March 21, 2019

The Ultimate Itinerary: 5 Days in Iceland

I recently had the opportunity to spend 5 days in Iceland with my husband and brother, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. From the moment you arrive and every minute in between, the landscapes that surround you are nothing like you’ve seen before. Think: lava rock, moss, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, oceans, black sand beaches, and geysers surrounding you at all times – yes, there’s that much to take in!

The culture is calm and slow-paced. The buildings, design, and architecture are all extremely clean, minimal, and modern.  The weather was chilly, but tolerable. We went in late February and luckily had temps in the low 40’s every day with a bit of rain and snow one evening. The food (especially the lamb!) is tasty and night life in Reykjavik was a blast (more on that below!) Our favorite day was the one without plans, stopping along the road to explore and take in the culture.

As a wedding planner, I typically have my trips planned out to the minute. For our Iceland trip, I took a more relaxed approach to planning, did the minimum research that was needed to get around, have a place to stay, and have a few destinations picked out, and I have to say that because of this more relaxed approach, the trip was one of the best I’ve been on! The rest of our plans fell into place while we were there, allowing us to take the trip day by day and make decisions on the go.

If you’re considering visiting Iceland but haven’t mustered up the courage to buy tickets, this is your sign! GO! 5 days in Iceland was the perfect amount of time to see the key locations and get a feel for the local life. Flights are inexpensive and because it’s still on a rise as a highly sought-after travel destination, it is not flooded with tourists. I had to check it out for myself as I’ve heard so much about it the past few years. To say it exceeded my expectations is an understatement. The people I traveled with (my hubs + brother) and the amount of breath-taking natural landscapes that Iceland boasts were the top 2 reasons our trip was so enjoyable.

Read important information about our trip and our 5 days in Iceland itinerary, below!

Is it expensive in Iceland?

The short answer: yes! The only “negative”,  if that’s what you want to call it, was how expensive Iceland was. Luckily, we knew that before we arrived and were able to plan appropriately. I would advise packing snacks, fruit, coffee/tea for your road trips so you have more time to explore + they will hold you over for one of your meals during the day. Purchasing snacks at a local grocery or gas station adds up quickly! Also, limiting your alcohol intake while there and being smart about your spending will go a long way. Alcohol is heavily taxed in Iceland, so if you’re planning to drink or want a nice bottle of wine one evening, I would stock up on alcohol at the Keflavik Airport at their duty-free store.


A few other things I would recommend for planning your trip:

  • If you’re staying at a hotel, take advantage of the free hotel breakfast and happy hour to save some costs!) I would also recommend packing a Yeti 64oz Rambler and Yeti Mug and fill them with water and coffee to keep you hydrated and warm on your road trips.
  • Some snacks to pack for your road trip include: Nuts, Trailmix, Crackers, Granola Bars, Fruit, Candy
  • Rent a car vs. booking a tour bus if that’s your style. We rented a car and were SO happy that we did. We had the flexibility to stop and go as we pleased, pulling off on the side of the road to explore and hike, and go at our own pace. We rented from Ice Rental 4×4 and had a great experience. It’s only a 10 minute shuttle from the Keflavik Airport. Since it was winter, we rented a 4-wheel drive and used it one morning when we woke up to snow.
  • Our GPS came in handy for most of the drives, but it’s pretty simple to get around in Iceland. There is one main highway that runs across the bottom half of the country (it’s a straight stretch) and most of the main sites were clearly marked. Our Airbnb Hosts also gave us very clear directions, and since the towns are small, there are not that many roads to miss!
  • Bring hiking shoes + rain pants and rain coat! Even if it’s not going to rain, having water proof gear is crucial if you’re planning to explore the waterfalls.

Overview of our 5 days in Iceland:

Day 1: Arrive at Keflavik Airport in the morning, visit the Blue Lagoon, and spend the evening in Reykjavik.

Day 2: Drive to Jökulsárlón and stopping at Seljalandsfoss, Selfoss and Víkalong the way.

Day 3: Visit Glacier Lagoon, explore some waterfalls, stop in Vík, and end in the Golden Circle

Day 4: Drive the Golden Circle stopping at the Geysir, Gullfoss, Friðheimar, Kerið Crater, and Þingvellir National Park. End our night in Reykjavik.

Day 5: Breakfast in Reykjavik and drive to the airport


Day 1: Arrive, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik

On Thursday morning, we arrived at the airport around 8:00am, picked up our rental car, and were off to the Blue Lagoon! It was dreamy, the water was a foggy aqua color and the temperature of a warm bath. It was a bit chilly that morning, so the warm water was extra pleasing to our jet-lagged bodies. We purchased the Comfort ticket which came with a mineral face mask and a drink at the swim up bar. (I’d recommend the cider!) and spent about 3 hours relaxing there.  Tip: Visit the Blue Lagoon when you first arrive or before you fly home since it’s so close to the airport.

After the Blue Lagoon, we drove to Reykjavik to check into our hotel, grab some dinner, and explore downtown. We stayed at the Hilton Nordica in Reykjavík and had a great experience – highly recommend. Reykjavík is such a cool city, with mountain and ocean views and relaxed downtown streets (Population: 123k ) Our night in Reykjavík was a blast, grabbing food at Mezze and stopping at a couple of local bars for drinks afterwards. (The Lebowski Bar and B5) B5 had a live band so we stayed there most of the evening making new friends from Wales and Norway.

Day 2: Seljalandsfoss, Selfoss, Vík, Jökulsárlón

(5 hour drive from beginning to end with multiple stops along the way)

We had an early start on Friday morning since our final destination was 5 hours across the country in Jökulsárlón. That morning we grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel, packed some fruit and coffee for the drive, and headed to Seljalandsfoss, spending about 2 hours hiking around the waterfall and eating lunch at their food truck.  Tip: You can find another hidden waterfall nearby. If you’re facing Seljalandsfoss, walk the trail to the left of it (past the house/farm) and right around the bin you will find a hidden water fall between two large cliffs – stunning! Video below!

After Seljalandsfoss we stopped at Selfoss, another massive waterfall with powerful force. The views from the top (527 stairs to the top!) allow you to take in the entire surrounding landscape and see the water source for the falls. We spent another hour and a half at this waterfall and drove to Víkand the Black Sand Beach from here. Along our drive, we stopped on the side of the road a few times to take in the views and pet ponies (Which are EVERYWHERE!)

By this time it was storming (the only rain we had the entire 4 days), the skies were gray, sand was black, winds were strong, waves for fierce, and there were minimal people at the beach which made for a eerie setting. Stopping here was a must – the black sand and entire beach was unreal.

After the beach, we had a 2.5 hour drive to our Airbnb in Jökulsárlón (by this time it was pitch dark and still raining, so our drive was uneventful since we couldn’t see further than 30 feet in front of our car) We made it to our Airbnb and had dinner at Gerdi Guesthouse about 5 minutes away. The best sweet potato soup, lamb, and desserts awaited us!  Gerdi Guesthouse was a local hotel, but open for dinner for anyone in the area. It was a bit hard to find – if you’re planning to stop there for food… don’t give up. Keep driving around the area until you find it.

Our Airbnb was perfect. It slept 3 people comfortably, was clean, in a prime location, and super modern/stylish. The best part… it sits at the base of a waterfall! So you can only image what views we woke up to!

Day 3: Glacier Lagoon, explore some falls, Vík, and Northern Lights on Golden Circle

(5 hour drive from beginning to end with multiple stops along the way)

This was THE BEST DAY of our trip. We started in Jökulsárlón and our final destination was our next Airbnb on the Golden Circle. While every day was beautiful and there was so much to take in… the way Saturday morning started off and rest of the day unfolded was too good to be true.  Remember the evening before we drove in the dark + stormy night and couldn’t see much of our surroundings. We knew what our Airbnb looked like from pictures, but had no idea the views that would await us when we woke up.

Overnight the rain turned to snow, so we woke up to a beautiful snow storm that covered miles and miles of the eastern side of Iceland. We had unbelievable views of the mountain ranges as well as ocean. The best part – our house was built on the base of a waterfall so we spent the morning hiking up the falls behind our house and enjoying the views! What a dream….

After our hike, we drove 10 minutes to Glacier Lagoon and explored this area for a few hours. One side of highway is the lagoon – where huge glaciers and icebergs have formed. The other side of the highway was  Glacier Beach or “Diamond Beach” where these icebergs have made their way down the channel to the ocean, and the waves pushed them back onto the beach! I’ve never seen anything like it – the black sand and aqua blue ice chunks made a crazy contrast! (Tip: Stop for some lunch while here! Fish and chips, hot dogs, and spiked coffee/hot chocolate, yum!)

After our morning at glacier beach we were back on the road and headed for Vík. Along the drive we saw a water fall off in the distance and took a detour to see what it was all about. Little did we know we would spend another hour and a half climbing this waterfall and exploring the area. Such a fun afternoon!

After that climb, we were back on the road and headed for Vík to grab dinner and see the black sand beach in less-stormy conditions. We stopped at the Smiðjan Brugghús (a brewery) and there sour beers + burgers were delicious!

Our final destination on Day 3 was our Airbnb on the Golden Circle in Miðdalskot. (Another super cute spot, about 10 minutes from the Geyser on the Golden Circle and in a great location for viewing the lights!) This Airbnb was in a great location to see the Northern Lights since it wasn’t near a town or heavy light pollution. We dropped our bags, bundled up, grabbed the 3 lawn chairs from our back porch and sat outside in our driveway for 3 hours that evening searching for the Northern Lights! While we were lucky enough to see the northern lights in their greenish color moving through the sky (so exciting!), they weren’t as vibrant or bright as we would have hoped. It was an experience to say the least!

Day 4: Golden Circle and Back to Reykjavik for the evening

This was our last full day on our trip! We spent it touring the Golden Circle and ended it in Reykjavik for dinner. Our first stop was the Geysir, spending about 25 minutes here, and second stop was Gullfoss, another massive waterfall along the circle. Stop 3 was my favorite (lunch!) at Friðheimar Tomato Farm! They grow their own tomatoes in this green house year-round. In the greenhouse is also a restaurant with an delicious tomato-based menu. You MUST get the unlimited tomato soup and bread buffet…. Geesh! Full bellies and full hearts.

After lunch we made 2 more stops. One at the Kerið crater (a crater that was once a volcano) and hiked around Þingvellir National Forrest for a couple of hours that evening (this forest is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet / split apart a few centimeters every year)

After touring the golden circle, we ended our last evening in Reykjavik. My brother wanted to try traditional Icelandic food and their infamous fermented shark, so a meal at Café Loki was a must.  The restaurant was great, my meal was awesome, but my brother’s meal was an experience… he did the traditional Icelandic meal (mashed fish, dried fish, tuna-something, fermented shark, and lamb) while my husband and I ordered on the safe side (cod + sweet potatoes – ha!) My brother talked both of us into trying a bit of his fermented shark and it was as horrible as it sounds. The smell and taste of it reminded me of the smell when I would get my hair permed as a little girl!  Our final stop was at Systir for drinks and dessert – both which were amazing! And our evening ended on an even-higher note when we realized the map on the wall behind where I was sitting at Systir was a map of Coshocton County (A county in Ohio about 25 minutes from where we grew up!) How crazy is that! We asked our waiter where they purchased the décor in the restaurant and he said they randomly bought pictures and maps online that looked “interesting”. What are the chances…

Day 5: Reykjavík and Flights Home

This was our last morning in Iceland – we had a few hours to spend before our flight so we went to downtown Reykjavík so I could purchase an ornament (a must-do when I’m traveling). You could also grab breakfast or coffee downtown if you please! It’s a short drive, or you could walk, from the Hilton Nordica!

Iceland was amazing, I simply cannot put into words the magnitude of the surrounding landscapes that are available to you at all times in this beautiful country. We’ve already decided that we’re going back, this time to solely focus on seeing the northern lights… and maybe hike a few more waterfalls:) I hope you enjoyed this Ultimate 5 Days in Iceland Itinerary!


Have you been to Iceland!? What was your favorite activity and/or city you encountered while there!?

Looking for more travel inspiration?! Check out these additional trip itineraries:

3 Days in London

San Fran, Lake Tahoe and Napa Week-long Vacation

2 Days on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail


Alyssa Thomas is a Pittsburgh Wedding Planner and Pittsburgh Event Planner serving clients in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Maryland and Worldwide Destinations. Her work spans from weddings and corporate events, to meetups and intimate gatherings. Contact her today for your consultation and stop by her instagram to see some beautiful events, design work, and a peek into her personal life + traveling adventures. @alyssathomasevents



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