This five-day, self-drive trip is a great way to experience the best of Iceland without driving too far from Reykjavík. Begin in Snæfellsnes Peninsula to tour the Djúpalónssandur black-sand beach, Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, and more. Then, visit the Golden Circle's Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls, along with Þingvellir National Park. Next, stop at the South Shore's Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls and Reynisfjara Beach, before reaching Vik. The trip concludes with sightseeing in Reykjavík and a taste of the dining and nightlife scenes.

Highlights

  • Enjoy the fine dining, nightlife, and funky street art in Reykjavík
  • Explore lava formations and black-sand beaches on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
  • Tour the Golden Circle's Þingvellir National Park, where the tectonic plates meet
  • Swim in the South Coast's hot springs and pools of Reykjadalur and Seljavallalaug

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Reykjavík and Travel to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 2 Snaefellsnes Peninsula - Black Sand Beaches and Fishing Towns Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 3 Explore Snæfellsnes Peninsula and Travel to the Golden Circle Golden Circle
Day 4 Discover Waterfalls, Beaches, and Cliffs and Travel to Vík Vik
Day 5 Tour the South Coast and Explore Reykjavík Reykjavik
Day 6 Visit the Reykjanes Peninsula and Depart From Reykjavík  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Reykjavík and travel to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Welcome to Iceland!
Welcome to Iceland!

Welcome to Iceland! Upon arrival at Keflavik Airport (KEF) in the morning, pick up your rental car. Feel free to stop in Reykjavík for breakfast, or continue north to get a head start on your first day. Spend the night in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is about a 2-2.5-hour drive north of Reykjavík. 

On your drive north, you can take a detour for an optional hike to Glymur Falls, one of Iceland's tallest waterfalls. The hike is 2-3 hours, depending on how far you go. You can also choose to embark on this hike on the drive back from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (more details on that day).

En route, stop in Borgarnes on the water, where you can learn more about the Settlement Age of Iceland at the Settlement Center, or walk along the path down by the shore. 

Then, arrive in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is sometimes referred to as “Little Iceland,” because you can find a little bit of everything that Iceland has to offer here: amazing basalt columns, tiny fishing villages, coastal cliff walks past arches and other rock formations, lava fields and caves, volcanic craters, black-sand beaches, waterfalls, and more.

Some of these destinations allow for longer hikes. They are all mostly flat, but the ground can be uneven in places. Walk as far as you feel comfortable; you will find yourself impressed by the natural scenery venturing just from the parking lot to the trail. 

Your first stop is at the Gerðuberg basalt cliffs, where unique basalt columns rise from the earth. Park the car and walk around to explore and get a closer look. Next, walk through the start of the moss-covered Budhahraun lava fields on the coast.

Then, walk along the cliffside paths at Arnarstapi to view unique cliff shapes, lava formations, and arches in the rocks. In Hellnar, stop at the small Fjöruhúsið café near the water to enjoy delicious fish soup and the view.

Spend the night in the Hellnar and Arnarstapi area. Depending on your arrival time, you can continue further west to some of the sights listed for tomorrow, as they are in close proximity.

Day 2: Snaefellsnes Peninsula - Black sand beaches and fishing towns

Lóndrangar
Lóndrangar

If you did not do so yesterday, begin your day with a walk along the cliffside paths at Arnarstapi, and a visit to Fjöruhúsið café. Follow the trail all the way between Arnarstapi and Hellnar, starting from either side. 

Next, visit the large Lóndrangar lava formations, which you can view from afar, or walk 15 minutes to see up-close. A little further along the road is the peninsula’s Visitor Center, where you can learn more about the volcanic system and the area.

Then, take a stroll along Djúpalónssandur, a black-sand beach with debris from a shipwreck—the rusted remains along the black sand make for a beautiful photo opportunity. Here, find four stones of different sizes, which were once used by sea captains to test the strength of sailors interested in joining their crews. While facing the water, look for a small trail along the right-side cliffs to follow for 15-20 minutes until you reach Dritvík cove, once the site of a major fishing operation. 

As you near the westernmost point of the peninsula, look for signs for Saxhóll crater. It's worth a quick stop to walk up the stairs that take you to the top of the crater, which has nice views of the surrounding area. 

Continue your drive around the other side of the peninsula and end your day with a visit to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, with Kirkjufell mountain in the background—one of Iceland's most photographed peaks.

Spend the night in Grundarfjörður, near the mountain and waterfall, or continue to the larger town of Stykkishólmur. On the way, stop at a shark museum and taste some hákarl, or fermented shark. Or, enjoy dinner at one of the following restaurants:

  • Bjargarsteinn mathus in Grundarfjörður
  • Sjávarpakkhúsið in Stykkishólmur
  • Narfeyrarstofa in Stykkishólmur

Day 3: Explore Snæfellsnes Peninsula and travel to the Golden Circle

Gullfoss
Gullfoss

Today, finish exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and drive south to Reykjavík. Navigate into the Berserkjahraun lava fields, or drive to Stykkishólmur and stop by the Volcano Museum

While out west, if you did not do so on the way to the peninsula, consider a 2-3-hour optional hike in Glymur Falls, which offers great photographs. With extra time, make a stop by Hraunfossar (“Lava Falls”) and Barnafoss (“Children's Waterfall”), both known for hosting some of the most unique and spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. Clear, subterranean water seeps through the lava fields, pouring out of the rocks and creating Hraunfossar.

After a 2.5-hour drive, enter the famous Golden Circle 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 4: Discover waterfalls, beaches, and cliffs and travel to Vík

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. The South Shore, between Vík and Selfoss, is full of many popular sights and destinations and is quickly becoming one of the most popular areas of Iceland to explore.

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.

Day 5: Tour the South Coast and explore Reykjavík

Raufarhólshellir
Raufarhólshellir

Today, drive back along the southern 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 6: Visit the Reykjanes Peninsula and 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 Iceland Highlights: Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the Golden Circle, & the South Coast - 6 Days
Map of Iceland Highlights: Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the Golden Circle, & the South Coast - 6 Days