Here is a breakdown of optimal itineraries to explore Iceland, listed from shortest (3 days) to longer (more than 2 weeks).
Iceland in less than 3 days
If you have 3 days or less you won’t really be able to leave the crowds behind since you will be spending most of your time in and around Reykjavik with possibly a quick tour of the South coast or a Golden Circle Tour. Here is a 3-day itinerary that includes a long day exploring the South Coast, or alternatively a shorter day touring the Golden Circle.
Iceland in 4 days
With 4 days you have the opportunity to explore a little bit of Iceland beyond the heavily visited areas around Reykjavik. Head north to Snaefellsnes Peninsula to see a side of Iceland that most mainstream travelers tend to miss. Or, if you are into hiking you can head along the South coast and complete the epic Fimmvorduhals hike, which takes you over a glacier next to the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano into the dramatic Thorsmork Valley, where you can spend the night and explore its endless hiking trails the next day.
Iceland in 5 - 7 days
If you have 5 days or more, lots of opportunities to see Iceland in interesting ways open up, assuming you plan carefully. Options include driving to the North to explore Akureyri and Lake Myvatn, or driving along the South coast via Vik to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. A great way to maximize 5 days is to hop on a local flight to one of Iceland’s small domestic airports and drive back to Reykjavik. Here is a collection of 5 day itineraries that will help you pack the most in 5 days. If you have 6 days you can extend these itineraries with some side trips, and with 7 days you can reach the Westfjords overland, spend some time there and still get back in time to catch your flight. Or, if you want to push it you can squeeze in the entire ring road, although that will require some long days of driving and you won’t have much time to enjoy all the great stops.
Iceland in 8 - 10 days
With 8 days, you can cover all of Iceland via its famous ring road. The more days you have, the more side trips you can take on the ring road. Refer to the 14-day ring road itinerary for ideas. Other options in the 8 - 10-day range include combining Western and Southern Iceland and a more in-depth exploration of Southern Iceland.
Longer trips to Iceland
If you have more time, a good starting point is the 2-week ring road itinerary which you combine with variations like this tour through the highlands. You can also consider multi-day hikes such as the Laugavegur Trail or a trek through Hornstrandir Nature Reserve.
Conclusion: How long should you spend in Iceland?
The short answer to the question how long you should spend in Iceland is, "as long as possible". But given limited time, we recommend you spend at least 5 days, or 1 week. A bit longer is even better. But no matter how long you'll spend, we're sure you will want to come back to Iceland again soon.
Note: In order to decide when to visit Iceland, take into account seasonal weather patterns, hours of sunlight and crowds. You can find all the details in our article about the best time to visit Iceland.