This Icelandic self-drive itinerary covers territory on both horizontal coastlines, from Snaefellsnes to Seydisfjordur, with fun detours along the southern portion of the Ring Road. With a bit more than a week, you'll experience volcanoes, lava fields, hot springs, black sand beaches, small fishing towns, and massive glaciers in protected national parks. Start and end the trip in Reykjavík for culture and nightlife in Europe's most northerly capital.

Highlights

  • Get a dose of Reykjavik's colorful downtown with street art, cafés, and shops
  • Escape the crowds in Snaefellsnes Peninsula with a number of short hikes
  • Visit top sites in the Golden Circle like "Geysir", a famous geothermal hot spring 
  • Hike massive waterfalls and glaciers along Iceland's dramatic south coast
  • Kayak around Iceland's Eastern Fjords where few travelers venture

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown Reykjavik
Day 2 Glymur Falls, Borgarnes, Snæfellsnes Peninsula Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 3 Explore Snaefellsnes Peninsula Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 4 Snæfellsnes Peninsula to Golden Circle Golden Circle
Day 5 Golden Circle to Vik: Waterfalls, Beaches, Cliffs Vik
Day 6 Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Höfn
Day 7 Höfn to Seydisfjordur Seydisfjordur
Day 8 Hiking in Seydisfjordur, Flight to Reykjavik Reykjavik
Day 9 Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown

This walkable city is where you'll spend your first and last nights of the trip
This walkable city is where you'll spend your first and last nights of the trip

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 breakfast and plenty of options in the city center open at 7 am. 

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 for the Sun Voyager Sculpture and Harpa Concert Hall with its cool glass architecture.
  • Visit Hallgrimskirkja church on the hill; take the elevator to the tower for a great overview of the city below and panoramic views of the area.

To escape inclement weather, you may 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: Glymur Falls, Borgarnes, Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Basalt rocks against the peninsula's coastline
Basalt rocks against the peninsula's coastline

After breakfast in Reykjavik, you'll pack up the rental car and begin the epic road trip. You'll first head northwest out of the city 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 your drive around the other side of the peninsula and visit to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall with Kirkjufell mountain in the background (one of Iceland's most photographed).

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.

Next, 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.

In the evening, you'll drive 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.

Day 3: Explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Saxholl crater
Saxholl crater

This morning, you can start your peninsula explorations with a cliff-side hike at Arnarstapi where you can get up close to lava formations and arches in the rocks. In fact, you can follow the trail all the way between Arnarstapi and Hellnar, starting from either side (the hike is quite flat, and you can turn around at any point if you like). 

Next, you will see the huge 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.

Then 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, follow for a small trail on the right-side cliffs until you reach another small cover, once 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 stop; you can 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).

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

Water in a fissure between tectonic plates in the Thingvellir National Park
Water in a fissure between tectonic plates in the Thingvellir National Park

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

Next, you'll enter Iceland's popular 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: Golden Circle to Vik (South Iceland) 

Waterfalls on the drive to Vik
Waterfalls on the drive to Vik

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: Explore Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

After breakfast, you can start your day on horseback. The south coast is home to many Icelandic horse farms, and you can join a family-friendly 30-minute or 60-minute ride along the black sand beaches at Vik.

From here, continue driving east along the Ring Road towards 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.

  • Höfn: 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.

Stay overnight in Höfn before you continue east. 

Day 7: Scenic Eastern Fjords: Höfn to Seydisfjordur

Litlanesfoss waterfall
Litlanesfoss waterfall

This morning, you'll make your way from Höfn to the Eastern Fjords (about 1.5 hours), winding along the coastline. On the route, you can stretch your legs and take a short walk along the black rock beach at the Hvalnes Nature Reserve where there is lots of bird life. If you’re lucky, you may see hundreds of swans in the calm waters below the jagged cliffs. More suggestions along the drive include:

  • Djúpivogur: Take a short walk along the shore to the lighthouse on the rocks, where you will also have great views of the entire fjords. For coffee or a snack, you may want to try homemade cakes from Langabúð. For lunch or dinner, Hótel Framtíð has great fish dishes.

  • Breiðdalsvík: Take a short break to stretch the legs at this harbor town, just off the Ring Road. While you’re here, stop at Kaupfjelagið where you will find all sorts of small knickknacks and treats: fresh bread, local salted fish, wool clothing, mittens, and hats.

  • Scenic Fjord Route 92: As you drive north to Egilsstaðir, you have the option to take Route 1 or 96 to 92. While route 1 is about 40 minutes shorter, we recommend the scenic route along several picturesque fjords.

Once in Seydisfjordur, you can hike several trails to waterfalls, walk inside cool sound sculptures, visit a troll church, and explore the artwork and sculptures around the city. Many people tend to skip right past Iceland's East Fjords so expect fewer crowds than along the south coast. 

Here are ideas for scenic day hikes: 

  • Hengifoss & Litlanesfoss: Take a 20-minute detour (40 minutes there and back) and hike until you arrive at Hengifoss waterfall, passing Litlanesfoss on the way. These spectacular waterfalls are framed by huge basalt columns and make a great activity for those who prefer to escape the larger crowds in the south. During early summer, you may also spot some puffins in the area. 

  • Seydisfjordur: After a 30-minute drive over the mountain pass, you will be welcomed with amazing views of the fjord, below. Once in Seydisfjordur, you can hike several trails to waterfalls (two are fairly steep but they only take 5-10 minutes each), walk inside cool sound sculptures, visit a troll church, and explore the artwork and sculptures around the city. If you're looking for a longer hike, head to the northern side of the fjord and hike past several waterfalls continuing all the way to the top (Vestdalsvatn).

Day 8: Seydisfjordur, Flight back to Reykjavik

Village of Seydisfjordur
Village of Seydisfjordur

This morning, you'll have time to explore more of the region by car where you'll find lots of beautiful calm fjords, outdoor activities, and small towns at the bases of large mountains. You can even kayak through the fjords, or (if you had a few extra days) take a ferry to either the Faroe Islands or Denmark.

Depending on flight times, you'll travel 30 minutes over the mountain pass to Egilsstadir, drop off the rental car and catch a domestic flight back to Reykjavik. Here, you'll have the rest of the day to take advantage of anything in the capital that you may have missed at the beginning of the trip. 

Day 9: Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Departure

A relaxing activity before a long flight home
A relaxing activity before a long flight home

It's time to say farewell to Iceland! Soak up your last moments and explore more of Reykjavik. Or, if there's time before your flight, consider a side trip on your way to KEF airport. Here are some suggestions: 

  • 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 some very 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.

  • Explore the hidden gems of the Reykjanes Peninsula: The following places are 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 Highlights: West to East - 9 Days
Map of Iceland Highlights: West to East - 9 Days