- 4 Days
Whether you’re on a lengthy layover or enjoying a long weekend away, don't miss the chance to get out into the countryside and take in some of the natural wonders located within a stone’s throw of the capital. It's simple to string together the top sights, including the Golden Circle, with more off-the-beaten-path diversions, and still have a bit of time left to lap up Reykjavík's unique charm.
After landing at Keflavík International Airport make a beeline for the Blue Lagoon to soak away the jet lag in surreal waters and silica mud. Wander the Reykjanes Peninsula's steaming earth near Valahnúkur or Seltún before barrelling down the coastal highway for fresh seafood in Eyrarbakki or Stokkseyri. Choose a base near Hella or Hvolsvöllur to get out in the open air on horseback: the lush waterfall-rimmed Fljótshlíð valley is a key candidate. Or try to spot the Northern Lights (in the colder months). Active bodies will enjoy the stunning Fimmvörðuháls hike from Skógar up through the ridge between two brooding ice caps (and the site of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010) then down into Þórsmörk, a soaring valley dotted with wild Arctic flowers. Or you can take a super-Jeep tour or amphibious bus to Þórsmörk, and head out on day hikes around the valley. Those who are tighter on time can trek along the glacial tongue of Sólheimajökull instead.
On your way back west, roam the Þjórsárdalur, a broad volcanic river valley with a handful of disparate sights, including a Settlement Era farmstead, hidden waterfalls, and the foothills of Hekla volcano. Or, swing up to the gushing cascades at Gullfoss, the spurting Geysir from which all others got their name, and the rift valley and ancient parliament site Þingvellir National Park – the classic Golden Circle route.
Wrap up your minibreak with a night in Reykjavík. Iceland’s capital bustles with an all-star assortment of boutiques, museums and galleries, lively bars and restaurants serving scrumptious food, plus there's easy access to whale-watching trips from the Old Harbour.
Best of the West
- 1 Week
With one week to spend, you'll be able to roam further than the popular Golden Circle and the busy southwest. Try heading northwest from Reykjavík to lesser-travelled west Iceland, which is chock-a-block with history and boasts landscapes ranging from lava fields to broad fjords and ice caps, and gives a sense of the wonderful solitude that Iceland offers.
Start in Reykjavík, enjoying the city’s museums, cafes and bars while getting acclimatised. Then complete the day-long Golden Circle with stops at glittering Gullfoss, surging Geysir, and historic Þingvellir National Park, where you'll witness the tearing apart of the continental plates. If you're feeling adventurous, go inland and bump along the rutted Kaldidalur Corridor for stunning vistas through the pinnacles of several ice caps. Stop in at Langjökull for exploration of its glistening tunnel and caves, or a taste of icy activities such as snowmobiling. You'll emerge at Upper Borgarfjörður, where you can sleep in the quiet countryside, explore enormous lava tubes or soak in a sleek spa complex. If you're not up for the back-country aspects of the Kaldidalur Corridor, instead head to Borgarnes along the coastal route, and learn about the sagas at its excellent Settlement Centre.
Next up, explore the wonderful Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Start by horse riding around the bay of Breiðavík or creeping into the bizarre gorge, Rauðfeldsgjá. Then head west to Arnarstapi, where you can hike the coastal trail to Hellnar or pick up a Snæfellsjökull glacier tour, exploring Jules Verne's fabled centre of the earth. The area is part of Snæfellsjökull National ̈Park and offers a multitude of hikes, taking in bird cliffs, volcanic craters, lava tubes and protected native flower terrain.
On the tip of the peninsula near Öndverðarnes look for pods of orcas, or catch a whale-watching or puffin-viewing tour near Grundarfjörður. Then alight in charming Stykkishólmur, where you can take in interesting museums and sup on tasty mussels. If time permits, hop aboard the Baldur ferry for a day trip to quaint Flatey island; it's a great way to really disconnect from the world before returning to the capital.
Classic Ring Road
- 10 Days
For such a wild, wonderful land, much of Iceland is surprisingly compact; the classic Ring Road trip loops you near the most popular sights. With extra time, you can add on myriad adventures along the way.
Start in Reykjavík, enjoying the city's creature comforts, before heading out in a clockwise fashion. Stop in Borgarnes for its fascinating Settlement Centre, historical sights and tasty restaurants. Then zip up to Stykkishólmur, an adorable village overlooking a bay studded by islets. With extra time, from here you could detour to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Either way, rejoin the Ring Road, breaking free of it once more to explore the quaint townships and coastal vistas of the Tröllaskagi Peninsula before gliding through Akureyri, Iceland’s unofficial northern capital. Head to the geological treasure chest of the Mývatn region next, with a stop at Dettifoss to experience nature's awesome power firsthand. Push eastwards, detouring to Borgarfjörður Eystri for summer puffins galore. Take a break in Seyðisfjörður, then tackle the long journey through the rest of the east as the road curls along magical fjords.
Pause in Höfn for langoustine, and make plans to discover the icy realms of the vast Vatnajökull ice cap, be it via snowmobile or super-jeep. Don't miss the glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón, or neighbouring Fjallsárlón, where giant bergs break off glaciers and float out to sea. You can warm up your hiking legs in Skaftafell with glacier hikes aplenty then head south across mossy lava fields and enormous river deltas to Vík, which has a fantastical basalt-columned beach and puffin cliffs. Still feeling spry? Tackle the awesome trek from Skógar to Þórsmörk, a verdant interior valley. Or continue west along the Ring Road, passing enormous waterfalls at Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, then veer away one last time to check out the Golden Circle: Gullfoss, Geysir and the yawning continental divide and ancient governmental seat at Þingvellir National Park. Roll back into Reykjavík to spend the remainder of your holiday chatting with the locals, whether in the city's geothermal pools or during late-night pub crawls.
The Grand Tour
- 4 Weeks
The more remote and fantastical swathes of Iceland open to you with an extended stay. In addition to seeing major sights, you can venture further from the Ring Road, into the gorgeous, isolated Westfjords, or four-wheel-drive in the Highlands.
From Keflavík airport, rent wheels and head to the Blue Lagoon to unwind. Follow the coastal road, then head inland to chase some waterfalls; stretch your legs by ditching the car and hike from Landmannalaugar to verdant Þórsmörk. Catch the boat to Vestmannaeyjar, where puffins flip-flap over fresh lava. Then sojourn near Vík, with its iconic black beach and stone sea stacks.
At Kirkjubæjarklaustur explore photogenic canyons, emerald-green hiking trails and a fiery history. Skaftafell offers hiking and glacier walking, and winter ice caves. Don’t miss a boat ride among icebergs at Jökulsárlón and consider a snowmobile or super-jeep safari on frosty Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest ice cap. Pause in Höfn for legendary langoustine, then negotiate hairpin fjord roads where the epic views make it hard to focus on the drive. Plan for panoramas aplenty in inspiring Seyðisfjörður, and puffins and glorious hiking trails in Borgarfjörður Eystri.
Climb through Vopnafjörður to the grassy plains of Langanes, then follow the quiet northeastern circuit as it rolls through the natural wonders of Ásbyrgi to reach charming Húsavík, perfect for whale watching. Scenic Mývatn makes a great base for exploring geothermal wonders and the pounding waterfall Dettifoss. It's also the jump-pff point for central highland treasures like the mammoth caldera at Askja. Stop for a slice of civilisation in Akureyri before touching the Arctic Circle on the island of Grímsey. Tour north up Tröllaskagi to check out Siglufjörður, then treat yourself to a relaxing swim in Hofsós.
Head to the Westfjords to learn about ancient witchcraft in Hólmavík, and use buzzing little Ísafjörður as a launch pad to Hornstrandir, Iceland’s majestic hiking reserve. Enter the incredible heart of the Westfjords, to explore the gushing waters of Dynjandi, then weave through the southern fjord area to the bird cliffs at Látrabjarg and the mind-blowing pink-red beach at Rauðasandur.
Ferry over to charming Stykkishólmur and discover the treasures of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, including golden beaches, craggy lava fields and glistening ice caps. Borgarnes and Upper Borgarfjörður blend saga sites and hidden caves, then Langjökull presents some human handiwork in its ice tunnel. Finish the history lesson at Þingvellir National Park. End the epic journey in Reykjavík, the ebullient capital.