Experience the Land of Fire and Ice on This 7 Day Iceland Itinerary

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Icelandic landscape, 7 days Iceland Itinerary
Icelandic landscape. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

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Get ready for an exciting adventure through the land of fire and ice with a carefully crafted 7-day Iceland itinerary along the famous Ring Road. From the dramatic landscapes of the Golden Circle to the enchanting waterfalls of the South Coast, this itinerary offers a blend of natural wonders and cultural experiences. Prepare to immerse yourself in the surreal beauty of Iceland as you explore volcanic lava fields, soak in the Blue Lagoon and witness the mesmerizing dance of the Northern Lights in the night sky.

Sign for the Blue Lagoon, 7 day Iceland Itinerary
Blue Skies & Lava Fields at the Blue Lagoon. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Day 1: You’ve Arrived in Iceland!

After landing at Keflavik Airport, grabbing your bags and picking up your rental car, you’re ready to start your Iceland adventure. But, of course, you’ve likely just spent the night on the airplane and a bit of refreshing is required. Fortunately, Iceland’s famed hot springs, The Blue Lagoon, is just a 22 minute drive away. Make your reservations before you arrive and head straight to The Blue Lagoon for a dip in this geothermal hot spring because no trip to Iceland is complete without this experience.

Once refreshed, a driving time of 40 minutes brings you to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city. If a self drive road trip isn’t part of your itinerary, bus service is available from Keflavik Airport to the Blue Lagoon and on to Reykjavik.

Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik, 7 day Iceland Itinerary
Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

A guided tour by locals is an excellent way to spend your first day in Reykjavik as an introduction to the capital city and Iceland in general. We chose the free tours by locals, a company with knowledgeable and entertaining local guides that lead walking tours of  downtown Reykjavik. The “tip what you think the tour was worth” concept is unique and the tour focuses on highlights like the stunning Hallgrímskirkja church, historic buildings and the city’s colorful neighborhoods. The guided tours introduce visitors to the stories of one of Europe’s most unique countries.

Whale watching tours provide another interesting experience in Reykjavik. Departing from Reykjavik Harbor, the tours not only search for whales but also keep an eye out for puffins and other migratory birds that visit Iceland seasonally.

Thingvellir National Park, 7 day Iceland Itinerary
Tectonic plates of North America & Europe meet in Thingvellir National Park. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Day 2: Drive the Golden Circle

Depart Reykjavik on Day Two of your self drive road trip to experience the natural wonders of the Golden Circle. The first stop, Thingvellir National Park harbors history and the marvels of nature within its boundaries. The park sits in a rift valley where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet.

Geothermal area on the Golden Circle, 7 day Iceland Itinerary
Geothermal area on the Golden Circle. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Another must-see along the Golden Circle, the geyser geothermal area houses several geysers including Strokkur – Iceland’s most visited active geyser. Walk alongside the geysers and feel the steam as it erupts. Or stretch your legs on the hiking trail for a view overlooking the geothermal area.

Gullfoss Waterfall, 7 day Iceland Itinerary
The dramatic Gullfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Another must-see, Gullfoss Waterfall  – which translates as Golden Falls – is one of Iceland’s most beloved waterfalls. Gullfoss is fed by the waters of Hvítá River that travel from the glacier Langjökull, before cascading 105 feet down the Gullfoss Waterfall’s two dramatic stages.

Kerid Crater, 7 day Iceland Itinerary
Kerid Crater on the Golden Circle. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Continue Along the Ring Road

Next up on the Golden Circle, a stop at South Iceland’s Kerid Crater seems almost otherworldly. This volcanic lake with deep blue-green water surrounded by red rock and lush mossy vegetation formed over 6500 years ago after an eruption. Allow yourself enough time to explore the hiking trails the circle the rim of Kerid Crater. Or venture down the hiking trails to the waters of the Kerid Crater for another perspective.

Continue east along the Ring Road on a two-hour drive to Vik. Of course those two hours may become three with all the sightseeing possibilities along the south coast of Iceland. Highlights include the Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, Reynisfjara black sand beach and the Fjadrargljufur Canyon.

Overnight near Skaftafell nature reserve and get ready for the next day’s big adventures.

Black Sand Beach with Basalt Columns in Vik, 7 day Iceland Itinerary
Black Sand Beach with Basalt Columns in Vik. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Day 3: Experience Black Sand Beaches and an Ice Cave Tour

Day Three unveils a full day of adventure. Start with a walk along one of Iceland’s most striking black sand beaches. Framed by dramatic basalt columns, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is a must-see. As you make your way along your Ring Road itinerary to Vik, take the turn off to Dyrhólaey to view the spectacular arch in the sea. During nesting season it’s possible to spot puffins and other bird life here. A 19 minute drive east from here leads to the lovely village of Vik.

Ice cave tour, 7 day Iceland Itinerary
Stunning images from the Ice Cave Tour. Photo credit: Terri Marsha

For an experience off the typical tourist track, book an Ice Cave Tour with Southcoast Adventure. The experience begins with a pick up location in central Vik and a drive through ancient lava fields. You’ll then strap on some crampons for a short glacier hike on the mighty Myrdalsjokull glacier and into the ice cave. Plentiful shops, restaurants and lodging options make Vik an ideal place to overnight before continuing on your Ring Road itinerary.

Day 4: Waterfalls, a Glacier Lagoon and Europe’s Largest Glacier

As you continue east on the Ring Road, a drive time of under two hours brings you to Svartifoss waterfall – another gorgeous must-see waterfall framed by black basalt columns. Continue east to reach the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon where massive icebergs can be seen floating in the lagoon. For an up close view of the floating icebergs, consider taking a glacier lagoon boat tour. Be sure to allow enough time to see nearby Diamond Beach as you follow the road to the breathtaking east fjords. Overnight in a hotel or guesthouse in Höfn and rest up for the next day. From Höfn you’ll have a clear view of the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull.

7 day Iceland Itinerary, Ring Road
Rainbows and Nature’s Bounty emerge along Iceland’s Ring Road. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Day 5: Driving and Sightseeing on the Ring Road

Today you’ll continue your Ring Road itinerary driving north to Lake Myvatn. Detour onto Iceland Road 864 for an additional drive time of about an hour to capture spectacular photos of the Dettifoss waterfall.

When you reach Lake Myvatn, more geothermal areas await exploration at Hverir and Kfafla. A must-see, Godafoss waterfall, located in the river Skjálfandafljót in north Iceland, falls from a height of 39 feet and has a width spanning 98 feet. Hiking trails provide an ideal way to see more of this region considered part of the Diamond Circle for sightseeing.

Continue traveling on Ring Road another 45 miles to overnight in Akureyri, the largest city outside of the greater Reykjavik area. Akureyri is a renowned cultural center with many galleries and museums. It’s also home to the world’s northernmost botanical gardens.

Day 6: Travel the Iceland Ring Road to Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Driving in Iceland is an adventure in itself and today’s 230-mile drive from Akureyri to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula proves my point. Drive time typically runs about 4 hours and 30 minutes without stops. But the jaw-dropping vistas along the way beckon you to stop and take photos. A couple of not to be missed sights along the way are Hvítserkur and Kolugljúfur Canyon.

Visible from the impressive black sand beach at Húnaflói Bay, Hvítserkur is a distinctive rock formation often referred to as the Troll of Northwest Iceland. The 49 ft tall basalt sea stack features two unusual holes at its base and creates a silhouette often likened to a dragon drinking from the sea.

A short detour off of Ring Road, the breathtaking Kolugljúfur Canyon and Kolufossar waterfalls make an ideal stop to stretch your legs and take in these beautiful wonders of nature. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the canyon which is accessed by a footbridge.

As you continue to Snaefellsnes Peninsula, you’ll leave the Ring Road behind to take route 54 at Borgarnes. Overnight nearby to rest up for a full day of adventure on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Kirkjufell Mountain and the Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfalls, 7 day Iceland Itinerary
Kirkjufell Mountain and the Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfalls. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Day 7: Exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

While day tours are available from Reykjavik, Snaefellsnes Peninsula deserves a nearby overnight stay to allow a full day to explore this gorgeous peninsula. Home to Kirkjufell – the country’s most photographed mountain – the landscapes leave you breathless. Just steps from Kirkjufell the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls add to the serenity of this place.

Hiking Trails through Lava Fields in Snaefellsjokull National Park, 7 Day Iceland Itinerary
Hiking Trails through Lava Fields in Snaefellsjokull National Park. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

A counter-clockwise drive along the Snaefellsnes Peninsula leads you through picturesque fishing villages, miles of lava fields, a volcanic crater and new discoveries at every turn. The peninsula is home to Snaefellsjokull National Park – a park filled with all the geological wonders Iceland offers along with intriguing human history. You’ll find black sand beaches, picturesque churches, soaring cliffs, volcanic craters and miles of lava fields.

When your explorations conclude, an hour’s drive time along Iceland’s west coast leads you back to Reykjavik.

Best Time to Visit Iceland

Deciding when to visit Iceland presents a few choices. If your focus is chasing the Northern Lights, visiting in the aurora season that runs from October until April gives you the best chance. Of course, mid-winter guarantees dark skies for hours, increasing opportunities to view the elusive Northern Lights. But, the downside to a winter visit is limited daylight. So if you want to cover as much of Iceland’s awe-inspiring landscapes in seven days, you may need a season with more light.

Also, for those hoping to self drive on a road trip along the entire Ring Road, winter often means unsafe road conditions due to heavy snow and ice in some areas. For a winter visit, consider guided day trips from areas along the south coast of Iceland.

In summer months, the Northern Lights aren’t visible. But, the midnight sun extends your day giving you more time to explore each destination you visit. If there’s a downside to spending the mild summer months (mosquito free by the way) in Iceland, it’s the crowds. You know that Golden Circle you want to see? Everyone else wants to see it too. That means bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Personally, I prefer the shoulder season. And on our recent visit to Iceland, we arrived in mid-April for a week exploring this magnificent country minus the crowds. It’s early for bird and whale watching, but not impossible to catch a glimpse of some of the early arriving puffins and whales on a boat tour. Lingering Northern Lights are also possible on a clear night in April. Autumn presents another viable option for a crowd-free Iceland road trip.

7 day Iceland Itinerary icelandic horses
An Icelandic welcome from the locals! Photo credit: Terri Marshall

What to Know Before You Go

Most travelers who visit Iceland arrive at Keflavik Airport. Located 50 kilometers outside the capital city of Reykjavik, Keflavik Airport is a relatively small airport compared to some of our mega-sized airports in the US. It’s also easy to navigate and rental car counters are located inside the airport.

Unless you plan to use a tour company for guided day trips, a rental car is the best way to really explore this magnificent place. Always up for a self drive road trip, we reserved a rental car in advance of our arrival. Small vehicles make the most sense on the narrow-ish roads throughout Iceland, but if you’re venturing outside Reykjavik in search of secret lagoons, lava fields and black sand beaches, it’s best to rent a small SUV with 4-wheel drive. Some roads are unpaved and road conditions are unpredictable so that extra power comes in handy.

Although I don’t typically use the extra insurance offered for rental cars, Iceland’s extreme wind and unpredictable weather warranted the need for rental car insurance just for peace of mind.

Camper vans provide another option for intrepid travelers up for a rugged adventure. Campgrounds throughout Iceland offer various types of hook-ups and facilities.

Packing for Iceland

Your packing needs for Iceland vary greatly depending on whether you visit in the winter or summer months or the shoulder season I chose. One thing remains the same – you need layers! You also need a waterproof rain jacket. And, of course, pack a swimsuit for soaking in the country’s hot springs. You’ll find more information to aid in planning your packing list here.

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Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, road trips, soft-adventure, camping, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru to road-tripping through the jungles of Belize, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Drop her into a landscape filled with mountains, towering evergreens, waterfalls and a glacier or two and she’ll be in heaven. But what thrills her most of all is traveling with her teenage grandkids. Terri serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA). She also serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Eastern Chapter for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Terri’s publication credits include AARP, Island Soul, Girl Camper Magazine, A Girls Guide to Cars, CHILLED, World Footprints, North Hills Monthly, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Contractor and more. Follow her on Instagram at TrippingWithTerri.
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