Iceland 5-Day Itinerary
From the serenity of the landscapes, to the fascinating geology shaping the earth around you, to the steaming mineral water of the luxurious Blue Lagoon, to the rushing rivers falling over those iconic green cliff sides, Iceland is simply a dream. Rainbows complimenting sheep pastures, double rainbows arching over waterfalls, and boiling vents shooting geysers into the sky, there is so much to see on the island of Iceland! We were amazed by this country’s beauty, energized by its adventure awaiting us at every stop, and thrilled to be in one of the most purifying places on earth. Iceland should be on every traveler’s list.
Whether you’re most fascinated by the glacial lagoons, the nordic culture, the geology, or all of the above, everyone’s Iceland trip can be designed differently depending on interest. But what if you’re like me, and want a taste of it all? Want to see the best of the best and not limit yourself while in this beautiful country? That’s what this post is all about.
In this post I’ll answer the big questions. How long should you spend in Iceland? How can I fit it all in? Where are the best places to go? And how the heck do you pronounce some of these places? I’ll share with you our five day Iceland adventure which will ultimately give you a reasonable idea of how much time to spend here. I should start by saying that YES, Iceland can be done in 5 days. Granted we didn’t go everywhere, we still hit up all of the places we were wishing to go to and more. We visited all of the main Iceland attractions and also found lesser known places along the way. We were able to experience Icelandic culture, explore Reykjavik, see the main natural attractions on the South Coast and Golden Circle, and still had time left over for spontaneous adventures. Don’t worry, five days is the perfect amount of time and you won’t feel overwhelmed or rushed to see everything. Even if you plan on going for a shorter or longer amount of time, this post will help you get an idea for how to time manage your Iceland travel plans!
Let’s break it down day by day so that you can see our efficient and ideal Iceland 5-day itinerary.
We arrived in the morning from our flight from Minneapolis and went straight to the car rental. Driving is simply the best way to explore Iceland on your own. This country only has about 330,000 people, therefore there aren’t many other means of transport on the island. There are some bus lines in areas around Reykjavik, but if you want to get out and see some more of the natural sites you’ll have to rent a car. Just be aware that most of the rental cars are manual. There are some automatic but they are much more expensive. There are also several new traffic rules unlike most other places so I recommend you read my ‘What to Know Before Traveling to Iceland’ blog post to better familiarize yourself with them.
The first day in Iceland is all about adjusting to the time zone, getting a first feel of the place, and exploring downtown Reykjavik. We chose to spend our first two nights in Reykjavik because we were eager to explore the city. There are so many easy day trips close the city, so it’s a great ‘home base’ for daily excursions. Two nights in Reykjavik couldn’t have been more perfect for our trip itinerary.
Downtown Reykjavik- We spent our first afternoon exploring downtown Reykjavik. The colorful street buildings, the eclectic street art, and the inviting Icelandic clothing shops are all fun to meander through. It doesn’t take long to walk around this city by all means. We had scoped out all the main sites in a single afternoon: the spectacular Hallgrímskirkja Church, the striking Harpa Concert Hall, and the glorious Sun Voyager Statue just to name a few. As much as we wanted to party and eat downtown, we resisted because of expensive prices. We definitely recommend eating from the Bonus Grocery stores and limit the amount of times you eat out. A regular dinner could cost you up to $25 USD! The grocery store is way more affordable, so we stalked up for our week with home cook items and snacks. Note that Bonus grocery stores and grocery stores in general become more scarce the further away you are from the city. The few stores that exist in the Southern Regions have short opening hours.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs- By the time it was 6 p.m, we were itching to see some Icelandic landscapes. We hopped into our rental car and went straight to the Reykjadalur Hot Springs. It’s about a 45 minute drive from downtown Reykjavik and the scenery along the way is surreal. It was a very spontaneous decision for us to go here as we just saw it in an Iceland coffee-table guide book! Don’t worry about arriving there late in the summertime, because the sun sets super late. We went in early June and even though the sun technically sets super late at night there is still plenty of light out all day long! Evening was the perfect time to visit this heated river hot spring.
This hot spring is a 2 mile hike from the trailhead. Along the short hike are several rushing streams, boiling geothermal pots, and wide-open Mars-like landscapes. We recommend bringing ear plugs on this hike as the wind can be quite intense. Note that the wind wasn’t loud, it just wind tunneled into our ears and caused a few earaches during the hike.
Finally, we arrived to the heated river! There are several platforms to put your hiking gear on and a few wall set-ups to change behind. No matter what the weather might be, the river will always be plenty warm to swim in. Do as we did and bring a bottle of champagne to drink while relaxing in the river. You will meet other travelers and people soaking up the sun in the shallow river banks. Overall, this ended up being one of our favorite spots in Iceland that I feel is super underrated!
After an amazing and prolonged relaxation session in the river (mind you there is no rush to leave as the sun never sets), we eventually hiked back to our rental car and drove back Reykjavik. We were exhausted with jet lag and ready to pass out before our first full day.
After our first night in Iceland, it was time to go right to the famous Golden Circle of Iceland. This is one of the easiest places to access from Reykjavik, so we definitely recommend driving this circle when you are staying there. We left in the mid morning and started our road trip.
The Golden Circle has three major sites and several smaller ones along the way. We hit up all that we could and did so in about 7 hours! This was going at a very reasonable and comfortable pace. The Golden Circle doesn’t require much physical activity because all of the sites are easily accessible from the main road. The three major sites to visit are Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss Waterfall in that order.
Þingvellir- The first stop is Þingvellir (Thing-vell-ir) which is a historical site and national park. The park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of two tectonic plates. It is also the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. There is a central church and several old stone ruins that sit in a vast Icelandic landscape.
Strokkur- A short drive later is the spectacular Strokkur geyser. This stop isn’t just a lone geyser, but a labyrinth of boiling water pots and steaming mineral deposits. The main geyser, known as Strokkur, shoots up into the air every five minutes and varies in size every time.
Gullfoss– Gullfoss Waterfall is a short turnoff from the Golden Circle Road but easy to find with the abundance of signs pointing in the right direction. This waterfall is a must-see in Iceland and regarded as Iceland’s most grand waterfall. It is one of the top ten waterfalls in the world for good reason. The force shakes the earth surrounding it and sprays a sparkling mist up into the air. Make sure you bring a rain jacket, because if you want to get a good close look at the best of the falls you will get soaked from the mist and untimely water sprays.
There are so many stops along the Golden Circle Highway. Stops that overlook volcanic landscapes, beautiful Iceland horses roaming, and a giant volcanic crater lake! We stopped several times to interact with some gorgeous horses and check out these various sites.
Before we knew it, we had seen the entire Golden Circle! It isn’t even a full day in Iceland and we didn’t even rush. So what did we do for the rest of our day? We went on another road trip!
Reykjanes Peninsula- This road trip was around the Reykjanes Peninsula. Our local Icelandic friend showed us around and we really enjoyed it. We stopped at another fascinating geothermal boiling pot landscape, drove along the magical Kleifarvatn Lake, and stopped several times along the ocean. One of our favorite places to stop was the continental divide between Europe and North America. Have you ever had one foot in Europe and the other in North America? This was my first time!
We then drove to a great vantage point that looks out onto volcanic cliffs. The cliffs are occupied by thousands and thousands of seabirds. If you’re into wildlife like me, this is worth a quick stop. Along the drive you will spot the quaint town of Garður, a bright orange lighthouse, and several abandoned ship wrecks in the volcanic rocks! Finally, we finished our road excursion by stopping at an authentic fisherman’s town called Grindavik. Situated along a harbor, our friend took us to this fun cafe called Bryggjan to try a unique macaroon-type cake. I loved this place because there was a piano I was able to play for everyone. It attracted a local and lively crowd. This was definitely one of my favorite unsuspecting memories from the trip.
It was finally starting to get dark by the time we left Grindavik. Dark as in ‘not as bright as the rest of the day.’ We ventured back to our Airbnb and rested up for our next big day in Iceland.
We woke up and checked out of our Reykjavik Airbnb. Before leaving the city, I wanted to go to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja Church in downtown Reykjavik. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open until 12:15 p.m. on Sundays and we had a big day ahead of us, but at least the downtown parking is free this day! We did a final lap around the town, stocked up on groceries for the next two days (grocery stores are very scarce outside Reykjavik and have short opening hours), and departed for our South Coast adventures.
Seljalandsfoss- After two hours of driving past gorgeous scenery and possibly a hundred thousand sheep, we arrived to the iconic Seljalandsfoss. This is one of Iceland’s more popular waterfalls and ended up being my personal favorite. This one is unique because you can walk behind the falls inside the cliff. For your information: most of these sites in Iceland charge for parking. To avoid these unnecessary charges, we parked just outside the lot and walked a little extra to the falls.
Seljalandsfoss was spectacular! Visitors can walk behind it, to the top of it, and also to a ‘hidden’ fall a half mile from the main one.
Skógafoss- Our next stop was Skógafoss. This is one of Iceland’s most glorious waterfalls and definitely a must-see natural site. It may be the most crowded of them all but still worth it. We walked as close as we could to the fall and also walked up a steep staircase to see the river it was coming from. More often than not you will see a double rainbow form in the glittering mist. Alongside the parking lot for Skógafoss is yet another sheep farm where lambs came up to interact with us.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash- Next up was the Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck. This was a WWII jet that crashed in the year 1973 after running of jet fuel. Amazingly, everyone on the plane survived. The plane itself has remains abandoned on a black sand beach which attracts the photographers and videographers like me. The trail head for this stop is just a few kilometers from Skógafoss and more popular of a hike than you might think. If you see photos of nothing but this plane wreck in a vast open volcanic field that’s exactly what it is, except that there are crowds of people that visit it all throughout the day. I was curious to see it so I managed to drag my group to the site.
The sign at the lot says it’s a 3-4 hour walk roundtrip to the wreck which is completely inaccurate for most people. The two mile hike to the plane wreck is nothing but a wide open black sand landscape. It’s surreal, don’t get me wrong, but we didn’t want to spend our entire day out there. What did we do? We jogged to the plane in less then twenty minute to save time. There were many people who jogged there too so we weren’t alone.
Once you arrive to the plane it’s, well, exactly what you’d expect. It’s an abandoned plane on a black sand beach. Been there done that. We jogged back to our rental car and finished the roadtrip stop in about an hour.
Seljavellir Geothermal Pool– Our final big stop on this road trip was the Seljavellir geothermal pool. It’s a ten minute drive from Skógafoss and a place that is overlooked by many travelers. This heated pool was built in 1923 meant to teach local people how to swim. It wasn’t difficult to find even though you have to go on a few back roads. The walk is very short and the pool itself is in an amazing location. Mind you it is very slimy and dirty in the pool but the scenery is unbeatable. You might come out of the pool with strings of algae all over you. Also, the pool isn’t ‘hot’ but just ‘warm.’
It was a busy and fantastic day, but it wasn’t over yet. We still had to get to our second Airbnb that was located in Kirkjubæjarklaustur (try saying that place 10x fast). We were blown away by how amazing this private and secluded Airbnb was in the wilderness of Iceland. If you are interested to find out more details about this apartment, click the link here.
Jökulsárlón- We woke up to our incredible view at the Airbnb and then set off for our next big Iceland site: Jökulsárlón. This is a glacial lagoon that collects huge icebergs from one of Iceland’s largest glaciers. It’s also vibrant with seals and boating tours. If you want to get a closer look at these amazing bergs, the boat tour tickets can be purchased upon arrival.
This stop was definitely a highlight. It was the furthest stop away from Reykjavik we could fit into our five day itinerary but definitely worth the drive here. It is unique because every time you visit Jökulsárlón it can look completely different with the changing ice flows and ice drifts. You might think that the icebergs are all there is to see…just wait, there’s more.
Diamond Beach Ice Beach- On the other side of the road from the glacial lagoon is Iceland’s Black Sand Diamond Beach. This beach is a natural spectacle. Icebergs from Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon flow into the ocean via a very narrow river. The collisions against each other leave a crumb trail of solid, crystal clear ice along the volcanic beach. The shining sun+the black sand beach+clear glacier ice=a glittering ‘diamond’ effect from the ice. The contrast is truly stunning.
Svartifoss- With our main stop completed for the day, we looked for an activity to the fill the rest of our day with. We found Svartifoss, a short hike to a very unique fall. The walk is about 35-45 minutes and leads to a unique waterfall that is surrounded by dark lava columns.
We finished our day relaxing and drinking coffee at our amazing Airbnb.
The next day we enjoyed a slow morning in Iceland after a jam packed week. The theme of day 5 was all about relaxation. We had done a ton but we weren’t finished yet! Leaving the Airbnb at about noon, we headed off onto our final road trip.
We stopped and explored a few random churches on our way back to Keflavik. Fun fact about Iceland: if a church is locked you can simply ask a nearby house for a key!
Vík and Reynisfjara Beach- One of our final stops was the town of Vík. We had driven through this town but the way back we stopped to check it out. We stocked up on some groceries and stopped at the iconic Reynisfjara Beach. This is where I spotted wild puffins perched on the sea cliffs. Some of you might think puffins are not worth the hype at all, but me being a wildlife fanatic I was stoked to see them! The beach goes on for quite a ways and the cliffs have some amazing caves and caverns to explore. The most iconic spot on this beach is the natural basalt columns that you can climb onto.
This secluded spot was perfect for our Iceland beach picnic.
The Blue Lagoon- Finished with our afternoon in Vík, we were excited for the last major stop in Iceland: The Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal luxury spa that every Iceland visitor must experience. It was the perfect way to unwind and conclude our big week. We easily spent five hours here sitting, drinking, and relaxing in the warm pools. My favorite part was the heated waterfall that massages your back and shoulders. Amazing!
We met some amazing people here and could easily have made the Blue Lagoon our entire day. You should definitely allot as much time as possible for this destination as time slips away from you quickly during relaxation.
Look out for one of my future posts that will be all about the Blue Lagoon. I will share exactly what to expect. For example, you might not know that you need a reservation to the Blue Lagoon well in advanced before arrival. You must arrive around your reserved time in order to be granted entry. More tips about this destination to come in future posts!
Sadly, we eventually had to get out of the Blue Lagoon. For our final night we decided to stay in a cheap hostel in Keflavik that was five minutes from the airport. Our goal was to have really close proximity to the airport for our early morning flight the next morning.
I hope this post has helped you better understand Iceland and prepare you for your amazing trip here! Ultimately, I hope you have a better idea what you can do in Iceland in 5 days. Our experience was amazing and planned just the way we wanted it to be. We by no means felt rushed to see all of these places and this itinerary is totally do-able. Ten days in Iceland would be even more amazing in order to complete the drive around the entire Ring Road of Iceland….until next time! I definitely want to come back here one day to see the rest!
Check out my Iceland travel video from this trip:
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Written by Jeff Hyer