Iceland is a breathtaking country known for its natural beauty and interesting landscapes. With limited vacation time, it can be difficult to plan the perfect short trip to Iceland. Thankfully, one week is just enough time to see some of the country’s most iconic landmarks, while leaving just enough time to relax and recharge in a stunning place.
7 days in Iceland is the perfect length of time to visit for busy Americans. I have visited Iceland four different times, and each trip was 1 week or less. Commonly known as the “Land of Fire and Ice”, Iceland is a country where you can see waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes and active geysers all in one short trip. In this blog post, I am sharing my expert insights and travel knowledge to help you design the perfect 1 week Iceland itinerary.
How to Plan the Perfect 1 Week Trip to Iceland
When to Visit Iceland
One of the biggest considerations to think about when considering Iceland as your destination is the season. In the spring and fall, Iceland’s weather can be unpredictable. While it is still possible to see many of the main sights, you should be prepared for a mix of sunshine, rain, wind and even snow. It is always best to check the latest conditions before hitting the road, so you can be prepared for the journey ahead.
During the summer months of June to August, Iceland’s weather is typically mild and sunny, making it the best time to visit. My first trip to Iceland was in July 2016 and thankfully, we had great luck with the weather. Plus, abundant day light allows you to maximize your days. Keep in mind that most people visit Iceland in the summer, so there will be a lot more crowds, prices will be higher, and accommodation will be more scarce.
In the winter, the weather can be extremely harsh with heavy snow and strong winds. On my latest trip in December 2022, we ran into a lot of closures and cancellations due to the weather. As a result, it’s not always recommended to visit in winter. But, the winter is also the optimal time for Northern Lights viewing opportunities. The nights are long and clear, so you’ll have the best chances to see aurora during the winter.
How to Get Around Iceland in 1 Week
Much of Iceland’s appeal lies in its raw natural beauty, i.e. far away from the city. As such, the next biggest consideration to think about when planning a short trip to Iceland is transportation. I think Iceland is best visited as a road trip. You’ll have complete flexibility and total freedom to visit exactly the places you want. You can plan as many stops as you want and take as many detours as you want. If you go with the self-drive route, I’ve got a separate post detailing everything you need to know about planning an Iceland road trip.
I totally respect if driving Iceland doesn’t sound like a relaxing 1 week getaway to you. In that case, an organized tour of Iceland is a great option. You can also cobble together a mixture of day trips and multi-day tours to see Iceland’s highlights without the hassle. The benefits of going on an organized group tour are fairly obvious – you don’t have to worry about any of the road trip logistics. I am a trip leader for FTLO Travel in Iceland and one of the major reasons why travelers choose to travel with us is the ease. You wake up and get in the car without having to worry about gas, weather, navigation or any of those other pesky concerns.
7 Day Itinerary of Iceland
Day 1: Reykjavik
Practically all international travelers will arrive in Iceland at Keflavik International Airport (code KEF). Located about 1 hour outside of the city of Reykjavik, this is the most logical place to begin your 7 day trip to Iceland. If you are arriving early in the morning (most flights from North America land between 6am-9am), you might want somewhere to freshen up and relax before your hotel room is ready. This is the perfect time to visit the Blue Lagoon! It isn’t far from the airport, and it offers shuttle services from the airport and to the city center. Read all about how to prepare for a visit to the Blue Lagoon here.
Although most people don’t come to Iceland to experience urban destinations, Reykjavik is actually a pretty cool little city. As the capital city, Reykjavik is Iceland’s hub of culture, cuisine, and history, offering visitors a glimpse into the mysterious and alluring Icelandic lifestyle. With just 24 hours in Reykjavik, visitors can explore the gorgeous harbor and waterfront, visit the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church, and pop into one of the cool museums or galleries in the city. I have highlighted all my favorite things in Reykjavik in a separate blog post if you want more detail about what to see and do.
Day 2: Western Fjords
Known for its rugged landscapes and breathtaking vistas, the Western Fjords of Iceland are easily accessible from Reykjavik. It actually works very well as a day trip, if you aren’t planning to rent a car. This region of Iceland is the least touristy area on the island, so if avoiding crowds is a priority, you might consider spending a night or two in the Western Fjords.
The most famous natural attraction in the Western Fjords is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This large national park is incredibly picturesque, with coves, black sand beaches, and the Snæfellsjökull glacier. Before heading into the park, make sure to stop at Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall. It is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland and there is a good chance you’ve seen pictures of it on social media before. There are several options to visit Snæfellsnes Peninsula on an organized day trip from Reykjavik.
Day 3: Golden Circle Day Trip
The Golden Circle is a 300 km route that offers a density of natural attractions in the southwest corner of Iceland. Similar to the Western Fjords, you can easily access the Golden Circle as a day trip from Reykjavik. This is a great option with minimal hassle. With that said, I think it is well-worth spending the night within the Golden Circle. There is a good chance you can visit these gorgeous locations with minimal crowds early in the morning before all the day trippers arrive or early evening after they’ve departed. The Ion Adventure Hotel offers modern luxury and a unique design inspired by Iceland’s natural elements – plus you’ve got good Northern Lights viewing opportunities here.
The three most important natural wonders to visit in the Golden Circle are: Thingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geysir Geothermal area. Each stop offers a unique window into Iceland’s geologic history, not to mention excellent photo opportunities.There are several other notable natural wonders in the Golden Circle, including Kerid Crater Lake, Reykjadalur Hot Spring, and the charming town of Selfoss. You can also add on cool activities like snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure Rift, the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian plates.
Because this is a well-trodden tourist circuit, there are a number of nice places to eat in the Golden Circle. Lindin Restaurant is a charming family run restaurant located a little off the beaten trail. Another good option is Fridheimar Farm, offering farm-to-table Icelandic cuisine. This place is fairly well-known, so you should expect crowds. I would definitely recommend getting ice cream at Efstidalur, a sustainable dairy farm where you can watch the cows being milked while enjoying your delicious treat.
Day 4: Chasing Waterfalls
Departing from the Golden Circle, I recommend making your way south along Iceland’s southern coast. Nowhere are nature’s wonders more clustered than southern Iceland. You can see a rainbow ringed waterfall followed by a 4,000 year old glacier followed by a black sand beach all in one day —there is so much incredible natural diversity in Southern Iceland! For this day, I recommend driving between three major attractions on the southern coast, and then find accommodation somewhere east of Vik (it will make the next day easier).
The first natural attraction to see is Seljalandsfoss. Visible directly from the ring road, it is one of the most visited waterfalls in all of Iceland. This stunning waterfall drops directly off the side of a cliff into a pool below. What is special about Seljalandsfoss is the hollow cave that allows visitors to walk behind the falls. Yes, you can hike behind these waterfalls! Wispy strands of water plunge into a small stream, creating a rainbow filled mist. It is stunning! You’re likely to get wet by some spray if you go behind the waterfalls, so dress appropriately. You aren’t walking through the falls necessarily, so simply a waterproof outer layer is sufficient.
A truly Iceland experience you can try in this area of southern Iceland is a visit to a public swimming pool. This is a popular way that local people relax, and it is a fun cultural experience for visitors. Seljavallalaug public swimming pool, accessible off the ring road via a well-marked hiking trail, is one of the most well-known yet secluded spots to take a dip. This Instagrammable pool was built in 1923 and is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. Pack yourself a small picnic (and drinks!) for a stunning swim surrounded by Icelandic mountains.
Next up is Skogafoss. A thick curtain of water neatly plunges about 200 feet off a blunt rock face. The cliffs perfectly frame the falls and it is one of the most notorious waterfalls in Iceland. During the summer months, Skogafoss has a near constant rainbow. Perhaps even more impressive in the winter, the water still flows but creates an array of ice and icicles – it is an incredibly picturesque sight unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was my favorite view of 2022!
Day 5: Diamond Beach & Glacier Lagoon
One of the most Instagrammable places in southern Iceland is Diamond Beach. This breathtaking natural attraction gets its name from the stark black sand studded with ice crystals that sparkle like – you guessed it – diamonds. As the nearby Vatnajökull glacier melts, it produces massive icebergs that break off and float into the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Eventually, small and large pieces of ice wash up on the shores, where they are polished by the erosion of the ocean waves. Take a leisurely stroll along the beach, marveling at the shimmering ice formations and enjoying the rugged beauty of the surrounding landscape. Keep your camera handy, because I can almost guarantee you will be snapping lots of photos!
Just across the highway from Diamond Beach is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This large arctic lagoon serves as a catch basin for the calving glacier, filling with floating icebergs in deep blue and white hues. Get up close and personal with the ice on an amphibian boat tour. The ride lasts about 45 minutes, and you’ll need to reserve a time slot ahead of time online. This lagoon is a photographer’s dream and you can watch the bergs float out to the sea via the river. If you go in the winter, you will also see seals feasting on the fish that collect in the lagoon for warmth!
A final thing to do in this part of Iceland is a crystal ice cave tour. Going inside a glacier was one of the most unique experiences I had while traveling in Iceland, and I would 100% recommend it to anyone interested in discovering the magic of glacial ice. It may seem scary, but it is truly incredible to go INSIDE a glacier. I went on a simple ice cave tour, which picked me up at the Jökulsárlón parking lot. The tour costs included a helmet, spikes for your shoes, transportation and a knowledgeable guide. The entire experience took about 3 hours, with about 2 hours spent on the ice and in the ice caves.
Each season, the crystal ice caves fluctuate in position and size as the glacier moves, making every visit a completely different vantage point. I took an ice caves tours in Vatnajokull national park, absolutely falling in love with the bright clear blue ice. Just one of the coolest experiences! Depending on how deep the cave is, you may go down just a few steps or quite a way down. Wear warm layers that you don’t mind getting dirty, because there are times when you may need to crawl or hunch to fit inside the caves.
I recommend staying somewhere around the Glacier Lagoon. Also nearby is Hofn, a great little town to enjoy a nice meal in southern Iceland. Located on a tiny peninsula, this surprisingly foodie town is a major fishing hub with lots of restaurants specializing in seafood and fresh food. I would recommend trying either Pakkhaus, a delicious farm-to-table spot in an old barn, or Humarhöfnin Veitingahús, an upscale seafood restaurant renowned for its lobster dishes.
Day 6: Vik & Surroundings
From the glacier lagoon, you’ll want to start making your back towards Reykjavik to conclude your amazing one week trip in Iceland. Thankfully, there are several beautiful natural attractions to visit along the way back, and Vik is a great destination for today. Not far from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Fjaðrárgljúfur is one of the most beautiful canyons in Iceland. Running about 100 meters deep and 2 kilometers long, sheer rock walls walls are carved through erosion by the Fjaðrá river below. Enjoy views of the canyon on the well-marked hiking trail at the top of the canyon.
Well-known by travelers, the black sand beach at Reynisfjara is a must-see natural attraction on any drive through southern Iceland. It was ranked by National Geographic as one of the top 10 most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world! Less of a sand beach and more of a rock beach, don’t expect to go barefoot along the shore here. The coarse sand at the beach is made up of crushed volcanic rock, the origin of the black color.
On the eastern side of the beach, you will notice a collection of enormous basalt columns in hexagonal shapes. These unique rock formations occur when hot lava rapidly cools, typically because it hits cold water. You might also recognize these from the north of Ireland at the Giant’s Causeway. Don’t miss this awesome Instagram spot! On a sunny day, you might be enticed to grab a seat at the patio (along with a sandwich and a beer) at the beachfront Black Beach restaurant for a relaxing afternoon on the oceanfront.
Day 7: Return to Reykjavik
From Vik, the drive back to Reykjavik will take about 3 hours. A final place to visit on your drive back is the Sólheimasandur airplane crash site. If you’ve seen photos of Iceland in your social media research, you’ve probably seen photos of this iconic sight. In 1973, aUS Navy C-117D airplane crashed on the southern coast of Iceland due to icing. Thankfully all members of the crew survived and were evacuated. To this day, the wreckage remains largely intact. Until recently, the crash site was closed to the public because it is located on private lands. Nowadays however, they are open to the public. You can park in a nearby lot and walk 40 minutes to the site, or you can book a spot on the shuttle bus which goes there every half hour.
If you need some relaxation after all the time on the road, make a reservation at Sky Lagoon. This luxurious spa combines the ancient tradition of Icelandic saunas with modern amenities. As a lover of all things spa and sauna, the outdoor lagoon at Sky Lagoon is fed by the nearby geothermal springs which heat the water to a comfortable temperature. Plus, the lagoon has an infinity edge overlooking the ocean and Reykjavik city skyline that is honestly gorgeous. Sauna culture is an important part of Icelandic life, and with the Pure Pass at Sky Lagoon, you’ll have access to the 7 step sauna ritual. You can learn about and experience the various steps of this ritual, including a cold plunge, dry sauna, salt scrub, and steam sauna.