Kendra P. Morrison
The Best 7 Day Guide to Iceland
Updated: Mar 14
Going to Iceland is pretty much like going to the moon, or some extra-terrestrial, yet undiscovered planet. As well as being geographically out there, its crazy unique landscapes and awe inspiring vistas are simply magical. Active volcanos, abundant waterfalls, glaciers, snow capped mountains, icebergs and endless horizons make it a truly remarkable destination.
Iceland is the safest country in the world.
My husband and I, and our seven year old son were super lucky to spend a week traveling around the southern part of the island in May in ridiculously perfect weather. I mean, it was cold, but the bright sunshine made for perfect photographic conditions. And I took full advantage of capturing every single scene.
See my Icelandic Photo Gallery - Limited Edition Prints Available
As there was absolutely no traffic on the road (the one single lane highway, that is) we could stop the car at my every whim, and snap away in solitude. It was incredible.
This Icelandic itinerary covers our 7 day adventure taking in many highlights of the southern part of Iceland’s Ring Road (Highway 1) using a rental car and staying at hotels along the way - as we are not campers (more power to you if you are - respect). Note: the full 7 day itinerary can be found at the end of the article.
Between 30% - 40% of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves.
We flew in to the capital city, Reykjavík, hired a car and spent the rest of the day touring the city. It isn’t a big place. It’s more of a cosy town and easy to walk everywhere. You’ll organically come across pretty much everything by just wandering, but here are a few must-sees:
The Hallgrímskirkja Church
This 244 ft tall concrete church towers above the town. It is probably one of the most unique examples of church architecture I’ve ever seen. Its design is based on the geology of Iceland, the basalt columns in particular.
You’ll come across the striking and fun Rainbow Street just down the hill from the church. It has been a permanent piece of art there since 2019 and offers the perfect shot with the famous church in the background. It celebrates joy and inclusion, love and respect, highlighting the Icelandic ethos.
In a place with little sunlight throughout the year, Reykjavik has been brightened up with an amazing collection of colorful street art. It’s everywhere - but is tastefully done (no graffiti rubbish here). My son thoroughly enjoyed touring the town and taking pictures of each and every piece of wall art.
There is not a single McDonald’s or Starbucks in Iceland.
The Sun Voyager Sculpture
You can find the Sun Voyager down by the water's edge and take in dramatic views of Mt. Esja in the background at the same time. Icelandic sculptor, Jon Gunnar Arnason, is responsible of the steel structure that resembles a Viking ship, but was in fact, designed as an ode to the sun.
Reykjavik Hotel and Restaurant
We stayed at the Alda Hotel, perfectly located in central Reykjavik and dined at The Grillmarket which was a fantastic place. We sat in the super cool underground area of the restaurant and very much enjoyed an endless tasting menu.
The Fagradalsfjall Volcano
Just a short drive from Reykjavik is the site of the volcano that began erupting in March of 2021 and continued spewing lava for six months, making it the longest volcanic eruption in 50 years in Iceland.
Thinking the Volcano was just a short walk from the makeshift car park, we set off with our one water bottle and wooly hats, only to discover 4 hours later that the hike up was rather more intense than expected! The trail was very very basic at that time and we stumbled along, falling all over the place.
But - we made it! And it was absolutely incredible. Lava erupted from its mouth every 20 minutes or so while small pieces of pyroclastic material rained down on us during every show. Being able to get so very close to it was electrifying and somewhat frightening all at the same time. The sea of cooling lava snaking around the mountain was a remarkable sight as well.
An hour and forty-five minutes (127 km) from Reykjavik along Highway 1, which is the only road along the Southern route making it rather hard to get lost, is the dramatic 200 ft high falls, Seljalandfoss. Foss means waterfall in Icelandic fyi.
Being able to walk behind a waterfall makes it rather more of an adventure than simply looking at one from a distance. There is a walkway that leads you behind the gushing water, and yes you will get a bit wet!
There are more sheep than Icelanders in Iceland.
If you walk further down the path away from the parking lot, you will also come across a hidden gem - the Gljufrabui Waterfall. Through a crack in the rock, you can hop on stepping stones in to a grotto that houses this impressive secret. It’s loud, and wet, and totally worth it.
29 km further along the highway is Skógafoss. This colossal waterfall is one of the biggest in the country and is unique for the fact that you can walk right up to the base of it where the water comes crashing down.
The huge amount of spray generated guarantees a constant rainbow too. There is legend of buried treasure stashed behind it as well, which keep the kids engaged!
The 28 flights of stairs to the right of the falls lead to a viewing platform which is well worth the climb (and the inevitable moaning). There are hiking trails at the top as well, if you aren’t too tired from all stairs.
30 minutes and 35 km further east lies the most famous beach in Iceland. The pristine black sand, smooth pebbles and basalt columns make it a wonderful spot to take in the views, climb and explore.
The Reynisdrangar sea stacks visible from the beach are said to be petrified trolls and there’s also a large cave a bit further down the beach.
Dyrhólaey Arch and Lighthouse
The magnificent arch of volcanic rock can be seen clearly from the Dyrhólaey viewpoint located at the other end of Reynisfjara Beach. A windy drive up the hill leads to glorious views in both directions. Look out for puffins there too.
Vík í Myrdal
This remote seaside town is just around the corner (11 km) from Reynisfjara Beach. In fact you can see the ‘trolls’ from the black sand beach next to this small functional town.
The iconic Reyniskirkja wooden church looks over the town from its elevated position on the hill.
Hotels and Restaurant - Vík
We stayed at Hotel Vík when heading west, a simple hotel with nice clean rooms., and ate dinner at Smidjan Brugghús, a brewpub with 10 Icelandic craft beers on draft, and some delish burgers.
Beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989.
On our return journey towards Reykjavik we stayed at the classy, cool Hotel Kría which was a bit more fancy but well worth the treat. The rooms have lovely mountain views and the Drangnar Restaurant located inside the hotel is excellent.
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon
The landscape gets more and more impressive the further east you head. At one point, from the road, we could see the massive Vatnajökul glacier (the largest in Europe) coming down the mountains in four separate areas. Huge icebergs calve off the glacier and float around the lagoons with their wonderful bright blue colours.
The Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon is where we chose to do a boat tour in one of their small zodiac boats. They provide flotation suits and lifejackets and extremely friendly guides who take you out on the mirror calm water to the base of the huge glacier wall.
Watching seals and getting up close to the huge blue icebergs was a beautiful highlight of the trip. Their Frost Restaurant is a welcome place for a hot chocolate after the icy adventure.
Jökusárlón Ice Lagoon
A short drive takes you to the Jökusárlón Ice Lagoon. You can’t miss it - a bridge takes you over an inlet that connects the glacier lagoon to the sea, allowing the icebergs to make their escape. This larger lagoon is breathtaking and the sheer size of the icebergs and their exquisite turquoise blue colours is quite astonishing. There are boat tours that leave from here as well.
Iceland is a popular shooting location for movies and TV shows such as Star Wars: Rogue One, Game of Thrones, James Bond: A View to a Kill, Tomb Raider, Interstellar, Oblivion, and Batman Begins.
Directly across the road from the Jökusárlón lagoon lies Diamond Beach - another magnificent site. Crystal clear pieces of ice wash up on the beach resembling diamonds that contrast beautifully with the dark black sand.
Jumping on and off the larger beached icebergs with the waves crashing between them while trying not to get wet was a seven year old’s dream.
Just past the small town of Höfn is Vestrahorn mountain (about an hours drive from Jökusárlón). The scenery is astounding and the incredible reflection of the mountain due to its surrounding waters is a photographers dream. This is my absolute favorite photo from our entire trip.
There is much more to explore, once you have the stunning shot of the mountain secured. The rocky area close to the beach is full of rock pools and natural climbing frames. The basic but characterful Viking Cafe coffeehouse / guesthouse at the entrance is a good spot to grab a bite with a wonderful view (note: this is where you will have to buy tickets to enter Vestrahorn as it is private property).
Höfn is a small fishing town with a working harbour, a few hotels and some nice restaurants. We stayed at the Hotel Edda which has amazing views and is super central. The restaurant right across from the hotel, Pakkhús Restaurant, was so amazing we ended up going there twice. It’s located in an old harbourside warehouse with tons of character, fairy lights and charm - the popular langoustine dish is a must.
Interesting foods in Iceland include: whale, puffin, fermented shark and sheep's head. Yum!
Located about 70 km outside Vik and 210km from Höfn lies one of the most impressive canyons in Iceland. It is not well signposted at all so pay attention to the GPS. A small road (206) right off Ring Road 1 leads you on a very bumpy 3km track to a parking lot.
From there it is a short walk along the edge of the canyon to absolutely spectacular scenery. The special viewing platform towards the end of the trail is the perfect spot to take it all in while snapping amazing photographs (that won’t do it justice at all!).
The Blue Lagoon
Less than half a hour from the airport and 45 minutes from Reykjavik is the world famous Blue Lagoon. It’s a geothermal spa located in a lava field and has the most magnificent ethereal blue colour. To be honest, it wasn’t at the top of my list for places to visit in Iceland, but it was a wonderful experience in the end. My then 7 year old son still talks about it and wants to go back.
Be sure to book a timed entry in advance. The facilities are great and you get as long as you want in the lagoon, a mud mask, towels and, most importantly, a drink at one of the swim up bars in the lagoon.
Iceland today generates 100% of its electricity with renewable energy.
At 39C/102F, the water pushed up from deep within the earth is a welcome hug from the cold air. Also, don’t be alarmed by the weirdly squishy substance on the bottom of the lagoon - it’s silica and good for the skin!
You can splash out and stay on the Blue Lagoon property at one of its two upscale hotels, or opt for the more reasonable Northern Light Inn just down the road also situated in the middle of the lava field. The restaurant, Max's, has views equivalent of what I imagine dining on the moon would be like.
Check out more Icelandic Photos from my gallery.
7 Day Icelandic Itinerary
Saturday - Reykjavik
The Hallgrímskirkja Church, Street Art, Rainbow Street, The Sun Voyager Sculpture