Our Full, Condensed Iceland Itinerary

Iceland is incomparable to any other country on Earth. Opaque blue glaciers were dancing with boiling geysers. Snow-capped coastlines dotted with sprawling lava fields. Setting forth to conquer Iceland in one swoop is impossible. It is a commonplace for long, multi-day layovers due to promotions by airlines such as Icelandair and Wow Air. Those long delays allow travelers the opportunity to explore the capital Reykjavik, drive the Golden Circle, and generally either travel south to Vik or north to the Snæfellsjökull National Park.

For those fortunate enough to complete a longer stay in beautiful Iceland, the Ring Road (Route 1) traverses 828 miles and allows a full circle around the majority of the island nation. Our itinerary allowed us eight full days in Iceland, with time crossing the Ring Road, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and Golden Circle.

We attempted to pack in as much adventure as possible and made sure to take copious images and notes on our travels. Below, you will find our exact itinerary, where we went, what we did, what we wished we would and would not have done, where we stayed, what we ate, and general tips and tricks for getting around beautiful Iceland.

Click each day below for a full, detailed breakdown of the travels, with images and explanations. Click the individual items in each bulleted list or within the individual day to get to the expanded page for that day, complete with history, experience, images, pros and cons, tips and pointers, additional links and information, and a Google Map for your navigation pleasure.

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8

Here are a few more informative links that an be found here on Iceland In 8 Days, with tips and tricks from our travels:

  • Where to find fuel, and how to handle the PIN situation when traveling from the US
  • Overrated places to avoid, and underrated attractions to not miss
  • Understanding Icelandic currencies and how to pay for things (a highly cashless society)
  • Navigating Keflavik International Airport, and how to get to the car rental area
  • A list of some hidden gems in Reykjavik that some might overlook
  • The most highly rated places to stay while traveling in Iceland
  • Itinerary comparison: Reykjavik as a base versus a Ring Road journey
  • Blue Lagoon versus Myvatn Nature Baths: pros and cons
  • The best gear for your Iceland trip is far less expensive than you’d think

DAY 1: OFF THE PLANE AND INTO THE WATERFALLS

  • Highlights:
    • Urridafoss: The most voluminous waterfall in Iceland, about 50-55 minutes from Reykjavik, on the Þjórsá/Þjórsárhraun, the longest river in the country, and largest lava flow on Earth. About a mile off the Ring Road.
    • Seljalandsfoss: 60 meter tall waterfall at the base of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. Visible from three miles away, directly off the Ring Road. One of the most visited attractions in Iceland, tourists can walk on a pathway behind the waterfall.
    • Gljufrafoss: A smaller waterfall directly to the north of Seljalandsfoss, partially obscured by a cavern. This waterfall is accessed by walking through a creek into a crevice in the cliffside. The waterfall plunges through a canyon into a small pool.
    • Skogafoss: 60 meter tall wide flowing waterfall between Seljalandsfoss and Vik on the southern coast of Iceland. Directly off the Ring Road, a steep network of steps leads to a plateau on top of the waterfall.
    • Solheimasandur Plane Wreck: Plane crash scene a 2.5 mile hike from a parking lot directly off the Ring Road between Skogafoss and Vik. The wreckage is from a US Navy plane in the 1970’s, and is located on the Black Beach on the southern coast of Iceland.
  • Meals:
    • Center Fossbúð: Cafeteria-style restaurant in Skogar, walking distance from the Skogafoss waterfall. Also serving as a gift shop and service center for visitors, Center Fossbúð serves soup, sandwiches, salads, and hot meals.
    • Suður-Vík Restaurant: Small restaurant on the second floor of a guesthouse in Vik, in an old house on the top of a hill. The restaurant has a very diverse menu with both basic and local food options and an incredibly wide array of drink options.
  • Lodging:
    • Icelandair Hotel Vik: Largest hotel in Vik. Extremely expensive ($250+ per night when we stayed, with breakfast added), but the most comfortable and large rooms of all the hotels and guesthouses we stayed at. Incredibly nice staff, delicious breakfast, quiet rooms, wonderful showers.

DAY 2: THE SOUTHERN COAST OF ICELAND

  • Highlights:
    • Dyrhólaey: A network of basalt rock formations both on a cliffside, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, and off the coast. Waves crash upon these rocks and up the cliffs, and the true contrast of the Black Beach can be seen. Also contains a wonderful hike to up the Dyrhólaey Lighthouse.
    • Reynisdrangar: One of the few areas in southern Iceland where you can walk along the Black Beach safely. Massive basalt columns, cliffs, and natural caves span the coastline, and jagged rock spires rise up from the ocean.
    • Fjaðrárgljúfur: A gigantic canyon system in southern Iceland, between Vik and Skaftafell. A pathway runs along the right side of the canyons and allows for picturesque views of the cliffs, river, and waterfall on the far end. Be careful if you decide to go out on the slippery ledges!
    • Systrafoss: Also called “sister falls”, this large double waterfall in the South of Iceland is usually dry, but after heavy rains can be seen vividly. One of the few areas in Iceland with dense trees, several hiking trails lead to beautiful views of the coastline.
  • Meals:
    • Icelandair Hotel Vik: The largest and most elaborate breakfast buffet of our trip, the meal was served in the Berg Restaurant connected to the hotel. There were plenty of options for all nationalities, and an abundance of space and food, even when the area started to get busier.
    • Black Beach Restaurant: The restaurant at Reynisdrangar is located right beside the basalt formation right on the beach. With plentiful options and quick service, the eating experience was pleasant but a bit cramped. Also the location of the best Skyr cake we had on our trip.
    • Halldorskaffi: Another smaller restaurant, not well marked, but in “downtown” Vik in a residential area. Service was quick, even when a large group came in, and the menu was expansive. Pizzas were delicious, and the employees were extremely friendly.
  • Lodging:
    • Icelandair Hotel Vik: Largest hotel in Vik. Extremely expensive ($250+ per night when we stayed, with breakfast added), but the most comfortable and large rooms of all the hotels and guesthouses we stayed at. Incredibly nice staff, delicious breakfast, quiet rooms, wonderful showers.

DAY 3: NATIONAL PARKS AND GLACIERS

  • Highlights:
    • Systrastapi: Smaller, more secluded and unnamed waterfall about a mile off the Ring Road. Water flows over a large rock into a stream inside a small canyon. Is located in the town of Systrastapi, close to where Systrafoss is, between Vik and Skaftafell.
    • Svartifoss (Skaftafell): Icelandic for “Black Falls” Svartifoss is a large waterfall in southern Iceland that falls over hexagonal basalt columns. The hike to the falls is about 2 miles one way, and on the way you pass Þjófafoss, Hundafoss, and Magnúsarfoss.
    • Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon): Large chunks of white, gray and blue glacier float around in pristine blue water at the Glacier Lagoon. The deepest lake in Iceland, it is located less than a mile from the ocean’s edge. Glaciers move quickly from the lagoon down to Diamond Beach.
    • Diamond Beach: A black beach littered with beautiful glacier pieces. From bright blue to sharp diamond to black-bottomed and everything in between, the glacier chunks sit slowly melting on the shoreline of the Lagoon and are different every time you visit.
    • Hofn shoreline: Hofn is a beautiful small fishing town in southeastern Iceland, right on the Atlantic Ocean. A walkway at the edge of the town allows you to walk by the oceanside and view colorful houses, and the harbor in the city is one of the few in south Iceland.
  • Meals:
    • Icelandair Hotel Vik: The largest and most elaborate breakfast buffet of our trip, the meal was served in the Berg Restaurant connected to the hotel. There were plenty of options for all nationalities, and an abundance of space and food, even when the area started to get busier.
    • Kaffi Hornid: A small cafe in Hofn. Service was subpar (the staff just seemed to huddle around the counter, occasionally looking up to see if our drinks needed to be refilled). The lamb chops and reindeer burger were both good, and were plated very professionally. Prices reflected this.
  • Lodging:
    • Fosshotel Vatnajokull: A smaller hotel about ten minutes from Hofn. We were upgraded to a Deluxe Room, which was still incredibly small, but had everything we needed for that evening. Floor to ceiling windows had picturesque views of the Vatnajokull glacier. Hotel was nice and quiet.

DAY 4: WATER, HOT AND COLD

  • Highlights:
    • Lækjavik coastline: A long stretch of driving between Hofn and Egilsstaðir, the coastline is dotted with more turbulent black sand beaches, as well as long sections of the Ring Road paved in gravel, and some frightening climbs up a glacier.
    • Eggin i Gledivik: These egg sculptures are located in Djúpivogur, behind Langabúð and past a whale museum called Bræðsla. 34 eggs sit on a harbor, each representing a local bird, with plaques explaining more about each egg.
    • Hengifoss: At 128 meters, the third highest waterfall in Iceland. Also surrounded by basalt (like Svartifoss), but with streaks of red clay. A 2.5 mile hike from the parking lot takes you to this waterfall and Litlanesfoss. When it’s rainy, some creek crossing may be necessary.
    • Litlanesfoss: Another beautiful waterfall in East Iceland with basalt and clay. Located about a mile up the hike to Hengifoss. Unlike its counterpart, Litlanesfoss is not visible from the road, but getting close to the cliff face gets you a closer view of these falls than of Hengifoss.
    • Gufufoss: Icelandic for “steam falls”, Gufufoss is similar in shape to Skogafoss, but its location leaves it far less touristy. The drive requires hairpin turns up a mountainside and driving on top of what seemed to be a snow-capped glacier, but is worth the view.
    • Yst-i-Rjukandi: This relatively unnamed waterfall in Eastern Iceland was right off the Ring Road and surprisingly large in size. It is part of a series of random waterfalls in the area between Gufufoss and Myvatn, and the one we photographed was definitely the largest of them all.
    • Myvatn Nature Baths: The Myvatn Nature Baths are the Eastern counterpart to the Blue Lagoon. No reservations can be made, which is fine as it was not too busy. The baths are actually natural, and the blue color is from sulfur instead of silica.
  • Meals:
    • Fosshotel Vatnajokull: The breakfast buffet at the Fosshotel Vatnajokull was expansive and wide ranging, with a variety of breads, spreads, hot items, meats, and a cereal and waffle bar. I destroyed the waffle maker, but the staff were very kind about it.
    • Subway: The Subway in Egilsstaðir gets a mention here as the staff were some of the most courteous I have seen at a fast food establishment. The sandwich options are similar to those in America, and it was a great relief after a four hour drive through southeastern Iceland.
  • Lodging:
    • Vogafjos Guesthouse: This guesthouse was a long step from the hotels we had stayed at, but was still quaint. The office for the guesthouses is actually across the street. The guesthouses themselves were relatively quiet and nicely secluded.

DAY 5: EXPLORING NORTHERN ICELAND

  • Highlights:
    • Grjotagja: A small underground cavern about a mile from Myvatn filled with hot sulfur water, Grjotagja was created from a lava flow long ago. The water stays steadily at 109 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, so the geothermal bath can be used.
    • Bjarnarflag Geothermal Power Plant: The bluest of blue water can be found at the Bjarnarflag Geothermal Power Plant on the way to Myvatn. The oldest and smallest power station in Iceland, the runoff pond water, though beautiful, is far too hot to touch.
    • Boiling Mud Pots: The most overwhelming sulfur smell we experienced on our trip, the Boiling Mud Pots and surrounding area looked like the surface of Mars. These steam vents loudly expelled plumes of hot steam from underground, and made the dirt a strange blue color.
    • Krafla Power Station: A large, active geothermal power plant near Myvatn, the Krafla Power Station features an arched pipeline that you drive underneath. Spotted with colorful buildings and domes, you must drive through here to get to the Viti Crater.
    • Viti Crater: This crater was formed during a massive eruption at the start of the Mývatn Fires in 1724. One of the newest craters, when we drove to this, it was the beginning of May and the crater lake was completely frozen over. Beautiful views of the Power Station from the overlook nearby.
    • Dettifoss: The most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. Road 862 takes you to a pretty good view. Road 864 is more dangerous, and closed off most of the time, but the view is said to be far better. 330 feet wide and almost 150 feet high, the waterfall shakes the ground from the overlook.
    • Selfoss: Found by branching off the trail to Dettifoss, this extremely wide, 36 foot high waterfall is far more picturesque than Dettifoss. Laid out very similar to Góðafoss, just slightly smaller. One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Northern Iceland.
    • Góðafoss: A beautiful, well-known waterfall in Northern Iceland right off the Ring Road. Góðafoss forms a semi-circle and is similar in size to Selfoss. The place where Christianity became the official religion of Iceland in the year 1000, and pagan deities were thrown into the falls.
    • Ljósavatn: A beautiful blue lake between Góðafoss and Akureyri, seen directly from the Ring Road. Fishing is supposedly extremely popular in this 3.2 square kilometer lake, the viewpoing on a sunny day is spectacular, especially after a day full of icy roadsides.
    • Akureyri: The second largest urban area in Iceland, coming upon Akureyri after days of relative isolation is a breath of fresh air. Brightly colored buildings and beautiful, clean streets packed with art are easily walked. Parking may be confusing. Go to a taxi station to get a free parking card.
    • Akureyrarkirkja: A beautiful double-spired church on top of the tallest hill in Akureyri, Akureyrarkirkja has the medal for tallest building in Northern Iceland. In mid-day, the sun shines down from between the two towers when you are walking towards it and makes for a wonderful photograph.
  • Meals:
    • Vogafjos Guesthouse: This guesthouse breakfast was mainly meats, breads, and cheeses. It was served in the hotel eating area, and if you arrive early enough you can watch the cows get milked and try some warm milk fresh from the udder.
    • Kaffi Ilmur: This small cafe is on a hill right in downtown Akureyri. The menu is expansive, and the restaurant is beautiful and cozy. The burgers, fries, and coffee-infused Skyr cake were wonderful, and a lunch buffet upstairs had a plethora of food items available for a low price.
    • Sjavarborg Restaurant: The restaurant, on the top floor of the Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi, has a small menu but delicious food options. The fish soup is incredible, but the water was the most sulfur-ridden that we had on our trip. Best restaurant view of the journey, though!
  • Lodging:
    • Hvammstangi Cottages: These small cottages are unmanned, and confirmation/codes all come via email. With beautiful views, these are the best spots to catch the Northern Lights. Simple cottages, but with all the amenities needed. Be warned, the shower is tiny and rudimentary.

DAY 6: MANEUVERING THE SNÆFELLSJÖKULL PENINSULA

 

  • Highlights:
    • Helgafell: A hill with great history, you ascent silently without looking back, make three wishes at the runes on the peak, and enjoy the view before walking back down. A neat little walk, it costs 400 ISK per person, cash only, at the small cabin at the base of the hill.
    • Kirkjufellsfoss: A beautiful two-part waterfall on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Kirkjufellsfoss is situated at the base of the massive Kirkjufell mountain. This is a highly trafficked waterfall with a bridge across the top, and is one of the most widely photographed sites in Iceland.
    • Kirkjufell: A 1500+ foot tall mountain on the north coast of Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Kirkjufell can be seen from miles away, and stands alone on its own sub-peninsula, jutting out sharply into the sea. With strata line running horizontally, this mountain is absolutely breathtaking.
    • Vatnshellir Cave Tour: An incredible tour of one of the largest tourable lava tubes in Iceland, the Vatnshellir Cave Tour takes you deep underground into a hardened lava flow and into pitch blck darkness. It’s cold down there!
    • Snæfellsjökull: The coastline of the Snæfellsjökull park is reminiscent of the black beaches of Vik. A large lighthouse sits at the water’s edge, and the crashing waves make for great photography. A good place to stop and explore when waiting for the cave tour to start.
    • Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge: This gorge is one of the most underrated spectacles in Iceland. A fissure in a massive cliff face, the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge allos you to quickly ford a shallow creek to enter into the cave. The river can be followed up until the gorge narrows out. Incredible picture opportunities.
    • Icelandic Horses: These wonderful horses near Hellnar were friendly and quick to stretch over the fences for pats and scratches and to receive some hay as a treat. Be nice to the Icelandic horses and they will reard you as some great photo subjects.
    • Búðakirkja: Icelandic for “black church”, this is a ridiculously stark contrast church on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula about ten minutes from Hellnar. With a well-maintained graveyard, Búðakirkja is an architectural spectacle to behold.
  • Meals:
    • Laki Hafnarkaffi: This small restaurant is a mere mile and a half from Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss, and the harbored area is a wonderful place to sit for lunch. The menu is extensive, and their lobster and shrimp pizza was incredible and extremely large compared to other pizzas in Iceland.
    • Guesthouse Snjofell Restaurant: This small red restaurant we found while looking for gas near Hellnar. With a smaller menu and reasonable prices, the burger and fries came out quickly and was some of the best tasting we had in Iceland. Great bang for the buck location.
  • Lodging:
    • Fosshotel Hellnar: The hotel is in a great location, right by the ocean. The room we received was directly beside a suite, though, with a balcony that could see right inside our room. Walking through the restaurant to get to the hotel rooms was rather strange as well.

DAY 7: REYKJAVIK AND THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

  • Highlights:
    • Reykjavik Old Harbour: The Old Harbour in Reykjavik was splendid, with plenty of new and old ships of all shapes and sizes, including a large Navy vessel and a massive cargo ship hoisted up and under construction. Plenty of eateries and tours leave from here!
    • Puffin Express Tour: The only time we were able to see puffins while we were in Iceland. The tour took an hour: 20 minutes out, 20 minutes circling the island with thousands of puffins, and 20 minutes back. Great skyline views of Reykjavik as well!
    • Þingvellir National Park: Strolling through a fissure in the ground seemed like a strange thing to do, but at the end we were greeted by Öxarárfoss, a wonderful surprise. Extremely tourist-packed in the early afternoon. The first stop on the Goldern Circle.
    • Öxarárfoss: A smaller waterfall in the midst of the Þingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle, Öxarárfoss has plenty of seating, but not enough space to get a solid photo with background. Very touristy, but it was nice to see one more waterfall on our trip.
    • Strokkur/Geysir: Overrated tourist attraction. It was great to see the geyser explode, but it was over ten minutes of waiting, packed in a circle of tourists, for a four second eruption. Note that Strokkur is the actual geyser, Geysir is dormant. And don’t touch the water or white rocks!
    • Gulfoss: Far larger than anticipated, Gulfoss is a half mile walk from the parking area. If you bring photography equipment, make sure it’s waterproofed, as mist can get you from very far away here. This is a very photogenic area, and rainbows happen frequently.
    • Kerið: The Kerið Crater Lake was our final stop on our Golden Circle tour. Not as crowded as the Park, Geysir, and Gulfoss, once we paid we were greeted with an enormous, dark green crater lake speckled with red and brown cliffs. Much larger than anticipated, and compared to the Viti Crater.
  • Meals:
    • Fosshotel Hellnar: The breakfast here was very extensive, and started earlier than most other hotels, which was nice because we needed to be in Reykjavik by 10:30am. Grab some of the Nutella packets on your way out!
    • Slippbarinn: This colorful bar and restaurant at the Reykjavik Old Harbour and is located on the ground floor of the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina. Stay away from the $20 mixed drinks, but the fish and chips was in the top five best meals we ate in Iceland. Grilled lemon, wonderful!
    • Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: The most famous hot dog stand in the world. Note that it is currently in the center of a massive construction endeavor, but remains open and very much crowded. Sit at one of the picnic tables and watch the world go by. At 400 ISK per hot dog, very affordable Icelandic food.
    • Cafe Loki: Another very affordable place, Cafe Loki sits across the street from Hallgrímskirkja, and seating by the windows on the second floor give you wonderful church views. They serve traditional Icelandic foods, but the pancake stuffed with skyr and topped with caramel sauce was to die for.
  • Lodging:
    • Storm Hotel: The Storm Hotel was an ultramodern hotel in Downtown Reykjavik, dominated in the shadow of the Fosshotel across the street. The rooms were clean and minimalist, and the heated towel rack was quite nice. Very helpful staff, but extremely limited parking available.

DAY 8: EXPLORING REYKJAVIK AND A RELAXING FAREWELL

  • Highlights:
    • Reykjavik Street Art: The street art in Reykjavik rivals that of San Francisco or Seattle. With beautiful paintings by dozens of local artists covering walls of buildings all over the city, this is truly a spectacle to behold.
    • Cathedral of Christ the King: The Cathedral of Christ the King sits off to the side of Reykjavik, and is often overlooked for Hallgrímskirkja. Get here in the evening time to see the sun setting through the stained glass from the right side of the church.
    • Harpa Concert Hall: This modernist concert hall sits on the coastline of Reykjavik, close to the harbor. Hosting very high-profile guests, the interior of Harpa is just as breathtaking as the exterior, and needs to be witnessed firsthand.
    • Solfar (Sun Voyager) Sculpture: The Sun Voyager sculpture sits on the Sæbraut road in Reykjavík, between the road and the ocean. It was unveiled in 1990 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik. Looks eerie in the fog.
    • Hallgrímskirkja: The tallest building in Iceland, modeled after the basalt columns of Vik and Svartifoss. The interior of the church has swooping lines and is a stark contrast to the exterior. An elevator can be taken for 900 ISK to the top, where views of the city are plentiful from all sides.
    • Blue Lagoon: The most popular tourist attraction in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is a man-made geothermal bath. Amenities galore when purchasing the Premium package, including a free drink, algae mask, silica mask, towel, bathrobe, slippers, and more.
  • Meals:
    • Storm Hotel: The breakfast at the Storm Hotel was pretty nice. Even though it was a larger hotel than the Icelandair Hotel Vik, the breakfast options were less plentiful. Good for a quick bite before exploring the city.
    • Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: The most famous hot dog stand in the world. Note that it is currently in the center of a massive construction endeavor, but remains open and very much crowded. Sit at one of the picnic tables and watch the world go by. At 400 ISK per hot dog, very affordable Icelandic food.
    • Café Babalú: This cafe was underwhelming. The Nutella cheesecake was far too rich, and the chai latte was served in a glass versus a mug. After a couple minutes the glass was too hot to touch. Very cramped, with tables that were falling apart.
    • Roadhouse Snorrabraut: Hailed as an “American Restaurant”, this is a wonderful place to pig out. Popcorn, nachos, massive burgers, twice-fried fries, and thick, creamy milkshakes were abundant. I suggest the three course feast.
  • Lodging:
    • Storm Hotel: The Storm Hotel was an ultramodern hotel in Downtown Reykjavik, dominated in the shadow of the Fosshotel across the street. The rooms were clean and minimalist, and the heated towel rack was quite nice. Very helpful staff, but extremely limited parking available.



Iceland In 8 Days

Iceland in 8 Days is the most comprehensive eight-day itinerary to Iceland, with travel tips, tricks, and secrets you won't find anywhere else!

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