Visiting Iceland: Detailed Itineraries for the Land of Fire and Ice

Icelandic waterfall and green landscape
Last updated: 8/7/23 | August 7th, 2023

Windswept volcanoes. Black sand beaches nuzzled against rugged coastlines. Secret hot springs hidden in misty valleys while majestic waterfalls cascade from every hill.

Welcome to Iceland.

It’s a destination unlike any other in Europe. Its unique landscapes and natural wonders perfectly complement the modern capital of Reykjavik with its café culture and boozy, rambunctious nightlife.

Iceland is known as both the Land of Elves and the Land of Fire and Ice. It’s a country where you’ll find smoldering active volcanoes and vivid blue glaciers side by side. Horses and sheep dot the countryside, colorful puffins flock along the cliffs, and whales breach the choppy Atlantic waters that envelop this tiny island.

And, while it’s not the most budget-friendly country in the world, there are still ways to see the sights without breaking the bank!

If you’re planning a weekend getaway or want to drive the entirety of the island, this list of Iceland itineraries will ensure that you see the best the country has to offer!

 

What to See and Do in Iceland: One Weekend in Reykjavik

Day 1
Aerial view of Reykjavik, Iceland with the beige Church of Iceland in its own plaza, towering over the low colorful buildings of the city
Take a tour of the city
I always like to start my trips with a free walking tour. They’re a fantastic way to see a destination, learn about its history and culture, and get all your questions answered by someone who knows what they’re talking about. City Walk offers great free tours of the city. They’ll help you get a sense of Reykjavik so you can decide what you want to revisit later. The tours are donation based, so just make sure to tip your guide!

If you want to take a paid tour, check out Get Your Guide. They have a ton of tours on offer so there’s something for every interest and budget, including an Icelandic food tour!

Explore Laugavegur
When you’re in need of a coffee or snack, go for a stroll down Laugavegur, a shop- and café-lined street in the center of the city. This is the oldest (and coolest) street in Iceland, and you’ll find everything from expensive couture to dollar stores here. Be sure to stop in a bakery for a pastry or a coffee. My personal favorite is Mokka Kaffi.

Visit the National Museum of Iceland
After that, make your way to the National Museum of Iceland, where you will learn everything you need to know about this tiny Nordic nation. The most famous piece in the collection is the Valþjófsstaður door, a piece carved in the Middle Ages that illustrates the saga of the lion and the knight. The museum does a fantastic job of giving you a robust history of the country without being boring.

If you want to visit a more unconventional museum, consider a visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Colloquially known as the Penis Museum, this small institution is home to the world’s largest collection of penises and penis-themed art. Yes, you read that right! There are almost 300 items in the museum, including whale penises and (allegedly) troll penises!

National Museum: Suðurgata 41, +354 530-2200, thjodminjasafn.is. Open daily 10am-5pm. Admission is 2,500 ISK (get your ticket in advance here).

Icelandic Phallological Museum: Hafnartorg, Kalkofnsvegur 2, +354 5616663, phallus.is. Open daily 10am–7pm. Admission is 2,750 ISK.

If you plan on these two as well as other museums, consider the Reykjavík City Card. You’ll get access to many of the capital’s main museums (including the National Gallery and Museum), public transport, and the seven geothermal pools in the capital area, and discounts on dozens of other attractions (such as 20% off the Phallological Museum), cafes, and restaurants. It offers a ton of value if you plan to see and do a lot!

Go for a swim
Once you’ve gotten tired of walking, go for a refreshing swim in the Laugardalslaug Geothermal Pool. Swimming and saunas are how locals relax and unwind after work. It’s basically a national pastime. This pool is Iceland’s largest and was built in 1968. It’s actually a whole complex with hot tubs, a thermal steam bath, a waterslide, and even mini golf! If you have extra time, check out the nearby garden and zoo too.

Sundlaugavegur 105, +354 411-5100, reykjavik.is/stadir/laugardalslaug. Open weekdays 6:30am-10pm and weekends 8am-10pm. Admission is 1,210 ISK, though if you have the Reykjavík City Card, it’s free!

Take in the nightlife
End your day enjoying the city’s famous nightlife back around Laugavegur. This is one of the best party cities in the world, so there’s something for everyone. Just make sure to go during happy hour so you don’t blow your budget (alcohol in Iceland is not cheap!). A couple of my favorite hotspots in Reykjavik are Kaffibarinn (this café transforms into a dance club on the weekend), Lebowski Bar (a Big Lebowski–themed bar), and Slippbarinn (the first proper cocktail bar in the city).

Where to stay in Reykjavik: Kex Hostel – This Scandi-industrial-chic space has a café and bar with an awesome happy hour, a comfy lounge, and a heated patio. The complex is also the long-term home of artists and designers, adding a hip, creative element to the place.

Day 2
The massive Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland on the Golden Circle
Explore the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle — comprising Gullfoss waterfall, Strokkur geyser, Þingvellir National Park — is the biggest tourist draw in Iceland. You’ll want to start your second day early and head out of town in a rental car (or on a tourist bus on one of the daily tours from Reykjavik).

The round-trip journey is around 250 kilometers (155 miles), so plan accordingly when it comes to food and fuel (if you’re driving). If you’re driving, you’ll also be able to stop regularly to see the many Icelandic horses that you’ll pass by.

For the best rental car prices and selection, use Discover Cars.

Experience the famous Blue Lagoon
This is one of the most iconic destinations in Iceland. The pools are quite large, and the whole area is steamy, with the water a stunning milky-blue color that is rather photogenic (which is why the lagoon is so popular on social media). It’s a beautiful and luxurious way to end the day, and a great place to relax right before you depart.

Personally, I think the place is a bit overhyped but if you’re short on time and don’t plan on leaving the city it’s the perfect way to end your trip. You can book a ticket with round-trip transportation from Reykjavik here.

Norðurljósavegur 9, +354 420-8800, bluelagoon.com. Open daily, but hours vary, and prices also range greatly based on season and time of day. Check the website for an up-to-date schedule and pricing.
 

What to See and Do in Iceland: Four Days in the South

In addition to the itinerary above, here are some activities you’ll want to add if you plan on getting further outside of Reykjavik to explore the southern region of Iceland.

Day 3
the huge and popular waterfall Seljalandsfoss near the rugged coast of Iceland
Experience nature
Head southeast on the Ring Road from Reykjavík to scout out some waterfalls. Be prepared and bring swimsuits, towels, a waterproof camera, and a jacket.

  • Reykjadalur – Stop in the town of Hveragerði to visit the Reykjadalur hot spring (or hot pot, as they are known locally). It offers a gorgeous backdrop of rolling hills and mountains, and it’s free to enjoy. You’ll need to hike a bit to get there (30-40 minutes), but it’s worth it! Keep in mind that there’s not a private changing area here, so you may want to wear your swimsuit under your clothes.
  • Seljalandsfoss – Continuing on the Ring Road, you’ll come to the picturesque Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It has a drop of 60 meters (200 feet) and is another highly photographed spot in Iceland, so try to get there early before the tourist buses. You have to pay for parking, but, otherwise, it’s free.
  • Skógafoss – Another epic waterfall is Skógafoss. Legend says that you can find a treasure chest behind this massive waterfall. This is also the starting point for a long, multi-day hike, but you can also just climb to the top and walk for as long as you’d like before returning. There’s a small museum nearby as well if you want to learn more about the history of the waterfall.
  • Seljavallalaug – This hot pot is located a short walk off the Ring Road. It’s not super hot, and the change room has seen better days, but it’s secluded and it’s worth it just for the scenery, as it’s located at the bottom of a deep valley.

Make your way to Vík
Head to the charming little town of Vík and spend the night there. Vík is a seaside village with a glacier that covers the Katla volcano. It’s also home to some amazing black sand beaches and a DC-3 plane wreck in Sólheimasandur (located on the coast between Skógafoss and Vík).

Where to stay in Vík: Vík HI Hostel – This charming hostel has a café/bar, a female-only dorm, rooms for families, and a kitchen so you can cook your own food if you’re on a budget.

Day 4
Desolate Reynisfjara, the black sand beach in Iceland
Chill at the beach
Wake up in Vík and go for a stroll on the otherworldly Reynisfjara black sand beach. There are some offshore rock formations you can see from the shore and from the cliffs above if you feel like a hike. If you’re here from May through August, you may even get to see some puffins!

Take in the view
If there’s time, head up the hill to see the small Vík i Myrdal Church. It overlooks the town and gives a complete view of Vík and the ocean. Grab a coffee at a local café and enjoy the scenic vista.

Head for home
Head back to Reykjavik. See more sights, chill in more cafés. Take a more in-depth walking tour, such as the Elves & Trolls of Iceland Walking Tour Do whatever you want before you have to head home!
 


What to See and Do in Iceland: Four Days in the North

If you want to get away from the crowds, go north. Northern Iceland is one of the least-visited regions of the country and has a lot to offer the intrepid adventurer, including majestic hikes, more varied landscapes, whale watching, fewer people, and a better chance to see the Northern Lights!

Day 1
Sprawling fields near Akureyri, Iceland
Travel north to Akureyri
Start your adventure off by taking a 40-minute flight north to Akureyri from Reykjavik. Icelandair runs several flights daily, with prices starting at 11,500 ISK. If you don’t want to fly, it’s a 5-6-hour drive from Reykjavik up the west coast, which can easily be done in a day. You’ll just want to factor in a few stops along the way to sightsee!

Explore Akureyri
Take a self-guided tour of the town, visit the Akureyri Botanical Gardens, hop in the local swimming pool, or just explore the relatively small town and sip on some kaffi (coffee) and “happy marriage cake” (rhubarb jam–filled pastry with a buttery oat crust) from Kristjánsbakarí. Soak up local life as much as you can before you go!

Where to stay in Akureyri: Akureyri Backpackers – This is a laid-back hostel with a cool bar, great staff, and really hot showers (there’s even a sauna)!

Day 2
The horseshoe-shaped Goðafoss waterfall in Iceland
Visit the Waterfall of the Gods
Make your way to Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods. It’s a majestic semicircular waterfall that’s close to Akureyri on the Ring Road. The waterfall is over 12 meters (39 feet) tall and 30 meters (98 feet) wide, and (not surprisingly) is highly photogenic! Enjoy the view before heading onward to Mývatn.

Head to Mývatn
Spend the day in Mývatn, starting off with a hike around Lake Mývatn. There is an easy trail you can follow that lets you stretch your legs and enjoy the natural beauty of the region. You can easily hike the lake in a few hours if you go at a leisurely pace. Then head to the Mývatn Nature Baths geothermal pool, where the water, drawn from underground hot springs, reaches 37–39°C (98–102°F) and the pool’s iconic milky blue color is created from the reflection of the sun on silica-rich water. It’s much quieter (and cheaper) than the Blue Lagoon (Admission to Mývatn Nature Baths is 6,490 ISK).

There’s not much else to do here. It’s a quiet town for relaxing, but the lack of lights makes it a wonderful place to see the northern lights!

Where to stay: Dimmuborgir Guesthouse – Located right on Lake Mývatn, this guesthouse offers both rooms and cottages with fully equipped kitchens, all with stunning views of the lake. There’s also a fantastic breakfast buffet with all locally-sourced foods (including smoked trout they prepare themselves).
 
Day 3
the colorful city of Husavik in Northern Iceland
Pretend you’re on Mars
Next, you’ll want to head toward the coastal town of Húsavík. On your way there, stop at Hverir and Krafla, two geothermal areas with Martian-like craters and lakes. Steaming sulfur fills the air, giving this whole area an otherworldly ambience. You can just stop to take photos or go for another hike.

Visit Dettifoss
Next, head to Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. There are two roads leading here from the Ring Road: 862 and 864. The latter is riddled with potholes, but in my opinion offers the better view. Just drive slowly and keep an eye on your tires! Enjoy a snack by the waterfall and take in the scene. When you’re ready, drive to Húsavík (you can take the 864 north from Dettifoss).

Visit the Whale Museum
Whaling has been a part of Icelandic culture for centuries. And while there is a global moratorium on hunting whales, it’s still worth learning about these massive creatures, their habitat, and their impact on the country. They also have a full blue whale skeleton!

Hafnarstétt 1, +354 414-2800, hvalasafn.is/en. Open daily with hours varying depending on the season. Admission is 2,200 ISK per person. If you go whale-watching with Gentle Giants, you’ll get 20% off your museum ticket.

Where to stay: Árból Guesthouse – Spend the night in sleepy Húsavík at this budget-friendly guesthouse. However, if it’s northern lights season, stay at Arbot HI Hostel. The hostel is in a relatively secluded spot outside of town so you’ll have a great view without having to worry about light pollution.

Day 4
A huge whale breaking the surface and leaping into the air near Iceland
Watch the whales and explore the coast
Wake up early, head to the coast, and go whale-watching. There are a few different companies you can book tours with here, including Gentle Giants, who have a partnership with the Whale Museum (see above). Whale-watching tours usually last around 3 hours. Expect to pay around 10,990 ISK for adults. The prime whale-watching season is April–September.

When you’re done, explore the hiking trails around Húsavík. You can find a list of the trails on the Visit Húsavík website. Pop into some of the local shops and cafés to get a sense of small-town life here in Northern Iceland.

See some unique architecture
Travel to nearby Laufás, which is located west of Húsavík. Here you’ll get to see the old turf houses, traditional Icelandic homes that are timber framed and covered in grass. The furnishings are from around 1900, and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time. While in Laufás, take a small detour and check out the church. Inside is a decorative pulpit from 1698!

Have an Icelandic feast
Go back to Akureyri to dine on fresh fish at a seafood restaurant like Rub23 or enjoy the catch of the day at wine bar and bistro Eyja. Don’t forget to sample the country’s famous ice cream from Brynja too!
 

What to Do In One Week in Iceland: Golden Circle and Southern Iceland

Day 1-2
Puffins on a cliff in Iceland
Head East
Fly into Keflavík International Airport and rent a car. Head east from Reykjavík along the Ring Road to start your adventure!

Soak in the hot springs and search for puffins
Head east for a soak in the Reykjadalur hot springs in Hveragerði. Camp or stay at the hostel nearby so you can get another soak in before heading onward.

While you can try and spot puffins yourself, the best way to see them is to book a tour. Short guided tours from Reykjavik cost around 8,000 ISK while combo whale watching and puffin tours cost around 16,000 ISK.

To get a bit off the beaten trail, take the ferry to the Westman Islands for the afternoon or an overnight stay (you’ll find plenty of puffins here during the summer season!). There are very few tourists here, so it’s a nice way to escape the crowds and relax.

Chase some waterfalls
Venturing onward along the Ring Road, head to Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls. At Skógafoss, the 29-kilometer (18-mile) Fimmvörðuháls Trail begins. If you want to hike the entire trail, you can stay at the Volcano Huts at the end of the route and then take a bus back to Skógafoss in the morning. If you’re fit, you can do this hike in a day. Otherwise, you’ll need to bring tents and camp halfway.

If an epic hike isn’t in the cards, stroll around the area before continuing east toward Vík.

Tour a crash site
Before you get to Vík, you’ll want to check out the DC-3 plane wreck in Sólheimasandur. It’s about a 45-minute walk from the parking lot at the Ring Road (you can no longer drive directly to the site), but it’s worth it to see the crash up close. If you’d rather skip the walk, there is also a daily shuttle between the parking lot to the crash site (it runs between 10am-5pm, with a round-trip ticket costing 2,900 ISK). Dress appropriately, as it can get windy near the coastline.

Spot puffins
Continue on to Vík and stop to see the black sand beaches. There are also two short hikes nearby that take you up the cliffs. They offer incredible views of the areas, and if it’s the right season, you can go puffin spotting!

Where to stay: For your first night, stay in at Reykjadalur Guesthouse in Hveragerði (right near the hot spring). That way you can wake up early and go for another soak before you leave. If you’re on the Westman Islands, stay at Guesthouse Hamar, a family run guesthouse, for a cozy local experience. When you get to Vik, stay at Vík HI Hostel.

Days 3-4
Icebergs in the lagoon in Iceland

Hike Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
This 2 kilometer-long (1.2 miles) canyon dates back to the Ice Age. It’s over 100 meters (328 feet) deep and makes for a great place to hike or have a picnic and enjoy the view. The road to get there is full of potholes, so drive carefully.

Explore Vatnajökull National Park
Hike in the Skaftafell wilderness area to see the glaciers of Vatnajökull National Park. There are plenty of hikes here, both long and short, for outdoorsy types. For a shorter hike, head to Svartifoss, another photogenic waterfall surrounded by long columns of black basalt (the waterfall’s name literally translates to “the black waterfall”).

To go places that wouldn’t be safe to go on your own, you can take a guided hike of the glacier and an ice cave in this region as well.

Klapparstígur 25-27, +354 575-8400, vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is. The park itself is open 24/7 though the Skaftafell visitor center is not. See the website for more details, including camping information and weather updates. Parking is 1,000 ISK per vehicle per day.

Visit Jökulsárlón Lagoon
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon borders the national park, and you don’t want to miss it. There are huge icebergs from the nearby glacier floating in the water and the lagoon flows into the Atlantic Ocean. You can follow the stream out to sea and watch the glaciers as they meet the ocean. Best of all, this is right on the Ring Road and it’s all completely free. (Though you can also pay to take boat trips around the lagoon or a guided tour of the nearby ice cave — part of the largest glacier in all of Europe!)

Tour the coast
Continue on the Ring Road to Höfn or Djúpivogur, two tiny coastal towns. Get a taste of what life is like in small-town Iceland while exploring the winding coastline. There’s a hidden hot spring outside of Djúpivogur to reward you for making it so far up the coast too!

Where to stay: If you’re ending your day in Höfn, stay at Höfn Hostel. You can see the Vatnajökull Glacier from the town, and everything is within walking distance. If you’re heading on to Djúpivogur, Hotel Framtid is your best choice.

Days 5-7
Blue lagoon in Iceland
Return to Reykjavík
Hop in the car and head back to the capital city. Stroll the cozy streets, take a free walking tour, and enjoy some of the city’s plentiful happy hours.

See the Golden Circle
Wake up early and drive out to see the three main sites of the Golden Circle. The sooner you start, the better, as you’ll be able to beat the tourist buses there and get some photos without the crowds. You’ll also have time to hike in Þingvellir National Park if you want to stretch your legs. Stock up on snacks for the day in Reykjavik to save some money (the cheapest supermarket is Bonus, so shop there!).

Relax at the Blue Lagoon
If you’re craving another dip in a hot pot, head to the Blue Lagoon before your flight home. You’ll be able to end the trip on a very relaxing note!
 

Two Weeks: Exploring the Ring Road

The iconic Kirkjufell mountain standing tall in beautiful Iceland
With two weeks, you will be able to drive the entire Ring Road without rushing. You’ll have time to enjoy the rugged east coast and places like Seydisfjordur, explore the second-largest city Akureyri, hike around the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and maybe even dip into the Westfjords.

Start in Reykjavik, head east, see Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, explore Vík, visit the Jökulsárlón Lagoon, detour over to Seyðisfjörður, then head over to Dettifoss, Mývatn, Goðafoss, and Akureyri.

After exploring Akureyri, continue west to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula for some hiking. Make sure you stop off to see the iconic Kirkjufell mountain, which is one of the most photographed spots in all of Iceland. Snæfellsnes National Park is home to Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000-year-old volcano capped by glaciers. You can book a glacier hike here or just explore the rest of the park on your own. It’s right along the coast too, so you’ll be met with some gorgeous views. Stay at The Freezer hostel (it has great live music.)

If you have time and want to get off the beaten trail, detour into the Westfjords in the northwest, or visit the Westman Islands off the south coast.

If you want to be more focused on your trip, you can split Iceland up into smaller geographic areas. One fun route to take is to head west to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, then up into the Westfjords for some hiking and relaxing before flying back to the capital. This will be the most remote part of the country, so you’ll have a lot more space and privacy to enjoy your trip.
 

One Month: Exploring All of Iceland

road in Iceland during sunset
With one month, you can see the entire island of Iceland. Take multi-day hikes, visit to the less-explored Westfjords, an area many tourists skip due to a lack of time (and paved roads); visit Hrísey and/or Grímsey, the very remote islands in the north with fewer than 100 inhabitants each; or the Westman Islands, or explore more parks in the interior of the country (it’s very remote, very unvisited, and very, very awesome).

If you’re traveling on a shoestring budget and planning to camp and hitchhike in Iceland, you’ll need this longer travel time to make sure you aren’t rushed, as sometimes you’ll be waiting a while for a lift.

But with a month here, there’s very little you can’t explore!

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Iceland really does have something for everyone. While it’s not cheap, there are tons of ways to save money in Iceland to make these itineraries doable for even the most frugal budget traveler. But don’t take my word for it. Get out there and explore the Land of Fire and Ice for yourself!
 

Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Iceland!

Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Iceland!

Want to plan the perfect trip to Iceland? Check out my comprehensive guide to Iceland written for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guides and gets straight to the practical information you need. You’ll find suggested itineraries, tips, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, and my favorite non-touristy restaurants, markets, bars, transportation tips, and much more! Click here to learn more and get your copy today.


 

Book Your Trip to Iceland: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.

Want More Information on Iceland?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide to Iceland for even more planning tips!