Iceland: You've heard of it. You think it's cold (it can be). You think it's icy (it can be). Beyond that, you don't know much about it. Maybe you know it as a location for some of the Game of Thrones episodes. Maybe you remember ten years ago its volcanic explosion wreaked havoc in air traffic over Europe. Maybe you remember it as the site of the Reagan/Gorbachev Summit meeting in 1986. Or maybe you have heard it is one of the more popular travel destinations of recent years. It is, and deservedly so. Recently over two million people have visited Iceland each year, yet it remains largely unspoiled and does not feel overrun. Plus it is incredibly easy to reach from the East Coast of the US and from Europe. Needless to say, you should go; so let's get started planning your Iceland holidays. You should consider an itinerary for Iceland for 5 days, not including your travel days.
My brother overlooking the volcanic fields during our Iceland holidays
All photos in this article taken by David M Gallo Photography. This page contains affiliate links, meaning that The Five Foot Traveler may receive a small commission when you purchase any flights or accommodations using the links in this article at no extra cost to you. I appreciate your continued support!
Planning Your Iceland Holidays
First you must decide when to go. Summer has more pleasing weather with a lot of daylight hours, but it is unlikely you will see the Northern Lights. Winter has very short days with great viewing of the Northern Lights. It is also a lot colder. We went in September, and that was just about perfect as we had plenty of daylight for exploring the sights and several nice nights to view the Northern Lights. Pack lots of layers as it can get cold, particularly if you are standing around at night looking at the Northern Lights. Rain gear, including rain pants and waterproof boots, are a must — hopefully not for rain but rather to get up close and personal with waterfalls!
One of the many incredible waterfalls we saw on our Iceland road trip
Flights to Iceland
Considering the fact that Iceland is an island in the middle of the Atlantic, hopping on one of the numerous flights to Iceland will be your best bet! Just about every International flight goes to Keflavik International Airport, which is about 45 minutes south of Reykjavik. Prior to the global pandemic, over 25 different airlines flew to Iceland; only time will tell what airlines continue to serve this majestic country. Feel free to see for yourself and check out the best flights to Iceland here.
Get ready for views like these on your Iceland holidays!
Hiring a Car in Iceland | Green Motion Iceland
Hiring a car in Iceland is as easy as could be, thankfully! If you’re looking for cars, Iceland rental options at the airport are plentiful; we personally rented with Green Motion Iceland, and you can check out their rates here. Ideally, I’d suggest that you search for an Iceland car rental 4×4 so that you’re best equipped for Iceland’s rugged terrains! The road hazard warnings that your rental car agency should be giving you will sound strange but need to be heeded. We found Google Maps to be more helpful than their GPS. Be very careful entering the names as the spellings are very long and complicated, and I’d prefer if you didn’t get lost!
When hiring a car in Iceland, prepare yourself for plenty of pull offs!
Iceland Accommodation & Icelandic Apartments
Finding the right Iceland accommodation was my biggest challenge when planning my itinerary for Iceland for 5 days. The reason being that the majority of the accommodations and Icelandic apartments are located in Reykjavik, and I spent most of my time outside of the capital city. Should you allot more time in Reykjavik than what I suggest below, you can certainly “base” yourself in a cozy cottage for a few days (or one of the best hotels in Reykjavik, should you want the luxury) and go on some epic adventures. Check out your Iceland accommodation options here.
The perfect backdrop for our Iceland Accommodation – if you ask me!
If you’re visiting during the winter, I recommend checking out the array of Iceland Northern Lights Hotels. Two of the most popular Northern Lights hotels are located just outside of Reykavik — the Reykjavik Domes (similar to the Arctic Dome I visited in Norway) and the Grand Hotel Reykjavik, considered by many to be the Northern Lights hotel as it offers traditionally comfortable hotel rooms perfectly situated to go out and chase the Aurora. If you’re new to Aurora-chasing, as we were, I highly recommend signing up for a Northern Lights Photo Tour from Reykjavik; feel free to read more in depth about our enjoyable Photo Tour from Reykjavik here.
Iceland Northern Lights above our hotel
Plan Your Iceland Holidays | Itinerary for Iceland for 5 Days
Day 1 : Keflavik – Reykjavik – Thingvellir National Park
You want to plan your flight to Keflavik International Airport to arrive in the morning. The air time from New York is only about five hours. Your first stop should be the tourist or information counter to obtain a Reykjavik map. If you have not already done so, you might want to ask them how to say a few key words in the local language such as please and thank you. The good news is that nearly everyone speaks perfect English, but it is always appreciated if you try to say at least the basic words in their language.
Embarking on our Iceland road trip!
The drive into Reykjavik should take about 45 minutes. The first thing you might notice is that the landscape appears to be very bleak. Iceland is entirely volcanic, and you will come to appreciate the vast stretches of lava fields. Perhaps you might want to stop at the famous Blue Lagoon thermal pool on the way. We chose to avoid it as it is very touristy and very expensive (and you can find more off-the-beaten-path thermal pools too!). Additionally pre-booking a reservation for a specific time is absolutely essential.
The capital city has a lot of the charm of some small towns with beautiful pastel-colored houses. It has 125,000 residents, slightly over one-third of the entire national population. You will want to see the waterfront and the cathedral. If you park at the cathedral, I’d suggest walking down the street in front of it to taste some delicious ice cream at Joylato (they have vegan gelato and crepes too!). There are also some cute little shops in the area. Do not dally too long in Reykjavik though, as I’d suggest getting started on your first excursion. You may find at the end of your trip that five days is not nearly enough, and you will want to return to spend more time in Reykjavik and explore other parts of the country.
If you're short on time in Reykjavik, be sure to swing by the Cathedral!
Your next destination is Thingvellir National Park, about a fifty minute drive from Reykjavik. While Thingvellir Lake is the largest in Iceland and very beautiful, the real attraction of this park is for the geologist in you.
Plan Your Iceland Holidays | Thingvellir National Park
As you walk down the path you are surrounded by cliffs on either side. To the left is North America, and to the right is Europe! You are walking through the rift of two major tectonic plates. Pretty cool! They are separating at the rate of nearly an inch a year, which means over the course of a human lifetime they will drift six more feet apart!
Standing between North America and Europe!
You will then continue on a short easy hike to see your first of many beautiful Icelandic waterfalls. That's enough for one day after an overnight flight. You've earned your first night's rest. Make it a good one because I have lots more planned for you. In planning your Iceland holidays, I've tried to jam as much as possible into your 5 days without it being overwhelming!
Sleep: Laugarvatn. See all of your Icelandic apartment options in Laugarvatn here.
Day 2: Bruarfoss – Strokkur Geysir – Gullfoss – Seljalandsfoss – Gljufrabui
Wake early as you have a very busy waterfall day today. This is a good time to learn that the suffix “-foss” means waterfall in Icelandic. Your first stop is Bruarfoss. It is a little off the beaten path, and you may find yourself crawling on your belly under some barbed wire, but it is well worth the effort. Find the bridge that crosses the river for the best view of the falls. Then follow the path downriver to the confluence of two rivers.
Highly recommend including Bruarfoss in your Itinerary for Iceland for 5 days!
From Bruarfoss a fifteen minute drive takes you to the Strokkur Geysir. This is a mini-Yellowstone National Park, only without the wildlife. Because all of Iceland is volcanic, it is littered with thermal areas. Strokkur has several little bubbling pools of intriguing colors, but the centerpiece is an erupting geyser. Strokkur's geyser erupts with greater frequency, approximately every 5 minutes, but the eruption – which is pretty high – does not last as long as Old Faithful's. 5FT Hint: Don't worry about the camera at first. Just watch it and enjoy it. Then wait for the next eruption to take your pictures. That's the nice thing about the frequency of its eruption compared to Old Faithful!
Forget Yellowstone; Check out Strokkur Geysir on your Iceland Holidays!
Another 15 minutes down the road is one of Iceland's two most spectacular waterfalls. This is Gullfoss, and it will remind you of Niagara. Take the time to observe it from both the top and bottom, and expect to hike about 1-2 miles. Looking down onto such a powerful waterfall is a feeling that you certainly won’t forget!
Gulfoss simply must be included in your itinerary for Iceland for 5 days!
Next you will drive an hour and a half to Seljalandsfoss. Have all of your rain gear in hand, because this is a waterfall you can walk behind, and a windy day will get you very wet. A few minutes walk away is Gljufrabui. Follow the stream into a cave to view a waterfall pouring through a hole in the roof of the cave. Your waterproof boots will come in especially handy here. The water is shallow enough that if you have difficulty navigating the narrow little ledge, you can just wade through the stream. And we have only scratched the surface of Iceland's beautiful waterfalls.
Standing behind Seljalandsfoss | Iceland holidays
Sleep: Skogar or the surrounds. Check out some of the cute Iceland cottages in the area here.
Day 3: Skogafoss – Vik
Today will be something a little bit different. First you will want to pack a picnic lunch. Make sure you have good hiking attire on and layers in your backpack. You are driving to Skogafoss, arguably the finest waterfall in all of Iceland, and as you have already noticed that is saying quite a bit.
Skogafoss should be included on every Iceland itinerary!
After you have fully explored the bottom of the falls, hike the vast staircase up to the top for an incredible overlook. We did this three separate times, but it was particularly outstanding at sunset!
Sunset at Skogafoss | Itinerary for Iceland for 5 Days
Now your adventure really begins. Pass through the swinging gate to the 26 Mile Trail. I am not suggesting you hike the entire thing to the glacier in the middle of the island — at least not unless you plan to hike the 50+ miles there and back in about six hours! This is your only activity for the rest of the day, so hike as far as you feel, being aware that you still have to return.
A “must do” hike on your Iceland holidays! Can you spot me?
If the weather is nice it is a breathtaking hike as you will continue to encounter one spectacular waterfall after another. At some scenic spot stop and enjoy your picnic lunch. The hiking is relatively easy.
We hiked as far as this point before turning back
The drive from Skogafoss to the hotels in Vik, Iceland, is only half an hour. If you happen to be a Justin Bieber fan and know his “I'll Show You” music video, ten minutes out you can take a quick detour off the main road at Solheimasandur Beach and see the DC-9 plane wreck on which he filmed some of the video.
Sleep: Vik. Check out the best hotels in Vik, Iceland here.
Day 4: Dyrholaey Lighthouse – Reynisfjara Beach – Svartifoss
First you will double back in the other direction. After about ten minutes on the Ring Road you will make a left to head to Dyrholaey Lighthouse for about another ten minutes. It is a cute little lighthouse, but the attraction is the best scenic view of the southern coast of Iceland in both directions. It is very camera-friendly. It was incredibly windy with low visibility when we went, but still very worth it.
Part of the southern coastline
Then drive twenty minutes to Reynisfjara Beach. You will find yourself on a beautiful black sand beach (remember it is a volcanic island!). Walk down the beach to explore the incredible basalt rock cliffs. You may recognize this spot from Game of Thrones!
Plan a stop at Reynisfjara Beach during your Iceland holidays
Next you will get back in the car and drive almost two hours through Vik to Svartifoss. It is a bit of a hike, slightly more than easy, but well worth it when you find it. It is surrounded by huge hexagonal-shaped basalt columns. Enjoy it, as it is the last waterfall of your incredible holiday in Iceland.
Svartifoss, you're a beauty!
Sleep: Hof. Check out the best prices on Iceland accommodation here.
Day 5: Jokulsarlon Beach & Glacial Lagoon – Svinafellsjokull – Keflavik
Sadly you are awakening to your last day in Iceland, but be prepared for some truly unique experiences. First go to Jokulsarlon Beach, also known as Diamond Beach.
Look at that ice!
We liked to call it Ice Beach because it is a black sand beach covered with huge chunks of ice washed up from the ocean. Some are entirely crystal clear while others are turquoise-infused chunks of iceberg. It is a site you are unlikely ever to forget.
Such a unique beach on our Iceland road trip
Then drive under the big bridge to view the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon with large icebergs floating by. This is the end of the huge Vatnajokull glacier.
Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon | Itinerary for Iceland
Now it is time to begin your five hour drive back to your airport hotel, but you will make two stops along the way. About fifteen minutes later you will see another glacial lagoon on your right (unfortunately I can’t remember the name, but you won’t miss it!). This is another tip of the vast glacier.
A glacial viewpoint on our Iceland road trip
Back in the car you will go another 40 minutes before seeing a beautiful bluish glacier to your right. Take the turn off and follow the bumpy dirt road to the end. This is Svinafellsjokull (yes, -jokull means glacier). Most glaciers I've encountered tend to be gray or black because of the surrounding dirt they are pushing around and through. To see some of the turquoise color in this one was a real delight.
Svinafellsjokull glacier – the final stop on your Iceland holidays!
That's it! After soaking in the beauty here, it is back in the car for the final long haul to your hotel before your departing flight in the morning.
Sleep: Keflavik Airport Hotel. Secure the best rates for the Keflavik Airport Hotel here.
I hope this will help you in planning your Iceland holidays. Preparing this itinerary for Iceland in 5 days sure has brought back wonderful memories for me! Undoubtedly this will only whet your appetite for a second more extensive visit to Iceland. You will want to see the northern part of the country and the fjords in the western part of the country. Plus you may want to spend more time in Reykjavik!
A last viewpoint before finishing up our Iceland holidays
Iceland Attractions Map
Now that we’ve provided you with an itinerary for Iceland for 5 days and provided you with the best places to stay in Iceland, the next step is literally planning your Iceland holidays! The best way to do this is to visualize it, so I’ve put together an Iceland attractions map for you to keep handy throughout your planning! As always, feel free to leave any questions below.
Thingvellir National Park
Know Before You Go
Planning and Packing for your Iceland Holidays
Now that you have an Iceland attractions map on hand and you’re deep into planning your Iceland holidays, make sure you’re prepared! If you’re camping, ensure you have a reliable tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camping pillow, and a warm coat at absolute minimum, especially if you visit Iceland in the winter. All of the gear I linked to, I own and recommend personally. Of course, there are many more things that I recommend packing for your trip though, and I highly recommend that you check out my “137 Travel Essentials” while planning your Iceland holidays.
Always have all the gear you need with you when you hike in Iceland!
The Best Travel Card
Before you leave for your next trip, I highly recommend opening a free Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account. I know that might sound a bit overwhelming, but don’t worry, you don’t need to be an investor to open an account! This provides you with your own Schwab Bank Visa Platinum Debit Card, which offers a ton of benefits both at home and overseas. I’ve been using a Charles Schwab Debit Card since 2011, and it’s honestly the best free travel card out there. Why is that so? Well, you can withdraw from any ATM around the world, and Charles Schwab will reimburse you any ATM fees! They also don’t charge foreign transaction fees either, which is, of course, important when you travel. It is worth noting there there is no minimum balance requirement and that they offer free online transfers between accounts (so it’s totally fine if you have another credit card, debit card, or bank account with another company). Open your Charles Schwab account today – FOR FREE – by following this link.
Purchase Travel Insurance for your Iceland Road Trip
I hope you don’t embark without travel insurance! If you do, you better think again. Travel insurance is arguably the most important thing to have on hand (after your passports and visas) for a trip like this. I’ve had to use my travel insurance multiple times on the road, even though I’m healthy. You never know when something might happen; take comfort in knowing that whether your flight gets cancelled or you wind up sick and in the hospital, you will be covered. I recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance for each and every one of you travelers. You can get a free quote here.