We know what you’re thinking… who goes from Canada to Iceland for 3.5 days? Welllll….we do! We have limited vacation days and love to travel so we have been trying to make the most of our long weekends. It was also B’s 29th birthday so I wanted to plan something special for him, and since he loves nature and the outdoors I thought what better place for us to chase waterfalls together than Iceland?
We are going to share with you our itinerary with lots of suggestions/recommendations to help you plan your visit to Iceland! (Ps. Iceland is a great place to stop for a couple days on your way to another destination in Europe, wow air has great layover deals)
Day 1: Reykjavik & West Iceland
We arrived in Iceland from Toronto at 5:00am (thanks wowair!), and took one of two bus options (Grey Line or Flybus) to the Reykjavik BSI bus terminal (cost:$2400 ISK = $30 CAD each approximately). There isn’t a cheaper option of how to get to Reykjavik from the airport unless you rent a car directly from there. Flight time was approximately 6 Hrs, and we lost 3 hours on the time difference. The bus from the airport to the main city was another 45 minutes, so sleep on planes and buses to maximize your time.
- The bus service counters are really easy to see right when you get out of baggage claim
- The two bus companies are relatively the same price but have staggered departure times so see which one is leaving the soonest
- The buses have wifi (easy to map your routes on your phone this way)
- Grab your alcohol (if you’re planning to drink) from Duty Free, it is way cheaper than buying alcohol within the City
Centre of Reykjavik
From the BSI bus station we walked to the centre of Reykjavik (which is a quick 10 minute walk) to do a bit of early morning exploring. We started at the Hallgrimskirkja Church (to be honest we were not blown away by the church but it was still nice to see), what we loved was seeing all of the colourful homes, peaceful streets and early morning jogging groups and people exercising outside.
From Hallgrimskirkja church we explored the nearby streets of Reykjavik’s city centre. We visited the main shopping streets, Laugavegur and Bankastraeti to name a few as well as explored this adorable bakery called Sandholt Bakery, which is popular for its sourdough bread, pastries and chocolates. It was the perfect spot to stop and grab a bite as it opens at 6:30am.
Lastly we walked to the old harbour to see the spectacular views and take in the architecturally renowned Harpa Concert Hall.
While Reykjavik is a charming small colourful city, we heard from the residents that there isn’t that much to do other than the normal nightlife and restaurant scene. If you’re in Iceland for the natural scenery and exploration, hit the road and start seeing the countryside. Only a few minutes after leaving the city, the rolling hills and insanely beautiful landscapes start and you’re blown away.
The drive from Reykjavik to Glymur is about 1 hour (be warned you will stop multiple times to play with the cute horses, and to take photos of all the scenic landscapes along the way). Drivers: you’ll be tempted to stare out the window, but focus on the hilly roads, there are lots of turns and minimal guard rails in Iceland. Occasionally you’ll even come across one lane bridges where you determine at your own safety when to cross or when to let oncoming traffic cross
Glymur is known for the second highest waterfall in Iceland. You do have to hike to the waterfall and it isn’t a smooth walking path but the adventure is so worth it. Firstly the parking lot is extremely easy to find (we used google maps to navigate our way around Iceland and writing in “Glymur” brought us to the parking lot). The whole hike there and back is about 2 hours, but took us 3 as we stopped lots of times for photos.
Lots of people do the partial hike but we highly recommend committing to the whole thing to actually see the wonderful foss (Icelandic for waterfall) at the end. It made the whole trek worth it (we won’t lie we were a little gassed during the final leg)
- Wear hiking boots since you’ll have to cross a river a couple of times and the terrain is rough.(Running shoes or sandals won’t be great on your feet and your feet will get wet and sore quickly)
- Make sure you bring water and snacks (we filled up our water bottle with river water, it was clean and so refreshing)
- The hike is hard at points with some steep inclines, not an easy climb but well worth it if you like hiking
- Recommended for moderate hikers
Pingvellir National Park (Accommodations)
We stayed overnight at Pingvellir National Park, they have a campsite where you can park your camper/camp overnight with restrooms, showers, benches, sinks to do dishes in, and a visitor centre nearby that can answer questions about the area! We found this to be the perfect location to park overnight, since we would be exploring the Golden Circle the next day!
Other campers will be there with you, this is a great opportunity to bond with fellow travelers and share stories or tips on how to best see Iceland.
Note: This campsite is not near a geothermal area therefore the water from the sink is very cold, however they heat the water for the showers. Heated water is limited, so take quick showers out of courtesy for others.
Other Places To See in West Iceland
- Hraunfossar and Barnafoss – stunning waterfalls
- Hallmundarhraun – includes the longest and the largest caves in Iceland
- Deildartunguhver – the highest flow hot spring in Europe
- Snæfellsnes Peninsula – you can see everything from vast lava fields, volcanoes, glaciers, beaches and hazardous cliffs.
- Westfjords – large peninsula in northwestern Iceland
Day 2: The Golden Circle
Pingvellir National Park (Exploration) is part of the famous “Golden Circle”, and our first stop of day 2. It had lots of hiking trails, abandoned farms and is very famous for diving into the continental rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates!
Our next stop was Haukadalur, which is a geothermal area where the spouting geysirs and bubbling mud pots are. Here we saw the geysirs erupt every 5-10 minutes! It truly was a sight to see! Geysir eruptions are spontaneous, so there may be a wait, but its worth it. This sight is right off the road, with a small tourist centre that has restrooms and more great information.
Gullfoss was an enormous waterfall that we got to explore. This waterfall has a beautiful endless canyon with a fast moving river in it, as cool as the falls itself. These fall are wide and can be viewed from two areas. First you can climb 5 minutes of stairs to see an aerial view of the falls. Up here there is also a gift shop and paid toilets.
The second path (which we thought had clearly the better views) takes you to the mouth of the falls where you can basically stand on the edge. The path ends close to the falls, then there is a small rock beck you can climb up to get even closer. Up close you may get wet. Also for any photographers reading, this a no drones allowed area.
We stopped at Friðheimar a famous restaurant in Iceland, known for its tomatoes. If you want to have a proper sit down meal you have to make reservations in advance but we didn’t want to plan our day around a reservation so we decided to walk in and eat at the bar. We ordered the delicious tomato soups which was accompanied with fresh bread and finished off our meal with a tomato cheesecake (A MUST TRY).
Our second last stop was Laugarvatn Fontana, a spa built on a natural hot spring. We loved spending a couple hours here relaxing together. This is a great way to relax your body and break up the days of driving, hiking and sleeping in a camper.
The Kerið volcanic Crater was our last stop on the golden circle. It was such an interesting site to see, the crater was huge and colorful with a stunning lake at the bottom which you can also walk to. Walking along the top of the crater you can also find another path that connects you to a place with beautiful red and black sand and rocks. Another super cool site to check out!
Note: it now costs $400 ISK ($4 CAD) each for entry to the crater
We camped overnight at the Hamragardar camp site. This site is conveniently located right beside Seljalandsfoss waterfall, we loved waking up to the most stunning views of waterfalls
Day 3: South Coast of Iceland
Before starting our day officially we checked out the Gljufrabui Waterfall which is situated right behind Hamragarðar, Gljufrabui is partially hidden behind a large cliff which It can be seen by wading the river into a narrow opening in the cliff or by climbing a steep path up the cliff.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is actually smaller than most, but this one was cooler and more fun to explore. This foss has no stairwell but rather just an inclined path that takes you close to, under, then behind the falls, nearly doing a 360 around the falls. Standing behind the roaring falls felt pretty surreal and awesome but be warned you will get soaked. So remember to wear waterproof everything, including your camera. If you don’t have a waterproof camera or case, leave it in the car because it will get damaged.
Next we went to Skógafoss waterfall, another beautiful and extremely high waterfall. Parking at the base of this waterfall is readily available. From the base you have 2 options: you can either explore the waterfall from the base or take a 15 minutes stair climb to the top of the falls.
At the base you can basically walk right up to the falls, but wear your wetsuit, the pressure of the falls and mist blowing around will leave you drenched. The base is rocky and the falls sort of hook around a slight corner. Due to the high of the falls you have to stay far back to capture it on camera.
The stair climb is a great workout with very rewarding views at the top. You can clearly see the surrounding areas and hills dotted with white sheep climbing the hills. From the top there is another path that goes about 20 minutes to a different ridge with more exceptional view. Iceland can become cloudy and foggy in a moments notice eliminating any views and sometime making it hard to see 10 feet in front of you.
Our next stop was the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. You have to walk about 30-45 minutes (depending on your speed) on a well marked path completely straight, you won’t be able to see the plane until you’re about 5 minutes away from it. We really enjoyed the walk, in front of you all you could see was the water, on the right and left was allll stunning landscapes.
The plane was a spectacle on its own. We saw a couple doing an engagement shoot at this plane (a very popular location for this). We were lucky enough to only have a couple people there, so we were able to climb on the plane and explore the insides. If you don’t mind the walk we highly recommend checking this spot out!
Dyrhólaey Rock Formations better known as the arch with the hole, was only about a 10 minute drive from the plane wreck (all these places are only a 10-20 minute drive from each other), there are two options when driving here, the higher and lower part. We check out both but got unlucky with the fog, when we got to the top we were literally in a cloud of fog and could not see a single thing (not to mention to drive up was a little scary with all the fog, the steep incline and lack of guard rail), the lower part was a bunch of cool rock formations hanging over an untouched black sand beach, the views were spectacular.
Reynisfjara Beach is a beautiful black sand beach with lots of pebbles, with basalt columns, a shallow cave and stunning rock details. We loooved the black sands and the roaring waves. The details in the rocks were something we can’t explain, you have to see it in person to understand how incredible the detail is.
Our last stop on this day was the Seljavellir Pool, which is a 20 minute hike to the pool from the parking lot, but the drive to the parking lot is rather rough. The walk to the pool was spectacular, the views were so impressive. The pool itself was such a cool experience (minus the dingy change rooms) we were obsessed with the views. There’s something so great about being in a warm pool in the outdoors in the crisp air.
Other Places To See on the South Coast Iceland
- Fjaðrárgljúfur – a canyon with the Fjaðrá river flowing through it
- Jökulsárlón – a large glacial lake
- Diamond Beach – a black sand beach with glacier chunks that resemble diamonds
Day 3.5: Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is probably Iceland’s most famous attraction. As touristy as it may be, we were extremely impressed and would recommend for everyone to check this out on your trip! The water is as blue as you could imagine and the warmth and relaxation was much needed. We opted to go to the blue lagoon the morning before our flight and we were so happy we decided to save this for last. Firstly, it’s the perfect way to end off a cold and rainy trip, it is very close to the airport and we got to unwind and relax before heading home.
- Buy tickets online in advance (you can’t buy them at the door and the time slots fill up fast so make sure you book well in advance)
- Allot 30 minutes of waiting time prior to being able to get into the lagoon (arrive early so it doesn’t cut into your time at the Lagoon)
- Don’t forget your waterproof camera
- Head to the Silica bar and give yourself a face and body natural scrub
- You have to pay for a towel, so if you’re on a budget, we recommend bringing your own!
We hope our guide was helpful and would love to hear your favorite part of your trip to Iceland in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!
M & B