- Spend a day exploring Reykjavik's distinct European culture and cafés
- Explore sites around Dyrhólaey Peninsula and look for puffins who migrate here
- Hike to several waterfalls, like Skogafoss, which connects to more trails at the top
- Stay two nights in the Golden Circle and skip the day-tripper crowds
|Day 1||Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown||Reykjavik|
|Day 2||The South Coast to Vik: Waterfalls, Beaches & Cliffs||Vik|
|Day 3||Vik to Skaftafell, Svartifoss & Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon||Vik|
|Day 4||Vik to the Golden Circle||Golden Circle|
|Day 5||Golden Circle: Gullfoss, Geysir & Thingvellir||Golden Circle|
|Day 6||Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Departure|
Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown
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 and there are many cafés in the city center that open early.
From here, you'll have the rest of the day to explore the world’s most northerly capital city before enjoying the evening with great restaurants and nightlife.
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.
Day 2: South Coast to Vik: Waterfalls, Beaches & Cliffs
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 3: Vik to Skaftafell, Svartifoss & Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
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.
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.
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.
- 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 4: Drive back along South Coast: Vik to the Golden Circle
After breakfast in Vik, you'll drive back along the southern coast towards Iceland's popular Golden Circle. Here are some of the many sites along the route that you can choose from:
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.
After sightseeing, consider an evening stop at the Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugi) in Flúðir, where warm geothermal water flows from the rocks. It’s a great place to end a long day exploring the southern coast.
Day 5: Golden Circle: Gullfoss, Geysir & Thingvellir
This morning, you'll start out early to visit Gullfoss and Geysir before the crowds and buses arrive when you’ll have these magnificent places all to yourself.
At Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”) you can walk along a few different paths to see the tremendous falls from different angles and perspectives. You’ll want to spend some time here admiring the incredible amount of water that flows over the edge every second.
Next, continue to the Geysir Geothermal area where Strokkur geyser shoots into the sky like clockwork every 5-10 minutes. In between eruptions walk around the hot pools, steam vents, or climb the small hill above it all for a great view.
End your tour of the Golden Circle Route at Thingvellir National Park and learn about the traditions of the old Icelandic Parliament that met each summer at Law Rock. Walk between the giant rock fissure where the tectonic plates meet. In the visitor center, you can learn more about the history and geology of the area.
If you like, you can suit up and take a snorkel or scuba dive tour of the Silfra Fissure, where it's possible to swim between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Day 5: Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Departure
It's time to say farewell to Iceland! Spend your last day exploring more of the Golden Circle or see some highlights around the Reykjanes Peninsula. This area is 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. Here are a few ideas to consider:
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 coastal views are beautiful.
Krýsuvík geothermal area: While you can walk around the area near the parking lot in five minutes, take your time to see the steam vents and hot pools up close. There’s a short, steep trail up the hill which can offer great views of the surrounding multicolored hills on a clear day.
Gunnuhver hot springs: Here you can find a couple of bubbling and steaming mud pools, and you can smell it from quite a distance away. Gunnuhver is named after a female ghost who was trapped in the hot springs over 400 years ago. Temperatures are extremely hot, so stick to the walkways and viewing areas.