Once you’ve decided you are heading to Iceland for your next holiday, adventure or even just a city break, you’re in for a real treat. I had so much fun there and even when I did that, I felt that I only scratched the surface of this incredibly under-rated country. Iceland is mega and you’ll want to make the most of every single second of your trip – no time to be wasted so explore as much of the island as you can. A few facts first up to help you understand the magic that happens in Iceland.
- Iceland has a population of 372,000.
- Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe.
- Iceland has an area of 102,775 km2
- Iceland is the smallest country in population to play in the European Championships (men’s football).
- Iceland is the smallest country in population to play in the World Cup (men’s football).
- At those tournaments, Iceland managed to beat England 2-1 (Euro 2016) and draw with Argentina (World Cup 2018).
- Iceland’s currency is the Icelandic krona.
- Icelandic singer Bjork has had 22 top-40 singles in the UK.
You’ll need a plan for your trip and with Iceland being so large, the best option is to hire a car for your trip in Iceland on your trip. This way you can tour the island at your own leisure and stop wherever you want for photo opportunities, hikes, chilling out and just to admire this truly beautiful country. If you plan to stay for 7 days, a full week, this itinerary will take you through what you can do each day. Of course you can tailor this to your own needs, but a useful start is to hire a car from start to finish. This means when you land at Reykjavik International Airport, you can collect your car immediately and get ready to explore. Use Lava Car Rental and you will be sure to get the car you need for your Icelandic adventure.
Day 1 – Keflavik and Blue Lagoon
After arrival into Keflavik International Airport, spend the first day in Keflavik itself as well as an intriguing trip to the world renowned Blue Lagoon. This allows you to witness a smaller Icelandic Town, though the area itself has around 15,000 people. The former NATO military base Naval Air Station Keflavik here has been used as a setting for an important story line in Tom Clancy’s novel “Red Storm Rising”. You can visit the harbour, the church and the football stadium.
In the afternoon, it’s time to head to the magical Blue Lagoon. This place needs no introduction. As a backpacker, I went there and realised suddenly I had no swimming trunks in my backpack so in an emergency, I bought a pair of bright pink women’s pants and wore them! It is a story I shared on this blog way back in 2007. My mates were laughing a lot at that but it didn’t matter because finally I could enjoy the magic of the world famous Blue Lagoon.
After returning from the magic of the Blue Lagoon, enjoy a traditional dinner followed by a night out in the bars of Keflavik where there is live music and you can try the local beers – Thule, Bjor, Gull, Viking.
Overnight in Keflavik.
Day 2 – Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Early rise, breakfast in Keflavik and drive straight to Reykjavik, the capital city to check into your hotel there. You will have plenty of time to explore Reykjavik over the next few days so don’t get tied down by focusing on it at the start. Instead, head to Snæfellsnes!
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a region in western Iceland famous for its dramatic landscapes. There is a volcano here with a glacier. One of the key attractions is Kirkjufell, which is a 463 metre high mountain near the town of Grundarfjörður. For keen hikers, a trail leads through lava fields nearby to the stunning black-pebble Djúpalónssandur Beach. You can also drop by Stykkishólmur fishing village, a quaint little place where the 19th-century wood-frame Norwegian House is a regional museum with a craft shop. You can get your souvenirs, pick up some Prince Polo (chocolate bar imported from Poland which is delicious), then return to the capital city for an early night as tomorrow will be the famous “Golden Circle Tour”.
Overnight in Reykjavik.
Day 3 – Golden Circle Tour
The Golden Circle Tour is classic Iceland and you can do it all on one day. The textbook Golden Circle Tour covers Southern Iceland, an area of around 300 kilometres. You start from your hotel in the capital Reykjavík then you head into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. This might be the most over-trodden tourist route in the entire country but it’s easy to see why and this will have you savouring some of the country’s true highlights. Get photo and video happy and be sure to share your memories on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.
Marvel at the enormous, wild gushing waterfalls at Gullfoss. This is an incredible waterfall that will have you in awe. There is a souvenir shop here and a small cafe which makes for a good morning coffee break. You can also visit the famous Þingvellir National Park, it was here that the Icelandic parliament was formed and there is a walking trail nearby.
Another quintessential aspect to the Golden Circle tour is the marvellous geothermal area in Haukadalur. This is “Geysir” territory. You can see the Great Geysir and the Small Geysir. They might have been dormant for years but one certainly still erupts and you won’t want to miss it. The name of it is Strokkur, which to this day still continues to erupt every 5–10 minutes. Of course you are in control on the Golden Circle Tour you can decide the order and the places you stop. You can be spontaneous, but other recommended stops include the Kerið volcanic crater, the town of Hveragerði and the Skálholt cathedral which is a church in the countryside. You might also want to have brief stop-offs at the Nesjavellir and Hellisheiðarvirkjun geothermal power plants. After all that you will definitely be ready for a stunning dinner and a few drinks in some Icelandic wilderness.
Overnight in Southern Iceland.
Day 4 – Heimaey Island
Escape the Icelandic mainland for a day with a visit to the idyllic Heimaey Island. Handsome Heimaey is the largest island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago (Westman Islands). It is basically the largest and most populated island off the Icelandic coast and is 4 miles from the mainland so well worth an adventure.
The population of little Heimaey is about 4,500 people, and eight million puffins every summer. Many millions of other birds migrate to this beautiful location for breeding and feeding. Heimaey is connected to the rest of Iceland by a ferry so you can park the car and come and go by ferry this time. It also has a connection via Vestmannaeyjar Airport.
On Heimaey, you will notice that most people on the island live off fishing and you will see plenty of shipping boats and meet many fishermen and women. During an annual festival on this island, people are allowed to catch a few puffins to share at the festival, or to eat at home. If you are lucky, this will coincide with your trip so that you can try this delicacy.
Overnight on the magical Heimaey Island.
Day 5 – South Coast
You should aim to spend day 5 discovering the best of the South Coast in Iceland. This is a truly remarkable off the beaten track location. Visit the pure waters at Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss which are two more amazing waterfalls to add to your list. Get your coastal fix with a trip to the remarkable Reynisfjara black sand beach but be aware that you must not go in for a dip in these icy waters – it is dangerous so always check with the local information about what you should and shouldn’t do in Iceland. Late afternoon is glacier time again and you can admire the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.
Then it’s time for an outdoor barbecue and picnic for tasty treats including locally caught fish. Then as it gets cold, time to start preparing your tent for a night of relaxation in the wilderness.
Spend a night beneath the stars watching the Northern Lights.
Day 6 – Whale Watching and Icelandic football
Get ready for another animal feast day on your trip by heading whale watching and possibly more puffin watching after yesterday’s antics. There are many other native birds in the country to check out so ornithologists will love it.
Spend the evening at the national football stadium in Reykjavik watching Iceland play in a World Cup qualifier. You can mingle with local Iceland football fans who will have no hesitation teaching you their songs. The highlight of this is the classic hand clap chant which became iconic in 2016. At that Euro tournament in France, Iceland made their debut and were expected to be knocked out in the first stage. However, Iceland got through a very tough group to reach the last 16!
Iceland drew their first match 1-1 with that years eventual winners Portugal. They were then unlucky not to win their second match having led 1-0 v. Hungary until the 88th minute. Finally, Iceland beat Austria 2-1 in the last group match, in the 94th minute dramatic finish. Iceland had 5 points, were unbeaten and went through to the knockout phase! It was then that they were paired with England who were expected to beat them easily. Despite going 1-0 down early on, Iceland fought back to knock out the mighty England! Get chatting to some fans who were there in France that night. Iceland may have eventually lost 5-2 to France but the football culture here is huge, with the women’s team flying high often and the men’s team managing to draw 1-1 with Messi’s Argentina at the 2018 World Cup. Post match you can head on the rip with the local fans and learn more about the football culture with stories and anecdotes from down the years. I was also in Iceland as a football fan, and I watched Northern Ireland lose 2-1 there in 2007.
Overnight in Reykjavik.
Day 7 – Reykjavik and Airport
The last day allows you the chance to actually visit the capital at your leisure – time to enjoy the beauty of Reykjavik. This is the day you can also do your souvenir hunting and head to the local post office to send postcards from one of the most northerly cities in the world. You can visit the Hallgrimskirkja which is the Lutheran Church of Hallgrimur. It’s unmissable when you walk around the city anyway. The towering church is the most northerly capital city church in the world. It sits at 74 meters tall, also making it Iceland’s tallest church, and the country’s sixth-tallest building overall.
Admire the quirky streets with time for one last lunch in downtown Reykjavik before driving yourself back to drop your car off at the international airport and prepare to board and leave the beauty behind.
Bonus Extra (time permitting) – History and Language Tour
If you have managed to squeeze all of that in already be prepared to learn more about Icelandic culture along the way. Head to a few of the country’s many museums and learning about the history of the country. This means doing some research and reading, visiting the parliament and learning about the constitution. In the morning, also visit the National Museum which is in Reykjavik. Then comes the real treat – an afternoon studying the language! You can organise classes to learn Icelandic and test your skills at getting to grips with the Icelandic lingo. You can ask to do a mini exam and get a certificate, well if you’re good enough!
Late afternoon, get into local food by doing an Icelandic food tasting course. Be prepared for sampling a lot of treats so come with an empty stomach! You can try Skyr, Icelandic yogurt, local roasted Lamb, hákarl, fermented shark and some other tasty local treats prepared by expert chefs. Follow this with an epic pub crawl in downtown Reykjavik. These are bonus extras you can factor into the days if you find the time.
And that’s that! You will have a whale of a time in this stunner of a country. Make sure you do your research and take enough gear for your trip – especially clothing. Also be prepared for the weather to affect your trip so some of the days could be swapped or changed. Things can change dramatically at late notice. Of course, having your own hire car for the week from Lava Car Rental will have your sorted for that.
Get ready to enjoy your trip of a lifetime!