Iceland has quickly become one of our favourite countries to explore. It has beautiful landscapes, stunning waterfalls (I love waterfalls!), warm thermal pools to bask in, and a fascinating history and culture. Iceland is also an easy country to get around, either on a self-drive road trip or as part of a group tour. In this post, I’m going to share with you a suggested itinerary for 5 days in Iceland.
This Iceland itinerary is for a self-drive trip; however, if you would prefer not to drive, I’ve also provided details after the itinerary for how to see many of the same things without having to drive yourself.
If you have a little longer, check out our seven day Iceland itinerary, which covers a few more highlights. We’d also recommend reading this post in conjunction with our guide to planning a trip to Iceland, which has lots of practical information on travelling in Iceland including detailed planning steps and practicalities.
For now though, let’s get started with our suggested five day Iceland itinerary.
A 5 Day Iceland Itinerary
1. Reykjavik, Day 1
It is likely that you’re going be arriving into Iceland at Keflavik International Airport, which is where most international visitors to Iceland arrive. Here, you can either pick up a hire car directly, or take an airport shuttle transfer into the city centre, and pick your car up on Day 2. Waiting an extra day may save you a bit of money, and you are unlikely to need a hire car to explore Reykjavik.
If you want to visit the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s most famous thermal baths, then doing this on the way from the airport is an excellent idea as it’s closer to the airport than the city centre. In fact, many companies offer a transfer service to and from the airport that includes a stop at the Blue Lagoon.
Otherwise, we’d suggest you spend a bit of time sightseeing in Reyjkavik. There’s a lot to see in the city, including the beautiful Hallgrimskirkja Church, which has a wonderful view from the top, and the Sun Voyager statue, which makes for some fun photo opportunities. There are also a number of museums, lots of restaurants and bars, and probably the best nightlife in Iceland if you want to start your Iceland trip off with a bang!
If you’d prefer to head straight out of town on your first day, and are desperate to fit as much as possible into your itinerary as possible, check out my optional addition of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula at the end of this section as an alternative.
2. Golden Circle, Day 2
From Reyjkavik you’re going to head to one of Iceland’s most iconic road trips – the Golden Circle. There are three must-visit stops on the golden circle. These are Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park, the Geysir Hot Springs Area, and the mighty Gullfoss waterfall.
Thingvellir is interesting to visit for a number of reasons, both culturally and geologically. It was the site of the first Icelandic parliament, and as such, there is a lot of to see here that involves the history and culture of Iceland. Thingvellir is also the location of the continental divide, and you can actually see the split between the continents here, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, even snorkel between them!
From Thingvellir, the next stop on the Golden Circle is the Geysir Hot Springs area. This is home to “Geysir”, the original geyser from where the word in English comes from. There are lots of bubbling mud pools as well as regularly erupting geyser’s here.
Finally, the last major stop on the Golden Circle trip is Gulfoss waterfall. This is a wide, multi-tiered waterfall that has a tremendous volume of water flowing over it, and will not fail to impress. There are a number of viewing locations to enjoy the falls from, as well as an on site cafe and information centre. A spectacular sight at any time of year.
3. South Coast and Klaustur, Day 3
For your third day in Iceland, you’re going to start to head along the beautiful south coast. This is a magnificent stretch of road, with a great many attractions to enjoy, and you are going to have an incredible time exploring it.
A quick note here about staying safe on the road in Iceland. You’re going to see a lot of amazing sights as you drive along here, but it’s important you stay safe, and only pull over in proper parking spaces. Stopping on the side of the road can be really dangerous, and there’s quite a bit of traffic on the ring road, so please don’t do it. It’s not worth endangering your life for a photo, however cute that horse may be!
Ok, lecture over. The first highlight on the road you drive along here is going to be Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This is a beautiful sixty metre high waterfall that you can actually walk behind, and is a stunning photography opportunity. Easily one of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland, and almost unique in that you can walk behind it.
Next up is less well known waterfall hidden right next to Seljalandsfoss. Whilst Seljalandsfoss and the below Skogafoss tend to get all the waterfall glory on this stretch of road, there are a couple more waterfalls the more discerning Iceland visitor might want to check out. The first of these is Gljúfrabúi, a waterfall hidden in a canyon just a short distance from Seljalandsfoss.
To access it, you just have to walk across the river, and follow the path along the cliff. After a fairly short walk, you’ll come to the canyon that holds Gljúfrabúi. To actually access the waterfall, you’ll have to wade up the stream, but the view is worth it if you’re brave enough – although be prepared to be coated in water from the spray!
The next major stop on the south coast is Skogafoss. This is a thunderous sixty metre high waterfall that is much wider than Seljalandsfoss, and is truly dramatic. You can get very close to the base of the falls for dramatic photos (just be aware you’re going to get very wet), or you can climb the many steps up to the top of the falls for another viewpoint.
The other less well known waterfall in this area is Kvernufoss. This is also quite easy to find – just park at the Skogar Museum (same turn off Route 1 as Skogafoss), and follow the path across the field to the falls. Like Seljalandsfoss, you can also walk behind Kvernufoss – although be prepared to get wet!
The next stop on the south coast route is Dyrhólaey. This is a peninsula that juts out into the sea, and from the top you have fantastic views of a beautifl stretch of black sand beach with, on a clear day at least, the towering mountains of Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano in the background. Dyrhólaey is also home to a massive rock arch, which is worth the drive up the quite terrifyingly steep dirt road.
Just a short drive along from Dyrhólaey you’ll find the popular stop of Reynisfjara Beach. Here, black basalt columns meet the black sand beach, and you can also see a series of rock stacks out to sea. This is a beautifully wild part of Iceland and quite a unique photography opportunity.
Finally, our third day on our five day Iceland itinerary will come to an end at the town of Vik. This is a nice little town with a beautiful church and lovely sea views. We suggest you overnight here, or depending hotel availability, at the town of Klaustur a little further east along the road.
Day 3 Accommodation: Klaustur or Vik. We stayed in the Icelandair Hotel in Klaustur. Our suggestion is to book two nights and return to the same hotel on day 4 to save the hassle of unpacking and repacking.
4. Klaustur to Jokularson, Day 4
The fourth day of our five day Iceland itinerary is going to cover some more beautiful waterfalls and canyons, as well as an iceberg filled lagoon and a glacier! Let’s get going.
The first stop on the day will be the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, which is just outside Klaustur. This is a two kilometer long canyon which is 100 metres deep, and offers spectacular views of the river winding through it. You may want to do some hiking here. To get here, just follow road 206 off Route 1 towards Lakagígar. Follow this for a while then at the intersection, turn left away from Lakagígar, The road is gravel but easy to drive.
Our next stop of the day is Svartifoss, or the black falls, about an hours drive east along Route 1. These falls tumble magnificently over black basalt columns, and are found in the Skaftafell / Vatnajökull National Park. It’s about a 1 hour round-trip to the falls, but we think you’ll agree that it’s worth the effort for the view.
A little way on from the turning to Svartifoss on Route 1 is the turning for the viewpoint of the Svínafellsjökull Glacier. Here, you can get very close to the tongue of this glacier, and see the incredible blue shades of ice. Just don’t be tempted to go for a walk on the glacier itself – if you want to do that sort of thing, you definitely want to take a tour with a qualified glacier guide.
Our final stop for the day is going to be two fold – the Jökulsárlón Lagoon, and the Diamond Beach.
Jökulsárlón Lagoon is a lagoon formed from the meltwater of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, and is the deepest lake in Iceland. Here, icebergs from the glacier bob around the lagoon, usually for around five years, before they either disappear or float out to sea. If you visit Iceland in the summer months, you can take a boat tour on this lagoon and get up close to the glacier itself.
Across the highway from Jökulsárlón is the final stop on our day – the Diamond Beach. This is where those icebergs often end up – strewn along the beach just like diamonds. This is a truly incredible sight, and a wonderful photography location. A perfect place to end the day, perhaps with the sunset (depending on the time of year you visit of course!).
Finally, we suggest you turn back and cover some of the distance back to Reyjkavik, with a suggested overnight at Klaustur or Vik.
Day 4 Accommodation: Same as Day 3.
5. Return to Reyjkavik, Day 5
Our final day has you retracing your steps on the way back to Reykjavik. This is a good chance to get any photos you missed at any of the highlights when travelling in the opposite direction – perhaps due to the weather, or maybe you just ran out of time.
We’d also suggest on your way back to Iceland that you stop off at some of the fishing villages along the way, which are quite picturesque. For example, the towns of Eyarbakki and Stokkseyri are only a short detour.
If you have the time, you can also drive road 427 around the Keflavik peninsula – this is a pretty drive that is less popular, and takes you past the beautiful Strandakirkja church, which is well worth the visit. If you didn’t visit the Blue Lagoon on your first day, you could also do it on your fifth day.
Finally, this five day Iceland itinerary has you back in Reykjavik for your final night.
6. Optional Alternative: Snaefellsnes Peninsula
If you want to skip Reykjavik on your first or last days in Iceland, and really want to pack as much sight-seeing in as possible, then you could consider heading up to the beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula for a day. This would be better suited to a longer itinerary – such as our seven day Iceland itinerary – but would be possible if you wanted to squeeze it in.
This part of Iceland is home to a number of sights and attractions, and there’s a lot to see here. We’d suggest you include the Gerðuberg basalt columns, the Vatnshellir lava cave, the fantastic Kirkjufell mountain and, for the brave amongst you, a trip to the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhofn.
At the Shark Museum you can sample an Icelandic delicacy – fermented shark meat. It’s an acquired taste that, I must admit, we didn’t quite acquire.
There’s easily enough to do on the peninsula to fill a whole day.
Iceland Road Trip Map
To help you visualise this trip, we’ve put together this map which highlights the route we suggest you take, as well all the attractions we’ve mentioned. You can also see this map directly on Google Maps here.
How To Book Your Iceland Trip
For a self-drive trip like the one we mentioned, you have a couple of options. You can book everything yourself, including the hire car (compare prices here) and hotels (see hotels here). This will give you lots of flexibility, but is of course more work on your part.
Another option is to book a self-drive trip through a company like Iceland Travel. We did one of their self-drive trips for eight days through Iceland, and they booked all our hotels, the hire car and all our breakfasts were included as well. Their self-drive packages also include GPS hire, a prepaid SIM card so you can easily get online and make calls whilst travelling, and a tablet that is loaded up with information about Iceland.
For the itinerary suggested on this page, Iceland Travel have the perfect self-drive tour titled Glacial Adventure, which is a great match if you’re travelling from October through to the end of April.
For summer, Iceland Travel’s Ring Road Highlights self drive tour is a good match. You can also work with companies to add a day or customize tours a bit and obviously self-drive tours are pretty flexible as only your hotels, car, and any tours are booked so you can always detour a bit from the suggested itinerary.
When you’re planning your trip, we recommend you take a look at our guide to planning a trip to Iceland, which has lots more information to help you plan the perfect Iceland adventure!
Do I Have to Drive in Iceland?
Our five day Iceland itinerary is a self-drive itinerary, however, if you’d prefer not to drive in Iceland, there are other ways to get around and still see everything you want to see.
One option would be to base yourself in Reykjavik, and do a series of day trips with a tour operator. We have a guide to the best day trips from Reyjkavik that will give you ideas for all the things you can do.
In terms of matching the five day itinerary on this page, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding tours that cover all the highlights. Our suggestion would be to take a full day Golden Circle tour and a full day south shore tour, both of which run year round. You could also add in a Snaefellsnes Peninsula day trip, and if you’re visiting in winter, a trip to see the Northern Lights is a must.
There are a number of different options for many of these day tours – check out all the day tour options with Iceland Travel here for more ideas.
Another option is to look into a bus passport. These let you travel around the country on a tour bus, choosing where you want to get on and off. This can be a cost effective way to get around, and they stop at almost all of the tourist highlights in Iceland, depending on the itinerary you choose. However they are only an option from June to August.
Finally, you should definitely consider a multi-day group or private tour if you don’t want to drive yourself in Iceland. These will feature a driver and transport, accommodation and the majority of your meals, and will likely be one of the easiest options for sight-seeing in Iceland. You can let someone else handle all the logistics whilst you focus on just enjoying yourself.
Of course, you will be travelling to a fixed itinerary, and it won’t be as flexible as a self-drive trip, but it is a great option if you’d prefer to hand over the responsibility of planning and driving to someone else.
For our five day itinerary, we’d suggest you take a look at the following tours.
- Volcanoes and Glaciers – covers nearly everything in our itinerary plus the Westman Islands. 5 nights, runs May through September
- Hidden Powers and Northern Lights – again, covers nearly everything in our itinerary. 5 nights, runs October – April
- South Iceland Winter Explorer Super Jeep Tour – this is a smaller group tour in a specialised offroad vehicle that will get you off the beaten track whilst still visiting the highlights we mention. 4 nights, February – April.
- Ice Cave Tour and Highlights of South Shore – another smaller group tour that includes an ice cave tour. 5 nights, November to March
These are just a small fraction of the tours available. We suggest you take a look at the group tour section of Iceland Travel and input the time of year you are visiting, how long you are visiting for and the areas you are interested in, to see what’s available.
Add-ons to your Iceland Trip
Regardless of how you choose to travel in Iceland, we think there are a few addons you will likely enjoy to experience the country at it’s fullest.
Year Round Activities
When you visit Thingvellir National Park, a popular activity is to go snorkelling in the Silfra Fissure. This is a fairly unique experience, and lets you see the gap between the continents from a whole new angle as you float through the crystal clear waters. This activity is available throughout the year, with dry suits issued to keep you warm.
This can be done either as a day trip from Reykjavik, or you can arrange to do it on site. We’d highly recommend you book in advance – there’s a listing of companies offering Silfra snorkelling tours here, and you can book them directly from that site.
Another popular year-round activity in Iceland is whale watching. Tours depart from a number of locations in Iceland, including Reykjavijkk, Grundarfjordur and Husavik, so wherever your Iceland trip takes you, you should be able to fit in some whale watching. You can see whale watching tour options and book in advance online here.
In summer, we think you’re definitely going to want to take a trip on the Jökulsárlón Lagoon. This will let you see the beauty of the glacier up close, as well as have the experience of getting up close to the icebergs in the lake. There are a number of tour options available, including a Zodiac Boat tour and an Amphibious Boat tour. Whichever you choose, we recommend booking in advance to avoid disappointment on the day.
One of the thrills of being in Iceland in summer is to experience the midnight sun – a time when it never really gets dark. There are a number of tours that capitalise on this experience, including this fun midnight sun ATV tour.
If you like wildlife watching, as well as whale tours, you can also go on wildlife watching tours to see all sorts of wildlife from seals to puffins and other birdlife. There’s a full list of wildlife tours you can take here – most of these only run over the summer when the wildlife is more active.
In Winter, we think you absolutely have to make the effort to try and see the aurora borealis, or the northern lights. If you’re driving yourself, you just need to find a spot away from city lights with a good view of the sky, and hope for clear conditions and high solar activity. The Icelandic Met Office website has an excellent tool to help you find the northern lights.
If you’re in Reykjavik, there are lots of tour operators who offer northern lights tours, including these options from Iceland Travel. This is a good way to see the northern lights, as the drivers will know the best places to go, and the tours will usually only go if there is a high chance of seeing the lights.
There are plenty more opportunities for adventure in Iceland in winter, from skiing, to snow mobiling to horse-riding. For more inspiration, check out our detailed guide to winter activities in Iceland.
When to Visit Iceland
In our experience, Iceland is a good country to visit at any time of year, with advantages and disadvantages to both times of year. Summer is definitely the most popular and when most people visit and the most attractions are open and the best months to drive in Iceland.
This itinerary on this page works well for both summer and winter in Iceland, as it doesn’t include any serious mountain roads which may be closed in the winter months.
Visiting Iceland in winter holds the advantage that prices are lower, there are less people visiting and finding accommodation will be easier. It’s also the best time to see the northern lights, which can’t be seen during the summer months.
Disadvantages of visiting Iceland in winter are that there will be much less daylight available, driving conditions can be more challenging (we strongly recommend a 4×4 vehicle with studded tires), and some attractions and tours might not be open or running. It will also be colder!
Summer in Iceland brings with it very long days, a bit more warmth, and lush green landscapes. The advantages are long hours of daylight, warmer weather and better driving conditions. More tours and attractions are also going to be open.
The disadvantages of visiting Iceland in summer are that prices will be much higher, there will be many more tourists and it can be harder to find accommodation. If you visit during the time of the midnight sun, you might also find it hard to sleep – we highly recommend packing an eye mask to block out the light, as hotels don’t often have black out blinds.
Where to Stay in Iceland?
Iceland has a wide range of accommodation options, from farm stays, vacation rentals and B&B’s through to higher end full service hotels. We’ve included links to where we stayed for each day of the above itinerary, and you can also check out Iceland’s listings on booking.com for a full range of options.
We also used AirBnB to book accommodation in Iceland, which is one of our preferred ways to find a place to stay if available. We also use a number of other sites like AirBnB, check out our full guide to AirBnB alternatives right here.
Further Reading to Help you Prepare for your Trip to Iceland
And that sums up our guide to taking a five day road trip in Iceland! Hopefully you’ve found this post useful. We’re continuing to add more content about Iceland from our experiences travelling in this beautiful country, so check back often for more. In the meantime, we think you’ll find the following resources useful for planning your Iceland trip:
- We’ve put together a detailed guide to help you plan your Iceland trip, which has everything you could need to help you plan an awesome adventure in Iceland, from budget tips to practical information and more. A must read and a good place to start your trip planning!
- If you choose to do this self-drive trip in Iceland in winter, check out our detailed guide to driving in Iceland in winter to help prepare yourself
- We’ve created a list of some of our favourite photography locations in Iceland from our travels there to give you some ideas of where to aim to get the best photos
- For a longer trip Jess has put together a detailed post outlining a seven day Iceland itinerary to give you some route ideas. Even if you are planning more or less, time this detailed guide can help you figure out where to go.
- If you’re visiting Iceland in Winter, check out our guide to the best winter activities in Iceland and
- my tips for cold weather photography
- We have a detailed packing guide to help you decide what to pack for Iceland
- We’ve also got a guide to the best day trips from Reykjavik should you wish to base yourself in the capital
- We travelled with Iceland Travel – check out their website for lots of different tour options and prices.
- The weather in Iceland can be fickle – the best website for real-time cloud cover is this one from the Icelandic Met Office.
- Whilst Iceland is a safe country to travel in when it comes to things like crime, the country itself is home to extreme conditions and all sorts of seismic activity. So to stay safe as you go, check out the safetravel Iceland page
- Finally, if you’re not sure what camera gear to take with, take a look at both our guide to picking a travel camera, and our personal travel photography gear
And that’s it! Is Iceland on your list, or have you already visited? Is there anywhere you’d add to our list, or any questions at all about travelling in Iceland? We’re happy to help out – just pop your thoughts and feedback in the comments below!