (Sægreifinn) is a must-try for their lobster soup and whale. Sit on a barrel downstairs and admire the restaurant’s history on the walls.

Another find for cheaper eats is Reykjavik Fish Restaurant for fish ‘n chips and their traditional “plokkari” fish stew. We were actually trying to find 101 Reykjavik Street Food, which is also known for the same dishes and happens to be next door. Take your pick! Or try them both!

There are cafes everywhere, but this little neighborhood bakery was a nice reprieve from the downtown tourism and a quiet place to recharge or do some work. Head to Kaffihús at the corner of Hofsvallagötu and Melhaga.

If you can’t make a decision on dining options, head to Pósthús Food Hall. Here you can choose from a gourmet taco, Korean or sushi dishes, burgers, pizza or more. Additional seating downstairs.

If you want to splurge a little, look no further than Apotek Kitchen + Bar. Apotek means pharmacy in Icelandic and this restaurant is nothing short of a food apothecary. The duck & waffle, cauliflower two ways and lamb are just a few of the amazing dishes on offer. Be sure to save room for the uniquely plated, delicious desserts.

Maybe for some personal nostalgia, we also enjoyed afternoon cocktails in the Magic Ice Bar. Don a winter parka and gloves for a truly icy experience. There are a few competitors in the ice bar space, but Magic opened a location in Reykjavik in 2019 and offers several ice sculptures to photograph as you sip on a complimentary blue cocktail in an ice glass.

Last, but not least, check out Tapas Barinn off Rainbow Street. A place where Spanish tapas meet the freshest Icelandic ingredients. The cellar offers a lively atmosphere with a killer menu. Try the Icelandic foul or octopus, and make sure to start with their homemade chorizo charcuterie platter. We were amazed at how many delicious dishes came from such a small kitchen and prep area. Be prepared for a tasty treat!

Pro Tip

If you aren’t from a cold-weather city (maybe even if you are) and plan to travel to Iceland during the winter, make sure you rent appropriate gear. We used Iceland Cover, which was a one-stop shop for shoes, waterproof pants and parkas. Like my friend says, “There is no bad weather; only bad clothes.” So, plan ahead and reserve some gear to make your trip to Iceland warm and cozy! They even offer hotel delivery. I assure you it will make all the difference on those late-night Northern Lights tours.

This four-day itinerary to Iceland helps maximize your time and keep you on budget. Saving money on food and your excursions means you can enjoy your vacation and get ready sooner for the next one! With a car, you can even create a little Iceland road trip.


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10 may 2023
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Great ways to save!

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