Planning a trip to Iceland and overwhelmed by all the options? I certainly was! I spent months planning our 10-day Icelandic itinerary — making sure we wouldn’t miss any Instagram-worthy hot spots (obviously!) but also planning stops to escape the tourism onslaught. After all, the secret on Iceland is out — with an estimated 2.3 million visitors expected this year (up a whopping 30 percent from the previous year!).
Renting a car is the way to see the country once you’re ready to say good-bye to Reykjavik. The 830-mile Ring Road runs the entire circumference of the country and is paved and well-maintained. Just watch out for those speed cameras! Seriously, they’re everywhere.
Ten days in Iceland was the perfect amount of time for us. This itinerary can be modified with more or less time (since I tend to pack in A LOT and exhaust Kevin!). But what we liked most is that the trip doesn’t include long stretches of driving — about 3 hours on most days. You know, since you came to Iceland to see all that nature. Okay, and maybe post those shots of you relaxing in some hot springs. We got that covered too. Enjoy!
Day 1 – Travel Day/Reykjavik
- Flight: We flew low-cost WOW Air. It was a direct 8-hour flight from Los Angeles. You’ll pay for everything on board (even water), but hey, at least it was cheap. They have iPads you can rent with just a few movies (most of which I already saw).
- Hotel: Check into the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina – 2 nights
- One of our favorite hotels on the trip. Perfect location, and beautiful property.
- A key reason for booking here was its proximity to all the car rental offices, just a 10-minute walk.
- Room rates vary, but we secured ours for $192 USD a night.
- Once checked in, grab a light snack at Stofan Cafe, just a 10 minute walk away
- Grab a cab (or walk 45 minutes) to Lugar Spa — a relaxing way to finish off your day. Entry to the spa is by retina scanning – you’ll feel like James Bond. They even have an outdoor heated waterslide!
Day 2 – Reykjavik
- 10 AM Get oriented with Reykjavik Bike Tours (2.5 hours; $66 USD per person) or join a FREE walking tour offered by CityWalk Reykjavik.
- Wait, did you say free tour? Yep! We did the biking tour, which is kept very small (in fact our tour was just the two of us). We biked by the walking tour, which had about 12 people (since who can pass up free?)
- Afternoon exploring downtown shops, or enjoy one of the many cool Reykjavik Cafes like Stofan Cafe, Cafe Babalu or C is For Cookie.
- Grab a hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Yes, this is a thing! Even Bill Clinton ate here (before he went vegan).
- 6-8 PM, our top pick in all of Iceland: Tin Can Factory
- Run by husband and wife, Egill and Gigja, this is by far the best intro you’ll get into Iceland culture. They offer a course called “Meet the Natives” (twice a day) that includes a history lesson as well as an explanation on the origin of the Sagas and how to speak the language. Best of all? You’ll taste traditional Icelandic dishes you’d likely never buy or order (lamb head anyone?) and make some food yourself!
Day 3 – The Golden Circle (National Park, Geysers and Waterfalls)
Time to hit the road! This is why you’ve come to Iceland after all, right? To see nature. Walk 10 minutes from the hotel and pick up your rental car in the morning (9:30 AM). You’ll head out for a road trip adventure and follow a route known as the Golden Circle (waterfalls, geysers and nature). First up is a visit to Þingvellir National Park (the site of the oldest existing parliament in the world). From Þingvellir, you’ll pass through the tiny town of Laugarvatn and I recommend grabbing lunch at the unique restaurant Efstidalur II (where the speciality is burgers with tables morbidly overlooking all the cows…well, at least you know your food is fresh!).
After lunch, continue to the great geyser geothermal area. The area hosts dozens of geysers and hot springs, the most powerful of which (Strokkur) erupts every 8 minutes or so with such force that the boiling hot water shoots high into the air. Continue further to Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most majestic waterfalls.
Make a quick detour to relax a few hours at Fontana Geothermal Baths back in the town of Laugarvatn (our legs were so tired with all the walking so this was another nice highlight). Before heading to your hotel (in Hella), you’ll visit the impressive volcanic crater, Kerið, and the town of Selfoss where you can get dinner at the cozy Kaffi Krus.
- Þingvellir National Park
- Efstidalur II – lunch spot (in the town of Laugarvatn)
- Geyser Geothermal Area
- Gullfoss Waterfall
- Fontana Geothermal Baths, located in Laugarvatn
- Kerið Crater
- Selfoss – dinner stop at Kaffi Krus
- Hella (overnight)
- 220 kilometers, or 3 hours 10 minutes of driving
- Stracta Hótel Hella – 1 night ($145 USD). Hotel has outdoor hot tubs and saunas as well as breakfast included.
Day 4 – Waterfalls, Black Beaches, Vik and a National Park
After breakfast, you’ll continue the road trip along Iceland’s south coast (hitting the road around 9 AM). What’s great about today is that nearly every stop is about 30 minutes driving (totally breaking up your day). You’ll first stop at Seljalandsfoss waterfall for an exciting walk behind the falls to see the water crash in front of you (bring your rain gear or risk getting soaked!).
As you make your way to the next stop, you’ll want to do a photo opp at the old houses of Drangshlíð (allegedly home to Iceland’s legendary elves and a true hidden gem).
A little further, the powerful Skógafoss waterfall plunges 60 meters making a big splash (and you can get your cardio in by climbing the stairs to the very top). Next up, you’ll visit the Black Beach Reynisfjara, where huge basalt columns seem to rise from the ocean bed in mysterious formations, and the Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve where the drive up will test your nerves but the views are worth it. At this point, you’ll time your trip to reach your first planned tour, snowmobiling on Mýrdalsjökull Glacier with Extreme Iceland Tour Company. They have all the gear for the trip but you’ll want to bring extra layers!
After the tour, you’ll drive to the charming small town of Vík for dinner at the immensely popular Scandinavian restaurant Sudur Vik before continuing over desolate floodplains as you travel to Skaftafell where you’ll spend the night. The drive from Vik to Skaftafell will be the bulk of your drive today taking a total of 90 minutes.
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
- Drangshlíð – Farmhouses along the road and allegedly home to elves
- Skógafoss Waterfall
- Mýrdalsjökull Glacier (3 PM Tour)
- Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve
- Reynisfjara (Black Beach)
- Vik – Dinner stop at Sudur Vik
- Skaftafell National Park – overnight
- 3-4 PM Snowmobiling on Mýrdalsjökull Glacier. Cost for 2 people is around $485 US with Extreme Iceland Tour Company
- 264 kilometers or 3 hours 40 minutes driving
- Hotel Skaftafell – 1 Night ($185 USD a night) – Our least favorite hotel on this trip (but it could have been worse!).
- There aren’t many options in this area and we wanted to maximize our time (or more importantly have to drive from Vik in the morning about 90 minutes away).
- It’s your call but we’d recommend staying closer by and getting some rest!
Day 5 – Skaftafell Hiking, Roaming a Glacier Lagoon and Chilling in Hot Tubs in Hofn
Our original plan was to do an organized glacier hike (but bad weather cancelled it). But you’re in Iceland with weather that turns on a dime! We opted to do our own hiking for free. And it turned out to be spectacular. Start your day at 10 AM to hit up two hikes that both begin at the Skaftafell National Park visitors center: Svartifoss hike (to see a lovely waterfalls; about 1 hour roundtrip) then hike to the base of the glacier (1 hour roundtrip).
You’ll wrap around noon, where you can head to the awe-inspiring Jökulsarlon glacier lagoon. Here, massive ice blocks float in the lagoon and drift lazily towards the ocean (and you can walk around these massive blocks all scattered on the beach). On the spur of the moment, we joined one of the 30-minute glacier boat tours (which I’d wholeheartedly recommend and are $50 USD per person). You’ll feel like you’ve left planet Earth.
Next, you’ll drive to your last stop in Hofn where you’ll dip into the Hoffell Hot Tubs ($5 USD per person) then wrap your night with dinner at the Pakkhus Restaurant famous for Langoustine (aka lobster).
- Skaftafell National Park, trekking the Svartifoss trail to see a waterfall then doing a hike to the foot of the glacier
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon – explore on own and then take a 30-minute boat ride
- Hoffell Hot Tubs – remote and soothing baths near Hofn
- Hofn – Dinner at Pakkhus Restaurant
- 4 PM boat tour on the Jökulsarlon glacier lagoon. $50 USD per person for a 30-minute ride with Glacier Lagoon
- 137 kilometers or 1 hour 45 minutes driving
- Milk Factory, Hofn – 1 night ($200 USD), includes breakfast and free bikes
Day 6 – Eastern Fjords, Dettifoss Waterfall and the Wonders of Lake Mývatn
It’s a heavy day of driving (but you’ll end up at a hot spring!). From Höfn, continue through the tranquil Eastern Fjords — an area that I referred to as “Roadside America of Iceland.” You won’t see many other tourists in this part — and many of these stops are pretty quirky (so come with a sense of adventure). After threading the fjords, you’ll arrive in Djupivogur, a blip of a town with one of our favorite stops of the day at JFS Handcraft. Upon arriving, you may think you ended up at the wrong place (after all, it is literally someone’s house). But soon, you’ll be greeted by it’s owner, Jon, who is incredibly friendly and passionate about collecting rocks. He’ll take you back into the rock garden, and if you’re lucky like us, inside his home to see his really impressive stone collection. His enthusiasm is contagious and while many of these items are for sale, there is no pressure to buy.
Before leaving town, swing by Eggin i Gledivik, a bridge lined with stone eggs (we weren’t totally impressed, but is a nice spot to stretch the legs!). The next stop is Stöðvarfjörður to see local Icelandic rock celeb Petra. This is the much more built up version of your previous rock garden. Petra’s Stone Collection is a massive complex full of rocks and other curiosities of a woman named Petra who’s home became a major stop for visitors. Petra has since passed away but her family members carry on her legacy. You’ll continue this road trip to Fáskrúðsfjörður, a village with a population of just 662 people and home to a nice French fisherman museum inside the Fosshotel. Inside they re-create a French hospital and life for this French community that fished the coasts of Iceland. Continue through the fjords to Reyoarfjorour.
Next, we stopped at Sesam Bakery where we chowed down on some traditional pastries (and the old standby of chocolate chip cookies!). Okay, so we had our dessert first. But you’ll be hungry for dinner soon after all this driving. Head next to Bistro Skafell in Seyoisfjorour. Trust us, you’ll be surprised at just how hip this place is.
You’ll then hit the long part of the drive as you make your way to relax at the Mývatn Nature Baths. We have to admit, these baths were our least favorite in all of Iceland (despite its great rating on TripAdvisor). It was crowded and lacked quality facilities compared to other spas. But check it out if you must — so you don’t feel like you missed out on anything. But we warned you!
- Djúpivogur – home to quirky JFS Handcraft and a bridge lined with stone eggs
- Stöðvarfjörður Fjord – Petra’s Stone Museum
- Fáskrúðsfjörður – A French fishing port, now home to a French museum
- Reyoarfjorour – Icelandic Wartime Museum (open in summer only) and the Sesam Bakery
- Seyoisfjorour – Dinner at Bistro Skafell, one of the best meals in the entire country
- Myvatn – Thermal Baths (open until 10 PM)
- 400 kilometers or 5 ½ hours driving
- Vogafjós Guesthouse – 2 nights ($381 USD total)
Day 7 – Whale Museum, Whale Watching, Ásbyrgi Canyon, Lake Myvatn
Start the day by watching the cows get milked at the Vogafjos Cowshed Cafe during breakfast and taste the fresh milk (7:30 AM).
After breakfast, visit the town of Húsavík, often referred to as “The Whale Spotting Capital of the World.” Húsavík was the first place in Iceland to offer successful whale watching cruises. The Husavik Whale Museum is an educational information center on marine wildlife. The museum re-creates whale body structures from actual skeletons of beached whales (giving a sense of just how big they really are). Plus, the museum has free coffee inside (bonus!). We spent 2 hours at the museum before hopping on the 12:30 PM speed boat puffin and whale watching tour with Gentle Giants.
This is not to be missed — the speed boat will get you right up next to the whales (as you zip past all the other passenger boats). They provide all-weather gear since it will be cold no matter what time of year as you fly on the boats. Following the tour, head 45 minutes by car to Ásbyrgi canyon (horseshoe shaped canyon) where you can hike around the canyon rim.
We were planning to visit nearby Vesturdalur and Hljóðaklettar, a hiking area with bizarre basalt rocks. However, the road to Hljóðaklettar was not passable (in early Spring!). This part of Iceland is also the ideal spot to see the Northern Lights if it’s wintertime. Re-trace the drive back through Husavik back to Lake Myvatn where you can grab dinner and drinks at the very trendy Hotel Laxa. Windows surround the bar and you can kick back with an Icelandic Viking Beer or a wine from the long list that includes European and South American wineries.
- 7:30-8:30 AM Cow milking and breakfast at Vogafjos Cowshed Cafe
- 10 AM-12 PM Tour The Husavik Whale Museum (45 min drive from hotel at Lake Myvatn)
- 12:30-3 PM whale and puffin watching tour
- 4-5:30 PM Hike Ásbyrgi Canyon (45 minute drive from Husavik)
- 6:15 PM Dinner or drinks at Hotel Laxa (45 minute drive from canyon)
- Highly recommended (a major highlight) : Gentle Giants whale watching & Puffin tour in Húsavík ($178 USD per person)
- 2 1/2 hour tour, we recommend the Big Whale Safari and Puffins Tour by speed boat, but there are many options
- 205 kilometers or 3 hours driving
- Vogafjós Guesthouse – night 2 of 2
Day 8 – Myvatn, Akureyri (the Capital of the North), Skagafjordur
Wake up early, and walk around the geothermal Mud Pots of Hverir near your hotel.
Today, you’ll cover a lot of ground. And hit the road to visit the second largest city in Iceland, Akureyri. Before reaching Akureyri, take a quick break to gawk at Goðafoss waterfall, known as “waterfall of the gods.” There are some nice trails you can hike around the falls. You’ll arrive in the walkable city of Akureyri where I recommend doing some shopping and grabbing some pastries at a Kristjans Bakery. After exploring, you’ll head out to the countryside. Head towards Dalvik where you should stop at the cozy coffee shop Kaffihus Bakkabræðra (now say that 5 times fast!).
Continue the drive north until you reach Siglufjordur, a town that offers the odd-sounding Herring Era Museum. This museum completely blew us away, and is another must-see stop. Next, you’ll drive to Saudarkrokur, a town known for its agriculture and horse breeding. Take a 1 hour evening horse ride with Iceland Horse Tours through the stunning landscape before heading back to town and grabbing dinner before everything shuts down, such as at the Kaffi Korkur (or called KK Cafe by locals). Then go to bed!
- 8:30-9:15 AM Mud Pots of Hverir
- 9:45-10:30 AM Goðafoss waterfall
- 11:15 AM -1 PM Lunch and shopping in Akureyri
- 1:30 PM Quick stop at cute cafe in the town of Dalvik (Kaffihus Bakkabræðra)
- 2-3 PM Herring Era Museum in Siglufjordur (hours vary, so check before arriving)
- 4:15 PM Arrive in Saudarkrokur
- 5:30-6:30 PM Take a horseback ride with Iceland Horse Tours
- 7-8 PM Dinner in downtown Saudarkrokur (Kaffi Korkur)
- Saudarkrokur – evening horseback ride for 1 hour with Iceland Horse Tours
- 365 Kilometers or 3 hours 40 minutes driving
- Hotel Tindastoll – 1 Night ($233 USD)
- Another favorite – this historic hotel is considered the oldest hotel in Iceland. The walls are thin, but there is so much charm here.
Day 9 – Northwest Iceland, charming Stykkishólmur
Today is a more leisurely day. You’ll start the day with a tour of the local tannery in town. They make fish leather as well as leather out of ostrich legs! Drive North and stop at Glaumbær Folk Museum, which is worth the price of admission to see how Iceland farmers survived in the early 1900s in these grass farmhouses.
Next you’ll stop at the Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi and learn more about these shy sea animals. You’ll continue your journey to the remote town of Stykkishólmur, a charming ocean-side town with a relaxing atmosphere. Finish your evening with a dip into the local hot pool then drinks at Sjávarpakkhúsið.
- 10-10:30 AM Fish tannery in Saudarkrokur (great info at the back of the store on the process)
- 10:45 AM -12 PM Glaumbær Folk Museum
- 12:15-2 PM Icelandic Seal Center at Hvammstangi
- 3:30 PM Arrive in Stykkishólmur – hit up local hot pool then get drinks at the restaurant, Sjavarpakkhusid
- 480 kilometers or 3 hours 40 minutes driving
- Comfort Guest House – 1 Night ($148 USD)
- More of a private home, with shared facilities (rather than a traditional hotel).
Day 10 – Journey to the Center of Earth, Scenery of Snæfellsjökull National Park
So sad – the trip is coming to an end. But you’ll end strong. Today, you’ll explore the Snæfellsnes peninsula, driving along the small towns of Arnarstapi and Hellnar. Your first organized activity of the day is a 45-minute tour through Vatnshellir Cave. This is an 8,000 year old lava tube and starting point in Jules Verne’s novel Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Snæfellsnes peninsula is an area referred to as “Iceland in miniature” because it offers so many of the things found all over Iceland. If Snæfellsnes peninsula looks familiar, maybe you’ve seen it in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring Ben Stiller. The glacier looming above you is said to have mysterious powers, and that people are drawn here. A recommended coastal walk runs between Arnarstapi and Hellnar (about 45 minutes each way). From the Snæfellsnes peninsula, head back to Reykjavik where you’ll chill at the Blue Lagoon Spa before heading off back home.
- 11-11:45 AM Tour of Vatnshellir Cave
- 12-1:30 PM Hike between fishing villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar
- 1:30-2 PM Coffee/snack at Primus Kaffi
- 6 PM Blue Lagoon, leave Reykjavik
- 11-11:45 AM Tour of Vatnshellir Cave ($30 USD per person)
- 6-9 PM Blue Lagoon timed entry ($80 USD per person)
- 333 Kilometers or 4 ½ hours driving
That’s it! What a trip – enjoy your time in Iceland and bring plenty of layers. Safe travels!