So, you’ve decided to travel the land of fire and ice by camper van? And in winter, too? (If not, read this to learn why you totally should.) Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place. Because planning a trip to Iceland in winter is no easy feat. I spent
hours days weeks pouring over the internet before my own ten-day trip, searching for:
- which campsites were even open in winter
- which campsites had showers
- where I might stop for bathroom breaks
- whether gas stations on my route were open for credit card use in winter, or if I’d need to get a gas card
- which month was my best chance of catching the northern lights.
So believe me when I say: this Iceland winter itinerary has got you covered! It takes all my research beforehand, combines it with all my lessons learned and things I wish I knew, and creates this ultimate one week Iceland road trip itinerary.
Now, I have to warn you. This one week Iceland itinerary is super detailed. So sit back, grab a cuppa’ (it’s a bit of a long one), and keep reading to get yourself pumped for your own epic Iceland road trip. Oh, and you’re definitely gonna wanna pin this to return to later.
Let’s start off with an overview of this epic trip, so you can have an idea what to expect. If you’re the average traveler with limited vacation days, I suggest breaking it down like below. This way, you only need to use five vacation days, but you get seven full days in Iceland.
Excluding Reykjavik, this itinerary can roughly be divided into three different sections:
- Snaefellsnes Peninsula and area (Day 2 and Day 3)
- The Golden Circle (Day 4 and first half of Day 5)
- Southern Iceland (second half of Day 5 and Days 6 and 7).
You can rearrange the order of these three sections and mixed-and-match based on weather forecast in each area during your own week of travel. This is super important for winter, so you can avoid getting caught in stormy weather, plus maximize your chances at seeing the Northern Lights.
BEST MONTH TO VISIT ICELAND
If you’re traveling Iceland in winter, it’s safe to assume the two main reasons are to see the Northern Lights and to explore ice caves. But what winter month is the best month to travel to Iceland? There are three factors to this:
- Aurora strength: Aurora activity occurs pretty often, but it is not always strong enough to see. So, you’ll need high Aurora strength in order to see the Northern Lights. You can check forecast here for the next 48 hours.
- Cloud cover: Sometimes, the Aurora activity is strong, but it is not visible due to cloud blocking the view. So, you’ll also need mostly clear skies in order to see the Northern Lights. Iceland receives more cloud cover during the deeper winter months (December and January) rather than the shoulder winter months (October and March). You can check cloud cover for the next 48 hours at the same site for the Aurora strength.
- Day light hours: Sometimes, the Aurora activity is strong, the sky is clear of clouds, but there is too much light (like in the daytime, or by a large city) and the Aurora get washed out. So, you’ll also need dark skies in order to see the Northern Lights. Iceland has less daylight hours during the deeper winter months (four hours of sunlight in December) rather than the shoulder winter months (October and March). Longer nighttime increases the time that you can catch the lights every day. But it also means less sunlight each day to squeeze in all the other attractions. You can check monthly sunrise and sunset times here.
Weighing these factors, I recommend visiting Iceland in late October to late November or mid-February to early March. But keep in mind that seeing the Northern Lights is never guaranteed, and it ultimately comes down to luck.
HOW TO GET AROUND ICELAND
A camper van is the ultimate way to travel Iceland. Unlike with a normal rental car, you don’t have to book accommodation ahead, which was key for me since I was visiting in winter. I wanted to be able to change plans, especially in case of stormy weather and road closures.
Depending on your budget and style, there are a few camper van options I recommend checking out:
- Most budget option: Kuku Campers. Their two-person camper starts at $80/day (70 EUR). Unfortunately for my fellow automatic-driving-only Americans, their fleet is entirely manual transmission. But, hey, for the rest of you folks, Kuku Campers is an option! Their website has detailed videos of their campers uploaded by happy customers, so you can get an accurate idea of what size you will be working with. Even if you aren’t interested in Kuku Campers, still take a peak at their videos, because all other companies have a similar fleet offerings and camper van sizes.
- Less budget, but more comfort, option: CampEasy or HappyCamper. Both companies offer similar fleets and prices. The biggest deciding factor for some of you might be that CampEasy has automatic transmission options. As you can probably guess, my-non-stick-shift-driving-self went with CampEasy, and I can highly recommend them. Our camper came equipped with WiFi too, which was awesome for navigating using Google Maps, staying in touch with loved ones back home, and feeling safer in general about traversing Iceland via camper van in wintertime.
HOW TO GET TO & FROM KEF AIRPORT
If you are using a non-camper rental car, you can just decide to pick up and drop off at the airport. But if you are traveling Iceland via camper van, you’ll have to pick up and drop off in Reykjavik, the capital city. So, how to get from KEF airport to Reykjavik?
- Travel straight between the airport and Reykjavik: I recommend using FlyBus, a coach bus transfer into the city center. You can purchase online in advance, or at the kiosk right by the exit in KEF airport. You can’t miss it. The ride takes 45 minutes and tickets are $27 one way.
- Travel between the airport and Reykjavik, with a stop at the Blue Lagoon: The Blue Lagoon is a short detour off the road between the airport and Reykjavik, so it’s popular to stop by right after landing or right before departing. I go into more detail on how to do this in day one of this itinerary.
Phew! Now that we got all that out of the way, let’s get to the actual one week Iceland itinerary.
Land at KEF international airport. If you are coming from North America, you will likely be landing in the wee early hours of the morning. If you are arriving from somewhere closer, you will probably be arriving later in the morning or even in the early afternoon.
What better way to relax after a flight and prepare yourself for the adventure-packed week ahead than a rejuvenating few hours in Iceland’s most Instagrammable attraction, the Blue Lagoon? Purchase a transfer that goes from KEF airport to Reykjavik city, with a stop at the Blue Lagoon for some hours in between. Transfer costs around 5,500ISK, or $41.
- Purchase Blue Lagoon tickets plus a transfer
- Book a transfer only, from the Blue Lagoon site
- Book a transfer only, from Reykjavik Excursions
Entrance costs between $44 and $100, depending on how far in advance you book, for what time slot, and for what day of the week. Make sure to book your tickets as soon as you can, since the popular time slots do fill up. Your basic-level entrance fee includes a facial mask while in the water and a one drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic options both available) from the water bar. There are showers, complete with body wash, shampoo, and lotion. You also receive a locker to store your valuables and a towel. Once you enter the Blue Lagoon, you can stay until closing.
The Blue Lagoon opens at 8am and closes at 10pm. If your flight arrives much too early, hang out at the airport until catching a shuttle around 7am or 7:30am. The lagoon is 20 minutes from KEF airport, and 50 minutes from Reykjavik city.
Next stop: Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city. It is a small city, easily walkable by foot. The largest attraction is Hallgrímskirkja Church. Entrance is free, but it costs around $9 to climb to the top and view the colorfully roofed city from above. This fee can be paid by card.
Reykjavik is quite pricey, so expect a minimum of $20 for the low-budget meals. You’ll find tons of traditional Icelandic soup, seafood, and lamb dishes, as well as more gastronomically modern restaurants, on which you’ll spend around $30 – $40 per person. If you’re even remotely a fan of baked goods, be sure to stop by Sandholt Bakery for the best vanilla Danish of your life (pastries here are $4 – $5), or Braud & Co for some seriously good bread and an entertaining, hipster vibe.
After you’ve had your fun exploring Iceland’s largest city, return to your hotel or hostel to rest up before the road trip of a lifetime starts tomorrow morning! Make sure to shower tonight or tomorrow morning, because you won’t on days two and three. (It’s not ideal, but hey, that’s camper van life for ya!)
Pick up your camper, get debriefed, and take whatever free food the office will have in stock from previous renters. Then, head to a Bonus grocery store to stock up before you hit the road. This is the budget grocery store, and I found prices here comparable enough to those in California. Buy enough food for 3 ½ days (especially if you are trying to save money in the food department and thus not planning to eat from gas station’s fast food partners and tourist-stop cafeterias you’ll be passing along the way).
Hraunfosser & Barnafossar Waterfalls
By now it is probably around noon, assuming you arrived at the rental place right when it opened (typically at 9am). Drive towards Reyholt up north to get towards your first stop: Hraunfossar & Barnafossar Waterfalls. There are two towns named Reyholt, so make sure your GPS is taking you the correct direction.
On the way, you will drive through an underground tunnel with a $10 toll fee that can be paid by credit card. Alternatively, you can take a detour looping around from the east to skip the toll tunnel. This adds 30 – 40 minutes to your drive.
Once you’ve arrived, park in the lot and explore Hraunfossar first, and then walk to the right to reach Barnafoss a little ways up. There is a gift shop nearby the parking lot, with a bathroom in a separate building next door.
Deilsartunguhver Thermal Spring
Get back on the same road and make your way to Deildartunguhver thermal spring. This stop is mostly just for cool photo and video opps of disappearing into steam produced by the naturally-hot river. Be sure not to touch the water, as the signs warn. (Slightly up the hill from this is a hotel and spa, if you are not budget traveling and prefer to stay in luxury or take a dip in the spa.)
Where to Park for the Night
Continue on to Olis gas station in Borgarness, where you can set up shop for the night for free and also top off on gas before the morning. This gas station is open 24/7 with a clean bathroom (I can vouch), a fast food menu, and a lovely view over the bay for when you awake.
Set those alarms nice and early, cook up a hearty breakfast, and make sure you’ve stocked up on snacks – you’re going to be covering a lot of ground today!
First stop: Gerðuberg Cliffs. Keep an eye out on the right-hand side of the road for what looks like a dark, rocky wall. Once you see it in the slight distance, you’ll take the first right to turn off the main road and follow a semi-gravel path to get closer to the cliffs. Budget 30 minutes here if you plan to climb up to the cliff and have some photo fun.
Next, head towards Arnarstapi village. The drive to this location is one of the highlights of the day, with scenes out your window that will have you waiting for a white walker to pop out any second (Game of Thrones reference, for those of you who are missing out on the greatest television series of the decade…. minus Season 8.). Once you reach Arnarstapi by pulling into a parking lot on your left, spend 40 minutes – 1 hour exploring.
Djúpalónssandur Black Lava Pearl Beach
Now, head north up this peninsula for about 20 minutes, towards Djúpalónssandur for the Black Lava Pearl Beach. Follow the signs, which eventually lead you to make a left onto a path and end up at the parking lot. There are a couple trails you can walk from the parking lot, including one to the beach.
Kirkjufell Mountain & Waterfall
Next you’ll continue north some more and then back east. Right before you begin to head east, you can stop at the N1 gas station for some homemade soup and a bathroom stop if necessary. Then, continue towards Kirkjufell Mountain and Waterfall, the most photographed waterfall in Iceland.
The waterfall can be tricky to locate if you do not arrive while there are other tourists already there. Driving east, the mountain will be on your left, and you will need to almost pass the mountain in order to recognize the view from all the photographs you’ve seen. Once you reach this point, where the mountain is slightly behind you to your left and there is a body of water in front of the mountain, there will be an area to park your camper on the right side of the road. There is a footpath from this parking spot leading to the triple waterfall, from which you can finally see the quintessential view of the mountain towering behind the waterfall.
Where to Park for the Night
After getting your money shot, today is done. Continue driving east and then south to return to the Olis gas station you departed from this morning in Borgarness. Here, you can again set up camp for the night and top up on gas.
Thingvellir National Park
Drive southward, passing through the toll route once again, and then eastward to Thingvellir National Park. All-in-all, this is a 2 ½ drive (or 3 hours if you are avoiding the toll). Spend a few hours at Thingvellir, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the place of Iceland’s first parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. Walk through Flosagja Canyon to Oxararfoss Waterfall, circling back to walk along Drekkingarhylur Pond en route to Almannagjá and Peningagjá’s Silfra Fissure, the continental rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
Snorkeling Silfra Fissure
Now many (actually, I’ll be so bold as to say most) online guides and blogs will recommend snorkeling the Silfra Fissure. I am here to save you $150 – 200 dollars, 3 hours of your precious, oh-so-limited time in this busy road trip, and a lot of physical discomfort by recommending you pass on this activity. Yes the water is very clear, and blue, and pretty…and yes the idea of swimming between two continents sounds cool to tell your friends back home… but tbh that’s just about it! – looking at rocks through extremely clear water as you float at the top and wonder how much longer ‘til your big toe freezes off.
If you are an avid scuba diver, scuba diving might be worth it, and I cannot speak to that. Otherwise, I can tell you from experience that you truly are not missing out. If you are, for some reason, still hell-bent on doing this activity, definitely choose the dry suit and not the wet suit for your tour. The benefit of the wetsuit is that you can theoretically hold your breath to swim deeper when you would like. The dry suit is somewhat of a floatation device, so you will only be looking down from above. But it is very hard to not float with the wet suit as well, so you might as well stay dry and warm if you will have to be mostly floating anyways.
Next stop is a bit of a secret relative to the rest of the ring road (you won’t be following any tour buses here), and a bit of a journey to find: Bruarfoss Waterfall. It’s a strong contender for most beautiful waterfall in the world. Seriously. Iceland has a lot of waterfalls, but this is the most beautiful one. Once you find it, you’ll be staring down from over the bridge at the turquoise water, asking yourself if deep, deep beneath, there is not a man-made light installed somewhere and causing the river’s literal glow.
I was half expecting Tinkerbell and her friends to fly out of the rocks any second. It was that magical. But for all its strengths, it is a bit of work to reach. There are two ways to get to the waterfall.
- Google maps will take you near a small, parking-lot-like area, from which you can apparently walk about an hour each way to the falls. This will be on your left as you come from Thingvellier.
- The other option is to continue past this first area and follow the next left on the road (you might see a sign). The road is rather narrow, and eventually you will reach a sign that cars cannot go further. Here, park to the right of the sign (other cars might be there as well) and walk 10 minutes until you reach the river. Once you reach the river, walk along your left for about 5 minutes (it will be icy in winter, so be careful) until you reach a wooden bridge to cross the river. Cross the bridge and continue walking about 5 more minutes, following the sound of louder and louder rushing water as you get nearer. The waterfall will eventually be on your left.
Budget around 1 ½ – 2 hours to finding the falls, photographing, and returning back to the main road.
Geysir & Strokkur
The day is still young, and you must eventually pull yourself away from the beauty known as Bruarfoss and onto the next stop. Geysir and Strokkur are both 20 minutes east. Across the road from them is a tourist-stop cafeteria, gift shop, and clean bathroom.
Where to Park for the Night
Tonight, you’re in luck – you’ll be at a campsite with a shower. Double-back about 10 minutes on the road to Uthlid campsite. Payment for this campsite is cash. A similarly-priced alternative campsite open in winter and right by Gullfoss Waterfall is Skjól Campsite.
Quickly have some breakfast before jetting off to Gullfoss Waterfall and arriving before the Golden Circle day trippers do. If it is sunny, you’ll be sure to see a rainbow or two decorating the falls. But even without rainbows to grace our trip to Gullfoss, it was truly breathtaking. I had been hoping to see some frozen waterfalls in Iceland, and I was able to here. Be sure to admire Iceland’s “Golden Waterfall” from both the lower and upper observation areas, to get both further away and up close views.
Get back on the road and head South towards Kerio Crater Lake. Make a small detour halfway to Skaholt, if you would like to see the often-photographed house covered entirely in moss. You’ll also enjoy a serenely quiet view of the mountains without many fellow tourists.
Kerið Crater Lake
Once at Kerið, expect a small entrance fee (which can be paid by card), and to spend 1 – 2 hours walking around the outer loop of the crater before making your way down to the inside. After Kerio, wave goodbye to the Golden Circle. Many tourists come to Iceland just to see Reykjavik and this loop in a short 2 – 3 days. But you’re fortunate, and will be heading south to explore even more of the country’s beauty!
Head towards Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, about 1 hour and 15 minutes away. On the way, consider stopping at the Bonus grocery store you will pass (it will be near a roundabout) and stocking up on any more food or snacks. There are also plenty of gas stations along this drive, some with partner food chains at which to grab some lunch, fill up those water bottles, or use the bathroom, in addition to, obviously, gas.
Pull into the Seljalandsfoss parking lot before walking the path to the waterfall – and make sure to bring a waterproof jacket or poncho. There is a fee to park, however we could not find where to pay, and therefore just crossed our fingers no one was checking before walking off.
If it is sunny, there will be rainbows galore from every angle. Walk up to the waterfall along the right side of the river, and climb the slippery rocks that will lead you to the walkway behind the waterfall, to get that iconic view from behind. Continue walking across and marvel at all the rainbows and mist surrounding you, but be careful with the exit route. It requires a climb using (in my case) all four limbs along wet and muddy rocks, so consider simply exiting the safer way you just entered
before getting yourself too far up to the point of no return like I did. You can then cross the small bridge over the river to get any views that you feel might have missed by not opting for the more dangerous climb.
Head back on the road for about 1 hour, towards Dyrhólaey. It’s the end of the day, so you will want to make sure to arrive there with enough light to photograph.
You will need to drive up a steep and zigzagged road, meant for only 4×4 vehicles, as the sign at the entrance warns. Since the sun was setting, and there was not enough time to walk, we risked it with our non-4×4 camper, and drove up. Parking up at the top was a bit scarce and a free-for-all. If you have time (i.e. daylight) and are reluctant to use a non-4×4 car on a 4×4 road, you can always walk up.
Either way, once at the top, you can see the famous arc in the water to your east, and the sun setting over the highly-photographed black sand beach to your west. Budget about 20 – 30 minutes to admire the views here, and add another 30 minutes if you plan to walk up instead of drive.
Where to Park for the Night
Make your way back down the steep road, and head to Vik, about 20 minutes away. Here you will spend the night and top up on gas. There are a couple campsites in Vik, but many are closed in winter. Across the street a bit from the N1 gas station in the middle of town, you will find IcelandAir Hotel Vik. Further down the same road as the hotel is a campground at which you can park in winter, though the campground itself is closed. The hotel reception was so kind as to let us use the lobby bathroom (after declining our request to simply sleep in the better-lit hotel parking lot). So we used this to wash up for the night and in the morning.
After some breakfast, head east for 1 hour to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. You can drive about half the distance from the main road, but will have to walk the rest. In winter, most of the interesting path allowing views of the canyon from above will be closed. (And though signs stating such were often ignored by yours truly while in Iceland, this was the only place where the sign included a threat of prosecution in court.) So if it is summer, you will spend more time at this location than in winter.
Vatnajökull National Park
Next stop is Svartifoss Waterfall Parking Lot, 1 hour away. Before paying for parking for the day, step into the information center and, instead, purchase parking for overnight, as this is where you will be camping tonight. If you are staying overnight, you only need to pay this night fee and not for the day fee as well. The night fee is $15 per person, though I am not sure how they confirm the number of people in each party.
The parking lot for Svartifoss is also the gateway to Vatnajökull National Park and meeting spot for your “Glacier Hike + Ice Cave Tour” (around $160). Though the price is steep, this combines two tours into one (hence the plus sign), which are each priced around $160 themselves. If there is only one tour you will splurge on while in Iceland, I highly recommend you make it a glacier hike and ice cave tour! This is the exact tour I bought. I loved it.
Book your tour to begin an hour or two after you plan to arrive, so that you can have some lunch in the parking lot before the tour departs. The tour’s online description requires snow pants or some other waterproof pants, but they did not seem to enforce this (or realize?) on our tour. Hiking shoes, however, are required, and you can rent a pair by adding $10 to your booking if you do not have your own with you.
The glacier tour will take up most of your day, between paying for parking, making a quick lunch before the tour, using the restroom, and the tour itself. Be generous with how much time you budget here (4 – 5 hours).
Once you return from the tour, get back into the car and head to Fjallsárlón Lagoon, about 35 minutes east. This is a less-known iceberg lagoon than the larger Jökulsárlón Lagoon 10 minutes away, which is precisely what makes it so special. Not as many tourists to share the lagoon with, and, as this lagoon is smaller, you can actually climb onto the icebergs. This honestly makes for much more fun and way better photo opps than you will find at Jökulsárlón!
Jökulsárlón Lagoon & Black Diamond Beach
After you’ve had your fair share of “I’m-standing-on-an-iceberg!” photos, continue driving east for 10 minutes to reach Jökulsárlón Lagoon and Diamond Beach, the furthest point east of your Iceland trip. Drive over the bridge, and park on either side of it.
Where to Park for the Night
Hop back in the car once you are done, and drive 40 minutes back along the same road to the Svartifoss Waterfall Parking Lot to set up camp for the night. Hopefully, if you haven’t already, you’ll see the Northern Lights in what was the most unpolluted night sky of my entire time in Iceland. Plenty of showers and bathroom stalls here, so take advantage!
Wake up early before setting off on foot from the parking lot towards Svartifoss Waterfall. You’ll have the whole trail to yourself while all the day trippers are just barely leaving Reykjavik in their large coach buses. In winter, it should also be easier to walk in the earlier morning, as the mud will be frozen hard instead of slippery. This should take 1 ½ – 2 hours round trip, including time for photo-taking
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Get on the road and head west about 2 hours towards Reynisfjara Beach. This is the one with the large, black lava sea stacks and black sand. Mentally prepare to be a little patient as you try to get your perfect picture amongst the other tourists also scaling the beautiful stacks. There is a parking lot here, along with tourist shop café and restrooms.
DC3 Plane Crash Site
Continue driving before pulling into a parking spot on the right of the road for the walk to the DC3 airplane crash site. The American Navy plane crashed here in 1973, after running out of fuel. Luckily, everyone apparently survived. The crash site is a bit further down than Google Maps has as its location, so just keep driving west while looking for some cars parked on the right and some people walking on the left. The walk takes about 30 – 45 min each way, and taking pictures likely requires just as long in order to get the shot you want. So budget around 2 hours hours to this activity.
Once you’ve got the shot (or given up, honestly), walk back and then drive 20 minutes west to Skógafoss Waterfall. Stop in the parking lot, and especially if it is sunny, head straight to the base of the waterfall (and not the stairs to the top first), as there will definitely be rainbows and you don’t want to risk clouds covering it up later. Head up to the stairs afterwards if you would like to see the view from the top, and use the restrooms (for a fee) along the parking lot if you need.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring River
Reykjavik is now a little over an hour and a half away. If you have time, stop at Reykjadalur hot spring river for a warm swim. Otherwise, continue straight back to the capital. Perhaps splurge on a proper dinner in Reykjavik, as a reward for a week well done!
Where to Park for the Night
Park your camper in the bus station used by FlyBus, for free parking and a 24-hour clean bathroom to use. Consider filing up gas at the N1 station nearby to save yourself time tomorrow morning before dropping off the car.
ADJUSTING THIS ITINERARY
- If you are planning to travel Iceland with a rental car and stay in hotels, you can still follow this itinerary. All of the campsites suggested can simply be replaced with a nearby hotel. I considered this option as well, but given that I went in winter, and have never driven in real snow before (yay for being Californian!), I wanted the flexibility to change plans as need be in the case of road closures and storms.
- I visited Iceland in winter (March), so the days were shorter and we were able to do less each day than had it been summer. If you follow this itinerary for summer, you’ll have more daylight each day, so you can squeeze this itinerary into less than seven days, if you would like.
What Say You on My One Week Iceland Itinerary?
Phew, that was a lot. Still have questions? Drop a comment and I’ll get back to you. If you’re wondering it, someone else probably is too.
For those of you who have been to Iceland, what do you think of my Iceland one week road trip itinerary? Was your itinerary similar? Let me know in the comments below!