Enjoy an array of diverse regions, geological wonders, and exciting experiences on this 12-day self-drive itinerary, which explores Iceland's north, west, and south in the winter months. Wander through ice caves on the Vatnajökull glacier, snowmobile on the Myrdalsjokull ice cap, view seals on the Vatnsnes Peninsula, and even sample cheese at a goat farm. Add soaks in geothermal hot springs, hikes to iconic waterfalls, and drives through the majestic fjords of Westfjords for a comprehensive, in-depth self-drive exploration of Iceland.


  • Wander inside Crystal Blue Ice Caves at the base of Vatnajökull glacier
  • Have fun snowmobiling on the Myrdalsjökull glacier
  • Stroll and view seals on honey-hued Raudasandur Beach
  • Hike to the top of the Dynjandi waterfalls in the Vatnsnes peninsula

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Keflavik, Reykjadalur Valley Hike Vik
Day 2 Drive along the South Coast Hofn
Day 3 Skaftafell Nature Reserve & Glacier Lagoons, Crystal Blue Ice-Cave Hofn
Day 4 Myrdalsjökull Glacier Snowmobiling Hvolsvollur
Day 5 West Iceland & Borgarfjordur Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 6 The Wonders of Snaefellsnes Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 7 Visit Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall Patreksfjörður
Day 8 Latrabjarg, Raudasandur & the Southern Westfjords Patreksfjörður
Day 9 Dynjandi & the Northern Westfjords Isafjordur
Day 10 Vatnsnes Peninsula Laugarbakki
Day 11 Haafell Goat Farm, Reykjavik Reykjavik
Day 12 Reykjanes Peninsula, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Keflavik, Reykjadalur Valley Hike

Reykjadalur Valley hike

You'll arrive at Keflavik airport and pick up your 4x4 rental car before heading east to the town of Hveragerdi, then head up to Reykjadalur ("Steam Valley"). The valley is alive on the lower, eastern slope of Hengill volcano with bubbling mud pools, sulfurous fumaroles, boiling springs, and even a steaming thermal river. Don your swimwear and hike the well-marked trail and boardwalk (one hour each way) to bathe in the river, whose temperature increases uphill.

Hveragerdi 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 miles (2 km) from town. Visit The Quake 2008 exhibition, where you can step onto an earthquake simulator for an unnerving shaking experience. Time permitting, you might park roadside for the two-hour round-trip hike to the wreck of a US Navy DC-3 that in 1973 crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur. Then continue to the coastal village of Vik overnight.

Day 2: Drive Along the South Coast

Solheimasandur plane wreck

This morning, head inland up Thakgil Valley via a gravel road that leads to ruggedly beautiful Thakgil and Remundargil canyons—a popular spot for hiking. Returning to the coastal Route 1 ("Ring Road"), you'll enjoy a panoramic view over the glacial Múlakvísl River, braiding through a vast lava field. Make a brief detour to Hjörleifshöfði, a promontory rising amid the black lava wash, to view the summit burial mound of Viking settler Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson, killed here in 875.

Continue east across the lava field to snaking Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, easily accessed by a ridgetop trail. Then continue along the coast to the fishing port of Höfn—the "lobster capital" of Iceland—at the tip of a peninsula and in the lee of the largest ice cap in Europe. The balance of the afternoon is at leisure to explore the harbor and, perhaps, the "Old Shop" Folk Museum, Hornafjörður Art Museum (principally displaying works by contemporary local artist Svavar Gudnason), and the Huldusteinn Stone Museum, with a fascinating geological collection.

Day 3: Skaftafell Nature Reserve & Glacier Lagoons, Crystal Blue Ice-Cave

Icebergs at Jokulsarlon
Icebergs at Jokulsarlon

Today is rich with adventure as you explore the highlight sites at the base of Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier, covering almost one-tenth of Iceland. Begin at Jökulsárlón ("glacial river lagoon"), a breathtaking coastal lagoon dotted with small icebergs. You might opt for a tour by Zodiak or amphibious boat, or don a dry-suit and slip into a kayak for three hours paddling among the 1,000-year-old 'bergs, which float down to the sea to be stranded on "Diamond Beach." With luck, curious seals will pop up beside you while others laze atop the electric-blue ice floes. 

Another option is a guided three-hour off-road tour in a "Super Jeep" to explore the "Crystal Blue Ice Caves" and tunnels riddling the side of Vatnajökull glacier. And further west, the Skaftafell Nature Reserve beckons with easy walks to the Skaftafellsjokull glacier tongue and picturesque Svartifoss waterfall, with its dramatic backdrop of surreal basalt columns. (You can choose to visit Skatafell on day two or four if you prefer.) You'll then return to Höfn to relax in your hotel's sauna or hot tub.

Day 4: Myrdalsjokull Glacier Snowmobiling

Glacier snowmobiling

Today head back west to Vik for an adrenaline-fuelled snowmobile adventure on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier (Iceland's fourth largest). You'll be taken there by "Super Jeep," then, suitably dressed in a warm Day-Glo dry-suit and helmet, you'll set out with your guide to whiz atop the glacier, with spectacular views down to the Atlantic Ocean. Returning to base camp, it's a short drive to your overnight accommodation in Hvolsvöllur, with time to visit one or two of the region's most iconic attractions.

Your first stop should be 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. Time permitting, check out the Skógar Folk Museum at Skógafoss' base before continuing to the iconic Seljalandsfoss waterfall, unique in that you can walk behind the cascade tumbling 200 feet (60 m). Hvolsvöllur is just 14 miles (22 km) beyond.

Day 5: West Iceland & Borgarfjordur

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Iceland - Icey river streaming from the Glymur waterfalls
Icey river streaming from the Glymur waterfalls

Today you'll head to West Iceland to explore several lesser-known sights, following the "Ring Road" to enter  Hvalfjordur fjord. At the head of the fjord, lace up your boots for an exhilarating hike up the rugged canyon to the Glymur waterfall; at 650 feet (198 m) it's Iceland's second tallest. Then continue north to Reykholt, a beautiful medieval "Saga heritage village." From here, it's a 10-minute drive up-valley to Barnafoss and Hraunfossar waterfalls, tumbling over a lava field; and, a short distance beyond, Víðgelmir, the longest lava tube in Iceland, worming for 5,200 feet (1,595 m) beneath the earth.

Continue west to the Borgarfjordur region, stopping for a relaxing soak in the Krauma Geothermal Bath & Spa beside Deildartunguhver hot spring. Finally, you might make a short diversion to view the red-ash Grabrok volcanic crater and nearby Glanni waterfall (many locals believe to be a dwelling place for elves and trolls). Then head via the coastal fishing village of Borgarnes—its Settlement Center has exhibitions on the Settlement Era and Icelandic Sagas—to your hotel on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Day 6: The Wonders of Snaefellsnes

Natural arch at Arnarstapi

After breakfast this morning, you'll set out to explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula—often referred to as "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 Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano (4,744 ft/1,446 m), within Snæfellsjökull National Park, at the tip of the peninsula.

Depending on where you overnight, you could follow a clockwise loop along the coast road, beginning at the iconic Búðakirkja (black church) overlooking Buda Bay. Continue west via the Lóndrangar basalt cliffs (and its twin clifftop basalt pillars) to Vatnshellir Lava Cave to explore inside an 8,000-year-old lava tube. Then head to the fishing hamlet of Arnarstapi and the fantastical coastal rock formations stretching south to Hellnar, including the Gatklettur "Arch Rock," before finally taking a stroll on Djupalonssandur black-sand beach. 

Day 7: Visit Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall

Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall,

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula doesn't lack for iconic landmarks, yet shark's-tooth-shaped Kirkjufell ("Church Mountain") is perhaps the most instantly recognizable, not to mention the most photo-worthy. This 1,519 foot (463 m) conical pinnacle, immediately west of the town of Grundarfjörður, was showcased in HBO's "Game of Thrones" in the "Beyond the Wall" episode. Snow-clad in winter, it's especially impressive when under the shimmering veil of the Northern Lights. A steep and challenging trail to the summit should only be attempted by experienced hikers accompanied by an expert guide.

A short trail walk south of the mountain leads to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall and a small lake reflecting a mirror image of Kirkjufell. Now drive east to Stykkishólmur, the peninsula's largest town, where highlights include its Norska Húsið (Norse House), built in 1828 and today a history museum; the Volcano Museum, where you can catch up on vulcanology 101; and the 1990 modernist Stykkishólmskirkja Church. Then you'll head north to Southern Westfjords, a remote and mountainous, multi-fingered peninsula in northwest Iceland, for two nights in the fishing village of Patreksfjörður.

Day 8: Latrabjarg, Raudasandur & the Southern Westfjords

Raudasandur Beach

Southern Westfjords is renowned for its stunning golden-sand beaches. Today's relatively short, clockwise adventure leads along the southern and western shore to descend a steep gravel road down to honey-hued Raudasandur Beach, stretching unbroken for five miles (8 km); Harbor seals often haul out to bask on the sands. Then, continue to the westernmost tip of Iceland—the Latrabjarg cliffs, which plunge sheer into the ocean 1,450 feet (442 m) below. Puffins nest here in summer, but you're not likely to see any in winter.

From here, it's only a short drive around the Patreksfjörður fjord via the golden-sand beaches of Breidavik and Orlygshofn back to Patreksfjörður to overnight. You might spend the rest of your day on an informative guided visit to the town's fish processing factory, and exploring the Vatneyri Pirate House Museum, regaling tales of Barbary pirates raiding Iceland. Porpoise whales are often seen in the fjord, rounding up mackerel to eat.

Day 9: Dynjandi & the Northern Westfjords

Dynjandi Waterfall
Dynjandi Waterfall

Today's drive is a non-stop visual feast through some of Iceland's most scenic landscapes as you snake east around majestic fjords and over steep mountain passes through sub-arctic tundra. First comes tiny Tálknafjörður, then Arnarfjörður, one of Iceland's most spectacular fjords and at the head of which tumbles the Dynjandi ("Thunderous") waterfalls—the highlight of today's journey. Seven individual cascades stairstep up to the iconic, trapezoidal uppermost cascade that is colloquially titled the "Jewel of the Westfjords." You can hike to the top, passing each waterfall in turn.

Continue to Dýrafjörður fjord and the historic fishing village of Þingeyri, where you can explore the relics of a medieval assembly hall (Þing) behind the village church. You'll then head through a long, glaciated valley to Önundarfjörður, a particularly pretty fjord made more so by a curling white-sand beach at its head. Finally, you'll drive through the 6-mile-long (9 km) Vestfjarðagöng tunnel and descend to Ísafjörður, the largest settlement in Westfjords and the northernmost in Iceland (as well as one of its most important fishing ports). Relax in a hot tub after a satisfying day.

Day 10: Vatnsnes Peninsula

Hvítserkur, “White Shirt” Basalt troll
Hvítserkur. Basalt sea stack or petrified troll (or thirsty dragon)?

You might take time to visit Ísafjörður's Westfjords Heritage Museum before leaving Westfjords behind as you drive south for the little-visited Vatnsnes Peninsula. This peninsula is one of the best places in Iceland for viewing seals hauled out and basking on rocks and beaches. Your first stop is Hvammstangi, in narrow Miðfjörður, which hosts the harborside Icelandic Seal Center—a must-visit to understand pinniped ecology. Then continue to Húnafjörður Bay to view the 50-foot-tall (15 m) basalt Hvítserkur sea stack—the surreally eroded remains of a volcanic dyke, but which local legend says is a petrified troll.

Next, journey a short distance inland to hike up to the Borgarvirki fortress, built atop an ancient volcanic plug of pentagonal columnar basalt. Although its origin is uncertain, it's considered an early Viking fortress. Borgarvirki's highest point is pinned by a view dial showing the names and heights of surrounding mountains. Your hotel is just a 20-minute drive beyond, in the farming hamlet of Laugarbakki, overlooking the banks of the salmon-rich Midfjardara River.

Day 11: Haafell Goat Farm, Reykjavik

Haafell Goat Farm

This morning you'll head south to Reykjavik, passing en route through the Borgarfjordur region visited on day five above. If you didn't get a chance to see Grabrok volcanic crater, Gianni waterfall, and Krauma Geothermal Bath & Spa, you can do so before stopping at the nearby Haafell Goat Farm. Here, the farm owners work to protect and breed the purebred yet endangered Icelandic goat species. This hour-long visit is enriching for families (you can even have your picture taken with Casanova, who starred in "Game of Thrones"); plus, you'll get to sample goat cheese and sausage.

Then continue south to the Icelandic capital, where the balance of the day is at leisure to enjoy a sauna or to explore the city highlights, including its many museums. Top sights include the Reykjavik Maritime Museum, the Saga Museum, the beautiful modernist Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, and equally stunning glass-sheathed Harpa Concert Hall, and the waterfront Sun Voyager Sculpture.

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 Continents spanning the Mid-Atlantic Rift. The airport is close by.

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Map of Self-Drive Iceland North, West & South: Ultimate Winter Adventure - 12 Days
Map of Self-Drive Iceland North, West & South: Ultimate Winter Adventure - 12 Days