Spending only 48 hours in Iceland? Make the most out of it! I got you covered with this step by step guide for an unforgettable roadtrip.
Spending 2 days or a weekend in Iceland, one of the most beautiful countries this world has to offer, might sound like a crazy idea. However, sometimes those types of trips come by and when they come you got to fit as much as humanly possible into your schedule.
Iceland is an amazing place and when planning this trip we had such a hard time deciding where to go but it all turn out amazingly well so I want to make it easier for you to decide where to go.
Why just 48 hours?
After Icelandair started to connect flights to other countries through Keflavik airport, they allow passengers to change their flight schedule for free so that you can stay in the country for up to 7 days before heading to your final destination. So it is really not that uncommon to spend a few days in Iceland before or after your main trip.
This is why I travelled from Finland to Iceland to meet my wife after she came from a business trip in Boston with Icelandair and took advantage of the #MyStopover benefit. She arrived in a Saturday morning at 6.30am and left on a Monday morning at 7am. Because we only had 48 hours, there was not minute to waste.
Our trip was in mid October, we didn’t have to cross any rivers or drive in Iceland’s “F” roads (4×4 only roads) so this plan could work perfectly during any day of the year as long as there is no heavy snowstorm on sight.
Quick note: Any brand or accommodation mentioned here is my sole opinion, no one is paying me to say this and I will try to keep it this way. I want you to have the best experience possible based on mine.
TLTR? Scroll all the way down for the itinerary summary and budget!
How to move around Iceland?
The best way to get around, save money and decide your own schedule is renting a car. That’s why I love driving not only in Iceland but most of the time anywhere I go. We rented a 4×4 car from ProCar (only car rental company I’ve used in Iceland but I do recommend it) 74€ per day and unlimited kilometers.
Even if the rent per day is 74€ the price you pay is less than going with a tour bus. Add to this that you can stop at any point to enjoy the views, play with the iconic Icelandic horses (you can see them everywhere) and take smaller hikes on the way to stretch your legs.
Note: the 4×4 was just in case we needed extra power but at the end we really didn’t need it for this roadtrip. However, as we usually like to go to “difficult-to-reach” places, it was good to be prepared. Thinking about it, I would never rent anything else than a 4×4 in Iceland for this reason.
I already have a global car rental insurance with “I Car Hire” (Part of Alliance) so this saves me money every time I rent a car as I don’t need to purchase the rental car company’s insurance. The “I Car Hire” yearly worldwide insurance costs about 80€ and if something happens their claim process is easy. I had already 1 issue with my car while driving in Central America and they covered everything (about 400€ worth). This is why I definitely recommend you to get the insurance from them. If you don’t want the yearly insurance you can get the daily one and pay the days you need.
Day 1: South Iceland, waterfalls, hiking and thermal pools
I flew to Iceland the day before my wife arrived, this allowed me to rent the car and get food, snacks, water, etc. from the supermarket. We left really early around 7am on day 1 from Keflavik airport, during this time of the year (mid-October) the sunrise is around 8am so it was dark still.
The first day was a 362Km drive in total, we stopped like at least 20 times on the way, you know because of horses, huge mountains, panoramas, Iceland.. here are our main stops with a rough time schedule for each:
(NOTE: In case you wonder, the times shown below are just estimates to give you an idea of how much time we spent in each place. I really didn’t plan it hour by hour like this 😉 )
10am: Seljalandsfoss waterfall
When it comes to waterfalls in south Iceland it is hard to beat the crowds, this is why we didn’t spend much time in Seljalandsfoss, just about 30 minutes or so. You can walk behind the waterfall if you want but if you don’t have any waterproof gear you will get soaking wet. We didn’t walk behind it for this reason and we still had a long way to go.
You will see the waterfall from far while driving and it is hard to miss it as it is right next to the road. Even if it is full of people the waterfall is amazing, we did take lots of pictures and this one gave us a good intro to what was coming next, Skógafoss waterfall.
11am: Skógafoss waterfall + hiking
Skógafoss is really close to Seljalandsfoss, just a 30-minute drive. If the day is clear, pay attention because 10 minutes before you reach Skógafoss you have the chance to stop in the view point to see the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that erupted in 2010 and stopped the northern hemisphere air traffic for days.
The area surrounding Skógafoss is amazing and the best part is that you can hike as much as you want. There are a set of stairs to a viewpoint on top of the waterfall and from there you can start hiking to see the amazing nature and the rapids/smaller waterfalls that come before Skógafoss’ 60-meter drop. There are tens of kilometers to walk on, you can even hike to the great valley of Thorsmork from there (23kms away), of course that this would be when you have more days to spend.
Before getting near the waterfall and get soaking wet, we decided to go hiking first. We got to a hill about 2-3kms after the staircase viewpoint, and if you have good weather you can see the whole black southern coast down to Vik. Going hiking was the best way to experience the nature, quietness and get rid of the crowds who just come there to see the waterfall.
After about 1-hour hike we came down to the waterfall and with the sun shining towards it we could experience its rainbow too. This place leaves you in awe because of its size, loudness and epicness of the surroundings. You feel will feel really small.
3pm: Reykjaladur hiking + natural hot springs
What about a nice thermal bath to relax and end the day? All of this for free? Hell yeah!
Get to your car and drive back on the same route you came from, we’ll get to Reykjaladur’s natural hot springs. Reykjaladur means “smokey valley” and it is near the village of Hveragerdi. Very easy to get there and they only thing you need to do is an easy to moderate hike for about 45 minutes with amazing views of steam columns coming out of the Earth. You will feel just like in a prehistoric land.
The best thing from the place is that it isn’t that much visited by tourists, very famous between locals. They have built some wooden structures around the hot spring to protect the ecosystem because the amount of people going there increases year after year. So hurry up to get there before this “hidden gem”, as they call it, is totally full of people.
I do recommend you to hike all the way to the end of the valley, about 300 meters past the hot springs follow the path to the right and you will get to interesting hot mud holes (but don’t touch anything there as something could be boiling hot) and you can see the beginning of the cold river that later on mixes with the hot stream.
We walked back to the pools and jumped straight in. After relaxing in nature’s best spa for an hour or so it was time to leave and hike back to the entrance. The hike back felt easier, maybe the hot water helped our muscles to regain strength, who knows.
Total time spent in Reykjaladur: about 3 hours.
8PM: Arrived to our Bed and Breakfast
As our plan for the next day included Thingvellir and Snæfellsness peninsula, we stayed in Laugaból B&B which was about 10 minutes north from Mosfellsbær.
Day 1 in the map:
Day 2: Thingvellir, Kirkjufell, Snæfellsness peninsula round trip
9am: Arrived In Thingvellir
Thingvellir is one of the most historical sites in the world. The Icelandic parliament was was established around the year 930 and continued to convene there until 1798. But this is not it! Thingvellir is between 2 freaking massive tectonic plates that continue to separate: North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is in this place were you can see the plates, and even walk on top of them. The site is one of the few in the world were tectonic plates are seen above the sea level.
As it is a national park, do expect tourists, my advice before going to explore the historical sites is to get to the information center in the northern part of the park get a detailed map for 500ISK (4€) and then drive back to the crossroads that takes you Öxarárfoss waterfall near parking lot P2.
When you get to that crossroad don’t go to the waterfall yet (route 361), take the right and drive north on the route 550 for about 1-2 minutes until you get to a small gate. There are a few places for parking on the side of the road. Then you’ll see the North American tectonic plate right there in front of your eyes, you can climb on top of it. From there you will have an amazing view from the valley, its snowy mountains and the Eurasian tectonic plate a few kilometers east from your location.
Best of all this small detour, no tourists!! You’ll be most likely all by yourself.
After this, you can go ahead and go to see Öxarárfoss waterfall, Silfra rift, Alþingi, Thingvellir’s church and if you are feeling like it you can hike to the Eurasian plate on the east, it takes about 2 hours to get there. We didn’t have so much time so we just explored what we could and by 12pm we left to the Snæfellsness peninsula.
12pm: Snæfellsness Peninsula
Snæfellsness peninsula is a “monster” of its own, in the best way possible. Incredible landscape and views, we honestly didn’t know what to expect from it. The original plan was to drive to the famous Kirkjufell mountain. Little we know what this peninsula had planned for us.
To get to the peninsula you have to drive through a very long tunnel which is a toll road too, the only one in Iceland. The toll fee isn’t expensive, just 1000ISK (8€), you have to pay it again when coming back to Reykjavik/Keflavik.
TIP: There is a nice coffee place to get the much needed caffeine. It seemed to be the only one in this vast area, it is just at the intersection of route 54 and 56. Strategic point before getting on route 56 to Kirkjufell.
3pm: Sheep’s Waterfall, Craters and Lava fields
Before Kirkjufell we stopped at a place that took our breath away with 2 red mountains (turns out they are craters), lava fields beyond the lake and the Sheep’s waterfall. The area was perfect for a small hike after driving for a while, just us and nature, no one else. The place is easy to locate because there is a parking area next to the road. We spent there about 20 minutes to stretch our legs after the drive and continued. Here is its location in google maps.
“The most photographed mountain in Iceland”, no wonder why, its shape and the fact that it has a few waterfalls just in front of it makes it truly photogenic. So eerie looking, just standing by itself that it has been featured in episode of Game of Thrones. We arrived around 3.30pm to Kirkjufell after spending the morning in Thingvellir.
The parking lot over there is super small and we did have some trouble to find parking space but we managed at the end. As you would expect, there were a few other photographers and tourists around this is why we didn’t stay too long after taking our pictures. This part of the itinerary took less time than we expected so since it was about 4pm we decided to do a round trip by entering the Snæfellsnessjökull national park on the northern part and getting out in the southern exit to continue towards Reykjavik.
Total driving time from Kirjufell all the way around the national park until the route 54/56 crossroad café where we stopped before was 1h 40mins so we could see the whole area before darkness, that’s what we thought. Sunset in October is some time around 6.15pm.
4pm: Snæfellsnessjökull national park
We drove from Kirkjufell towards Olafsvik. Then entered the national park, one of the best things in Iceland is that most of its national parks (if not all of them) are totally free of charge.
5PM: Hólahólar crater
The trip continued around the coast with amazing views of the Snæfellsnessjökull strato volcano and glacier, lots of stops on the way to enjoy the unspoiled views.
We stopped so many times that we could see the sunset coming. Then, while driving in the western part of the national park, my wife shouts: “uuu! What’s that!?” Pointing to the right. I suddenly hit the breaks (luckily no car behind). A big alone conic-shaped hill shows up, nothing else around it except a lava field. Before we knew it, we found ourselves on top of a 4,000-year-old crater. Definitely a must stop, easy to climb as they have stairs going there and the views to the glacier are spectacular.
After spending about an hour in the crater sunset started so we decided that it was time to focus on driving to our Airbnb in Keflavik. Our flight was leaving the next day very early in the morning. On the way we stopped at a Domino’s pizza for dinner (you can find them everywhere in Iceland) and then arrived to Keflavik around 9pm.
10PM: Arrived to Airbnb near Keflavik airport
Day 1 in the map:
Night of day 1 we stayed in this very comfortable B&B which was strategically placed for our Thingvellir plans: Laugaból
Night of day 2 we stayed in a really interesting Airbnb which had all the things you need, near the airport, hut tub and even free breakfast: Airbnb in Reykjanesbær
- 7am: Left from Keflavik Airport
- 10am: Seljalandsfoss waterfall
- 11am: Skógafoss waterfall + hiking
- 3pm: Reykjaladur hiking + natural hot springs
- 8pm: Arrived to our Bed and Breakfast
- 9am: Arrived in Thingvellir
- 12pm: Snæfellsness Peninsula
- 3pm: Sheep’s Waterfall, Craters and Lava fields
- 3.30pm Kirkjufell
- 4pm: Snæfellsnessjökull national park
- 5PM: Hólahólar crater
- 10PM: Arrived to Airbnb near Keflavik airport
Whole trip in the map:
Iceland isn’t one of the cheapest countries to go to but their price range is very similar to Nordic countries. If staying a long time during summer I’d say that the best way would be to bring your own camping gear then you’d save tons of money. For this weekend trip we went for the easiest which was booking a couple of B&B nights. We are not crazy about spending money, the more saved the more we can travel, so we always try to keep our expenditure as low as possible. Here are the total expenses during our trip, excluding flights.
- Car rental: 148€
- Gas: 80€
- Accomodation: 199€
- Food (including dinners, snacks, refreshments bought at the supermarket and café stops): About 80€
Total: 507€ (253,50€ per person)
I hope this helps you to plan your next Icelandic adventure. Is there anything else that you would like to know? Did I miss something? Message me on Instagram or write a comment below 🙂