This Iceland road trip itinerary will bring you around to the country's most stunning waterfalls, geysers, black sand beaches, and more!
Driving your own car, going at your own pace, exploring every little area that piques your curiosity – a road trip has got to be the best way to see the arctic island country of Iceland!
It may be small, but Iceland is just full of history, nature-based attractions, and adventure! You could spend weeks exploring everything Iceland has to offer, but you can still see plenty in just four days if you’re short on time. With limited time, your best bet is to stick to the Southwestern part of the country and stay along the Ring Road (Iceland’s Route 1 that circles the entire country). Thankfully, so many of Iceland’s attractions are right off the Ring Road, so traveling between them is easy.
Before we get to the itinerary, a couple of notes about accommodations, food and getting around.
The most obvious choice for accommodation might be to stay at a hotel in Reykjavik, considering it’s the country’s main city. Reykjavik is definitely worth exploring in itse lf, but there’s so much more to see! So if you’re doing a road trip and planning on renting a car, your best bet is to find a place a bit further out from the city, somewhere around Selfoss, Hella, or Hvolsvöllur (based in this itinerary, at least).
There are hotels outside of Reykjavik, but I love to use Airbnb to find cozier and more authentic accommodation and that’s exactly what we did when we visited in December. We rented the cutest little cabin in Selfoss and it was the perfect home base for four days of exploring.
You can use this link to get $40 off your first-ever Airbnb booking, so if you’ve never tried Airbnb before, now might be the time to do it! But if you’re not into Airbnb (which I totally understand, it’s not everybody’s thing!) you can check out these hotel options.
A car is essential to any road trip, and SADcars Iceland has tons of options at good prices. A few years ago it seemed like all of the rental car options were manual transmission, so if you were from the United States and only knew how to drive automatic (like me), things got a little bit tricky. However, SADcars now offers automatic cars, so you should have no problem finding the perfect rental for you and your group!
Food is expensive in Iceland; there’s just no way around it. Eating out for every meal will add up insanely quickly and there aren’t too many restaurant options outside of Reykjavik anyway. (This of course depends on exactly where you’re staying). I’d recommend going to a grocery store and stocking up on some snacks and even some ingredients to make meals like breakfast or lunch. Now don’t get me wrong. The grocery stores are still expensive, but it’ll help you save a little bit of money and you can also make sure you’re prepared if hunger hits when you’re on the road!
Now for the itinerary! It may seem like this itinerary is a little bit skimpy as opposed to jam-packed with activities each day. That’s because you’ll want to take into account the minimal amount of daylight you have to work with in the winter – you don’t want to be planning things you won’t be able to see! Plus, this is a road trip, remember? There’s a fair bit of driving involved, which will vary slightly depending on exactly where you stay, but driving Iceland is absolutely beautiful and a true attraction in itself. These attractions on the itinerary are almost secondary to driving across Iceland’s incredible landscape.
Oh and by the way, every attraction on this itinerary is completely free. Which you’ll quickly come to appreciate when you go to purchase food (or anything for that matter) anywhere in Iceland. It is expensive. Okay, now let’s really dive in to this itinerary!
Day 1: Waterfalls and Outdoor Pools
Points of Interest: Skogafoss, Seljavallalaug
Spend your first day surrounded by and immersed in water! Iceland has tons of waterfalls and outdoor pools throughout the country but considering these two are located just five miles from each other, they make a perfect pair for your first day.
Head over to Skogafoss first so you can end the day relaxing in the geothermal waters of Seljavallalaug, maybe even with a little sunset action. You can actually see Skogafoss from the the Ring Road, which gives you an idea of its sheer magnitude as you approach it from the highway. You can walk right up, under and even behind it, and guess what, you can even walk to the very top of it, too! There’s a staircase that brings you to to a platform overlooking the top of the waterfall. It’s certainly wet and windy up there, but the view is worth it. Looking at a waterfall from the top down is a unique view you don’t get to appreciate every day, but being able to look out over the Ring Road and the landscape below is super cool, too.
Seljavallalaug is one of Iceland’s oldest outdoor pools. I know what you’re thinking. An outdoor pool? In the wintertime? In Iceland? But don’t worry! It’s actually warm! I’ll admit that this one is a pretty off-the-beaten path, backpacker’s type of adventure. There aren’t any facilities and it’s a good hike away from the Ring Road. But, it’s certainly a hidden gem and worth a visit even if you don’t plan to swim! You’ll pass through beautiful rocky hills and rivers and beautiful scenery on your way there. For more detailed information about Seljavallalaug, read my post about it here!
Day 2: Black Sand Beaches
Points of Interest: Reynisfjara and Solheimasandur
Today we’ll head out toward Vik and explore it’s stunning black sand beaches, including Solheimasandur, which is the site of the famous plane that crash-landed back in the 1970s. Amazingly, everybody survived the crash and it remains on the same beach to be explored by anyone who ventures to find it.
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
Prepare for a pretty far trek on Solheimasandur to reach the plane wreck from the parking lot (about 45 minutes or so), but as long as you’re prepared to walk, it’s an absolutely surreal scene. The whole country of Iceland feels otherworldly, but this beach in particular really made me feel like I was on another planet.
Once you finally reach the plane, you might be surprised to see that you can walk right into it! Yes, you can literally walk inside of it. I’d never really experienced anything like this before when traveling; a well-known attraction that has no queues, no tickets, no barriers, no regulation – nothing! But don’t take this sort of thing for granted. Make sure to be a responsible tourist when you’re there!
The black sand beach of Reynisfjara is almost too stunning for words. The black sand of the beach is interesting enough, but when it’s surrounded by these gorgeous black cliffs and basalt sea stacks known as Reynisdrangar, it just makes for a magical scene.
The waves are the most powerful and strong I’ve ever witnessed. There are actually warning signs at the entrance to the beach recounting a recent drowning death, so I’m not kidding when I say the waves are powerful. There are even water rescue guys on alert at the beach, too! But don’t worry – it’s not really like you could get swept away accidentally or anything, the beach is wide enough, but you definitely don’t want to be fooling around near the water.
Day 3: Geysers
Points of Interest: Haukadalur
Today we’ll stray from the Ring Road just a little and head up to the Golden Circle, which is a 186 mile sightseeing route just east of Reykjavik. This drive will bring us deeper into Iceland’s interior up to Haukadalur, a geothermal valley containing hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles, which are openings in the earth that emit sulfurous gases.
The Haukadalur valley is known for its geothermal (aka geyser) activity and it is home to some of the most popular geysers in Iceland. There’s one called Geysir, which was the first geyser ever documented in print and where we get the word “geyser” today (obviously). The thing about Geysir though is that it doesn’t erupt very often. Luckily though, there’s another popular geyser called Strokkur nearby that erupts every 5-10 minutes! So you don’t have to worry about making the drive up there for no reason because you’re practically guaranteed to see a geyser erupt! Although, the drive wouldn’t be for nothing, because driving anywhere in Iceland provides absolutely stunning scenery and The Golden Circle is no exception.
Day 4: Explore Iceland’s Capital
Points of Interest: Hallgrimskirkja, Old Harbour
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Reykjavik is totally worth exploring, but for an Icelandic road trip (and a short one at that), don’t make it your number one priority. Instead, spend your last day in Iceland exploring its unique capital before your flight leaves!
Reykjavik is a small city with a population of just over 120,000 people. That’s less than Rochester, the small upstate New York city that I live in! But despite it’s small size, it’s full of interesting architecture, cute cafes, and unique bars. So you’ll have no problem wandering the city for a few hours!
This isn’t your typical European cathedral, which is probably why I find Hallgrimskirkja so interesting. This church is one of the city’s most well-known landmarks and one of the tallest structures in the entire country. It was built to resemble the mountains and glaciers of Iceland’s landscape and I think it does a good job at that! Stop by to admire it from the outside, but be sure to go inside and take a look at the impressive organ that is housed here as well.
If you’ve got extra time to wander around, head down to Reykjavik’s Old Harbour. Take in views of the waterfront and pick up a bite to eat from any of the charming cafes and shops!
Four days of exploring Iceland’s natural attractions and taking in the landscapes at your own pace in your own car! Road trips can be tricky, especially in another country, so if you need more tips on road-tripping Iceland in the winter, you can check them out here!