Iceland ended up exceeding my expectations. Because it is such a popular destination, I felt like I knew what to expect but it was unlike what I had imagined or seen in photographs.
It wasn’t on my short list of places to visit next but my friends found a great flight deal and we decided to take a long weekend trip. I travel solo often and while I believe not having anyone to go with should never hold you back, Iceland was definitely a trip that I was glad I had friends to explore with.
This was our whirlwind long winter weekend itinerary for Iceland.
SEE ALSO: What to Pack for Iceland in January
MY 4-DAY ITINERARY
We took an overnight flight and landed in Iceland at 5 am. After hitting up duty-free (alcohol is super expensive in Iceland) and getting the rental car (which took quite a while) we headed into Reykjavik for a hot breakfast at The Grey Cat. There we first experienced the sticker shock of how expensive food was in Iceland.
After breakfast, the sun was just starting to come up and we started the trip out of town along the south coast for our first long day of driving. Thankfully I had an amazing friend who took over the driving even when we were going on almost no sleep. We stopped at the grocery store for lunch and dinner supplies and headed off. It is pretty much impossible to get lost in Iceland, there is one road that circles the island.
Our first big stop was at the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. At the falls there is also a food window and (heated!) bathrooms. Although the main waterfall is the main attraction, if you walk left of the falls there is a third waterfall that sits back hidden behind a cutout in the rocks that was my favorite part.
We continued along stopping a few times to visit with some horses (you literally just pull over the side of the road when you see them. I think the farmers are used to it).
VIK AND THE BLACK SAND BEACH
Because it was winter the light was limited and we made it to Vik just as the sun was setting. Vik was the most significant town along the route from Reykjavik to the Jökulsárlón Lagoon. If I were to do this again I might’ve added another night in Vik along the way. We were very aggressive planning a 5-7 hour drive each way. After stopping in the visitors center we went to the water and visited the black sand beach which was pretty gorgeous.
LÆKJABORGIR GUESTHOUSE, KALFAFELL
A few more hours on the road and we ended the day exhausted but with a perfect little accommodation at the Lækjaborgir Guesthouse in Kálfafell (not really a town, just some houses along the road, a little more than an hour from Jökulsárlón Lagoon). We cooked dinner and ate in for the night.
The next morning we were supposed to go on an ice cave tour but the caves flooded because of all the rain and it was canceled. In the end, I didn’t even really mind.
JOKULSARLON LAGOON AND DIAMOND BEACH
We drove a little farther out to see Jökulsárlón Lagoon and then went across the street to one of my favorite places, the black sand Diamond Beach. I have never seen so many contrasts in one place, the black sand, the ice and the crashing waves of the ocean. I could’ve spent hours there.
On our drive back towards Reykjavik we stopped and saw some small waterfalls and just before dark made it to the Skógafoss Waterfall. You can view the falls from the bottom or climb up to the top and stand over the falls on the viewing platform. There were also bathrooms, a restaurant and some lodging there.
DRIVING IN THE SNOW
We had been pretty lucky and only encountered one snowy section of road the day before but that evening there was a storm which closed the main road into Reykjavik. We ended up having to take a long way around. Our friend who drove said he could feel the wind pushing the car side to side as he drove. Make sure you rent a 4wd car.
We made it into town pretty late and found our guesthouse, Eric the Red. It was perfect for us and walking distance from the main streets and shops in town. It was so late most of the kitchens were closed (most close before 10 pm) but we ended up at Public House for tapas and beers. I recommend the beer flight!
Day three was a little more relaxed. We started the morning looking for breakfast in town and then headed out for the day. For some reason, I had envisioned the Golden Circle as much more intense than it was but it can be as short or as long a day as you want. It was a gorgeous day and we were able to stop and see the Geysirs, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Kerid Crater before heading back into town and going inside the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral before it closed.
Back in town that night we did some souvenir shopping, went to the famous hot dog stand Baejarins Beztu Pylsur and quickly went inside the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre on the water. We ended the night with a hot bread bowl at Svarta Kaffid.
The last day was all about the Blue Lagoon. We were a little worried it might be too dark for our 10 am reservation but it ended up being perfect. The sun coming up created an amazing light over the lagoon. This was one thing that I expected to feel much more touristy and cheesy but the whole experience was pretty nice and ended up being my favorite thing. If I went back I might even go to it twice, once at the beginning and once on the way back.
Visiting in Winter
Because winter is the off season there tend to be more deals for these months. Summer is the busy season. You can fly direct from a lot of major US cities with WOW Air. The negatives of visiting in winter are that it’s cold and that the daylight hours are limited. But I think it was more fun to visit in winter. The landscape is completely different.
If you don’t want to rent a car there are shuttles from the airport to Reykjavik city and then you can take tours or buses. We had a group and wanted some more independence so we rented a car (make sure it’s a 4WD).
You can get around Iceland with just a credit card. I withdrew cash but never was anywhere where I needed to use it except one entrance fee. I would withdraw a small amount just to have and spend it at the end of your trip. Otherwise, a credit card is all you need.
We did run into one issue at the gas station where the machine only took credit cards that had pin numbers. I’ve found this at a few other machine type things in Europe before. Call your credit card company to set this up.
Currency: Icelandic krona (8 krona = $1 USD)
ATMs: ATMs (cash points) at the airport and in town.
Hotels: Accept credit cards and cash.
Restaurants: Accept credit cards and cash.
Shops: Accept credit cards and cash.
Seeing the Northern Lights is not guaranteed. It is really hit or miss depending on the weather and it doesn’t usually change very rapidly day to day. It was too cloudy most of the time we were there to see them. On the last night, we were lucky and caught a small glimpse of them through the clouds for a few minutes. You can use apps like My Aurora and the Iceland National Weather Website (en.vedur.is) to track how bright the lights are and how cloudy the skies are where you are.
More to See and Do
My trip was very much a highlight reel. There are are a lot more stops you can make and in the summer you can drive up north and around the entire country.
The food in Iceland is very expensive. We had a breakfast that ended up being almost $30. Your best bet is to go to the grocery store and cook. Also, while you’re out driving during the day the food options are limited so it’s good to have something packed with you.
If you’re looking for souvenirs there are lots of shops in Reykjavik. Keep in mind that there’s not much evening or early morning shopping if you’re out for the day. The visitors center in Vik also had a good selection of souvenirs as well.