This chilly, scenic self-drive tour is perfect for nature lovers and adventure fiends alike. Visit the famous Golden Circle, explore vibrant Reykjavik, and get off the beaten path for tours of ice caves and craters, snorkel trips between tectonic plates, and walks behind ice-covered waterfalls.

Highlights

  • Visit the frozen waterfalls of the west
  • Snorkel between tectonic plates
  • Visit the glacier-dotted beaches of the south
  • Soak in a geothermal spa
  • Visit a natural ice cave or take a glacier walk

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Budir, the frozen waterfalls of the west, and Reykjavik Reykjavik
Day 2 The Golden Circle (Thingvellir, Geysir, and frozen Gullfoss) Reykjavik
Day 3 Traveling the south coast to Vik Vik
Day 4 Ice caves, glacier walks, and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Vik
Day 5 The Reykjanes Peninsula and departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: The Frozen Waterfalls of the West

Hraunfossar (Lava Falls)

Welcome to Iceland! Start your adventure in Reykjavik, on Iceland's western coast. Pick up your rental car and make your way to 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 and pours out of the rocks. On your way back to Reykjavik, visit the quaint historical towns of Reykholt and Hvanneyri before finishing your day at Borgarnes on the water, where you can learn more about the Settlement Age of Iceland at the Settlement Center or walk along the shoreline path.

Once back in Reykjavik for the day, spend some time exploring. Walk through Reykjavik’s compact downtown area and along the water past the Sun Voyager Sculpture to the Harpa Concert Hall with its cool glass architecture. Visit Hallgrimskirkja Church on the hill and take the elevator to the tower for panoramic views. Stroll around the harbor or join a whale watching tour. Spend some time learning about Iceland’s history at the Settlement Exhibition or the National Museum of Iceland. Snack on a world famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur or hop between cafes. And enjoy a variety of top-tier fish restaurants and excellent city nightlife.

Day 2: The Golden Circle: Thingvellir, Geysir, and frozen Gullfoss

Thingvellir National Park

Today's adventure will take you to The Golden Circle, Iceland's most popular area. Start with a stop at Thingvellir National Park, where the tectonic plates meet. Here you can visit historical Law Rock, where chieftains from all over the country met once a year to discuss laws and issues, and walk within the giant rock fissure where the tectonic plates meet. At the visitor center, multi-media displays will teach you more about the history and geology of the region. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, don a dry suit and join a snorkel tour between the tectonic plates at the Silfra Fissure.

Next, visit the Geysir geothermal area with its bubbling mud pits and steam vents. The geyser erupts like clockwork every 10 minutes. Then head to Gullfoss (Golden Falls) - a massive waterfall sure to impress. In winter, large sections freeze over. Finally, finish your day at the Secret Lagoon, where you can soak in the geothermal waters under the Northern Lights (weather permitting)

Day 3: The South Coast to Vik

South Coast Waterfalls

After breakfast in Reykjavik, hit the road again, this time heading south. The south shore between Vik and Selfoss is full of popular sights and destinations and is fast becoming one of Iceland's most popular attractions. Your first stop is Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, which you can walk behind for a unique perspective. Standing in a cave under the cliff, watch the water come roaring down 20 - 30 feet in front of you. Pay attention to the direction of the wind and wear a rain jacket  - it can get wet in here. From behind the falls, look to your right; there are two smaller falls here as well.

Once you've had your fill of Seljalandsfoss, continue along Route 1 to the powerful Skogafoss Waterfall, which marks the beginning of the 16-mile (26-km) Fimmvörðuháls Trail that ends in Thórsmörk. You can walk to the bottom of the waterfall (a two-minute walk from the parking lot) to admire it from below or, if you're up for it, climb the stairs to the right of the waterfall for a different perspective. At the top of the falls, if snow conditions permit, walk along the canyon to see more cascades along Waterfalls Way before turning around.

After you've thoroughly explored the falls, head to Dyrholaey Arch and Cliffs, where two parking lots offer views of 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 there, you'll also see a lighthouse and a black sand beach that reaches as far as the eye can see. 

Next, make your way to Reynisdrangar Columns at Reynisfjara Beach, located near Vik along Route 1. This black rock beach is most famous for the Reynisdrangar Columns: huge basalt hexagonal columns rising up out of the sand. Walk around the cliffs to the left (just a minute or two on foot) as you face the ocean and you'll find a couple large caves as well.  

Finally, it's off to Vik! While the town itself is fairly small, its proximity to several great sights will more than make up for it, allowing you to explore in the evening when the larger crowds have left or before the crowds arrive the next day. Toward the water, you'll find a black sand beach with high cliffs on the right side, often filled with soaring and nesting birds.

Day 4: Ice Caves, Glacier Walks, and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon

In the morning, continue east along the Ring Road (Route 1, the only major road in this area) toward Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. On the way, stop at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon where rock formations look otherworldly. There is a walking trail less than a mile from the parking lot that weaves its way along the ridge of the canyon. Take the trail for amazing viewpoints of the river as it curves around the area's strange rock cliffs. 

Next, make your way to Skaftafell and Svartifoss. In summer, Skaftafell is a major hiking destination. In winter (November - March), you can join glacier hikes, ice climbing trips, or excursions into the natural ice caves. When you've had your fill, continue on to Hof to check out the Hof Turf Church. The practice of covering the roof with turf dates back to Medieval times; it was done throughout Europe to protect from the harsh weather.

Your next stop here in the south is Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Here you are much closer to the glacier than at Jokulsarlon, and you’ll have better views of all the cracks and crevices. Finally, continue on to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach, where you’ll get the chance to see 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 to find many smaller icebergs battered by the waves along the black sandy shores of Diamond Beach. Keep an eye out for the seals, porpoises, and small whales that sometimes hang out in the lagoon or near the shore.

Day 5: Reykjavik, Reykjanes Peninsula, & Departure

Reykjavik in winter

On your final day, drive back along the southern coast toward Reykjavik. If you have a later flight, stop at Urridafoss - the largest volume waterfall in Iceland - or Kerid Crater, a volcanic crater with a blue lake at the bottom. There's a hiking trail along the top with excellent views of the lake below. If you still have time to kill, check out the Reykjanes Peninsula's interesting geothermal areas, bridge between two continents (a small footbridge over a major fissure), lighthouses, or lava fields. On your way to the airport, you can also stop at the famed Blue Lagoon for one last geothermal soak before you drop off your car and fly home.