Planning a 9-day road trip in West and South Iceland? I got you covered: I just came back from an amazing road trip to Iceland and I’m going to share my itinerary with you.
You can visit Iceland in different seasons and in different ways. Here’s how my friend Chris and I did it.
When: we made this travel at the end of May, which means we had 20 hours of light per day, enough for seeing a lot! Moreover, we got an incredible sunny week! Who says that Iceland is always cold and rainy?
Where: Instead of driving around the entire island, we opted for focusing only on the West of Iceland, the Golden Circle and the South of Iceland. Be ready, because it will be 9 pretty intense days!
How: No campervan this time (been there, done that!), just a rental car and sleeping in hostels.
How much: We tried to avoid tours as much as possible (apart from some experiences that were impossible to do on our own), saving money by buying breakfast and lunch from grocery stores, and staying in the cheapest hotels we found. Even like this, we ended up spending about $1800 each! Iceland is expensive, man.
At the end of the article you will also find a breakthrough of all the expenses and a packing list.
The 9-day road trip itinerary map
Here’s a very precious resource: a map with the entire road trip day-by-day! You can see in green all the places we visited, in orange some recommended restaurants, in purple the supermarkets and in black the gas stations. While in blue there’s the proper itinerary we followed, divided by day.
But now let’s start with the itinerary.
You arrive at Keflavik airport. If you are planning on staying just one day in Reykjavik, it’s better to rent a car directly from the airport. Adding just one day of rental will probably result in being cheaper than the bus round-trip to Reykjavik (about $50). You can use Rentalcars to find the best car rental deal. If you follow our itinerary, you don’t need a 4×4.
In the city, you can stay at Guesthouse Pavi, affordable accommodation with private rooms and shared bathrooms.
If your flight arrives early in the morning, you have the entire afternoon to visit the city. I recommend taking the Free Walking Tour that will allow you to learn more about the history of Iceland while walking around the main historical center with a local guide.
We actually stayed two days in Reykjavik and the second day we booked a whale watching tour, but it was very disappointing and we hardly saw some mingle whale from far and for a few seconds (“Whale at 1 o’ clock. Oh, deep diving. Sorry, it will stay underwater for the next five minutes”). Not recommended, at least in this season.
I would suggest staying no more than one day in the capital, visiting the main attractions, enjoy the happy hours and trying out some good expensive restaurant. I loved the smoked salmon at Grandi Mathöll street market, but also consider trying the very local lamb soup in a bread bowl at the Icelandic Street Food.
In the map at the beginning of the article, I also added the best restaurants and main attractions in the city.
This first day of the road trip is dedicated to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, also called “Little Iceland” since it has a sample of everything you can find in Iceland.
Buy something for lunch at the closest supermarket in town, fill up your bottle with the very good Icelandic tap water and you are ready for adventure!
I suggest leaving Reykjavik not after 9-9.30 am, as it will be a long day!
The first stop is the Eldborg crater, a volcanic cone that you can climb until the top, walk around the edges and see the surroundings from above. It’s a 2-hour drive from Reykjavik, followed by a 30-40 minutes hike to reach the summit.
Now drive 40 more minutes following the road that borders the South of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and stop at Ytri Tunga beach. If you are lucky, you will be able to see some funny seals among the rocks on the beach. We saw just a couple.
Have your lunch (that sandwich you bought at the supermarket, right?) or stop at one of the restaurants on the way (we actually had lunch at Langaholt guesthouse and restaurant).
Following the road, you reach the famous black church of Budhir, a very photogenic church among the black lava fields.
You soon arrive then at the Rauðfeldsgjá ravine, that you can explore to reach the hidden waterfall inside. Be careful, because you will have to walk on very slippery rocks.
Next stops: the village of Arnarstapi and Londrangar, two areas of extraordinary coastal attractions including columnar basalt and cliff formations, with sea caves, rock arches hit by big waves and beautiful natural rock sculptures raising from the shore.
A few minutes away, you can visit the black beach of Djúpalónssandur and the Saxhóll crater. This time there is a stair that will help you to climb it up.
Drive about one hour more and you finally arrive at the highlight of the day: the Kirkjufell mountain, also featured in an episode of Game of Thrones! The best shot is from Kirkjufellfoss, the waterfall in front of it. The view is jaw-dropping, I assure you, and it’s actually my favorite spot in Iceland.
If you make it on time, you can then stop at the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, where you can also taste the (in)famous rotten shark. We arrived after 7 pm and it was already closed (such a shame, right?)
If you still have energy, after dinner you can hike up the hill in front of the hostel, reach the red lighthouse and view the city and the harbor from above.
Buy your breakfast, lunch and dinner at the grocery store in the village, fuel up just in case and you are ready to go.
After one hour and a half of driving, you reach Deildartunguhver, the hottest springs in Iceland. With their 100°C, you can just admire the gushings of water, the steams and the colorful minerals that come from the underground. But if you want to bath, you can pay and enter the SPA, where they mix the super hot water with cold one, so that you can relax without boiling.
A few kilometers later, you can visit Hraunfossar, a series of small waterfalls on black lava rocks that run on the side of a river with rapids. Pretty nice.
Drive for 1.5 hours more, maybe find a good panoramic spot for having your lunch and reach the famous Glymur waterfall. You will not see it directly from the road, because there is a quite challenging hike to reach it. If you hike up from the left side of the canyon, it will not take too much time to be able to see it: Glymur is the second highest waterfall in Iceland (198 meters) and it’s quite stunning, also because you are on the top of the canyon and you can look down where the waterfall flows on the lower level.
If you keep going, you arrive at the top level where there is the main river and you have to cross it, if you want to go on the other side! How? Remove your shoes, find the most shallow section and dip your feet into the 10°C water. Refreshing! Just be careful not to slip into the water, I assure you it’s not pleasant.
Once on the other side, follow the path and you will be on the other cliff of the canyon, where you can appreciate the waterfall from another point of view. At the end of the path, you have to cross the river again, but this time there is a comfortable log that you can use as a bridge. The entire hike should last a couple of hours.
Don’t worry, that’s it for today. Drive an hour and a half to Ljosafossskoli hostel, eat your dinner (you should have bought groceries this morning, right?) and go to sleep early.
Today it’s time for the Golden Circle, the most visited series of attractions in Iceland.
The first stop is the Thingvellir National Park, whose peculiarity is being situated between two tectonic plates: the Eurasian plate and the North American one. The distance between these two plates increases by 2 cm every year!
What you are going to do today is not just walking between two continents, but swimming in the rift between them! What? Yes, snorkeling the Silfra fissure, in the clearest water in the world. Glacial water at 2°C that has been filtered underground for decades through hardened, porous lava rocks! Sounds crazy? Maybe, but it was an unforgettable experience I totally recommend. You can book a tour in advance and they will provide you with everything: from the dry suit to thermal underwear, mask and fins.
Snorkeling with a dry suit is quite weird at the beginning, firstly because there’s air inside, so you float a lot. Secondly, because you don’t even feel the 2°C water, apart from your face that is partially exposed even if you wear a mask. And your hands that have a sort of wet suit gloves, so the water enters and it gets warm thanks to your body heat.
Even if there are no fishes to see, it’s an incredible experience and the view underwater is stunning as the visibility is very high and the water totally transparent.
The snorkeling tour starts at 8.30 am and it finishes at 11.30 for about 40 minutes in the water of Thingvellir Lake, which happens to be already in the Thingvellir National Park. The meeting point is a parking spot 20 minutes away from your accommodation.
After the experience, you can just wander around the park, following the paths and the signs. Walk through the Almannagjá rift between the two black lava walls, set of a Game of Thrones episode. Visit Öxarárfoss, a waterfall surrounded by black lava rocks.
Now get your car and drive to the supermarket in Laugarvatn, where you can have a cheap dinner. There is even a microwave that you can use to heat pre-cooked food.
In the afternoon, stop at the second attraction of the Golden Circle: Geysir, a huge geyser that spits a tall column of water every about 5 minutes. You can even hike up a little hill and see it from above.
On the way to the next attraction, you can stop at the “horse petting spot”, where you can pet some cute Icelandic horses and feed them with the provided paid candies.
Then drive to Gullfoss, a magnificent double waterfall. If it’s sunny, a rainbow will overstand it.
Faxi, another small waterfall, is the next stop, followed by the gorgeous Kerið crater. This one is THE crater. Not only you can go on the top and walk around the edge, but this time you can even enter it and reach the bottom, where a very blue lake is present.
On the way to the accommodation, you can stop at Urriðafoss, another nice waterfall.
Today you hike in the Thórsmörk Natural Park. There are many hikes there, between mountains and volcanoes, and you can spend the night at Volcano Huts. But the only way to reach it is with the 4×4 transport provided by them. So, before booking the accommodation, make sure that there is availability for transport. Even if you have a 4×4 car, you have to cross many rivers and you can’t cross the last one.
As usual, buy breakfast (also for the following day), lunch and dinner at the supermarket in Hella. Drive a few minutes to the Lava Center and leave your car at the parking.
At 10.30 take the 4×4 transport that will bring you to Volcano Huts in an hour. At the reception, you will be taught about the different hikes. We did the longest one: a pretty challenging 6-hour circle hike that reaches the double-pick mountain of Trollakirkja, across lava fields, hills and mountains. Bring your lunch with you and enjoy it with a good view.
Once back, after a good hot shower, you can either have your dinner at the Volcano Huts’ restaurant (very expensive) or from the groceries you bought in the morning.
Take the 4×4 transport at 9 am and it will bring you back at the parking in an hour. Buy groceries for lunch and head to the South.
Three waterfalls wait for you: the first is Gluggafoss, followed by Seljalandsfoss, where you can even walk behind it. The last one is the famous Skógafoss, featured in a Justin Bieber video clip. You can climb the stairs and admire it from the top.
The next stop is the famous DC-3 airplane wreck on Sólheimasandur beach. After parking the car, you have to walk at least 40 minutes before reaching it. Even if it’s sunny, it can be a bit cold, as it’s very windy. The view of the wreck on the beach is quite creepy and very Lost style, but it’s worth the walk as you can take some beautiful pictures.
Back to the car, drive towards Vik and stop at the Dyrhólaey’s cliffs. There is a nice lighthouse and it’s supposed to be one of the best places to spot Puffin birds. Be aware that the access is interdicted from 7 pm, so be there before that time. The problem is that Puffins are supposed to arrive in the evening after a day of fishing, so it will be difficult to see them before 7 pm. We didn’t.
Drive a bit further and reach the city of Vik. You can have dinner there (the smoked salmon salad at Halldorskaffi is amazing!) and visit the Reynisfjara black beach where you can admire a wall made of enormous basaltic columns.
Tank up at the gas station in Vik and head to Hrútafell Guesthouse, half an hour driving back from the village.
Another adventure waits for you today: a glacier hike and ice climbing experience! Make sure to book it in advance, of course.
It starts at 1 pm, so you have the morning to relax a bit and maybe have a fish and chips at Skogar Street Food.
When you arrive at the meeting point, you will be provided with helmet, ax, harness, crampons and, if you want, you can rent ice climbing boots. It’s recommended because normal hiking boots bend when you climb the ice and are not very comfortable.
After an initial walk on the glacier with your guide and a group of a maximum of 8 people, you are taught how to use your crampons and axes for climbing the ice. After this introduction and more hiking on the ice, you reach the moulin, a vertical well-like shaft within the glacier, which water enters from the surface. Now it’s time for ice climbing for real! You are secured with a rope and you start descending the 10-meter ice wall. When you reach the bottom of the moulin, you have to climb it up! It’s actually very easy and fun, but also exciting at the same time.
The only downside is that you have to wait for the entire group to do the same, and standing still on a glacier is not really pleasant. The entire experience ends at about 5.30 pm.
Buy some groceries at the supermarket in Vik for dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast, and now you will have to drive for a while! The idea is driving no stop to the most distant part of our itinerary so that tomorrow you can go back and stop to every viewpoint or hike.
From here to the Laekjarhus Farm Holidays in Borgarhöfn it’s at least a 3-hour drive. If you want, on the way there, you can stop at the Diamond Beach. It could be nice to see it today in the evening and then also tomorrow morning with a different light. The Diamond Beach is a beach in front of the lake of the Jökulsárlón glacier, where many icebergs float like huge diamonds. There are many access points to it, with different views.
You will probably arrive at the hostel at about 10 pm. If you still have energy, you can also drive 40 minutes more to the famous Vestrahorn mountain, one of the most photographed spots in Iceland. We hoped to find an amazing sunset there, but the mountain was in the shade and the sky was nicer on the other side.
Anyway it was crazy to look at the sunset at 11 pm and coming back to our accommodation at midnight with still a lot of light.
Today we start to go back! You can stop again at the Diamond beach if you want to check it with a different light. For sure it will be full of tourists this time, but maybe you can spot some seals on the icebergs.
After about one hour of driving, it may be worth visiting the Svinafelljokull viewpoint, where you can get close to another glacier. The only downside is that, if you don’t have a 4×4, you need to drive for 20 minutes (and back) on a dirt road in order to reach it. Not really recommended, especially because the insurance doesn’t cover F-roads. Anyway, the view is nice and it reminds the wall of ice of the Perito Moreno in Patagonia.
Next stop is Svartifoss, a waterfall that you can reach after an easy hike (a circular path of about an hour in total). The waterfall is quite special because the water flows from a very peculiar black basaltic wall. You may be sick of waterfalls at this point, but it’s worth the effort and it’s the only hike of the day.
Drive for about half an hour and you reach Dverghamrar, a beautiful formation of basaltic columns, visible directly from the street. You can park there and get closer.
A few kilometers later, the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (bless you!) welcomes you with a basaltic floor with natural hexagonal tiles and a nice double waterfall (Systrafoss). But also with a grocery store where you can buy a late lunch, and a gas station where you can get the fill-up.
Last stop of the day is the beautiful Fjarðarárgljúfur canyon, where there are amazing views and many hikes. Unfortunately, it was closed at the time, so we were able just to reach the entrance and take a picture. There is an F-road also here, but you can park the car before and walk for a good 20 minutes. Even if it’s closed, it’s worth to have a look, as the canyon is pretty from the distance.
After about one hour, you should reach Vik (you already love this village, right?), where you can have dinner in one of the many restaurants (the Ice Cave was not too expensive), before heading to your accommodation in Hella. We chose to stay at Welcome Riverside Guesthouse again.
The last day of your trip! Get some groceries for lunch at the supermarket in Hella and head to the Raufarholshellir Lava Tunnel: you can book in advance an easy 1-hour tour or the 3-hour adventure tour that will bring you beyond the touristy part of that tunnel. You will have to boulder rocks in the darkness, armed just with a helmet and a headlight, sneak into narrow passages, climb up mountains of petrified flows of lava, relying on a very expert guide that will tell you everything about the Icelandic underground and volcanic formations. For sure one of the highlights of the trip.
After lunch, you have two options: relaxing in the touristy and crowded Blue Lagoon or go to the bridge between the continents. A bridge that allows you to walk from the Eurasian plate to the North American plate. Nothing exciting in terms of views, but the idea of crossing the continents is nice.
Then you can go back to Reykjavik, relax in a less crowded spa and maybe join a happy hour if you are on time (usually until 5 or 6 pm).
For dinner, I recommend the very good salmon at Messinn, but reserve a spot in advance because it’s always super busy!
The next day you can return your car at the airport and fly out.
How much I spent
Iceland is expensive! Here is a breakthrough of all the expenses (just my share). Bear in mind that we stayed one more day in Reykjavik and we also did the whale watching tour.
- Accommodations: $360
- Car rental, gas and buses: $380
- Restaurants: $300
- Groceries: $110
- Tours: $600
This is a total of $1750 in 10 days!
Of course, you can spend less if you don’t eat at restaurants at all, if you stay in shared dorms or if you sleep in a tent. You can also rent a campervan, but I’m not sure that it would cost less than what we did.
What to pack for Iceland in spring
Weather in Iceland is unpredictable: it can rain, snow, heil and be sunny in the same day multiple times. The secret is wearing layers!
We were very lucky as it was sunny and kinda warm almost every day. But I have been told that this is not the average climate in May.
Anyway, this is what I packed for 9 days in Iceland in spring:
- Four hiking t-shirts
- Two merino wool base layer
- A fleece sweater as a mid-layer
- Hiking pants: to week keep you comfortable and dry
- Hiking boots: a must for your hikes!
- A rainproof jacket
- A compact down jacket
- Waterproof gloves: very useful for ice climbing, but otherwise windproof gloves are fine
- Thermal pants and wool socks: useful just for snorkeling in cold water
- Windproof hat: Icelandic winds can be quite cold
- Merino wool neck gaiter
- Some basics such as underwear, socks, normal t-shirts, jeans, pajama…
Apart from clothes, do not forget:
- Camera: it was a very good occasion for trying my new GoPro Hero 7!
- Selfie stick with tripod: you will need it if you want to take long exposure photos or time-lapses
- A backup battery for your Camera or GoPro: I assure you that just one battery is not enough for a 10-hour day of adventures!
- A 128 GB SD card: you will take a lot of pictures and videos, so make sure you have enough space on your SIM card!
- A refillable bottle: tap water in Iceland is super good, so you just need a bottle and you can refill it in any bathroom or in rivers! I just bought KollyKolla, a stainless steel bottle that keeps liquids cold for 24 hours and warm for 12. Totally recommended!
- A daily backpack: I just bought the Nomatic travel backpack and it was very useful for hikes and the day trip in Thorsmork.
Iceland is an incredible place! It’s up to you if going there during winter and being able to see the northern lights (and suffer the cold and the darkness) or going in spring/summer and enjoying the waterfalls and many hours of light.
I hope this itinerary could be useful for planning your next trip: feel free to stick to it or just take inspiration for exploring the island at your own pace. I can say that our schedule was pretty intense, but I would do it again in the same way. Next time: the northern part of Iceland!
Just one recommendation: book all the tours and accommodations at least one month before, to make sure to find them available. Don’t wait until the last minute or when you are there, especially for tours.
If you have any questions, just drop a line in the comments!