Explore the scenic peninsulas, waterfalls, lakes, and more on this eight-day tour through Iceland’s west and north regions. This route, especially, allows you to beat the summer crowds headed to the South Coast and Golden Circle, providing more time to hike and take in magnificent viewpoints in destinations like Glymur Falls, Lake Mývatn, Asbyrgi Canyon, and Dettifoss. Absorb the stunning black-sand beaches and small fishing towns in Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Take more time in the Arctic Coast and remote Northeast, and go whale watching in Husavik. End the trip with a tour of the geothermal highlights of the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Highlights

  • Hike stunning Glymur Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland
  • Discover the pseudocraters, lava formations, and nature baths of Lake Mývatn
  • Embark on a whale watching tour just minutes from the harbor in Husavik
  • Experience incredible viewpoints when hiking in Asbyrgi Canyon and Dettifoss

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Reykjavík & Drive to Snæfellsnes Peninsula Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 2 Snaefellsnes Peninsula - Black-Sand Beaches & Fishing Towns Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 3 Arctic Coast Farms, Churches, & Pools to Varmahlid Varmahlid
Day 4 Goðafoss, Trollaskagi Peninsula, & Whale Watching in Husavik Husavik
Day 5 Hike in Asbyrgi Canyon & Dettifoss Husavik
Day 6 Tour Lake Mývatn & Visit Akureyri Akureyri
Day 7 Hike Glymur Falls & Reykjavík Exploration Reykjavik
Day 8 Visit the Reykjanes Peninsula & Depart From Reykjavík  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Reykjavík and drive to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Welcome to Iceland!
Welcome to Iceland!

Welcome to Iceland! Upon arrival at Keflavik Airport (KEF) in the morning, pick up your rental car. Feel free to stop in Reykjavík for breakfast, or continue north to get a head start on your first day. Spend the night in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is about a 2-2.5-hour drive north of Reykjavík. 

En route, stop in Borgarnes on the water, where you can learn more about the Settlement Age of Iceland at the Settlement Center, or walk along the path down by the shore. 

Then, arrive in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is sometimes referred to as “Little Iceland,” because you can find a little bit of everything that Iceland has to offer here: amazing basalt columns, tiny fishing villages, coastal cliff walks past arches and other rock formations, lava fields and caves, volcanic craters, black-sand beaches, waterfalls, and more.

Some of these destinations allow for longer hikes. They are all mostly flat, but the ground can be uneven in places. Walk as far as you feel comfortable; you will find yourself impressed by the natural scenery venturing just from the parking lot to the trail. 

Your first stop is at the Gerðuberg basalt cliffs, where unique basalt columns rise from the earth. Park the car and walk around to explore and get a closer look. Next, walk through the start of the moss-covered Budhahraun lava fields on the coast.

Then, walk along the cliffside paths at Arnarstapi to view unique cliff shapes, lava formations, and arches in the rocks. In Hellnar, stop at the small Fjöruhúsið café near the water to enjoy delicious fish soup and the view.

Spend the night in the Hellnar and Arnarstapi area. Depending on your arrival time, you can continue further west to some of the sights listed for tomorrow, as they are in close proximity.

Day 2: Snaefellsnes Peninsula - Black-sand beaches and fishing towns

Lóndrangar
Lóndrangar

If you did not do so yesterday, begin your day with a walk along the cliffside paths at Arnarstapi, and a visit to Fjöruhúsið café. Follow the trail all the way between Arnarstapi and Hellnar, starting from either side. 

Next, visit the large Lóndrangar lava formations, which you can view from afar, or walk 15 minutes to see up-close. A little further along the road is the peninsula’s Visitor Center, where you can learn more about the volcanic system and the area.

Then, take a stroll along Djúpalónssandur, a black-sand beach with debris from a shipwreck—the rusted remains along the black sand make for a beautiful photo opportunity. Here, find four stones of different sizes, which were once used by sea captains to test the strength of sailors interested in joining their crews. While facing the water, look for a small trail along the right-side cliffs to follow for 15-20 minutes until you reach Dritvík cove, once the site of a major fishing operation. 

As you near the westernmost point of the peninsula, look for signs for Saxhóll crater. It's worth a quick stop to walk up the stairs that take you to the top of the crater, which has 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 peaks.

Spend the night in Grundarfjörður, near the mountain and waterfall, or continue to the larger town of Stykkishólmur. On the way, stop at a shark museum and taste some hákarl, or fermented shark. Or, enjoy dinner at one of the following restaurants:

  • Bjargarsteinn mathus in Grundarfjörður
  • Sjávarpakkhúsið in Stykkishólmur
  • Narfeyrarstofa in Stykkishólmur

Day 3: Arctic Coast farms, churches, and pools to Varmahlid

Hvítserkur, the “White Shirt” Basalt troll
Hvítserkur, the “White Shirt” Basalt troll

Spend the day exploring the north peninsulas between Hvammstangi and Siglufjordur. Start off by either heading to Route 1, a 45-minute drive, or continue along the coast on Route 711, for 50 minutes. Destinations to bookmark for the day include the below.

A short distance from the shore along the Vatnsnes peninsula in Northwest Iceland, you will find the black-and-white rock formation known as Hvítserkur (“White Shirt"), a basalt troll, who, according to the legend, was caught in the sun and turned into stone. While it's a nice sight from above, there’s also a trail leading down from the parking lot. This area is also home to one of the largest seal colonies in Iceland—you can learn more at the Icelandic Seal Center in nearby Hvammstangi.

A visit to the Glaumbær Farm, a short detour along Route 75, is a great way to experience the turf houses and to see how Icelanders used to live. The turf helped insulate the houses during the harsh winters and strong winds. The last person lived in this house until 1947, but the oldest farm in the area dates back to around 874 (during the early Settlement Period).

Just off Route 1, spot Víðimýrarkirkja Church. Built in 1834, it is one of the only remaining, preserved turf churches in Iceland. There has been a church in this area since the year 1000 CE, when Iceland peacefully adopted Christianity (to avoid battles between Icelanders).

Far in the north, and about a 45-minute detour from Sauðárkrókur (out and back), you can soak in a very remote geothermal Grettislaug Pool. Here, there are two pools that are somewhat protected from the wind. The pool is named from Grettir—alluding to Grettir's Saga, where the Icelander supposedly warmed himself at the pool during the cold winter.

Continue your pool discovery at Sundlaugin á Hofsósi (Infinity pool, Hofsos). The pools were designed by the same architect who crafted the Blue Lagoon, and are nicely positioned near the water, offering great views across the fjord.

Then, spend the night in Varmahlid at your leisure.

Day 4: Goðafoss, Trollaskagi Peninsula, and whale watching in Husavik

The charming town of Siglufjordur
The charming town of Siglufjordur

Drive along the tip of the Trollaskagi Peninsula to the fishing town of Siglufjörður, which grew thanks to the herring industry, with 22 different factories at its peak operation. Learn more about the fishing history at the three-building museum, which is also home to old boats and machinery. 

Continue north to Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland and your endpoint for today. Unlike in other regions, where you must sail a while to find whales, Husavik often has whales, porpoises, and seabirds swimming just a few minutes from the harbor. Join a tour on some newer, carbon-neutral ships that are quieter (nicer for whales) and don’t pollute the environment (nice for everyone). Consider an excursion with North Sailing, which is right on the harbor (the entire building, restaurant, and café were made from recycled wood). Following some whale watching, check out the whale museum and the church by the harbor.

Next, venture to Goðafoss Waterfall, “Waterfall of the Gods,” which is impossible to miss off the turn from Route 1 to Route 85. Hike a few minutes to see the waterfall up close, or take a longer walk around for views from different perspectives. The waterfall was named when Iceland converted to Christianity in 1000 CE. The legend says that when Þorgeir Þorkelsson, local chieftain and law speaker, made the tough decision to convert the country from the old Nordic gods to Christianity (in order to prevent war), he threw the old gods into the falls to symbolize the transition into the new era.

Then, enjoy the evening back in Husavik at your leisure.

Day 5: Hike in Asbyrgi Canyon and Dettifoss

Europe's famed Dettifoss Waterfall
Europe's famed Dettifoss Waterfall

Today, drive north along Route 85 to approach Asbyrgi and Dettifoss from the northern side—though most travelers approach from the south.

Your first stop, Asbyrgi, has a number of great hiking trails. Asbyrgi Canyon rests in a nature reserve inside Vatnajökull National Park. Folk legend has it that this tremendous horseshoe-shaped valley was made by the giant hoof of Sleipnir, no other than Óðin’s eight-legged horse. Feel free to visit the Asbyrgi Visitor Centre for maps and more information on the area prior to beginning your trek(s). Trails with great viewpoints to consider include the below:

  • Eyjan Hill: This shorter hike takes you up to an island in the middle of the canyon for great views
  • Klappir: A popular and short hike, you can get a nice view of the horseshoe shape of the whole canyon
  • Kúahvammur Circle: Enjoy incredible views of both Asbyrgi and the Jökulsá River Canyon, where the river has carved amazing shapes into the rock

Next, when heading to Dettifoss, take Road Nr. 864 (on the east side of the canyon). This provides better views of the full canyon, and you can hike much closer to Dettifoss. There are other short hikes along the canyon, as well, and some very nice viewpoints to consider. Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, gushing around 6,816 cubic feet per second. Its gray-white waters come from the wide river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, itself a runoff from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier. The falls are around 330 feet wide and drop 144 feet down into the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon. It should take less than a 10-minute walk from the parking lot to reach the edge of the falls—be careful near the edge, as the cliffsides can get slippery if there is mist or ice.

Nearby, you can also stop at Selfoss, which is just upstream, and flows from the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. Then, make your way to Hafragilsfoss, just a few miles downstream, which drops around 89 feet. The muddy-white streams pour into Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon, and the views are accessible from both sides.

For those want to go even further off the main path, keep driving to the Rauðanes Cape/Peninsula, which offers a great hike and a collection of unique rock formations along the sea.

End the day at the pagan-influenced Arctic Henge in Raufarhöfn if you like—a large piece of stone construction that began in 1996, and is still in the works today.   

Then, head back to Husavik for an evening at your leisure.

Day 6: Tour Lake Mývatn and visit Akureyri

Lake Mývatn
Lake Mývatn

Next, explore the area surrounding Lake Mývatn, which has the highest concentration of volcanic and geothermal sights in Iceland. Drive counterclockwise around the lake (the western side) to get started. There is plenty to discover in one day, all of which is outlined below.

First, visit the Skútustaðir Pseudocraters, which were formed when hot lava flowed over the wet marsh area causing steam explosions. Take an easy, 1-hour walk among many pseudocraters on the shores of Lake Mývatn, and loop around the smaller lake, Stakhólstjörn. Hike up to a few of them, or just walk around the collection. Enjoy the nice views across the lake, where you will see steam rising from the geothermal areas and other volcanic craters in the distance.

Next, take a 1-hour walk beneath large, strange, contorted Dimmuborgir lava formations, caused when the post-eruption lava flows cooled. You can see the start of the formations with only a 5-minute walk, or hike the small loop in 15 minutes. If you have longer to devote, take your time and walk the bigger loop (2 miles) to see Kirkja (“The Church”), a natural lava formation that resembles a vaulted church arch, and explore a nearby cave a bit further. 

A bit past Dimmuborgir, spot a small turnout for Höfði. You can spend anywhere from 15 minutes to more than 1 hour here walking the wooded trails that take you to some very unique rock formations along the lake.

The Hverfjall cinder cone is hard to miss from anywhere around Lake Mývatn. Climb up the side for a great view of the surrounding area, where you can see the Skútustaðir Pseudocraters and steam from the Mývatn Nature Baths and Hverarönd geothermal area. 

The small lava cave of Grjótagjá comes with an added surprise inside: a natural geothermal spring. Bring a light, and follow inside the cave for perhaps the most interesting hot pool in the country. Test the water carefully—it can be quite hot.

After all of that hiking, indulge in a well-deserved break. Relax in the Mývatn Nature Baths, the north’s equivalent of the Blue Lagoon, but with fewer people, more affordable prices, and better views. You won’t find all the spa extras that you do at the Blue Lagoon, but you will be able to enjoy a couple of large, geothermal pools, a sauna, and a steam room. You can relish the views down over the lava fields and the craters around Lake Mývatn as you soak in the therapeutic mineral water.

Then, continue south to Akureyri, the largest town in the north, and Iceland’s second-largest city, with a population of 18,000 people. Akureyri is home to Iceland’s longest fjord and makes a great home base for exploring the north. While here, be sure to check out the thriving restaurant, café, and bar scene, and visit the Akureyrarkirkja church, which sits upon the hill. With more time, follow the path along the calm, old harbor’s water to see more of the picturesque fjord. There is also a nice botanical garden in town for a scenic stroll.

Spend the night in Akureyri at your leisure.

Day 7: Hike Glymur Falls and Reykjavík exploration

Glymur Falls
Glymur Falls

There are a few stops along your drive back south—in case you skipped them on previous days. Visit the Settlement Center in Borgarnes, and then go for a hike at Glymur Falls, one of Iceland's tallest waterfalls. The hike is 2-3 hours, depending on how far you go. 

With extra time, make a stop by Hraunfossar (“Lava Falls”) and Barnafoss (“Children's Waterfall”), both known for hosting some of the most unique and spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. Clear, subterranean water seeps through the lava fields, pouring out of the rocks and creating Hraunfossar.

Finish the day in Reykjavík. Walk through compact downtown to check out the unique street art scene. Head to the water for the Sun Voyager Sculpture and the Harpa Concert Hall, with its unique, glass architecture. Visit Hallgrímskirkja, a church on the hill, and take the elevator to the top of the tower for a great view of the city below and panoramic views of the area.

If the need arises to escape inclement weather, consider visiting a few museums in town, such as the Northern Lights CenterSaga MuseumMarine Museum, or Whales of Iceland Exhibition. You can also join a whale watching tour from Reykjavík Harbour, and snack on a world-famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.

For delicious lunch and dinner recommendations, consider the below:

  • Messinn
  • Sea Barron
  • Kol Restaurant
  • The Coocoo's Nest
  • Kaffivagninn (lunch only)
  • Café Loki

If you are interested in checking out Reykjavík’s nightlife scene, visit the following bars:

  • Craft Cocktails
  • Mikkeller & Friends
  • Skúli Craft Bar
  • KEX Hostel Bar (live music on weekends)

Day 8: Visit the Reykjanes Peninsula and depart from Reykjavík

Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon

Spend your last day exploring more of Reykjavík. Stop by the Blue Lagoon on your drive to the airport, where you can enjoy one, last geothermal soak before you fly home.

If you have more time, visit some of the highlights around the Reykjanes Peninsula. The following places are often missed by travelers quickly traveling between Reykjavik and KEF airport for departure. With a bit more time, you can explore lava fields, geothermal areas, lighthouses, and small fishing towns.

These places are listed east to west, as you drive from Reykjavik to KEF clockwise around the peninsula:

  • Krýsuvík geothermal area: While you can walk around the area near the parking lot in as little as 5 minutes, take your time to see the steam vents and hot pools up close. Look up at the multicolored hills surrounding the area. There’s a short, steep trail up the hill, which offers great views on a clear day.
  • Gunnuhver hot springs and geothermal area: Here, find a couple of bubbling and steaming mud pools. Gunnuhver is named after a female ghost who was said to be trapped in the hot springs more than 400 years ago. Temperatures are extremely hot, so stick to the walkways and viewing areas. While here, continue about 5 minutes to the cliffs to stop at Reykjanesviti lighthouse with beautiful views of Iceland from atop a hill.
  • Bridge Between Continents (Europe Miðlína): This area is a great symbol of Icelandic geology. The Reykjanes Peninsula is on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which pulls apart a few centimeters every year. You can cross the bridge between the continental plates while you’re here, and look down at the gap below.
  • Garður Lighthouse: About 15 minutes north of KEF, you will arrive at two lighthouses—one on the coast (older and not as stable), and a second a bit further inland. This scenic area can be a nice area to walk around and stretch your legs before boarding your return flight home.

Map

Map of West & North Iceland Escape: Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Arctic Coast, Lake Mývatn, & More - 8 Days
Map of West & North Iceland Escape: Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Arctic Coast, Lake Mývatn, & More - 8 Days