How to spend 5 days in Iceland in fall or winter solo without breaking the bank

My e-mail inbox has been full to the brim lately with inquires from people who are going to visit Iceland this fall and winter. The questions are as varied as the e-mails are many but a lot of people seem to be having problems with putting together a sensible itinerary for their stay in Reykjavík, especially people that are traveling solo and maybe don’t have the biggest budgets. In order to help these folks (and myself by not having to answer the same questions over and over again) I thought I’d just share an example of how a solo traveler can spend 5 days in Iceland in winter.

Before we go any further I should mention that when I came up with this plan I was basically thinking about myself about 10 years ago when I was traveling the world on my own. For accommodation I chose hostel accommodation because hostels offer the best bang for your buck and they are very social so it’s easier to make new friends. I also chose smaller affordable tours that offer great value for money and opportunities to connect with your fellow travelers.

Because the majority of my customers are Americans and Canadians I assume you are arriving in Iceland early morning from North America (sorry rest of the world: I love you too but it’s just more difficult to generalize when it comes to your flights since it’s not quite as regular as the North American flights). Finally, the ice cave tour on day 4 is only available from November to March, when the conditions allow for it. If you are traveling outside of that time or the weather is not cooperating you will do a glacier hike instead.

5 days in Iceland in winter for budget minded travelers

This 5 day itinerary is great for:

– solo travelers or friends want to meet new people

– first time visitors 

– those who would like to see a lot without spending too much

Day 1: Exploring Reykjavík

Helicopters Reykjavik

6:30 – Arrival

Most of the North American flights land between 4 am and 7 am. If you are flying in with WOW air you are usually landing between 4 am and 5 am whereas the Icelandair flights mostly land between 6 am and 7 am.

7:00 – Flybus from Keflavík Airport to Reykjavík

After every flight you’ll find a Flybus right outside of the arrival halls at Keflavík Airport and they leave every 20 minutes or so.

There are two types of tickets available: The normal Flybus ticket that will take you to the BSÍ bus terminal or a Flybus + Ticket that takes your to your hotel or guesthouse.

If you are staying close to the BSÍ it’s probably worth it to take the cheaper Flybus ticket that will get you to the BSÍ and walk or take a taxi from there (especially if there’s more than one person traveling together) but if you are staying a little out of the city center the Flybus + is a better deal.

Please keep in mind though that you will read everywhere that this only takes 45 minutes but that actually just refers to the driving time between Keflavík Airport and the BSÍ bus terminal – the whole process from when you sit inside the bus until they drop you off at your hotel (if you have a Flybus + ticket) can take up to two hours.

I wrote a post about this issue with the Flybus a while a go that might be worth the read.

10:00 – The I Heart Reykjavík Walking Tour

On our walking tour we will tell you all about why we heart Reykjavík and why we think you’ll heart it too. On the tour we’ll tell you a little bit about the history of Reykjavík, show you a few of our favorite places and point out restaurants and bars you might want to enjoy during your stay in Reykjavík.

Although we often have people coming straight from the airport to our tour without any problems you can still experience delays with your flight in which case we cannot refund the tour but we try our best to book you in on the next available tour that fits your schedule.

Book the Reykjavík Walking Tour here

14:00 (2 pm) – Check -in at Loft Hostel

This itinerary assumes you will stay in a 8-bed dorm at Loft Hostel as this is the cheapest option available. You can upgrade to a smaller dorm or a private room and pay the difference in price.

I chose Loft hostel for this itinerary because the location is excellent, the value is great and they have an excellent bar where you can socialize with your fellow guests and make new friends.

Loft hostel is my top choice for solo budged-minded travelers in Reykjavík.

Book Loft Hostel here

14:30 (2:30 pm) – Free afternoon in Reykjavík

You are going to be tired after a long flight and lack of sleep so I recommend you don’t plan anything big on your first day. If you have the energy you can go and check out some of the things you learned about on the walking tour or you can simply take a little nap to have some energy for dinner and such.

If you do take a nap – remember to set an alarm so you don’t sleep too long and completely turn your body clock upside down.

21:00 (9 pm) – Northern Lights Bus Tour

If you are up for it and you take a nap in the afternoon you can do a northern lights tour in the evening of your first day.

Because you get to go again if you don’t see them the first time it’s good to schedule this tour early on in your trip to maximize your chances of seeing the lights.

If you absolutely can’t do this on the first night, due to fatigue and general laziness you can combine it with the Golden Circle tour the next day.

Please also keep in mind that the northern lights are a natural phenomenon and there are no guarantees that you’ll see them. So no being mad at me if you don’t see any – I’m just a blogger who’s trying to help you making the most of your stay!

Book the Northern Lights bus tour here

Day 2: Geysers and waterfalls and the wonderful Secret Lagoon

Secret-lagoon

10:00 – The Hot Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is to Iceland what the Empire State and the Statue of Liberty is to New York: Very touristy but you kind of have to do it.

On this tour you will visit the three big places of the Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park (where Iceland’s parliament was founded in 930), the magnificent Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir geothermal area (with the ever chipper Strokkur that bursts with excitement every 5-8 minutes or so).

We always recommend this tour (it’s by far our best selling partner tour) because the groups are small, the guides really nice and it includes a visit to the wonderful Secret Lagoon. All that without being stupidly expensive (it only costs marginally more than the cheaper big bus tours). Plus it leave a little later than most of the tours which allows you to sleep in (score) and you escape the biggest crowds at most places.

Book the Hot Golden Circle Tour here

21:00 (9 pm) – Northern Lights Bus Tour

If you were too tired the night before to do a Northern Lights tour you can it on this night instead. Or if you went and didn’t see anything you can try again.

Book the Northern Lights bus tour here

Day 3: Day one of an exciting overnight adventure of the south coast

skogafoss

8:00 – Check out of Loft Hotel for your trip around the south coast

If you have any luggage that you don’t want to bring on your trip you can store it at the hostel for a small fee.

8:45 – South Coast adventure including the main sights, an ice cave, Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

On this 2-day tour you will explore the south coast on a smaller bus (max 16 people + guide) but you will be picked up right next to your hostel.

On day one you will catch a glimpse of Eyjafjallajökull (that volcano that nobody can pronounce that caused all the havoc in 2010), you’ll get some time to get up close and personal with Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, visit Reynisfjara beach and make a short stop at Vík village.

After a great day of exploring you’ll head to your accommodation (which varies depending on departures) to chill and post all your gorgeous photos to Instagram. In the evening there will be an opportunity to hunt for the Northern Lights (the chances are better out in the country side away from the light pollution).

Food is not included on the tour but you’ll get some chance to buy lunch on the way and you can buy dinner where you spend the night.

Book the 2 day South Coast adventure here

Day 4: The Second day of your south coast adventure  – including a visit to an ice cave (eeek!)

Svínafellsjökull

After getting up and eating breakfast you will head to Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon to marvel at the icebergs and maybe some seals.. Next you will do an ice caave tour with certified guides who will ensure your safety and enjoyment.

After the ice cave tour you will start to make your way back but before you drive back to Reykjavík you’ll make a stop at the beautiful Skaftafell national park. On the way back you will also be on the lookout for the northern lights and other natural beauties.

21:00 – 23:00 (9 pm – 11 pm) – Drop off in Reykjavík and checking in at Loft hostel again.

If they return you early, and you’re not dead from the travels, you could get a night cap at the lovely Loft Hostel bar

Day 5: Last day in Paradise

Image via The Blue Lagoon

Image via The Blue Lagoon

08:00 – Check-out from loft hostel

Don’t forget to say good bye to all your new friends and the fabulous staff at the hostel.

09:00 – The Blue Lagoon (with transfer)

It’s a great idea to visit the Blue Lagoon on your way back to the airport. The main reasons for this is a) the Blue Lagoon is on the way to the airport where you are headed anyway and b) you are going to be a bit tired from all the traveling so soaking in a hot pools is just what the doctor ordered.

There are many different packages you can book at the Blue Lagoon but if you want a little luxury without paying a stupid amount extra I recommend the premium package that includes a towel, bathrobe and a face mask. For a departure at 09:00 you would book your Blue Lagoon ticket at 10:00.

The bus will pick you up from the hostel and take you to the Lagoon where you can store your luggage for a small fee while you enjoy the lagoon. Then when you are ready you take the next transfer to the airport. Just make sure you are at the airport at least 2 hours before departure.

If you are flying out at 17:00 you can leave Reykjavík a little later or you could splurge on one last nice meal at the Lava Restaurant at the Blue Lagoon. .

17:00 (5 pm) – Leave Iceland (with a tear in your eye already counting the days until you can come back – with all your friends)

If you are flying with Icelandair to the US you are likely to leave around 17:00 – if you are flying with WOW on the other hand you are likely to fly between 15:00 and 16:00.

You need to be at the airport at least 2 hours before departure and I recommend you take advantage of checking in online in advance or that you uses the self-service kiosks at the airport. That way you can just drop off your luggage and head straight to security.

Download this itinerary as a PDF here

If you enjoy this sample itinerary (or the blog in general) I hope you will consider booking these tours through us. We make a small commission of everything you book through us but you don’t pay anything extra. This small commission allows us to carry on providing excellent, relevant and free travel advice for you and everyone else traveling to Iceland.

If you want us to take care of your booking for you (which is super easy and convenient for you because we take care of everything) you can also send us an e-mail and we’ll get to it ASAP.

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36 thoughts on “How to spend 5 days in Iceland in fall or winter solo without breaking the bank”

  1. Jim Davis says:

    Auður,

    I visited Iceland last September with a fairly modest budget and had a great time. I recommend the Reykiavik City Card – it was good for 2 days and cost about $41US. Plenty of museums and exhibits for discounted or free admission. Highly recommended when the weather isn’t being cooperative.

    And of course the I Heart Reykjavik tour with Ásta was very nice. I’ll do that tour again if I can visit Iceland again someday.

    Hotel Fron was a good and reasonably priced hotel to stay in. Simply furnished, but clean and comfortable, and continental breakfast was included. I would gladly stay there again.

    The Golden Circle is a must for any first time visitor, especially if there is only time or money for 1 tour, this is the one. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula tour was impressive, but the South Coast/Jökulsárlón tour was absolutely amazing.

    For those who like to indulge in alcohol, buy a bottle at the airport’s duty free shop. I paid about $30 for a liter of rum, not much more than here. And look for happy hour deals at bars.

    One more thing… I found The Deli (at Skólavörðustígur and Laugavegur) be a decent place for a quick and relatively inexpensive lunch. I think I paid about $8 for 2 slices of pizza and a drink.

    I hope that helps!

    Thanks,

    Jim Davis

    1. Danielle says:

      We liked The Deli too – and went there on recommendation from one of Auður’s blog posts a few years ago – she really has thought of it all! 😀

  2. Jennifer Davies says:

    Perfect timing for this post 🙂 . I’m heading over to Iceland in late November.

    1. Adam K says:

      It is prefect for me as well because I am heading over to Iceland in November:-)

      1. mm Auður says:

        Glad it is useful 🙂

  3. Colleen says:

    Perfect timing for me, too, as I’m considering a late December solo visit! My concern is that too many businesses & restaurants may be closed during the Christmas/New Year week. And along those lines, I need to look into whether this itinerary would be do-able during that time. Not sure if the tours are offered on holidays, for example. I’d really prefer to visit a different week, but for now this is my only option.

    1. mm Auður says:

      The only days that you need to worry about are December 25th and January 1st but even if the desired tour is not available at that time we could probably find you something that is available. Shoot us an e-mail if you need any help with that.

      1. Colleen says:

        Thank you! My other thought, aside from potential holiday closures, is how worthwhile it is to pay for full day tours when there are so many hours of no (or limited) daylight. My area of world (north of Seattle) has short winter days, too. A day-long bus tour to visit the islands or mountains would provide views of darkness for a number of hours – even more so in Iceland. So I’m not sure how that would look (so to speak!)…

  4. Jennifer Davies says:

    Ill be staying at the Reykjavik City Hostel during my time in Iceland (Loft was already booked). Can I use the city card to take the bus to downtown Reykjavik?

    1. Colleen says:

      The City Card provides unlimited access to all Reykjavik City buses.

    2. Maureen says:

      I am trying to plan a surprise trip for our 30th wedding anniversary which is October 25. What are your suggestions for trying to pull this off on a very low budget & with so little time? We would be flying from east coast of US. Any and all advice will be appreciated. Would be our first out of US trip.

      1. mm Auður says:

        It’s probably cheapest for 2 people to rent a car and drive yourself but if you want to do tours the bigger bus tours are usually priced lower. It also depends on what you are most into.

  5. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the post! What do you think the weather will be like in late November? I’m planning a solo trip, and am wondering if I should worry about snow or icy roads while driving on the road. Thank you! 🙂

    1. mm Auður says:

      In November it would be wise to take snow and icy roads into considerations, yes.

  6. Lucy says:

    Hi Audur!

    I’m in love with your blog! We’re planning on coming December 30th to January 4th. We want to hit the fireworks for nye that we’ve read about, Do you think we’re being ambitious trying to visit the Nlight, Blue lagoon and So on at this time of year? Is everything still up and running?

    Thankyou! x

    1. mm Auður says:

      Yes, most things are up and running although some companies offer limited service on the 31st and January 1st. Many restaurants and bars and such are also closed on those days.

  7. corey g says:

    Great post, I’ve been back n forth on your site since i bought my iceland tix in March. I’ll be in iceland for 5 days in mid October, I usually travel alone and prefer not be around many tourists so my itenerary may be a little unorthodox. I land on a Friday and am renting a car staying in Skaftafell then Reykvahlid then Vatnsnes area and spending last two days in Reykjavik. My main spots im checking out are Jokulsarlon, Vik beach, Dettifoss, seals, Akureyri and the sites of Reykjavik. Does this sound crazy or pretty doable? Im all set for it.

    1. mm Auður says:

      To be honest, yes this sounds crazy to me 🙂 Five days, two of which you intend to spend in Reykjavík, is not enough to do the full circle.

  8. David Sloane says:

    Thanks for the great blog post. When I went to the Blue Lagoon, on the way to the airport, there was a tremendous line of travelers, waiting to check their bags before going inside. Five buses had arrived at the same time, and about 3/4 of the passengers had luggage to check. The Blue Lagoon staff weren’t prepared to check in 60 bags at once. And the entry staff were only slightly better prepared to for 80 guests arriving at once. So, out of about 4 hours at the Blue Lagoon, we lost over an hour to lines.
    This was a couple of years ago, in January 2014, and perhaps it’s all better now! But it was a rough patch in an otherwise lovely stop.

    1. mm Auður says:

      I wonder whether they have fixed this or if something special was going on that day. If anyone else has had some experience with this I’d love to hear how it went for you.

  9. Kelly says:

    Hello,
    I’m traveling solo next week to Iceland.
    I’m renting a car and staying in Hafnerfjordur.
    Any tips for driving the golden circle and south coast alone? )
    Aslo do buses run 24hrs to Reykjavik?
    Looking to go out Friday night but do not want to drive.
    Thank you and I love your blog!

    1. mm Auður says:

      I would suggest you check out these guides: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/tag/drive-it-yourself/

      Buses do not run 24 hours, the last one to go to Hafnarfjörður from downtown Reykjavík will probably leave somewhere around midnight.

  10. Dianne says:

    Hi, I am going with a friend late October for 3 days but our flight back leaves Reykjavic at 7.45am is the only option for getting to the airport taxi? I am sure that we will have to be there 3 hours before take off.

    1. mm Auður says:

      No, you can also take the Flybus or the Airport Express for example.

      1. Dianne says:

        Thank you, I have just booked to go to and from he airport with Back to Iceland, I think that time is going to be precious.
        It is a very reasonable price,

        So Excited, cant wait only 2 weeks to go .

  11. Stephanie says:

    Hi Auður,

    Thank you for a detailed post on this – I built my itinerary taking these items into consideration and it definitely helps!

    I was curious, would you recommend going to Blue Lagoon on day 1, immediately after arrival instead of the last day? Only asking because of the limited number of buses running from Blue Lagoon to KEF airport and potentially there being a longer line up for checking in bags at Blue Lagoon vs. at BSI (per David Sloane’s comment above). Curious to hear your thoughts!

    1. mm Auður says:

      It doesn’t really matter if you don’t want to do our walking tour, we just recommend you do that on the first day. Just keep in mind though that if you land in Keflavík at 4am the Blue Lagoon doesn’t open until 9am from November 1st.

      I personally think it’s much nicer to enjoy the Blue Lagoon after a few hectic travel dates and I would worry that the lagoon would make me even more tired on the way in from the airport but that’s just my personal preference.

  12. Mahee Ferlini says:

    Great Tips!! Thanks 🙂

  13. cate says:

    Thanks for the advice
    Travelling with my family – 5 in total – 18-23 Dec
    I am curious about the light – if we are travelling on a bus for 8-9 hours – can you see anything for most of that time or is it all dark.
    Also with a relatively large group would you suggest hiring a car or would the weather be too unpredictable?

    1. mm Auður says:

      This is the darkest period in Iceland but it’s not dark all the time, it’s just dusky a lot. The companies that run these tours make sure they plan them around the daylight so you can enjoy the main attractions while it’s bright. On a nine hour tour it’s very possible that a part of it will be driven in the dark.

  14. Amber H. says:

    Thank you for that helpful input! Do you have any opinions on the any of the “Game of Thrones” tours offered in Iceland? We are visiting in March and were interested in doing several of the tours you have suggested but also wondered if the GOT tour is worth it?

    1. mm Auður says:

      I have to be very honest with you – I’ve never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones so just don’t know 🙂

  15. Nirvan says:

    Just booked this exact 5-day trip through the website and with Auður help. Just wanted to let everyone know it was the best decision I have made! The whole trip was perfect, the tours recommended above were excellent covering all the major sites. The accommodation was very good too, located in a really central part of town. My favourite part would definitely be the 2-day south coast tour, although a little expensive it is absolutely epic!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Nirvan, I’m glad you enjoyed your trip so much! 🙂 We’ve put a lot of thought into this itinerary so it’s always good to see that your instincts were correct.

  16. Ana says:

    Thanks for such an informative post. I’ll be visiting at the end of March and will take into consideration your suggestions. I’ll be staying an additional day, what changes/additions would you suggest to the itinerary? Thanks!!!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Have you seen this 7 day itinerary? Maybe you can pick and choose what you like from both: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2016/11/seven-days-in-winter-in-iceland-for-adventure-lovers-that-dont-want-to-rent-a-car/

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