Experience many of the quintessential highlights of Iceland on this 12-day active self-drive adventure. Enjoy snorkeling in crystal-clear Silfra lake, cycling lava trails by e-mountain bike in Hveragerði, and kayaking amid the icebergs of Jökulsárlón Lagoon, plus ice-climbing at Skaftafell and whale watching out of Reykjavik. Along with a mix of other outdoor activities and cultural visits, you'll experience Iceland's full range of geological wonders, plus take in the museums and top sights of Reykjavik.


  • Snorkel the glacial waters of Silfra fissure along the Continental Divide
  • Cycle the geothermal region outside Hveragerði by e-mountain bike
  • Kayak among the icebergs of Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
  • Thrill to whale watching out of Reykjavik

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Keflavik, Blue Lagoon Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 2 The Wonders of Snaefellsnes, Vatnshellir Lava Cave Tour Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 3 Golden Circle, Silfra Snorkeling Selfoss
Day 4 The Lava Trails: E-Mountain Bike Day Trip, Hveragerdi Selfoss
Day 5 A Day in Landmannalaugar Selfoss
Day 6 South Coast Waterfalls & Black-Sand Beaches, Mountain Biking Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Day 7 Jokulsarlon & Diamond Beach, Jokulsarlon Glacier Kayaking Adventure Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Day 8 Skaftafell, Skaftafell Ice Climbing & Glacier Hike Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Day 9 Vik i Myrdal, Secret Ice Cave Reykjavik
Day 10 Reykjavik City, Reykjavík Classic Whale Watching Reykjavik
Day 11 Exploring Downtown Reykjavik Reykjavik
Day 12 Reykjanes Peninsula, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Keflavik, Blue Lagoon

Relax in the soothing waters of the Blue Lagoon

Arrive at Keflavik airport and pick up your 4x4 rental car, then drive the short distance to the Blue Lagoon Spa, beside the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant. Here you can soak and relax in a blend of sea-water and geothermally heated water that is rich in silica and other minerals. Ease away travel stress under the manufactured waterfall, and even enjoy the spa's iconic white silica mud facemask as you laze in hot turquoise waters surrounded by a lunar-like black lava landscape.

You'll then drive north through the Icelandic wilderness for two nights in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Day 2: The Wonders of Snaefellsnes, Vatnshellir Lava Cave Tour

The basalt cliffs of Lóndrangar

After breakfast this morning, you'll explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula—often called "Iceland in miniature" for its many geological wonders, from desolate lava fields, majestic waterfalls, and fascinating rock formations to windswept beaches and basalt cliffs with substantial bird colonies. The peninsula is dominated by the glacier-capped Snaefellsjokull stratovolcano (4,744 ft/1,446 m), within Snaefellsjokull National Park, at the tip of the peninsula. You'll follow a clockwise loop along the coastal road.

Depending on where you overnight, your first stop could be the lonesome and iconic Búðakirkja (black church) overlooking Buda Bay. Then continue west via the Lóndrangar basalt cliffs to Vatnshellir Lava Cave, where you'll explore inside an 8,000-year-old lava tube; the fishing hamlet of Arnarstapi; the fantastical coastal rock formations of Hellnar; and Djupalonssandur black-sand beach. Next, head to Kirkjufell mountain and waterfall (made famous by the "Game of Thrones" TV series). You can lunch in nearby Grundarfjordur before perhaps finally exploring the Berserkjahraun lava fields.

Day 3: Golden Circle, Silfra Snorkeling

Þingvellir National Park
Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park

Today, follow the "Golden Circle," Iceland's most popular sightseeing route, renowned for its gushing geysers, raging waterfalls, and a rift valley cleaving two tectonic plates. Begin your clockwise route (approximately 155 mi/25 km) by heading to Thingvellir National Park to hike the gorge separating the Eurasian and North American plates, ending at the Öxarárfoss waterfall. Before departing, don a wetsuit and ease into the crystal-clear glacial waters of the Silfra fissure for an unforgettable 2.5-hours snorkeling adventure amid supernatural shades of blue as you swim through a narrow volcanic canyon.

Next, head to the Geysir geothermal area, where the spectacular geysers (derived from the verb gjósa) gave their name to spouting hot springs worldwide. The best-known of the many geysirs here is Strokkur, which erupts every 8-10 minutes, blasting scalding water 65 feet (20 m) in the air and occasionally twice as high! Continue the short distance to Gullfoss ("Golden Falls"), one of Iceland's most iconic waterfalls. Then drive south to Kerid, a beautiful neon blue lake within a red-ash volcanic crater, before continuing the short distance to Selfoss to overnight.

Day 4: The Lava Trails: E-Mountain Bike Day Trip, Hveragerdi

The Lava Trails: E-Mountain bike adventure day trip
The Lava Trails: E-Mountain bike adventure day trip

This morning you'll head the short distance to Hveragerði for a half-day active adventure cycling lava trails by e-mountain bike. You'll begin at the Icebike Trail Center for a three-hour ride suitable for beginner to intermediate mountain bike riders. You'll pedal along smooth trails that showcase the area's awe-inspiring lava fields, waterfalls, and geothermal areas bubbling with steamy mud pools, hot springs, and geysers (hver means hot spring). Afterward, you can relax in a thermal pool or indulge in a therapeutic mud bath at Hveragerði Geothermal Park in the town center.

Hveragerði straddles the Continental Divide and is one of Iceland's most tectonically active regions, with frequent (usually minor) earthquakes. On May 29, 2008, a 6.3 Richter earthquake occurred, with its epicenter just 1.5 mile (2 km) from Hveragerði. You can visit The Quake 2008 exhibition, where you can step onto an earthquake simulator for an unnerving shaking experience. Great options for lunch include the Olverk Pizza & Brewery for wood-fired pizzas, the Almar Bakery for sandwiches, and Skyrgerdin for such traditional Icelandic specialties as skyr. The balance of your day is at leisure in Selfoss.

Day 5: A Day in Landmannalaugar

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Spectacular colors of Landmannalaugar

Pack your hiking boots today as you set out for a scenic drive through desolate highland landscapes as you head inland through the Thjorsa Valley for your ultimate destination: Landmannalaugar, considered the pearl of the Southern Highlands. This windswept wilderness comprises vast, raven-black lava fields flowing down from obsidian and rhyolite mountains remarkable for their ethereal blue, green, pink, red, and yellow hues.

Your first stop is Stöng, the ruins of a Viking longhouse, which, until discovered in 1939, had been buried under pumice following the eruption of Mount Hekla in 1104 CE. Then continue to the spectacular twin Haifoss and Granni waterfalls, which you can hike down to from the parking area atop the plateau. You'll be glad for your 4x4 as you then follow the unpaved road through the Landmannalaugar lava fields and into the Fjallabak Nature Reserve—one of Iceland's most popular places for hiking and natural hot-spring bathing.

Day 6: South Coast Waterfalls & Black-Sand Beaches, Mountain Biking

Black Sand Beach and Rocks of Reynisfjara
Black Sand Beach and Rocks of Reynisfjara

Follow scenic Route 1 along the south coast today, taking in some of Iceland's most famous attractions. First stop is the iconic Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which is unique in that you can walk behind the cascade tumbling 200 feet (60 m). Another 19 miles (30 km) brings you to Skógafoss waterfall, where after admiring the rainbow from the base, you can hike uphill to the top of the falls to follow the Fimmvörðuháls trail to other waterfalls higher up. Then call in at the Skógar Folk Museum to peruse a heritage collection that includes age-old agriculture and fishing sections, plus a traditional turf farmhouse.

Now continue east to the Dyrholaey cliffs and stone arch and, beyond, the long volcanic black-sand beach of Reynisfjara, punctuated by dramatic basalt sea stacks. Inland rise three glacier-capped volcanoes: Eyjafjallajokull, Hekla, and Katla. You'll then head to a private farm to join the farmer (a cycling enthusiast) for a two-wheel adventure along hilly trails from easy to challenging, according to your desire. Electric bikes are also available if you'd like things made more manageable or are hoping for a faster adrenaline rush on the downhills. Then continue to Kirkjubæjarklaustur to your hotel.

Day 7: Jokulsarlon & Diamond Beach, Jokulsarlon Glacier Kayaking Adventure

Jokulsarlon Glacier Kayaking Adventure
Jokulsarlon Glacier Kayaking Adventure

This morning it's only a short drive across the vast lava fields east of Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Jokulsarlon ("glacial river lagoon"), the most spectacular glacier lagoon in Iceland. This breathtaking coastal lagoon is dotted with small icebergs that have broken off from the Breidamerkurjokull glacier and float to sea, where they are strewn on the black sand beach of Breidamerkursandur (affectionately known as "Diamond Beach" for the stranded, glittering icebergs).

You might opt for a tour of the lagoon by Zodiak or an amphibious boat. Or don a drysuit and slip into a kayak for three hours paddling among the 1,000-year-old bergs, providing a unique perspective of the vast ice dome rising above. With luck, curious seals will pop up beside you while others laze atop the electric-blue ice floes. The lagoon also draws boisterous skuas, arctic terns, and other birdlife. For lunch, enjoy fish 'n' chips from Jokulsarlon's Nailed It food truck or a langoustine roll from Heimahumar before heading back to Kirkjubæjarklaustur to thaw out in your hotel hot tub or sauna.

Day 8: Skaftafell, Skaftafell Ice Climbing & Glacier Hike


Southeast Iceland's landscape is dominated by Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier. Kirkjubæjarklaustur makes a perfect base for exploring Vatnajökull National Park out of the nearby hamlet of Skatfafell, where you’ll set out for hiking, including the easy walk to the Skaftafellsjokull glacier tongue and a short hike to the picturesque Svartifoss waterfall, with its dramatic backdrop of surreal basalt columns. Or lace up your boots for a more demanding hike through the Morsárdalur Valley or even a scaling of Iceland‘s highest mountain peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur.

Guided hikes are available from Skatfafell, including an "expeditionary hike" and ice-climbing on an ice wall of the Vatnajökull glacier. You'll be equipped with hiking boots, crampons, ice axes, plus a harness and helmet to climb up the ice wall and, rappel into a crevasse... then repeat the thrill. Later in the afternoon, you can relax at your hotel, soothing any weary muscles in the hot tub or sauna. Or opt for a sightseeing flight over the Vatnajökull glacier and some of the sites you explored this morning.

Day 9 Vik i Myrdal, Secret Ice Cave

Secret Ice Cave
Secret Ice Cave

Heading back west along the coast "Ring Road" today, you'll stop in Vik i Myrdal, Iceland's southernmost settlement. Being due south of the Myrdalsjokull glacier, which covers the highly active Katla volcano, Vik is a fitting setting for the Netflix series, Katla. Here, you’ll visit the Icelandic Lava Show, which recreates a volcanic eruption with real red-hot molten lava (2000°F / 1100°C) pouring bubbling and sizzling into the showroom and over ice. Then check out the nearby Kotlusetur, Katla Visitor Centre, where you’ll learn about the fascinating geology of the area, as well as its maritime history.

After lunch at one of Vik's popular cafés, you'll take a guided tour by special 4x4 vehicle to the “Secret Ice Cave” that augers into the ash-covered Kötlujökull Glacier. Exploring inside the ice cavern, with its electric-blue walls, provides a fabulous opportunity to experience the dynamic natural forces that have shaped Iceland. Then continue to Reykjavik to relax, with your evening at leisure.

Day 10: Reykjavik City, Reykjavík Classic Whale Watching


With two full days to explore Iceland’s capital city, you have plenty of choices of things to see and do. One of the most popular activities is to spend a magical half-day whale-watching in Faxaflói Bay, especially in summer months. Head to the Aegisgardur wharf and board a boat with a marine biologist guide, who will offer a live commentary throughout the tour and notify you of any sightings. The cast of likely characters includes humpback whales, minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises, while fin whales, sei whales, long-finned pilot whales, and even killer whales ca also be seen.

The adjacent Old Wharf hosts several of the city’s premium museums to fill your afternoon after warming up over lunch. To round out your morning whale-watching experience, head to the Whales of Iceland Exhibition to learn more about the local marine life ecology, including the history of whaling. Then head across the street to the Reykjavik Maritime Museum, in a former fish-freezing plant and focused on the island’s centuries-old history of fishing. Finally, walk to the end of the wharf to visit the Living Art Museum, showcasing experimental and groundbreaking contemporary Icelandic art.

Day 11: Exploring Downtown Reykjavik

The Sun Voyage

Spend your last day exploring downtown Reykjavik on a walking tour, or rent a bicycle to pedal your way between the main sights. Start by visiting the modern and beautiful Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, being sure to take the elevator to the top of the 240 foot-tall (74.5 m) Ziggurat-style tower for a fabulous panoramic view of the city. Then head to the shoreline to admire another contemporary marvel: the glass-sheathed Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik’s principal performance venue. Now follow the shoreline east to the iconic Sun Voyager Sculpture—a gleaming steel contemporary interpretation of a Viking ship.

In the afternoon, you can check out more of the city’s world-class museums. Head back to the Old Wharf to visit the Saga Museum, where with audio guide in hand, you'll learn about the key moments in Icelandic history that have shaped the personality of the island and its islanders. Next door, the Aurora Reykjavik (Northern Lights Center) offers an interactive experience that guarantees you'll see the Aurora Borealis. Then head to nearby Fly Over Iceland for an equally exhilarating sensory experience that gives you the feeling of flying over the island.

Day 12: Reykjanes Peninsula, Depart

Fagradalsfjall volcano
Head to Keflavik airport to drop off your car and check-in for your departure flight. Time permitting, you can first explore the Reykjanes Peninsula, one of the most volcanically active parts of Iceland (despite being the setting for the airport). Perhaps first head to Fagradalsfjall volcano, where an eruptive fissure has been pouring out lava since March, 2021. Then, continue to the geothermal areas of Gunnuhver, or Krysuvik and the nearby volcanic crater lake of Graenavatn plus Kleifarvatn Lake; then walk across the Bridge between the Continents spanning the Mid-Atlantic Rift. The airport is close by.

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Map of Self-Drive Active Iceland: South Coast & Highlands - 12 Days
Map of Self-Drive Active Iceland: South Coast & Highlands - 12 Days