I present to you the ultimate 6 day Iceland road trip, complete with a detailed agenda, hotels, too many photos to count, a packing list and some helpful tips along the way. I went with my friend Maggie who you may recognize from last year’s Yosemite trip. Since we had already been to the top of one waterfall it just made good sense to continue chasing waterfalls in Iceland. A couple months of planning, a Google Map and multiple Google Sheet itineraries went in to this trip (it’s possible I’m a type A personality). Here’s what it looked like:
- Day One: Blue Lagoon, Reykjavík, Hallgrímskirkja
- Day Two: Geysir, Kerið, Gullfoss, Friðheimar, Secret Lagoon
- Day Three: Háifoss, Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi, Skógafoss
- Day Four: Sólheimasandur DC-3 Plane Wreck, Dyrhólaey, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Fjaðrárgljúfur
- Day Five: Vesturhorn Mountain, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon, mossy lava fields
- Day Six: Reykjavík
Before diving in, a few thoughts on the overall experience:
- Iceland was incredible. That’s it. Thought #1 and the most important one.
- Next time I’d like to road trip around the entire Island, would probably have to spend 10 days.
- You have to go in not having crazy expectations. I wanted to go to Landmannalaugar but it was going to be out of the way. We wanted to see the Northern Lights but it was cloudy and/or raining every night. We had another waterfall scheduled but we were drenched through from rain and decided to skip it. The trip was still incredible and the rain gave us at least 5 spectacular rainbows. No complaints at all! Although, rain pants would have been nice 🙂
- Our first day, an employee at our hotel told us there’s a saying in Iceland that “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” No statement has ever proven more true. Check the weather and prepare for anything and everything.
Day One: Reykjavík
TIP: Go to the Blue Lagoon right after you land.
We landed around 6:30am, grabbed coffee, waited for our rental car and headed straight to the Blue Lagoon for 9am appointments. You’ll have to make an appointment ahead of time. Yes, it’s a bit expensive, but also totally worth it. Every plane ride should be followed by a dip in a hot spring. Here’s another tip: you may want to avoid getting your hair wet. They give you conditioner to pre-treat, but your hair will be kind of crunchy for a few days after. No big deal, but good to be prepared for.
After the Blue Lagoon we walked around Reykjavík for a bit. Our first stop was the church: Hallgrímskirkja. We took the elevator to the top for pretty stellar views of the city. This will cost $9 but if you want a view of the whole city (and the view you probably see all over Instagram and Pinterest) you have to go.
We stopped at Reykjavík Roasters for coffee (we were running on lack of sleep) and then Brauð & Co. for a loaf of bread (this bread carried us through 4 days of road-tripping and was amazing).
We walked down by the water to Harpa, a gorgeous concert hall known for its glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. This is a picture inside looking up.
We decided on Íslenski Barinn for dinner. Highly recommend the lamb burger.
Hotel: Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura
Car Rental Tips:
- Rent a car with 4 wheel drive (ideally a small SUV or larger). Most of the driving on Highway 1 is paved, but as soon as you turn off for some of these locations, you’ll be on gravel roads that are uneven and have potholes.
- Get wifi for the car. This was fantastic and guaranteed that we could look up our next location and get Google Maps up and running.
- Most of the cars will be stick shift. I already drive one, so not a big deal, but definitely good to know if you don’t! You can rent an automatic but they are rare and I’ve been told cost more.
Day Two: Golden Circle
Ok here’s where our route didn’t make that much sense. I’ll tell you what we did but also suggest what you should do. I meticulously planned everything but a result of a last minute addition combined with Airbnb pulling the wrong address, we did a little back and forth.
Our route: Reykjavík > Geysir > Kerið > Gullfoss > Friðheimar > Secret Lagoon
What you should do: Reykjavík > Kerið > Friðheimar > Geysir > Gullfoss > Secret Lagoon
TIP: If you go to Friðheimar for lunch (which I recommend!) make a reservation ahead of time
The first place we stopped was Geysir. It actually worked out that we went here first (even though the route didn’t make so much sense) because it was not terribly crowded. When we drove back by here in the afternoon there were so many people. The geothermal field has multiple hot springs and Strokkur Geysir, which erupts.
I had never heard of Kerið despite my meticulous trip planning. I showed my coworker my itinerary a couple weeks before and he came back with two glaciers, Friðheimar and Kerið. It’s a volcanic crater with dark red dirt and aqua blue water. You can walk around the perimeter on both the top and bottom of the crater.
Gullfoss is a very popular and large waterfall pretty close to Geysir. You can walk up next to it and then above for a pretty cool view.
We made a reservation late at Friðheimar, a restaurant in a tomato greenhouse. I recommend making a reservation a few days before to get one at the time that makes most sense for you based on your route. We opted for the endless tomato soup and bread, and ate a ton of tomato soup and bread.
Secret Lagoon was another coworker recommendation. If you learn anything from this blog post, ask everyone for Iceland recommendations, because you’ll learn things you wouldn’t know of otherwise (I’m sure I still missed a bunch). We decided that (1) a hot spring is the absolute best way to end a busy day and (2) hats + hot springs are a fashion staple.
Hotel: Horse Breeding Farm Jaðar (Airbnb)
Day Three: Icelandic Horses & Waterfalls
Airbnb > Háifoss > Seljalandsfoss > Gljúfrabúi > Skógafoss
We stayed at an Airbnb right near Gullfoss called Horse Breeding Farm Jaðar. I highly highly recommend it! The guesthouse was beautiful and had a large porch that we would have enjoyed had it not been raining. The hosts were so nice and gave us a tour of the farm where we were able to see the horses up close. Everyone wants to see an Icelandic horse on their trip, few people get to actually walk around with them on a farm, pet them, and have them try to chew your new jacket (yes that happened once).
I kept coming across this waterfall on Instagram and it wasn’t too far out of the way, so I assumed it was a pretty popular spot. I guess I assumed wrong. After you leave the main road, it’s about 25-30 minutes on an unpaved road that this Chicago girl would consider off-roading. Don’t attempt without 4 wheel drive. But so totally worth the drive. There were only two other cars in the lot and this canyon + waterfall canyon was one of the highlights of the trip.
Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi
Social media is a pretty cool thing (and yes, I work in it, I’m biased). The first day I posted some pictures from our trip on Facebook and Instagram and received some great recommendations. One of them was Gljúfrabúi. Seljalandsfoss is pretty famous – the waterfall you walk behind – and pretty crowded. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing, and completely worth the trip, but what I didn’t know (before a recommendation on Facebook) was that Gljúfrabúi is right there, literally down the path, and it’s incredible.
Gljúfrabúi was just a bit down the path. You have to walk through a creek and into a little opening to get to this waterfall. Have I sold you on it yet?
It was a pretty short drive to Skógafoss, the last waterfall of the day. Our hotel was conveniently right next to the waterfall. The most amazing part of Skógafoss is you can walk up to the top of it. It was right at golden hour and absolutely gorgeous.
Hotel: Hotel Skogafoss, Skogar
Day Four: Black Sand Beaches
Sólheimasandur DC-3 Plane Wreck > Dyrhólaey > Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach > Fjaðrárgljúfur
Sólheimasandur DC-3 Plane Wreck
Our first stop was the Sólheimasandur DC-3 Plane Wreck. This is about a 40 minute walk out to the plane wreck on a black sand beach. The hiking path can be accessed off of Route One. We put it in our GPS but the address wasn’t right. There’s a random parking lot, with probably a few cars, and the path just begins. It looks like this:
Everything I read said this was a 3 mile walk. I don’t think it was right. It was probably closer to 2-2.5. Either way, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The plane wreck combined with the wide open flat black sand beach with ocean and mountains in the distance was pretty incredible.
TIP: Get their early to avoid the crowds.
I knew we were going to see the seaside cliff, but I had no idea about the stunning 360 degree views from this point. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip and absolutely a must see.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This is probably the most famous beach in Iceland and was pretty popular (it was hard to get a photo without people. But, what I find, is if you walk far enough from the car, you will get to experience a bit more privacy. Black sand, black rocks, black caves and basalt columns. What’s not to love?
Full disclosure: I have no idea how to pronounce this. Iceland is just filled with waterfalls and canyons, and this was a fantastic one.
Hotel: Lilja Guesthouse
Day Five: Mountains and Glaciers
Vesturhorn Mountain > Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon > Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon > mossy lava fields
This was the furthest point East we visited. I saw pictures of this mountain on Instagram and knew I had to go. The area has a Viking Cafe where you have to pay admission. It was about $8 a person I think. Totally worth it (I’ve always been fine with paying to support nature). We drove down an unpaved road out to a point near the lighthouse, and walked back along black sand dunes to take pictures of the mountain in the reflection of the water that washes up on the sand.
Iceland is stupid beautiful.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
We then drove down to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The whole saying about the weather changing in 5 minutes was so true on this day. We had blue skies when we got to Vesturhorn Mountain, cloud cover when we left, and pouring rain when we got to Jökulsárlón. We didn’t let it hold us back, got drenched, and walked around the lagoon and black sand beach. Oh also, as we were leaving, we caught a rainbow. Just your average day in Iceland.
Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon
We then drove to the Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon, another glacier lagoon nearby (because Iceland is awesome – have I mentioned that already?).
Mossy Lava Fields
We drove through these really cool mossy lava fields. A large part of the drive is through the lava fields. There are a couple places to pull over and explore.
We then had a long drive (a little over 4 hours) back to Reykjavík.
Hotel: CenterHotel Arnarhvoll
Day Six: Reykjavík
We started the day by stopping in Sandholt Bakery for pastries. Highly recommend. We walked around Reykjavík for a bit and then spent some time at the National Museum of Iceland.
We had some time to kill so we stopped by Bru Milli Heimsalfa (bridge between two continents) on the way to the airport.
That’s it! 6 completely filled days in Iceland. I highly suggest a self-driving tour. Part of the fun and adventure is the road trip, and the side of the road does not disappoint.
What I Packed
The key to packing for a trip like this is layers. Make sure you have a lot of them. I should have brought a fleece layer and didn’t. It would have helped me when my winter coat was drenched so I opted for the lightweight + raincoat but was still cold.
- Canada Goose Down Winter Coat
- Sorel Tivoli II Snow/Rain Boots
- Patagonia Light Puff Jacket
- Vasque Hiking Boots (fun fact: these have now been to 12 National Parks and hiked the red rocks of Sedona and the black sand beaches of Iceland)
- North Face Rain Coat
- Hiking Socks
- Smartwool PHD Tights
- Love Your Melon Pom Beanie (similar)
- Rag & Bone Floppy Brim Wool Hat (similar)
- Nike Juvenate Sneaker (note: I wore these only for the flight. It rained almost the entire trip so these sat in my suitcase the rest of the time)
- Lululemon Define Jacket
- Not pictured: gloves
The one thing I wish I brought: RAIN PANTS!! Maggie and I both agree on this one. Buy and bring rain paints to Iceland. Maggie also brought leg warmers which came in handy on more than one occasion.
Time to start planning the next trip…