Iceland has to be my all time favourite destination. There’s so much to see and do and I always aim to see and do as much as possible every time I visit. I always choose to rent a car to get around, giving me the freedom to explore at my own pace and to get off the beaten track. If you want to see beautiful mountains, volcanic landscapes and abundant sea and birdlife, then then the land of fire and ice is for you!
A week is an ideal amount of time to see plenty of Iceland, but I would refrain from aiming to circle the entire island as you’ll fine you’ll be driving almost the whole time. Instead I would focus on exploring the many sights that the south coast has to offer. Read on to get some ideas that may help you with you road trip planning.
What time of year should I visit Iceland?
There’s no bad time to visit Iceland and it’s a true year round destination. However if you want to have the freedom to drive into the interior and along the “F” mountain roads then summer is the time to visit. These roads will be closed during winter. Saying that, many of the main attractions can be accessed via a short drive from Route 1 (the main road which circles the island).
This particular itinerary is best suited to the summer months and not recommended for winter. If you do plan on visiting during winter then keep your plans flexible and try to reduce those long driving days in case the weather causes delays.
Renting a car in Iceland
People often wonder what type of car to rent. I will start off by saying that it’s definitely not essential to rent a 4X4 for most trips in the summer. This is because the majority of the roads are now paved. As standard all vehicles rented during the winter will be equipped with studded tyres to help grip the occasionally icy or snowy road.
For this 7 day tour a 4WD is only necessary for the day 4 drive to Laki, but for the remainder of the trip a regular 2WD vehicle would be fine. To find cheap rental cars in Iceland from Keflavik airport I would recommending visiting autoeurope.co.uk.
I would recommend checking out the website for the Icelandic Road and Costal Administration where you can view the latest road conditions and weather.
Take a look at my top tips for renting a car in Iceland if you want a more detailed insight into renting a car in Iceland.
Flights to Iceland
Flying to Iceland these days is easy. There are a whole range of low cost budget airlines to choose from. All the international flights will arrive at Keflavik international airport, a short 45 minute drive to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.
For the cheap flights to Iceland check out trip.com.
Day 1 – Arrive in Iceland, drive to Reykavik (2 hours driving)
I would always recommend arriving as early as possible so that you have the afternoon free to explore. Once you have collected your rental car then head to the famous Blue Lagoon, a short 20 minute drive from the airport. You’ll need to reserve your entrance ticket in advance, but it’s the perfect way to start your trip. You can book your entrance ticket by visiting viator.com.
Should you still have time then head south past Grindavik and check out the Krysuvik geothermal area where you’ll see bubbling mud pools and steaming fumaroles. The roads here are usually open year round and I have navigated this easily in a small Toyota Yaris in the past.
***Since my most recent visit you may have read about the volcanic eruption at Fagradsfjall which began in early 2021. Whilst I have not visited myself, its possible to hike close to the volcano via several routes. As of writing this post (November 2021) the volcano was not erupting lava, but it is still being closely monitored and this could change at any point.***
It’s a 30 minute drive north from Krysuvik to Reykjavik. The volcanic scenery around lake Kleifvartn is stunning, so make sure you take plenty of stops to check out the view and take some photos.
Reykjavik, whilst being the capital of Iceland, still has a small town kind of feel. However you’ll have no problems finding accommodation to suit your budget. I frequently stay at Hotel Cabin which is a short 10 minute walk into central Reykjavik.
Day 2 – Golden circle (3 hours driving)
The Golden Circle is a must do on your first visit to Iceland. Yes there will be more tourists here than in other locations, but its a rewarding day trip and there are even some hidden gems along the way.
Heading east along Route 36 will take you into Thingvellir National Park. You’ll be able to walk between the North American and European tectonic plates, view the stunning Oxarafoss waterfall and view the beautiful Lake Thingvellir, amongst other things. Thingvellir.is is a good resource and also includes details of hiking routes in the area.
Continuing east past the small town of Laugarvatn you’ll soon reach Geysir hot spring area where you’ll find active geysers and boiling mud pits. Unless you arrive first thing or at the end of the day there are likely to be plenty of tourists, but don’t let that put you off as it’s totally worth visiting.
Continue further east and you’ll reach the huge waterfall of Gulfoss. There are various walkways to view the waterfall, but I would recommend taking the lower route and walking to get right up close to feel the immense power of the water.
Drive south for an overnight stay in the town of Selfoss. You’ll find a good selection of restaurants and small shops. Visit booking.com to view the good range of accommodation choices that is available.
Day 3 – Glaciers, waterfalls and black sand beaches (2 hours driving)
You’ll only need to spend a few hours in the car today as there is plenty to see on the drive along route 1 from Selfoss to your overnight stay in Vik.
First you can check out Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Since my last visit a parking fee has been introduced which will set you back about 800 ISK. Make sure to take the walking route that passes behind the waterfall, but don’t forget your waterproofs! A short drive further east and the next waterfall is Skogafoss which is even more impressive. You won’t fail to spot it from the main road.
Continuing east and Solheimajokull glacier is worth visiting. You can get right up close to an impressive glacier but it’s not recommended to walk on it unless you have arranged a guide to take you with all the right equipment.
Dyrholaey peninsula and Reynisfjara beach are popular tourist attractions that are essential stop offs just before reach Vik. You’ll be able to view the stunning black sand beaches that Iceland is well known for. Take note that the waves can be dangerous, so please keep your distance and don’t get caught out by the infamous rogue waves.
Overnight I would recommend staying in Vik, a lovely small village with another stunning volcanic black sand beach. There is a small selection of accommodation options which you can see on booking.com.
Day 4 – Laki (6 hours driving)
If you have rented a 4WD car then I would recommend the challenging drive to visit Laki, crossing a number of rivers along a particularly bumpy F206 mountain road. Whilst the drive can be hair raising at times, the volcanic landscape you will find at Laki is incredible and well worth the visit.
If you’d prefer to keep things simple then an alternative would be to take a snowmobile tour or go on an organised glacier hike on the Myrdalsjokull glacier.
I would recommend staying overnight in the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Check out the accommodation choices on booking.com.
Day 5 to 6 – Vatnajokull National Park (2 hours driving)
Only a short drive east and you’ll approach the breathtaking Vatnajokull National Park. Highlights here include hiking in Skaftafell (make sure to check out the beautiful waterfall Svartifoss), the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon and the array of activities you can do on the Vatnajokull glacier itself. A short drive from route 1 you can reach the parking lot via route 998 and take a walk to get up close to Svinafellsjokull glacier. It’s very impressive and is a great way to see a glacier up close.
It’s worth checking out some of the outdoor activities you can do such as glacier hikes and snowmobiling.
We found a good base for 2 nights here is Hotel Skaftafell. It’s well located only a short drive from the various sights.
Day 7 – Drive back to Keflavik airport (6 hours driving)
Assuming you have booked a flight leaving no earlier than mid afternoon then driving back west to the airport should take you around 6 hours. An early start is recommend as you’ll more than likely find yourself wanting to stop to check out the amazing scenery. An alternative would be to break up the journey with an overnight stop half way, however we found doing the full drive worked well considering we had a late afternoon flight home and didn’t have the worries of winter road conditions to think about.
Keep an eye out on my blog for further Iceland itineraries and travel tips that are coming soon…