I recently returned from a 9-day trip to Iceland and whoa… this country is amazing.
My friends and I rented a car and road-tripped the whole 827 miles of Route 1 passing waterfalls, black sand beaches, glaciers and snow-covered towns. Here is our detailed itinerary. Note: this itinerary was originally taken from another travel site, but has been modified based on my personal experiences of what to see, what to skip and where to stay.
Day 1: Reykjavik
Overnight: Hlemmer Square
Wow Air has super cheap round trip flights to Iceland from the east and west coast (and I think they just started operating in Chicago as well?). Bring lots of snacks and a full water bottle because EVERYTHING will cost you money on the flight. Even water. Your flight will land around 4 am. Pick up your car from the airport and drive an hour to Hlemmer Square, located in downtown Reykjavik. Drop your stuff off in their luggage room and head to Sandlot Bakery for breakfast. They open at 6:30 am so get there right away because this small place gets packed! After a quick breakfast and coffee to wake you up, it’s time to soak in the Blue Lagoon. One of the best things to experience while in Iceland. Book your tickets weeks in advance and be sure to bring your own towel so you don’t have to pay to rent one. Afternoon activities today include going to the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church and visiting the Harpa Opera house located on the water’s edge. There is a fee to go to the top of the church but nobody checks tickets at the elevator or upstairs. Not that I approve of sneaking in but…
Day 2: South Shore
Driving Distance: 200 kilometers
Overnight: Vík- Guesthouse Carina
The first major stop after leaving Reykjavik will be Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It is possible to walk behind the waterfall if the trail is not covered in snow or ice, so you won’t be able to go behind it if you go in the winter. Be sure to walk along the trail to the left of the main waterfall. There is so much more to explore! Check out my post about our first day to see what I mean. Your next stop is the impressive Skógafoss waterfall. Both waterfalls are right along the Ring Road, so you will have no problem finding them. Stop for lunch at the red and white polkadot food truck located just a little ways past Skógafoss. Just a short drive more and you will see a parking lot and trail to your right. This trail leads to a plane wreck on the beach. It’s an hour walk to get to the plane, and honestly I don’t think most people know what they are walking to see until they actually see it. If you get really excited about climbing on downed planes, then go ahead and make the walk. You will still have plenty of time for all the other activities of the day. But if I could have a do-over I would skip this site. Next visit the Dyrhólaey Nature reserve to see some amazing views. Be careful when walking around and don’t get too close to cliff edges. Next stop at the black lava beaches and basalt columns at Reynisdrangar before you continue to the enchanting town of Vík. In the evening check out the weather forecast and if it looks good, head out for search of the northern lights.
Day 3: Skaftafell National Park and the Glacier Lagoon
Driving Distance: 290 kilometers
Overnight: Höfn- Airbnb
From Vík continue east to Skaftafell located at the foot of Europe´s largest glacier – Vatnajökull. Skaftafell is very beautiful area with many hiking trails and tranquil natural beauty. The visitor’s center at the park is open all year round and can advise you on hiking trails. The hike to Svartifoss is fairly easy and very picturesque. If you’re interested in a glacier or ice cave tour, book that here. We planned to do one but it got cancelled because of high winds that day. Next head to Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. You can see the lagoon from a few different points so just look for the parking lots located right off Route 1. Don’t forget to stop at the beach dotted with many pieces of glacier. Continue to Höfn for overnight stay. The town is famous for its lobster and seafood, so make sure to try some. Ask your host to point you to the small lobster sandwich place along the water- it’s delicious! If the weather conditions allow, take a look outside and check for northern lights.
Day 3: The East Fjords
Driving Distance: 275 kilometers
Overnight: Egilsstaðir- Laufás Guesthouse
Today is an easy day, but also one of the most scenic. From Höfn continue to the peaceful East Fjords and enjoy the breath taking view of the fjords. The drive takes you along the base of the mountains and along the water, so it’s absolutely beautiful. After a morning of fjord scenery continue to Egilsstaðir town, located by Lake Lagarfljót which is said to be the home of Icelandic Loch Ness. This is where we saw the Northern Lights, so keep a look out! (This is also where I lost my passport, so be careful lol).
Day 4: Lake Mývatn
Driving Distance: 210 kilometers
Overnight: Hlíd Hostel
My personal highlight of Mývatn were the Nature Baths , where you can soak in mineral rich waters and relax after driving and sightseeing all day. Just before you get to the baths, stop at the mysterious geysers with smoke coming out of the ground. You can’t miss it from the road! If you go at night, you might get lucky and have northern lights dance above your head while you bathe in the Nature Baths. This is the day I noticed my passport was missing, so we actually changed our plans and didn’t get to stay in Hlíd Hostel. We kept driving to Akureyi and basically bumped our itinerary up a day. Whether you decide to stay in Mývatn or continue to Akureyi, it’s still worth stopping at the geysers and nature baths.
Day 5: Akureyri
Driving Distance: 290 kilometers
Overnight: Akureyri H.I. Hostel
This is a rather easy day. From Lake Mývatn continue to Akureyri, the Capital of the North. On the way to Akureyri make sure to stop at Goðafoss waterfall. Make sure you look up where the waterfall is before you leave wifi, as this is one of the only attractions that doesn’t lie right next to the road (we actually missed the turn, and didn’t notice until it was too late to turn back). As you arrive at Akureyri, be sure to visit the old downtown area. Akureyri is the third largest city in Iceland so you will find lots of restaurants and shops to look around in. The town is also only 30 miles from the arctic circle, so be sure to look for the northern lights!
Day 6: Þingvellir National Park
Driving Distance: 350 kilometers
Overnight: Laugarvatn Hostel
We had to go back to Reykjavik on this day to get me a new passport, so I don’t have any suggestions of what to do in the morning. Þingvellir National Park, however, offers many hiking trails and hot springs. Ask the desk at the hostel to point you to some. They pointed us to a very small spring about 30 minutes away which was probably one of our favorites. Ask them for detailed directions because if it wasn’t for the hitch hiker we picked up who also happened to be going there, we probably wouldn’t have found it. You can’t see it from the road but if you look closely you can spot a small parking lot. There is a small “shack,” if can even call it that, for changing clothes if need be. The spring can only fit about six people so be prepared to get cosy if a group is already there. In the same area as the spring is Gullfoss Waterfall, also known as The Golden waterfall. This majestic waterfall is one of the most impressive in Iceland!
Day 7: Silfra Strait, The Golden Waterfall
Driving Distance: 310 km
Overnight: Laugarvatn Hostel (same as night before)
If you are up for snorkeling in the Silfra Strait, today is the day! Beware of the 34 degree water. You will most likely just want to curl up in bed with a cup of hot chocolate and Netflix after the experience. By this time in the trip you will be exhausted. Head back to the hostel for the rest of the day to relax and pack up to leave the next day. For dinner, get a hotdog from the convenience store next door! Be sure to get all the toppings on it for the true Icelandic hotdog experience.