Due to new 48-72 hour stopovers for transatlantic travels, Iceland has become a hit destination, on everyone’s bucket list. Iceland being full of otherworldly landscapes and awe-inspiring waterfalls, the task of fitting everything within 72 hours can seem overwhelming to any visitor. Likewise, it can be easy to overlook or miss out on places that you didn’t know about! Fortunately, our guide helps you make the most of your three days. We warn you though, you will want to come back and explore all of Iceland.
After your flight, touch down in Iceland early morning, get your rental car and hit the road!
DAY 1 – GOLDEN CIRCLE EXTENDED
The Golden Circle Route gathers three of Iceland’s most spectacular natural wonders, being an essential destination for first-timer visitors. The Golden Circle loop has the clear advantage of being only a short distance away (40 km) from Reykjavik, taking you to the most spectacular attractions in the span of one day.
Þingvellir National Park
Your journey starts at Þingvellir National Park, a precious site boasting mountainous landscapes, lava fields formed by a succession of volcanic events during the last glacial period, as well as natural lakes like Þingvallavatn, the result of the retreat of the glacier some 12.000 years ago. But it is as a cultural site that it has been inscribed to UNESCO, as the place where the Alþingi, the world’s oldest parliament, was founded in 930 AD.
The site marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, being the only place in the world where the rift is above sea level. There you can walk between two continents, literally… Or dive, even. Just a stone’s throw away, you will find the Silfra Fissure, one of the best spots in the world for diving and snorkeling. What was once murky glacial melt water is drained through the lava for decades and reappears as clear spring water. Some would say the world’s most pristine water, offering a visibility up to 100 meters!
Geysir Geothermal Area
Reach the Geysir Geothermal Area, who gave its name to the geyser phenomenon. Yes! While The Great Geysir has sat dormant since 1916, its neighbour Strokkur is still very active, erupting every 5 to 10 minutes, blasting hot-boiling water between 20 and 40 meters into the air. Get prepared for a few photography attempts!
Just minutes away, meet Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls, nestled in an impressive canyon. During the summer, the walking paths take you to the lower part of the falls for a real sense of scale and a refreshing spray, but those can get very slippery and impassable in winter season, when one must be extremely cautious and always respect the signs.
But there is much more to the Golden Circle than just these three attractions. If you have time, you might want to check one of the Top 12 Golden Circle Detours, of which we recommend a bath in Laugarvatn Fontana and a visit to Fridheimar Tomato Greenhouses, two successful examples of optimal use of renewable energies.
DAY 2 – SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA
Our best advice for this second day would be to leave early morning and set off for the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, often referred to as the mini-Iceland. There, you will be spoilt for choice: rugged canyons, black sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, volcanoes, all under the protection of the mighty Snaefellsjökull Glacier, made famous by Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth”.
This small quaint church has made a name as a perfect minimalistic object to photograph when visiting Iceland. The intense black timber and the immaculate Snaefellsjökull Glacier in the background make for the most striking contrasts surrounded by a mystical aura.
Rauðfeldsgjá is a deep and narrow gorge accessible through a crack in the mountain visible from the road, letting the most adventurous in. While the entrance of the ravine is relatively safe and accessible to anyone, the climb up the stream and small waterfall requires a good physical condition and proper equipment. A rope will help you venture further into the mossy grotto for the most rewarding secluded scenery.
Arnarstapi / Hellnar
Visit Arnarstapi, an ancient decisive trading hub, popular for the peculiar rock formations visible out at sea, including the Gatklettur basalt arch and stone bridge seen on many pictures from travelers. Do not miss Amtmannshúsið, a picturesque black and white house, that used to serve as the residence of the Danish Prefect back when Iceland belonged to Denmark. The house is located at the foot of the majestic Mount Stapafell (526 meters).
Continue towards the Westernmost tip of the Peninsula, where Lóndrangar features unique rock formations, remnants of an ancient volcanic plug. The higher pillar stands 75 meters tall while the smaller one measures 61 meters. The farmers in the area have never worked the soil around Lóndrangar because the area is said to belong to the elves and hidden people living in the area.
Reach Djúpalónssandur, a scenic black sand beach covered with black pebbles, brought and polished by the often-raging sea. The remains of a shipwreck can be seen on the beach, a reminder of past maritime disasters that have claimed the lives of many fishermen in Icelandic waters. There you will also find four lifting stones of different weight used by fishermen to demonstrate their strength before going to sea. Try your hand!
Around 100 meters in height, Saxhóll is a fairly easy climb for those dreaming of conquering a volcano. Although the hike up to the rim can be a bit challenging in windy conditions, you will get rewarded with infinite views over the Atlantic Ocean and vast lava fields taking you back to volcanic events that occurred some 3.000 years ago, changing the landscape forever.
Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall
What about ending the day with one of the most, if not the most, iconic landmark of the Peninsula, and one of our Top 10 Mountains that will make you fall in love with Iceland? Mount Kirkjufell (463m), by Grundarfjörður. The experience of Kirkjufell is worth more than any words that we could say about it so we leave you with these pictures. We are pretty sure that this place is real!
DAY 3 – SOUTH COAST HIGHLIGHTS*
*Alternatively, and to reduce the distance travelled on this day, you can opt for an daytrip around Reykjanes Peninsula, with stops at Gunnuhver and Krysuvik Geothermal Areas, Brimketill Natural Pool, and the legendary Blue Lagoon to unwind your trip!
It is Day 3 already, but you still have plenty to see today, as you head to the South Coast, to visit some of Iceland’s most enchanting locations and go chasing waterfalls, starting with Seljalandfoss Waterfall, where the track goes all the way behind the waterfall for a truly immersive experience. Check out its underrated neighbour Gljúfrabúi Waterfall, that you earn after sneaking into a narrow canyon, stepping into the rocky riverbed.
Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool
You might want to take a short hike into a breathtaking valley of lush green hills, to take a dip at Iceland’s oldest swimming pool, Seljavallalaug. Back in 1923, locals used Seljavallalaug Pool for their swimming lessons. The spectacular surroundings and feeling of solitude make for a unique experience and you will undoubtedly enjoy a few laps.
As one of our Top Waterfalls That Will Convince You to Come to Iceland, Skógafoss will leave you in awe for its power (62 meters in height, and up to 30 meters wide!) and rugged and inspiring beauty. Take the time to climb the 527 steps up the waterfall for a different perspective and priceless views over the Southern shore.
Head East to Dyrhólaey, a 120-meter high promontory, named after a massive stone arch visible from the top of the hill, beaten on all sides by the towering waves. From Dyrhólaey lighthouse, you will enjoy stretches of black sand beach as far as one can see, along with Mýrdalsjökull Glacier and the black lava stacks of Reynisdrangar rising from the sea on the other side. Your next stop!
End the day with a walk along Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, whose basalt columns give a unique impression of chaos and order. In the distance, the iconic Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks stand up to harsh weather and roaring waves from the Atlantic Ocean. Always wise to remember to keep a safe distance and beware of the sneaker-waves that are often pushing far further up the beach than one would expect. Time to head back to Reykjavik after a full-packed 3-day roadtrip!
Let’s face it, although you have seen a lot on these 72 hours, you will feel the desire to come back soon and explore the other areas and experience Reykjavik’s charm and Icelanders’! And that’s OK!
Wait no more! Check out our selection of self-drive tours for stays from 1 to 4 nights !