Iceland is such an amazing and beautiful country that should definitely be on your bucketlist! The landscape is unreal – it feels like you’re on another planet at times. Keep reading for my 5-day Iceland itinerary for the most epic road trip full of waterfalls, glaciers, geysirs and hot springs!
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While you won’t be able to drive the entire Ring Road in your 5 day trip to Iceland (unless you seriously rush through everything/skip some sights along the way), you can do about half of it. My itinerary is for driving through South Iceland on the Ring Road going as far as Hofn, and then coming back the same way. The benefit to backtracking the same way on your last day is that if you experienced bad weather on any part of your trip, you’ll have another chance to visit the sights in potentially better weather on your return.
This Iceland itinerary is for 5 days in Iceland in September. If you are visiting in winter you may need to alter this schedule since the days are much shorter!
PTO/Vacation Days Needed:3-6 (depending on if you center it around a weekend or not) Nights: 5
Exchange Rate: $1 USD = $118 Icelandic Krona (as of October 2018)
Day 1: Golden Circle — Selfoss
Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park, Bruarfoss, Strokkur Geysir, Gulfoss, Kerid Crater)
Day 2: Selfoss — Vik
Day 3: Vik — Gerdi
Foss a SiduJokulsarlon
Day 4: Skaftafell Glacier Hike- Gerdi
Hoffell Hot Tubs
Day 5: Gerdi — Reykjavik
Day 6: Depart from KEF
Getting to Iceland:
To get to Iceland, you will fly into Keflavik (KEF) airport which is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik. Many airlines offer cheap flights to KEF (mine was only $350 roundtrip from LAX on Delta!).
Getting Around Iceland:I definitely recommend renting a car in Iceland to get around. If you don’t want to rent a car, you have the option of joining tours from Reykjavik. However, if you want to escape the crowds and make the most out of your 5 days in Iceland, renting a car and driving is your best bet! I included some tips for renting a car in Iceland at the end of this article.
5 Day Iceland Itinerary- Day 1: Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle
You may start reading through my Iceland itinerary and think to yourself “there are WAY too many stops packed into this day” BUT trust me – even though it sounds like a lot, many of the stops are quick landmarks that are right off the road and easy to fit into your day. This is a theme for pretty much every day of my 5-day Iceland itinerary since there are SO many waterfalls and iconic landmarks to be seen that are easily accessible from the Ring Road.
The first day of my 5-day Iceland itinerary will take you from the KEF airport to the Blue Lagoon, around the Golden Circle in a clockwise-direction and ending the day staying in a town called Selfoss.
First Stop: Blue Lagoon
Assuming that you land early in the morning on your first day, after you get through customs and pick up your rental car – head to the Blue Lagoon!
The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions. It’s a man-made luxury geothermal hot spring with milky-blue water located in a lava field only 15 minutes from the airport. The water is the perfect temperature – at 102 degrees F- and contains natural minerals to nourish your skin. The proximity to the airport makes it the perfect thing to do right after your flight- the best way to cure jet lag! Although this is the most touristy thing on my itinerary, it’s also the most relaxing thing. If you get there in the morning you can beat some of the crowds!
Since the Blue Lagoon is so popular, you need to book your tickets ahead of time. There are two types of tickets – “Comfort” and “Premium”. We chose the “Comfort” ticket (It was about $90 USD per person in September) which includes 1 free drink at the swim-up bar and 1 free silica mud mask.
The Premium ticket is more expensive, but in addition to the free drink and mud mask you’ll also receive slippers, a bathrobe and a reservation at the restaurant on site (doesn’t seem like paying more for the Premium ticket is worth it in my opinion).
Upon entering the Blue Lagoon, the first thing you’ll do after check-in is head to the locker room and change into your swimsuit. They have free lockers to hold your stuff, as well as showers and hair dryers. They also have special conditioner that you should put in your hair before you go into the Blue Lagoon to protect your hair from getting dried out from the mineral water – definitely recommend doing this!
Don’t stress about making it right on time from the airport for your reservation – as long as you arrive within an hour of your reserved time, you’ll be fine.
Alternative: If you aren’t feeling the Blue Lagoon option, but still want to visit a hot spring pool on day 1, you can opt for the Secret Lagoon instead. Although the Secret Lagoon doesn’t have the bright blue milky water that the Blue Lagoon has, it is about half the cost of the Blue Lagoon, and may be a more authentic experience. It’s located off the Golden Circle, about 35 minutes from Gulfoss, and is known as the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. The Secret Lagoon contains natural geothermal water surrounded by nature. There are showers on-site, and you can rent a towel and/or swimsuit for an additional cost. I personally didn’t have time to visit (if only I had more time to spend in Iceland!) but I have heard good things about it.
Next: Golden Circle
After the Blue Lagoon, you’ll embark on your journey around the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland. The circular route has a few iconic stops along the way and only takes about a half-day to complete. The first stop is only 45 minutes from Reykjavik.
First Stop: Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of Iceland’s most significant historical sites as it was the location of the first Icelandic Parliament. Not only does Thingvellir National Park have historical significance, but it also is the place where the two North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. You can take the trail between the two plates to literally walk between two continents!
If you’re feeling up for an adventure and have time- you can snorkel or scuba dive between the two continental plates at the Silfra Fissure at Thingvellir National Park. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to snorkel or scuba dive the Silfra Fissure on my trip, but I wish that I did! I’ll have to go back someday. There are several tour companies to choose from -, but you can find an example here.
Next Stop: Lunch at Fridheimer
While most of the food in Iceland is nothing to write home about, Fridheimer is different! This was my favorite meal we had all trip and is definitely worth a stop while you are doing the Golden Circle. It’s about 45 minutes from Thingvellir National Park, but only 25 minutes to your next stop after you finish lunch.
Fridheimer is known for their tomatoes- you are literally eating lunch inside their greenhouse surrounded by their tomato plants. Everything on their menu has tomatoes in it- they even have tomato beer! (so if you don’t like tomatoes, this is not the place for you). We ordered the tomato soup (best I’ve ever had in my life) with skewers of chicken and bell peppers to put into the soup, and a flatbread. The tomato soup comes buffet-style: you walk over to this table where there is someone cutting amazing fresh bread and you scoop your own soup from the pot into your bowl (free refills!).
Although people say to reserve a table in advance, we were able to walk up with 4 people and get seated fairly quickly.
Stop #3: Bruarfoss
After lunch, head 25 minutes along the Golden Circle to your next stop- Bruarfoss- which technically means “Bridge Falls”. Note that the word “Foss” in Icelandic means “waterfall” (Bruarfoss, Gulfoss, Skogafoss, etc).
Bruarfoss, in my opinion, is one of the most unique waterfalls in South Iceland. While it’s definitely not one of the biggest waterfalls you’ll see during your 5 days in Iceland, the water is just SO blue. It’s beautiful. Also, it’s somewhat hidden and off the beaten path so it’s a lot less crowded than other waterfalls in the area. Check out the below photo for an aerial view!
If you put Bruarfoss into your Google Maps, it will lead you to a road with a locked gate. Park the car there and start walking! It’s about a 45 minute walk to the falls. The way there can be slightly confusing, but follow the paved road until you see a handmade sign pointing towards Bruarfoss and hang a left. Eventually, you’ll come to a bridge, which will take you to the falls. You will likely see other people in the area coming from the falls or locals walking around, so I recommend asking them for directions to the falls to ensure that you are on the right path.
Stop #4: Strokkur Geysir
The next stop- Strokkur Geysir – is about a 15 minute drive from Bruarfoss. Strokkur Geysir is located in a geothermal area and erupts every 6-10 minutes, blasting water up about 50-60 feet high. There’s a parking lot nearby, and the geysir is just a quick 5 minute walk from your car. The area is surrounded by other small geysirs and geothermal pools. It’s definitely worth checking out for a quick stop along your Golden Circle roadtrip route!
Stop #5: Gulfoss
Your next stop along the Golden Circle route is Gulfoss- about a 25 minute drive from Strokkur Geysir. What makes Gulfoss waterfall (“Golden Falls”) unique is that you’re viewing it from above. The rushing waterfall flows right into a gorge! It’s definitely an impressive sight. Gulfoss waterfall is easily accessible- it’s located right off the Golden Circle road trip route, and there is no hike to get there. You can park in the parking lot, and walk to the viewing area. There’s also a short pathway that you can take for a close-up view, which I definitely recommend!
There is a bathroom facility in the parking lot, however note that it costs money to use it. Instead, I read that you can go inside the visitor center and use the restroom for free if needed.
Stop #6: Kerid Crater
This is the last stop of the day before checking in to your accommodations in Selfoss for the night. The Kerid Crater is 45 minutes from Gulfoss. The Kerid Crater is a volcanic crater lake located along the Golden Circle, with red volcanic rocks surrounding the bright blue water of the lake. It’s truly a spectacular sight! Putting “Kerid Crater” into your maps will take you directly to the parking lot, where you have to pay a small entrance fee (about $3 USD per person) to take the trail up and check it out. The trail takes you on a path around the circumference of the crater, looking down on the lake from above. There’s also a trail that leads down the crater to the base of the lake, however it was raining by the time we got there so we only did part of the top trail.
Stop #7- Selfoss for the night!
Congrats! You’ve now completed the Golden Circle, and seen some amazing sights along the way to kick off your first day in Iceland. Now, head about 15 minutes to the town of Selfoss, get some dinner and rest up for day 2!
Where to Stay in Selfoss, Iceland:
We stayed at Bella Apartments & Rooms in Selfoss. Since there were 4 of us, it was great to have a bigger apartment-style room for the night. It was super nice, clean, had a full kitchen and washer/dryer and the price included free breakfast! It’s also in a great location- walking distance from quite a few restaurants and stores. Definitely recommend!
Where to Eat In Selfoss:
If you are on a budget for your 5-day Iceland trip, I recommend getting food at the grocery store and cooking as much as you can for meals. The food in Iceland isn’t legendary by any means (most restaurants you go to will have a similar menu of burgers, pizza, and soup) and you’ll be shocked at the prices (about $25–30 USD for a burger).
However, I definitely understand that sometimes you want to relax at the end of the day by going out to a restaurant and ordering food and drinks! In that case, see below for two restaurants that I recommend:
1. Kaffi Krus A local recommended this place to us, and it’s only a short walk from where we were staying at Bella Apartments & Rooms. It has a cozy, intimate atmosphere and has a good selection of food and drinks. They also have a whole glass case of different cakes that you can buy by the slice!
2. Tryggvaskali Restaurant (have fun trying to pronounce that one!) We actually ate here for lunch on our drive back through Selfoss on our last day. The atmosphere is so warm and inviting, as the location is an old house that was converted to a restaurant. You feel like you are eating in someone’s home! This restaurant is definitely pricey, but the food is delicious if you are looking to splurge on a dining experience.
5 Day Iceland Itinerary- Day 2: Selfoss to Vik on the Ring Road
Today starts your time driving along the Ring Road! The Ring Road is the main highway 1 that goes 800 miles around the entire country of Iceland. While you won’t be able to properly do the whole Ring Road in just 5 days (I would say you need at least 7 days), this itinerary takes you as far as Hofn and then back.
On Day 2 you will drive from Selfoss to Vik, which would take a little less than 2 hours without stopping. However, there are definitely some great stops along the way!
Stop #1: Uridafoss
Uridafoss is unique in that it is the most voluminous waterfall in the country! It’s only a little over 15 minutes into your drive, making it the perfect first stop of day 2 of your Iceland road trip. Unfortunately it was raining when we went, so my pictures really do not do it justice!
Stop #2: Seljalandsfoss
Drive another 45 minutes along the Ring Road and you’ll come up to the second stop and second waterfall of the day- Seljalandsfoss. This is one of the most popular and most photographed waterfalls in Iceland – and for good reason! Even though it was cloudy, cold and raining when I visited Seljalandsfoss, it was one of my favorite waterfalls I visited throughout my 5 days in Iceland. It is truly magnificent! I definitely recommend taking the trail to walk behind the waterfall to see it from a different point of view. Make sure you have your rain gear on, because you will get wet!
If you’re looking for more adventure, you can walk a little further from Seljalandsfoss for the hidden waterfall called Gljufrabui. This waterfall is a great spot for photographers and people looking for a more natural experience with far less tourists, as it is harder to get to. Gljufrabui is hidden behind a cliff wall, and you have to wade through shallow water to get there.
Unfortunately, due to the bad weather we experienced while at Seljalansfoss we did not get a chance to see this waterfall. Hopefully you will have better luck!
Stop #3: Skogafoss (25 minutes past Seljalandsfoss)
Skogafoss is another one of the most popular and most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. This waterfall is HUGE, dropping almost 200 feet and is about 80 feet wide. Walking up close to the waterfall is an amazing experience, although you will definitely get drenched – make sure you have your rain gear on!
You can also take the stairs to the right of the falls to hike up to the top and view Skogafoss from above, which is really cool!
Stop #4: Reynisfjara Beach (30 minutes past Skogafoss)
Your next stop will be the famous black sand beach – Reynisfjara! This black sand beach is right outside the town of Vik, where you will stay for the night. The black sand along with the iconic basalt columns, crashing waves and amazing views make this beach unique and memorable. Thankfully it stopped raining a bit for us to be able to enjoy the scenery here!
Stop #5: Vik
Vik is a small fishing town adjacent to Reynisfjara Beach along the Ring Road. This village has quite a few options for lodging, eating and activities, and is a great place to stop for the night on your Iceland road trip.
Where to Eat in Vik
There is a main grocery store and liquor store in town if you are traveling on a budget and want to go that route. If not, I have two restaurant recommendations that we tried out that were recommended to us from our Airbnb host:
#1: Sudur Vik – Cozy atmosphere, beer on tap and one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had! (The vegetarian pizza with pepperonis added on- #6 on the menu)
#2: The Soup Company – Reasonable prices (for Iceland) with a variety of soups to choose from in a fast-casual restaurant atmosphere
Where to Stay in Vik
There are several hotel and lodging options to choose from in Vik. We opted for an Airbnb in town.
Also, definitely walk up the hill to check out the iconic church in Vik!
5 Day Iceland Itinerary- Day 3: Vik to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
On Day 3, you’ll make your way from the town of Vik to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon via the Ring Road (transit time – 2 hours and 20 minutes without stops).
Stop #1: Fjaorarglijufur (50 minutes into your drive)
Fjaorarglijufur is a massive curved canyon with a river flowing through it at the bottom, and is absolutely breathtaking! Plan to spend at least an hour here. After you park, you have to walk up a trail to see the canyon and the trail continues on, meandering on top of the canyon so you can check out other sections of it. You won’t want to leave!
Stop #2:Foss a Sidu This picturesque waterfall is just a quick stop off the Ring Road. Foss a Sidu cascades over the cliffs above a tiny farm village. Such a beautiful sight!
Stop #3:Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is truly spectacular. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before! The blue, still waters of this glacial lagoon are home to many floating icebergs that broke off from the surrounding glaciers. There is a waterway towards the entrance of the lagoon where the icebergs float out into the Atlantic Ocean and scatter along the black sand beach of Diamond Beach.
If you want to get out on the water, you can either take:
Very weather dependent – even on a clear and sunny day, if the wind is too strong, they will cancel the tour
Not able to get super close to the icebergs due to safety reasons
Zodiac boat tour
Able to take you deep into the lagoon and close to the icebergs
Amphibian boat tour
Bigger boat, more touristy, but slightly cheaper than the other two options
We originally planned to do a kayak tour, but once we arrived we found that our pre-booked kayak tour had been cancelled due to wind in the forecast. Instead, we opted for the Zodiac boat tour – which was great! I definitely recommend this option as you are able to go out further and see a lot more of the lagoon. The lagoon is a lot bigger than you realize from just standing on the edge looking out at it!
On the Zodiac boat, you are also able to get closer to the icebergs than on the bigger Amphibian boat. The Zodiac boat tour costs about $80 USD per person, but is so worth it if you are interested in seeing the icebergs up close! The tour lasts about an hour and they run the tours about every 1.5 hours. They’ll suit you up in this red jumpsuit that keeps you warm and blocks the wind on the boat.
You can book the zodiac boat tour of Jokulsarlon Lagoon from their truck which will be parked in the parking lot (pictured below) or you can book ahead of time from their site here.
Stop #4: Diamond Beach
After your Zodiac boat tour, head across the street to Diamond Beach. Diamond Beach is SO cool- watching the icebergs float by from Jokulsarlon Lagoon into the ocean is amazing. All of the diamond-like icebergs sitting on the black sand beach is a beautiful site, and a photographers paradise!
Stop #5: Check-In at Gerdi
I recommend that you stay in the small town of Gerdi (honestly I’m not sure if the town is actually named Gerdi, but the website of the hotel we stayed at makes it seem like Gerdi is the name of the town), about 15 minutes past the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, for 2 nights. This way, you’ll be super close to the glacier lagoon/Diamond Beach in case you want to go back, AND you will be close to the glacier for your glacier hike on the next day. Also, this will make your drive back to Reykjavik shorter than it would be if you stayed in the next, bigger town called Hofn.
Gerdi is a TINY but charming rural town super close to the glacier lagoon. We stayed at the Gerdi Guesthouse– it’s nothing fancy, but it is a great location. You can check it out at this link.
There are only 2 restaurants in town- one is in the lobby of Gerdi Guesthouse, and the other is right down the road, called Hali Country Hotel Restaurant. I recommend Hali Country Hotel Restaurant- it was always bustling with locals, and the food was good (the beef patties were my favorite!).
5 Day Iceland Itinerary – Day 4:Skaftafell Glacier Hike, Svartifoss waterfall, Hoffell Hot Tubs
First Stop: Skaftafell Glacier Hike
The Skaftafell Glacier Hike is SUCH a cool experience, and is something that you will need to pre-book before you travel to Iceland. There are a few tour companies that offer the Skaftafell Glacier hike. I recommend booking with Troll Expeditions. The staff was wonderful and the tour was nothing short of amazing! Even if you are traveling on a budget, I still recommend that you splurge for this hike (about $100 USD per person) because when else in your life will you be able to walk on a glacier? It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The tour lasts about 3 hours. I recommend that you book the 9am one so that you still have half of a day to explore after the hike.
What to Expect on the Skaftafell Glacier Hike:
Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early. You can put in “Troll Expeditions Skaftafell” into your Google Maps, and it will take you to the correct parking lot at Vatnajokull National Park. You’ll check in at the Troll Expeditions trailer and get fitted for crampons for your shoes, and you’ll receive your ice axe and helmet. They do not give you any other clothing to wear, so make sure that you come equipped with many layers, gloves, a beanie, hiking boots and warm socks. I suggest taking a small backpack so that you can take layers off/add more layers depending on the weather.
You’ll then board a bus for about a 10 minute drive to the entrance of the Skaftafell Glacier. At first, you’ll hike along a dirt trail for about a half-mile or so until you get to the edge of the glacier.
At this point, your guide will teach you how to put on your crampons (metal spikes that you tie to the bottom of your shoes for traction walking through ice)- see below picture.
Then, you’ll start hiking the glacier! Your guide will show you how to properly walk with the crampons in order to safely hike around on the ice. The hike is not too strenuous – you make a lot of stops to take pictures and soak in the scenery. It’s not often that you get to walk on a glacier!
Our guide took us through this mini little ice archway which was cool.
We also found a crack in the glacier with water coming through. We were able to fill up our water bottles with this water and even lean down and drink straight from it! Glacial water in its purest form.
You’ll then hike back down and board the bus back to the parking lot where you’ll turn in your gear. In total, the tour lasts about 3 hours. It’s truly an amazing experience! After you’re done, I recommend grabbing lunch at the visitor center in the parking lot. They have an assortment of good food and drinks, with a beautiful view!
Stop #2: Svartifoss
Svartifoss (Black Falls) is a waterfall in Vatnajokull National Park that you can hike to on a trail that starts right near the visitor center where you ate lunch. Plan for at least 1.5 hours for this hike. The trail to get there is about 1 mile uphill, but is very picturesque, with lots of greenery and a backdrop of the white glacier in the background.
You’ll first see Svartifoss from afar – looking like the below picture.
Keep walking to take the trail down to the falls for a closer look. The black lava columns surrounding the falls is how it got its name (Black Falls) and is what makes it so unique.
Stop #3:Hoffell Hot Tubs
After you finish your Svartifoss hike start making your way back towards Gerdi, but drive 40 minutes past Gerdi to soak in the Hoffell Hot Tubs after your long day of hiking. The Hoffell Hot Tubs are right outside the town of Hofn, and are great for some relaxation and soaking in the views. It’s a small hole-in-the-wall (more like hole-in-the-ground) type of place, with 5 circular tubs in the ground with varying temps of warm/hot water in each tub.
It’s definitely nothing fancy, but it feels great after a long day, and the views of the surrounding glaciers and mountains are spectacular! They also have changing rooms and showers, and you’ll get to use a towel for free upon entry (about $10 USD entry fee). They also let you bring your own beers (highly recommend). What’s not to like?
After you’re done soaking in the tubs, make your way to the town of Hofn for dinner. Hofn is a much bigger town than Gerdi, with several restaurants as well as a big grocery store to take food back to Gerdi (there is no grocery store in Gerdi).
5 Day Iceland Itinerary- Day 5:Gerdi to Reykjavik
The drive back to Reykjavik from Gerdi is a little under 5 hours with no stops. The best part about backtracking on your last day is that if there were things you didn’t get to see on your way due to weather or lack of time, you can have another chance to see them on your way back! If you got lucky on the way there and had great weather and were able to stop at everything I listed in my itinerary for that day, see below for some additional things you can do on your way back:
1. Stop by Drangshlid– rock housing formations on the side of a cliff where elves were fabled to have dwelled back in the day
Puffin Tour (only if you are there April-August ) at Dyrholaey (near Vik). We were unable to do this since the Puffins are gone by September.
Kvernufoss– “hidden gem” waterfall near Skogafoss that you take a 20 minute hike to, and you can walk behind the falls
Seljavallalaug– one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland
Reykjadalur– hike to this natural hot springs creek, about 45 minutes away from Reykjavik!
What to Do in Reykjavik:
After your journey back on the Ring Road, explore the city of Reykjavik for the evening before your flight out the next morning.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik: There are many good hotels and Airbnb’s to choose from. We stayed at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina, which was really nice and had an amazing free breakfast. It was in a great location too – walking distance to the main heart of the city with several bars, shops and restaurants. As long as the lodging you find is somewhat near this hotel, you’ll be in a good spot!
Recommended Bars in Reykjavik:
Saeta Svinid Gastropub– Great local beer selection on tap, and they have 1/2 off beers during happy hour until 6pm!
Lebowski Bar– super fun bar themed after The Big Lebowski, which of course means an extensive menu of different kinds of White Russians! Get there before 7 to take advantage of the happy hour drink specials
Bravo– has the longest happy hour in the city (until 8pm) and has a cozy, chill atmosphere with cushions on the windowsill which make for comfortable seating
Drunk Rabbit-Fun Irish pub with lots of character (and live music!)
What to Eat in Reykjavik:
Reykjavik is known for their hot dogs. They’re made out of beef and lamb and pork and are delicious (and cheap!). If you are a fan of Anthony Bourdain, I’m sure you are already aware of the Reykjavik hot dog and are already planning to go to the specific hot dog place that Anthony Bourdain went to on the Iceland episode of No Reservations (I know I was!).
However, I’m here to tell you that there is a BETTER hot dog place than the one that he went to, and I tried both. The hot dog place that Anthony Bourdain recommended is called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. We were so excited to try this hot dog however, after the first bite we were instantly disappointed. It really wasn’t THAT good.
Determined to have that AMAZING hot dog experience that everyone raves about, we did some more quick research and tried another hot dog place, called Pylsuhusid Hot Dog House, located in Ingolfur Square (near the first bar that was on my recommended list). This hot dog was delicious!! Definitely recommend going here.
Day 6: Fly home from KEF airport!
Don’t forget to give yourself extra time to return your rental car and take the rental car shuttle to the airport!
Hopefully you enjoyed my 5-day Iceland itinerary and found the information helpful for planning your trip. Iceland is an amazingly epic country, and I’m already wanting to go back and do the other half of the country!
See more helpful tips and details below.
When to Go to Iceland:
Deciding when to go to Iceland depends on what exactly you are trying to see and do.
Summer in Iceland: If you go to Iceland in the Summer (June-August) you will have super long days so will be able to fit even more into your itinerary, and you will also be able to potentially see Puffins before they go away for the winter. However, this is not an ideal time for the Northern Lights.
Fall/Winter in Iceland: If you want to see the Northern Lights, the best time to travel to Iceland is September-mid April, although there is no guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights. It has to be the perfect combination of clear skies, a dark night, and aurora activity (which you can check online). I was there in late September, and did not get lucky with the Northern Lights during my stay.
If you go in winter, you have a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights, but the days are very short, so you won’t have as much time to do everything on this itinerary. Also, the snow and ice on the roads may make it difficult to see some of the sights.
I personally recommend traveling to Iceland in September, because it’s not super cold yet, you have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights, and the days are a normal length. (the sun set around 7pm while we were there).
How to See the Northern Lights in Iceland:
Like I mentioned above, if you are in Iceland in September-April, you have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights if the forecast calls for it. You can check the forecast online. You can either join a Northern Lights Tour for a guided experience, or you can simply walk outside or drive somewhere more remote and see the lights yourself. If the forecast notes aurora activity and there’s a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights, the best place to view is somewhere with little-to-no light pollution, basically away from civilization.
From all the places on my itinerary, I would say the best place to view them would be when you are staying in the Gerdi area, as this tiny town is basically in the middle of nowhere. I also think it would be amazing to take a quick drive to Diamond Beach and view the Northern Lights from there.
Renting a Car in Iceland:
Make sure that you rent a car ahead of time- they can sell out. Also, make sure you get a 4×4 car and get all the different types of insurance they offer. Weather in Iceland can be crazy (potential for high winds, sandstorms, etc) so you need to make sure you’re prepared with great car insurance! There are several different rental car companies to choose from. We used Green Motion, as they had the best price and good reviews. A Green Motion employee waited for us at baggage claim with a sign, and we hopped in the shuttle for a quick 5-minute drive from the airport to the rental car place.
Be prepared for a longer wait than you’re used to at the rental car counter for both picking up your car AND for dropping off. It took us about 1 hour in line to pick up the car, and about 30 minutes to drop it off.
Iceland Travel Tips:
Bridges When driving the Ring Road, you will come across a few bridges. Even though the Ring Road has two lanes for two-way traffic, the bridge narrows to become only one lane. Only one-way traffic can fit on the bridge at one time. This means that if you see a car coming the opposite direction that is closer to the bridge than you are, you need to wait for them to cross first before you can cross. This can be particularly dangerous at night when it’s harder to see. Slow down as you approach the bridge and be careful!
2. Gas For some reason, the gas stations in Iceland do not accept credit cards (it always asks for a pin number). You will have to either A) use a debit card, or B) use your credit card inside to purchase a gift card to the gas station, and use that to fill up
3. Clothing: No matter what season you choose to go to Iceland, you should always pack both a rain jacket AND rain pants. The weather in Iceland can change in an instant, and you need to be prepared for rain. Even if it doesn’t rain, walking near the waterfalls will drench your clothes, so it’s best to wear rain gear for that!
4. Hiking Boots Even if you aren’t doing any super strenuous hikes, you should still be prepared with good waterproof hiking boots for the same reason as above. Walking along the trails to go behind and around the waterfalls, you will definitely get wet! My favorites are these ones.
5. Expensive Food I already mentioned this in my blog post, but you will be shocked by the price of average food in Iceland! Expect to pay about $30 for a burger or pizza, at least $10 for a beer and about $20 for a cocktail.
6. They don’t sell ice in Iceland This one is pretty ironic- we were trying to buy a bag of ice to make a little cooler for our beers one day, but no stores had bags of ice. We then asked the staff in our hotel lobby if they had any ice, and they came back with 5 ice cubes saying that was all they had! Apparently ice is hard to come by, even though it’s right there in their backyard.
7. Download the maps.me app before your trip My friend told me about this before I went, and it was really helpful! You can download the map of Iceland before you go, and pre-pin all the locations you will be going to. Once you get there, you don’t need service or wifi to use the map.
7. You’ll see the cutest Icelandic sheep and ponies alongside the Ring Road
Thank you to Troll Expeditions for hosting me during the Skaftafell Glacier Hike. As always, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.