An Epic One Week Road Trip in Iceland
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
See all the main sites plus some hidden ones, go hiking, and keep the trip budget-friendly.
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Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik
Many of the flights arriving in Iceland are red-eye flights that have you land in the early morning. I’d recommend starting your first day with a trip to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. It is a relaxing activity right after a long flight. Going early (we arrived pre-sunrise) allows you to beat the crowds and watch the sunrise from the Lagoon. The food at the Lagoon’s restaurant is overpriced, so I don’t recommend eating a meal there, but your ticket does include a drink or juice while in the Lagoon. When you are in the Lagoon, make sure to find the area where there is silica mud to put on your face and skin. The silica mud is included with your ticket as well.
After the Lagoon on your drive back to Reykjavik, stop by the Reykjanesta Cliffs area. It is a viewpoint worth the photo stop.
Spend the rest of the day exploring Reykjavik. In Reykjavik, I recommend going to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja Church Tower. We went around sunset and saw stunning golden views of the city and water. It costs $7USD. Also visit the Sun Voyager sculpture along the waterfront. There’s plenty of shopping, eating and drinking in Reykjavik. You won't have many dining and shopping options for the rest of the trip, so take advantage while you are there. Buy pastries for the road and any other clothes or gear you may have forgotten. Laugavegur Street is the main strip of shopping, so be sure to walk down it. For more shopping information go to the Shopping section.
For the evening, my favorite restaurants and bars are outlined in Where to Eat.
For the first day of the road trip, drive Northwest to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula area. If you only have six days in Iceland, this is the day that is the easiest to skip. It’s a long day of driving without many stops and is in the opposite direction of most of the other attractions. We had the time though and felt it was worth the driving to see part of the Western side of the country and a less touristy area. It is a 2.5 hour drive from Reykjavik to Kirkjufell.
*Note in the winter it's advised you don’t go all the way to the North side of the island at all. Roads often become impassable, even as early as November. Restaurants and stores close down in the winter as well. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is on the West side of the country though so it is usually accessible.*
The main attraction of the day is the Kirkjufell Mountain. It is a uniquely shaped mountain that is supposedly the most photographed mountain in the country. Once there, also stop to see the nearby Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall for a photo opportunity of the mountain + waterfall. There is a hike that goes around the base of the mountain, or in seasons when the trail is safe, there is an option hike to the top as well (a 3 hour round-trip hike). It is a difficult trail though, so it is for experienced hikers only.
We spent that night in Borgarnes as a middle point spot for our stops the next day. It is an hour and a half drive from Kirkjufell to Borgarnes.
Thingvellir National Park
Start the morning driving an hour and a half from Borgarnes to Thingvellir National Park. Book an early time slot to snorkel the clear glacier waters in Silfra. Silfra is the rift between the two tectonic plates that separate Europe and North America. If you are traveling in colder months, be forewarned that despite the provided winter wetsuit, it is cold waiting outside for your turn to snorkel in negative temperatures. Once you are in the water it is warmer and comfortable though. Snorkeling costs $295USD per person. The company also takes underwater pictures for you and includes them for no additional charge. We booked this excursion with Dive.is.
If you are looking to save money and skip booking organized activities, alternatively you could spend the morning hiking to the Glymur Waterfall. The trail was closed due to conditions when we went in November, but in warmer months it will likely be open. It is a 4.9 mile loop trail to see the Falls and come back.
After snorkeling, grab a quick snack at the Thingvellir National Park Visitor Center and then spend the afternoon exploring the National Park. In the park, visit the Löfberg area where the country’s Parliament was formed and the Oxararfoss Waterfall as well. It was one of my favorite waterfalls of the trip. In the winter, with ice cleats on, we could hike right up next to the falls on ice.
Also walk the pathway along Almannagjá, the fault that is the Eastern boundary of the North American plate.
If you strategize your snorkeling time slot well, and start the day early, you could fit in the Glymur hike, snorkeling and exploring the rest of Thingvellir National Park all in one day.
We spent the night in Fludir, an hour drive from Thingvellir National Park. Where to Eat has a couple restaurant options near Fludir.
Golden Circle and Snowmobiling on Langjokull Glacier
For day four, complete more stops on the Golden Circle. (Thingvellir is technically part of the Golden Circle too). First stop at the Stroker Geysir and walk around the surrounding Geysir Geothermal Area. This area is only a half an hour drive from Fludir. There’s coffee and food at the visitor’s center here for breakfast before or after.
Next, drive to Gullfoss Falls, a ten minute drive, and make a quick stop to see the main viewpoints for the falls.
That afternoon we went snowmobiling on the Langjokull Glacier. Out of all of the paid activities we planned, this was our favorite. The terrain and views were incredible and snowmobiling was a fun way to see it all. It was $189USD per person. We booked it through Arctic Adventures and were happy with the company. The meeting point for the snowmobiling outing is at the visitor’s center for Gullfoss Falls.
We stayed in Fludir for a 2nd night, so it was a short thirty minute drive home at the end of the day.
Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls + Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Start the day at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, about an hour drive from Fludir. View the falls from the front and then also walk behind them.
Don’t leave after seeing just the main waterfall. Take a left at the waterfall and continue walking down the footpath. When you hit a small stream with rocks that look as though they lead into a small cave on the right, go in there! There’s a “secret” waterfall, Gljúfrafoss, back in the cave. Make sure you have waterproof shoes to walk in close to the waterfall. The waterfall sprays are very close, so a waterproof jackets is useful too. Afterwards, have a sandwich at the stand by Seljalandsfoss for a quick lunch. The baguette sandwich at this stand was surprisingly one of our favorite lunches.
You could also stop at Kvernufoss Waterfall if you want to see another waterfall. It is a 25 minute drive from Seljalandsfoss.
Next drive from Seljalandsfoss to Skógafoss Waterfalls. It is a half an hour drive, Spend time viewing the falls, but also make sure to walk up the stairs to the right of the falls to see views from the top.
If you want more hiking, continue on the trail beyond the top of the stairs. It is unmarked, but there is a clear footpath that follows the river flowing into the Falls. Throughout the hike you will see many other small falls along the way as well as panoramic views of the whole area. It is not a crowded or well known trail so it’s an escape from the crowds too.
Drive another thirty minutes to end the day at the Reynisfjara. It is the black sand volcanic beach with the basalt columns and also has the Hálsanefshellir Cave.
There are limited Airbnbs or lodging options in this area so that night we stayed in Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. It is a 2.5 hour drive to the hotel from Reynisfjara.
Vatnajökull National Park
Wake up early and drive a half an hour to start the day at the black sand Diamond Beach. At this beach, large chunks of ice from the glacier wash up on the shore and look like diamonds. We were able to arrive in time for sunrise and it was magical.
Next go across the street to see the glacier lake, Jökulsárlón, that has glacier icebergs floating throughout it.
If you want to experience a Blue Ice Cave tour, the meeting spot for tours is in the Jökulsárlón parking lot . Blue Ice cave tours are only available in the winter. They usually start in late November, at which point the caves are still relatively small. The caves become much bigger and more impressive further into the winter. We went in late November and the cave was small and barely blue yet. It was still unlike anything I had seen before though. The outing costs $140USD per person. It includes a ride driving on the glacier to reach the ice cave. I only recommend a blue ice cave tour if you go in December, January or February. We also booked this outing with Arctic Adventures.
In the afternoon go to Skaftafell National Park (which is still part of the Vatnajökull National Park). It is a half an hour away from Jökulsárlón.
There are a few options for short hikes in the park:
The Svartifoss trail is a 1.25 mile out and back trail to a waterfall with basalt rock columns around it.
Sjónarnípa trail is a 5 mile round trip hike with views of the Skaftafell Glacier and the surrounding landscape.
If you want to do both trails (which I recommend!), pick up a local trail map at the visitor’s center. The map shows how to connect from the Svartifoss trail to the Sjónarnípa trail and hike both at once.
If you wanted to save money and skip the ice cave tour, then you could hike all afternoon.
That night we stayed in Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon again. It was a 30 minute drive to Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon from Skaftafell National Park.
Drive to Reykjavik, Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Reykjadalur Hot Spring River
It is a 4.5 hour drive from the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon to Reykjavik. I'd recommend making a few stops to break up the drive.
First stop at the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and hiked around it. It is a deep and winding river canyon and a Game of Thrones filming location.
Another optional stop you could add to the day is the Kerid Crater. I don’t recommend it for a stop in the winter, but in the spring and summer its vibrant colors make it a more worthy stop.
As you drive closer to Reykjavik, stop to hike to the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River. The trail is a 2.4 mile hike out and back. It takes about an hour to hike to the swimming area of the river. When you arrive, there are docks and changing rooms to make it easy to swim and relax in the natural thermal river before hiking back. The hiking trail has geothermal activity to view along the way too.
We stayed in Reykjavik that night and flew out the next day.
Build an Itinerary with an Iceland Stop
This Iceland itinerary is a perfect shorter, stand alone trip option, but if you are looking for a longer trip, add it on to any stop in Europe. There are flight options that allow a stopover in Iceland for free, so Iceland +Europe is easy from a flight perspective.
Lodging Recommendations for Iceland
We stayed in Airbnbs for the majority of nights during this trip. Home rentals help to save money on the trip. Rental homes enable you to cook your own meals and the per night prices are generally less expensive than hotels in Iceland. Once outside of Reykjavik, Airbnbs also give you more flexibility on where there are options for lodging, when hotels are limited. Many Airbnb homes also have hot tubs, board games and other fun amenities. Read my article on Maximize your Chances of Seeing the Northern Lights for more tips on lodging as well.
Booking Advice for Iceland
It is easy to book lodging, rental cars, and activities online for Iceland. There was not any price savings for booking once you arrived. The popular adventure activities (snorkeling between the tectonic plates, snowmobiling on glaciers, etc), seem to fill up, so booking in advance is recommended, especially if you go in the summer high season.
What to Wear And Pack for an Iceland Trip
Read My Packing List for more recommendations on specific gear.
What to Wear
Hiking boots- For winter travel pack fleece lined winter hiking boots.
Crampons that slide on and off your boots/shoes. They were a lifesaver at icy scenic spots and for icy hikes during our winter trip. One stop that had a park ranger didn’t allow tourists to explore further without crampons.
Gloves, hats and thermal layers- Pack these for a winter trip.
A waterproof outer layer.
What to Pack
Lightweight daypack- Helps you easily go from sightseeing to hiking.
Water bottle or water bladder- Icelandic water is drinkable directly from waterfalls runoffs and drinking fountains. The local water is such high quality, many places don’t sell bottled water at all.
Hand warmers- These are helpful if you are snorkeling in Silfra in the winter. Put them by your feet in the wetsuit.
Headlamp- It is useful for hiking if you are going in the winter when there are less daylight hours.
What to Eat while in Iceland
Outside of Reykjavik, restaurants and grocery stores are harder to come by and exciting food shouldn’t be the expectation. Make sure to strategize where you plan to eat or what grocery store you are going to as part of your road trip planning. Most restaurants and stores close early. We had a few meals in half restaurant half convenience store locations with predominantly local customers. We regularly ate fries and pizza at those stops. If you stay in hotels, most have restaurants, but they are usually much more expensive than the local options.
Foods to try
Skyr- Icelandic style yogurt, look for it in grocery stores or breakfast buffets
Seafood- especially salmon and smoke salmon
European style baked goods-Cinnamon rolls, pretzels, baguette sandwiches and rye breads are prevalent at bakeries in Reykjavik and at stands and quick food options in the National Parks.
Lamb- It has been the meat of choice in Iceland for years, originally eaten by the vikings and the first settlers.
Hot chocolate- It was rich and had the perfect amount of chocolate when we ordered it at restaurants.
Where to Eat while in Iceland
Bergsson Mathús- A cozy spot for a reasonably priced breakfast/brunch.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur- A famous hot dog stand with Icelandic hot dogs, it's been around since 1937.
Braud and Co- Bakery with lots of European breads and pastries.
Snaps- Popular bistro for dinner or their breakfast buffet. Not a cheap option though.
Lebowski Bar- A completely Big Lebowski themed restaurant and bar. They had quality hamburgers and milkshakes and an extensive list of white russian drink varieties. It is a reasonably priced option.
Public House- A gastropub with a creative European tapas, a friendly atmosphere and a big beer list.
Restaurant Miko's- They served pizza and homemade chocolates. Order hot chocolate here.
Kaffi-Sel - Pizza that is regularly ranked one the top pizzas in the country
Where to Drink while in Iceland
Den Danske Kro-The most local feeling pub we found. Live music, standing room only and a lively crowd.
Shopping Tips for Iceland
Iceland is known for its wool goods, sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves, rugs, socks and blankets. Wool items are not inexpensive though, and the Icelandic prices were not less expensive than wool goods in other countries. The wool socks I brought home as gifts were highly complimented. A couple of us also bought modern designed wool blankets that were very high quality.
Plan to shop for souvenirs and gifts in Reykjavik, there are limited options on the rest of the road trip.
Getting Around in Iceland
Rent a car for the road trip and make sure to rent an SUV that can properly handle icy roads. The roads in Iceland are well maintained though, so if the weather is clear, driving is relatively easy. Roads are well marked and not many in this itinerary are on the edge of mountains. The road along the South coast was especially flat and easy to drive.
We did not rent a GPS and instead downloaded offline maps before each drive.
Iceland is starting to charge for parking and enforce it at their parks and natural sites. So keep your eyes out for parking instructions at parking lots throughout the country.
Reykjavik is walkable, we never needed a taxi or Uber.
When to go to Iceland
In a perfect world, visit Iceland in both summer and winter, to see it in both seasons. We went in November to increase our chances of seeing the Northern Lights, to save money on flights and to avoid crowds. In the winter you also are able to go snowmobiling on glaciers, and to see the blue ice caves on glaciers. A winter trip also means shorter days, with less time to explore in daylight, but the sunrise and sunsets last almost all day. It makes for spectacular photography. To have a successful road trip, don’t travel too far into winter. The road closures, snow storms, and icy conditions all become higher risk further into winter.
In the summer though, the waterfalls will all be flowing and not frozen, there are long hours of daylight and you’ll be able to see the vibrant green landscape Iceland is known for. I have heard the summer crowds are hard to deal with though.
Other Tips for an Iceland Trip
See my Northern Lights Article for more information on how to increase your chances of seeing them.
Wifi is easy to find in Iceland at your lodging but not at stops throughout the day. Research all the information you need at night at your lodging, then you won’t need data during the day.
English is widely spoken in Iceland so we had no language barrier issues on this trip.
Download music before you leave for the trip. You’ll be thankful to have it when you lose radio connection on the road trip.
Credit cards are widely accepted so you won’t need much cash.
Additional Reading: Maximize your Chances of Seeing the Northern Lights, My Packing List,
Trip Dates: November 24-December 2nd, 2017.
Article Updated: June 2020
*Some links in this article are affiliate links that I receive a small commission for at no cost to you.