I’d been dreaming about Iceland for a long while, but I’d never had the chance to go. My travels had taken me to Europe twice before, but Iceland was always a little too far out of the way, sitting as it does about halfway between the UK and Greenland.
But after I moved to New York City, a trip to Iceland became a real possibility – seeing as it’s only a 5 hour flight from NYC, and an easy stopover between North America and Europe, I didn’t hesitate to add 5 days in Iceland to the itinerary for our next Europe trip. Two months later, and I’m still stoked that I actually got the chance to tick Iceland off my list! Now that I’ve visited the country I spent the past year daydreaming about, I can confirm that Iceland was everything that I imagined it would be…and more. Now 5 days might not seem like much, but the island is pretty compact. Hiring a car in Reykjavik and driving the famous Golden Circle route (or travelling on a small group tour) is an easy way to see the country’s most photogenic highlights.
Here’s the perfect itinerary for 5 days in Iceland.
Days 1-2: Reykjavik
Reykjavik is the capital, and it’s where you’ll fly into on arrival in Iceland. The city is fairly small (the population clocks in at just over 120,000 people), but it has no shortage of character and charm. You won’t be able to resist the gorgeous pastel colours of buildings and the friendly nature of the locals (who all speak perfect English).
You can easily spend two days wandering around Reykjavik. It’s best to stay close to downtown to make it easy to get around – anywhere within a 15 minute walk of Austurvöllur Square would be a good choice. Within the city, you can easily walk to most of the following attractions in under 20 minutes.
Hallgrimskirkja Church: This unpronounceable church is the most iconic building in Reykjavik. The cost to go up the tower is 900 ISK (about 8 USD) and is absolutely worth it – the views you get of the city are spectacular!
Sun Voyager: This artistic sculpture was placed in Reykjavik in 1990 and currently sits on the waterfront. It’s shaped somewhat like a boat, and is supposed to be an ode to the sun.
Harpa Concert Hall: This was by far my favourite building in the city. I love seeing some unique and interesting architecture, and Harpa Concert Hall is full of it. It’s also completely free to go in and walk around.
Tjörnin: This is a large, beautiful lake near the city centre. It has geese. And bridges. Go check it out.
Laugavegur: This is the main shopping street, which has a bunch of really cute boutique stores and cafes. The western end of Laugavegur is where you’ll find all the best shops.
Puffin-watching: There are two small islands near Reykjavik that host puffin colonies, and you can only access them by boat. If you head to Reykjavik harbour, you’ll find a number of companies that offer tours out to the islands for around 30-40 USD per person.
Day 3: The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a day trip that you can easily do from Reykjavik. You can either rent a car and drive it, or take an organised tour. Here are my recommendations for things to see on the Golden Circle.
Kerið (crater lake): This crater was formed by volcanic magma being drained by a nearby volcano eruption, causing the surface to collapse. You can walk all the way around the rim and down to the lake itself. There is a small entrance fee of 400 ISK (about 3.50 USD) per person.
Strokkur: This geyser is guaranteed fun – who wouldn’t enjoy watching large amounts of boiling water shoot 15-20 metres into the air every 6-10 minutes? Stand well back…
Gullfoss: This is arguably the most famous waterfall in Iceland. It’s absolutely huge, and the walking paths to the viewpoints will get you real close to the falls. This place can get pretty busy with tourists, but it’s definitely worth visiting.
Thingvellir National Park: This natural area is where the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate meet. It has some awesome landscapes with a giant gorge and fissure stretching for miles along the terrain. Divers should immediately Google the Silfra Rift – one of the few places on earth you can dive between two continents..
Laugarvatn Fontana: If you’ve got time and aren’t doing the Blue Lagoon, then these geothermal pools are a great alternative (and bonus: they come with fewer crowds). The entrance fee is 3800 ISK (about 33 USD), and the pools are positioned right beside a gorgeous lake.
Days 4-5: The south coast
The south coast was my favourite day-trip from Reykjavik. This is where you’ll see some of Iceland’s best waterfalls and natural scenery. You can do it in a day, but if you’d like a more relaxed pace, then I’d suggest breaking it up into two days. Here are my recommendations for things to see on the south coast of Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss: A truly amazing waterfall. It has a walking path that takes you all the way around and behind the falls. You’re guaranteed to get wet from the spray, so take a raincoat!
Skógafoss: Another awesome waterfall, impressive from every angle. There’s a path that takes you all the way up to the top, and if you’re steady footed and not afraid of heights then you can stray from the path and climb along the cliffs to get some great photos. Stay well away from the edge, though.
Solheimasandur plane wreck: The wreckage of a US military plane that crashed in 1973. There is no signage for it, only a gravel area where you’ll see a few cars parked by the side of the road. It takes 40 minutes to walk from the road to the plane wreck, but the long walk is worth it for the photos!
Vik: An absolutely gorgeous little town where you can stay overnight. You won’t be able to resist getting your camera out here to take a few snaps of the super cute church. Halldorskaffi is a good cafe to stop in for lunch or dinner.
Reynisfjara: A black sand beach where you can climb over boulders and explore caves in the cliffs facing the sea. This place is a photographers dream.
Dyrhólaey: On the other end of Reynisfjara, there’s a car park and vista point where you’ll get awesome views of the black sand beach and rocky cliffs around it.
Seljavallalaug Zwembad thermal pool: This is one of the oldest thermal pools in Iceland. It’s very pretty and not so busy, though it does involve a short walk to get there and doesn’t have any fancy facilities like toilets or change rooms.
So, have I convinced you that Iceland should be next on your list? Yes? Fantastic! Here are some great options to explore Iceland with Intrepid.
Written by Ashlea Wheeler. You can follow more of her adventures at aglobewelltravelled.com