Discover Iceland’s magic in just four days

the motoroamers

Discover Iceland’s magic in just four days

Can you possibly discover Iceland’s magic in just four days ? Surely that’s not enough to really experience a place and leave a little of yourself behind? Normally, I would agree. Except, such is Iceland’s beauty, that it will leave you speechless. A northern land where you can watch the earth breathe, explode and bubble; Iceland will touch the very soul of you. With its waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches and curvaceous mountains, be ready to succumb to its intoxication as I share an introductory four day adventure that you won’t forget. It’s a discovery, an epic adventure and a sensory explosion for mind, body and soul.

Icelandic reflector

Why Iceland – it’s so far north

Located 64º north, Iceland sits geographically and geologically between North America and Europe; yet is 500 miles away from its closest neighbour. Iceland has the northern most capital in the world in Reykjavik and is one of the most northerly inhabited places on earth.

Iceland is so close to the North Pole, that whilst the mountains may only reach 500m above sea level, this equates to 5000m in the Alps. Add to that, relatively speaking, Iceland is one of the newest parts of our planet. To give you a perspective on this; if the planet was a year old, Iceland would be just 2 days. In fact, the newest addition to the globe’s landscape has just been discovered in Iceland. The island of Surtsey 32km off Iceland’s southern coast, was created thanks to a volcanic eruption deep beneath the sea in 1963. Over the course of four years, the Icelandic folk watched the formation of the world’s newest island emerge from the sea. It is now protected from human intervention by UNESCO, so that it can be studied.

And to complete our Icelandic sales pitch, let’s talk about its winter darkness. With the polar night impacting the island for four months, where daylight is scarce and the harsh conditions of the Arctic influence the landscape, you could be forgiven for asking, ‘Why Iceland?’ Well the Northern Lights of course.

Let’s settle any doubts about why you should visit this incredible land. Iceland is one of the world’s most accessible places to witness the sheer power of Mother Nature. Of course, we know that the planet is governed more by what is beneath the surface of the earth’s crust than the universe above. And it is here, in Iceland that you can observe the earth’s very soul breathing, moving and bubbling, almost as if it is whispering to each of us who visit.

Surely those alone are reasons enough to take the three hour flight from London, UK. Just in case, however you need more convincing, then perhaps knowledge of the wildlife that hugs every crevice of this northerly land will entice you. Puffins for one; the spring and summer inhabitants that call Iceland their home as well Eider Ducks which can be seen all year round. Humpback and minke whales and orcas are also frequent visitors to these shores together with white-beaked dolphins and seals, thanks to the abundance of plankton and krill that line these sea-beds. From April to October, sightings up north are common-place and sit well on any Bucket List.

And then there is the history; both human and natural. With Viking settlers taking us back to the 9th century, whilst perhaps relative young in comparison to its mainland European cousins, you will find one of the world’s oldest Governments embedded into the Icelandic history books. Geologically, with the North American and European tectonic plates rubbing shoulders, Iceland boasts incredible natural history to rival its Scandinavian family. With earthly influences that date back 33 million years, Iceland is shaped dramatically and daily by its glaciers, volcanoes and plate tectonics. That makes this a living, breathing and evolving landscape, that even during the course of your visit, will have altered in some small way. It is this majestic power and vibrancy that makes a trip to discover Iceland’s magic in just four days so much more than a holiday.

Are you convinced yet?

Golden Waterfall, Iceland
Gullfoss Waterfall, The Golden Circle

Where can you fly from?

Iceland may be 1,300 miles from London and 2,700 miles from New York, yet within around 3 hours of each side of the Atlantic, Iceland is completely accessible, with direct flights from London, Scotland and Manchester. You can also now fly direct to Iceland’s most northerly city of Akruyeri from London Gatwick, giving you access to the lesser travelled regions north of the island. This is ideal if you love the idea of going off the tourist trail and taking in an eco-friendly Whale Watch, which you can do at the Whale Watching Capital of the country at Húsavik.

Otherwise, the more common flight path will be to the International Airport at Keflavik, just 45 minutes south of capital Reykjavik. We flew with Icelandic Air who blew us away with their fleet of planes that had built in TV’s and a huge range of films to watch. We hardly even managed to finish Barbie the Movie before we began our descent into Keflavik.

You can get a taxi from the airport, although they are very expensive or you can get a Transfer Bus, although this is a really long and circuitous route that will have you arriving at the Bus Station, which means you still have to get to your Reykjavik hotel. So we booked a private company with Nordic DMC which cost us £89 one way between the two of us. So not cheap although so much more comfortable and easy, given you only have a short amount of time on the Island and flight times may be inhospitable. If you’re on a budget (and Iceland is not really budget friendly, we found), then you can pick up the bus for around £25 per person, one way as long as you are willing to wait and walk.

Icelandic Airlines

Accommodation options

Booking through Trailfinders on this occasion, they selected a hotel for us that was just on the fringes of the city centre, albeit only a 10 minute walk. Nowhere is far to walk in Reykjavik. As capitals go, it was one of the most compact and bijou cities I’ve visited; much like Ljubljana in Slovenia and Bratislava in Slovakia. Just how I like my capital cities. Anyway, that aside, we arrived at the FossHotel, which is located in the business sector of the city. It is Reykjavik’s largest hotel and we loved it. The views, if you get an upper floor room are terrific. There are two other bonus features about the hotel; one is the breakfast which appears on my Top 3 Best Hotel Breakfast list. And second is that the number 12 Bus Stop is immediately outside of the hotel, which is key for the Island Tours that you might want to book. This means no waiting around, no walking and, when they can be cold, early morning starts, this is a really important feature. And, if I had to add a third bonus feature, there is an amazing Street Food Mall, Hlemmur Mathöll just 10 minutes walk away, which I can’t recommend enough for great food options, atmosphere and delicious craft beers.

Of course there are plenty of other options to choose from, including smaller hotels, guest houses and AirBnB. If you are booking your Iceland trip independently, then use the relevant booking platforms to help you find the best deals for your budget.

Discover Iceland in just four days – your top spots

In an attempt to discover Iceland’s magic in just four days, it does seem like a tall order. This island is bigger than you might imagine. Let’s put that into context. After the UK it is Europe’s largest island and the 18th largest in the world. If you measure it against its European cousins, it is roughly the same size as Poland and Hungary. And with its US neighbours, think Kentucky or Virgina to gauge its proportions. So can we be realistic? In a four day adventure, what you are likely to see of the whole island is limited, although worry not. What you can see in that time will make your heart beat, your soul burst and your mind reel with the sights that you will be introduced to. And it will leave you wanting to return. Believe me! I am returning and this time for 25 days I loved it so much.

If you travel over in winter for that Bucket List Northern Lights, then a late night excursion in a Superjeep just has to be done. I’ll talk more about preparing for that in a minute. After that book yourself two all day tours, such as the ‘Southern Coastal Tour’ and the ‘Golden Tour’ day trips with someone like Nice Travel (ask for Filip if you can get him – he is an awesome guide.) My recommendation is to avoid the big coach tours, as they are formal, full of rules and it’s all a bit transactional. The small minibus style tours are so much better and you get to interact more with your guide, so it has a more personal feel to it.

Our final day was a morning in the world’s most northern capital city and an afternoon at the Sky Lagoon. More on that soon. Let’s break each of these 4 day components down into more detail.

1. Northern Lights – if visiting between October-March

There can’t be many people on the planet who don’t have the Northern Lights on their Bucket Lists. It has got to be one of the most impressive, out of the world experiences you will ever have. Not only will their unpredictability have you on the edge of your seat in anticipation, if you are blessed enough to witness this celestial dance, you will not have the words to describe how it makes you feel. Whilst the piercing cold attempts to penetrate through your layers of clothing, the hope and expectation that may-be they will make an appearance if the conditions are right, is just spine tingling. And then if they appear, the excitement takes you beyond your child-like happiness after a visit from Santa. The very essence of your body will burst with joy witnessing this very special event.

We went out with Arctic Adventures – Iceland, in one of their SuperJeeps. It takes just 15-20 passengers and because of its massive tyres, the vehicle can go off-grid. We went to a quiet, off-the-beaten track beach at Hafnarskeidh just south east of Reykjavik. With the full moon lighting up the ocean and the black sands, we consoled ourselves with the beauty of the night, just in case the lights didn’t appear. A full moon is not a great way to see the NL, so we managed our expectations. Although at 11.00pm they began their exquisite performance. Subtle, graceful and not visible to the naked eye, although as you’ll see from the gallery below, through the camera they looked amazing. What a privilege. The tour costs in the region of £148 per person for the Jeep and the tour lasts approximately 5 hours depending upon the weather conditions. Please be aware that if the conditions mean that no sightings are possible and the tour is cancelled, then they will attempt to rescheduled for another night. So I would suggest booking your Northern Lights tour on your first night to allow some flexibility.

2. Day Tour of the South Coast

This is one of the two most popular tours available for short breaks to Iceland and they are perfect to discover Iceland’s magic in just four days. With an 0800 pick up at the hotel, a small minibus holding just over 20 people collected us for our tour down south. With our entertaining tour guide, Filip, who now works for Nice Travel, we set off before the sun had even woken from its slumber. Heading out of Reykjavik we found an amazing place just above the ‘Greenhouse town’, Hveragerdi, to watch the sun rise over the mountain. The town below is run entirely by geothermal activity from beneath their feet, and this is harnessed for their greenhouses allowing them to be virtually self-sustaining.

Hveragerdi ‘Greenhouse town’ Iceland
Sunrise over the Greenhouse town – Hveragerdi

We took in some incredible scenery throughout the day, even through the windows of the bus, and with a total of eight stops, we got a real sense of the Sudurland region of Iceland.

  1. Urriðafoss Waterfall – Iceland’s most voluminous cascade on the Þjórsá river, which is Iceland’s longest. To give you a sense of its magnitude, from its glacier source to the sea, the Þjórsá river flows over 140 miles.
  2. A stop to see Iceland’s iconic horses. Many people call them ponies, although they are classified as horses despite their size. They are hardy creatures that have evolved to withstand the harsh Icelandic conditions.
  3. A brief stop for a photo at Eyjafjallajökull icecap volcano, which you may remember erupted in 2010 causing world-wide airspace disruption. There’s an interesting museum there that profiles life after the eruption, which sadly we didn’t have time to see and I would definitely return to explore more.
  4. Skógafoss Waterfall was our next stop. Here we had a chance to scale the 400+ steps alongside the cascading 60m falls, to give us a bird’s eye view of the tumbling waters. The surroundings are just wonderful and there are many hikes here, if you have more time. It is free to enter the Skógafoss car park.
  5. Solheimajõkull Glacier – this is a stunning 7 mile glacier and the ice lagoon that has formed in its foreground is a Mecca for hikers (with the right equipment) and photographers. It is an incredible landscape that is slithering and breathing every moment in time. To be so close to this magnificent natural artwork is such a privilege.
  6. Reynisfjara Beach is just around the headland from the characterful village of Vik. With its black sand beaches and dramatically crashing waves, this is a fabulous place to have lunch – even in the depths of winter. The energy is exhilarating. This place has become world famous for good and bad reasons. For good, the basalt stacks and cliffs are a haven for birdlife. In 1991, National Geographic voted Reynisfjara one of the Top 10 non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet. The local area is also a location for Game of Thrones. More infamously, this beach with its aggressive, Sneaker Waves have been known to claim the lives of visitors to the beach. So be warned about this beach’s wrath.
  7. Albeit a 15 minute drive away, you must visit Dyrholaey Rock Arch. What a wondrous place this is. There is a palpable peace here that even the thousands of birds who nest here, cannot diminish. This is one of the best places from May to August where you can see puffins from land. This 120m peninsula has an historic lighthouse that affirms its place on this shore admirably, warning ships of this dangerous stretch of coast. Door Hill Island, as it is known, has its roots in volcanic activity and was an island until its geological fate joined it to the mainland. It is also the most southerly point of Iceland, for compass celebrators.
  8. And last, and by no means least, the Seljalandfoss Waterfall. One of the features that makes this particular waterfall so different from its southern neighbours is that it can be fully encircled (under the right weather conditions.) With its proximity to Reykjavik, it makes Seljalandfoss one of the most popular destinations on Iceland, so do be prepared for crowds. We arrived as the sun started to set, and this created a fabulous atmosphere and lighting.

3. Golden Circle Day Tour

After a good sleep and a little lie in, we headed for our full day tour on the Golden Circle route. This is a three stop programme into the centre of the island, offering three very different cultural and geological phenomenon. Sadly our intimate travels from the previous two days were not repeated. Instead we were on a 50 seat coach and we couldn’t even sit together as we were one of the last hotel pick ups. I wouldn’t book with a company again that used these large, formal coaches as the rules and ‘deadlines’ were very restrictive. We much preferred the smaller, more personal minibuses that gave us more flexibility and warmth. All that aside, we did have a great day; here’s what we experienced on this trip;

  1. Thingvellir National Park – This is an important UNESCO World Heritage Site, just 45 minutes from Reykjavik. Whilst on the face of it, it may seem that the lake, which sits in the heart of the Park, is your main attraction. Yet, there is far more depth to this place. Firstly, this is the part of island where you can see earth’s fragility. Lying on two tectonic plates; The North American and the European Plate, it is clear to see that the Thingvellir NP is a fabulous place to appreciate and witness the planet’s normally unseen activity. With larva fields and carved gorges from the movement between these plates, you see our planet’s transformation, right before your eyes. And as if that isn’t enough, there are historical and cultural roots here too. At the viewing point at Hakið, where the coach drops you off, you can tread in the footsteps of Iceland’s ancestors, who first gathered here. Here the site of the old Parliament meeting place has so much significance for the identity of Iceland, that coming here gives you so much more than a beautiful view. It gives you Icelandic essence.
  2. Geysir Hot springs. In an area that spans nearly 2 miles, you will find a part of Iceland that is visibly bubbling, bursting and exploding with energy, pent up from deep in the earth’s core. The area became active more than 1000 years ago, so you are witnessing history and nature fused together. Whilst the main Geysir was dormant for a time, it was re-ignited by an earthquake in 2000. However, these days it is far more sleepy. The Strokkur Geysir is a different kettle of fish altogether. It puts on an explosive show that performs every 4-7 minutes, guaranteeing you to the most spectacular show on earth and from earth.
  3. Perhaps the pièce de resistance of the Golden Circle tour is Gullfoss. The Golden Falls are utterly magnificent and as the Hvírta river roars and crashes into the canyon below it, the sights and sounds will completely take over your body; or so it felt to me. There is no entrance fee although for those not on an organised tour, parking must be paid for. What a way to finish the Golden Circle tour.

4. A local day in Reykjavik and the Sky Lagoon

After all the excitement of the first three days discovering Iceland’s magic, we had a somewhat more chilled final day. A lie-in and a good breakfast, does the traveller a world of good. And then a half-day self-guided tour around Reykjavik. As the world’s most northern capital, it has a compact feel about it which is matched with a youthful vibe. It is thought to be the cleanest and safest city in Europe. The parts of Reykjavik we saw, and we only scratched the surface, felt very square and dark, with quiet streets lined with corrugated iron buildings. This material was selected back in the 1870’s, sourced from England, thanks to its robustness and ability to withstand the Arctic conditions. It was a popular trend until 1915, when a tragic fire ripped through the city centre destroying twelve houses and killing two people. Two months later the rules on building materials changed radically.

Reykjavik, however has plenty to see and do. From the Virtual Reality experience in Harpa, the modern Concert Hall down by the harbour, to having coffee and cake in Baka Baka Café. Even a walk along the Promenade to see the famous Viking boat statue, the Sun Voyager. Or perhaps touch a piece of history at the Hõfði House in the business sector. Höfði is famous for the meeting between Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev in 1986 that initiated the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. You can see parts of the wall near the upper road, close to the house. Or may-be having a chill-out couple of hours at the hot springs at the new Sky Lagoon is in order. This was where we headed to for our last afternoon.

We had a 1pm reservation and we were picked up by free bus transfer, operated by Reykjavik Tours, which you can find at the Bus Depot (64.137519, -21.934608). After a 15 minute journey we had arrived at the Spa. Once you have registered your credit card for any drinks you might want (you’re allowed 3 alcoholic drinks on each bracelet) you can enjoy the hot springs at your leisure. If you buy the ‘Pure’ pass, it includes a ‘one-time’ access to the 7 Step Ritual experience. Including the bus transfer, you can expect to pay around £74 per adult (no children below age 12 are allowed in the Spa) and drinks and food are all extra.

Iceland Practicalities – Top Preparation Tips

A trip to Iceland, any time of the year, requires a little bit of thought before the trip. Whilst the romantic notion of ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ may sound appealing, with a little bit of planning and fore-thought, discovering Iceland in just four days will be so very achievable and, more importantly, magical. Here are my top preparation tips.

  • Money. Iceland, like most of its Scandinavian cousins is a cashless society. We had planned to take £75 each, although decided against it, after doing our research. And not once did we need cash. We paid for everything with our Pre-paid Travel cards; Revolut or Caxton.
  • Clothing. Well this is a tricky one. If you travel to Iceland during the winter then it is really important to get your layers right. I did a video just about an Iceland Packing List, which is worth watching. Although as a summary; the weather in Iceland is unpredictable, even in summer. So layers is key. In addition, avoid jeans, they’re not good if they get wet. Keep all your extremities covered, especially your hands and head. If you want to take photos and videos, then buy gloves with a pad on the fore-finger. Snow boots are essential and if you want to glacier walk, then I suggest buying some crampons. I didn’t have any, and I struggled a bit with the glacier walk at – needless to say, we now have a pair each. Nordic socks were one of my best buys and were fabulous for keeping my feet warm especially when out hunting the Northern Lights. A decent coat and hand warmers will all help keep you toasty, especially when the temperatures can drop to -10º. You can watch my video on the packing detail, by clicking the image below.
You Tube, Packing for Iceland video
  • Cost of living/Budget. There’s no denying that Iceland, like its Scandinavian family, is expensive, at least on a par with Sweden, perhaps not Norway. Taxis in particular are expensive. We took a journey from the Sky Lagoon to Reykjavik and it cost us nearly £40 for 5 miles. Food for two will cost you around £45-60 depending on the type of restaurant you go to. We ate at HlemmurMatholl Street Food Mall a couple of times, which served up varied, good value and delicious food. Drinks will cost you around £20 for something like a Craft Beer and a Gin & Tonic. And of course, then there are the tours and airport transfers. For the tours I have mentioned, allow around £100pp as a guide. Accommodation will be an investment of around £150 per night including breakfast. Flights are approximately £230-500 depending upon the time of year, the airline you choose and the airport you fly from. So don’t expect your 4 day adventure to be cheap; see it as an investment in yourself and your travel experiences. It will be worth every single penny. We invested, all inclusive £1,500 for our four days.
  • Things to bring with you. At a practical level, aside of your clothes, I highly recommend a camera if you have a DSLR as well as your phone. In fact any image recording device you have room for, I would pack it. Iceland does allow drones with the normal flying rules and regulations, which you should familiarise yourself with. Binoculars might be handy if you are a bird-lover and I would also bring with you a rucksack to take out on tours. Pack a thermos flask for hot drinks whilst you’re out, and also some snacks to nibble on, during your long day tours. You may be prohibited from eating and drinking on the larger coaches, although the smaller coach tours are far more flexible and accommodating. Bring water bottles, earphones for the plane (especially if you travel with Icelandic-air).
  • Language. Like most Scandinavia countries, Icelandic is really hard to get your tongue around. Although rest assured, if you can’t get the basics, then Icelanders speak excellent English. I did learn a few words such as, please, thank you, hello and goodbye, although for everything else, English will be just fine. All the tours use English as their preferred language.
  • How to book. There are lots of operators who will organise your trip for you, although of course, these days, it is possible to do it yourself quite easily with platforms like Skyscanner, and Get your Guide. These are the ones I like to use when I am organising our travel. Also, you could explore travel options with guys like Trailfinders who can access good deals for you. And of course, you get the added advantage that they take care of cancellations or booking issues. We are going back to Iceland after my four day adventure and I used Discover the World, who were brilliant in organising a tailored programme that suited our values and our independent travel preferences.
  • Volcanic eruptions. In light of the recent eruptions at Grindavik in the southwest region of Iceland, it is worth keeping your eye on the news and official Iceland Social Media channels. Although given that journalists can be prone to sensationalism, I prefer to go with official sources like the Iceland government. Iceland, sitting on two active tectonic plates is used to seismic activity and the locals are well prepared for rumblings and explosions. Whilst it is unlikely that any volcanic activity will disrupt your trip, it is worth checking with your tour operator and, of course, getting the appropriate travel insurance cover. There have been some occasions where the Blue Lagoon has been closed due to the Reykjanes’ explosions.
  • Travel Insurance. Iceland is not covered, for UK citizens by the EHIC/GHIC reciprocal arrangement for health care. So you will need to ensure that you have the right cover for your trip, should you fall ill. If, like us, you are already travelling and therefore away from your home country, then try suppliers like True Traveller, who we have used a couple of times in the past. Otherwise, it is sensible to shop around, if you don’t already have an annual policy to cover your holidays and travel itineraries.
Iceland in the winter

My Conclusion – Discover Iceland in just 4 days

Iceland is one of the few countries I’ve had the privilege of visiting, that has left an indelible mark on my heart and soul. There’s something about the exposure to the earth’s core that leaves you grounded in this earthly plane. Winter is a very special time to visit as the snow, fire and ice contrasts just leave you caught under Iceland’s spell. I am looking forward to seeing how late spring and summer influence my emotions about this incredible island, with more off-the-beaten-track exploration. However, whenever you can make a visit to this very special place, just come. Our philosophy, when it comes to travel is;

Travel when you can, as far as you can, for as long as you can – just travel.

It is only through our travel adventures, that our minds are exposed to different lifestyles, cultures and traditions, that make us question our own perceptions. And Iceland will do just that, even in just four days. It will colour your mind, fill your heart and leave you asking more questions than perhaps it answers. Although isn’t that the beauty of travel?

We hope that this Guide has been useful in introducing you to the benefits of a short trip to Iceland and how it can be done. If you have any questions, then please feel free to get in touch with us over at Motoroaming. For now I’ll leave you with my compilation video from our Four Day adventure in Iceland and the eBook version of this blog for easier reading.


Published: April 04, 2024
Category: Iceland | Travel


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