If you are planning to spend 5 days in Iceland, you should get ready to be marveled. The country is full of natural wonders and enchanting landscapes...
Iceland is a big country, an island yes but it remains relatively wide and wild. In 5 days, we obviously could not see everything and some activities were simply impossible couldn’t fit in the schedule, such as a glacier walk . The itinerary we suggest is flexible, depending on what you like and things you want to see.
The first question you need to ask yourself before planning your trip: “What kind of trip do you want? A road trip? A bike ride? You prefer to drive or be driven? You want to spend more time traveling or at the attractions? Do you like to walk and do some outdoor activities? ” In short, a lot of questions you will have to answer in advance. In 5 days, you can see a lot but it’s you’ll have to choose either quantity or quality. .
We recommend you to carpool or to hitchhike to visit the country, this will be cheaper than renting a car and you will cut your carbon footprint.
A great site for carpooling: http://www.samferda.net/. This would save you from overpriced organized tours by bus in Icelandic agencies. Very often, you do not have the flexibility of visiting time.
If you want to rent anyway, choose a small engine! Especially in summer! Drive a SUV is useless, the roads are well maintained and you will waste money and gasoline.
If you want to visit as many things as you can in Iceland, without having to go back to Reykjavik every day to sleep, you also have several options. The first is camping. Wild camping is not allowed but you do have a lot of campsites on the road which allow you to stop wherever you want. A website that lists all the campsites here: http://nat.is/camping/camping_sites.htm. This is ideal in summer because temperatures are much milder. The second option is renting a kind of mini RV, a converted car where you can sleep. This is a pretty new concept, and it’s called HappyCampers. No bathroom though but this should not stop you from going to some campsites and ask for a shower! In winter, opt for “cottages” if you want to enjoy nature (https://bungalo.com/) or B & B (airbnb.com).
We decided to stay in Reykjavik during the 5 days of our stay in Iceland. Why ? Well, we went to Iceland in low season, late March, so the accommodation prices were very affordable (we paid 250 euros for 5 nights bed and breakfast). We knew we would not have this opportunity on the road not knowing how our schedule will look like. Indeed, Denis wanted to scuba dive in the lake Silfra, but this dive was dependent on the weather so we really could not go on with exploring the country. Therefore we decided to focus on the southern part of the country, which is also the most touristic and where most attractions are condensed.
Many tourists choose the option to stay in Reykjavik too, because the tours often leave from the city.
Day 1 : Reykjavik
Our first impressions were not what we expected. From the plane and the bus letting us presume about Iceland beauty, we were quite astonished when we arrived in Reykjavik. The city is simply ugly. Reykjavik has no real charm, if not for its small main street where you have all the touristic shops and restaurants. Outside of this street and the large modern building ( Concerthall) near the harbor, the city is king of dirty, full of graffiti and the architectural design is completely unconsistent. I do not want to get the Reykjavik unhabitants’ back up, knowing that they represent more than 2/3 of all Icelanders. I just think it is a pity in such a wonderful country to have a capital that is not representative.
The bus dropped us at our guesthouse Helga. Located 5 km outside the city center, in a residential area near a public swimming pool, this guest house is very nice and we do not regret our 5 nights there despite the distance from the city core center. Indeed, we had to walk about 45 minutes to reach the center where restaurants and bars are located. This walk is very nice though, because it allowed us to really explore the town and its surroundings. Be aware that most tour agencies or tourist operators, even the car rental agencies, provide pick up services, so you do not necessarily have to walk to get to the agency for departure excursions. Try to organize with them upfront your pickup from your guesthouse. If you do not want to walk at all, then you should book in the center but the prices will be higher. In addition parking is free at the guesthouse Helga, which is quite convenient if you rented a car.
Reykjavik is an expensive city, but you can eat at the restaurant for about 20/25 euros for a dish and a drink. Do not take alcohol, the prices are very high. No McDonald’s or other fast food in Iceland (which is great) and apart from a noodle soup restaurant, you will only find few places to eat for less than 15 euros. Gas stations often sell hotdogs, very popular in Iceland, you will pay about 4 euros. For that price, you will have bread and sausage with ketchup or mustard choice. Not very gourmet or green so I do not recommend.
Some bars offer happy hour which is nice if you want a drink at an affordable price. To drink alcohol, rather stock up at the airport upon arrival as prices are a bit cheaper there!
Reykjavik is a very unique city, pretty small and finally, the tour can be completed relatively quickly. If you wish, you can book a tour of the city with free City Walk and you will get in 2 / 3h, a fairly complete overview of Reykjavik.
Day 2 : The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle tour is the most popular tour after the Blue Lagoon of Iceland. This tour can be organized as a day tour (about 70 euros per person) or you could do a self-drive tour by renting a car. A detailed article on how to self-drive the Golden Circle can be on the site. This tour includes several visits of unique natural and spectacular interest points in the country:
- Geysir (which is the 2nd highest geyser in the world).
- Gullfoss (can be translated as the “Golden Waterfall”)
- Thingvellir (an unavoidable natural park crossed by a rift and that housed one of the oldest parliament in the world)
Warning!! In the souvenir shops, you can find objects made of seal or fox skins. We found this disgusting knowing that 3 meters away you can find cute and pretty baby seals cuddly toys. Do not buy anything at Geysir in their gift shop and nothing of Geysir brand if you do not condone; their attitude to my questions infuriated us.
You can also add other attractions to date on the road:
- Kerid Crater, which is filled with water whose level varies depending on the condition of groundwater
- Secret Lagoon in Fludir where you can enjoy a hot bath to over 38 ° C. We wrote an article comparing the Secret lagoon and the Blue Lagoon here.
- The Efstidalur II farm and restaurant to eat a homemade ice cream in the café area where you can watch the cows from behind a window
- Laugarvatn hotspring where you can soak in hot water
- Visit the Gljufrasteinn museum, former house of Halldór Laxness Kiljan, a writer who received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1955, and became a museum where the largest Icelandic artists are exposed as well as some Norwegian and Danish artists.
- Visit the Skálholt Cathedral, one of the most important worship places of Iceland
- Watch the sunset from the heights of Reykjadalur, an easy 3km hike with plenty of wonderful sceneries and great views on the country
Day 3 : The South of Iceland and Vik area
Departing from Reykjavik, we decided to go to Jokulsarlon to visit this beautiful place called the Glacier Lagoon. The total distance is about 370 km which is really a lot. So you have to leave at dawn if you want a chance to visit the interest points on the road and if you want to make the round trip in a day. You could also sleep in the vicinity of the lagoon or nearby Vik i Myrdal to have more time at each spot. Unfortunately we did not have that possibility, because the next day we were supposed to scuba dive. So, we didn’t go up to the glacier lake. We could have, but it meant coming back to Reykjavik around 10pm . And also that driving for almost 7 hours. Not green and not very pleasant. However, on the road, there are many stops to make to enjoy beautiful landscapes and natural attractions such as:
- Gljufrafoss and Seljalandfoss ( two beautiful waterfalls)
- Skogafoss: another impressive waterfall of 62 meters high and 25 meters wide
- Dyrholaey: former island with volcanic origins and protected nature reserve. It is a paradise for birds, including puffins. It is also the most southern part of the country.
- Vík í Mýrdal: the town itself is not so interesting if not for its natural resources. A black sand beach among the most beautiful in the world, and impressive volcanic formations called Reynisdrangar
For those who can stay one more day in the south of Iceland around Vik i Myrdal, you can also visit the below:
- Landmannalaugar: a breathtaking hike awaits you. We are talking about one of the most spectacular sites of Iceland
- Vatnajokull: the magnificent glacier is the largest in Iceland. If you want to get there, take a guide !!! This is mandatory. Without you might get lost and never return. Several agencies offer tours (expensive) to glaciers including the agency Glacier Guide.
- Jokulsarlon is the lagoon of the Vatnajokull glacier, beautiful and you can visit it in a day tour from Reykjavik. Very long and quite expensive, but the scenery is incredible.
Indeed the glacier and hiking on the volcano can be done only if you stay a day or two in the southern region of Iceland.
Keep in mind however that you must return to Reykjavik, which will make you drive quite a lot. But the South Iceland is wonderful. The weather is very changeable and sometimes you will observe a complete change of scenery within a few minutes, just with the diversity of landscapes and weather.
Day 4 : Diving in Silfra and Northern lights in the western part of Iceland
I will not go into details here because everything is detailed in the article on our dive at Silfra. Absolutely amazing and unforgettable experience.
If you can not / do not want to dive or snorkel, you can use this day to get to the glacier as previously suggested.
In the evening to watch the northern lights, we went over in the North West, which allowed us to see the sunset in the surroundings of Borgarfjördur located further north of Iceland (around 50km away from Reykjavik). You can visit Borganes, beautiful when the sun sets. Then once the sun goes down and the sky gets dark, which may take some time depending on the period of year, you can start hunting for the Northern Lights. Choose places with little light pollution so stay away from Reykjavik.
A very useful website to spot the northern lights and where to go to see them best, http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/. We had the chance to see some amazing dancing northern lights that night on Borganes, about 20 km north of the town in the middle of a field. A breathtaking show unfortunately our pictures do not serve them well.
Day 5 : The East Coast and the Blue Lagoon of Iceland
For our last day in Iceland, we did not want to overdo, so we stayed around Reykjavik to go to the Blue Lagoon through Reykjanesfolkvangur, a natural park where you can see lava formations, lakes, hot springs and incredible sceneries. On the list of the park, here are the interesting points:
- Kleifarvatn lake
- A 2-3h hike departing from Seltun to reach Sveifluháls. Amazing views
- Drykkjarsteinn, a very unique stone with 3 holes in it
- Krýsuvíkurberg, a magnificent cliff which is a sanctuary for birds
And finally, you can go to the Blue Lagoon nearby the city Grindavik. Overall, this trip is about 150 km round trip which is relatively short. But you have plenty to see and to do, many hiking sites and outdoor activities are available in the region.
Do not forget to book in advance for the Blue Lagoon. And for details on the place, price etc, you can read this article comparing the Blue Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon.