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Plan an Epic Iceland Road Trip: 3, 5 or 7 Day Iceland Itinerary

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Updated: 22nd December 2023

Iceland is undoubtedly one of the best islands to visit in the world. It’s wild, ethereal, and majestic while also being a humbling land of unforgettable experiences. Yet its landmass is more than some imagine, and ensuring that you get the most from your Iceland road trip will require a little bit of planning – both in terms of seasonality and which stops to spend your time at.

I know many Iceland itineraries cram a lot in, for example, suggesting to do the Golden Circle in just one morning (which would leave you little time for more than a quick photo stop at each spot) or even recommending day trips to Black Diamond Beach (not to be confused with the also heavily photographed Black Sand Beach) which is around a five-hour drive each way from Reykjavik. Sure, these work if you just want to tick off a list of attractions and spend the bare minimum amount of time at each sight – helped when visiting in the near continually sun-lit days of summer – but if you ask me, that would be tragic; the incredible landscapes and experiences that an Iceland road trip offer are best savoured slowly.

Still, I get that Iceland is an expensive country, and lingering to take your time can cost you both in terms of money and missed opportunities. As such, I’ve tried to craft these Iceland itineraries with that in mind, sharing a few suggested routes ranging from a quick three day Iceland itinerary to a more rounded seven day Iceland road trip – easily adaptable with your flight in mind.

Strokkur erupts around every 6-10 minutes
Strokkur erupts around every 6-10 minutes

Following the seismic activity in Iceland at the end of October 2023, some attractions (such as The Blue Lagoon) and other locations may be closed for safety reasons – keep an eye on updates and plan accordingly.

Planning your Iceland road trip: practical information

Before diving into suggestions of the day-to-day route of these itineraries, here’s a little practical information you should consider when planning your Iceland road trip. 

Getting around Iceland: tours, car rental, or buses 

There are a few different ways to explore Iceland, each with its own pros and cons. Driving is, of course, the most popular option and my personal recommendation, as this gives you much more freedom. While there are plenty of tours – this is how I explored on my first visit – the costs can quickly add up. There are also buses, mainly operated by Strætó, yet the downside of exploring Iceland by public transport is many of the services to popular destinations are only scheduled a few times per day, meaning (unless you’re planning a long trip) you’ll have to be selective about where you visit – tickets and bus passes also aren’t the cheapest. As such, most travellers would say a car or campervan rental is essential to enjoy true freedom during your Iceland road trip.

When choosing your car hire, be sure to check that local, on-the-ground support is available in case of any difficulties and that the office has extended opening hours (and out-of-hours drop-off), as some flights in and out of Keflavik are in the early hours. Family-operated companies such as Lava Car Rental offer a range of car rentals in Iceland, with SUVs, campervans and electric vehicles available alongside their standard affordable cars. Also handy is that all-important 24/7 self-service option for both picking up and dropping off. They also allow car rental without a credit card if you take the full insurance — something I always struggle to find with the big chains — and is considered one of the market leaders in Iceland, reflected in their accolades. You can also check with the rental company whether your planned Iceland itinerary requires a 4WD or if a standard rental car is suitable – you don’t want to overpay, nor do you want to get stuck in a tricky situation.

You can also bring your own car to Iceland on the Faroe Islands ferry. However, this is a long journey, and it’s certainly going to be cheaper to rent a car rather than take such a long detour via Denmark, where the ferry departs.

Road tripping Iceland in winter restricts where you can go.jpg
Road tripping Iceland in winter restricts where you can go

Which season is best for an Iceland road trip?

The best time to visit Iceland for a road trip will depend entirely on the experience you want to have and how comfortable you are driving in potentially adverse conditions. In the summer, you’ll have much more time to explore the island as the days are long – especially around the midnight sun when there are close to 24 hours of light – while in the depths of winter, you might only have a handful of proper daylight hours to discover the island.

Another consideration in winter is that camping is a no-go, and roads into parts of the highlands close due to snowfall. That said, I adore Iceland in winter (NYE is a great experience here); prices can drop dramatically, and seeing the snow-covered landscapes is dreamy. The bottom line is you’ll have to decide what experience you want from Iceland and then plan accordingly. 

Getting around Iceland needs a little more consideration in winter
Getting around Iceland needs a little more consideration in winter

How long should your Iceland road trip itinerary be?

Personally, I wouldn’t really recommend less than a five-day itinerary for Iceland unless, of course, you’re on a stopover and only have time for a flying visit. That said, most of the major airlines serving Iceland, such as Icelandair and even new budget-focused Play, offer the chance to plan some stopover days. The second time I visited Iceland, I used one of these stopover programs with the now-defunct WOW when I travelled between San Francisco and London, and it was a great way to enjoy two trips for the “price of one”. Personally, I’d say give yourself at least a week to enjoy your Iceland road trip, and if you want to do the full ring road, then most people will recommend at least a 10 day itinerary so you have time to enjoy all the majestic scenery without any need to rush.

Good to know: parking, rules, off-roading and road closures

Parking in Iceland is, for the most part, free. However, some popular attractions, such as Seljalandsfoss, have a charge. Reykjavik also has some zoned paid parking. There’s a local app (Parka) on which you can pay most parking fees and book campsites. You won’t encounter any toll roads unless you use the northern tunnel while doing the full Ring Road.

In winter, for safety reasons, all F roads (the highland gravel roads suited to 4WD) are closed, and some other roads can be shuttered, depending on the weather. If visiting in the winter, check on the website Road.is to keep up to date on any closures and keep in mind all other factors that apply when visiting Europe in winter. All off-road driving in Iceland is forbidden and punishable by fines; respecting the environment is of the utmost importance, especially given the sharp increase in tourist numbers in recent years.

Silfra is one of Iceland's most unique places to snorkel
Silfra is one of Iceland’s most unique places to snorkel

3 Day Iceland itinerary

On a three day Iceland itinerary, you’ll have a chance to experience some of the best things to do in Iceland close to the capital city of Reykjavik. If you’ve only got a long weekend to visit The Land of Fire and Ice, you’ll be able to get a decent introduction to the country’s landscapes, geothermal wonders, and wildlife with this three day itinerary that will work year-round. Tours are available to visit these attractions, but picking up a car on arrival will allow you to really maximise your short visit. The longest distances are covered on day two, so you have a full day and no need to rush back to the airport, though if you’re arriving in Iceland later in the day and have an evening departure, you might want to switch around days one and three. 

  • Day one: The Golden Circle (optional: snorkelling in Silfra)
  • Day two: Skógafoss (and Gljufrabui), Seljalandsfoss, Vik, Reynisfjara Beach
  • Day three: Reykjavik and The Blue Lagoon
Thingvellir National Park Church
Thingvellir National Park Church

Day one: The Golden Circle (optional: snorkelling in Silfra)

After landing in Keflavík and picking up your car, it’s time to get straight into your Iceland road trip. The Golden Circle – a popular route which pulls together the highlights near Reykjavik – is a great starting point, especially if you’ve arrived early in the day. It takes around three hours to drive the full Golden Circle route, plus, of course, you’ll want to make plenty of time for stops on the way. However, I’d propose that you end and sleep in Selfoss rather than doing the full loop, so you shave around one hour off tomorrow’s driving time heading south. There’s a campsite and a few decent hotels here.

With that in mind, head to UNESCO-listed Thingvellir National Park first. This was the location where Iceland’s Althing (parliament) used to meet, and you can enjoy a walk through the park, taking in the pretty church and even prettier landscapes. Here, you’ll also find Silfra, a rift where the continents’ tectonic plates meet. If you want to scuba dive or snorkel, you’ll want to book it in advance – no need for a tour with transport; you can meet the operators directly here to get your dry suit and enjoy the experience. I found the experience of snorkelling here unforgettable; just be aware you’ll need to allow around two hours, though, with a car, you’re not reliant on waiting for everyone else to finish their dive so that you can get away quicker.

Then, continue driving inland to Haukadalur, a geothermal valley where you can witness Strokkur erupting around every 10 minutes and the now less-active Great Geysir. Not far beyond is the mighty Gullfoss waterfall. On the drive back to Selfoss, you could detour to the ‘Secret Lagoon’ thermal baths if time allows.

Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland's best waterfalls
Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls

Day two: Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss (and Gljúfrabúi), Vik, and Reynisfjara Beach

If you’ve stayed in Selfoss, you’ll be looking at less than four hours of driving in total today. If you’re using Reykjavík as a base, then it will be over five hours in total – alternatively, if you have a late flight back on day three and you’re visiting in winter, consider staying along the south coast tonight in a small village in hopes of spotting the northern lights as there is less light pollution.

You’ve got a few ways of enjoying this drive heading southeast. You can either head straight to Vik and then work your way back, do all the stops en route and then drive directly back at the end of the day, or split the stops en route (my recommendation) so you break the journey up and are never driving too much in one go. For example, do a waterfall, then Vik, then another waterfall on the way back. 

Whichever way you choose, there are a handful of highlights you’ll certainly want to stop at. First up is my favourite, the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which you can walk behind to feel the cascade’s power. Next is Skógafoss, a spectacular 60-metre plunging cascade which is not far from the more hidden Gljúfrabúi waterfall. Allow at least one hour here to visit the upper viewing platform. Hopefully, you’ll also spot Icelandic Horses nearby. Lastly, you’ll arrive at the small village of Vik, from which you can easily access Reynisfjara Beach, best known for its jet-black sands and the Reynisdrangar lava-formed basalt rock formations. If you’re visiting in summer and can make the most of the longer days, you might want to book a guided hike on the Solheimajokull Glacier near Skógafoss. 

The Reynisdrangar rock formations
The Reynisdrangar rock formations

Day three: Reykjavik and The Blue Lagoon

To wrap up this three day Iceland road trip, spend some time in the capital city of Reykjavik. If you decided to stay in Selfoss again last night, you can enjoy a leisurely drive and perhaps a stroll in the geothermal Reykjadalur Valley en route. Once in Reykjavik, take a walking tour of the highlights, such as the Hallgrímskirkja church and the Sun Voyager sculpture. I’d also highly recommend paying a visit to the National Museum of Iceland, where you’ll get an insightful overview of the nation’s history without being overwhelmed or feeling rushed.

End your Iceland itinerary by driving back towards the airport to soak in the geothermal seawater spa that is the infamous Blue Lagoon. Sure, it’s touristy and perhaps not that authentic these days, but I found it truly magical – especially around sunset. You’ll want to book tickets online in advance to guarantee a visit, as it’s the most popular attraction on the island. This is also the reason I don’t recommend booking it straight after landing, as the time slots are highly contested, and if your flight is delayed, you may miss out. If you’re unable to get tickets, there are a couple of other options not far from Reykjavik, such as Sky Lagoon. After bathing, you’ll feel fully refreshed and ready for your flight – and if you have an intercontinental red eye, then the opportunity for a pre-flight shower and to get changed before departure will be much appreciated.

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most touristy places to visit in Iceland
The Blue Lagoon is one of the most touristy places to visit in Iceland

5 Day Iceland itinerary

If you’ve got five days for your Iceland road trip, then you’ll be able to fit in not just a few more of the best places to visit in Iceland but also enjoy some of the country’s most incredible experiences, such as kayaking on a glacier lagoon or even trekking atop the glacier itself.

  • Day one: The Golden Circle (optional: snorkelling in Silfra)
  • Day two: Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss (and Gljufrabui), Vik, and Reynisfjara Beach
  • Day three: Black Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
  • Day four: Heimaey Island for puffins (or whale watching) and Reykjadalur Valley 
  • Day five: Reykjavik and The Blue Lagoon

Day one: The Golden Circle (optional: snorkelling in Silfra)

Follow the suggestions of the three day Iceland itinerary above.

Vik Church
Vik Church

Day two: Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss (and Gljúfrabúi), Vik, and Reynisfjara Beach

Again, repeat the three day Iceland itinerary above, but instead of returning, book a place to stay around Vik instead. You can take the drive a bit more leisurely with a couple more stops, as you won’t need to return the same day. With this extra time, you could also spend some time at the Dyrhólaey nature reserve, just across from Vik’s black sand beach, where you might spot puffins as well as admire the natural arch at the end of the headland. 

Diamond Beach Iceland
Diamond Beach is a must-visit in Iceland

Day three: Black Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

It’s around another two-and-a-half-hour drive to Jökulsárlón from Vik along Route 1, so if you plan to journey there and back in one day, count on a solid five hours of driving. You can, of course, cut tomorrow’s island and puffin trip from this five day Iceland itinerary (especially in winter, as it’s not puffin season and days are shorter) and go a bit slower if you wish. This is also a good idea if you want to trek atop the glacier, as then you won’t be rushed or need to skip the other spots en route. For accommodation tonight, either return to Vik so you’re better placed for tomorrow’s island trip (less of a drive in the morning) or stay closer to the glacier so you can split some of the activities and stops over two days.

Either way, set off early to make the most of the day, as there are a few places between Vik and Jökulsárlón Glacier you’ll want to visit. If you want to trek atop the Vatnajökull glacier or kayak in the Jökulsárlón lagoon, you should have booked these experiences and guides in advance, and you can then plan your schedule around this.

First up is the striking river-flanking Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, propelled to fame when Justin Bieber filmed a music video here. You’ll want around an hour to walk the top trail from the car park. Back on the main road, you’ll then have the option to detour to Svartifoss waterfall if you wish. Just before Jökulsárlón, there’s also the Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon, which is often a little less crowded.

Still, you’ll want to spend most of today around Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Dotted with icebergs, this is the country’s deepest lake, and it’s absolutely mesmerising. Here, you can take seasonal boat or kayak tours on the waters to get a closer look at the floating ice and potentially spot the seals that call the lagoon home. On the ocean side of the lagoon, the Black Diamond Beach (Breiðamerkursandur) is just as picturesque, with the large translucent nuggets of ice providing an incredible contrast to the dark black sands. Behind it all is the vast Vatnajökull ice cap and its various outlets. Visiting the ice caves or trekking atop the glacier are some of the most incredible experiences you can have in the country, and the highlight of my visits to Iceland remains this corner of the country.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is one of the best places in Iceland to kayak in summer

Day four: Heimaey Island for puffins (or whale watching) and Reykjadalur Valley  

If you’re visiting between May and August, a boat trip to Heimaey Island is a great idea for several reasons. Firstly, it’s home to the largest puffin colony in the world, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to admire Atlantic Puffins. Secondly, you’ll get to see another side of Iceland by leaving the mainland for one of the islands. Thirdly, you might have the chance to see whales and other wildlife while visiting, especially if you take a boat tour with Viking, who operate trips around the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago from the main island.

From Vik, it’s around a one-hour drive to Landeyjahöfn, the departure point of the ferries. The crossing takes around 40 minutes, and there are sailings every couple of hours. You can take your car on the ferry (additional cost) or park for free at Landeyjahöfn and cross on foot – a decent option if you plan on taking a boat tour around the archipelago anyway.

End the day by driving through the geothermal Reykjadalur Valley back to overnight in Reykjavik. It takes around two hours to drive back to the city.

Day five: Reykjavik and The Blue Lagoon

To wrap up this five day itinerary for Iceland, follow the suggestions of what to do in Reykjavik on ‘day three’ of the three day Iceland itinerary above – you’ll likely have a bit of extra time, so you could squeeze in a couple more attractions such as Árbær Open Air Museum just outside the city centre before wrapping up at The Blue Lagoon.

Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland
Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland

7 Day Iceland itinerary

With one week in Iceland, you can see more of the country away from the most visited spots. If you don’t mind a fast-paced road trip itinerary, then you could consider doing the full Ring Road around the island, although if you want time to do this route justice and not feel rushed, a lot of locals would advise you to allow at least ten days. For a more leisurely seven day Iceland road trip itinerary, spend a couple of days in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula instead.

  • Day one: The Golden Circle (optional: snorkelling in Silfra)
  • Day two: Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss (and Gljufrabui), Vik, and Reynisfjara Beach
  • Day three: Black Diamond Beach and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
  • Day four: Heimaey Island for puffins (or whale watching) and Reykjadalur Valley 
  • Day five: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
  • Day six: Snæfellsnes Peninsula 
  • Day seven: Reykjavik and The Blue Lagoon

Day one to four: as above

Follow the five day Iceland itinerary above, staying in Reykjavik on the evening of day four 

Exploring glaciers and ice caves
Exploring glaciers and ice caves

Day five and six: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

From Reykjavik, it’s a little over two hours drive to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and then around another two and a half hours to loop around it. So, while it is possible to do this slightly more offbeat western part of the country as a day trip, it’s going to be rushed. As such, split it over two days and spend a night staying out here – the town of Grundarfjörður has perhaps the largest cluster and choice of hotels and guesthouses on the peninsula.

Highlights you’ll want to cover in these two days include seeing the peninsula’s iconic Kirkjufell, an almost conical green-carpeted mountain fronted by a waterfall (allow an hour or two for a scenic walk), a visit to the underground Vatnshellir Cave, an 8000-year-old lava tube, and the narrow Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge. While very different from the much more famous Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, it’s still a decent alternative, especially given the latter has been closed on and off in recent years due to the environmental damage of so much footfall. 

At the tip of the peninsula, the Snæfellsjökull National Park draws together many of the epic landscapes and natural phenomena that make Iceland so special, and at the heart of it all, the icecap-crowned Snaefellsjökull stratovolcano is a sight to behold. With two days to road trip the peninsula, you’ll also have enough time to to stop at one or two small fishing villages, such as Arnarstapi, visit the pebbles and dark sands of Djúpalónssandur beach, and witness the Hallmundarhraun lava field and waterfalls. There are also a couple of geothermal baths and hot spring spas here, such as Lýsuhólslaug, which would make for a more laid-back alternative to the Blue Lagoon.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Day seven: Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon

Follow the same suggestions for the last day in Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon, as detailed in the Iceland itinerary above.

Make your Iceland road trip longer with a 10 or 14 day itinerary

On a 10 or 14 day Iceland road trip, you can enjoy the Ring Road at a more leisurely pace, allowing time to really stop and explore places en route. From spring until autumn, you could alternatively add a Westfjords extension to the seven day Iceland itinerary or venture into the highlands if you’ve rented a 4WD.

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