This fast-paced Icelandic trip spans three regions—the Golden Circle, South Coast, and Thorsmork—and offers plenty to see over the course of five days. Explore Þingvellir National Park and snorkel in the Silfra Fissure in the Golden Circle. Then, view beautiful waterfalls, like Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, along with black-sand beaches in the South Coast. Next, take a bus to Thorsmork to embark on a day of hiking trails through the valley, and end in Reykjavik to discover the best of the capital city.

Highlights

  • Visit Þingvellir National Park, and snorkel where the tectonic plates meet
  • View the gorgeous waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss in the South Coast
  • Go on incredible hiking trails through the breathtaking Thorsmork Valley region
  • Explore the cultural and street are highlights in the capital city of Reykjavik

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival & Drive to Þingvellir, Geysir, & Gullfoss Falls in the Golden Circle Golden Circle
Day 2 Drive to the South Coast & Explore Waterfalls, Black-Sand Beaches, & Cliffs Hvolsvollur
Day 3 Bus to Thorsmork & Hiking Trails Thorsmork
Day 4 Drive the South Coast & Explore Reykjavík Reykjavik
Day 5 Visit the Reykjanes Peninsula & Depart From Reykjavík  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival and drive to Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss Falls in the Golden Circle

Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park

Welcome to Iceland! Arrive at Keflavík Airport (KEF) in the morning, and pick up your rental car. Stop in Reykjavík for breakfast, or just head straight out to explore the highlights of the Golden Circle, Iceland's most popular area.

Start with a tour of Þingvellir National Park, where the tectonic plates meet. Visit historical Law Rock, where chieftains from all over the country met once a year to discuss laws and issues, some traveling up to 17 days each way on foot or horseback. Þingvellir is also home to the Silfra Fissure, where you can join a snorkel or scuba tour, and dive between tectonic plates in crystal-clear water.

Next, visit the Geysir geothermal area, with bubbling mud pits and steam vents—the Strokkur geyser erupts like clockwork every 10 minutes—followed by a trip to Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”), a massive waterfall that is sure to impress.

Finish your day at Secret Lagoon in Flúðir. Enjoy a relaxing soak in the geothermal waters and a possible glimpse of the Northern Lights (from September-April, depending on the weather).

Day 2: Drive to the South Coast and explore waterfalls, black-sand beaches, and cliffs

A view of Seljalandsfoss from behind the waterfall
A view of Seljalandsfoss from behind the waterfall

After breakfast, hit the road and spend today enjoying the popular highlights of the south.

Your first stop is Seljalandsfoss waterfall, with access from behind just a few minutes from the parking lot. Note that the ground is uneven in a few places, and there are stairs on one side. Standing in a cave under the cliff, witness the water come roaring down 20-30 feet in front of you. Pay attention to the direction of the wind or wear a rain jacket (or both). When viewed from behind, spot two, smaller waterfalls to the right, as well.

Next, along Route 1, locate the powerful Skógafoss Waterfall. Skógafoss marks the beginning of the 16-mile Fimmvörðuháls Trail, which ends in Thórsmörk. Admire the waterfall from the bottom, just a 2-minute walk from the parking lot, or if you are up for it, find the stairs to the right and climb up for a different perspective. At the top, walk along the canyon for a bit to see more waterfalls along “Waterfall Way” before turning around.
Note: Depending on snow conditions, this may not be possible.

Then, make your way to the Dyrhólaey arch and cliffs. At Dyrhólaey, there are two parking lots where you can see the famous arch. (The one high on the hill offers the better view.) Take the bumpy, dirt road to your right as you enter. From the top, spot a lighthouse and great views looking further west, along a black-sand beach that reaches as far as you can see. Look for birds flying around; they nest along the cliffside.

As you near Vík, along Route 1, look for the turnoff to Reynisfjara Beach, past a pretty church, as you drive toward the water. This black-rock beach (not as fine-grain as the one in Vík) is most famous for the Reynisdrangar Columns—huge, hexagonal basalt columns rising up out of the sand. Walk 1-2 minutes around the cliffs to the left, as you face the ocean, to find a couple of large caves, as well.  

Next, reach Vík. While the town itself is fairly small, its proximity to several great sights more than makes up for it. You can even explore the area in the evening, after the large crowds dissipate, or before the crowds arrive the next day. Toward the water, look for a black-sand beach with high cliffs on the right side, often filled with soaring and nesting birds.

Spend the night in Hvolsvollur at your leisure. 

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Day 3: Bus to Thorsmork and hiking trails

Thorsmork Valley
Thorsmork Valley

Board a bus from the parking lot of the LAVA Centre in Hvolsvollur, which is an educational exhibit about volcanic activity, to Thorsmork and the highlands. Spend some time in the "Valley of Thor," and one of the premier hiking destinations in Iceland. You can camp, or stay in the Volcano Huts while you are there.

Consider picking up some groceries before heading to Thorsmork, as your only option for food is the LavaGrill (buffets, dinners, and packed lunches for day hikes are all available here).

This valley, named after Thor, the Nordic God of Thunder, has been carved away by glacial river floods that were caused by volcanic eruptions under the glaciers. You will notice ash and lava flows from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull. The viewpoints are endless, and you can spend days hiking up mountains, along cliffs, and to waterfalls, volcanoes, and glaciers. The trails and terrain will vary, sometimes with necessary glacier river crossings (do not attempt to cross the glacial river Krossá by foot; always use the bridge).

When planning your hikes, you can purchase a Þórsmörk Trail Map at the Volcano Huts, which has a nice view of the trails in the area, as well as information about the landscapes and history.

Þórsmörk Panorama Trail leads you up and over the peak of the Valahnúkur mountain, where you get an impressive 360° view of Þórsmörk. From the top of Valahnúkur, head down to the Langidalur Hut, before heading back to the Volcano Huts, through the birch woods of the Húsadalur Valley. The trail is well-marked and accessible with manmade steps on its steepest parts, and can be added on to the below trails, as well.
Duration: 1.5-2 hours

Þórsmörk Highlights features all the best views of Þórsmörk and versatile terrain. The trail leads you through the birch woods of the Húsadalur Valley and up to the foothills of the Tindfjöll Mountains, where you turn onto the last part of the Laugavegur Hiking Trail, before descending back to the Volcano Huts. This trail is marked and accessible with the possibility to extend to other trails or cut short at convenient points. Duration: 3-4 hours

Tindfjöll Circle gives you a beautiful view over the Þórsmörk Nature Reserve with challenging terrain and access to some of the best viewpoints. You start by heading out over to the Langidalur Hut, and from there you ascend up to the foothills of the Tindfjöll Mountains. The hills below the Tindfjöll Mountains are steep, and you will have to traverse the meandering side of the hill with caution. As you make your way around the Tindfjöll Mountains, the trail leads onto the Stangarháls Ridge, where you descend down a steep trail, all the way down to the Krossá riverbed. From the bottom of the valley, you can head back to the Volcano Huts with the option of extending the trek by one hour, over the Valahnúkur mountain, or opt for an easy stroll through the Langidalur and Húsadalur woods, over to the Volcano Huts. Most parts of the trail are well-marked and it is fairly accessible, while also challenging in parts, due to steep sections on the paths.
Duration: 5-6 hours

Merkurrani Plateau Trail leads you up to the foothills of the Valahnúkur Mountain and onto the Merkurrani plateau, a short distance from the Volcano Huts. From there, head south, in the direction of Eyjafjallajökull, to the very end of the plateau to reach the steep Merkurrani Cliffs where the Krossá River has carved a sharp edge to the volcanic rock. Be careful, as the steep rock appears suddenly at your feet. From the cliffs, enjoy the great view over the Krossá River, Eyjafjallajökull, and the surrounding mountains of Þórsmörk. Head down to the black sands of the Markarfljót Riverbed where the contrasts of the volcanic ash and the green hills of Þórsmörk are very clear. On your way to the Volcano Huts, make time for a short stop at the Sóttarhellir Cave.
Duration: 2-3 hours

Stakkholtsgjá Canyon is on the south side of Krossá, and is accessible by a 15-minute bus ride from the Volcano Huts, once a day, at 12:30 pm. The bus lets you off at the mouth of the canyon and picks you up again, 2 hours later, to return to the Volcano Huts. The canyon is also accessible by foot, 1 hour each way. When walking, you cross the Krossá River on a footbridge close to the canyon. As you enter the canyon, skip across a small river and walk along it to the end of the canyon. On your way, enjoy an impressive view upon the 330-foot- high cliffs, towering above your head. The riverbed leads you to a narrow passage, on the left side, at the very bottom of the canyon. Enter the actual Stakkholtsgjá Ravine itself. Continue up a pile of large boulders to where you can see the river cascade down into the ravine, in a beautiful waterfall. The canyon offers an easy but rewarding hike. Be careful, or you might end up with your feet wet when crossing the river, and be careful of any falling rocks, or ice during the winter, from the cliffs above.
Duration: 2-4 hours

Additionally, you can take a guided hiking tour in Þórsmörk to Stakkholtsgjá Waterfall. Depart from 12:15 pm from Volcano Huts and embark on an excursion in the canyon that lasts 2 hours and 30 minutes. 

You can also enjoy a trip to the LavaSPA natural pool and sauna. By the edge of the Húsadalur woods, find a small geothermal pool, sauna, and showers. The manmade pool is heated naturally and is around 90°. As a guest of Volcano Huts, this is included in your stay. You can also reserve massage appointments if desired.

Day 4: Drive the South Coast and explore Reykjavík

Reykjavík with a view of Hallgrímskirkja church
Reykjavík with a view of Hallgrímskirkja church

Leave Thorsmork in the afternoon and drive back along the South Coast toward Reykjavík to spend your last evening with a delicious meal and a taste of the nightlife. Visit any of the destinations you may have missed on the drive out, or stop at some of the below suggestions: 

  • Reykjadalur hot spring river (just after Selfoss): Reykjadalur (“Smoky Valley") is home to an active, geothermal area and hot springs. Hike from the trailhead north to Reykjadalur for less than an hour before you arrive at a hot river coursing through the valley. The water temperature can vary by location, so find a spot that's right for you.
  • Seljavallalaug pool: A short distance after Skógafoss, make a detour to Seljavallalaug, one of the oldest swimming pools in the country, built in 1923. Look for the small sign to Seljavellir. A short, scenic hike will take you to the relaxing pool.
  • Urriðafoss: As you reach the end of your South Coast drive, consider one last waterfall sighting. While Urriðafoss may not be considered as stunning as Skógafoss or Seljalandsfoss, it makes up for it in other ways. Urriðafoss is the largest-volume waterfall in Iceland, both very wide and very loud. It’s only a short trip from the Ring Road and a great finale to exploring the south.
  • Kerið Crater: Just a quick detour from Route 1 on your way back to Reykjavík, hike around the top of Kerið Crater and enjoy views of its blue lake at the bottom.
  • Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel: Explore Raufarhólshellir, Iceland’s most famous and longest lava tunnel, with a tour. There is a 1-hour option, as well as a more adventurous, 3-4-hour expedition to the bottom of the cave.
  • Hellisheiðarvirkjun: Hellisheiði Power Plant is the newest and largest of Iceland’s six power plants. Obtain tickets to the Geothermal Energy Exhibition upon arrival. Tours start at about 30 minutes long.
  • Mýrdalsjökull Glacier: For a memorable adventure, gain access to Mýrdalsjökull via the Sólheimajökull outlet, the most popular place in the country for ice-climbing and glacier hiking.

Following the last of your nature tours, take some time to explore Reykjavik. Walk through compact downtown to check out the unique street art scene. Head to the water for the Sun Voyager Sculpture and the Harpa Concert Hall, with its unique, glass architecture. Visit Hallgrímskirkja, a church on the hill, and take the elevator to the top of the tower for a great view of the city below and panoramic views of the area.

If the need arises to escape inclement weather, consider visiting a few museums in town, such as the Northern Lights Center, Saga Museum, Marine Museum, or Whales of Iceland Exhibition. You can also join a whale watching tour from Reykjavík Harbour, and snack on a world-famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.

For delicious lunch and dinner recommendations, consider the below:

  • Messinn
  • Sea Barron
  • Kol Restaurant
  • The Coocoo's Nest
  • Kaffivagninn (lunch only)
  • Café Loki

If you are interested in checking out Reykjavík’s nightlife scene, visit the following bars:

  • Craft Cocktails
  • Mikkeller & Friends
  • Skúli Craft Bar
  • KEX Hostel Bar (live music on weekends)

Day 5: Visit the Reykjanes Peninsula & Depart From Reykjavík

Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon

Spend your last day exploring more of Reykjavík. Stop by the Blue Lagoon on your drive to the airport, where you can enjoy one, last geothermal soak before you fly home.

If you have more time, visit some of the highlights around the Reykjanes Peninsula. The following places are often missed by travelers quickly traveling between Reykjavik and KEF airport for departure. With a bit more time, you can explore lava fields, geothermal areas, lighthouses, and small fishing towns.

These places are listed east to west, as you drive from Reykjavik to KEF clockwise around the peninsula:

  • Krýsuvík geothermal area: While you can walk around the area near the parking lot in as little as 5 minutes, take your time to see the steam vents and hot pools up close. Look up at the multicolored hills surrounding the area. There’s a short, steep trail up the hill, which offers great views on a clear day.
  • Gunnuhver hot springs and geothermal area: Here, find a couple of bubbling and steaming mud pools. Gunnuhver is named after a female ghost who was said to be trapped in the hot springs more than 400 years ago. Temperatures are extremely hot, so stick to the walkways and viewing areas. While here, continue about 5 minutes to the cliffs to stop at Reykjanesviti lighthouse with beautiful views of Iceland from atop a hill.
  • Bridge Between Continents (Europe Miðlína): This area is a great symbol of Icelandic geology. The Reykjanes Peninsula is on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which pulls apart a few centimeters every year. You can cross the bridge between the continental plates while you’re here, and look down at the gap below.
  • Garður Lighthouse: About 15 minutes north of KEF, you will arrive at two lighthouses—one on the coast (older and not as stable), and a second a bit further inland. This scenic area can be a nice area to walk around and stretch your legs before boarding your return flight home.

Map

Map of Golden Circle, South Coast, & Thorsmork - 5 Days
Map of Golden Circle, South Coast, & Thorsmork - 5 Days