5-Day Itinerary to Explore Iceland’s Natural Beauty
Iceland is full of breathtaking scenery that offers a pause from real life. This guide will showcase the incredible hunt for the famous northern lights, alongside some of the region’s equally impressive natural offerings from waterfalls, to lagoons, geysers and more.
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Where to stay
Hótel Borg Reykjavik
Iceland’s first luxury hotel with an Art Deco vibe, set on a scenic square in the city center.
Reykjavik Residence Hotel
Great for long stays and families, you’ll find apartment-size rooms and all the hotel amenities.
Ion Adventure Hotel Nesjavellir
An architectural gem and your base for exploring the lava fields of Thingvellir National Park.
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Day 1: Exploring Reykjavik
Check in and grab a coffee
After you land in Iceland and pick up your rental car; you can drive to your accommodation to check in and freshen up for the day. Explore some of the cafes and coffee shops in Reykjavik and join a walking tour of the city to get your bearings.
Views and lunchtime
Afterward, visit Hallgrímskirkja and climb to the top for beautiful vistas of the colorful city of Reykjavik and the surrounding ocean. Settle down (and warm up!) in a cozy cafe for lunch, like Snaps Bistro-Bar, before heading down Laugavegur Street to check out fashion boutiques and Icelandic design shops.
Immerse yourself in history
Pop into one of Iceland's museums to learn more about the history as the sun goes down. Afterward, finish your evening in the city with a dinner of traditional Icelandic cuisine – I recommend Fiskfelagid for seafood.
See the Northern Lights
Join a Northern Lights tour or research where to see the lights. Check the forecast in advance, but plan on spending time at the beginning of your trip looking for them – this way, if you don’t see them your first night, you’ll have more chances the rest of your trip.
A note from Rabia
Since the Northern Lights are only seen in specific weather conditions and cannot be guaranteed, many tours will continue to take you out each night until you see the lights, all for one set price.
Day 2: Check out the Reykjanes Peninsula
A scenic drive
After a hearty breakfast, hop in your car and make your way to the Reykjanes Peninsula in the southwest portion of the country. Enjoy the stunning views along the two-lane (mostly deserted) highway, stopping off at the Gardur Lighthouse, Bridge Between Continents and Gunnuhver Hot Springs along the way.
Lunch and shipwrecks
Enjoy a warming lobster soup at Cafe Bryggjan in a traditional fishing village before exploring the Grindavik shipwrecks nearby.
Day 3: Exploring the Golden Circle
Experience the natural beauty
Leave the hotel before sunrise (an easy feat in winter, since the sun won't rise until almost 10 am, depending when you're there!) to make your way to Thingvellir National Park before the crowds. Spend some time wandering the immense National Park and enjoying the beauty of the natural world. There are lots of hikes to do, or you can just enjoy some of the signposted vistas.
Lunch and horseback riding
For lunch, head to the spa town of Laugarvatn and try some of the area's popular reindeer burgers. Then, make your way to Strokkur Geysir for an epic explosion and Gullfoss Waterfall for some incredible views of where Game of Thrones scenes were filmed. Stop off for a homemade ice cream at Efstidalur Farm and see the Icelandic horses.
Book a quick ride on the Icelandic horses to experience the smoothest horseback ride ever. These small, pony-sized horses are famous for having five gaits, compared to all other breeds that can only do three or four. The tölt gait makes you feel like you're flying!
Unwind from the day at the thermal pools of the Secret Lagoon near the village of Flúðir. If you're lucky, you can see the Northern Lights while taking a soak!
Day 4: Visit the southern shore
Start your day with waterfalls
Get an early start as you head down to the southern shore of Iceland to see the beautiful black sand beaches. Along the way, stop off at the magnificent Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls and explore the lush surroundings and wildlife.
Catch of the day and black sand beaches
Enjoy lunch in the town of Vik – definitely opt for the catch of the day – and walk around the main street to get a feel for local life and culture. Marvel at the immense waves on Reynisfjara black sand beach and the geometric basalt columns along the cliffside.
Visit the nature preserve
Then, take a scenic drive up to Dyrhólaey, a nature preserve known for its picturesque views of the volcanic rocks in the sea. Depending on how much daylight you have left, stop off at Sólheimajökull Glacier and take a walking tour on top of the massive glacier. As you head back, make sure you keep scanning the skies for the Northern Lights.
Day 5: Relax at Blue Lagoon
After all that driving, you deserve some relaxation, so plan on a day at the infamous Blue Lagoon before your flight home. Get there early to avoid the crowds, and spend your day unwinding in the geothermal baths. You can even book services such as a massage or facial, and treat yourself to a gourmet meal.
Before heading out, you can purchase some of the Blue Lagoon skincare products created from the bioactive elements of the water to promote radiant, youthful and healthy skin. You'll be well-prepared for your journey home!
A note from Rabia
The Blue Lagoon is close to Keflavík airport, so spend the morning before your flight at the pools. Slots fill up quickly, so be sure to book your ticket in advance!
Need to Know
Schedule a rental car ahead of time so it is available for pickup when you arrive in Iceland. Having the freedom of your own car means you can explore the country at your leisure, however, it can get tricky driving at night and in the winter. You can book drivers and guides to take you around to the different areas you're interested in – most will be private tours that can pick up and drop off at your accommodation!
Dining out in Iceland can be expensive, but you can always stop off at the local grocery stores to grab ingredients or snacks and sample local favorites. Interestingly enough, you won't find any McDonald's or Starbucks in the country!
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