If taking an epic Iceland road trip is on your bucket list, you are not alone! These days it seems like everyone is suiting up, packing their photography gear, flying on a budget airline or with a stopover, and visiting the Land of Ice and Fire. We are one of those people and we think you should absolutely take an Icelandic road trip.
If the thought of driving the entire Ring Road [the 800+ mile highway circumnavigating the island] doesn’t appeal to you or you don’t have enough time, you can still take the Iceland Road Trip of a lifetime! Our 5-day itinerary offers you the perfect “snack size” trip to Iceland and fits perfectly with a 48-hour airline stopover or extended weekend trip. During your time on the island, you can still see geysers, hot springs, volcanic rock, ponies, glaciers, puffins, landscapes that look like they should be on another planet and more.
Instead of driving the entire Ring Road, our Iceland road trip itinerary focuses on the stunning landscapes in the south-eastern part of the Island. You will still get to spend a ton of time on the Ring Road but you will experience it in a do-able amount of time.
Disclaimer: Although shortened, the entire Icelandic road trip itinerary we have laid out below is not for the faint of heart. It includes a lot of driving and quite a few stops. That being said, you can always tailor it to your wants and needs so that it best fits your trip.
During your time on the Island, you will still be able to see geysers, hot springs, volcanic rock, ponies, glaciers, puffins, landscapes that look like they should be on another planet and more. Since this is a road trip, you will be spending minimal time in Reykjavik, but that is okay because there is so much to see. Are you ready? Let’s get to planning!
Our Epic 5 Day South-East Iceland Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Drive the Golden Circle
Highlights: Geysers, Gulfoss Waterfall, Icelandic Ponies, Reykjavik
During the first day of your road trip in Iceland, you are heading out on a loop road called the Golden Circle. It both starts and ends in/near Reykjavik so you can spend the day in nature and the night exploring the city since one afternoon-night is really all you need for Reykjavik. The Golden Circle is an easy 190-mile drive round trip. Along the way, be sure to stop and pet the adorable Icelandic ponies who are waiting for some love! If you want to opt out of driving this part, there are many affordable Golden Circle Tours you may like to go on instead.
The Golden Circle is an easy 190-mile drive round trip. If you are dedicated to driving it fast, you can drive the whole thing and see all the sights in about 3 hours. We recommend budgeting around 5 hours to make the most of your experience. When you are driving, you can either start clockwise or counterclockwise. We suggest the clockwise version so you can get started seeing the sights right away!
Stop 1: Thingvellier National Park
Listen up: Vikings used to have meetings here! How cool is that? Thingvellier National Park is also where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and you can actually go diving/snorkeling between them if you budget enough time. Regardless, it is a cool place to walk around and take photos.
Stop 2: Geysir Hot Spring Area
Boiling mud pits, the smell of sulfur, and lively geysers can all be found at Geysir Hot Spring Area. Geysers erupt every 7-10 minutes so you will certainly be able to capture multiple eruptions on film. The hot spring area is the perfect place to stop at a restroom since there aren’t many on the Golden Circle!
Stop 3: Gulfoss Waterfall
Whether you visit in the dead of winter like we did or take your Iceland road trip during the warmer months, Gulfoss Waterfall is an epic site to behold. Unlike most waterfalls that you stand under, you actually stand above and gaze down into Gulfoss. Budget spending the most time at the waterfall because it can’t be missed.
Day 2: Reykjavik To Vik
Highlights: Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, Sólheimasandur Airplane Wreck
Day 2 of your Iceland road trip is going to require a few hours of driving and a bunch of sightseeing and walking around. You will start by programming Vik into your GPS and will head east on the Ring Road out of Reykjavik.
During your drive, you will traverse between a mountain pass, over glacial rivers, and through stunning lava fields. You will spend the night in or near Vik, depending on availability. Make sure to get plenty of rest because Day 3 is going to be busy!
A little less than 2 hours outside of Reyjavik lies the stunning Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.
As you approach, you will be able to see the waterfall from the road. Seljalandsfoss is fascinating because it is a waterfall you can walk behind! Although beautiful, we much prefer the hidden Gljúfrabúi Waterfall.
To find Gljúfrabúi Waterfall, face Seljalandsfoss and walk about 1/4 of a mile to your left. There you will spot a small sign marking that you have arrived. In order to see the hidden waterfall, you are actually going to have to walk through a gorge until you get to a cave. Here you will see Gljúfrabúi Waterfall in all of its glory!
Stop 2: Skogafoss Waterfall
If you thought the first two waterfalls were epic, you are in for a real treat! Skogafoss is only a short drive from stop 1 and there are plenty of signs to direct you where you need to go. When you are at Skogafoss, make sure to head to both the base and the top of the waterfall.
Many people spend a ton of time at the bottom but don’t hike the stairs to the top. Don’t spend the entire time looking at the falls either! From the top of the ridge, turn around and check out the fields and sea in all their glory!
Stop 3: Sólheimasandur Airplane Wreck
Once you leave Skogafoss, you are heading only a few miles away to make the long trek to Iceland’s hidden airplane wreck. You used to be able to drive down the beach until you reached the wreck, but you are no longer able and must hike around 4 miles round trip. The hike is on flat ground and it is totally worth it to see a freaking airplane on a black sand beach!
Make sure that you know what time the sun sets based on the time of year you visit so you aren’t stuck rushing your visit and hoping you don’t get stuck in the dark. We were only at this cool landmark for about 10 minutes total because we didn’t budget our time correctly.
Stop 4: Vik
Spend the night in or near the town of Vik. There are small grocery stores and a gas station if you are looking to purchase affordable food.
Day 3: Vik To Hofn
Highlights: Black sand beach, basalt columns, glaciers, Skaftafell National Park
Day 3 is what we call a “sleep when you die” day because you will be out and about from dawn-till-dusk! Speedy Icelandic road trips aren’t for the faint of heart! You will spend the morning admiring black sand and basalt, the afternoon checking out glaciers and lava fields, and the evening driving to the city of Hofn.
We were able to do all of this and more in the winter when it was completely dark by 7pm. If you are fortunate to visit during warmer months, you will have more than enough time before night falls. Anything you pass up on the way to Hofn you will catch on your way back to Reykjavik. Make sure to budget some time to get out of your car and admire the lava fields!
Stop 1: Reynishverfi Basalt Column Beach
You have seen the photos of these basalt columns darn near everywhere, and now it is your turn to visit! If the tide is out, climb on them for unforgettable photos! You can easily reach the basalt columns by a side road off Highway 1 near Vik. Keep your eyes out and program your GPS accordingly so you don’t miss it and have to backtrack like we did!
Stop 2: Vik’s Black Sand Beach
The entrance to Vik Beach is located right near the only gas station in town. Stop for a bite to eat and then walk along the beach and admire the sea stacks and jet black sand. The beach is equally beautiful in both winter and summer.
Stop 3: Skaftafell National Park
Today is the perfect time to make a quick stop in Skaftafell National Park to see what it is all about. The park is massive with tons of hikes and beautiful landscapes, but since you only have 5 days, it is best to hit the highlights. We suggest a trip to the visitor center followed by a short 2-mile round trip hike to a nearby glacier. The hike consists of walking down a pebble path until you reach the glacier. It is ideal for anyone and doesn’t require much time at all.
Stop 4: Hofn
Spend the night in the town of Hofn where you will enjoy local restaurants, a large grocery store, and multiple lodging options.
Day 4: Hofn
Highlights: Stokksnes, Hofn
By this point, you have done a TON of driving during your Iceland road trip and you have a lot more left to do. Take Day 4 to relax a little and soak it all in. If you wanted to spend more time in Skaftafell National Park, the nearest entrance is about an hour away so it is totally doable with an early start. Other than that stick around town and the surrounding areas.
Stop 1: Hofn
Pick up some food at the local market, stroll around town for some Icelandic souvenirs, and walk along the beautiful waterfront of this maritime fishing village. If the weather is nice, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy watching the boats go in and out of the harbor.
Stop 2: Stokksnes
Simply plug the name Stokksnes into your GPS or drop a pin and within 30 minutes you will land on mars. Okay not really, but Stokksnes looks like it shouldn’t even be on this planet! The landscape consists of giant dunes, sea grass, a black sand beach, and mountains that plunge straight into the sea. Depending on the time of year, you can also see the northern lights!
Day 5: Hofn To Reykjavik
Highlights: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Dryholaey
The final day of your Icelandic road trip concludes with a 5-hour drive back to the capital of Reykjavik. Five hours seems like a long time, but time flies when you are having fun and taking in the scenery. If you want to, there is a road near the Skaftafell National Park entrance that takes you to the base of another glacier. You can drive right to it and it is a great quick stop.
If you want to spend more time at any of your previous stops, now is the perfect time because you will pass each and every stop on your drive back to Reykjavik. For example, we stopped at Skogafoss again because we didn’t get enough of it the first time!
Stop 1: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
You haven’t seen anything until you have seen a glacier lagoon in Iceland! Seeing chunks of crystal-clear blue ice sitting on a perfectly black beach is something you will never forget. Look out for wildlife because seals often come out to play among the floating icebergs. Rain, shine, or snow, this is an essential stop on any road trip in Iceland.
Stop 2: Dryholaey
Dryholaey is a small peninsula not too far from Vik. It is the home to Puffin, rock formations, and stunning beaches. This stop is the ideal spot for photography, especially if you arrive during sunset. The cliffs and giant waves are reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest and you will be hard pressed to convince your friends and family that you really weren’t in Oregon!
Stop 3: Reykjavik
Congratulations! You just completed an epic 5-day Iceland road trip! Spend your last evening resting in the capital, hitting the town, or dropping off your rental car and catching a late flight back to your home country.
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Visiting Iceland soon? Which one of these stops has you most excited? Have you taken an Icelandic road trip? Where did you head? Let us know in the comments!
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