Traveling Iceland in May: One Week Itinerary

Traveling Iceland in May - One Week Itinerary | The Atlas Heart

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Thinking of traveling Iceland in May? Read through this detailed one week itinerary for Iceland to figure out where to go and what to see during your upcoming trip!

So, you’re planning a trip to Iceland? And in my favorite month?! Congrats! I’m already jealous of you because Iceland is a crazy beautiful country and the first (or second, or third) time you see it is magical.

After noticing Iceland pop onto the radar circa 2012, with the creation of WOW Air and their layover deal, it has been a country that has peaked my interest.

Northern Lights, puffins, and raw shark meat? What’s not to love! Okay, maybe not the potent raw shark meat, but everything else sounded great.

Except for the fact that it’s one of the most expensive countries in the world. Womp womp.

The prices kept me from seeing Iceland for years, but I knew one day the timing (and my finances) would work out, so I waited.

Traveling Iceland in May: One Week Itinerary iceland

Traveling Iceland in May - One Week Itinerary | Planning a Trip to Iceland
Traveling Iceland in May can be ideal for a lot of reasons – warmer weather, less tourists.

That timing ended up working out this May, when I found a one-way flight for around $200 to Reykjavik from San Francisco with WOW Air. I booked it and gave myself a week in the country to take in as many sights as possible.

And, it turns out that one week in Iceland was the perfect amount of time for my first introduction to the country.

Traveling to Iceland in May was an interesting experience because it’s a shoulder season. By the time I arrived, the weather had improved drastically, even just from the month before, but the summer tourism hadn’t quite picked up to its full extent yet.

Because of this, there were less tourists, more open roads that were easy to drive because they were no longer covered with snow, and nice weather most days.

The only downside was that some of the season-specific tours weren’t available because it was in between seasons.

For instance, most of the ice cave tours had already stopped because they’re a winter-time activity, and the caves had already begun to melt by May. There were also no Northern Lights tours so late in the season.

On the other side of that, the summer midnight sun tours of Silfra weren’t quite available yet because the sun set around 11pm in May.

Planning a Trip to Iceland in May

Regardless, there is still a plethora of things to do in Iceland in May that aren’t seasonal dependent. I’d say, besides not being able to experience the ‘midnight sun’ (11pm is close enough, right?), the end of spring is one of the most ideal times to be in Iceland.

You can basically have the same experience as you would at the height of summer, just with slightly colder weather and less tourists.

Before we dive into my recommended itinerary for Iceland, there are a few things you should know about the country before you arrive.

Planning a Trip to Iceland

It’s Expensive

This is a no-brainer, everyone knows that Iceland is expensive, but it’s still important to prepare yourself mentally for the prices. The most costly expenses were eating out at restaurants, accommodation, and gas.

As much as I love solo travel, the best way to make Iceland more affordable is to travel with at least one other person.

Accommodation, the car rental, and gas will automatically be split in half. Since the hostels can be just as expensive as the AirBnBs, you can actually find a whole apartment in Reykjavik that costs the same split in half by two people as what you would pay for a bed in a 6-bed dorm.

Trip to Iceland Cost | Costco Hot Dogs
A good way to cut down on costs in Iceland? Stock up on food at Costco and eat a lot of Icelandic hot dogs.
Trip to Iceland Cost | How Expensive is Iceland?
Luckily the best things in Iceland are free – like these Rainbow-tinged views.

I managed to get around the extortionate cost of eating out thanks to my friend Urvi, who I was traveling with. She was in Iceland the year before, and found the one Costco that exists in the country on the way to Reykjavik from the airport.

I’m telling you now, go stock up on everything you think you’ll need for food during your trip at Costco before you even get into Reykjavik.

We saved heaps of money by doing this, and by making our own breakfast and dinner most days since we were staying mostly in AirBnBs or hostels that had kitchens.

And just as a friendly reminder, if you’re not familiar with Costco, you need a Costco membership in order to shop at the store.

So, preferably find a travel partner that has a Costco card. Otherwise, you can still find discounted food at stores like BONUS in Iceland, but you won’t get the same kind of savings as you would at Costco.

Book Your Tours & Accommodation in Advance

Another way to make sure that you’re not spending more than you need to is to book everything in advance.

I’m usually one of those travelers who likes to wing it, booking as little as possible to allow for flexibility in my travel schedule. However, if you do this in Iceland you’ll usually pay for it, literally. 

There are a couple of reasons for this.

First of all, because Iceland has become such a popular country to visit in recent years, accommodation books up fast. This is also partly to do with the fact that the infrastructure in the country hasn’t quite caught up to the rate of tourism.

Golden Circle, Silfra | Iceland in 5 days
Book your tours and accommodation as far in advance as possible, especially for popular areas like the Golden Circle.

Iceland is a fairly tiny country and there are only a limited number of places that offer accommodation, especially outside of Reykjavik.

I’d recommend booking a couple of months before your trip if possible, to get the best deals and to make sure you actually have a place to sleep – unless you’re traveling by camper van.

Icelanders are smart. They know how high the demand is for accommodation, so expect hiked up prices the closer it gets to your travel dates, not reduced last-minute deals. That just doesn’t happen in Iceland the same way it does in other countries.

AirBnBs are the Way to Go

With the lack of hostels and hotels that are outside of Reykjavik, AirBnB has stepped up to the plate. There are more and more properties on the platform that are offering affordable (for Iceland at least) options in the more rural areas of the country.

Trip to Iceland Cost | Iceland Airbnbs | Iceland Budget Accommodation
Rural AirBnBs can be a great find for experience and cost in Iceland.

Stay in a converted farmhouse with Icelandic ponies on the property (like I did!), or someone’s family home, AirBnB is a good way to find places to stay outside of the touristic areas. But again, book as far in advance as you can because the good ones fill up quickly.

Get $40 off your first Iceland AirBnB booking here

Weather Changes Quickly

Anyone who has been to Iceland can attest to how quickly the weather changes in the country. No matter what time of year, expect to see multiple seasons in a day while you’re driving. Be prepared for rain, sun, wind, and snow, at least in the colder months.

Weather in Iceland | Iceland South Coast Itinerary
Don’t be fooled by those fleeting blue skies, the weather in Iceland changes fast. These only lasted for about 10 minutes.

It’s important to check the weather before you set off for the day, and prepare for the worst in terms of the hiking and driving you plan to do. Always bring layers, extra snacks, and water with you in the car in case of an emergency. 

Bring Layers

Even in the summer, Iceland isn’t exactly warm. There was an advertisement that I kept seeing around Reykjavik for an outdoor clothing brand that read ‘Iceland – waiting for summer since 1926’.

I can’t think of a better way to describe this northern country – it’s cold! 

Weather in Iceland - Iceland in 7 days
Thermals are your best friend in Iceland. You never know how cold, rainy, or windy it’ll be!

There is still snow on the road through April most years. May is usually when the weather starts getting nicer, the roads clear up, and the sun comes out. Even still, expect to find drastically different weather throughout the day, especially in different pockets of the country.

It’s best to bring everything you might need with you for a day out, because you never know what the weather is going to do in Iceland. Thermals were my best friend during my trip, and they’re easy to strip off if it gets too warm.

Always Give Yourself More Time than you Expect

Take the driving times on this itinerary with a grain of salt because they will usually take longer. There are two reasons for this: weather is unpredictable and you will be stopping A LOT.

One of the greatest draws to Iceland is its scenery, and that includes in between the famous tourist hot spots.

You want to give yourself ample time to take in the natural beauty, snap a few pics, and appreciate where you are. My rule of thumb, at minimum, is to double driving times to allow for plenty of stops.

Iceland Road Trip in May
One of the best parts about discovering Iceland is allowing for detours and plenty of stops. We found this random lake by doing exactly that.

As for the weather, it was good for most of our trip except for the last two days when there was intermittent downpours.

The rain was so heavy and the roads so slick that if we were going the speed limit we would start to hydroplane, so we had to reduce how fast we were going by 30%-50% to stay safe on the road.

This extended our travel times a lot, but because we weren’t in a rush we weren’t too stressed about getting to our next destination, we just had to be okay with being flexible.

How to get from Keflavík Airport to Reykjavik

There are a couple of ways you can get from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik.

You could do what I did and rent your car directly from one of the car rental places at the airport (and you’ll usually find cheaper rentals from the airport as opposed to downtown Reykjavik).

The drive is only about 45 minutes.

Or you could take the FlyBus shuttle that leaves from the airport and takes you to either the bus terminal downtown, or for $10 more directly to your hotel in Reykjavik.

You can grab your tickets here for the bus terminal or here for your hotel drop-off.

And now for what you’ve been waiting for – this is my detailed itinerary for 7 days in Iceland!

Iceland in May | One week itinerary for the south coast

Day 1 – Reykjavik

Coffee at Reykjavik Roasters

Without a doubt, Reykjavik has an impressive coffee scene. Most cafes you’ll find around the city will make a decent (i.e. creamy and delicious) cuppa and provide a relaxed hipster atmosphere.

Start off your day by grabbing a coffee from Reykjavik Roasters. Emilie and the Cool Kids and Sandholt are also quality options in the city, but like I said, you really can’t go wrong with any of the cafes, so take your pick!

Reykjavik Free Walking Tour 

Coffee in hand, it’s worth it to start off your time in Iceland with a free Reykjavik walking tour to get a quick history lesson and learn your way around the compact city center.

The earliest tour starts at 10am (with subsequent tours at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm if you’re not a morning person), and goes for 2 hours, covering about 2km (1.3 miles) around the city. At the end of the tour you can tip whatever amount you think your guide deserves.

Reykjavik Free Walking Tour | Weekend in Iceland
A free walking tour is a great way to learn more about the history and sights around Reykjavik.

It’s recommended to book ahead of time, especially during high season in the summer. You can book the free Reykjavik walking tour here. 

Street Art

You’ll probably come across your fair share of street art during the walking tour, but it’s worth it to admire the many pieces of artwork on the sides of walls and buildings at your own leisure.

Reykjavik has showcased colorful street art since the 1990s and there is plenty to see. Take an hour to walk around the city and find some hidden artistic gems.

You can learn more about the history of street art in Reykjavik, and where to find key pieces around the city here.

Hallgrímskirkja Church

Head to the towering centerpiece of the city to admire the funky Hallgrímskirkja Church, a building that has become iconic to Reykajvik with its interesting architecture and sweeping views from the top.

Believe it or not, at 244 feet high (74.5 m), this Lutheran church is one of the tallest structures in the country!

Entry to the tower costs ISK 1000 (~US$9.30), but it gives you the best view of the city from above.

Reykjavik from Above | Hallgrímskirkja Church | Iceland Itinerary
The view of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church.

Einar Jónsson Museum

Right next to Hallgrímskirkja Church, you’ll find an often overlooked sight – the Einar Jónsson Museum.

Opened in 1923, this was actually the first art museum in Iceland. It highlights the work from one of the country’s most famous sculptors, Einar Jónsson.

Einar Jónsson Museum | Reykjavik Things to Do
The Einar Jónsson Museum is an underrated sight in Reykjavik.

The museum costs ISK 600 for entry, but if you’re on a budget, I’d recommend just going around to the garden at the back of the building where you can admire some of his sculptures for free.

National Museum of Iceland

Walk the 20 minutes from the Einar Jónsson Museum or grab a taxi to get to the National Museum of Iceland.

It’s one of the highest recommended museums in the city, and gives you a good overview of Icelandic culture and its history as a nation – from the medieval era filled with Vikings to modern day.

Waterfront & Sun Voyager Sculpture

End your day of sightseeing with a Viking fix. Head over to the steel Sun Voyager Sculpture for a few pictures, and walk along the beautiful Reykjavik waterfront for peaceful landscape views, especially of Mount Esja.    

The sculpture was designed by Jón Gunnar Árnason and is meant to represent a dream boat and ode to the sun.

Sun Voyager Statue, Reykjavik Itinerary | Iceland in May
The iconic Sun Voyager statue in Reykjavik.

Dinner & local craft beer

For a local Icelandic meal your first night in the country, head over to Sjávargrillið and try one of their traditional fish or lamb dishes. Just don’t be surprised by the prices, eating out in the Reykjavik is very expensive.

Food in Iceland | Reykjavik, Iceland One Week Itinerary
Icelandic meals generally include lots of seafood!

And even if the sun hasn’t set yet, you’d be amiss to not try some of the local craft beer that is starting to become more popular in the city. The craft beer is nowhere near as developed as what you’d find in say San Diego or Wellington, but they still offer some interesting choices.

Grab a seat at Skúli Craft Bar and chat with the friendly bartenders to find your perfect pint before calling it a night.

Optional: Blue Lagoon

If you have the time and want to see what all the hype is about, it’s easy to stop in at the Blue Lagoon either on your way from the airport or on your way back at the end of your trip to spend a couple of hours there.

However, I personally think it’s an overpriced tourist trap and that there are plenty of other geothermal hot springs to swim in around Iceland that aren’t as crowded and that don’t cost nearly as much (i.e. the Secret Lagoon, which I mention below).

If you’re set on seeing the Blue Lagoon, be prepared to pay anywhere from $65-$90 just for entry, and book as far in advance as possible.

Stay: Rez Hlemmur Apartment

If you’re traveling with 1 or 2 other people, it’s worth it to enjoy your own apartment in Reykjavik, because it actually comes out to be more affordable than individual hostel beds, and even most of the hotels.

My friend and I stayed at Rez Hlemmur Apartment our first night in the city, and couldn’t have been happier with the location and cleanliness of our stay, as well as the roomy size of the apartment.

Rez Hlemmur Apartment | Reykjavik Budget Accommodation | Iceland in May
The spacious and affordable Rez Hlemmur apartment, right in the middle of Reykjavik.

You can find availability and prices for Rez Hlemmur here.

Other recommend options for your first night in Reykjavik include: 105 Hotel, Kerno Apartments, and Reykjavik Treasure B&B, depending on what type of accommodation you’re looking for.

Day 2 –  Reykjavik to Hvolsvöllur (via Grindavik) // 3 hours (214 km)

Hafnarfjörður Village (20 minute drive from Reykjavik)

Start off your morning by driving the 20 minutes from Reykjavik to Hafnarfjörður Village, also known as the Village of Vikings and Elves.

There’s not much to see here, but they do have a scenic hotel and restaurant, and an annual Viking Festival in June. It’s a cute little village to drive through on your way to the rest of the Reykjanes peninsula (literally, it takes a couple of minutes to drive through).

Oh, and make sure to get a picture of the sign coming into town!

Bridge Between Continents (45 minute drive)

From Hafnarfjörður, continue on for another 45 minutes to reach the Bridge Between Continents in Sandvík, where you can walk from the European to North American tectonic plates via a small footbridge.

I mean, how many people can say they’ve walked from one continent to another in less than 30 seconds?

Bridge Between Two Continents | Iceland in May
Posing in front of the sign that says you’re straddling two continents.

Coastal route between the Bridge and Grindavik

The coastal route from Sandvík to Grindavik is one of the more scenic drives you’ll enjoy for the day. You might wonder if you’ve landed on Mars with the desolate alien-like rocky landscape.

Make sure to take plenty of stops to enjoy views of the peninsula and rugged coastline as much as possible, including the abundance of lava fields – some of which are over 2500 years old. 

Seltún Geothermal Area (25 minute drive from Grindavik)

From Grindavik, you’ll find one of the most popular geothermal areas in Iceland – Seltún.

This accessible area is located right off the highway and is as steamy (and smelly) as they come – with colorful hot springs and mud pools to walk around. 

Seltun Geothermal Area | 7 Days in Iceland
Seltun Geothermal Area is a must-see stop during your 7 days in Iceland.

A little further down from Seltún, you’ll find an even more stunning sight at Kleifarvatn Lake, the largest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

The lake is 318 ft (97 m) deep and gives off a rich blue color, especially when the sun is out. If you’re looking for dramatic Icelandic views, this place is the perfect stop for that.

Kleifarvatn Lake | Iceland Itinerary 7 days
Taking a break at Kleifarvatn Lake.

According to Icelandic folklore, the lake is inhabited by a serpent-like lake monster that is the size of a large whale. So, perhaps if you’re lucky, you’ll also get to see Iceland’s version of the Loch Ness Monster. 

Stay: Farmhouse AirBnB (1.5 hour drive from Seltún)

End your day in Hvolsvöllur, a small town on the way to Vik.

There are a few different AirBnB options that are much more affordable than what you’ll find in Vik. I recommend stopping here because there’s a lot to see on the way from Hvolsvöllur to Vik, and there’s no point in backtracking if you don’t have to.

I stayed in a family-run farmhouse that had Icelandic horses on the property! You can find it here for current availability and prices (and you can get $40 off your first stay here). 

Day 3 – Hvolsvöllur to Vik // 2 hours (109 km)

Seljalandsfoss (20 minute drive from Hvolsvöllur)

Start your morning chasing the epic waterfalls that Iceland is so well known for. Seljalandsfoss will be your first stop off Hwy 1.

The 65m (213 ft) tall waterfall only becomes more mesmerizing the closer you get to it. Prepare to get wet if you want to walk on the trail that goes behind the waterfall, but I’m telling you now it’s completely worth it to get soaked for the experience of standing behind such a behemoth of a waterfall.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall | Seld Drive Iceland Itinerary
Walking behind Seljalandsfoss.

Another positive to visiting Iceland durning the spring? The path behind the waterfall is usually closed during winter because it’s too slippery. Oh, and if you’re wondering why so many of the waterfalls in the country end in ‘foss’, it’s the Icelandic word for waterfall.

Skógafoss (30 minutes drive)

You may have been impressed with Seljalandsfoss, but once you get to Skógafoss a little further down the highway, your socks will be knocked off much further.

Even though Skógafoss is slightly shorter than Seljalandsfoss, the fact that it’s 25m wide means that its powerful nature is unmatched by any other waterfall I came across in Iceland. Try to get as close to the base as you can and feel what I mean by its omnipotence.

Skógafoss Waterfall - Iceland Ring Road Itinerary

Skógafoss Waterfall - Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
Skógafoss was my favorite waterfall in Iceland.

There’s a staircase to the right of the waterfall, which I recommend hiking to the top off. It’s a workout, but the views from the top and the trail that takes you alongside the fall’s rapids, is well worth it.

You’re also able to camp near the base of the waterfall if you’d prefer a more outdoorsy (and stunningly beautiful) accommodation option. Just make sure to dress warm and book as far in advance as possible because it’s a popular spot.

OPTIONAL: Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck (11 minute drive, 1.5 hour walk)

This sight may not be for everyone, especially if you’re not a photographer (or Instagrammer who wants to take edgy photos of abandoned planes), but I’m putting it on the list because it has become such a popular activity in Iceland.

I’ll be honest with you. I’m glad that I saw it once, but if you only have limited time, there are plenty of other gorgeous sights to see around this area.

The Instagram-famous plane is a US Navy DC plane that ran out of fuel and crashed on the beach near Vik in 1973. Pretty cool, right? But the beach itself is nothing special and it takes an hour and half to walk out to the plane and back since cars aren’t allowed.

Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck | Iceland Itinerary 5 days

 

Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck | Iceland Itinerary 5 days
Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck – not completely worth the hype but still cool to see.

The other downside is how many people climb on top of the plane and spend 20 minutes taking pictures up there in different poses.

It was annoying because a) no one else is able to take pictures while they’re posing – or appreciate the plane from up close because you end up in their pictures, and b) it’s dangerous since the plane is from 1973 and completely rusted. It wouldn’t take much for someone to fall through the roof and injure themselves horribly.

Again, it’s worth going to if you want to see the famous plane for yourself, but it’s not the most interesting or beautiful sight I saw in Iceland. Not by a long shot.

Dyrhólaey (20 minute drive)

Ready to spot some puffins?

Dyrhólaey is a small peninsula on the south coast and one of the best places to see puffins in their natural habitat. And, in true Icelandic fashion, it also offers a picturesque lookout over the beach and rock formations.

There are two parts to Dyrhólaey – upper and lower. The puffin spotting is best from the higher part, and it’s where you’ll get the most expansive views. However, if you have time feel free to go down to the lower part and enjoy a picnic on the beach.

Dyrhólaey Lookout Puffin Nesting | 5 Days in Iceland
Dyrhólaey lookout point – a great place to spot puffins in their natural habitat.

We were lucky to find the Dyrhólaey lookout open in the first week of May, but be warned that they sometimes close it between May 1st-12th because of nesting season.

Reynisfjara Beach (25 minute drive)

Right before you get to Vik, you’ll find one of its popular black sand beaches, Reynisfjara Beach.

Reynisfjara was once ranked as one of the ten most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world by National Geographic, and you will see why once you arrive in person.

The beach has huge basalt stacks and plenty of panoramic views. The sea stacks are known locally as Reynisdrangar, and, according to local legend, the columns are actually trolls who once stayed out too late trying to pull ships into shore and turned into stone once the sun came up. It’s also a Game of Thrones filming location, from season 7.

Just be careful about swimming at this beach because its notorious for powerful (and sneaker) waves that have claimed the lives of tourists in the past.

Vik (11 minute drive)

And, finally, you’ll reach your destination for the night – Vik.

Often called the prettiest village in Iceland, Vik is tiny but offers a lot in terms of seafront views and a relaxed spot to rest your head for the night.

Make sure to poke your head into the Vík í Mýrdal church – perhaps the cutest in Iceland? It’s located at the top of the hill, so it’s also the perfect place for views over the city and ocean.

vik-church-iceland-itinerary-5-days
Vík í Mýrdal church.

This is an ideal place to stock up on any supplies you might need for the rest of your trip and fill up on gas, because the drive gets more barren in terms of services for the next day or so.

Stay: AirBnB apartment in the heart of Vik or Puffin Hotel Vik

Vik isn’t the cheapest place to stay, but what it lacks in affordable housing it makes up for in views and cozy rooms.

Aslaug´s apartment on AirBnB is an ideal option if you want your own apartment for a couple of nights and a balcony with a view. Otherwise, book a room in the adorable Puffin Hotel, which includes simple furnished rooms, a daily breakfast buffet, and is only a 10 minute walk to the beach.

Day 4 – Vik to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & back to Vik // 4.75 hours (385 km)

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (2.5 hour drive from Vik)

Today is a long driving day, but one that includes some of the best highway views of your trip – full of glaciers, bright mossy lava fields, and open roads.

Your first destination of the day, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, is a 2.5 hour drive from Vik, but give yourself at least an extra hour for all of the times you’re going to pull over to take in the ridiculously beautiful views.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon | Iceland Itinerary for 7 days

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon | Iceland Itinerary for 7 days

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon borders Vatnajökull National Park, and is one the most popular places to view cool blue icebergs up close. This is Iceland’s deepest lake at 248m and the icebergs are made of ice that is over 1,000 years old!

Besides all of the cool history that lies in, under, and around the lagoon, it’s simply a beautiful place to try and not freeze your face off.

In the winter, the lagoon usually has a ton of seals. In spring, most of them will have already left, but there is still plenty to appreciate about the frigid lagoon. 

Diamond Beach (5 minute drive)

Across the road from the Glacier Lagoon you’ll find Diamond Beach, a black sand beach that usually has large pieces of diamond-shaped shards of ice on the sand.

Diamond Beach | Iceland Itinerary for 7 days

Sadly, when I was there in May the ice shards were super small compared to what they used to be at this time of the year a few years ago. Global warming, ya know?

In the summer, I’d imagine they’re probably non-existent, but in the winter they’re at their most impressive.

Skeiðará Bridge Monument (45 minute drive)

On your way back to Vik, stop in at Skeiðará Bridge Monument, a testament to how powerful Icelandic nature can be.

The monument is the twisted metallic remains from what used to be a large bridge that was wiped out by glacial floods.

Skeiðará Bridge Monument | Iceland in May Itinerary
A true testament to the power of nature. This twisted monument is all that’s left of a huge bridge that was wiped out by glacial floods.

This is one of those monuments that is perfectly fine to climb all over. Appreciate the views of the Skeiðarárjökull and Svinafellsjökull glaciers in the distance, and how they contrast against the desolate landscape surrounding the monument.

Optional: Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon (1 hour drive from Skeiðará Bridge)

If you have time and you’re not too tired of driving from the day, take a detour to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon to get yet another different side to Iceland’s landscape.

The canyon is 100m deep and 2km long and dates back to the Ice Age, making it over 9,000 years old. Although the rocks that line the canyon are probably closer to 2 million years old.

There are numerous hiking trails in and above the canyon. Usually the higher trails are a more popular option, because you sometimes have to wade through the cold water on the lower trails. Plus, the views from the top will make you stop in your tracks.

Day 5 – Vik to Laugarvatn (via Golden Circle) // 3.5 hours (254 km)

Optional: Þjórsárdalur Valley (1.5 hours of extra driving from Vik, if you stop here on the way to Gullfoss)

It’s already going to be a long day of driving, but if you have the energy and start early, take an alternative route on your way to Gullfoss to Þjórsárdalur Valley.

This is one of those more off-the-beaten path spots in this part of Iceland, and could be a nice reprieve from the touristy Golden Circle route that will make up most of the day.

The valley is located in the southern highlands of Iceland and boasts plenty of beautiful features to make the detour an attractive one to make.

This is where you’ll come across Iceland’s longest river, Þjórsárdals natural hot springs, and Háifoss, the tallest waterfall in the country at 122m (400 ft), as well as Hjalparfoss, yet another beautiful waterfall nearby.

If you’re looking for a good hike, tackle the easy 2.1km hike from the settlement of Stöng to Gjáin. Alternatively, you can hike from the parking lot of Gjáin to see lava formations and more waterfalls.

Gullfoss Waterfall (2.25 hour drive from Vik)

Next up – set off to the Golden Circle part of your road trip to Gullfoss Waterfall.

If you catch the waterfall on a sunny day, you’ll appreciate the green and golden-hued canyon that encases the Hvítá (White) River and a semi-permanent rainbow over the falls. Even if it’s overcast, the powerful waterfall is a force to be reckoned with.

Gullfoss Waterfall | Golden Circle Tour Itinerary | Self Drive Iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall | Golden Circle Tour Itinerary | Self Drive Iceland
There are two viewpoints at Gullfoss. This one will get you soaked but it’s worth it.

There are a couple of trails from which to appreciate the falls. The lower one takes you right alongside the layers of the falls (and will probably soak you), and the upper gives you a bird’s eye view of the falls from above.

I’d recommend walking along both, although the lower one is where you’ll really get an idea of how powerful the falls are.

There are a few popular tours that you can do near the falls as well – including glacier hikes or ice tunnel explorations on Langjökull (usually only in the winter), or snowmobiling tours.

Geysir Area (10 minute drive)

A more touristy geothermal area than Seltún, the Geysir area in Haukadalur Valley is still worth a stop for its many exploding geysers, fumaroles, and mud pots.

Geysir Area, Golden Circle Self Driving Tour
The Geysir area is one of the most popular sights on the Golden Circle route.

The Haukadalur Valley is actually where the word ‘geyser’ first came into the English language. This is where a geyser was first described in print, deriving from the Icelandic name for the most powerful geyser in the area – Geysir.

There are four Geysers that you can view here, including Geysir, Strokkur, Smiður and Litli-Strokkur, with Strokkur having the most reliable eruptions every 5-10 minutes.

Secret Lagoon (30 minute drive)

After all of the driving and sightseeing, take the short drive to a favorite hot spring in the area called Secret Lagoon. The hot spring is used by both tourists and locals, but it’s much less touristy than the Blue Lagoon and a quarter of the price.

Spend a couple of hours relaxing with a beer and floating in the hot water. It’s the perfect place to chill out after a few days of nonstop sightseeing, and just take in the natural other worldly landscape around the pool.

Secret Lagoon | 7 days in Iceland
Relaxing with a beer at the Secret Lagoon. The perfect way to end a long day of sightseeing in Iceland.

Entrance starts at ISK 2,800 (US$25) and you can buy your tickets ahead of time here

Stay: Héradsskólinn Boutique Hostel

I stayed here for the night and was thoroughly impressed by how clean, design-friendly, and warm this cozy hostel was.

This former school building turned hostel is in the heart of the Golden Circle and a good jumping off point for Pingvallavatn National Park (25km away) and its surrounding sights.

Iceland Budget Accommodation | Héradsskólinn Boutique Hostel
Héradsskólinn Boutique Hostel is a colorful and cozy accommodation option nearby.

They also offer private rooms (both single and double) and family-sized rooms. Check availability and prices here for Héradsskólinn Boutique Hostel.

If you’d rather not stay at a hostel, other good options nearby include Backyard Village, Háholt Cosy House in Laugarvatn, and Galleri Laugarvatn.

Day 6 – Laugarvatn to Reykjavik (via Pingvallavatn National Park) // 1.5 hours (117 km)

Kerið Crater (20 minute drive)

Start off the day at a scenic volcanic crater (as you do in Iceland) in the Grímsnes area, about 20 minutes drive from Laugarvatn.

Kerið Crater is a bright rainbow of color, with its sapphire color water that is surrounded by steep red volcanic rock. Be prepared to pay ISK 400 (US $3.70) to enter and walk around the crater and take pictures.

Swimming at Silfra (30 minute drive)

The highlight of the day, if you’re willing to brave the cold, is swimming or diving at Silfra.

Silfra is the gap between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates that you can swim between. That’s right, you can literally swim between two continents!

I opted for a snorkeling tour because I didn’t have my drysuit certification which is necessary for diving in that cold of water.

Snorkeling or Diving Silfra is a Must While You're in Iceland

Snorkeling or Diving Silfra is a Must While You're in Iceland
Snorkeling or diving Silfra is a must while you’re in Iceland – no matter how freezing the water is.

And, I realized as soon as I got in the water that diving isn’t actually necessary to enjoy the experience, because the water isn’t overly deep and it’s so clear that you can see most of what you’d want to from above (visibility usually exceeds 100m).

I went with a tour group called Adventure Vikings and had a great experience snorkeling around Silfra for about 20 minutes, until I figured it was probably a good time to get out because I couldn’t feel my hands or face anymore. 

This is one of those experiences you can’t miss while you’re in Iceland, it’s truly magical underneath the water. And how many people can say they’ve swam between two tectonic plates?

Exploring Pingvallavatn National Park (5 minute drive)

Once you’ve warmed up and dried off from the chilly water, it’s time to enjoy all that the surrounding Pingvallavatn National Park has to offer.

One of the most popular and lovely walks to take in the park is to Almannagjá Gorge. This is where you can walk to the edge of the North American tectonic plate and view another beautiful waterfall called Öxaráfoss.

Pingvallavatn National Park | Iceland in 7 days
More waterfalls to be found at Pingvallavatn National Park!

Spend the rest of the afternoon driving around the park and stopping off whenever you see signs for short trails. There is plenty to see around Pingvallavatn and it deserves at least a couple of hours of explorations to really appreciate how striking of a place it is.

Stay: Kex Hostel

It’s about a 45 minute drive from Pingvallavatn National Park, back to Reykjavik (assuming you don’t stop at all along the way).

Once you’re in Reykjavik, stay for a night at one of the trendiest hostel’s in town – Kex. Seriously, you won’t even realize you’re in a hostel with the design friendly lobby and cleanliness of the facilities.

Check availability and up-to-date prices for Kex Hostel hereOther options for the night could include the popular Freyja Guesthouse, 41 Townhouse Hotel, or Reykjavik Treasure B&B.

Day 7 – Reykjavik

Depending on how much time you have before your flight, try to tick off a few more sights around Reykjavik before you leave.

Reykjavik Botanical Garden

Depending on the weather, spend an hour or two in this 2.5 hectare Reykjavik Botanical Garden that offers a few peaceful walking paths and over 5,000 plant species.

The garden has been in operation sine 1961 and it’s one of those sites that is usually more popular with locals than tourists. Make sure to grab a hot drink from Cafe Flora in the garden after getting your fill of nature.

Icelandic Phallological Museum

If you want a highly unique experience in Reykjavik, stop by the Icelandic Phallological Museum, aka the Penis Museum.

It’s a museum that basically has every imaginable type of animal penis on display, and it’s both disturbing and impressive how seriously the owner takes his collection.

If you have never been to a penis museum, there’s a first time for everything right?

Reykjavik, Iceland is full of surprises - including a penis museum | Weekend in Iceland
Reykjavik is full of unique surprises, including a penis museum.

Perlan

The Perlan is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Reykjavik and a must-see stop before you leave Iceland.

The museum is on top of six water tanks that hold 24 million liters of hot water and is known for its futuristic architecture, museum, cutting edge exhibits, and panoramic views.

Adult tickets start at ISK 2,900 (US $29.50) and include entrance to the viewing platform.

Whale Watching

Finish off your time in Reykjavik with a whale watching tour. Summer is usually peak time for whale watching, but there’s still a high chance of spotting either a Minke Whale, Humpback Whale, white-beaked dolphin, or harbor porpoise in the spring.

Check out the most popular whale watching tours in Reykjavik here.

Final Notes

I mainly focused on the southwest part of Iceland for this itinerary, because this region offers the most amount of sights in the shortest amount of driving times.

Although a week may seem like a long time for such a small country, it’s a mistake to try to pack in too much with a first trip to Iceland. As I mentioned, you’re going to want to leave plenty of time for stops and to get off the beaten path.

Because the weather is unpredictable, you also don’t want to pack in too much every day if you’re driving long distances every day. 

Road tripping Iceland in May
There’s really no wrong way to road trip around Iceland. Don’t be afraid to go off the path and get lost!

It might be possible to do the whole loop around Iceland with 10 days, but even that will be at a breakneck speed and not allow you to simply enjoy the scenery and Icelandic culture.

If you’re hoping to do the whole loop around the country, I’d recommend at least two weeks to really take it all in.

However, if you’re only in Iceland for a week and it’s your first time in the country, this is the perfect 7 days in Iceland itinerary for an introduction to the country and to get an idea of what it has to offer. 

Happy travels and enjoy Iceland for me!

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PRACTICAL INFO FOR ICELAND

Find accommodationbook your rental car, or sign up for a local tour.

Book a vacation rental on AirBnB (and get $40 off your first booking).

Buy your Iceland Travel Guide here.

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Iceland in May: One Week Itinerary | The Atlas Heart

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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