Iceland is getting a ton of hype right now and we’re here to tell you to believe every word. Our founder, Lauren Bates, just got back from a 5 day solo trip and is officially obsessed with the country (along with everyone else on Instagram). In a single day you’ll see mountains, volcanoes, beaches, glaciers, and geysers all within a small driving radius. The diversity of the landscapes makes Iceland feel like you’re on another planet – it’s truly one of the most magical places we’ve ever visited. It’s a great place for adventure-loving families, groups, couples and solo travelers.
Some things to know before you get in planning mode….
The weather in Iceland is kind of like your crazy Aunt Kathy at the Thanksgiving dinner table: extremely unpredictable. Late spring, summer, and early fall are the best times to visit, but insane storms can strike at any time, and they do on the regular. Make sure you always have a back up plan in case weather prevents you from driving from point A to point B.
Repeat after us: you are not traveling to Iceland for the food. Iceland is home to only 330,000 people, which means they don’t need a lot of restaurants. Also, the fresh ingredients chefs have to work with here are pretty limited given the climate and geography. What does that mean? It means you are going to be eating a lot of sourdough bread – and, thankfully, it’s actually really yummy. Don’t worry, you’ll still be well fed and we’ve got our favorite spots listed out in the nosh section.
Aside from airfare (see getting there), you should expect to dish out some cash on this trip. Iceland is an island after all, and they have to import a lot of things. Expect to spend more than usual on lodging, rental car, food and drinks. We found most nice dinners came to $75-100 a person. Wine and cocktails cost around $20-25 a glass.
Wondering what to pack for your trip to Iceland? We've got all the essentials & a printable packing checklist just for you. Read more here Iceland: What To Pack.
In our Iceland travel guide below, we’ve got the best places to sleep, eat, and experience in the country. As always, use the table of contents to jump around.
table of contents
5 day itinerary
We’ve planned out the perfect 5 day trip to Iceland, including:
A downloadable & printable itinerary.
Where to sleep, eat and play.
Clickable Google Maps for easy navigation.
Iceland is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so you have one choice in getting there – by flight. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy.
From most east coast U.S. cities, it’s a quick 5-hour, nonstop flight to Reykjavík. There are a ton of flight options on WOW Airlines and IcelandAir, and both airlines frequently offer deals on nonstop, round trip tickets for only $300-400 total. Use Google Flights’ calendar function to see which travel dates are cheapest from your departure city and then set alerts and wait a few weeks to see if prices drop. If you find a fare in the $300-400 range, book it on the spot!
We think the easiest way to travel in Iceland is to self-drive, which means you’ll need to rent a car. Sure, you can take transfers to and from the airport and go on a guided group excursion every day, but that’s going to cost more than a rental car and you’ll have less control over your schedule. If you have your own car you get to decide where you go every day and you can stop to look at interesting things along the side of the road (trust us, you’re going to want to do this). If you really want to do a specific guided tour, that’s cool, but you’re still going to wish you had a car on all the other days you’re there.
We rented our car from Ice Rental 4x4 and overall we had a great experience. We heard horror stories of the larger car rental companies scamming customers so we decided to go with a local one. We rented a 2016 Suzuki mini SUV with automatic transmission and it cost us $440 for the 5 days with basic insurance. The car was super clean, had seat warmers (very important in Iceland, if you ask us!) and had a media system that included GPS and the ability to charge and play music from your phone (packing tip: bring a USB cord). Pick up from the airport was smooth – you just find the guy holding the sign with your name on it and they transfer you to and from the airport to the rental car area, which is a parking lot about 15 minutes away.
Outside of Reykjavík, there really are only two roads you need to know: (1) The Ring Road – this is the road that runs along the coast of the entire country. (2) The Golden Circle – a road that does a loop around some of the more popular tourist attractions that starts and ends in Reykjavík. Both roads are very clearly marked, well-maintained and easy to drive. If you go off these roads you are basically off-roading (fun!). Road.is is a great site to check on road conditions before taking any long drives.
If your car has GPS, you’re all set. Though honestly, as long as you follow one of the roads listed above you’re not going to need it. As a backup plan, download offline maps for Iceland in your Google Maps app. This will let you search for destinations and get a list of driving directions without using your cell carrier’s data plan.
Gas stations are easy to find along the main roads, though sometimes far apart. A good rule of thumb is to always refill your tank before it gets down to a quarter tank in case you end up in a stretch where there’s no station. Gas is also pricey – expect to pay around $70 per tank. Not sure if this was just us, but we found we had to use a debit card with a pin (not a credit card) in order to pay at the tank.
We heard parking in Reykjavík was tricky, but we actually found it to be pretty easy. Most streets require you to pay at a meter and put the ticket in your dashboard. The machines took our credit cards no problem. Parking outside of Reykjavík is pretty much a park-wherever-you-want situation.
These days, most carriers offer a free or minimal cost plan for international travel. We use Sprint, and since we travel a lot we keep Open World set up in our account since it’s free. It allows you to text for free in most countries and then it charges you a small amount for calls and data. Call your carrier and figure out what your options are before you leave. Even if you want to totally disconnect, it’s good to have a phone that works in case you need to use it.
The hotels in Reykjavík are surprisingly expensive. The really nice hotels will cost you around $350-400/night, even when booking months in advance.
Icelandair Marina Hotel
Mýrargata 2 (Reykjavík) | Website
To avoid paying insane prices, we settled on Icelandair Marina Hotel as our home base. The lobby area was the selling point, with one of the best bars and restaurants in Reykjavík (see Slippbarinn in nosh), an adorable coffee shop and several lounge areas with fireplaces. We stayed in a standard room to save money, and let’s just say it was very basic but had a nice view of the marina. The bed was pretty comfy, but the bathroom was TINY and not great for sharing since there was very little privacy. We would stay here again since it was affordable compared to the rest of the hotels in the city, but we might upgrade to an attic or deluxe room next time. The hotel had free parking in a gravel lot behind the building. Prices range from $180-330 depending on how fancy you want to get.
Other options in Reykjavík:
If you’re looking for a design hotel and you’re okay with shelling out some cash, we recommend the posh 101 Hotel. Prices start at $360/night.
If you’d like to mingle with other travelers and don’t mind sharing accommodations or bathrooms, we would stay at KEX hostel. Prices are the cheapest of the bunch, starting at around $50 per person per night.
If you’re traveling with a group, there are a ton of great Airbnb options in Reykjavík.
If you decide to do the drive we recommend through southern Iceland, you’ll want to stay over at least one night since it’s too long of a drive to go there and back to Reykjavík in one day. These are our two favorite hotels along the southern Ring Road.
Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon
Hnappavellir, 785 (Öræfi region in southeast Iceland) | Website
This was our favorite hotel stay during our Iceland trip. The Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon recently opened in summer 2016 and is located right off of the Ring Road about 20 minutes before you get to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The hotel has minimalist rooms with large windows overlooking the Icelandic countryside and sea. It’s a great spot to watch the northern lights from the cozy indoors if you’re lucky enough to be there when they make their debut. The beds are really cozy with Geysir wool blankets at the foot. One thing to note is that the hotel restaurant is pretty pricey and your only option – be prepared to drop $50-75 per person. That said, a really awesome breakfast spread is included in all rates, so it all kind of evens out. Prices start at $165/night.
Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel
Nesjavellir, 801 (Selfoss) | Website
We unfortunately didn’t get to stay here since the hotel is small and all the rooms were booked by the time we were in planning mode. That said, we stopped by the hotel on our drive through south Iceland and it is stunning. Ion Luxury Hotel is a true design hotel with thought put into every detail. They also have a fabulous restaurant on site. We suggest spending at least a night here during your stay in Iceland. Since it’s located in Selfoss and away from the light pollution in Reykjavík, you have a pretty good chance of seeing the northern lights if the conditions are right. Prices start at $280/night.
Ride to the top of Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík.
Hallgrímskirkja is an iconic modern church in the center of Reykjavík. If the weather is nice, buy a ticket (around $10) to take the lift to the top and you’ll have a stunning bird’s-eye view of the colorful, toy-like Reykjavík rooftops.
Drive the southern Ring Road.
Have only a few days in Iceland? Weather permitting; we would do the drive along the southern Ring Road over the Golden Circle over and over again. The drive itself is magical and there are a ton of cool sights to see along the way. We recommend taking 2-3 days to drive from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and then back to Reykjavík. We did it in 2 days, but felt a little rushed, so we’d recommend 3. The drive itself is really easy if you have decent weather – you just stay on one road the entire time and follow the signs to attractions. We stayed overnight at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon (see sleep).
Along the drive you’ll want to stop at these locations:
Icelandic farms – you’ll drive past Icelandic farms for miles between Selfoss and Vík, many of which have friendly Icelandic horses (much smaller than normal horses) grazing along the side of the road. Pull over so you can get out and pet them.
Seljalandsfoss – Foss means waterfall in Icelandic and Seljalandsfoss is one of the coolest waterfalls you’ll find here (trust us, they are plentiful). You can climb up behind the waterfall into a small cave for a unique view (if you don’t mind getting wet). The mountain behind the waterfall is Eyjafjallajökull – the volcano that famously erupted in 2010.
Skógafoss – Another cool waterfall just down the road from Seljalandsfoss. The water is super powerful and you can climb up the side of the mountain to get to the mouth of the waterfall. Legend has it that a Viking settler hid a treasure chest behind the waterfall (no one has found it yet).
Dyrhólaey – as you approach the town of Vík, you’ll see a turn off for Dyrhólaey, a peninsula with breathtaking sea and landscape views. We spent an hour here hiking around and exploring the wildlife.
Reynisfjara – not far from Dyrhólaey is Reynisfjara, a black sand beach with really impressive rock structures jetting out from the cliff. We almost missed the warning sign, but be careful getting too close to the water here – large waves are said to sneak up on people and several tourists have died being swept out by the current (eek.).
Vík – A cute little town that marks the halfway point on this drive to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Take a breather here to stretch your legs, grab a snack and fill up your car with gas. There’s not much in terms of infrastructure between here and Jökulsárlón so make sure to get the essentials covered in Vík.
Eldhraun lava field – As you leave Vík you’ll come cross a massive stretch of land that appears to be giant boulders covered in thick, bright green moss. It is actually a giant lava field created by the 1783 Laki eruption – one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever. It’s said NASA’s Apollo 11 crew came to the site to train for their moonwalk. Pull over on the side of the road and get out to explore. We could have spent hours here.
Skaftafell – To visit the lagoon, you drive through a portion of Iceland's (and Europe’s) largest national park, Vatnajökull. It’s absolutely stunning. You’ll want to pull over on the side of the road every few miles for views of massive glaciers, snow capped mountains and apocalyptic-like valleys. Skaftafell is located at the foot of Vatnajökull glacier, the biggest glacier outside of the north and south poles. From here you can take glacier hiking and ice caving tours.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon – Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon at the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. This was the highlight of our trip and one of the coolest places we’ve ever been on this earth. It’s worth the entire drive from Reykjavík. The lagoon is filled with giant floating icebergs with a backdrop of towering mountains. From the lagoon, water and icebergs flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The black sand beach at the mouth of the lagoon is called Diamond beach because it’s covered with giant blue icebergs scattered all over the beach. Look for seals while you’re exploring – they’re known to rest on the icebergs.
The Golden Circle.
Since we only had 5 days in Iceland and we prioritized spending time in Reykjavík and driving the southern Ring Road, we actually skipped the Golden Circle (gasp). If you have 6 or more days in Iceland, we recommend giving it a whirl since you can do it as a long day trip from Reykjavík. The Golden Circle is basically a loop drive where you start and end in Reykjavík. The stops we recommend are: Þingvellir National Park, Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths, Efsti-dalur (a farm hotel with an ice cream shop in the summer months), Geysir, Strokkur, Gullfoss, Secret Lagoon in Flúðir, Kerið volcanic lake, and the Icelandic Horse Park in Fákasel.
Hverfisgata 12, 101 Reykjavík | Website
Considered the best restaurant in Iceland, Dill focuses on preparing dishes using local Icelandic ingredients. They only offer a tasting menu, but you can choose between 5 courses (around $105 per person) or 7 courses (around $125 per person). Wine pairings start at around $90 per person. The restaurant is super small, but adorable with concrete walls, a wooden slat ceiling, industrial hanging lights and an open kitchen. This was our favorite meal in Iceland and we think it’s totally worth the price tag.
#WildTerrains tip: Given that it’s the most popular restaurant in Iceland, it’s tiny, and it’s only open four days a week for dinner (Wed-Sat at 6pm), you need to make your reservation weeks in advance. Do it the moment you book your flight.
Mýrargata 2, 101 Reykjavík | Website
Slippbarinn is a super trendy cocktail bar and restaurant located inside the Iceland Air Marina hotel. It’s a great spot for couples or groups. There are tons of little areas and nooks to hang out in, and you could honestly spend the whole night here. We sipped on a bartender’s choice scotch cocktail and noshed on freshly baked sourdough bread and the fresh catch of the day. Everything was really tasty and the vibe was exactly what we wanted after a long day of exploring.
The Coocoo’s Nest
Grandagarður 23, 101 Reykjavík | Website
A super cute restaurant located on the marina. We came here for brunch, but they’re open for lunch and dinner, too. The Coocoo’s Nest passed our number one test: it was packed with locals. We also found that the prices were pretty reasonable compared to everywhere else. Great spot for a quick, unpretentious, yummy meal. Opens at 11am, not open on Mondays.
Melhagi, Reykjavík | Website
Located a little ways from the central part of Reykjavík, Kaffihus Vesturbaejar is an adorable café that’s filled with locals throughout the day. Come for a casual coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner. We had their lobster soup and a few pastries and they were divine. They also had free Wi-Fi, making it a great place to get some work done while we were on the road.
Brauð & Co.
Frakkastígur 16, 101 Reykjavík | Website
A new bakery that makes crazy delicious cinnamon rolls. You’ll smell them a block away.
Kárastígur 1, 101 Reykjavík | Website
You can get your hipster coffee fix at Reykjavík Roasters, a really cute corner coffee shop that serves the best brew in town. We loved the macchiato and the Greek yogurt with granola and honey.
Laugavegur 36, 101 Reykjavík | Website
A modern, sleek bakery found on the main drag in Reykjavík – great for sitting down or taking a bite to go.
Laugavegur 25, 101 Reykjavík | Website
Hrím is an Icelandic home design concept store filled with great gifts to take home for family and friends. Invest in some super stylish jewelry or pick out some quirky home décor.
Laugavegur 37, 101 Reykjavík | Website
Another gorgeous home décor store filled with Nordic brands that are hard to find in the States. We walked away with a stunning patterned runner and lux velvet pillows by Nordic brand Home Doctor.
Aðalstræti 9, 101 Reykjavík
Fancy perfumes for fancy people in a gorgeous little shop.