Iceland is a magical land with a Mars-like landscape and a universal childlike love and appreciation for elves and trolls. You don’t need a lot of time off to experience the magic of Iceland as you’ll see in this 4 day south Iceland itinerary.
I did this trip in the winter so I was battling short days and late sunrises so you could probably tack on more if you were to do this in the summer.
I erred on the side caution when planning our days because I didn’t know what the weather was going to be like and I didn’t want to end up in a situation where it was pitch dark, we didn’t know where we were going and there was loads of snow or ice.
This south Iceland itinerary was perfect though – each day allowed just enough time to enjoy everything to the fullest without feeling stressful.
4 Day South Iceland Itinerary
This south Iceland itinerary starts in Reykjavik and ends at Selfoss, approximately an hour and 20 minutes from Keflavik Airport. We took public transportation from KEF to Reykjavik and then picked up the rental car on the morning of day 2.
Day 1: Reykjavik
Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church in Reykjavik that is unlike any church I have ever seen in my life. Had I not known it was a church, I probably never would have suspected it was anything but an impressive building.
It was designed in 1937 and meant to resemble the Icelandic landscape of sharp, rocky mountains and glaciers.
For Íkr1000 (approximately US$8) you can go to the top of the church and get a spectacular view of the surrounding city. You will take an elevator most of the way up and then walk a couple of flights of stairs to the very top.
This lake in the center of Reykjavik is surrounded by delightful little houses and has all kinds of birds living on the little island in it and the surrounding area. I saw a lot of swans, which wasn’t great since I’m terrified of big birds after I got chased by a goose when I was five and saw my short life flash before my eyes, but I digress.
While we were there, we noticed something strongly resembling a phallus. It turns out it’s the little Mersausage, also known as the ‘sausage of democracy.’ Let’s just say it’s the best thing I saw the whole trip.
Sadly, it was only scheduled to be there until December but it met its tragic fate and was decapitated… Tjornin is lovely, but I’m sorry to say you’ll miss out on the glorious addition of the Little Mersausage. May he rest in peace.
The Reykjavik concert hall, Harpa, is a distinctive contemporary architectural feat. Similar to Hallgrímskirkja, Harpa was designed to be reminiscent of Iceland’s basalt landscape. I didn’t attend any events here, but they have a nice cafe and shop.
Mál og Menning: Laugavegur 18
Mál og Menning is an adorable cafe and bookshop in the center of Reykjavik. As a huge book nerd, I loved spending time here and even better that it had coffee and hot chocolate. I’m giving you the address because I’ve seen it called several different things and sometimes searching for the name in Google doesn’t bring it up.
If I’d had more time in Reykjavik I totally would have happily spent an afternoon here. Although to be honest, the cost of the books was more than I’d actually want to spend, but spending time in bookstores always gives me peace.
Food in Iceland is incredibly expensive, especially in Reykjavik. We landed at 6 a.m. from DC and were pretty thrown off on meals so we wanted a snack and a drink somewhere around 3 p.m. to tide us over until dinner. Finding something affordable was quite difficult!
We stumbled onto this little place between Tjornin and Harpa and do not regret it at all. The beer was delicious and affordable and we shared some chicken nachos. We had several beers and shared the nachos and our total came to approximately $25 each.
It was cozy and had a great atmosphere. It actually started drizzling while we were in here and we ended up spending just a few hours hanging out. Nothing better than drinking in the middle of the day on vacation.
We had a similar issue when it came time to eat dinner. We were struggling to find food that was affordable but still delicious and that’s when I came across the Noodle Station. Chain? Yes. Did I care? Nope, not even a little.
The food here was unreal in its portions. We’re talking like American-sized bowls of noodles and broth. It was delicious and wasn’t going to break the bank. Supposedly there’s a message at the bottom of the bowl, but I never found out what it was because I honestly couldn’t finish.
A noodle soup with beef or chicken cost Íkr1640 (approximately $13.50) and a vegetables one cost Íkr960 (approximately $8). I would totally eat here again even if I had the money to eat at one of the more expensive restaurants.
Right next to Noodle Station is Hlemmur Square – the bar, not the hotel. Made up of a couple of different bars with bar seating and long, communal tables it was festive, cozy and had an awesome selection of food and beer.
We situated ourselves right by the heaters facing the windows and had a lovely few hours drinking local Icelandic beers. If you’re looking for a cheap evening out but don’t want to sacrifice atmosphere, then Hlemmur Square is a must visit.
Getting Around Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a pretty small place so walking around is the best way so that you see everything as well. However, if you’re going a longer distance or simply don’t want to walk, then the primary mode of transport are buses.
There are two ways to buy your bus tickets. If you have a working phone then you can download the Straeto app and buy your tickets through that. However, this is what I tried and although I had a working phone and paid for my ticket ahead of time it wouldn’t load so I couldn’t use it and had to pay again.
If you have the option, my advice would be to just buy it from the 10-11 convenience store; there are many dotted around the city.
If you’re traveling just within Reykjavik then a ticket is only ísk460 (approximately $3.75). The tickets are impossibly small so be careful not to lose it. When you board the bus you just toss it into a box next to the bus driver.
Day 2: Golden Circle
Day 2 of this south Iceland itinerary will take you around the most popular destinations on the Golden Circle route. I did this in the winter and did not feel like attractions were in any way busy, but I can’t speak to what they would be like in the summer.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is a huge stretch of land spanning 35 square miles. Needless to say, we didn’t cover nearly all of that – or, really, anything close to that at all. You drive through a lot of it just following the main ring road anyway.
We stopped off at the information center overlook and the morning sunrise was stunning over the frost-covered landscape.
A natural hot spring Geysir, or sometimes known as the Great Geysir, hurls boiling water sometimes up to 70 meters in the air. It has been known to cease erupting for years at a time, but when I was there it was erupting every few minutes.
Every hot spring in the world is named after Geysir because in every other language, geysir or geyser refers to the phenomenon.
The cafe at Geysir is excellent and very fairly priced so it’s wise to eat here or pick something up for later because you won’t find this kind of value again for the rest of the day. I had a chicken burger, my friend had a grilled cheese and we shared a ginger beer. I believe my burger was only ísk850 (approximately $7).
Nearby Geysir you’ll find Gullfoss Waterfall, one of the most stunning and breathtaking waterfalls I think I’ve ever seen in my life. It was winter, so the spray from the waterfall was freezing on the grass and on the paths, leaving this shimmering glint everywhere you looked. And as luck would have it, we saw a rainbow as well.
Should you find yourself here in the winter, make sure you’re careful walking or have shoes with good traction because walking those stairs would be treacherous without it. There are two levels to observe the waterfall: one on the same level as the parking lot, and one higher up on the cliffs next to it.
I believe the lower level had a better view of the waterfall, but the upper level was gorgeous with the setting sun and the mist rising from the waterfall. There’s a path that you can walk along further up the river, but we chose not to as the sun was already beginning to set.
About 45 minutes further along from Gullfoss Waterfall is Kerid Crater, a volcanic crater lake along the south Iceland coast. The crater dates back around 6500 years and scientists originally thought it was created by an explosion, but now believe it was created by a magma chamber beneath it that then erupted thousands of years ago.
Kerid Crater costs ísk400 (approximately US$3.50) but it’s well worth paying for. It’s massive and you can walk around the perimeter or you can also take the stairs down to the lake itself. We chose not to because it was really cold and the sun was quickly setting and we had no idea where we were going so wanted some daylight for part of our journey to Hella.
If you have time: Secret Lagoon
We originally planned on going to the Secret Lagoon rather than the Blue Lagoon because it was cheaper, more on route and also it was going to be less touristy, but ultimately decided not to. If you have the time though, it looks like a relaxing place to end your day. Entrance is ísk2800, which is about US$23, but that’s compared to about US$55 for the Blue Lagoon.
We stayed the evening in Hella at the Stracta Hotel, which I absolutely loved. It was a cheap place to stay, had an excellent breakfast and a cute and cozy bar with a great happy hour. The hotel is right across the street from Restaurant Kanslarinn where we had a cheap pizza for dinner.
Total Driving Time for the Day: 3 hours and 15 minutes
Day 3: Hella to Vik
Seljalandsfolss is the first waterfall you’ll come across of the day. What makes this waterfall so spectacular is how you can go behind it and get a view of the waterfall pouring over the rocks in front of you while admiring the rocky landscape at the same time.
Unfortunately, because we were there in the winter we weren’t able to go behind the waterfall because it was just a solid sheet of ice. I’d rather not break my head open for the sake of a photo.
Seljalandsfolss is a little annoying because you need to pay for parking, but you pay a steeper price for a 24-hour pass – the only option when all you may want is 30 minutes. The pass is ísk700 (approximately $US5.70) but we were fortunate that some women leaving gave us their pass and then we paid it forward when we were done.
You buy the pass from a machine and you get a little slip you put under your windshield. While I think it’s a little steep for just a short amount of time, so many of the attractions in Iceland are free so I don’t mind paying some money for some of them.
Despite the price tag, it’s one of the best waterfalls in south Iceland.
Just up the road, you’ll find another spectacular waterfall, but rather than going behind it this one you go up. Another one of the best waterfalls in South Iceland, Skógafoss is impressive and also typically has a rainbow.
The best part is you go up many stairs and then you can walk along the river and other mini waterfalls for miles.
We only walked about a mile or so, but it’s an easy enough walk with just a few rocks embedded into the ground a slight inclines. The views were spectacular and while there were no waterfalls as extravagant as Skógafoss itself, the mini ones were just as pretty.
Even though we went in the winter, there wasn’t too much snow so instead it just looked a little dead and barren. I’m sure in the summer this would be lush and beautiful (not that it isn’t already).
Sólheimasandur Abandoned Plane
Of all the things we did and saw in Iceland, I think this abanded DC-3 plane was my favorite. You park in a totally unmarked parking lot, pin below, and then walk 45 minutes until you reach it. The path is relatively well-marked so there’s no worry of straying off it, but I certainly wouldn’t do this if it were snowing.
If you zoom in far enough, you’ll be able to see the path on Google Maps.
Although the walk is a bit long, it’s very flat and the landscape is incredible. I sometimes felt like I wasn’t even on planet earth.
The plane emergency crash-landed on this beach in 1973. Everyone survived the crash, but it was just left there to slowly decay. Over the years it’s become a bit of a photographer’s dream, myself included.
It was cold and windy, but it was so worth the trek to get there.
There were a handful of people there at the same time as us, but not too many so I was able to wait until they were out of the frame.
I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I was very wrong because it was just as striking in person as I thought it would be. If you’re planning a south Iceland itinerary, then this is a must-visit.
On the face of it, Reynisfjara Beach seemed beautiful. Incredible wind-battered rock formations, black sand beach, waves crashing onto it. Unfortunately, the reality was quite far from what I had imagined. Beautiful? Indeed. The experience, however, left something to be desired.
I have never felt such strong wind in my life. My friend and I had to practically grip one another to stand upright. We had to scream at each other to be heard over the howls of the wind and the sand that was whipping our faces.
When we wanted to head back to the car, we had to walk backwards because the gravelly sand was actively painful and I’d already got some in my mouth.
Perhaps this was a particularly windy day, but from what I’ve read this is pretty average. I would go again, but I’d prepare myself with a ski mask like I was about the rob the nearest liquor store – something I desperately needed when the experience was over.
After being brutally beaten by nature, we took refuge in this delightful cafe in downtown Vik – a much smaller place than I was expecting. I had a hot chocolate, a beer and a pizza. No regrets.
Everything here was well priced and cozy so I would definitely recommend fueling up here before heading onto Selfoss for the night. We weren’t staying in downtown Selfoss so we knew food would be limited there.
We ended the night in Selfoss staying at the most incredible Airnbn I’ve ever stayed in.
Day 4: Selfoss
On the final day of our south Iceland itinerary, we spent the morning and early afternoon in Selfoss and then headed directly from Selfoss to the airport.
While this food kiosk has a name that I cannot pronounce, at least not well, it had the best hot dog I’ve ever had in my life. Even though it sounds bizarre.
They have many kinds of hot dogs, but mine was deep-fried, with french fries, “sauce”, paprika, garlic powder and cheese. The hot dogs were very well priced, mine cost ísk580 (approximately US$4.70) and it was very filling.
Located near the hot dog place, this little cafe in Selfoss has amazing food and great drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). We popped in here for just a quick coffee and ended up staying a couple of hours.
Funnily enough, totally by accident, we ran into some people we knew from back home here so we ended up staying longer than we originally intended. But I loved the atmosphere and the prices were so reasonable so I was very pleased.
We actually meant to go here but didn’t have the time. I’m just throwing it in there since it’s just about 15 minutes outside of Selfoss. Ölvisholt Brewery would make a nice final addition to the end of a south Iceland itinerary.
Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik
If you’re like me and choose to not pick up a rental car until Reykjavik, then you have several options when it comes to getting yourself from Keflavik (KEF) Airport to Reykjavik.
The first is the take Flybus, which will pick you up right in front of the airport and drops off at many hotels in the city. I opted to not take the Flybus because it was really expensive when I was visiting: $32 one way.
You can also take a taxi, but I wouldn’t recommend that as the price will be quite steep.
The final option is to take the public bus (route 55), which was the option I chose. If you choose this option, you’ll notice there are absolutely zero signs for this bus in the airport. To get to it, go around to where the check-in desks are. Go out that set of side doors. You’ll come across a parking lot and you will need to cut across it and when you come to a road, you’ll see a glass hut and that’s the bus stop.
Seems complicated, and to be honest, it was. But I really didn’t want to spend the money on the Flybus. Here’s the kicker though – I bought the tickets ahead of time via the app because I didn’t know if I’d be able to pay on the bus and I didn’t want to have to deal with it – especially since I had a working phone. However, the app wouldn’t work and wouldn’t let me activate the tickets and I ended up having to purchase them again.
You can buy tickets on the bus and you can use a credit card – had I known that I would have just waited. The bus takes you to the bus terminal in Reykjavik. It was still pitch dark out and we were tired and confused so we just walked the 20 minutes to the hotel instead of dealing with more buses.
If you remember, unlike me, you can ask the bus driver from the airport for a transfer ticket so you can get closer to your hotel.
Bonus: Icelandic Horses
This south Iceland itinerary wouldn’t be complete without mentioning these little majestic creatures. Icelandic horses are so cute, sturdy and soft and you’ll find them just about anywhere. There are lots of places where you can pull over and they’ll happily stick their heads over the fence to say hello.
We pulled over a couple of times to see them, but the best was when there were a bunch in a field near where we were staying. Had it not started raining, I easily could have spent more time just hanging out with them.
As you can see, I was pretty thrilled with them and couldn’t contain my excitement. You could also say there was some funny business. This horse is my spirit animal.
Iceland is a beautiful and special place and after four days I really feel like I saw a lot, but I can’t wait to go back. After all, I’ve still got to catch the Northern Lights!