Iceland is one of the most expensive tourist destinations in Europe. Sightseeing tours to Iceland can cost you thousands, even if you travel for just 3 days. However, if you decide to discover the beauty of Iceland on your own and do self-drive, you can save a lot of money and enjoy everything that travel agencies offer.
Iceland is definitely not one of the destinations where you book a hotel for a week and stay in the same place. This island offers many different attractions and if you want to see them all, you have to travel.
Iceland is famous for its unique natural wonders, geysers, plenty of waterfalls, glaciers, and volcanoes. Interesting places are spread all over Iceland, but you can do 3 days to visit the most famous places.
Ways of transportation in Iceland
If you want to make the most of it in 3 days in Iceland, the best option is definitely to rent a car.
Car rental in Iceland is not one of the cheapest issues (if you want, you can find the cheapest car rental in Iceland here), so be aware that just this item has a large share of your expenses.
Those of you who will try to save as much as possible and don’t mind renting an older used car can choose from Carrenters.is. This site acts as a mediator between individuals who lend their cars to tourists.
Prices are lower than for classic rental companies and you don’t have to worry so much that car owners will try to “stretch” you for car damage (which may not even happen).
If you prefer standard car rental, then you can choose from companies that operate around the world (such as Hertz or Budget) or from local businesses.
Very often, companies such as Bluecarrental, Lotus car rental or Geysir are recommended.
In general, it is recommended that you also take out insurance to rent a car to avoid possible penalties if adverse conditions occur.
Remember, however, that insurance does not cover all types of damage, problems are mainly with the windscreen or when the wind damages some of the doors (yes, wind in Iceland can be really strong).
An important remark is that almost all rental companies require a credit card when renting, and if you do not, they will want to arrange the most expensive insurance in their offer so you can get a car rental price of thousands of crowns per day.
However, if you only go for 3 days and stay in the most famous locations, the smallest cars on offer, such as the VW Golf, the Hyundai i30, and so on, will be enough.
Eating in Iceland (on a budget)
Food is about 1.5-2 times more expensive in Icelandic stores than you could be used to. We recommend shopping in larger supermarkets such as Kronan, Bonus or Netto.
We do not recommend shopping in non-stop shops of type 10-11, where prices are much higher and the same stays for gas stations like Olís.
If you want to travel on a low budget, we don´t recommend visiting restaurants.
Meals in restaurants start from 1500 ISK, and the main course can cost you 4 000 – 5000 ISK even in a not fancy restaurant.
Breakfast is often included in the price of accommodation, but you will have to pay for lunch, dinner, and snacks yourself. So it is better to shop when you have the opportunity to prepare a meal at the hotel.
Trips, tours, and attractions
In Iceland, there are a number of travel agencies which offers a variety of tours. For example, whale watching around Reykjavík, helicopter flights over Iceland, quad or snowmobile trips, and winter trips for the Northern Lights are popular (the Northern Lights appear only from September to April in Iceland, so you will not be able to book these tours through summer).
However, you can explore attractions (for example northern lights) in Iceland on your own without booking any of these “sightseeing tours”.
It is not among the cheapest issues and it is not always guaranteed that you will see something during the tour.
This is especially true for whale watching and northern lights tours. But if you don´t see whales or northern lights, a travel agency can offer you a recurring trip again. However, if you are in Iceland for only 3 days, we don´t recommend to stay nearby in Reykjavik (pickup place for tours) and it is better to travel (and sleep) outside the city.
Best itinerary for 3 days in Iceland with secret gems
If you can find flight tickets for Iceland and back for 3 to 4 days then you can use the basic itinerary that we have prepared for you. We tried to include both the famous places you just have to see and the lesser known locations where there are no crowds of tourists.
You may need to adjust the itinerary based on when you land on Iceland and when you will fly. The first and last day can be swapped and adapted to your arrival and departure times.
Day One – Reykjavik and the Golden Circle
If you land during the day and rent a car, you can head to the capital, which is about 40 minutes by car. If the car rental you have chosen is there, you will need to take the bus that goes from the airport to the BSI stop.
The places you shouldn’t miss in Reykjavik are certainly the main street Laugavegur, from where you can go to the harbor.
You can visit the Harpa concert hall, the harbor, the famous Sun Voyager statue and the Hallgrímskirkja church. If you manage to park in the center of Reykjavik, then all the mentioned places can be reached on foot.
https://www.instagram.com/p/BbR5sLFFS63/Of course, Reykjavik offers many other interesting places, museums, bars and shops, but if you want to make a trip to the Golden Circle, we would recommend that you leave these places on the last day.
From Reykjavik, head north to the Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Strokur Geyser). Your first stop can be at Lake Thingvellir, then the waterfall Oxarfoss. On the way, you will cross the place where the litospheric plates meet and you can also visit the Viking and also the oldest parliament in the world.
https://www.instagram.com/p/B5PZtDcFnv1/Your journey will then lead to the east, towards Laugarvatn. From there, you head to the geyser area where you can watch the Strokur geyser, which is still active and spouts every 10 minutes. From there it is only about half an hour to the massive Gullfoss waterfall (“golden waterfall”).
https://www.instagram.com/p/BzxcYvVomMT/Depending on the season in which you visit Iceland, you can plan a continuation of your accommodation search journey. If you still have enough time, you can return to the town of Flúdir by road no. 30 and visit the natural hot springs Secret Lagoon (Gamla laugin).
https://www.instagram.com/p/B5PigbUDZG7/The visit to the lagoon is paid, but it is much cheaper than the famous and crowdy Blue Lagoon between Reykjavik and Keflavik.
Accommodation options are right in Flúdir, but it depends on the season. The accommodation sells out quickly during the season and you often have to choose from more expensive hotels.
One of the cheapest accommodations in the south of Iceland is farm guesthouse Vatnsholt near Selfoss. It is about 40 minutes from Flúdir.
The hotel offers very cheap accommodation, including rich breakfast and many rooms ensure that it is possible to stay there during the summer.
It is a farm that the owners have converted into a guesthouse, so you can experience what it is like to live in Iceland on a farm outside of civilization.
The hotel is situated in a nice location near the lake and will certainly please horse lovers.
Day two – most famous waterfalls and Black beach
If you are staying in Selfoss or Flúdir, your next day should head east. The first waterfall you can visit at the beginning of your trip is Urridafoss.
This waterfall is not so well known, such as Gullfoss, so don’t worry about the number of tourists. In addition, it is just a short walk from the main road – so we recommend visiting it.
About 20 minutes from the waterfall lies the town of Hvolsvollur.
If you are interested in volcanoes and eruptions, then you should not miss the Lava Center, which is located at the beginning of the city.
Here you can learn about the history of volcanoes in Iceland and experience what it is like to experience an earthquake.
A short distance from the Lava Center is the Kronan supermarket, where you can buy supplies.
If you have enough time, you can visit two more interesting places near Hvolsvollur. The first is the Keldur Museum, where you will find amazing turf houses like from Lord of the rings, the second spot is waterfall Gluggafoss.
From Hvolsvollur it is only about 40 minutes to one of the most spectacular waterfall – Seljalandsfoss. As you can see in the photo, you can bypass the waterfall and get behind the water wall.
In the same place you will find the Gljúfrabúi waterfall, which is hidden in a small cave. It is definitely worth a visit.
Your trip should then continue to the next waterfall, Skogafoss.
The Game of Thrones Fans may find this waterfall from the first episode of the Eighth Series – it is the place where Daenerys and Jon Snow flew on dragons.
The next stop to the town of Vík should definitely be Dyrhólaey, with amazing ocean views. This place was also used in Game of Thrones.
Directly on the Black sand beach that you can see from Dyrhólaey, you can reach in about 20 minutes. You need to go back to the main road and continue east several more miles. Then turn onto Route 215 and head for Reynisfjara Beach (Black Beach).
Reynisfjara Beach is well known for the fact that sneaky waves, which can be unexpectedly strong here, so you should always be careful how close you are to them. Very often, tourists are caught by the wave and withdrawn into the ocean, and there has even been one death in the past. Therefore, it is recommended to be cautious on the beach, especially in worse weather.
It is only about 10 kilometers from the beach to Vík. Here you can walk through the city, shop and refresh yourself.
As for the accommodation in Víka, it is not so easy to find something as cheap as in Selfoss. Especially in the season, cheap accommodation is sold out, so you have three options:
- You can settle for accommodation at the hostel. There are three in the lid – The Barn, Puffin Hostel Vík and HI Hostel Vík. Based on reviews from Booking.com, The Barn is the best hostel, but HI hostel could be the second choice.
- The second accommodation option in Vík and surroundings is a detour a few kilometers outside the city. Among the cheapest hotels and guesthouses that are likely to have a place in the season include Hotel Edda Skogar and South Iceland Guesthouse. The latter has a much better rating, but unfortunately, it is a few kilometers away from Vík (about 30 minutes by car from Vík).
- The last option is to stay in Vík, which can cost you twice the price of the hotel and guesthouse.
Day Three –
trip to the waterfalls / hike to a hot river / Reykjavik
How you plan the last day depends on when your plane flies. If you are leaving early, then you will probably go straight from Vík to Reykjavík or Keflavík and go straight to the airport. In case you have a free afternoon you can choose from several options.
The first option – a trip to the waterfalls
The first option with the biggest detour is to visit two waterfalls and another turf house. The location of the house is another place you can see in the Game of Thrones series.
The journey will take you back towards Hella. Turn right at the first petrol station behind the city and head towards the Hekla volcano area. After crossing the bridge and returning west, turn off road No. 32 to road 332. This leads to Iceland’s second highest waterfall, Háifoss.
From the main road, it is about 7,5 kilometers to the waterfall. The first two kilometers of the road are also passable for smaller cars, but then the road condition deteriorates and if you do not have an SUV that has F-roads allowed, then you will have to leave the car in the parking lot below the slope. 5 kilometers to walk.
Hike you can stretch, so if you do not have too much free time, I would recommend this waterfall to skip and continue to the next waterfall, Hjalparfoss.
Your second stop will be Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng, a location where Mance Raider fighters attacked Olly’s village.
From here it is just a short walk to the first Hjálparfoss waterfall, which can be reached via a gravel road and a smaller car.
Hjálparfoss Waterfall is the last interesting attraction in this area, so from there you must head back to Reykjavik.
About 25 km from the waterfall there is a gas station where you can refuel and refresh yourself. Another gas station is in Flúdir or Selfoss.
Second option – trek to the hot river near Hveragerdi
Those of you who prefer to bathe in hot springs can choose the second plan, and that is the trek to the hot river behind Hveragerdi. So from Vík you head west and drive along Highway 1 to Hveragerdi.
It is about 150 kilometers, so within two hours you should arrive at a roundabout that is at the beginning of the city.
Here you turn right, take the first exit and then continue straight ahead until you reach the end of the city, where the road ends with a parking lot. From there it is then about 4 – 5 kilometers on foot up the hills.
The journey takes you to the hot river called Reykjadalur hot spring and where you can enjoy swimming in the nature.
In high season the river can be quite crowded, but if you go out in winter or off-season, you should be able to find free space. There is no charge for parking and access to the river.
The third option – Reykjavik and Blue Lagoon
If you want to enjoy the city and visit the world-famous Blue Lagoon, you can drive from Lid to Reykjavik without a stop. There are really many places to visit in the city, so we’ll leave this plan to you.
From Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon it is about 50 km, so about an hour’s drive (with traffic lights in the city).
Because of the great interest in Blue Lagoon, you must book your visit in advance to determine your visit time.
Therefore, we recommend that you book your entry at least one day before your planned visit, but because of the sold out places, even earlier.
If you don’t have to leave on the same day you return your car and you need to stay somewhere, then you will find accommodation in Keflavík, or near the airport.
The only hotel, which is directly at the airport area, is not among the cheapest and is also often sold out. Larger offer is in Keflavík, which is about 5 kilometers from the airport.
Among the cheapest hotels in the area are The Base by Keflavik Airport and Fit Guesthouse Keflavik Airport. Here you should get accommodation in the season. In the low season you can get even cheaper accommodation in one of the local guesthouses.
Summary of 3 day self drive itinerary
The way you plan your three-day trip to Iceland is up to you, you can build your own plan from the attractions offered, or go in a completely different direction.
If you try to make your vacation as cheap as possible, then it is good to book your car and accommodation as soon as possible, because the selection is narrowing down later and cheaper variants are usually sold out.
The savings can be seen mainly when renting a car from the locals in terms of accommodation, such alternatives are no longer there (perhaps up to Airbnb).
Prices for accommodation in hotels (and often also in hostels) range from 10 000 ISK and above, if you find a bed for 15 000 ISK during the summer, it will be one of the cheapest options.
Therefore, be aware that only for accommodation (during the summer) you pay 50 – 100 000 ISK. During the winter, the prices are noticeably lower, so if you are going to leave for the Northern Lights, then it will leave you a little cheaper.
Renting a car for 3 days can cost around 30 000 ISK in the case of a cheaper option, but it depends on which car you borrow and what insurance you arrange for it. The price is, of course, growing and can multiply.
How much you will cost food depends on whether you bring something from your country (5 kg is allowed) and whether you eat in restaurants or buy everything in supermarkets.
The last necessary expense is then only gasoline. The journey from the airport to Vík and back with trips to nearby waterfalls should be around 700 km. The price of gasoline in Iceland is between 240 ISK/ liter. Then it just depends on which car you choose and what weather will reach you during your trip.
As you can see, even 3 days of traveling in Iceland can be enough to get to know at least a few beautiful places and enjoy the local nature. It is certainly not the ideal time to explore this lovely volcanic island, but not everybody have some much free time to spend 14 days in Iceland .