This fun self-drive itinerary provides a mix of popular highlights (south coast, Golden Circle) with off-the-beaten-path gems (Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Reykjanes Peninsula) for a real Icelandic adventure. After a day in Reykjavik, you'll head west for hiking, lava fields and small fishing towns along the Snaefellsnes Peninsula (called "Iceland in miniature"). You'll then hit the blockbuster sights of the Golden Circle before finishing on the south coast with black sand beaches, waterfalls, and massive glaciers.

Highlights

  • Explore Reykjavik's quirky downtown, with a great art and culture scene
  • Hike to the top of Glymur Falls (Iceland's tallest) for outstanding views 
  • Visit small fishing villages and lava fields in the volcanic Snaefellsnes Peninsula
  • Discover waterfalls, glaciers, and black sand beaches along Iceland's south coast

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown Reykjavik
Day 2 Glymur Falls, Borgarnes, Snæfellsnes Peninsula Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 3 Volcanic Snaefellsnes Peninsula Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 4 Snæfellsnes Peninsula to Golden Circle Golden Circle
Day 5 South Coast to Vik: Waterfalls, Beaches, Cliffs Vik
Day 6 Vik to Skaftafell, Svartifoss, and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Vik
Day 7 South Coast to Reykjavik Reykjavik
Day 8 Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown

Plenty of cool discoveries in Iceland's growing capital
Plenty of cool discoveries in Iceland's growing capital

Welcome to Iceland! Upon arrival at Keflavík International Airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive 30 minutes into Reykjavik. Since many international flights land in the early morning hours, you'll likely want to start your adventure with a hearty breakfast. Here are a few recommendations when you arrive in the city center:

Breakfast recommendations:

  • Bergsson Mathús (opens at 7 am)
  • Sandholt (opens at 7 am)
  • Reykjavik Roasters (coffee)
  • Brauð & Co. (bread and pastries)

From here, you'll have the rest of the day to explore the world’s most northerly capital city. 

Things to do in Reykjavik: 

  • Walk through Reykjavik’s compact downtown area and check out the unique street art scene.
  • Head to the waterfront to see the Sun Voyager Sculpture and Harpa Concert Hall with its cool glass architecture.
  • Visit Hallgrimskirkja church on the hill and take the elevator to the tower for panoramic views of the area.
  • To escape inclement weather, consider visiting a few museums such as the Northern Lights Center, the Saga Museum, the Marine Museum, or the Whales of Iceland Exhibition. You can also join a whale watching tour from the Reykjavik harbor, and snack on a world-famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.

In the evening, enjoy a variety of top-tier fish restaurants and Reykjavik’s nightlife. A few options include:

Lunch/dinner:

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

Nightlife:

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

Day 2: Glymur Falls, Borgarnes, Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Hike up to Glymur Falls for these views
Hike up to Glymur Falls for these views

After breakfast in Reykjavik, you'll pack up the rental car and head north to experience Iceland's west coast and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Both of these areas see fewer visitors compared to the Golden Circle and south coast and will provide you with a bit more time to take in the sites at your own pace.

First, drive north and hike to Glymur Falls, Iceland's tallest waterfall (2 hours out and back). You’ll hike beside a narrow canyon which makes for some great photographs. 

Continue on your drive to the peninsula and stop in Borgarnes and learn about the Settlement age of Iceland at the Settlement Center, or simply walk along the shore path near the water. If you have extra time, make some stops at the other quaint historical towns like Reykholt and Hvanneyri

If you had 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.

Once you get to the peninsula, head for the Gerðuberg Basalt Cliffs, where strange basalt columns rise up out of the earth. Park the car and walk around exploring and getting a closer look. Next, walk through the start of the Budhahraun lava fields on the coast, covered in moss or snow depending on the season.

Keep driving until you get to the village of Hellnar where you can stop for dinner at the small café near the water to taste their delicious fish soup and enjoy the setting.
 
Peninsula restaurant recommendations:
- Fjöruhúsið café (Hellnar, excellent setting and fish soup)
- Bjargarsteinn mathus (Grundarfjörður)
- Sjávarpakkhúsið (Stykkishólmur)
- Narfeyrarstofa (Stykkishólmur)

Day 3: Volcanic Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall
Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall

Today, you'll continue your peninsula explorations with the cliff-side trails at Arnarstapi where you can get up close to some great views, lava formations, and arches in the rocks. In fact, you can follow the trail all the way to Arnarstapi from Hellnar, starting from either direction. 

Then, head for the Londrangar lava formations, which you can view from afar or up close (about 15 minutes by foot). A little further along the road is the Visitor Center for the peninsula where you can learn more about the volcanic system and the area.

If the weather is dry, take a stroll along Djúpalónssandur black sand beach with debris from a shipwreck (tip: photograph the rusted mangled metal pieces on the black sand). Here you will find four stones of different sizes, which were used by sea captains to test the strength of people wanting to join their crew. While facing the water, look for a small trail on the right-side cliffs that leads to the site of a major fishing operation. 

As you near the westernmost point of the peninsula, look for signs for Saxholl crater. It's worth a quick stop to walk up the stairs that take you to the top with 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).

You can either spend the night in Grundarfjordur near the mountain and waterfall or continue to the larger town of Stykkishólmur. On the way, you can stop at the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and taste some Hakarl, or fermented shark

Day 4: Snæfellsnes Peninsula to Golden Circle

Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall

This morning, you'll finish exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and drive south toward Reykjavik. As you make your way, head into the Berserkjahraun Lava Fields, or drive to Stykkishólmur and stop by the Volcano Museum. 

Next, you'll enter Iceland's famous Golden Circle. Start with Thingvellir 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. While at Thingvellir, you can join a snorkel tour where you dive between the tectonic plates at the Silfra Fissure

Next visit the Geysir geothermal area, with bubbling mud pits and steam vents. The Geyser erupts like clockwork every 10 minutes so you're bound to get some good photos. Continue from here to Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”)—a massive waterfall that is sure to impress. Finish your day at a secret lagoon where you can soak in the geothermal waters and perhaps get a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Day 5: South Coast to Vik: Waterfalls, Beaches, Cliffs

Photo ops galore along the south coast 
Photo ops galore along the south coast 

After breakfast, hit the road and spend the day enjoying popular highlights along the south coast. The area between Vik and Selfoss is full of cool sites and destinations and is quickly becoming one of the most beloved areas of Iceland.

Your first stop is Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which you can walk behind (the ground is uneven in a few places but there are stairs on one side). Standing in a cave under the cliff you will see the water come roaring down in front of you. Pay attention to the direction of the wind, or wear a rain jacket (or both!) You will find two smaller waterfalls to the right if you are looking from behind the waterfall. 

Next, along Route 1, you will find the powerful Skogafoss Waterfall. This marks the beginning of the 16 miles (26 km) Fimmvörðuháls Trail, which ends in Thórsmörk. You can admire the waterfall from the bottom (a short 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 to see some more waterfalls along  “waterfalls way” before turning around (note: depending on snow conditions this may not be possible).

At Dyrholaey, there are two parking lots from which you can see the famous arch. The one high on the hill has the better view. Take the bumpy dirt road to your right as you enter. From the top, you will also see a lighthouse and great views looking farther west along a black sand beach that reaches as far as you can see. Look for rare birds (and perhaps even puffins) flying around—they nest along the cliffside.

Near Vik, along Route 1, you will see a turnoff for Reynisfjara Beach, past a pretty church as you drive towards the water. This black rock beach (not as fine grain as the one in Vik) is most famous for the Reynisdrangar Columns, huge basalt hexagonal columns rising up out of the sand. Walk around the cliffs to the left as you face the ocean and you will find a couple of large caves as well.  

While the town of Vik itself is fairly small, its proximity to several great sights more than makes up for it. Staying here also allows you to explore more of the area in the evening when the larger crowds have left (or before the crowds arrive the next day). Towards the water, you will find beach pathways and a long stretch of black sand with high cliffs on the right side, often filled with soaring and nesting birds.

Day 6: Vik to Skaftafell, Svartifoss, and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

This glacier visit is well worth the drive from Vik
This glacier visit is well worth the drive from Vik

Alternate activity: Join an Icelandic horse riding tour along the black sand beaches at Vik.

Today, you'll leave Vik in the morning and continue east along the Ring Road (Route 1, the only major road in this area) to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, about 2-2.5 hours away. Here are some attractions in the area:

  • Diamond Beach: At the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, you’ll get the chance to see 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 or follow the river under the bridge to the ocean for smaller icebergs along the black sandy shores of "diamond beach" where waves crash against them. It’s quite the sight! You may be fortunate to see seals, porpoises, or small whales that sometimes hang out in the lagoon or near the shore.

  • Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon: The rock formations in Fjadrargljufur Canyon look like they’re from another world. There is a trail less than a mile from the parking lot along the ridge of the canyon where you will find some amazing viewpoints where the river curves around this strange rock cliffs. You can admire the views the entire time and go as far as you like. 

  • Skaftafell & Svartifoss (optional ice-caving & glacier walks): You could spend several days hiking all the trails around Skaftafell. If you’re short on time, the most popular hike leads to Svartifoss, a thin waterfall surrounded by columns of basalt. The hike is around three miles long (weather dependent) and offers great views alongside the river and towards the ocean in the distance. If you like, you can join an ice cave/climbing tour or glacier walking tour based here. 

  • Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon: A few minutes before Jokulsarlon, you will find another Glacier Lagoon about 10 minutes from the parking lot. Here you are much closer to the glacier than at Jokulsarlon, and you’ll have better views of all the cracks and crevices.

  • Hof: A quick trip off the main road will bring you to Hof's turf church. The practice of covering the roof with turf dates back to medieval times throughout Europe to protect from the harsh weather.

Day 7: South Coast back to Reykjavik

Kerid Crater makes a great stop before heading back to the city
Kerid Crater makes a great stop before heading back to the city

This morning you'll head back along the southern coast towards Reykjavik for the last night of your trip. You can stop at any of the places you may have missed on the drive out, or check out at some these great spots along the way:

  • Seljavallalaug pool: A short distance after Skogafoss you can 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 hike past cool scenery will take you to the relaxing pool.

  • Urridafoss: As you reach the end of the south coast drive consider one last waterfall: Urridafoss. While this waterfall may not be as pretty as Skogafoss or Seljalandsfoss, it makes up for it in other ways. Urridafoss is the largest volume waterfall in Iceland, and very wide (and loud). It’s only a short trip from the Ring Road, and a good finale to the south.

  • Reykjadalur hot spring river: Just after Selfoss, Reykjadalur means "smokey valley" and is home to an active geothermal area and hot springs. Hike from the trailhead due north to Reykjadalur for under 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.

  • Kerid Crater: This is only a short detour from Route 1 on your way back to Reykjavik. Hike around the top of Kerid Crater with its blue lake at the bottom.

When you get back to Reykjavik, enjoy a night on the town taking advantage of any restaurants and nightlife you may have missed at the beginning of the trip! 

Day 8: Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Departure

The Blue Lagoon is a fun and relaxing activity before a long flight
The Blue Lagoon is a fun and relaxing activity before a long flight

It's time to say farewell to Iceland! Spend your last day exploring more of Reykjavik or see some highlights around the Reykjanes Peninsula. Here are a few ideas to consider: 

  • Hidden gems of the Reykjanes Peninsula: This is an area often missed by travelers quickly heading between Reykjavik and KEF airport. With a bit more time, you can explore lava fields, geothermal area, lighthouses, and small fishing towns.

  • Blue Lagoon: Enjoy a geothermal soak in the iconic Blue Lagoon before you fly home (great for all ages).

  • Gardur Lighthouse: Two lighthouses are located near the airport: one on the coast (older and not as stable), and a second a bit further inland. This can be a nice area to walk around and stretch your legs before your flight, and the views of the coast can be very nice.

Map

Map of Iceland South & West Coast Highlights - 8 Days
Map of Iceland South & West Coast Highlights - 8 Days