When we first searching where to go in Iceland, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to see in this country. We realized that although this volcanic island is small, there is so much natural beauty packed in that you could spend a lifetime exploring its nooks and crevices without seeing it all.
All the waterfalls, hot springs, glaciers and beaches looked incredible and we wanted to see as much as possible in just under a week. But we were having a hard time figuring out how to connect the dots on a map in one epic road trip.
For starters, the names of all the attractions were seriously tripping us up and making it even more difficult to plan. Icelandic is one crazy language. (I didn’t know so many constants could fit next to each other.)
After compiling information from many different places and spending hours spelling things wrong in the Google search bar, we finally came up with a pretty solid plan. We’ve put all of our information and experiences together to create what we think is the very best itinerary for one week in Iceland!
This article will help you plan your one-week road trip to this stunning country in the north Atlantic.
A Note About this Itinerary: This ring road itinerary is based on a 6 day/5 night trip to Iceland and intended to be followed using a rental car. We think the best (and cheapest!) way to follow this plan is to camp along the way, whether with a tent or a campervan.
Day 1: Gear up and drive to Snaefellsnes Peninsula
This Day in a Glimpse: Get your rental car and camping gear and head north of Reykjavik for some stunning views and set up camp on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Everyone flies into Keflavik International Airport (REK) so this is where your journey will begin. A 45-minute drive north on Highway 41 will take you to Reykjavik, where you can stock up on groceries and pick up your camping equipment.
You can do a little exploring in Reykjavik now if you arrived in the morning, but remember you have almost a 3 hour drive ahead of you so you might want to get on the Ring Road. You’ll have to time to see Reykjavik on your last day.
Note: Iceland’s natural landscape is beyond beautiful and you’ll want to stop for pictures around every curve. Our rule of thumb was for every hour of driving (according to the time Google maps gives you), add at least 10 more minutes for photo ops. Check out our collection of Iceland photos here.
Make your way northwest of Reykjavik to Snaefellsnes Peninsula for some pretty incredible views of giant mountains and remote lakes. If you have time, you can drive Highway 54 around the whole peninsula. But if you are like us and you didn’t get out of Reykjavik until 4:30pm, you can cut through the peninsula on Highway 56 and see some spectacular views overlooking hilltop lakes. If there is still daylight, head to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall for sunset, or just wait for the morning to visit.
Where to stay: We camped our first night in the town of Grundarfjörður at the local campground. It was nothing too fancy; just a flat grassy area with a toilet and sink for dishes.
Tip: There is a tunnel that cuts under Hvalfjörður and continues on Highway 1, but there is a toll at the end of it that cost about $10 USD. Learn from our mistake and don’t take the tunnel; Highway 47 is a much prettier than a dark tunnel anyway!
Day 2: Waterfalls & the Golden Circle
This Day in a Glimpse: Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall & all the big sights along the Golden Circle
Situated very close to your campground on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, is the famously beautiful Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall. This series of waterfalls have a great view of the triangle-shaped peak, Kirkjufell, resting the background. It’s an amazing sight, but can quickly be ruined by groups of people so get there early. To beat the crowds, you should wake up early (around 7 a.m.) leave your tent at the campground, and drive a few minutes to Kirkjufellsfoss.
Once you've had your fill of pictures, have breakfast back at the campground, pack up and drive off. Today is a long day of driving with many incredible viewpoints along the way, so you’ll have to manage your time at the stops wisely.
Optional Detour: We drove east on Highway 54 on the north side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and accidentally missed a turn (due to a little too much jamming to music) and ended up in the harbor town of Stykkishólmur. It’s popular for people to take ferries from Stykkishólmur to the tiny island of Flatey and then continue on to the West Fjords, but only having 6 days in Iceland we didn’t have time for that. Since it was a nice little surprise, we climbed to the overlook by the harbor, took a few photos and drove back south to find the right road.
The Golden Circle
Head south to Ring Road, but instead of taking it all the way (and paying the $10 USD toll to use the tunnel - see above), take Highway 47 and drive around Hvalfjörður Fjord. Take a left on Highway 48 and a left again on Highway 36. Now you're finally on the Golden Circle!
Almost everyone who has a few days in Iceland incorporates the Golden Circle in their ring road itinerary. It’s a condensed area that has many points of interest that attract thousands of people every year.
Thingvellir: The Continental Divide
Our first stop was Þingvellir (Thingvellir) Visitor’s Center. It’s here that two tectonic plates, the North American and the Eurasian plates, are slowly drifting apart. Walk to the observation deck and view out over Þingvallavatn, the biggest lake in Iceland. You might even get a glimpse at the people preparing to scuba dive between the two continental plates. Follow the path down in canyon that is formed due to the continental divide with North America on your left and Europe on your right. You can walk in the canyon for about 2 km and reach Öxarárfoss waterfall.
Another popular stop on the Golden Circle is Geysir a natural geothermal area. While there were plenty of sulfur scented steam clouds coming from boiling pools, the main attraction here is the Great Geysir. People will wait around this giant hole in the ground unknowing when the next explosion of water will arrive shooting 50 meters in the air. It’s not too hot by the time it comes back down, just try not to get too soaked (Like we did! See picture above!).
Gullfoss Waterfall: Giant waterfall on the Golden Circle
Continue driving up the road to the enormous Gullfoss Waterfall. Walk to the top and middle sections of this two tiered waterfall with more water passing through it than Niagara Falls annually. You’ll get wet because of the mist over takes the paths so make sure to bring your rain jacket.
Don’t hangout too long at Gullfoss, because you still have a 90-minute drive to your last stop and trust me, you do not want to miss sunset at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall at Sunset
Head south back on to Highway 1 Ring Road and continue east toward Vik for about 55 km until you find an incredible waterfall tumbling over the huge rock wall. Sunset at Seljalandsfoss is the best time to be there because the water shines like liquid gold. What makes it unique is you can walk all the way behind the falls, right up against the green moss and the tan rock face for some incredible pictures. Stay until the sun was fully behind the horizon and then the gold turns sadly back into clear water.
Note: Like we said, sunset (on a clear evening) is the absolute best time to be at this waterfall. We were there in the morning and again in the afternoon, and neither were nearly as impressive. Plan ahead and look up the time sun sets when you plan to be there.
Where to stay: 500 meters down from Seljalandsfoss waterfall is a convenient campsite. It’s fully equipped with bathrooms, shower and gift shop. There’s plenty of space here so don’t worry about being close to your neighbors. We pitched our tent so the opening faced the waterfall and fell asleep to the splashing water. It was pretty incredible to wake up to the sight of the waterfall and grazing sheep right outside our tent!
Day 3 – More Waterfalls, Abandoned Plane, and Spectacular Views
This Day in a Glimpse: Skógafoss Waterfall, Sólheimasandur Plane Crash, Dyrhólaey Rock Formation, Lava Fields, Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
If you thought yesterday was packed full of sites, wait until you see what’s in store for today. The first stop of the day at Skógafoss Waterfall. Be sure to walk right up the bottom of this astounding 200-foot waterfall. There is a short staircase trek up to the top of the falls where you can typically see rainbows because of all the mist.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
The next stop is quite unusual but surprisingly popular among tourists. In 1973 a U.S. Navy airplane crash landed on the beach of Iceland’s southern coast. Instead of removing the plane’s shell, it was just abandoned. Today you can still visit it, but you’ll have to be ready for a hike because there are no roads to the crash site. There is a parking area right off of Highway 1, and from there it’s a deceivingly long 40-minute flat walk through the sand to the plane. But once you’re there, it’s pretty cool and kind of eerie.
How to get there: Drive east on Ring Road from Skogafoss and keep an eye out for a bridge with yellow blinking lights that has a dirt road after it heading toward Sólheimajökull Glacier. Continue driving east on Ring Road for another 2 km after the bridge. There will a dirt road turn off to your right with a fence blocking the road. Park your car here and start the 40-mintue walk toward the beach. After about 35 minutes, the road will slightly turn left and you should follow it. The plane is hidden behind a sand dune so you won’t be able to see it right away.
Dyrhólaey Rock Formation
There are two different viewpoints: one that overlooks the black sand beach, and one that's higher up which overlooks the iconic rock with the hole.
The second overlook was a little bit tricky to drive up, but we made it in our little Hyundai i10 so I think anyone can do it. The lighthouse on top of the overlook is stunning and the arched rock wall jutting out into the ocean makes the steep drive worth it.
Note: If you're running tight on time, you can skip the Black Sand Beach and Vik for now because on Day 4 and 5 you’ll drive back this way and you'll have more time.
Moss-Covered Lava Fields
Continuing on Ring Road past Vik, you will soon become aware the grassy fields on either side of the road have now turned into miles of moss covered rocks. These rocky fields were once lava and now the moss has taken over and makes a pretty cool photo op. Just be mindful of where you walk because this ecosystem is pretty fragile.
Fjaðrárgljúfur: Grassy Canyon Valley
This is a little embarrassing to admit, but we watched Justin Bieber's music video for a song called "I'll Show You" where he gallivants around Iceland (only for the scenery, says Ben). But after we were done watching, we Googled "Iceland valley in Justin Bieber's video". Watch the video and you'll know what we're talking about! The beautiful lush valley carved into the Icelandic countryside that Bieber hops, jumps and runs around is called Fjaðrárgljúfur, and you too can explore it even if you're not a pop singer.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is a serpentine, luscious green canyon that continues on for 2 km with a picturesque waterfall at the end. You can hike up the side of the canyon and the views get better along the way. Just please don’t hop around like Bieber, because it’s a long way down.
Where to stay: There is a campground in the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur which is set next to some pretty nice waterfalls. The facilities are very clean and include a large indoor cooking area, bathrooms, showers and dishwashing stations.
Day 4: Hidden Waterfall and Ice Lagoon
This Day in a Glimpse: Svartifoss “Black Waterfall”, Svinafellsjökull Glacier, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Beach
Svartifoss: “Black Waterfall”
Start the day driving east on Ring Road until you get to Svartifoss (a.k.a. Black Waterfall) – This hidden falls was one of the best Iceland has to offer. It's not just on the side of the road like so many others, and the short hike to get there makes you feel a bit more accomplished than simply stepping outside your car. Another plus is you won't find the hordes of people from the tourist buses. Oh, and did we mention the waterfall itself is stunning?! When heading east, take a left toward Skaftafell (there is no sign for the waterfall). Take the road until you see a small parking lot on your right. If the road gets pretty rough, you've gone too far. From the parking lot, it is a 1.4 km hike to get to the waterfall. The hike is moderately easy - a bit uphill, but nothing too challenging. After about 10 minutes, you'll see a waterfall that could trick you into thinking it's the black waterfall, but keep going! You've still got about ⅔ of the way to go. But it's worth it – the waterfall at the end of the trail is far more impressive than the first one you see.
Just a few minutes drive east of Svartifoss is a sign that says Svinafellsjökull – yeah, that one's a mouthful! We almost passed it by (actually we did, but then we turned around, and we were glad we didn't miss it!). Take a left at this sign and in 2 km you'll be at the foot of a massive glacier.
Note: The 2 km road there is gravel and has many potholes, so drive slowly and with caution. Hike up the rock on the side of glacier for the best view.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Ice Beach
If you have the time, making it to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a must. This ice beach and lagoon is one of the most unique places we've ever been. There are three stops here, and we recommend doing all three to get different views. The first stop is right before the bridge on the left, and is less crowded. Be sure to walk down next to the lagoon to get up close to the ice chunks as they float by.
Across the street is a stop for the beach where the ice chunks wash up. It's pretty fun watching the waves have their way with the ice. Walk down the beach to the right to find the bigger pieces of ice. And the final stop, across the bridge at the lagoon, is the busiest and is where the tour buses park. From here, you can walk up a little hill for a nice view overlooking the lagoon. If you’re lucky, you can see families of seals swimming around the drifting ice.
Unfortunately, with only 6 days in the land of ice, this is as far on Ring Road we had time to venture (without being rushed). After the lagoon we drove 192 km west back on Highway 1 and finished the day back in Vik. If you didn't get a chance to explore the black sand beach when you first drove through Vik, now's your chance!
Where to stay: For the night of Day 4 we pitched our tent at the Vik campground. This is one of the better campgrounds with plenty of tent space, indoor cooking area, bathrooms, showers and even a playground.
Day 5: Puffins on a Black Beach & a Local Swimming Hole
This Day in a Glimpse: Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool, Seltún Geothermal Area, Kleifarvatn Lake and Reykjavik
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach: A great place for spotting puffins in the summer
The summer months in Iceland are prime puffin spotting season and Reynisfjara houses thousands of these little cuties. In the morning and evening are the peak times to see these miniature birds dive off the cliffs and flap their wings like drunken penguins out to sea to catch their food. When we arrived it was a fury of puffins heading in and out of the ocean with seagulls trying to snatch what the puffins had worked so hard for.
Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool: A hidden, local hot spring pool
Only 2.5 km from Ring Road and a 20-minute walk from the parking lot, the Seljavallalaug swimming pool is the perfect alternative for to the Blue Lagoon. This free open-air swimming pool was built in 1923 to teach local fishermen how to swim. A natural hot spring trickles of the hill straight into the 25-meter long pool. Today it has a couple simple changing rooms and we read it’s maintained once a summer to have the algae removed. The pool’s temperature was warm with hotter water poured into the deep end. I think the only downside is the water is not crystal clear. It’s more like murky lake water and we joked it should be named the “Green Lagoon”. I had some algae stuck to my suit when I got out, but I was able to scrub it off when my suit dried. However, you could not ask for a better atmosphere. The pool is located in a beautiful green valley with numerous streams rolling down the surrounding hills. And with only 5 other couples in the pool, there’s plenty of space for everyone to relax.
How to get there: From the black sand beach to Seljavallalaug swimming pool, you’ll drive 34 km west on Ring Road to Highway 242 and turn right (this highway is a semi-circle, so you have to take the second Highway 242 on your right). Drive for about 1 km north on Highway 242 and when the road turns right, you should continue going straight following the dirt road. Be careful because there are many potholes on this gravel road, but continue for about 1.5 km until you can’t go any farther. There should be a parking lot here. There will be a flat path heading north into the valley which you will walk for about 20 minutes until you reach the swimming pool.
Note: If you’re curious why we chose not to go to the Blue Lagoon, keep an eye out for our next post where we'll explain exactly why we skipped this big attraction!
What Next? What you do for the rest of Day 5 depends on what your plans are for Day 6. If you have an early morning flight or are tired of driving, it would probably be best for you to head straight to Reykjavik and set up camp so you can explore the city for the afternoon and evening. But if your flight is not until the afternoon on Day 6 and you’re up for a little more adventure, head toward the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland to see the Seltún Geothermal Area and Kleifarvatn Lake.
Reykjanes Peninsula: Seltún Geothermal Area and Kleifarvatn Lake
Right off Highway 42 on Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland, Seltún Geothermal Area it another place that’s similar to Geysir, but with a lot stronger smell of sulfur. There are many hot pools of bubbling water and mud on either side of a wooden walkway. It’s a small area but worth a stop for 10 minutes. As you drive north on Highway 42, you’ll pass by the stunning Kleifarvatn Lake with its multicolored rocky banks. Head back to Reykjavik and claim your spot at the campsite in town.
Where to stay: In the northeastern part of the city is Reykjavik Campsite located on the street called Sundlaugavegur. This is the best campsite we stayed at in all of Iceland, but it’s also the most expensive. It was 2100 Icelandic Krona ($18.20 USD) per person per night. But it did include free WiFi, bathrooms, hot showers, dishwashing stations, an indoor kitchen, a game room, grills and laundry machines (for an extra charge).
Day 6: Reykjavik Viewpoints and Fly Out
This Day in a Glimpse: Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church, Perlan Viewpoint and say goodbye!
If you have some time in the morning, venture into Reykjavik and check out Hallgrímskirkja, the famous Lutheran church in town. The architect said he got his inspiration from the lava columns all around Iceland. You can go up to the bell town to see a great view of the city for 900 ISK ($7.81 USD) or you can drive 5 minutes south for a free and equally as beautiful panoramic view of the city.
The Perlan is a dome shaped event center perched on top of a hill overlooking Reykjavik with a highly-ranked restaurant. Although the food may not be cheap, it’s free to park and free to go to the observation deck to get 360 degree views of the city.
Once you had your fill exploring Reykjavik, it’s time to return your gear and your rental car and head off to the airport.If your trip was anything like ours, you'll be sad to say goodbye to this adventure-filled country!
What We Would Add or Cut
Truthfully, we thought this was the perfect 6-day Iceland itinerary for our first time in Iceland and we wouldn't change a thing! We saw so much in less than a week, but also had time to relax and soak up the beauty without being rushed.
If you are lucky and have some extra time, or if your trip is shorter, we have some suggestions for things you could add or cut from your Iceland itinerary:
If you have more than 6 days: You may have time to do the entire Ring Road circuit. There are lots of places in the north of the country that we can't wait to see someday! We've also heard great things about the Highlands (though you'll need a 4X4 to get there) as well as the Western Fjords. Also, many people like to visit the famous Blue Lagoon on their first visit to Iceland. We'd heard mixed reviews, and frankly it was just not in our budget, but you can easily add a visit there since it's very close to the airport.
If you have less than 6 days: We would suggest cutting Day 1 from this Iceland itinerary and start your trip on the Golden Circle (Day #2 on this itinerary). You can certainly alter this itinerary to fit your time restraints!
If you want to see more pictures, check out this photo journey of our time in Iceland.