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Hey friends! I’m back! Life got weird, and I needed to take a step back from KristinInMotion for a moment. But a trip to Iceland and a media detox later, I’m rejuvenated, re-inspired, and ready to get back into it. First on the docket: Iceland Itinerary Guide!
So when most people think of Iceland, they think of a trip around the Ring Road, also known as Route 1. However, it is recommended to have at least 10 days to really experience and enjoy it. My boyfriend Kyle and I only had 5 full days for our road trip so we decided to switch it up a bit and make our own route.
DAY 1 – Southern Iceland and Vik
Like many of the Iceland travelers, we arrived at Keflavik Airport at the ungodly hour of 5am and began the process of customs, freshening up and tracking down the rental car company. A majority of the flights land brutally early in the morning so try to get some sleep overnight if you can! (I can never sleep on planes.)
ProTip: You can’t buy coffee in the airport upon arrival. You can only purchase things if you are departing. So mentally prepare yourself for that!
We rented from GuideToIceland.IS and got a good deal, but there are TONS of rental companies to choose from. Whether you opt for a small car, a 4×4 SUV or a camper van, renting is the only way to go if you’re planning on exploring more of Iceland than Reykjavik and The Golden Circle. A quick shuttle ride brought us to Route 1 Rental Agency where we picked up our little Toyota Aygo, (AKA Nug) and we were on our way!
ProTip: We opted to only get the regular CDW car insurance. They offer tons of add-ons like gravel insurance, sand insurance, etc but if you have regular travel insurance, you’ll probably be fine without the extras.
If you landed early in the morning, there isn’t going to be much open so drive into the city, take some photos at Sun Voyager sculpture and Harpa Music Hall to beat the crowds and enjoy the sunrise. Grab some breakfast once the cafes open around 7am for some fuel and then hit the road!
Your first destination on this Iceland Itinerary is Vik, a small town on the south coast of Iceland. It’s a bit of a drive to get there from Reykjavik but there are plenty of attractions to stop at along the way. We stopped at the Keldur Turf Houses, hiked behind the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, took some photos in front of Skogafoss Waterfall and then even treated ourselves to a beer at the cafe there!
We opted to stay at Vik HI Hostel for the night which was a great decision. The girl at the front desk of the hostel suggested multiple different sights to see in the area that we weren’t aware of so we dropped our stuff off and headed back out.
ProTip: Always ask hostel staff and locals for suggestions. They more than likely will have things in mind that you won’t read online!
The first suggestion was to go visit Solheimajökull Glacier, because you are able to walk right up onto the glacier without following a guide! It was a bit of a long walk, but the weather was amazing, the scenery was beautiful and getting to see those massive crevasses up close made it 100% worth it. If you’re feeling ambitious, the DC 3 Plane Crash Site is right across the road from the glacier but it’s a bit of a walk, so we opted out of it.
From there, head back towards Vik and drive out to the coast to see some of the giant rock formations , Dyrhólaey Arch, and the black sand beaches. At this point you’ll most likely be exhausted, so eat some semi-affordable pizza at Sudur Vik Restaurant and then hit the hay.
DAY 2 – Golden Circle, Central Iceland & Akranes
For our second day, our goal was to hit all the stops on the Golden Circle but we decided to go about it in a round about way after some intel we read in our Lonely Planet guide.
Take a right off a Route 1 and drive up a LONG gravel road (Route 26) through lava fields in the area of the Volcano called Hekla. There is crazy scenery in all directions and hardly any other cars on the road. Once Route 26 met up with route 32, turn left and drive south towards the Golden Circle area. This road follows the river which is one of the strongest flowing rivers in the country and provides a lot of the power to the country. It runs from the glacier so the color is strikingly blue.
The route winds over this amazing mountain pass which will open up into a valley where you’ll see a turf house to the left called Þjóðveldisbærinn. This turf house is a full scale replica of Stöng, a Viking Settlement which was destroyed during a volcanic eruption. It wasn’t open while we were there but you can visit it during the summer months to actually go inside.
In the distance behind the turf house is a waterfall that you can hike out to if you choose to. The views in every direction are spectacular so it’s worth stopping for this reason alone!
At this point you’ll begin your Golden circle drive and hit the Geysir and Gulfoss. We didn’t stay for very long at either one of these attractions because the weather sucked and the crowds were obnoxious but there is plenty to see, do, shop and eat at both spots. Next, continue on to Karið Crater and walk the rim. There aren’t as many people here so this stop is a bit more relaxing and enjoyable than the other Golden Circle attractions.
ProTip: If you’re feeling adventurous, Bruarfoss, the hidden glacial blue waterfall is in this area. I won’t give away any more details than that because I feel bad promoting it since it requires trekking through neigborhoods and private property to get there.
From the crater, continue on to Þingvellir National Park. Park at the top lot and walk down through the tectonic plates crevasse to go check out the Öxarárfoss Waterfall. Definitely worth the walk down there, the landscape is wild! If you’re a history buff, Þingvellir is home to several historical sites dating back to the Viking settlement period. And if you’re a Game of Thrones nerd, a lot of the filming is done in this national park, so make sure to do some research and explore in a way that is perfect for your interests!
That night, we chose to stay in a little Airbnb in the coastal town of Akranes. (Sign up through this link for $40 off your first stay if you’re new to Airbnb!) It’s a bit off the beaten path, but provides a great stopping point for the night. On the coast there are two lighthouses and if you catch it just right, the sunset is stunning, while simultaneously illuminating the mountains behind you. This was one of our favorite nights on the trip.
DAY 3 – Glacier Tour, Western Iceland and the Drive to the North
On Day 3, book a Glacier Tour with Into The Glacier. You’ll meet up with the tour group in Husafell then take a mega-offroad vehicle up to the Langjökull Glacier where they carved a tunnel 40m deep into the glacier. Not only is the tour unbelievably fascinating, but the guides are hilarious and informative, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have amazing views like we did! Cannot recommend this tour enough.
From there, grab yourself some lunch from the cafe in Husafell then head south on Route 1 until you reach the Hraunfossar Waterfalls. You can choose to walk out a bit to Barnafoss Waterfall, or just check out the amazing landscape of the water pouring out from ever direction in the lava field. You wont want to miss this one.
If you’re a craft beer fan, your next stop will be Steðji Brewery, located on a farm off of Route 1. The owner brews a variety of beers, including a slightly horrifying combo of whales testicles and sheep dung. Icelandic Delicacy?
All I can say is, don’t knock it ’til you try it!
The rest of the afternoon will be a long drive to the North along the Ring Road towards Akureyri, your next destination on the Iceland Itinerary. There aren’t really any opportunities to stop other than a couple small towns along the way, but I promise you, the views along the drive will make the drive fly by. Make sure the driver isn’t afraid of heights, since the road winds along some cliffs with very minimal guard rails!
ProTip: Only pull over in marked parking spots off the side of the road despite how much you want to stop and take a photo. The roads are winding and narrow and cars drive VERY fast!
Depending on what time you arrive in Akureyri, you’ll want to check into your accommodation then head out for some food and drinks! This is a cool city that has a good walk-able nightlife scene. We personally opted for sushi train restaurant called Sushi Corner and then spent the night drinking in our hostel bar at Akureyri Backpackers. This bar is the perfect opportunity to meet some friends!
I highly recommend this hostel if you are opting for the budget travel accommodations. Secure, comfortable, clean, social and the showers are fantastic (despite them being in the basement!)
DAY 4 – Northern Iceland and the Blue Lagoon of the North
As tempting as it will be to sleep in after a drinking night in Akureyri, get going nice and early so you can beat the crowds to the northern Iceland attractions!
First stop will be Goðafoss, one of the larger waterfalls in Iceland! I think it’s a better version of the Golden Circle’s Gulfoss, and since it’s not as built up yet, you have more freedom to explore and get close to the waterfall itself. There is parking on both sides of the waterfall so make sure to do both so you can see it from all angles. Some people even opt to hike down closer to the water!
From there, travel farther north towards Hverir geothermic field. If you’re sensitive to smells, this might not be your favorite destination, but the sights are out of this world! The ground is leaking boiling mud from all around, and several massive steam vents are pumping out sulfuric gas to create this eerie mars looking landscape. Stick to the marked paths and you’ll be fine!
ProTip: Your boots will be CAKED in clay after this, so be prepared to spend some time scraping the bottom of your shoes to avoid messing up your rental car!
There are several options for where to go from here. The good part about my Iceland Itinerary Guide is that it’s very customizable! If it’s summertime, you can drive up to see the glacial blue water in the Krafla Crater or hike the rim of the massive Hverfjall Crater. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, nearby you can find the Grjótagjá Cave, which is where the infamous Jon Snow and Ygritte scene was filmed! Whatever you choose to do, the important thing to know is that the Myvatn Nature Baths open at 12pm!
The Myvatn Nature Baths are known as the Blue Lagoon of the North, and are WELL worth the visit. Not only is it less crowded, and less expensive, but these nature baths are more natural rather than the man-made Blue Lagoon that everyone visits in southern Iceland. We also had heard through the grapevine that the water at the Blue Lagoon was disappointingly cold. We did not have that issue at all in Myvatn. If anything it was borderline too hot in spots!
If you still need another reason to visit the Myvatn Nature Baths, the baths look out over the lake and the landscape of the North. From what we heard, those views were unparalleled.
The rest of the day will be spent driving to your next destination but between the relaxation of the baths and the gorgeous scenic views of the drive, it’ll fly by.
We unfortunately had a bit of bad weather which slowed our drive way down but we eventually landed in Stykkishólmur, a small fishing town located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. If you have time and energy, definitely get out and explore the town a bit.
ProTip: If you are unfortunate like us and get stuck doing this drive in a snow storm, definitely stop to ask locals at gas stations which routes that you should take. The GPS will likely steer you in the “shortest distance” direction which is not always the ideal driving route, especially in snow.
If you are a budget traveler, Harbour Hostel will be a great option to stay at in Stykkishólmur. Easy to find, parking available, nice views of the harbour and the lighthouse, and a quaint, home-y design. We enjoyed our stay there and only wish we had more time!
DAY 5 – Snaefellsness Peninsula and Reykjavik
The last day of your Iceland Itinerary will take part on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Since we weren’t blessed with good weather on this day, my Iceland Itinerary suggestion will be based on what we WOULD have done had it worked out!
Kick off your morning in the cute little town of Stykkishólmur. Catch the sunrise over the bay after walking up to the Lighthouse Sugandisey. Then grab some breakfast at Nesbraud ehf Bakery in town. I’m not much of a donut person, but their donuts make American donuts taste like absolute garbage. Once you’re fueled, head out of Stykkishólmur but don’t forget to hike Helgafell on the way out of town!
ProTip: Make sure while hiking the holy mountain of Helgafell, that you do it in complete silence and without ever looking back. If you do this successfully, your wishes will be granted when you get to the top!
After this, stock up on some snacks and gas and hit the road, heading west along Route 54. The first destination you’ll come across is Kirkjufell Mountain, one of the most photographed spots in Iceland. There is also a waterfall located nearby that’s worth the walk out to to get that perfect Instagram shot. (I’m only slightly embarrassed that I just said that.)
Continue along the route and you’ll pass through two very small fishing towns. We did not explore these towns at all during our trip but word on the street is you can find the best fish soup at a place called Gamla Rif in the small town of Rif. Depending on your timing, this might be a nice lunch spot to stop!
Past these towns, you’ll come across the Saxhóll Crater. They built a narrow winding staircase up the side of the crater so if the weather is cooperative, you can hike up to the top of it for some stunning views looking over the ocean!
Once you enter into the Snæfellsnes National Park, there will be several options to drive down to the coast. The first being a yellow sand beach, and the second being a black sand beach. The yellow sand beach is a unique contrast to the rest of the Icelandic coastline. We opted to skip that one and head to Djúpalónssandur (the black sand beach) instead.
The walk down to the beach is almost as fascinating as the beach itself! To get down to the beach you’ll walk through a lava rock crevasse, with amazing spiky black rocks jutting up on both sides of you. Definitely worth the stop even if you visited the black sand beaches in the south of Iceland already.
The national park has several other attractions you can stop at including two basalt columns called Lóndrangar, Snæfellsjökull glacier, the Vatnshellir lava tube, Songhellir Cave, and Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge.
ProTip: Several of these require guided tours so make sure to research these ahead of time if you’re interested in exploring further.
As you begin your loop back towards central Iceland, you’ll come across the towns of Hellnar and Arnastapi. If you’re looking for a nice afternoon hike, there is a coastal cliff walk that goes between the two towns. Catch a ride back to your car by some friendly strangers if you’re feeling adventurous!
From here, continue east on Route 54 and if the timing is right, stop at Ytri-Tunga to see some seals! By this time you’ll be ready to head back to Reykjavik to check in for the night, rest up and then hit the town!
Stay tuned for a Reykjavik guide in a future post!
Yes, this route may have been a bit unconventional but my boyfriend and I both feel like we got to experience much of the country and have no regrets! This guide is here for you to use for your own trip to Iceland! So feel free to follow it to a T, modify it as necessary or maybe just pull a few ideas while you drive a standard Ring Road route!
Were there any must-sees along this route that I missed? Comment below with any suggestions or thoughts and opinions! Until next time..