24 Aug Flatlanders In Iceland – A Starting Itinerary For Your Summer Trip To Iceland
Considering a trip to Iceland? Thinking about a Summer trip that is longer than just a two or three night stay-over? If you’re in the planning phase of your trip and would like a sample itinerary to start with, you have found the right place!
We recently returned from an amazing, nine-day trip to the land of “Fire and Ice” and the itinerary couldn’t really have been any better. Sure, there were a couple of places that we wished we’d stayed a little longer, but that’s why we’ll be planning another trip.
The goal of sharing our itinerary and a breakdown of each day is to help you in you Iceland trip planning and give you some places to think about, including hotels, restaurants, and natural attractions.
The Gulfoss waterfalls were one of the first attractions we saw in Iceland and did not disappoint
As we mentioned in our Family Guide To Planning A Trip To Iceland, we’re going to start with the basic itinerary and map and then create a blog post for each day. We hope that it helps you in your planning and we’d love to hear feedback in the form of comments or via our contact form if you have feedback.
Below are the links to the individual articles in the series.
Flatlanders Guide To Iceland Blog Post Index
- The Family Guide To Planning A Trip To Iceland
- Our Iceland Itinerary As A Starting Point For Your Trip
- Day 1 – Reykjavik and the Golden Circle
- Day 2 – Hella to Höfn – Holy Cow!!
- Day 3 – Hofn to Neskaupstadur – Scenic cliff drives along Eastern Iceland
- Day 4 – Neskaupstadur to Akureryi via Husavik – Hikes, Hot Pots, and Harbors
- Day 5 – A day in Akureyri watching whales
- Day 6 – Akureyri to Stykkishólmur – Gravel roads, remote waterfalls, and an amazing hamburger
- Day 7 – Stykkishólmur to Reykjavik – Seal Beach, A stop in Bifrost, and exploring Reykjavik
- Day 8 – A day in Reykjavik exploring the food, culture, and shopping
- Day 9 – Spend the morning in Reykjavik and then head home to Kansas City
- Packing and Preparing For Your Iceland Trip
NOTE: To “watch” the visual story of our trip, you can review all 100 photos in our Iceland 2019 Instagram highlight. The story progresses in the order of the nine-day itinerary as listed above.
A quick note before we get started. At Flatlanders In, we sometimes include affiliate links in our blog posts. If you click the links and use the services or make a purchase, we receive a small portion of the sale. This helps us create new content and provide you great recommendations. We assure you that our reviews and recommendations are not impacted by these affiliate programs. We work hard to share with you our honest, unbiased experiences.
Visiting Iceland In The Summer, Is It Worth It?
It depends on what you’re looking for, but I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying Iceland in the Summer. The weather is mild (mid 50s F during the day), the ice melt is happening so the waterfalls are running strong, the Summer nights, and the roads are clear of snow.
Additionally, the fact that the sun stays out longer means you can stroll the streets of Akureyri or the hills surrounding Höfn longer.
Granted, you won’t be able to see the Aurora Borealis, but that just means you’ll need to plan another trip to come back to Iceland in the Winter to see that.
Just because you won’t see the Aurora Borealis doesn’t mean you won’t see other amazing sites in Iceland during the Summer.
One important thing to note is that we intended for this trip to be an exploratory trip to Iceland. We were well aware that trying to “do everything” in Iceland in a single, nine-day trip would not only NOT be possible, but it would diminish our ability to enjoy the things we did see.
Our plan was to spend nine days exploring most of the different regions of Iceland, with the goal of determining which areas we really liked, which areas we wished we had visited longer, and which regions we definitely wanted to return to and explore more.
Deb and I both knew going in that Iceland was not a “one and done” trip. My gut is we will return to Iceland six or seven more times to experience the various regions more fully and enjoy all that different seasons have to offer.
NOTE: If you are really only planning on visiting Iceland one time, then we may not really recommend this itinerary. Deb and I will share our thoughts on who would enjoy this type of trip and some alternatives at the end of this post.
The Golden Circle Or The Ring Road? Which Did We Choose?
Because we were staying nine days and eights nights, we thought we could actually cover both the Golden Circle AND quite a bit of the Ring Road. For the most part, we were right, but we kind of rushed through the Golden Circle. We’ll talk about that in both the Day 1 section and in the Day Eight section.
The Ring Road is the route that generally goes around the coast of the island. As you can see below, the route (in pink) covers a large portion of Iceland and really hits on most of the different regions. For those that have a week or more to travel, the Ring Road is a good route to follow.
Following the Ring Road (in pink above) is a good way to explore most of the different regions in Iceland.
The Golden Circle, on the other hand, is a much shorter route that can easily be covered in a day or two. Because of its proximity to Reykjavik, it’s ideal for those who are planning a stay in Reykjavik or who are visiting Iceland as a stopover to a European destination or a US destination.
The Golden Circle route in Iceland (in green above) is much shorter than the Ring Road and focuses on attractions near Reykjavik.
Below is a map of the route we took around the island. In each daily post, we’ll fully break down the driving route for that day, provide details of the places we stopped, and give recommendations about different natural attractions you might think about stopping for.
As you’ll see a portion of the Golden Circle was covered in day 1 and then the rest of the trip was focused on the Ring Road around the island.
Our nine-day Iceland itinerary explored a portion of the Golden Circle and the entire Ring Road.
What About The Icelandic Highlands, Does This Itinerary Include It?
The Icelandic Highlands are the vast mountainous regions in the center of the island, formed by volcanic mountains. For the most part, this itinerary circles around the highlands, focusing more on the coastal regions, instead of the largely uninhabited highlands.
Our goal was to experience as many of various regions of the island as we could, knowing that we would be making multiple return trips to focus on specific regions.
As we both love to hike and explore, we know we’ll be returning and spending likely a large part of one trip exploring the highlands.
…just not on this trip.
Day 1 – Keflavik Airport, Customs, Car Rental, The Golden Circle, and Hella
Our first day in Iceland was planned to purposefully be a bit short. We took an overnight flight and we didn’t have high expectations that the coach seats would provide us a deep, relaxing sleep but we would arrive around 8am in Iceland so we were hoping that starting our first “morning” with a good breakfast and coffee would allow us to explore the Golden Circle before heading to the hotel in Hella for an early night.
The plan worked out pretty well and we’ll go into detail in the full day 1 post.
Our Day 1 driving route, in blue above, took us around most of the Golden Circle and south to Hella for a good nights sleep.
Day 2 – Hella To Höfn With Plenty Of Waterfalls On The Way
Day 2 was intended to be a long car ride with stops for sight-seeing along the way. We knew we might still be recovering from a bit of jet-lag, so climbing a mountain or going on a long hike wasn’t the best idea.
Instead, we could rest in the car, let the kids nap a bit, stop and see some waterfalls and icebergs, drive through lava fields, and eventually rest in a beautiful, secluded cabin in the harbor town of Höfn.
This was definitely the right choice for day 2 and helped the kids recover from the flight/time change. You can read about it in the full day 2 post, but one of the features from this day was our son’s favorite part of the trip.
Our day 2 driving route, in aqua above, was the longest driving leg of the trip and took us from Hella to Hofn.
Day 3 – Höfn To Neskaupstadur Via Some Amazing Cliffside Roads And Loooong Tunnels
Day 3 was a much shorter day of driving than the previous two. In fact, day three allowed us to drive from Höfn to the sleepy town of Neskaupstakur and still have time for an afternoon hike. The hike, in fact, was one of Deb and my favorite destinations on the trip.
One interesting note, Neskaupstadur was the only town that we stayed in that was our “second choice”. When planning the trip, she actually wanted to stay in Eskifjordur, but the hotels were all booked up. So, she opted to stay “one fjord over” in Neskaupstadur. This resulted in us finding one of the most magic places we experienced in Iceland, Easter Beach.
Just goes to show that sometimes going off your planned path is completely worth it. You can read all about it in the full day 3 post.
Our day 3 driving route, in pink above, took us from Höfn to Neskaupstadur along amazing ocean cliffs.
Day 4 – From The Cliffs Of Neskaupstadur To The Harbors Of Husavik And Akureyri…Via Mineral Baths
The drive from Neskaupstadur to Akureyri was definitely one of the most dynamic of the trip. I say that, because it was ever-changing. One minute, we were driving through 6km tunnel dug through a mountain and the next we were in mountain scenic vistas with tall 100 foot waterfalls.
Then, the scenery changed to…well…I don’t know because were driving through mountain fog that was so dense we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of the car. It was a little on the scary side, given that Icelandic roads don’t really have shoulders and are filled with tight turns.
As we emerged from the fog, we saw the deserts of the Holsfjoll…which are truly deserts and then on to the wonderful mineral baths of Myvatn at the foot of an amazing volcano.
We explored the harbor town of Husavik and ate amazing fish and chips and then ended in the city of Akureyri for a couple well-deserved days of rest in Iceland’s second largest city.
From a mileage perspective, the drive was medium-length but the changes in scenery and the experiences along the way really wore us out. Read all about it in the full day four post.
Our day 4 driving route, in green above, took us from the cliffs of Neskaupstadur through Husavik and then to Akureyri.
Day 5 – Whale Watching In Akureyri And An Evening Of Rest
Day 5 in Akureyri was intended to be a restful day. We were staying two nights in an apartment where we could do a load of laundry, stroll through the Akureryi central district, enjoy coffee shops and cafes, and take a bit of breather.
Since our daughter is a Marine Biology major at her university, we also thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of the whale watching tours that leave from the Akureyri harbor.
Luckily, luck smiled on us and we were able to observe harbor porpoises, beautiful arctic terns, and even a pod of humpback whales.
You can read all about Akureyri and our whale watching adventure in the full post for day 5.
Day 5, shown in yellow above, was spent whale watching in the fjord near Akureyri called Eyjafjordur.
Day 6 – A Backroad Trip To Stykkisholmur And The Dreaded Icelandic Windshield Rock Chip
Day six was a long car trip from Akureyi to the Snaefellsnes peninsula. While the total miles (or kilometers) weren’t the longest of the trip, a lot of this day’s travel was on gravel roads, which can really take it out of you.
Sure, there was a paved road that we could have taken but the gravel road took us to some beautiful canyons with breathtaking waterfalls and we even saw a wrecked ship on an island. Although we tried, our trusty little VW Golf couldn’t get us close enough to the shipwreck to take pics. Maybe next time….
The final destination was the beautiful town of Stykkisholmur, where we ate amazing burgers from the food trucks in the harbor.
Beautiful sites, great food, and a rock chip from the gravel roads. Learn all about it in the full post about day 6.
Oh yeah…and you’ll learn about how we earned our stripes, receiving an Icelandic windshield rock chip.
Our day 6 route, shown in orange above, took us from Akureyri to Stykkisholmur via some infamous Icelandic gravel roads.
Day 7 – Stykkisholmur To Reykjavik via Seal Beach and Bifrost
Day seven was an exploration of the small town of Stykkisholmur, a (completely amazing) trip to Seal Beach, and a drive back to Reykjavik. Day seven was intended to wrap up the driving tour of Iceland and ended up providing us with some great nature interactions.
We chose to forgo the trip around the Snaefellsnes peninsula, because everyone was tired of being in the car and the trip would have added 2-3 more hours. We did, however, head to Seal Beach, known to have be a sunning location for various types of seals…and we were in luck.
A beautiful sunny day at the beach resulted in us being able to see 10-15 different seals, a ton of Icelandic birds, and even some very cute Icelandic sheep hanging out on the beach.
From Seal beach, we headed over to Bifrost simply because Sean is a huge Thor fan and wanted a photo at the Bifrost.
Finally, we ended our long road trip around Iceland back in Reykjavik for two days of rest, relaxation, food, and culture.
You can read all about our Seal Beach adventure in the day seven full blog post.
Our day 7 driving route, shown in purple above, took us from Stykkisholmur to Reykjavik via the amazing Seal Beach.
Day 8 – Rest And Relaxation In Reykjavik
Day eight was like a deep, relaxing swim in a hot spa…just what the doctor ordered after a week driving from place to place.
In fact, Deb chose the Center Hotel in Reykjavik because it offered and adults-only spa with a hot soaking spa…so we took full advantage of it. We also enjoyed the hospitality of downtown Reykjavik, restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, shopping…and beautiful sight-seeing attractions.
If you’re heading to Iceland as a stopover on a trip from the US to Europe, the full day eight post will give you some ideas about where to stay, where to eat, and some attractions to visit.
Day 9 – Shopping, Returning The Rental Car, And Heading Back Home
Day nine was the bittersweet end to our trip in Iceland. Our flight didn’t leave until the late afternoon, so we packed up and spent the first half of the day eating, shopping, and then heading back to the airport.
We’ll also detail what happened when we turned in our rental car and dealt with the windshield rock chip.
Our day nine driving route, shown in light green above, took us from downtown Reykjavik back to the Keflavik airport.
Would Your Recommend This Itinerary For Anyone Wanting To Visit Iceland?
So, that’s the high-level itinerary that we used for our amazing nine-day family trip to Iceland. With regards to our thoughts on the itinerary, here are what Deb and I think:
From Deb – It was a great “discovery” itinerary. It allows us to explore a LOT of the island yet still get some downtime to recouperate from the long car rides. My favorite city was definitely Akureyri, so I’m glad we spent two days there. We will definitely be returning to Akureyri in future trips and exploring all that city and the region surrounding it have to offer.
For those who are only visiting Iceland once, this might not be the best itinerary because so much time is spent in the car driving and seeing the sights. Instead, for those who are just visiting once, it might be better to fly into Reykjavik, do the Golden Circle, and then drive to Akureyri and spend a few days there. That way, you get both major cities and you can focus on the natural features around both of those cities.
From Sean – I really enjoyed traveling the Ring Road. To be honest, I think we zoomed through the Golden Circle too quickly and I’d like to explore more in that area when it isn’t the tourist season. We were pretty tired on the first day, so I’m not sure we were ready to jump into the Golden Circle. Maybe add one more day to the itinerary and spend a day exploring what the Golden Circle has to offer.
For those who are visiting Iceland only one time, I agree with Deb. Focus on Reykjavik and Akureyri and explore the areas surrounding those two cities. Once you visit Iceland, though, I’m betting that you’ll want to go back again. On your second trip, you can check out the Southern and Eastern regions.
There you have it…the high-level itinerary we used for our nine-day trip. Still interested? Be sure to check out the details of each day, where we feature the hotels, cabins, and apartments we chose, some of the restaurants we enjoyed, and our favorite travel spots.
See you on the road!