Want to get away for a quick weekend? Or maybe take a 2-week trip around the country? Iceland is totally doable. Flights with Icelandair are for the most part inexpensive. Icelandair flies all over Europe and can be used as a stopping point in your journey (stay for up to 7 nights in Iceland with no additional charge to your airfare).
Best of all you can actually save money in Iceland! The natural wonders are FREE! Geysir – Free. Iceberg Lagoon – Free. Glaciers – FREE. FREE. FREE. FREE. Whooo!
Hop in a rental and drive your little heart out, Iceland is the place to do it. It is also hard to get lost, Route 1 (Ring Road) circles the entire country and many points of interest can be found along the way. This tour will take you counterclockwise around the country.
FYI – I visited Iceland during shoulder season at the end of April early May. If you are wanting to experience Iceland with less crowds I’d suggest going right before or after high season. High season starts at the end of May and continues through the summer into the beginning of September. Prices are also cheaper during this time.
Map of route
Note – This route goes counter-clockwise around the country, but you could also do it clockwise. Completely up to you.
Days 1-3 Explore Reykjavík
Reykjavík is Iceland’s trendy capitol where you can eat gourmet Icelandic dishes, learn about Iceland’s Viking past, have a drink in one of the many bars and clubs, and do plenty of window shopping.
Things to Do:
Reykjavik City Card – Comes in 24, 48, or 72 hours. Get free admission to several museums, free trip to Viðey island, discounts, and free bus rides within the city.
Day trip to the Blue Lagoon. Yes it is touristy and pricey, but worth it. If you are a people watcher you will love this place.
Enjoy a concert at Harpa Concert Hall, or just walk in and around the building the architecture is on point!
Walk along the water’s edge and see the Solfar Sculpture.
Hungry? Need a cheap bite to eat? Head to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur for the best hotdogs in town!
For accommodations I booked my hotels through Booking.com and the International Hostel Association prior to arriving in Iceland. I recommend staying near or on Laugavegur street, this is Reykjavík’s main shopping street. There are several hotels, hostels, bars, and restaurants located near by.
We stayed at Reykjavík Backpackers, but it looks like they shut down. Yikes!
Day 4: Golden Circle
This can be a day trip from Reykjavík or done on your way out of town. I chose to do the later. I’d recommend picking up a rental car and attacking the Golden Circle on your own, this allows you to dictate how long you want to spend at the sites and you aren’t being corralled on and off a tour bus.
Sights and Attractions
Þingvellir National Park
It’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the location of the first ever parliament (dating back to 930 AD) as well as the meeting place of the North American and European tectonic plates. These plates move a couple of centimeters each year! Scuba divers check out Silfra and get PADI Dry Suit certified in the clear waters around the fissure. Guess what? Þingvellir National Park is FREE.
Geysir Geothermal Area
Walk along boiling mud pits on the path to view the Strokkur geyser which erupts every few minutes sending water over 100 feet in the air. Check out the information center which has souvenirs, snacks, and exhibits. Oh…Geysir is FREE too!
Europe’s largest waterfall, this will be your first of many. Rainbows are often seen over the falls. Yea, yea…it’s FREE.
Unwind for the night around the town of Húsid. We stayed at Húsid Guesthouse.
Day 5: Head south towards Vik
Today is the day I like to call Foss-day. Foss in Icelandic means waterfall, today you will see plenty! Keep your eyes peeled for the “Point of Interest” signs. You never know what you may find.
Top Stops and Attractions:
Kerid Crater Lake
Seljalandfoss – This is the waterfall you can walk behind.
Vik – Walk along the beach, the scenery is out of this world. Vik’s black sand beach, paired with the greenery of the surrounding hills, and the odd basalt columns, this place isn’t to be missed. As a bonus – the day we went we were the only people on the beach.
Eyjafjallajökull, this is the famous volcano that erupted in 2011. Easily seen from the road.
Skógafoss – One of Iceland’s largest waterfalls.
Helka – One of Iceland’s most active volcanoes can be seen as you drive south along the Ring Road.
Dyrhólaey – Black pebble beach and a puffin colony (however…the day we visited the puffins must have been out getting some grub because we didn’t see any).
Stay in or around Vik. We stayed at Puffin Hostel.
Day 6: Head toward Höfn
Warning – Today you will feel like you are on a different planet.
Stops and Attractions
Skaftafell National Park
Take a hike, view more waterfalls, and walk up to Vatnajökull Glacier. The walk to the glacier will take about 30 minutes, you can see it from the visitor’s center.
Jökulsárlón – Iceberg Lagoon
Then make your way to one of the best sites in Iceland, Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon. Viewable from Ring Road, watch as icebergs float in the glacial lagoon, they slowly make their way to the mouth of the attached river and head out to sea. Hike down to the lake to get up close and personal with the icebergs.
There is an area for parking next to the lagoon. Boat tours are also available.
After viewing the icebergs in the lagoon, head to the Glacial River Bridge where you can watch them make their way toward the Atlantic.
Iceberg watching isn’t over yet, after the bridge head to the beach and watch as the icebergs sail out to sea…or get marooned on the beach.
After spending the day on iceberg watch make your way to Höfn, it’s about an hour from the lagoon. We stayed at Hafnarnes Guesthouse.
Day 7: Onward to Seyðisfjörður
Mountain driving day! Not much as far as sites to see, but the views are beautiful and you get a jolt (or several jolts) of adrenaline driving up into the mountains and back down into the fjords. The scenery is stunning.
Be prepared – the roads are windy, sometimes packed with snow, and will probably have ice. Glad my travel buddy drove this day because I would have been white knuckling it going around each turn.
After going through the pass you get this view. Worth it.
The town of Seyðisfjörður is quaint and has plenty activities such as walking tours, skiing, snowshoeing, angling, and hiking.
Stay the night! We stayed at Hafaldan Hostel.
Day 8: Akureyri
The route between Seyðisfjörður to just before Mývatn is desolate. You might not pass a car, we saw maybe five throughout the day. The landscape is ever changing. You will head back up into the mountains, through snowy plains, and into rugged lava fields. I cannot describe to you how majestic this part of Iceland feels.
Tip – Fill up on gas and snackies.
Stops and Attractions
Hverarönd – This is a geothermal hot spot! Take a short walk around the boiling mud pits, make sure you stay along the path and do not cross the lines of the trail. You will be sorry, this place has some of the highest temperatures in Iceland. It’s also stinky, so stinky my travel buddy said “F-that, I am staying in the car”.
Your first stop is Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. There is a small visitor’s center, but of course the main attraction is the waterfall. Several well-kept paths line the edges of the river up to the fall.
Side story: I was a crab this day and my motto was “I don’t want to see another foss for a very long time” by the end of the day the motto took a slightly more sinister turn “fuck the fosses”. I don’t want that to discourage you, I walked almost all the way to the end of the path to see the falls, you can see Dettifoss from most of the path. It was cold, windy, and the freezing water was spraying into my face making me a crabby patty. So, if you are crabby and sick and tired of seeing fosses don’t worry you will still get a good view and don’t have to walk along the slippery wet path to do so. Sometimes you are just done. At that moment, I didn’t care. I think I was probably “hangry” and needed a hot dog. Also, looks like I was so done with all of the waterfalls that I didn’t take a picture of Dettifoss.
Blue Nameless Pond
Incredible blue pool, however I don’t think it is a natural color. There were several warning signs that said don’t touch/swim. I have no clue what this place was, but the color of the water was intriguing enough for us to pull over the car and take a few pictures.
Other sites in the area:
Mývatn Lake Area
Hverfjall & Viti Crater
Dimmuborgir lava fields – Several paths go through the lava fields, just be careful when walking around… the lava rocks will cut you!
At this point, you can stay on Route 1 and head directly to Akureyri or you can take a detour to Húsavík. We headed north to Húsavík. The town is known for whale watching, several tour companies operate out of Húsavík. Boat tours are also available out to Grimsey island which is the northern most inhabited part of Iceland. Grimsey touches the Arctic Circle and polar bears have been known to appear on the island after being stuck on drifting ice from Greenland.
From Húsavík take the scenic tour of the coast and head to Akureyri on HWY 85. This is the route where we spotted whales!
Make your way down to Akureyri, post there for the night. I stayed in my first Airbnb this trip and I love the concept. Check out our lodging here.
Day 9: Head to Osar
Spend the day exploring Akureyri. It is the second biggest city in Iceland. We didn’t spend too much time here, we hiked the steps to Akureyrarkirkja and had a few beers.
Then we made our way to Osar, known for its seal population. Again, we knew we had a day to kill so we took the “long way” to Osar, we wanted to see more of the countryside so we went North on 82 and headed around to see the Skagafjordur on 76.
We were planning on spending the night in Osar but after viewing the seals and taking a walk along the beach we decided to head back towards Reykjavik. We got a taste of city life in Akureyri and wanted a little more. That is what I love about road trips, you aren’t glued to one spot.
If you are wanting to stay the night in Osar be prepared, there isn’t much as far as dinning. If we didn’t decide to drive back to the capitol then we would have stayed at HI Hostel Osar.
Day 10: Reykjavik
Today is another driving day, but of course the scenery is never disappointing. Save time and drive under a fjord by going through Hvalfjörður Tunnel,it is on Route 1 between Akranes and Grundarhverfi.
Spend your last night in the capitol city taking in the beauty of the country, splurging on a nice meal and enjoying the friendliness of its people.
1. No GPS is needed, we had one and it busted on day 2. We made it just fine. Pick up a map with your rental car, you will do just fine.
2. If you like boozing, buy your liquor at the duty free store in the Keflavik airport and save some money.
3. This is a road trip! Bring munchies for the car as well as breakfast items.
4. Try the Skyr (Icelandic yogurt….nom nom).
5. Wear layers – Iceland is known for its dramatic changes in weather. It will be sunny one moment and a full on gusty rainstorm to snow.
6. Restaurants have limited menus outside of Reykjavik and Akureyri. We basically lived on hotdogs. Which I was totally fine with. We also created a delicious sandwich that consisted of salami, beats, and goat cheese. Try it!
7. Iceland doesn’t have a single McDonalds….but they love KFC.
8. Iceland is the land of the midnight sun. Between the months of May and August expect there to be sunlight throughout most of the day. We were in Iceland at the beginning of May and it never got totally dark. Recommendation – bring an eye mask.
9. Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights. We tried to get a glimpse of these little suckers but it was never quite dark enough. Best time to view the lights are on clear nights between the months of September and April. Here is a website to check the aurora forecast.
I’ve been to over 25 different countries. Iceland is at the top of my favorite countries list. Want to know my 12 MUST SEE sites in Iceland, check out this post. Also, let’s not forget that most of the sites are FREE, in fact everything in this post was free to see except the Blue Lagoon.
Whether you have four days to kill or two weeks, you will have a fantastic time enjoying the scenery of Iceland.