Iceland is getting a ton of hype right now and we’re here to tell you to believe every word. 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.
Our number one tip for traveling to Iceland? Stop at the duty-free shop in baggage claim after you land in Reykjavik and stock up on anything you'll want to drink on the trip. Alcohol is insanely expensive here - almost double what you would pay in the States. Prices at the duty free shop are similar to what you would pay at home. If you do the math that means you’ll save around 50%. Hooray!
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.
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.
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.
We love Iceland so much that we actually have three separate travel guides to help you plan your trip. Explore our top picks in our Reykjavik, West Iceland and South Iceland travel guides: