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Iceland sampler - how many nights for a taste of Iceland?

Hello! We are planning a short stopover this fall before longer stays in Switzerland and France. I hope we will have a stand alone Iceland trip in the future, with car or camper van rental...but have the opportunity for a few days with guided tours this time around.

What's the minimum number of nights people have found to be worthwhile?

My hopes are to take an aurora tour or two, and take a South Coast Tour at the minimum for this trip. I'd like to hear other ideas for a short visit.


Posted by
94 posts

Hey Laurie,

We have been to Iceland 3 times now : 2 Winter and 1 Summer. We have found that you need at least 3-5 nights to get a good feel for the Reykjavik and some of the other cities in Iceland.
You must do the :
1. Golden Circle - either drive it yourself or with a bus tour
2. Northern Lights - either drive (rent an airbnb and stay overnight) yourself or with a boat tour
3. Experience at least 3 of the hot pots/spas
4. Shop and eat and experience the city of Reykjavik. (best record shop and coffee bar - 12 Tonar) (Michelin star rest: Dill)
5. Hike and go see a Glacier up close (which may be on your South Cost Tour)

Posted by
721 posts

We all have different travel styles, and I never tell anyone what is a "must do". But we all make suggestions based on our experiences, so here goes. BTW, we've been three times with a mix of tours and self driving.

It's hard to tell you the minimum number of nights, but if you can arrange four or five that would be a good start. it will whet your appetite and you'll be back for more. You could start with a one-day Golden Circle tour, then a two or three day South Coast Tour. Fitting in a northern lights tour would be great depending on when you are there and what the weather is like, but don't make that a focus of your trip.

Posted by
2252 posts

Our first trip to Iceland was back in 2015 when we did a 3 night stopover. That was fine for a little taste of it, but you are wanting to do more, which is common. I would allow a full day in Reykjavik, the day of arrival assuming you arrive in the morning. Take a SHORT nap in the afternoon and do a northern lights tour that night. This way if the lights do not appear, you have a chance to go again. Then the next day head out on a south coast tour. You don't say when this is, but by October that is winter, so make sure you have good solid winter driving experience, and then know that it may still kick your behind;) Just have plans a, b and c as whether changes so quickly and so drastically. You may want to do a tour for this since they can incorporate ice caves or a glacier hike, which you would need a guide for anyways. I like for these excursions.

The problem with Iceland is that there is just so much to see. I head back in September for my 7th visit, and still have so much more to see!

So if you do the south coast and Reykjavik, that is 3 full days. But you may want to add a day trip to Snaefellsness as well. It just depends on how much time you can allow. Also, know that Iceland tends to book out a year in advance, so you are very short notice so lodgings will be a tad harder to find as many will already be booked up. Once you have a rough plan of how many days etc, then post back and we can help you fine tune it.

Oh, the northern lights tour that we have used and was so great was Aurora Experts. I can't speak highly enough about him!

Posted by
2484 posts

I think 3 nights is good. I’ve done that twice as a stopover to/from Germany. If you are taking organized excursions out of Reykjavik ( golden circle as an example ), reserve in advance, rather than expect you can book the day of or day before

Posted by
437 posts

Thank you all for these great ideas! I think my plans are shaping up into two for the 3-4 night sampler, and one for when we can return for a week or more! I have been listening to Cameron Hewitt's Iceland talk, and now an Airbnb sounds like a great idea...but perhaps for the longer stay. I think guided tours and a centrally located hotel or apt. may make things simplest for this trip.

Any recommendations for lodging are appreciated! I realize options may be slim in town, but I did see a lot of offerings for Airbnb as of now. So, I'll take any advice! :-)

Thanks again!

Posted by
721 posts

I don't know if you realize that Reykjavik is 30 miles from the international airport. You can take the Flybus (around $40 USD per person) or a taxi (around $150).

As for where to stay in Reykjavik, look in the 101 area. We stayed at Reykjavik Residence Apartment Hotel, which we liked. There are others in the City Center that people recommend. TripAdvisor Iceland forum has other suggestions.

Posted by
437 posts

Many thanks for all of these great suggestions! We’ve decided to plan a week long stand alone trip now, instead of a stopover. I’ll be referring to this thread when we plan that trip!


Posted by
23 posts

I just did a quick 4 (okay, 3.5) day / 3 night extended layover in Iceland in late May 2024. I rented a car and stayed at a friend's flat between the Reykjavik city center and the Old Harbour. This itinerary felt like a great introduction to the country:

  • Day 1: Getting Situated Arrive afternoon, get rental car, make a beeline to Braud & Co. for a snack and a coffee, head into town, drop off things, light dinner of soup and fish skewers at Seabaron, cocktails, and then live music in a fun, divey bar.
  • Day 2: Bad Weather Day Reykjavik city day with pastries at Hygge, Hallgrímskirkja, Einar Jónsson Home and Sculpture Garden, shopping for knits, lots of coffees (Ida Zimsen was so cozy!) to warm up, music shopping at 12 Tonar, book shopping at Eymundsson, Reykjavik Art Museum, modern knits and Andrea Maack perfumes at Kiosk, Fly Over Iceland, takeaway dinner from Himalayan Spice.
  • Day 3: Outdoorsy Day Breakfast at Brikk, pick up snacks at Bonus, drive to Borgarnes (West Iceland), lunch at Englendingavík, Grabok volcanic crater, easy hike to Granni waterfall and Paradisarlaut, Hraunfossar, Husafell Glacier (wish I'd booked activities here!), soaked my feet at Krosslaug thermal pool, drove back to Reykjavik, late and very fancy sushi dinner at Fish Market.
  • Day 4: Spa Day and Departure Granola bar and Nespresso for breakfast, Sky Lagoon, unmemorable brunch buffet, ice cream at Brynju ís, pack up, fill up with gas, drop off rental car, and fly out.

My top two tips are this:
1. Do as the locals and plan by the weather. Specifically, the wind. Unfortunately, the weather is unpredictable and it can be hard to get a reliable weather report until 2-3 days in advance. So, if you can put off committing to an activity until you have clarity - do.
2. Expect some nasty days. If you can, give yourself 1-2 extra days for security. I feel lucky I had one lovely day and was able to make it out into nature. However, the weather was poor along the South Coast my entire trip. Beward.

Have fun! Iceland is fabulous.

Posted by
4 posts

Just got back from a four day layover trip in Iceland on our way home from Scotland. Way too short and amazing time.
We chose the South Coast and Reykjavik - stayed the first night at Lambastsdir guesthouse about 5 km out of Selfoss, highly recommended if they have an opening. It got us partway down the coast, easy drive from the airport, close to Selfoss for groceries, bakery:-) etc and either golden circle or south coast the next day. Quiet and on a small farm, owner worked in tourism.
Comment above about the weather is very true. It is unpredictable! Enjoy