Planning a Trip to Iceland: A Sample Iceland Itinerary

I have a wee bit of a reputation for being an obsessive planner when it comes to our family vacations. But planning a trip to Iceland really took the cake. For our five days in Iceland, I spent over 20 hours pouring over my Lonely Planet guide book, visiting websites, and creating our Iceland itinerary. That’s a lot of work for a vacation, but it paid off in spades. To make your planning easier, I’m sharing our itinerary, plus some of the tips and changes that I would make based on our experience

5 Days in Iceland -- a sample itinerary includes a visit to Gulfoss in the Golden Circle

Gulfoss in the Golden Circle

As I recommended in my Iceland travel tips post, if you have less than a week, I’d recommend focusing your stay on South Iceland. With two weeks or more you could easily drive the Ring Road and experience much more of the country.

5 Days in Iceland: Our Iceland Itinerary

We visited Iceland around the summer solstice, staying six nights and five full days from June 20 – June 26, 2015. Given the limited amount of time, we focused our attention on South Iceland, splitting our time between three nights in Reykjavik and three nights at a cabin out in Geysir. Looking back, I probably would have done four nights in Reykjavik and two nights around Vík in either a cabin, Hotel Ranga, Frost and Fire Hotel or IcelandAir Hotel, in order to minimize driving.

Getting there

Five days in Iceland -- a sample itinerary -- we loved our flight on Iceland Air

Flying Iceland Air was a pleasure

We flew IcelandAir from Boston to Keflavík, arriving at 11:40 pm on Saturday night, just in time to get the full effect of the midnight sun. While we considered trying WOW Air (it was actually their advertised $99 each way fare that first enticed us to try Iceland), when we looked at all the added costs (seats, carry on bags, checked bags, etc.), IcelandAir was only a little bit more expensive and had a solid reputation. (Plus I’ve since heard some horror stories about WOW.) I’m actually really glad we flew IcelandAir because it was the most comfortable flight I have had for a long, long time. We were given a real blanket, pillow and a bottle of Icelandic water upon boarding. We had plenty of legroom and each seat had its own seat back entertainment system with coloring, games, music, documentaries about Iceland and plenty of movies (including a good selection of family friendly ones). Kids were given free kid’s meals, along with their own kit with child-friendly headphones, a blanket, coloring book, and crayons. The staff went out of their way to be helpful and to make everyone feel welcome. I would gladly fly IcelandAir again.

So this is what Iceland looks like at midnight on the summer solstice. #midnightsun #Iceland #IcelandAir

A video posted by Tamara Gruber (@we3travel) on

Getting Around

5 days in Iceland -- rent a car from Sixt

Driving near Dyrhólaey

There are plenty of bus tours in Iceland, but we are not really the type of travelers to join bus tours. We wanted the freedom to explore on our own. After checking prices we ended up renting a car with Sixt.com. Depending on where you are going, you probably won’t need an SUV, but if you are going to drive into the interior on any of the “F” roads, it is a requirement. We were glad we had a 4×4 just for getting through the bumpy dirt track to our cabin in Geysir. Our experience with Sixt was fine but there are a few things to note:

  • You’ll need to find your agent in the very crowded, very small meeting area outside of customs and he/she will drive you a couple of minutes away to their rental office.
  • Maybe it was just because we arrived at midnight or maybe it was because they do a very thorough job selling insurance but the check in process was really long. We didn’t leave the airport grounds until 1 am.
  • Like I said, they do a really good job of upselling you insurance. I’d recommend double checking with your insurance carrier at home or your credit card company to see if you have any coverage already before upgrading to theirs.
  • The GPS in the car was worthless. It appeared to be in French and inoperable but we hadn’t paid for it so no biggie. We did rent a MiFi device for $10 per day, which was totally worth it for navigation and Internet access throughout our trip. Just keep in mind that it is for a max amount of data and if you run out, you need to top it off. We made it through with what was provided, including using it for some Instagramming on the road. We would turn it on to start Google Maps and then turn it off once the directions started.

Where to Stay in Reykjavik

Reykjavik is a small, walkable city. If you stay anywhere in the core downtown area, you are no more than a 20-30 minute walk to all the main attractions. The city itself is clean and felt very safe, even when there were tons of people on the street at two o’clock in the morning. Nonstop sunlight does a lot for keeping people out and making you feel safer. There are quite a few hotels downtown but we decided to go with an apartment via Airbnb. If you have been following this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that we like to use apartment rentals when we are staying in cities and exploring. It gives us so much more space and flexibility, usually for less money, then staying at a hotel. If we are visiting an area to relax and enjoy a resort, that is a different story but for many of our trips, vacation rentals are the way to go for our family. (See my tips for using Airbnb or Homeaway/VRBO.)

We found a two-bedroom apartment on Airbnb in downtown Reykjavik that was a perfect location for exploring for under $200 per night. It was one block off the main shopping street, 10 minutes to the Sun Voyager statue, 15 minutes to the Harpa concert hall, 20-30 to the Old Harbour and around 15 minutes to Hallgrímskirkja. The apartment was a third-floor walk up so getting the suitcases up was a bit of a pain but after that everything was fine. We had a small terrace, room darkening shades for sleeping, a full kitchen and one full bath. There was also a small toddler bed in the second bedroom for families with young children. (Register for Airbnb here to get $25 off your first stay with my referral code.)

Day 1 – Reykjavik

5 Days in Iceland, a Sample Itinerary -- 1 day in Reykjavik

  • Breakfast at Elder and Is (Skólavördustígur 2) for crepes and coffee (also a good stop for Icelandic ice cream later in the day!)
  • Harpa Concert Hall (Austurbakki 2)
  • Puffin Express boat tour with Special Tours located in Old Harbour (hosted)
  • Lunch at Icelandic Fish & Chips (Tryggvagata 11) — so yummy!
  • Visited the Saga Museum to learn more about Icelandic history. Open 10 am – 6pm at Grandagardi 2, (near the harbour). Tickets are $16 for adults, kids are $6. (Note: I wouldn’t recommend this for young children as you explore using an audio guide, which is a bit long winded, and the history portrayed is very violent.)
  • Shopping along Laugavegar with stops in 66° North (warm weather gear) and Volcap (I loved this store where everything is handmade with Icelandic wool and the colors are inspired by the ice, fire and land of Iceland.)
  • Took the elevator to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja church (Hallgrímstorg 1), open 9am – 8pm, adult entrance 600 ISK and kids are 100 ISK.
  • Dinner at Fiskfelagio (The Fish Company) at Vesturgötu 2a near the Old Harbour. (Note: I loved the atmosphere here and the presentation but I’m not sure the flavors stood up to the high prices. I would try something different next time around.)
  • Walked along the waterfront to the Sun Voyager statue.

Day 2 — Waterfalls, Puffins and Icebergs in South Iceland

5 Days in Iceland, a sample itinerary

This was an extremely long day but worth every minute. I’d recommend doing this drive toward the end of the trip and breaking it up into two days, with a stay in the Vík area. On the first day I’d do horseback riding, the waterfalls, the puffins, Vík and a stop at the Skogar Cultural museum. On the second day I’d do Jökulsárlón.

  • Departed Reykjavik at 8am and drive along Rt 1 (Ring Road) 1 hour, 45 minutes to Rt 249 to Seljalandfoss waterfall. You can walk behind the falls (be sure to wear a good raincoat and rain pants). After walking behind the falls, follow the path a few hundred meters further to Gljufurarbui waterfall in a hidden valley (a highlight of our trip!)
  • Continued on Rt 1 another 30 minutes to Skogafoss waterfall in Skogar. You can walk to the foot of the falls or climb a staircase to see the falls from above.
  • Continued along Rt 1 to Rt 218 to Dyrhólaey (35 minutes), a stone sea arch where puffins nest. You’ll need to drive up a steep, narrow dirt road to reach Dyrhólaey. Just note that this area is closed during puffin nesting season. We lucked out because it was open and by leaning over the cliff slightly we got some close up views of these cute little puffins.
  • We were going to head back to Rt 1 and follow to Rt 215 to Reynisfjara (30 minutes), a black sand beach with amazing basalt columns, caves and sea stacks but we were running late so we skipped this on our drive out but ended up stopping here around 11pm on our drive back — thank goodness for midnight sun!
  • Stopped for lunch in Vík at the N1 service plaza and took a walk out to the black sand beach to see the famous Reynisdrangur rock formations.
  • We were going to continue 1 hr 30 minutes to Skaftafell National Park Visitor Center (open 8am – 9pm) and hike to Svartifoss falls (1.8 km from visitor center) or Skaftafellsjokull (3.7 km to glacier face) but we had to skip this stop because we were running out of time.
  • Drove to the Jökulsárlón glacier ice lagoon for a zodiac boat tour with Jökulsárlón (I was hosted, my family was 7500 ISK for adults and 3750 for children).
  • We stopped for dinner at Systrakaffi at Klausturvegi 13, 880 Kirkjubæjarklaustri on our drive back to Reykjavik. This nice cafe offers simple fare like pizza and hamburgers, but also nicer entrees like a very well-prepared arctic char.
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44 Comments on “Planning a Trip to Iceland: A Sample Iceland Itinerary

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  1. I love this! Definitely pinning for future reference since Iceland is a must-visit for me.

    iceland looks amazing! I’ve been considering this destination for a while so thank you for sharing.. I’m the same way if I’m travelling somewhere I’ve never been before or know very little about

      Good, I hope it can help then! Iceland is a terrific country that I hope you get to explore.

    Oh, you’re making me want to go back!
    We were there exactly the week after you but had 11 days there so snuck in a few more places, all wonderful, but still just south and west coast so must go back some day! (I have a 5-year-old so didn’t want to do too much driving.)

    We *did* fly WOW Air (out of London and then over to Berlin) and they were perfect – a fun and reliable airline, would happily fly them again.

      Amanda, so good to hear about WOW — now I wouldn’t mind giving them a try and the fares are great. Anything you would say is a must do on the West Coast? I wish we could have taken more time to see more and also go at a slower pace. Thanks for commenting!!

      Hi, I will be traveling with childrens 5,7 year old at the end of September. I’d like to take them with us to the glaciers, ice caves, waterfalls, see northern lights (hopefully!) and such but most of the tours I’ve read have a minimum age requirement of at least 8 years of age. Can you recommend a tour that will allow younger children?

        I’d recommend getting a car and self driving and spending one night in the country where you can see the northern lights from there.

    Looks fabulous! This destination has been on the bucket list for years.

      For an outdoors family you would love it!

    we just returned from a 10 day visit to Iceland, our second. We traveled via WOW. They are an efficient and competent airline, but one that weighs every bit of luggage. Pay careful attention tontheir luggage limits. On our first trip we dod the Golden Circle, so this time around we travelled to the west fjords. It was wonderful, in particular we enjoyed Budir and Hvaamstangi. We would also recommend Kex, in Reykjavik.

      Thanks for the recommendations John and your thoughts about WOW. That is what I expected based all all their restrictions.

    Thanks for a fantastic resource. We are planning a visit to Iceland next year in late June/early July so I’ll be bookmarking your guide and referring back to it as I finalise my itinerary.

      Excellent!! Enjoy and look for more posts on activities and packing tips coming soon.

    Is it still a place worth visiting in january for a new years trip or will it be too cold? 5-10 days both seem like a great op tion.

      I know a lot of people who have gone in the winter to see the northern lights. You won’t be able to do as much with limited sunlight though. Check out some posts on a Brit and a Southerner — they went last December.

    Your dog sledding experience must have been amazing! I’d love to visit Iceland and to see those beautiful glaciers

      Thanks, it was. I can’t wait to share more pictures and video from that experience. Coming soon!

    Very nice article and it seems like you had so much fun. I am also planing on going there soon with my kids. I am a traveler like you and I have been traveling over 10 years and not been to the Island yet. Thanks again for sharing.

      Enjoy your trip Marc! If you have any questions I can help with just let me know. Great to connect!

    I love how you laid this out. I saw cheap flights for Iceland at the beginning of summer it sounded tempting but bc we knew nothing about it we didn’t jump and purchase them. Wishing we had… but I added it to our list for the future anyways. The sledding seemed absolutely amazing!!!

      Thanks!! Jump on those fares next run you see them. The sledding was a perfect day.

    The perfect summer itinerary! I love it! Definitely pinning for our next trip over.

      Thanks for pinning! It was a super-busy trip but if you can spread it out a little more, it will be easier with littler kids.

    Iceland has been on my list for a long time. So glad I have a resource here when we finally make it happen!

    I’d love to visit Iceland someday. Thanks for the great tips!

    What an incredible trip! Iceland is definitely on the list.

    Loved this! My fiancé and I will be going for our honeymoon this June. Very helpful. So there was snow for dog sledding in June? That’s when y’all went correct?

      Yes, you have to drive out to a glacier an hour or two north of Reykjavik to get to the snow but we did it in June.

    We are traveling through (2 adults, with our 6 & 11 year old) and have an 11-hour layover at Keflavik. Having a difficult time deciding if we should do the Blue Lagoon along with the Viking World Museum or shuttle over to Reykjavik for a bit. Any advice?

      When are you traveling? 11 hours is a good amount of time. I’d be tempted to find a tour out to see some of the waterfalls (Skogafoss and Sejlandfoss) so you could get a real sense of the landscape that makes Iceland so unique. Personally I didn’t love the Blue Lagoon and would think most kids wouldn’t want to stay in the water longer than an hour so it would be hard to do spa treatments and relaxation unless you traded off some with the kids. Altogether you would only spend 3-4 hours there tops if you also ate there. I definitely loved the Viking World Museum but you only need about an hour there. If you rented a car you could do that and Reykjavik. Unless you went out on a whale watch or puffin tour (summer), then you don’t need the whole time to explore downtown Reykjavik. I hope that helps!! Be sure to check out some of the other posts for more detail on many of these activities. Have fun!

      Blue Lagoon is a must! I spent 12 years in Iceland growing up. I am planning to take my family back soon. The last thing I will waste my money on is a museum. They can read that in books. There is so much beauty to Iceland that needs to be experienced!

    Dear Tamara, I really enjoyed reading about your trip and all the recommendations. We are planning a trip to Iceland and really would like to get your help planning. Thank you!

      Hi Marina, thank you! If you want to hire me for trip planning, please send me an email at tamara@we3travel.com and I’ll send you some info.

    Hello Tamara, where did you fit Gulfoss into your visit? I saw a picture of it but not listed on your itinerary.

      We did it on the day we went dog sledding. We were staying out in Geysir and hit the geyser and Gulfoss that afternoon.

    Incredible guide Tamara! My wife and I are following this guide almost to a T so you saved us a ton of work!

    P.S. I was trying to find a way to support ($) your amazing work – I clicked your links to book some tours (Puffin, Arcanum, etc.) but not sure if you get a referral fee for those.

      Thank you so much Rikin! I don’t think any of those are affiliates but some hotels and things are so I really appreciate the effort.

    Hi tamara,
    Thank you for the valuable information! tHE PICS AND VIDEOS ARE GORGEOUS. We could not resist taking this trip after reading your blog :-). We are planning to travel to iceland with kids age 4 &61/2 FOR 7 days & 6 nights around the end of june . BASED ON THE AGE RESTRICTION ON ACTIVITIES LIKE DOG SLEDDING AND GLACIER HIKING, WOULD YOU STILL RECOMMEND STAYING AT vIK or geysir for 2 nights instead of homebase at Reykjavík with day trips? TIA!

      I would recommend staying out in Vik if you can find a place. That way you don’t have to have extremely long days just to see the waterfalls and such. You could even do one night out at the glacier lagoon to see what on the duck boat tour and not have really long rides all in one day.

    This was so helpful and looks like the perfect trip. We are planning to go to iceland for about 7 or 8 days at the end of July (can we dogsled then?) with our 18 and 16 year old. We are a very active outdoor family. I love your itinerary because I don’t want to have to drive somewhere every day. I know you said you wished you stayed in vik for 2 nights. I notice you posted one hotel there of the three you named that you liked. The other two are in different locations. Can either of those be used to see the golden circle/glacier hiking etc.? Any other suggestions for activities??

      I’m so glad you found this helpful! I believe you can dog sled in July but I’d check their website. IcelandAir Hotel Vik would be a great choice but Hotel Ranga is also a great location for Golden Circle and glacier hiking. While you may not be making huge day trips from Reykjavik every day, you will still be moving around quite a bit, that is just the nature of going to Iceland, you need to drive to see the sights. Other great activities are the Buggy adventure, super jeep tours, Into the Glacier, glacier lagoon boat tour, whale watching, rib safari around the Westmann Islands…so much to do!! If you want to go in July I’d look into your hotels ASAP as many are already fully booked. Have a great trip! If you need planning help, check out my planning services as well.

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