By Rick Steves and Ian Watson
So much to see, so little time. How to choose? To help you get started, we've outlined our plan for your best Iceland itinerary — plus our top picks for where to go — whether it's a whirlwind 24-hour visit or a longer, more relaxed stay.
Depending on the length of your trip, here are our recommended priorities:
- 1 day: Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon
- 2 days, add: South Coast
- 3 days, add: More time in Reykjavík
- 4 days, add: Westman Islands
- 6 days, add: Nature excursions
- 8 days, add: West Iceland
- 10 days, add: Ring Road drive
- More time: Add more nature excursions, slow down
Iceland in 24 Hours
If one day is all you have in Iceland, here's how to pack the best of it in:
Morning: Arrive, pick up car, head straight to the Blue Lagoon and soak.
Midday: Drive into Reykjavík for lunch and a few hours of browsing, then check into your hotel.
Afternoon: Set out for the Golden Circle loop trip — hitting just the highlights.
Evening: Dinner in Golden Circle country.
Late: Collapse at your hotel and sleep for a few hours. Fly out the next morning.
Extra time: With 48 hours, add a day trip to the South Coast. With 72 hours, spend more time exploring Reykjavík.
Rick’s Best Five-Day Iceland Trip
Day 1: Arrive, pick up car, go to the Blue Lagoon, then head to the South Coast; sleep along the South Coast
Day 2: Westman Islands side-trip (sleep along the South Coast)
Day 3: South Coast sights, to Reykjavík (sleep in Reykjavík)
Day 4: Golden Circle (sleep in Reykjavík)
Day 5: Reykjavík, or excursions — whale watching, horseback riding, glacier hikes, volcano cave tours (sleep in Reykjavík)
Day 6: Fly out
- With only 4 days: Spend less time in Reykjavík — see it in the two evenings, and on your morning of departure.
- With 6 days: See the South Coast on Day 2, then overnight on the Westman Islands (Day 3) before heading to Reykjavík.
- 7 days: Add another day in Reykjavík (and/or more excursions).
- 8 days: Day-trip from Reykjavík to West Iceland.
Rick’s Best 10-Day Iceland Road Trip
With enough time, it's possible to see Reykjavík, drive the entire 800-mile route of the Ring Road that circles the entire island, side-trip to the Westman Islands, and hit the Golden Circle highlights. The 10-day itinerary outlined here assumes you've rented a car (or campervan) and sets a fast pace, with several long driving days (and one-night stands) in a row. The more time you can devote to the Ring, the more relaxed and rewarding your circuit will be.
Day 2: Reykjavík (sleep in Reykjavík)
Day 3: Begin the Ring Road drive by heading for Borgarnes, then Skagafjörður (sleep in the Skagafjörður countryside)
Day 4: Drive the Tröllaskagi Peninsula, stopping in Siglufjörður and Akureyri; spend the evening heading to the Mývatn lake area (sleep in Mývatn)
Day 5: Mývatn area and Húsavík port town (sleep in Mývatn)
Day 6: To the Eastfjords (and Dettifoss falls) (sleep in Seyðisfjörður)
Day 7: Along the Eastfjords to the southeast (Vatnajökull area) (sleep in Höfn, Jökulsárlón, or the Skaftafell area)
Day 8: South Coast sights (sleep along the South Coast)
Day 9: Westman Islands day trip (sleep along the South Coast)
Day 10: Golden Circle highlights en route to Reykjavík (sleep in Reykjavík)
Day 11: Fly out
- With only 9 days: Spend only one night in Mývatn (and skip Húsavík)
- With 11 days: Choose between another day in Reykjavík or an overnight in Akureyri
- 12 days: Add another day in Reykjavík, and spend the night in Akureyri
- 13–14 days: Add your choice of excursions (Þórsmörk or Skaftafell hikes, glacier visits, volcano cave tour, whale watching) — and an overnight location to match (either in Reykjavík or on the Ring), or add another day for Reykjavík and surroundings.
Time of year: These suggested itineraries assume you'll visit in summer, when daylight is virtually endless and roads are clear. In the off-season, you'll want to stay closer to the capital.
Blue Lagoon scheduling: The Blue Lagoon is located between Reykjavík and Keflavík Airport, so it's easy to combine a soak with your flight. These plans assume you'll arrive in the morning and stop at the Blue Lagoon on your way into town. But it works equally well to visit the Blue Lagoon on your departure day (if you have a late flight). Whenever you go, reserve the Blue Lagoon in advance.
Westman Islands weather: Connections by air and sea to the Westman Islands are weather-dependent, so have a plan B ready. If you're home-basing on the South Coast and your island trip is cancelled, do the Golden Circle as a side-trip, or spend more time in Reykjavík.
Without a car? Base in Reykjavík and book day-trip excursions to the Golden Circle, South Coast, Blue Lagoon, Westman Islands (by plane from Reykjavík), or Þórsmörk. It's also possible to fly from Reykjavík to Akureyri, a hub for tours in the north (Mývatn, Siglufjörður, whale watching).
Ian Watson is the co-author of the Rick Steves Iceland guidebook.