I have 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 guide books, maps, and blogs to create our 5 day Iceland itinerary. That’s a lot of work for a vacation, but it paid off.
Since our first trip to Iceland, I have returned twice, once in winter and again to visit Snaefellsnes and the West Fjords. I have also become a certified Iceland trip planner, helping over 20 families with their Iceland vacations. With all this experience, I’ve updated this post from when I first wrote it in 2017 to include what I’ve learned, and some new attractions that have recently opened.
You can follow this Iceland 5 day itinerary, or to make things super easy, I also sell downloadable, detailed PDF 3-day, 5-day, and 7-day Iceland itineraries for purchase.
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Before you go, it is important to realize that even if you find cheap airfare, Iceland is an expensive country to visit. I have put together this Iceland budget guide to help families and others understand how much a trip to Iceland costs. Also make sure to read my separate post of Iceland travel tips!
5 Days in Iceland Exploring the South Coast
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When to Visit Iceland
Trying to “do” Iceland in 5 days means you are going to be busy, so it is best to go in the summer when the days are long. I have also visited Iceland in the winter, but I still prefer summer when there is more daylight for exploring.
Keep in mind that a trip to Iceland means that you will be doing a lot of driving and also moving hotels frequently. Even with only five days in Iceland, there is no getting around moving a couple of times if you want to minimize driving.
Given the limited amount of time, you will likely want to focus your attention on the South Coast for your first trip to Iceland. This will allow you to fit in Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, black sand beaches, waterfalls, and maybe even the Glacier Lagoon.
If you want to drive the entire Ring Road and get to the more remote places like the West Fjords, you are going to need at least 10-14 days.
Getting to Iceland
On our first trip we flew IcelandAir from Boston to Keflavík, arriving at 11:40 pm on the summer solstice, just in time to get the full effect of the midnight sun. These days flights usually arrive in the early morning, which leaves you with the conundrum of what to do until your accommodations are ready for check in.
Ideally you would book for the night before, arranging for an early morning check in, but that is going to cost more. Since most flights to Iceland are fairly short, from the East Coast of the U.S. at least, you will be tired and it is hard to hit the ground running with a busy day. If you have a hotel, you can at least drop off your bags and walk around to stay awake. If you are staying in an Airbnb, there is luggage storage at the main bus station. On my last trip I ended up hanging out at the Hlemmur Food Hall until our Airbnb was ready.
Getting Around Iceland
Unless you are planning on using a private driver or taking tours, you will need to rent a car in Iceland. If you are going to just base yourself in the city and take day trips from Reykjavik, you can book the FlyBus to get from the airport to the main bus station (where you can switch to another bus for hotel drop offs.)
I would recommend using Northbound to check car rental rates from over 30 suppliers (including cars, 4x4s, campers, and motorhomes.) 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” gravel roads, it is a requirement. We were glad we had a 4×4 just for getting through the bumpy dirt roads you often drive on to get to waterfalls, hikes, and some tours.
When renting a car in Iceland, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Lines at the rental car offices can be quite long, be prepared and be patient.
- Additional insurance (particularly gravel and ash) is HIGHLY recommended and costly — build this into your Iceland budget.
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.
Reykjavik has been growing and it is no longer quite as hard to find a hotel room. (See my list of family-friendly hotels in Reykjavik.) Since hotels are so pricey, Airbnb was the way to go for our family.
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 and 15 minutes to the Harpa concert hall. On a return trip I stayed at a different Airbnb city center apartment that was right on Laugavegur that I also really enjoyed.
5 Day Iceland Itinerary
Day 1 – Reykjavik
If you are arriving in the morning, you may want to plan a stop at the Blue Lagoon on your way in to Reykjavik to kill some time. Personally I find it very touristy (see my Blue Lagoon review here), but I know many feel a trip to Iceland isn’t complete without seeing the Blue Lagoon.
After checking in to your accommodations, grab some lunch (see my recommendations on where to eat in Reykjavik.) Next, take a walk along the waterfront to see the Sun Voyager sculpture and make your way over to the stunning Harpa Concert Hall (Austurbakki 2). Be sure to walk around inside to see the light reflecting through the glass and the beautiful architecture.
After the Harpa, walk over to the Old Harbor for a Puffin Express boat tour with Special Tours. The tour is just an hour, leaving you plenty of time to explore but also giving you a close up view of these cute little birds. You will have built up an appetite, so stop for dinner at Icelandic Fish & Chips (Tryggvagata 11) — so yummy!
Take some time to explore and shop along Laugavegur and finish off with an elevator ride to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja church (Hallgrímstorg 1) for beautiful views over the city.
Day 2 – Golden Circle
Begin your day with a hearty breakfast from Sandholt Bakery (Laugavegur 36). If the line there is too long, Icelandic Street Food (Laugavegur 85) is a great alternative.
I recommend spending the second day exploring the Golden Circle. If you are interested in joining a small group tour or getting a private guide and driver, I would recommend using Hidden Iceland. Use promo code WE3TRAVEL to get 10% off scheduled group tours with Hidden Iceland. I did a tour with them recently and was so impressed with their knowledge and customer service.
If you want to avoid the big tour busses, do the Golden Circle counterclockwise, starting at the 6,500 year old Kerid Crater for a quick walk around the caldera. Next, you may want to plan a stop at the Secret Lagoon for a more rustic and natural hot spring environment.
Your next stop will be at the impressive Gulfoss waterfall. Give yourself time to walk along the various viewpoints and take in the double rainbows that you often find above the waterfall.
Ten minutes down the road you will come to the Geysir Visitor Center to watch the reliable Strokkur geyser erupting across the street. If you have time, add in a stop at the Laugarvatn Fontana spa for a tour of their thermal bakery (they bake bread in the ground). You can also have a late lunch there or you could stop at Efstidalur II, at Blaskogabyggd 801, a farm hotel and restaurant with great homemade ice cream.
End your day in Thingvellir National Park, the site of the country’s first Parliament. It is also a Game of Thrones filming site and a spot where you can see the rift between the two continents (and even snorkel between the tectonic plates!)
You can return to Reykjavik for dinner, or stop at Lindin, at Lindarbraut 2 in Laugarvatn. Lindin specializes in seafood (including whale and puffin) and game (like reindeer burgers) and isn’t the most kid friendly but it was fine for our foodie family.
Day 3 – South Coast
On your third day, you will want to check out and book a hotel room in the Vík area or ideally near the Glacier Lagoon.
Depart 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 — see my Iceland packing list!). 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!)
Continue 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. Make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy the falls!
Continue 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.
Next, 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. There was recently a rock fall here so part of the beach may be closed. In any case, stay away from the water’s edge as there are often rogue waves here that are dangerous.
Stop for lunch in Vík and take a walk out to the black sand beach to see the famous Reynisdrangur rock formations. I would also recommend checking out the new Icelandic Lava Show to experience the “fire” part of the land of Ice and Fire.
If you need, you can stop for dinner at Systrakaffi at Klausturvegi 13, 880 Kirkjubæjarklaustri. This nice cafe offers simple fare like pizza and hamburgers, but also nicer entrees like a very well-prepared arctic char. If you can’t find lodging near the glacier or closer to Vik, this is a good spot to look for an Airbnb.
If you are staying near the glacier lagoon, drive across the lava fields to the Jökulsárlón.
Day 4 – Icebergs & Glacier Hiking
Start your day at the glacier ice lagoon for a zodiac boat tour with Jökulsárlón. You will get to see all types of icebergs and with the zodiac boat tour, you can also get up close to the glacier face.
If you cross the bridge between the lagoon and the sea, you will get to Diamond Beach. It was named for the large chunks of ice that wash up on shore, glittering on the black sand beach like diamonds.
On the drive back towards Reykjavik or Keflavik, you can take a hike on a glacier. We took a three hour glacier hike with Arcanum Tours on Sólheimajökull glacier.
You can save 10% off scheduled group tours with Hidden Iceland with promo code WE3TRAVEL!
Day 5 – Reykjanes Peninsula
Before you leave Iceland, you will probably have time for a little more sightseeing. You can take a self-driving tour of the Reykjanes Peninsula.
If you have kids, they would enjoy a visit to the Viking World Museum near Keflavik airport to see a full-scale replica Viking ship that actually sailed from Iceland to Canada and the U.S. You can learn about Viking history and Norse mythology. Outside there is a small petting zoo and playground.
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