Table of Content:
In my previous "Iceland - All you need to know before visiting Iceland" post I highlighted all the important information and tips you need to know before you travel to Iceland. If you haven't read that article, be sure to start with it, before reading this post.
Once you've done that, let's get into the details. In this article we explore the west and south of Iceland in six days. I've brought you a day-by-day Iceland itinerary breakdown of the main attractions.
Have a good read!
The perfect 6-day Iceland Itinerary
Day 1: Snæfellsnes peninsula, Grundarfjörður, whales, Kirkjufell, beautiful beaches, seals
As I mentioned in my "Iceland - All you need to know before visiting Iceland" post, Iceland sometimes has extreme weather conditions and you can expect gale force winds. This was no different during our trip.
For the day I pre-booked the whale watching tour, huge winds were forecasted, so we had to spontaneously change the plan and the only option was a quick car pick-up right after landing at 9am and then a 3 hour drive to Ólafsvík, where the whale tour started at 2pm.
Therefore as we didn't want to miss the whale watching tour, we swapped the days of the itinerary. And obviously, as Ólafsvík is in the Snæfellsnes peninsula we had to make sure that we fit all the other sights of the peninsula in that same afternoon and evening, because the next day we couldn't fit in another drive back and forth. So it turned out that our first day we were actually on the road for almost 24 hours (including the flight to Iceland), but otherwise everything worked out fine.
So our first program was a whale watching tour, starting from Ólafsvík. The end of September is the end of the whale season, but in early September there is still a chance to see humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins and sometimes even orcas (orcas are less likely, they are more likely in June and July). But just like aurora borealis, whales are not guaranteed, as we are looking for them in the wild open ocean. But for example some whale-watching tour operators offer that if you don't see any whales on a particular trip, you can join their tour again for free on a subsequent occasion. Our tour operator - Láki tours - offered such conditions as well.
We were lucky to see minke whales on our first trip. This is a small-bodied, balleen whale species that often swims alone, solitary.
After the whale watching, we headed to perhaps one of Iceland's most iconic sites, the 463m high Kirkjufell Mountain. Just a few minutes walk across the road from the car park is the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, where you can take beautiful pictures with the waterfall in the foreground and the peaky mountain in the background.
Even though you can walk back and forth from the car park in about 10-15 minutes, you still need to buy a day ticket. You either have to register with a local system or you can buy a ticket via the EasyPark app.
We continued our journey along the western tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, to the southern coastline. On the way, we saw the graffitied houses in Hellissandur, and then we saw the Saxhóll crater along the way.
Afterwards, we spent some time on Djúpalónssandur beach, a black sand and pebble beach where parts of the wreckage of a shipwreck from 1948 can still be found today.
Djúpalónssandur is famous not only for its shipwrecks but also for its beautiful rock formations.
On the way back to our accommodation we also visited the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, the Bjarnarfoss waterfall and the unique Búðakirkja - Black Church.
And finally, around sunset, we arrived at Ytri Tunga - a beach where seals like to hang around. We were lucky enough to spot a seal in the ocean.
From Ytri Tunga we still had a three-hour night drive to our accommodation, because even though Iceland seems small, there are significant distances, and you have to take into account that although the road quality is good and there are not many obstacles, there is a 90 km/h speed limit (or even less) in most places.
But we didn't mind the night drive, because at least we managed to see everything that was planned for the day on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, even if it made for an extra long day.
Day 2: Geysers, hot springs, waterfalls
One of the highlights of our day, and one of Iceland's greatest attractions, is the geothermal area at Geysir, home to the Strokkur geyser, which erupts every ~8 minutes or so, sometimes spouting hot thermal water up to 20-30 meters high. It's a great experience to stand close to it when it suddenly, without warning shoots upwards, sometimes even spraying its audience. (You can see in the bottom left corner, how tiny the people are compared to the water tower.)
The eruption of the geyser is triggered by the pressure difference due to the build-up of heat from the accumulation of magmatic gases in the geyser's underground cavities. This high temperature heats up the water in the geyser's cavities, causing an explosion of steam which, bursting to the surface, raises the water in the vent to the surface in a column of water.
Near Strokkur is the real Great Geyser, which, although is not active anymore, but was recorded in the last century that sometimes it shooted up the water 170 meters high. The Geysir last erupted in 2000 and once again in 2016, but still it is the geyser of geysers after all, as the common name for geyser used worldwide is derived from this Geysir in Iceland.
The area around the geysers is full of boiling hot water, which can reach up to 100 degrees Celsius. And you can just walk around them, just a few meters away. There's a small hill in the area, which you can walk up to for a beautiful view of the whole geothermal field.
This particular phenomenon is not seen in many places in the world. Within Europe, it can be seen in the Azores, and outside Europe in countries such as New Zealand and the USA.
There is no entrance fee for this special geothermal area in Iceland and anyone is free to visit it. It is a good thing in whole Iceland that most of the natural wonders are free to enter/visit, you just have to pay a parking fee in some places. But here you don't even have to pay a parking fee, furthermore there was even an electric charger in the car park, so while we were exploring the area, our car was charging.
Just 10 km from Geysir is the Gullfoss waterfall. This huge waterfall cascades down the gorge valley of the Hvítá River, over two steps with a 32-meter difference. In summer, the average flow is around 141 m3 /second, however in winter it lowers down to 80 m3 /second, but still a huge volume.
The waterfall can be admired both from above and from the same level as the waterfall. Both lookouts enable very different views .
Driving on, it is worth making a short stop at Brúarhlöð Canyon.
Secret Lagoon is a one-pool thermal spa, right next to a geothermal spring. I don't think it's worth going here to swim, there are much nicer and less crowded baths. But you can take a walk without an entrance fee, and I would definitely recommend this one.
Friðheimar, and other tomato greenhouses, e.g. the ones near Secret Lagoon
Don't just pass by the surrounding tomato greenhouses either. They are also very unique. They are huge greenhouses that circulate the water from a geothermal spring through a pipe system, thus warming the greenhouse and the sunlight is replaced with lamps, allowing tomatoes to be grown.
Hrunalaug Hot Spring - a cute little hot spring
This hot spring is the cutest spa we've seen, a tiny hot spring of just a few square meters that really only fits a few people. There's a fee to take a dip (adult: 2000 ISK, 12-16 years: 1500 ISK, under 12: free), but you can walk in for free and I definitely recommend walking there, it's only 1-2 minutes from the car park, but it's worth it for the fabulous view that greets you.
The little stone hut is the changing room. The pools themselves are really cozy, but because they are so tiny, it's quite crowded even with 10 people.
Iceland is full of waterfalls, and not just some tiny waterfalls. They really do rival each other in beauty and in size as well.
Laugarvatn - baking bread in the warmth of the Earth
On the shore of Lake Laugarvatn there is a geothermal spring that flows into the lake, so the water is completely warm near the spring, and cold on the other side of the spring, just half a meter away. On the shore of the lake, where the hot water is bubbling up, you can see something quite extraordinary. In the black sand there are small bumps that look like primitive sandcastles. In reality, however, they are not sandcastles, but pots dug into the ground and covered with sand, as they bake bread in the warmth of the Earth. The bread is supposed to take 24 hours to bake.
Similar baking in the ground also takes place in the Azores.
Cave dwellings - Laugarvatnshellir
These cave dwellings are now museums, but they were actually in use and the owners were already serving tourists and visitors in the 1900s. They served cakes and tea. They also provided camping-style overnight accommodation. The cave dwelling also included an animal shed and a vegetable garden.
Day 3: Thingvellir National Park, Reykjavik, Reykjanes Peninsula, tectonic plates
Thingvellir National Park
Lögberg, or Law Rock, is Iceland's most important historical site in Thingvellir National Park.
Thingvellir means Assembly Plains, and for good reason, since for many centuries (930-1798) the Icelandic people held their parliamentary assemblies here. It was at the Law Rock that the lawmaker proclaimed the new laws, but not only he, but anyone else could stand up and share information and ask questions of the assembled.
Within the national park we can also find the Öxarárfoss, a beautiful waterfall surrounded by towering cliffs along the tectonic plate fissure.
Silfra dive entry point
Silfra is the only underwater canyon in the world where you can dive between two continental plates. The water comes mainly from glacial meltwater, so it is crystal clear and visibility can be up to 100 meters. It is a true underground paradise for divers.
Even when we were there, there was a queue of adventurers in diving gear waiting to try this unique experience.
Reykjavik city centre
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the world. It is considered a large city by Icelandic standards. ~140.000 people live in the capital, but if you consider the entire agglomeration, it is home to about 60% of Iceland's population.
The city is also called "Smoky Bay", a name given thanks to the nearby geothermal areas. Their proximity plays a huge role, as the city's buildings are heated by hot water from volcanic hot springs circulated through a network of pipes.
Reykjavik's main attractions include Hallgrimskirkja, pedestrian streets, Hljómskála Park, Rainbow Street and the Sun Voyager statue.
The most unique and iconic of these is Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik's Evangelical Church, completed in 1986. This church is the tallest building in all of Iceland with its 74,5 meters. It has a very unique exterior form, but nothing adorns it except its shape. The inside is similarly clean and simple.
There are no frescoes, it is completely monochrome, pale grey. The biggest decoration inside is the huge organ. I think there are few churches in the world that are so simple, yet so grand.
Bridge between continents - Spanning the rift between the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America
Located at the western tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula, the iconic bridge spans the rift caused by the separation of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Not only can you cross the bridge, but you can also walk underneath it, where the depth of the crack is covered in fine black sand.
Gunnuhver Hot Spring
Seltún geothermal field, Gígvatnsvatn turquoise lake
The colorful Seltún geothermal field is worth a visit. You can walk along a comfortable boardwalk and admire this natural wonder from several levels. In addition to the colors, the smells are not negligible either, as there is a very strong, distinctive sulfur smell. I think it's an incredible experience to be walking around and have 100 degree hot water bubbling up from the depths of the Earth next to you.
If you are here, be sure to stop at Gígvatnsvatn Lake, a few hundred meters to the south. This is a beautiful turquoise-blue lake.
Strandarkirkja - charming church on the beach
Hot Spring thermal river
Reykjadalur means "steam valley". Because there are many hot springs and mud pools in the area.
This hiking trail is about 8 km round trip, with some steep sections, but they say it's worth the effort and the reward is a dip in the warm river of the hot spring, but you have to take into account that there's still the return trip ahead of you, back to the car park.
We only visited the beginning of the hike due to lack of time. There is a small stream running, but even there the water is warm.
Day 4: Fjaðrárgljúfur, Vatnajökull, glaciers, Jökulsárlón
I mentioned that we explored the island with day trips from the same accommodation. So we had to drive quite a bit on this day, but it was worth every kilometer. We drove all the way to the glacier lake of Jökulsárlón. On the way there, our first stop was Fjaðrárgljúfur.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is a fabulous canyon, formed by the Fjaðrá river over millions of years. The canyon is about 2 km long and 100 meters deep. From the car park, a short but steep hike takes you up to the upper rim of the canyon, where you can see the beautiful natural formation even better from a viewpoint. At the last viewing platform is a waterfall that feeds the river at the bottom of the canyon.
I have never seen such a beautiful canyon, not only in Iceland, but in my whole life. The tops of the jagged cliffs and the whole canyon area are covered with beautiful green vegetation. The experience was further enhanced by the bright sunshine. You have to watch out for the wind here though, as it can swallow your baseball cap in a second if you're not careful.
Vatnajökull is Iceland's vast continuous ice cap in the southeast of the island. It consists of several glaciers. It covers a total area of 8.100 km2, making it more than 8% of the island's land area, and the ice is up to 1 km thick in places. Quite astonishing dimensions...
The Vatnajökull and its surroundings were declared a national park in June 2008 and was also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most spectacular part is the glaciers and the Jökulsárlón glacial lake, which is very unique as huge blocks of ice from the glacier float in the lake.
In case there is no ice floating near the shore, you may want to book a zodiac tour that takes you close to the glacier, but if you're lucky, there will be huge ice blocks floating right along the shore, just a few meters away from you.
Pay attention all the time, because a seal could pop up at any moment, or it could be basking on one of the ice blocks.
Parking is paid here too, and there's even an ON electric car charger, so if you're driving an electric car, it's worth parking at the charger and charging up while you're enjoying the ice empire.
Only a few minutes walk (along the paved walkway under the bridge) and you arrive at Diamond Beach. This beach is where the water and floating ice blocks from the glacial lake flow into the ocean. Here you can see the power of nature, as huge blocks of ice are rolled back and forth by the giant waves, and as the ice melts and gets smaller, the water brings it up onto the beach, and the tiny ice chunks sparkle like diamonds on the black sand. It's quite magical and a unique sight in Europe!
A few kilometers from here is the Fjallsjökull glacier and the Svínafellsjökull glacier, both very beautiful, and you can get much closer to them than to the glacier at Jökulsárlón. At Fjallsjökull Glacier it is only a 2-3 minute walk and you are at the top of a high plateau overlooking the glacier. And at Svínafellsjökull glacier it's about a 15 minute walk to the lake at the foot of the glacier.
All three are completely different experiences, but I still think Jökulsárlón is the winner with its giant floating blocks of ice.
Day 5: Kerid crater, waterfalls, Reynisfjara Beach
Our first stop was the Kerid crater, which is about 3.000 years old.
Inside the 55-meter deep crater is the beautiful blue-green crater lake. It is a rarity, as the caldera, 170 meters long and 270 meters wide, remains completely intact. You can walk around the rim of the crater and even down to the crater lake. Another special feature is that the caldera has a deep red color.
After the crater, however, the day was mainly a day of waterfalls. We've been to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland before, and we've seen a few from the car, but today's waterfalls topped the list of Icelandic waterfalls.
Urriðafoss - highest average water flow
This waterfall is quite incredible, it is only a few hundred meters away from the main road and you can see the top of it a little from the bridge over the river, but I never dreamed it was so big, because it looks so tiny from the road. By comparison, it is the waterfall with Iceland's largest average water flow rate.
Seljalandsfoss - which you can walk behind & Gljufrabui - a fairytale canyon waterfall
Seljalandsfoss’ parking lot was the only parking lot in Iceland with a vending machine where you didn't have to enter your license plate number and you got a paper receipt. Parking here was 900 ISK.
But like the other places there was no entrance fee to the waterfall.
This waterfall is special because you can walk completely behind it. I'm not saying that you won't get wet, because that's inevitable as the wind is constantly carrying the spray, but it's definitely worth it because it's a great experience to walk behind such a big waterfall.
But that's not all. Many people go to see the waterfall and go back to the car park, but don't go back until you walk along the walkway to the left of the waterfall, because there in a hidden little canyon is the Gljufrabui waterfall. It's an absolutely fabulous sight!
Landeyjahöfn - black sandy beach
On the other side of the Ring Road - Highway 1 (almost opposite to Seljalandsfoss) you can walk down to the marina. From here, boats depart for the nearby small island of Heimaey. There are also puffin-watching tours departing from here.
But even if you don't plan to take a boat, it's worth going down here, because there's a beautiful, huge black sandy beach next to the harbor, where you can walk and feel the freedom of the place.
Íráfoss - small waterfall
Along the road there are these rock caves, you can see the entrance to the small cave hut at the base of the cliff from a car, but obviously exploring the cave is another experience.
Skógafoss is one of Iceland's largest waterfalls. The 25-meter wide waterfall cascades down from a height of 60 meters. The cliff from which the water rushes down used to be the island's coastal cliff, but today it is actually several kilometers from the current actual coastline.
It's amazing how much water is pouring down, and what's more, you can walk close to the base of the waterfall.
For the adventurous hikers, there is a steep staircase to the top of the waterfall.
You can drown a little bit before you get to the top, and you can wonder why you climbed up, because first you can only really see the end of the river as it disappears into the depths. However, walk a little further and you'll soon see why you climbed all those steps. It's like stepping into a whole other world.
Green rolling hills everywhere you look, criss-crossed by the river, broken every few hundred meters by rapids and waterfalls.
A beautiful hiking trail.
Dyrhólaey lighthouse - giant winds, puffins
The Dyrhólaey lighthouse has stood on the cliffs of the Dyrhólaey peninsula since 1927. The cliffs here are a favorite spot of the puffins, Iceland's most iconic animals (besides the Icelandic horses).
The puffin is a species of bird in the alkanes family. It is a small, characteristic bird (black feathers on the back and wings, white feathers on the belly and cheeks, and a bright orange beak) found mainly in the North Atlantic. The breeding season starts in spring and many individuals choose the coastal cliffs of Iceland for breeding. Therefore, the summer months are the best time to see puffins, with the highest chances in the morning and evening, as they often forage in open water during the day. As soon as the breeding season ends, towards the end of August or beginning of September, the puffins leave and spend much of the rest of the year in the open sea.
We were lucky enough to see them in early September, only there were such strong tornado force winds that it was impossible to take a photo because we had to hold on with both hands, but it was worth it! 🙂
Vík - a small town with a black sandy beach and a nice little church
Reynisfjara Beach, Hálsanefshellir basalt cave
One of the most beautiful beaches in the south of Iceland is Reynisfjara Beach, located between Vík and the Dyrhólaey peninsula. Admission is free, parking is ISK 1.000.
It is a beautiful beach with a cave of huge geometric basalt pillars and more unique rock formations. I would compare these basalt organ-like formations to Hegyestű at lake Balaton Highlands in Hungary, except that here is a cave in the rock, so the top of the cave - seen from below - is made up of these beautiful geometric columns. It's an incredible sight.
Day 6: Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon has become one of Iceland's icons (along with the puffins). It gets its name from its beautiful bluish-white color, caused by the reflective effect of silica particles.
Although it is located in the middle of an 800-year-old lava field, the bath itself was artificially created. The water comes from a geothermal power plant built on the nearby Svartsengi steam springs.
The 8.700 m2 Blue Lagoon contains around 9.000 m3 of geothermal water (70% seawater). The water in the entire lagoon is completely replaced in around 40 hours. The maximum depth of the lagoon is 1,6 meters and the average temperature is around 38 degrees Celsius all year round.
The Blue Lagoon is also very rich in minerals (mainly silica and sulfur) and algae, making it extremely beneficial for skin problems such as eczema. The lagoon is also the source of white silica mud, which all bathers can try in the form of a facial mask.
There are also saunas and steam baths around the lagoon. There is also a lagoon bar where all guests are invited to enjoy a drink of their choice.
The entrance fee to the Blue Lagoon is quite high. The Comfort ticket starts at 8.990 ISK, the lowest price is ~24.000 HUF ('2023), and with that you get a drink, a facial mask and a towel to use. But once you're sure which day you want to go and when, it's worth booking in advance, because time slots are set and they fill up quickly, and prices are also dynamically increasing, so if demand is high, you can't actually buy a ticket for the listed price of 8.900.
But we live once, and since we had such wonderful adventures during our week-long adventure in Iceland, we thought the Blue Lagoon would be a worthy crowning glory to our trip. And so it was, and from the Blue Lagoon we headed straight to the airport, which is only 20 minutes from the lagoon.
You can see how superlatively I've written about Iceland. I honestly had high expectations for the island, but the reality exceeded even my expectations. It really is incredible how diverse Iceland is. No wonder it is also known as the Land of Fire and Ice, because it has it all: volcanoes, geysers, glaciers, waterfalls, canyons, wildlife, aurora borealis, ... And all of it is so concentrated that you can see everything in a week's trip, depending on the weather.
Of course, you can spend much longer time in Iceland than 1 week, and I'm sure it's a great experience to drive all the way around Iceland on Highway 1 in a campervan, but I think you can explore the most special places in Iceland in just 1 week as well. It is also a very convenient destination for all age groups, as most attractions are within easy walking distance of the car park. But of course, those who are looking for long hikes will also find their expectations in Iceland.
In conclusion, I really liked Iceland and I think it is one of the most unique destinations in Europe, with the Azores at the top of the list. It's not a cheap country, especially the accommodation and car rental is quite expensive. But you can get a return Wizzair ticket for as little as 100 Euros, and you can save a lot on meals if you bring basic food from home. And the fact that you have to buy tickets for very few attractions is a huge advantage. So when you add it all up, and add up all the different things you can see on this 'small' island during one single trip (there are not many places in the world where you can see glaciers, volcanoes, whales, geysers, waterfalls as beautiful as these and even the aurora borealis), I think Iceland is a great value for money destination. I can only recommend everyone to visit this wonderland!