ooking for LGBTQ+ travel tips? Check out my post about queer travel in Iceland. Looking for puffins on the South Coast? Click here.
Is there a perfect amount of time to spend in Iceland? I doubt it! A five day trip was ideal for us – it was a stopover, but also a dream trip on its own. It’s not quite enough time to experience the entire Ring Road, but it’s just enough time to leave you wanting more!
Below is our 5 day summer itinerary of Reykjavik, Vik, and the South Coast. Jump to:
- Day 1: Arrive and get oriented in Reykjavik (transit, groceries, SIM card)
- Day 2: Explore Reyjavik (walking tour, geothermal beach, LGBTQ night out)
- Day 3: Golden Circle (Thingvellir/Þingvellir , Geysir, Gulfoss, horses, Fludir/Flúðir Secret Lagoon, Minilik Ethiopian restaurant)
- Day 4: Vik and the South Coast (Vík Camping, Jokulsarlon/Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach, puffin watching – Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey)
- Day 5: Waterfalls and the Blue Lagoon (Skogafoss, Seljalandfoss, Blue Lagoon)
Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik
How you spend your first day will depend on when you get in and how tired you are. Jump to Day 2 if you arrive early and want to explore the city, or Day 5 if you choose to relax at the Blue Lagoon on your first day. If the timing’s right, hit up a Happy Hour! In fact if you go to Bravo, it’s almost always Happy Hour, from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.! Or if it’s cold and you’re feeling the need a caffeine kick, head to a hygge coffee shop or cute bakery. Otherwise, use this day to get oriented in Reykjavik, and to nap off the jet lag!
Some things to think about while you’re getting your bearings:
- Getting to town: There are several options for getting from Keflavik Airport to downtown Reykjavik. Unless you’re picking up a rental car, an airport shuttle will probably be your best option: it’s direct, they leave frequently (unlike the public bus), and are muchcheaper than a taxi. There are two options: Flybus and Grayline. Prices are similar; both drop you off at bus terminals in Reykjavik, and you can pay a bit more for a hotel transfer. Be sure to check websites for up-to-date price info.
- SIM Card: Definitely consider one if you’ll be road-tripping, to help with navigation. We picked up a Vodafone card at the airport, but there are plenty of places to get one in Reykjavik and around the country: https://vodafone.is/english/information/.
- Public transit: If your hotel/Airbnb is central, you probably won’t need to use public transit much. Most things in the city are walkable. Outside of the downtown core, you can pay a single fare, or buy a 1 or 3 day pass (download the Straeto app or purchase at one of these vendors). If you buy a City Card (free and discounted admission into many of the city’s museums, galleries, pools, the zoo), free public transit is included.
- Groceries: We were pretty worried about our food budget in Iceland. We didn’t plan to eat out much, but we’d still heard horror stories about the cost of food there! Two things saved us: packing some meals and snacks from home, and Bonus grocery stores. Bonus is a discount grocery chain with a bit of a cult following among tourists! That said, groceries in general in Iceland just aren’t as crazy expensive as they’re made out to be, as long as you’re flexible about what you eat! For example, a frozen pizza will cost you about 500 ISK, Skyr (heavenly Icelandic yogurt- 200 ISK) could be a great breakfast with a couple of bananas (90 ISK).
- Alcohol can be hard to find in stores (it’s only sold in state liquor stores, not over 2.5% in supermarkets) and it’s pricey, so if you’ll be in the country for a while, it’s best to stop at duty free (or hit up Happy Hours!).
Get some sleep so that you can fully enjoy the city on Day 2!
Day 2: Explore Reykjavik
This is the day to really check out the city! The izi.TRAVEL app has a great free walking tour of Reykjavik. It’s a good introduction to the city and runs for about 2 hours and 6.5 kilometres (you can always skip stops or modify the route). Reykjavik is full of welcoming public spaces, vibrant street art, and cute, colourful homes and businesses made of corrugated metal.
Whether you do a walking tour or not, some sites you won’t want to miss downtown include: Hallgrimskirkja Church, Harpa Concert Hall (particularly beautiful around sunset – if there is one!), the Sun Voyager sculpture, and some of the parliament buildings. There are some great museums in the city, including a saga museum, a whale exhibition, and… I can’t believe I didn’t go because I love quirk … a phallological museum! Laugavegur is the main shopping street, and definitely worth a gander to check out the boutiques, souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars.
Next stop: lunch! A couple options for cheap and uniquely Icelandic lunches are:
- 101 Reykjavik Street Food, where the food is homey and vibe is friendly! A nice place to grab fish and chips.
- Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, the famous hot dog stand! This Reykjavik icon has been around since 1937, and serves simple but delicious sausages with “the works”: mayo, onion, crunchy fried onion, and a sweet, thick mustard.
For a change of scenery, spend your afternoon soaking FOR FREE in geothermally-heated water at a BEACH! Nautholsvik Beach is on a bus route easily accessed from downtown (the 5 Nautholl from BSI goes directly there). You can soak in hot tubs by the water, lay out in the sand if you have the miracle of a sunny day (we did, for a few minutes before a burst of rain), and even take a dip in the ocean if you dare! There are showers and changeroom facilities, as well as a small snack and drink bar, and some picnic tables. It’s totally free in the summer (BYO towel), and 500 ISK in the winter.
Head back to your accommodation for a rest and to get cleaned up before a night out – perhaps pop a frozen pizza from Bonus in the oven. (I promise I’m not sponsored by Bonus or anything, I’m just really into the crazy pig logo and low prices!)
Queer Iceland: Have a gay night out! As far as we could tell, Iceland is a great place to be gay. We felt totally comfortable being couple-y there. I wrote a detailed post about queer Iceland, with tips for LGBTQ+ travellers; check it out for info about gay bars, events, tours, and Pride.
Day 3: the Golden Circle
Time to get on the ROAD and see the landscapes you’ve been dreaming about! We rented from Blue car rental – book in advance, and expect a bit of a wait picking it up. Driving was fairly straightforward; there are a few things to note, like one lane bridges. Here’s a good overview about driving in Iceland.
The Golden Circle is very busy in high season, it’s Iceland’s most popular route, after all. For the most part, it didn’t really matter to us – the sites and the views along the highway were still incredible, but at times we feel like cows being herded along! If you think that crowds will really affect your experience, aim to go early or late in the day, to avoid the bus tours. The main stops on the Golden Circle are:
- Thingvellir/Þingvellir is historically and geologically significant. It’s the site of Iceland’s first parliament, established in 930 AD. It’s also the site of a rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which drift apart by about 2cm every year. This place felt particularly crowded, due to lots of people being filtered through a narrow space, but the further you walk, the quieter it becomes, and it’s definitely worth walking between the continental plates! Parking here is paid (the only spot on the Golden Circle – 700 ISK).
- Gullfoss is a really mesmerizing, massive waterfall that cascades into a deep canyon. Take some time to really absorb the magnitude of the waterfall! There are lots of pathways around it.
- Hakadalslaug Geysir (just called Geysir on the English road signs): this was pretty incredible! I’ve never seen a geyser erupt before, so if you’ve been to Yellowstone or elsewhere it may not have the same effect, but it was SOO much fun to eagerly wait and cheer with the crowd every time it erupted! It happens about every 4 minutes. Geysir is part of a large geothermal field; there are some other neat hot pools nearby.
- Bonus: Icelandic horses! I really wanted to see these guys, and luckily, they were everywhere! You’ll definitely see them in fields along the main highway, just make sure you only pull over if there is a safe parking pull off. You’re not meant to stop on the side of the road, and if you miss a photo op with some horses, I can almost guarantee there will be another one!
Finish your Golden Circle tour at this much quieter destination: Fludir/Flúðir town! It’s full of secrets. including … a Secret Lagoon! The warm floating pool is large, with a completely serene vibe. You can float on a pool noodle or enjoy a beer, surrounded by grassy fields with walking paths, tiny elf houses, and some mini geysers letting out steam!
Another Fludir “secret”: Minilik Ethiopian Restaurant, which is a great place for dinner. It’s owned by an Icelandic/Ethiopian couple, with abundant decor directly from Addis Ababa. The food was excellent and the price was comparable to a meal out back home.
After dinner, continue on to Vík for night one of puffin spotting (read more below)!
Day 4: Jökulsárlón/Diamond Beach and Puffins in Vík
Camping in Vik: this small fishing town, nestled among majestic green cliffs, is a lovely place to stay along the South Coast. It’s a great jumping off point for day trips, not too far from Reykjavik, and is home to black sand beaches where you can see puffins.
The Vik campground is massive. You can pretty much set up your tent or campervan anywhere, so although the cliffs make a beautiful backdrop, you definitely won’t be enjoying a quiet experience in nature! That said, the price per night is only 1750 ISK per person, and facilities include indoor bathrooms with flush toilets, free wifi at reception, paid showers and laundry, and a cooking/dining cabin. There’s a grocery store, cafe, and gas station right across the street.
On the road again: After some breakfast Skyr, head out on the road towards Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (just across the highway from each other). This drive is just over 2 hours, plus a bit of time for stops to hang out with horses or snap photos of the landscape.
Diamond Beach is a black sand beach where pieces of iceberg – some tiny enough to juggle, others bigger than you -from the glacier lagoon wash up on shore.. I recommend a jacket, gloves, and even a toque here, it’s chilly!
Jökulsárlón, across the highway, is Iceland’s deepest lake, and is full of massive pieces of the Vatnajokull Glacier, some of them pale blue. You can admire it from land, or take a boat or even kayak tour to see the icebergs up close. There’s lots of bird activity and sometimes seals here!
Plan to spend some time at Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón. Both are stunning and unique; you may find yourself asking over and over if this is real life. Beware: as usual, there will be lots of people. It’s not far enough from Reykjavik to be off the beaten track, but the South Coast beyond Vík is definitely quieter than the Golden Circle.
In the late afternoon/early evening, head back to Vík: it’s PUFFIN TIME! We saw puffins at both Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey, and I’d recommend going to both if you have more than one evening or morning for puffin-watching. Check out this post with the full details about when and where to see puffins on the South Coast.
Day 5: Waterfalls and Blue Lagoon
After a quick stop at the cute church that sits above Vík, visit the puffins at Dyrhólaey or Reynisfjara on your way out, if you haven’t yet. Then start your drive back towards Reykjavik. If you’re in the mood for a walk on the black sand (about 45 minutes each way), you can also check out the 1973 Sólheimasandur plane crash wreckage site, along the route back towards Reykjavik.
There are a couple of popular waterfalls along the way that shouldn’t be missed (and that you probably can’t miss):
Skogafoss is gigantic and you can walk up pretty close to it and get all misty. You can also climb up above and wave to the sheep on the hills beside it! There’s camping there too.
Seljalandfoss has paid parking (700 ISK), washroom facilities and some little souvenir and cafe stalls. Follow the trail to walk behind this beauty! You know the drill: you’ll be joined by lots of other humans. I imagine that going at night would be more peaceful!
Kerid Crater is another possible stop nearby. We had beautiful-site-burnout: we couldn’t process any more gorgeous landscapes things so we just kept driving to Reykjavik.
End your last day by the airport, at The Blue Lagoon: This experience isn’t cheap, but the experience is worth it! There’s lots of space in the geothermally-heated pool to spread out, and you’re truly surrounded by a volcanic landscape, in a lava field! The water contains silica (which contributes to the milky blue colour), salt and algae. It feels both luxurious and uniquely Icelandic.
Your ticket includes parking, 1 drink from the in-pool bar, and a silica facial from the in-pool facial bar. You also get a towel and access to lockers, showers, sauna and steam rooms, and changing facilities. You’ll be given an electronic wristband that you can scan to purchase anything additional, and pay when you leave – this reminded me of the spas in Korea! Reservations are essential.
Hot tip: listen to the staff at the lagoon and LEAVE conditioner in while soaking, and try not to get your hair in the water! Kyla went for full relaxation and fully put her head in, and then we were comparing her mane to a (majestic) Icelandic horse’s for weeks! She had to buy a special conditioner. Even mine was a little weird and crispy for a while, and I tried not to get it wet.
After 5 days in this magical, otherworldly place, it’s time to say goodbye – or bless, in Icelandic! But probably not for long, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll already be planning your next trip!