Iceland Winter Highlights - 8 Days
- Explore Langjökull, from an inner-glacier tour to a snowmobiling excursion
- Enjoy warm, geothermal soaks in the Secret Lagoon and Blue Lagoon
- Discover frozen waterfalls, glaciers, and black-sand beaches along the South Coast
- See the ice caves of Skaftafell and icebergs along Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
|Day 1||Arrival & Discover Winter in Downtown Reykjavik||Reykjavik|
|Day 2||Into the Glacier Tour, Frozen Waterfalls, & Snaefellsnes Peninsula||Snæfellsnes Peninsula|
|Day 3||Snæfellsnes Peninsula Winter Drive Highlights||Snæfellsnes Peninsula|
|Day 4||Golden Circle Sights & Snowmobile Tour||Golden Circle|
|Day 5||Winter Waterfalls & Black-Sand Beaches to Kirkjubæjarklaustur||Kirkjubæjarklaustur|
|Day 6||Skaftafell & Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Exploration||Kirkjubæjarklaustur|
|Day 7||Drive & Explore South Coast Back to Reykjavik||Reykjavik|
|Day 8||Morning in Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon Soak, & Departure|
Day 1: Arrival and discover winter in Downtown Reykjavik
Welcome to Iceland! Arrive at Keflavik International Airport (KEF) in the morning and pick up your rental car. Drive about 30 minutes to Reykjavík for breakfast and a relaxing first day exploring the compact downtown area.
Breakfast recommendations include the following:
- Bergsson Mathús (opens at 7 am)
- Sandholt (opens at 7 am)
- Reykjavík Roasters (for great coffee)
- Brauð & Co. (if you like bread and pastries)
Walk through Reykjavík‘s compact downtown area and along the water, past the Sun Voyager Sculpture and to the Harpa Cultural Center, with its cool, glass architecture. Visit Hallgrímskirkja church on the hill, and take the elevator to the tower for a great view of the city below and panoramic views of the area.
Stroll around Reykjavík Harbour or join a whale-watching tour. Spend some time learning about Iceland’s history at the Settlement Exhibition or the National Museum of Iceland. Snack on a world-famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, or hop between cafés.
For dinner recommendations, consider the below:
- Sea Barron
- Kol Restaurant
- The Coocoo's Nest
- 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 2: Into the Glacier Tour, frozen waterfalls, and drive to Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Head north after breakfast to experience West Iceland and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula—both areas see fewer visitors compared to the Golden Circle and South Coast and will provide you with a bit more time to take things in at your own pace.
First, embark on the “Into the Glacier” adventure to explore Langjökull, which is the second-largest glacier in Iceland. Ride in a special vehicle designed for this 3-4-hour excursion. Take the journey up the white slopes and head into the ice tunnels toward the heart of the glacier. Then, enjoy the spectacular view as you exit the top of the ice cap. Experienced guides will ensure you are safe and educated along the way.
Next, 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 shore path near the sea.
If you have an early start, and it’s not yet late afternoon, stop by Hraunfossar (“Lava Falls”) and Barnafoss (Children's Waterfall), regarded as some of the most unique and spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, where clear, subterranean water seeps through the lava fields, pouring out of the rocks, creating Hraunfossar. Take note of the frozen elements in the wintertime, and be sure to watch your footing around any icy areas.
Next, land in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which is sometimes referred to as “Little Iceland,” because here, you can find a little bit of everything that Iceland has to offer: amazing basalt columns, tiny fishing villages, coastal cliff walks past arches and other rock formations, lava fields, volcanic craters, black-sand beaches, waterfalls, lava caves, and more.
First, stop at the Gerðuberg Basalt Cliffs, where strange basalt columns rise up out of the earth. Park the car and walk around to explore and get a closer look. Next, walk through the start of the Budhahraun lava fields on the coast, which are covered in moss.
In the late afternoon, walk along the cliffside paths at Arnarstapi to experience the cool cliffs, lava formations, and arches in the rocks.
Day 3: Snæfellsnes Peninsula winter drive highlights
If you did not do so yesterday, begin your day with a walk along the cliffside paths at Arnarstapi. Get out of the cold and visit Fjöruhúsið café for some comforting fish soup. 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 a stunning, snow-covered version of 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 a warm dinner experience at one of the following restaurants:
- Bjargarsteinn mathus in Grundarfjörður
- Sjávarpakkhúsið in Stykkishólmur
- Narfeyrarstofa in Stykkishólmur
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Golden Circle sights and snowmobile tour
Start the morning early with a trip to the massive Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”) waterfall—before the day visitors arrive—and carefully hike down the short path to the top of the powerful waterfall.
Then, meet at the café for your transfer to the Langjökull Glacier basecamp to begin your snowmobile activity. Head to Langjökull Glacier in a specialized Super-Jeep, an exciting experience in itself. After arriving at the glacier base camp, get outfitted in a snowmobile suit, gloves, balaclava, and helmet for your snowmobile ride. Your professional glacier snowmobiling guide will then show you how to safely operate a snowmobile before your 1-hour excursion officially starts. Langjökull Glacier is home to several enormous, ice-filled volcanic craters, rimmed in by imposing volcanoes and set in the breathtaking Icelandic interior. The views from the flanks of Langjökull are quite incredible. In the distance rests Eiríksjökull glacier, the highest mountain in West Iceland, the dome-shaped Hofsjökull glacier, and the Kerlingafjöll Mountain range.
After the trip, continue exploring more sights in the area, such as the Geysir geothermal area, Þingvellir National Park, or Kerid crater. Or, simply relax for the rest of the day and enjoy a geothermal soak in the Secret Lagoon.
Day 5: Winter waterfalls and black-sand beaches to Kirkjubæjarklaustur
After breakfast, hit the road and spend today enjoying the popular highlights of the south.
Your first stop is the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which you can walk behind. The ground is uneven in a few places, but it is just a few minutes from the parking lot. Standing in a cave under the cliff, you will see 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). Locate two smaller waterfalls to the left, while looking at the waterfall. One is Gljúfrabúi, which is hidden in a small cave that you can enter. Wear a rain jacket for this one.
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 carefully 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.) Slowly take the 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.
Continue about 50 minutes further along Route 1 to the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, which makes a great base to explore nearby Skaftafell and the surrounding glacier highlights on tomorrow’s agenda.
If you have more time, just a short drive away is Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, where the rock formations look like they’re from another world. There is a trail less than 1 mile from the parking lot, along the ridge of the canyon, that is home to some amazing viewpoints—where the river curves around these strange rock cliffs. Admire the views along the way, and venture as far as you like.
Day 6: Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon exploration
In the morning, continue east along the Ring Road (Route 1, the only major road in this area). Along the way, encounter the impressive glaciers of the South Coast, with opportunities to venture into a natural ice cave, ending at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
First, visit Skaftafell. Join an ice cave tour, a glacier walk, or embark on an ice climbing excursion.
Next, a quick trip off the main road will bring you into Hof, where you can check out Hofskirkja, the turf church. The act of covering the roof with turf dates back to medieval times, and was practiced throughout Europe to offer protection from harsh weather.
Just a few minutes before Jökulsárlón Glacier, you will find another glacier lagoon about 10 minutes from the parking lot—Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Here, you are much closer to the glacier than at Jökulsárlón, with better views of all the cracks and crevices.
Next, visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, with the chance to witness one of the most unique sights in Iceland: icebergs floating out to sea, and beached on the black sand. Climb the hill for a better view of the entire area.
Follow the river under the bridge to the ocean, and find many smaller icebergs along the black, sandy shores of "Diamond Beach," where the waves crash, creating a memorable sight. You may be fortunate to see seals, porpoises, or small whales that sometimes hang out in the lagoon or near the shore.
After a day of exploring the Icelandic glacier wonders, drive back to your accommodation in Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
Day 7: Drive and explore the South Coast back to Reykjavik
Drive back along the South Coast toward Reykjavík—around 2-2.5 hours—to enjoy your last evening in Iceland. Spend time at any of the destinations you may have missed on the drive out, or consider the stops below:
- 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.
For dinner, revisit the restaurant recommendations from your arrival day in Reykjavík, as well as the bar roster—if you are up for a final night out on the town.
Day 8: Morning in Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon soak, and departure
Spend your last day exploring more of Reykjavík. 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.
Next, make a stop by the Blue Lagoon on your drive to the airport, where you can enjoy a geothermal soak before you fly home.