Iceland is one of the most naturally beautiful and unique countries on the planet. The Land of Fire and Ice has breathtaking waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, ice caves, geothermal vents, black sand beaches, adorable villages, and more. Better yet, you don’t need tons of vacation time to see the highlights. With widely available cheap flights from the U.S., a high cost of living, and many great attractions packed into a compact area, four days in Iceland is the perfect amount of time.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the best Iceland itinerary for a short visit. The best Iceland trips include cities, hot springs, waterfalls, glaciers, and volcanoes — and this itinerary has it all. I’ll include some tips on how to get around, when to visit, where to stay, and more. Even if you only have time for a long weekend in Iceland, I’m here to convince you that it’s definitely still worth the trip.
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The perfect itinerary for four days in Iceland
If you arrive in Iceland from North America, chances are you’ll land at Keflavik International Airport early in the morning. While you may be sleepy and jetlagged, this allows you to maximize your time during your 4 day trip to Iceland. To get started, take the Flybus to the BSI Bus Terminal in the city center. The bus meets all incoming flights. If you book in advance, you’re guaranteed a seat. It’s affordable, and you get free WiFi on board. The ride takes about 45 minutes.
If you can’t check into your accommodation this early, leave your luggage in one of the lockers at the bus terminal. It’s time to start exploring!
Day One: Explore Reykjavik’s charming city center
Reykjavik may be the largest city in Iceland, but it feels more like a small town. It has little car traffic, lots of cute cafes, and a thriving arts scene that could keep you occupied for weeks. As tempting as it may be to get out into nature right away, it’s worth spending the first day of your four day Iceland itinerary exploring the capital city. For more details on the attractions below, check out my Reykjavik guide.
Take the elevator to the top of Hallgrímskirkja
Reykjavik’s most recognizable building is the hilltop church called Hallgrímskirkja. While its design was very controversial when it was built, today it’s a beloved symbol of the city.
Start by appreciating the unique design from the outside. Then, go inside and admire the massive pipe organ and huge interior windows. Finally, get in line at the gift shop and buy your ticket (1,000 krona) to the observation deck at the top. A rickety elevator transports you most of the way up, followed by a small staircase.
At the top, you’ll be rewarded with the best view of downtown Reykjavik in the city. Each window offers a different perspective of the harbor and different neighborhoods. Be sure to dress warmly — it gets pretty windy up there!
Check out the museums
Reykjavik may not be a major cultural capital like Paris or London, but it has an impressive set of museums for a city its size. You’re sure to find one that fits your interests during your four day trip to Iceland.
Don’t miss the Settlement Exhibition — where you can see a real Viking Longhouse and learn about Iceland’s Viking history. The three locations of the Reykjavik Art Museum each offer something different, from 19th-century pieces through modern multimedia exhibitions. The National Museum provides insight into the city’s history.
Then there are the more touristic museums. If dressing up like a Viking is your thing, you can do it at the Saga Museum. The Iceland Phallological Museum is a favorite with foreign travelers. The Volcano House is a new addition, where you can learn about the island’s geology.
Walk around the Old Harbor, see the Sun Voyager, and check out the street art
Reykjavik is a very pedestrian-friendly city. One of the best ways to experience it is to simply wander around and stop in at the different shops and galleries when you get cold.
The Old Harbor is full of adorable, colorful houses and has great views of the surrounding mountains. Check out the Parliament building and the lake. Go inside the colorful, new-age Harpa Concert Hall. Walk along the water to the Sun Voyager statue. Finish your walking tour by traversing the pedestrian street, Laugavegur — look out for the street art amidst the houses and shops.
Eat traditional Icelandic food without breaking the bank
It’s no secret that eating out in Iceland is astronomically expensive. A meal at a casual restaurant can easily top $40 USD. But if you’re trying to keep your Iceland trip cost low, you can still try the local cuisine at the affordable Icelandic Street Food in the center of Reykjavik.
The tiny restaurant has a limited menu — just a couple types of soup, with bread or in a bread bowl. But everything is delicious. And for just $13, you can get a bowl of traditional lamb soup with unlimited refills, a hunk of bread, and free dessert made daily by the owner’s grandmother. It’s exceptional value for money.
Day Two: The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is Iceland’s classic road trip. It has a little of everything — waterfalls, geothermal areas, amazing landscapes, and plenty of chances to see Icelandic horses. It’s the perfect introduction to Iceland’s incredible nature. You can do this trip either with your own car or on a tour.
The Golden Circle refers to three main attractions: the Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss, and Thingvellir National Park. You can add other side trips along the way — details in this post.
Geysir Geothermal Area
The first stop on the Golden Circle is the Geysir Geothermal Area. This is where you can see the geyser that gave us the English word. The geyser erupts every 7-10 minutes. Some eruptions are huge — 20+ meters high — while others are tiny. Plan to spend at least half an hour here to ensure you see a good one. Have your camera ready — the eruptions are over quickly!
Gullfoss is my personal favorite Iceland waterfall. The viewing platform is at the top of the falls, where you can see it plunging into a narrow gorge below. It’s simply spectacular.
Prepare to get very wet when you visit Gullfuss. The waterfall’s spray is strong, even from a distance. Protect your camera and wear waterproof clothes!
You can choose between two viewing decks — the upper one is drier and less icy, but the views from the lower one are better. I recommend visiting both.
Thingvellir National Park
The last stop on the Golden Circle is Thingvellir National Park (spelled Þingvellir in Icelandic). This was the site of Iceland’s first Parliament, the place where the European and American tectonic plates meet, and a naturally stunning geothermal area.
You can choose from a wealth of activities in Thingvellir National Park during your 4 day Iceland tour. If all you want to do is snap some beautiful photos, the Visitor’s Center has the best viewpoint. From here, you can do some hiking around the lake and between the tectonic plates. (That gigantic stone wall you see along the trails? That’s the edge of North America.)
If you want more of an adventure, consider signing up for a snorkeling tour. Don’t worry — you’ll use a dry suit so only your face and hands will be exposed to the frigid water, making this a year-round option. If you’re dry suit certified, you can go diving as well. You need a guide for these activities — book here.
Day Three: The South Coast to Vik
The Golden Circle is just the beginning of Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes — there’s plenty more to explore along the Ring Road. So on the third day of your four days in Iceland, take a drive along the south coast to its waterfalls, black sand beaches, glaciers, and picturesque villages.
Famous as the “waterfall you can walk behind,” you can’t miss a stop at Seljalandsfoss during your Iceland four day itinerary. The waterfall is at the edge of a cave within a 60-meter-high cliff. The river that feeds it starts from the glacier atop the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. In short, this is every element of Iceland’s nature wrapped into one quick stop.
You will get drenched when you walk around the falls, so make sure you have waterproof clothing. You can get some hot chocolate to warm up again from the shops as you leave.
If you’re planning your 4 days in Iceland in winter, be aware that the path around the waterfall is very icy. Sometimes it’s closed entirely. No matter when you visit, be careful — the rocks are slippery. Don’t take any stupid risks just to get a perfect photo.
The next waterfall on this road trip is Skogafoss, the waterfall that supposedly hides buried treasure. It’s often cloaked in rainbows from the spray. It’s truly a beautiful spot, nestled amid several different volcanoes and glaciers and with a view out toward the sea.
The best photo ops of Skogafoss are from the bottom — walk close and you’ll get wet, but you can stay further back (and drier) for this one. After you’ve gotten your shots, climb the 300 steps to the top of the falls for a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.
A short drive down the road from Skogafoss will bring you to the Sólheimajökull Glacier — one of the most accessible glaciers in Iceland. Unfortunately, due to climate change, it’s retreating shockingly quickly. So now is the time to visit.
You can do a glacier walk if you have the time, or simply stop by and chat with the guides to learn more about the glaciers and what they mean to Iceland. Whatever you do, don’t walk on a glacier without a guide — they’re very fragile. And you could fall into a hidden crevasse! Book a glacier hike here. It’s one of the best things to do in Iceland in winter, but unfortunately isn’t an option in the summer.
Vik and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
The small town of Vik is the far southern point on your south coast road trip. It’s home to a major wool factory and some very atmospheric churches and beaches. It would also be a logical overnight stop if you have more time on your Iceland four day itinerary — you can continue along the south shore to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Diamond Beach, and several national parks.
However, if you’re sticking to four days in Iceland, the real attraction here is Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Basalt rock formations provide a backdrop. Just off the coast are some large rock formations. Local folklore claims they are trolls who tried to stop ships from docking in Vik — but they were eventually tricked into staying at sea until the sun rose, when they turned to stone.
Be very careful of “sneaker waves” on Reynisfjara Beach. These waves look small, but they are extremely powerful. They regularly knock tourists over into the sea, and have even killed a handful of people. Stay further back than the visible water line in the sand to be safe.
Bonus if you’re visiting Iceland in winter: See the Northern Lights
If you visit Iceland in winter, it’ll be dark by the time you head back to Reykjavik from your south coast trip. This is the perfect opportunity for a free Northern Lights tour.
Simply look for a dark place with little light pollution on the side of the road and pull over (only if it’s safe to do so). Watch the skies for signs of the aurora. Note that they aren’t as strong to the naked eye as they are to a camera, and you’re never guaranteed to see them.
For more on how to see the Northern Lights, check out this post.
Day Four: The Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport
Your four days in Iceland are coming to an end. But don’t worry — you can still pack one last activity into your Iceland travel itinerary.
You’ve surely seen hundreds of photos and brochures for Iceland’s Blue Lagoon by now. The geothermal spa is one of the country’s most famous — and hotly contested — attractions. Yes it’s expensive, yes it’s touristy, and yes it’s crowded. But in my book, the Blue Lagoon is still 100% worth it.
You can easily catch a bus from downtown Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon, and then continue on to the airport for your flight home. (The lagoon is much closer to the airport than the city.) Just make sure you book your entrance in advance. You can leave your luggage in the lockers and spend the day before you get on a plane pampering yourself.
I promise, you’ll never feel so relaxed when standing in a security line as after a visit to the Blue Lagoon. It’s the perfect way to end a trip to Iceland.
When to plan your Iceland travel
Given its location in the Arctic, you may be wondering when the best time to plan four days in Iceland is. Each season has its pros and cons, but the truth is, you can visit Iceland at any time of year and still have a great time.
During the summer, Iceland gets seemingly endless daylight. This is great for road tripping — you’ll never have to drive in the dark. Plus, the weather is a bit warmer. On the flip side, prices skyrocket during the summer, and tourist crowds are at their peak.
Winter in Iceland has its own advantages. You get far less sunlight — as little as seven hours a day — but in exchange, you get beautiful golden light all day long. It’s great for photography. Tourist numbers are far lower, prices are cheaper, and it isn’t really that cold. If you stick to the Iceland trip itinerary above, snow and ice are unlikely to ruin your travel plans — the roads are good in all these places. Plus, some activities, like glacier walks and ice cave tours, are only available during the winter. And it’s the best time to see the Northern Lights.
Spring and autumn are good compromise seasons. You won’t face summer’s crowds, but you’ll get decent daylight and mild temperatures. Spring is also the best time to see puffins.
How to get around during your 4 days in Iceland
By far the best way to travel in Iceland is to rent a car and drive yourself. If you’re in a group of at least two people, it’s usually the cheapest way to travel. The roads throughout this Iceland itinerary are good — no mountain passes here. And you’ll have the flexibility to stop wherever you want. This guide has more information on driving in Iceland.
If you follow the itinerary above, you can get away with just two days of car rental — for the Golden Circle and the South Coast. Buses are just as convenient and affordable for the trip to/from the airport and Blue Lagoon, and you don’t need a car to explore Reykjavik.
Not comfortable driving abroad? No worries! Everything in this guide to four days in Iceland is doable on tours or, in the summer, with public transportation. I did this Golden Circle tour and this South Coast small group tour and had good experiences with both. Tours are also significantly cheaper for solo travelers.
Where to stay for your Iceland trip
This Iceland itinerary bases you in Reykjavik the entire time, doing day tours to the attractions. This way you don’t have to pack up your belongings and spend time checking in and out of hotels — not what you want to be doing on a short trip.
There’s no way around it — accommodation in Iceland is expensive. However, you can get good value for money, especially in winter, if you book in advance.
When choosing a hotel, try to find a place that includes breakfast or at least has a kitchen. This will save you up to $15 a day in meals out.
My favorite guesthouse in Reykjavik is Baldursbra Guesthouse. It’s family-owned (by the loveliest retired couple) and since it’s in the owners’ home, you can see how local Icelandic people live. $70 a night buys you a nice (small but warm) room with a shared (also nice) bathroom. Plus, they include an exceptional breakfast, with different types of breads and cereals, pickled fish, cheese, vegetables, eggs, fruit, and more. Awesome value for money.
Where to eat during your Iceland itinerary
During your 4 days in Iceland, you probably want to sample some local food. But you also may not want to spend a fortune on eating out — even on a short trip, the cost of meals adds up fast.
The best balance is to eat breakfast at your hotel, buy groceries for lunch, and eat dinner out in Reykjavik each evening. You can still choose affordable restaurants to keep costs down.
You can’t miss trying an Icelandic hot dog. The most famous place to get them is Bæjarins Beztu — a street stall in the center of Reykjavik. You can get two hot dogs for 8,000 krona. Get all of the toppings!
Reykjavik has outstanding cafe culture. Two of the best places to experience it are the quirky Cafe Babalu and the beloved Sandholt Bakery. You can get a meal at each for under 1,200 krona. They’re also good coffee pit stops if you need a caffeine boost in the middle of the day.
Sick of Icelandic food? Try Noodle Station, the Thai-owned noodle soup shop. 700 krona buys you a huge bowl of steaming veggie noodle soup. You can order it spicy or mild. It’s the perfect thing to warm you up on a chilly evening.
For groceries, the cheapest supermarket in the country is Bonus. It has locations all around Reykjavik (and outside the city). Solid picnic lunch options include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Skyr (Icelandic yogurt). You can also find good-value tropical fruits like clementines (yes, really) and nuts/chips/other snacks.
To sum up, four days in Iceland may not be enough to see the whole country. But it’s enough to get a great introduction. A short Iceland trip will surely whet your appetite to come back. So don’t hesitate to book those cheap flights — even if you can only go for a couple days!
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