Now that things are looking brighter, we're starting to plan those bucket-list trips we've been dreaming about for years—trips we've now moved to the very top of our hit list. First up? A road trip around Iceland. Winter is a magical time to visit—despite shorter daylight hours, there’s still plenty to see and do, so we think winter 2021 will be the time to go.
Spend your days exploring the dramatic, snow-blanketed landscapes and in the evenings hunt for the enchanting northern lights. Known as The Land of Fire and Ice, Iceland is home to some of the world’s most-active volcanoes, as well as some of the largest glaciers in Europe. So, we've done the planning for you in this 7-day road trip itinerary. Pack your bags and get ready for an Icelandic adventure...
Day 1: Reykjavik and whale watching
Touch down in the world’s northernmost capital, and start your day by exploring this lively city. Fuel up with breakfast at Café Babalu, located in a quirky, yellow house in downtown Reykjavik this quaint little cafe serves an array of delectable dishes—the perfect accompaniment to your morning cup of coffee. Soaring over the centre of Reykjavik, stands the impressive Hallgrimskirkja Church—the tallest church in Iceland. Visible from almost every angle within the city, you can’t miss it. Take the lift to the top of its 74.5 metre tower and embrace the breath-taking, panoramic views. Continue on foot and discover the nearby streets of Reykjavik’s city centre. If you love shopping, there are plenty of outdoor shops and small, chic boutiques to get lost in.
Make your way to the Old Harbour and board a whale watching boat tour. As you head out into Iceland’s largest bay, keep your eyes peeled for Humpback whales—the most common species of whale spotted in winter. If you're lucky, you'll see dolphins and porpoises too.
Packing tip: Use our shoe bags to keep your walking shoes separate from the rest of your luggage. They're the packing accessories you didn't know you needed.
Stay: At the elegant and art-deco-inspired Hotel Borg in the heart of the city, the first luxury hotel built in Iceland.
Day 2: Silfra, Thingvellir National Park
It’s a 45-minute drive north east from Reykjavik to the Thingvellir National Park. There you'll find the incredible dive site Silfra—a rift between the Northern American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The water temperature is between 2-4 degrees Celsius, so it's fair to say this is only for the bold and brave! You can comfortably dive or snorkel here in a dry suit which will insulate you from the cold water. There are three main dive sites—Silfra is popular because of its incredibly clear waters and location within the continental rift. It’s also the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel between two tectonic plates.
Peak viewing season for the northern lights is always September to March when the nights are long, so make sure you're on the lookout between dusk and dawn because they can occur at any time. This natural wonder appears in a spectrum of colours—whilst green is predominantly seen with the naked eye, it’s also possible to see shades of red, yellow, pink, blue and violet.
Stay: Spend the night at one of the cosy cottages on the lake. If the skies are clear, stroll out into the snow to witness the stunning northern lights dancing in the sky.
Day 3: Strokkur Geyser and Gullfoss Waterfall
Today, make your way to the Haukadalur Valley. This geothermal valley (located an hour’s drive from Thingvellir National Park) is home to the geysers. As you walk through the valley, you'll find hot springs and bubbling mud pots. Keep an eye out for the main attraction—the Strokkur Geyser. It erupts every 6–10 minutes shooting hot water as high as 40 metres!
Located nearby is the mighty Gullfoss Waterfall. Translated to ‘Golden Falls’, this certainly is a sight to see! Park the car and enjoy a short walk where you’ll find multiple angles to view Gullfoss from above—each offering a stunning perspective of the powerful waterfall crashing into the river below.
Hop back in the car and drive for 90 minutes to your next destination—the Hvolsvollur Valley. Far away from the bright city lights, this is another great spot to look skywards for the northern lights shimmering across the night sky.
Day 4: The South Coast and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Start your day with a trip to Skogafoss Waterfall, one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. There’s a flat, easy walk to the base of the falls and, weather permitting, you can walk up nearly 400 (steep) steps to the top to view this magnificent natural wonder from above.
Continue driving east along Iceland’s south coast where you’ll pass the stepping-stone, rock formations of Reynisdrangar and the volcanic black sand beach of Reynisfjara—one of the country’s most scenic regions. You’ll also have time to stop at Laufskalavarda lava ridge. This roadside oddity is a field of rock piles that stretch across the landscape like clusters of miniature mountains. Traditionally, first-time travellers trekking across the black sands of Myrdalssandur would leave little stacks of stones for good luck. This is a lovely spot for a photo and looks particularly pretty in the snow!
In the afternoon, arrive at a stunning sea of floating icebergs, also known as the famous Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. There's a range of short tours you can take, or simply find a nice spot to admire them from the shore. There’ll be another opportunity tonight to brave the cold to witness the best light show on earth—you'll soon realise that the magnificent beauty of the northern lights is a sight you'll never get tired of!
Stay: Check in to the Umi Hotel, just outside the National Park for its first-class restaurant and stunning views.
Day 5: Vatnajokull Glacier and Vik
You’ll need to book a guided tour for today’s activity of walking on Europe’s biggest ice cap – Vatnajokull. Meet up with your expert guide for a short drive into the rugged nature of Vatnajokull National Park. Your destination is Breidamerkurjokull and you’re about to be led into a mystical, magical new world! The ice caves are incredibly rare phenomena that require very specific conditions to form and are only accessible in Iceland’s winter months. Throughout your hike, you’ll be rewarded with a plethora of awe-inspiring views.
Later today, journey back to the black-sand seaside town of Vik. Immerse yourself in the rich culture and rustic cuisine you'll find here, sampling some of Iceland’s best-loved dishes. From seafood to lamb, to rye bread and butter, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Stay: At the Black Beach Suites just outside Vik for a home-away-from home.
Day 6: Seljalandsfoss Waterfall and the Blue Lagoon
From Vik, head an hour to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Majestic and picturesque, it’s one of the most-photographed locations in all of Iceland, and for good reason. It's loved by travellers across the globe for many reasons, including the fact you can actually walk behind it. It's the only waterfall in Iceland and one of very few in the world where you can do this.
From here, drive west for a further two hours to the popular Blue Lagoon. Here you can enjoy some well-deserved relaxation and the natural treatments the lagoon has to offer. The average temperature of these milky-blue waters is a balmy 38 degrees Celsius—the perfect way to unwind after a day’s adventure.
Stay: Tonight, stay at Silica Hotel, the lagoon's accommodation, or continue on to Reykjavik, 45 minutes away.
Day 7: Reykjavik
It’s your last day in this Nordic wonderland and before you pack your bags to head home, stop by Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. Translated to ‘The Town’s Best Hot Dogs’, this signature hot dog stand is an iconic spot. It's been open since 1937 and is as popular with locals as it is with visitors—the Guardian called it the best hot dog stand in Europe. Once you've fuelled up, stop by the Perlan viewing platform and take in the 360-degree views as far as the eye can see.
Focusing on a rich variety of locally sourced ingredients, tonight’s menu consists of lamb, seafood and vegetarian options. Dine at The Food Cellar, a grill and cocktail bar situated in a historic 160-year-old building in the centre of Reykjavik. With live music from a grand piano to heighten your authentic dining experience, you can end your Icelandic adventure on the perfect note.
Stay: Spend your last night at the Kvosin Hotel for its swish, Scandi-interiors, high ceilings and hardwood floors.
Upgrade your luggage ahead of your trip, and shop our Clifton cases in medium or large—you'll need enough room to pack plenty of layers and outdoor gear so this isn't the trip to pack light. Use packing cubes to organise your suitcase—in February this year they were awarded an Indy Best Buy, and you can read our customer reviews here. Take our Chelsea daypack as hand luggage—it's the perfect size for a day of exploring.