Updated: Sep 4, 2020
When we first booked a three-night vacation, I have to admit, I immediately felt a bit cheated. Cheated in time, because I am a person that likes to wander and explore. I was sure that three nights were not going to be enough to learn about the culture, the sights, and the food of this beautiful country.
I am happy to say I was completely off base. In fact, it was the perfect amount of time. When I boarded the plane to head home, I was beyond satisfied that we had immersed ourselves, and made the most of our visit.
How did we do it? A healthy balance of planning and winging it. I am normally a "fly by the seat of my pants" gal, but I knew with limited time, a schedule would be my friend.
Let me back track a bit. There was no long term planning about this holiday. Just three weeks before our departure, I saw a deal on the internet for a long weekend to the land of fire and ice. We threw caution to the wind (see above fly by the seat of my pants gal) and booked it. It was never a dream vacation or a place on our "list". However, both my husband and I were intriged by the deal, and the idea of hiking across frozen tundra. The initial on-line deal was not exactly what we wanted, as the hotel was outside the city limits. We knew if we had three nights, we wanted to be in the middle of all the action.
So we input our needs into our internet search, and easily, we got a vacation package that was an amazing deal. Timing is everything, and we apparently were in the bargain zone. From our airline, to the hotel and the tours, we lucked upon so many offers. I hope that this blog helps you map out some ideas for your trip to Iceland.
First, it began with the initial needs: the airline and the hotel.
We booked with WOW airlines. I had never heard of them before. I did a bit of research and felt like I had been left out of one of the best kept secrets. This is a budget airline that flies to Iceland, but also to many other areas in Europe for incredible prices. WOW is a bare bones airline, and they are very transparent about their strengths (price) and their weaknesses (space and no entertainment). The prices were great and because of this, we had more money to spend on tours, of which I recommend highly (see below). The flight was an afternoon flight that landed at 5:00am in Iceland. I thought that this was going to be a problem, but in all honesty, I think it was the best, because you go back to the room for a small nap, and hit the ground running on day one.
The next thing we did was look for a hotel. There are so many choices in Iceland for places to stay. Be careful to note the addresses with relation to the center of Reykjavik. Even if the hotel says Reykjavik, take out a map a note the address, as it is a big town. If you want to be within walking distance to the many restaurants and stores on the main streets, stay along Laugavegur Street or nearby. We stayed at the Alda hotel and could not have been more pleased. It was a beautiful hotel with an attractive lobby and restaurant. The rooms were beautiful and we had no issues with noise at all. This was important, because of flights and late night tours, people were arriving at all hours of the night and very early in the mornings.
Once we had the flight and hotel secure, we really were up in the air with what we wanted to do. If you search "things to do in Iceland" there are endless options that will emerge. With 3 nights ahead of you, it is important to narrow your wish list down, and even then, find ways to maximize your time by doing multiple activities in one full swoop. After pouring over many websites, we made a wish list of swimming in a hot spring, take a tour to the northern lights and a day of exploring Reykjavik. Anything else was icing on the cake.
Before we left, we made reservations for the following events:
Bus transfers to and from the hotel/airport. ( I am so happy we did not rent a car)
The Blue Lagoon
Northern Lights Tour
We knew, based on our history of traveling, there was much more we would do, but this was our base to build upon.
It is a bit confusing. Day 1 is really your travel day. We left at 5:40PM from the airport and had a 6hour 15minute flight. Because there is a five hour time difference, we landed the next morning at 4:55AM. We had a great time, and always incorporate the travel as part of our vacation.
Day 2/Night 1
We were happy we made advanced reservations for our bus transfer, as we did not have to stand in any lines once in the airport. However, as you will learn quickly in Iceland, everything to do with tourism is well organized and runs smoothly. So, even if you did not get your transfers ahead of time, there will be no issues and you too will soon be on a bus to your hotel. It is quite amazing how the bus system works, aside from being punctual, it is a well-oiled machine. Everyone goes on a large bus to a bus depot, where you are then put on smaller buses that drop you at stops around the city close to your hotel. One of the first things you may notice is the kindness of everyone and the patience that they exhibit. Happiness seems to run from the veins of the people that live in Iceland, and it was contagious!
We arrived at the hotel at 6am and could not have felt more welcome. We were so very exhausted, as we did not sleep on the flight, however, the greeting we received seemed to erase all signs of crankiness within us. We immediately went to our room for a quick nap. We woke with the sunrise at about 11am. (in December 4-5 hours of daylight) This day we chose as a walking day around the town of Reykjavik. I am not sure why expected the entire country to be covered in ice and freezing beyond comprehension, but it was the exact opposite. I understand that we were quite lucky with the weather in December, the ground was not covered in snow and it was quite easy to get around. The temperature was very similar to what I was used to at home, and I was comfortable walking around. Speaking of walking, it is a walking town. You can walk everywhere, and there is really no reason for a car.
One of the first stops we made was Hallgrímskirkja, a beautiful church, and a main landmark in Reykjavik. You can go to the top of the church and have an amazing panoramic view of the city. This is a definite must while you are in the city.
Our first taste of the food of Iceland was for lunch at a small bakery/lunch spot. It was evident that bread is a staple of the diets in Iceland. I was a bit nervous, being gluten free, that this was going to pose a problem, but soon found it was not. There were many gluten free options, and my husband tried the sourdough bread without issue. However, what we quickly learned, was how very expensive food (and alcohol) are in Iceland. I say this, but truly, listen. It. Is. Expensive. Budget for this. A glass of wine can cost in the range of $25/glass. A breakfast of eggs and bacon $25. A nice dinner can average $75/per person. BUT, there are ways to navigate this, and we learned quickly. Happy hours. Snacks from the grocery store. Food that does not need to be imported; fish, bread all cheaper than meats. There are specials that are advertised on sandwich boards in front of restaurants as you walk the town. Take note; as there are some great deals. Also, make sure you make reservations if you trying to get into some of the more popular eateries, especially on the weekend. With all of this being said, the food is incredible and actually both my husband and I said some of the best we have ever tasted.
We ended day one with a fantastic dinner and went to the lobby bar for a nightcap.
DAY 3/NIGHT 2
We woke at 6:00am to catch a 6:30am bus to the Blue Lagoon. We upgraded our experience to the luxury package. I really cannot say anything about Blue Lagoon except do it. Wait, I do have something to say, do it early in the morning, because it was not crowded. I noticed as we were leaving at 11:30am it was really starting to fill up. Also, being there early in the morning, while it was still dark gave this experience a certain ambiance that was lost once the sun rose. But that is my opinion, others may like it with sun up. It is all what you like.
After our morning of relaxation, we wanted to soak in the culture and history of Iceland. We were given the recommendation to go to the Harpa Concert Hall and the Perlan Museum. Again, because Reykjavik is a walking town, we were easily able to get to the concert hall in less than 10 minutes from the hotel. We then were able to catch a free bus to the Perlan Museum. There you can pay an admission fee to see beautiful displays, photographs and the ice caves. It was a great recommendation, as we learned so much about the ice, global warming and the volcanic activity that has literally shaped Iceland. On site there is an incredible restaurant, the Út í bláinn restaurant. Út í bláinn is a unique restaurant situated in a glass dome, with views in all directions.Even better, we were there during the happy hour, (which was 7:30pm! ) so our drinks and food were quite reasonable.
DAY 4/NIGHT 3
We woke at 9am for our last full day in Iceland. We were excited as this was a full day of tours and we were ready to go. We had breakfast at the hotel, which was a buffet full of familiar comfort food and of course Skyr yogurt (you have to try the yogurt) topped off with shots of cod liver oil!
We quickly walked outside and were promptly picked up for our volcano tour. We boarded the Land Rover, and were whisked away far beyond the city limits. Our guide was an amazing historian. As a former politician, historian and current guide, we were blessed to have him at the wheel. He filled our heads with stories, folklore, history and observations.
We hiked a volcano, visited beautiful lakes, geothermal sites and even had a picnic in a cave!
We were back to the hotel by 2pm, which left us with more time for wandering through town, and so happy we did. We found some great little spots to eat and have a drink.
It was after dinner that we started to get really excited. This was our Northern Lights night. We were aware that seeing the lights is a gamble at best, so we made sure to book our tour on a luxury coach. Why? Because if we did not see the lights, at least it would be a great experience with comfort, snacks and an entertaining guide. We boarded our coach and knew right away we made a great decision. It was everything we hoped for, and although cloudy, we were told it was the best night in a week for having an opportunity to see the lights. It was an hour or so before we pulled over in a field and we all exited the bus in anticipation.
Within 10 minutes we were showered with a light show like no other. It was the perfect ending to a magical vacation.
Going home. Bittersweet. Happy to head home, but full well knowing we will miss this beautiful country. Iceland can definitely be done in 3 nights....enjoy!
Lucie Dickenson is a writer and speaker. Her passion is helping others to truly understand that their life stories hold the key to healing and connecting with others. Her books The Anxious Hippie and The Anxious Hippie Handbook are helping so many let go of anxiety and get back into the life they love.
You can purchase the books on her website