5 Day Iceland Winter Itinerary
There are so many awesome things to do and see in Iceland, if you can only go for a short time it's really hard to pick what to do!
I've written about my 5-day itinerary from my December trip, including things I would change/wish I'd included! I hope you find it helpful!
I decided 5 days wasn't anything like long enough to do the whole ring road, so I focused on the areas I wanted to go to the most. I'd been to Iceland for 2 days on a stop-over before and had already done The Golden Circle so I missed this out. If this is your first visit it might be worth doing The Golden Circle on your first day instead of the thermal river.
If you visit in Summer you could definitely fit a lot more in, but as it was only light between 11am-3.30pm when I was there, I tried to maximise activities during the daylight and do long drives during the dark.
My Flight arrived at 11am on the first day, and I immediately picked up my hire car (a Dacia Duster from Lava Car Rental) and headed off to make the most of the daylight!
Reykjadalur thermal river:
1h30 drive from the airport (When you get to the main roundabout in Hveragerði, take the road called Breiðamörk and head to the north. On the way, you will see a few signs, which will direct you to Reykjadalur.) GPS N64.03309° W 21.21602°
The car park, with the start of the trail to the hot river.
I arrived at 2pm, and hiked for around 1.5 hours to the river- this definitely takes that long in Winter as the track is covered in snow! The hike has lovely views of the town below, as well as lots of interesting bubbling hot pools and a small waterfall.
One of the bubbling hot pools by the path on the way (way too hot to swim here!).
When I got there I had the whole place to myself, having passed 2 couples hiking back.
I bathed in the river for around half an hour, then hiked back to the car park (which is an easier hike on the way back so only took around 1 hour).
Me in the hot river.
It was getting dark for my hike back! I was prepared for this and had brought a headtorch, and having already walked this way it was easy for me to find the way back (especially as it takes a while to get fully dark and there is twilight for an hour or so). However, always be sensible! There are large yellow poles marking the track in case of high amounts of snow, but I wouldn't recommend starting the trail much later than that in the Winter. Always check the weather forecast and daylight hours before you set out!
Getting dark on the way back to the car park, the view from the path to the town in the distance.
There wasn't much time left for sightseeing so I headed off for Vik (2h drive from the river), and stayed the night in the tiniest single room in Vik Puffin Hostel. Cost £34.
The room was perfect for what I needed, and there was a communal kitchen and dining room.
That night I headed down to Reynisfjara Black beach in the hope of spotting the Northern Lights (it was not a success) and slept soundly!
My plan this day was to explore some of the things to do around Vik, before heading to the glacier lagoon for sunset and Hofn later that evening. But there was a storm coming! I checked the Vedur weather website, and decided I'd leave super early and head to the glacier lagoon for sunrise instead in order to beat the storm!
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach:
2h30 drive from Vik. GPS Coordinates: 64.041625, -16.210597.
This was one of my favourite spots of the holiday! So beautiful, and the icebergs on Diamond Beach were massive in the winter!
Icebergs as big as me washed up on the beach!
There's a car park here right by the lagoon with the glacier visible right behind, with some refreshments stalls and toilets, plus boat trips onto the lagoon in the summer.
Then across the main road is diamond beach.
Diamond beach at sunrise.
You can walk around the lagoon for views of the icebergs floating down the river, under the bridge and into the sea. Then you have to go back up to the main road, cross over and head down to the beach.
Icebergs floating down the river out to sea.
Stokksnes headland and Vestrahorn mountain:
1h drive to the cafe at Stokksnes, the last 10 mins are along a gravel track so be careful of you hire car. You have to pay inside the cafe (£4.50) to go through the barrier and drive out on to the headland, here there is a beautiful beach with dunes and amazing views of Vestrahorn mountain.
Vestrahorn in the sunshine.
You also get entry to the Viking village built there for a film set, but I didn't bother.
Hoffel Hot Tubs/Hofn Public Pool:
I headed for Hoffel Hot Tubs to soak there and watch the sunset (30mins drive, 500ISK (£3) cash needed). It looked like a great spot but sadly they were closed for upkeep so I headed to Hofn.
For Sunset, I visited Hofn Public pool, which has an outdoor heated swimming pool as well as various hot tubs and an Ice bath all outside, for £5.60.
I spent the night at Hofn HI hostel, where I paid £33 for a dorm room, but as it was so quiet was upgraded to my own room for free.
After DIY dinner at the hostel, I went on another Northern Lights hunt. Thanks to
My Aurora Forecast app, I was able to find the gaps in the cloud, and after 2 hours waiting in the freezing cold in my car just outside Hofn, I spotted the Northern Lights for around a minute!
Worth the wait, even if they didn't put on a dramatic show.
The plan for today was to head back to Vik, exploring a few places on the way, walk to the Sólheimasandur plane wreck, swim in Seljavallalaug (Icelands oldest swimming pool), and visit Dryholaey promontory (arch) and lighthouse.
Sadly, despite leaving early, the weather was awful (Iceland put out a red weather warning in some areas for wind) and the road was closed from Jökulsárlón onwards so I was unable to continue.
There I was, an hour into my journey, in the dark with the weather getting worse and worse!
I decided to just find somewhere close to wait, and saw on google the museum Þórbergssetur in Hali was a few minutes drive away. I got there, only to find it was closed, and the weather getting worse still with no improvement expected until the next day. I decided to rent a room for the night at the guesthouse nearby, Skyrhúsid.
Skyrhúsid Guesthouse in Hali with the snow blowing.
. The owner was very surprised to see me (especially at 7.30am), but was happy to find me a room in the empty guesthouse. This ended up being my favourite accommodation, and the lovely owner only charged around £60 (considering I was desperate, and I'd got her out of bed, she could have charged anything!).
This experience made me realise how important it is to check on the weather conditions before travel. I'd checked on Vedur, which suggested the weather wouldn't be too bad until lunchtime, but had I looked on the Iceland Roads Website I'd have seen the road was closed and it was better to not make the journey!
Views of Hali, the tiny hamlet I was stranded in, from the guesthouse window.
I spent the rest of the day inside, except for a walk along the beach in the evening in the hope of spotting the aurora again (sadly unsuccessful). The wind got so bad, my host got me to move my car into the neighbours garage as she was worried it would topple the car over, or smash the windows!!
The storm had passed!! And my car was thankfully intact! Today I was meant to be waking up in Vik, so I had a lot of ground to make up!
2 hours drive from the guesthouse. GPS 63.771273, -18.171787
I made it here for sunrise. The road to get here is so windy and was scarily icy, especially if anything is coming the other way!
Canyon views from the lower viewpoint.
There is normally a toilet here, but it was closed, and a small car park. Be careful in winter, the footpath to view the canyon was very icy.
Eldhraun Lava Field:
Driving to Vik from this direction, it's impossible not to drive through it. There are plenty of places to stop for photos, many with picnic benches etc.
The decades old moss covering the cooled down lava.
1h drive from the canyon.
There's a restaurant right on the beach here and a big car park.
Pay attention to the tides, as this part of coast can be very dangerous and tourists have been injured/drowned here in the past.
The cave, with loads of icicles.
If the tide is on your side, you can walk around the massive granite pillars on the beach and see the cave made of different sized basalt columns.
From the cave, you can walk further along the beach to get a better view of the eroded cliffs standing in the sea.
The black sand beach at Reynisfjara with the granite columns and the sea rock formations.
30mins drive from the beach.
There's a big car park, campsite, food choices, toilets, and even a museum here! This as the busiest place I visited in my whole trip, but it is definitely worth it!
You can climb up the steps at the side to see the view from above, and there's loads of trails from the top too- I really want to do the Fimmvörðuháls Hike which starts here and goes over new land created by the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupting in 2010.
Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss waterfallls:
25 mins drive from Skogafoss.
There is a car park, food, and toilets at Seljalandsfoss, but you have to pay to park. If you park in the small carpark by the campsite at Gljufrafoss then parking is free.
Glufrafoss is hidden in a cave, you have to wade through the stream created from the waterfall in order to get inside or you can try to balance on the rocks to stop yourself getting wet (this is great fun when icy!).
Entrance into the Gljufrafoss cave.
It is to the left of the campsite and car park and can't really be seen from the outside but is really impressive inside! Don't be confused with the other waterfall that is between Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrafoss but is outside!
Seljalandsfoss is along the path to the left when you exit the cave, and in summer you can walk behind it (the path was closed as it was too slippy when I was there).
For my final day, I had decided to explore the Snaefellsnes peninsula so I then had the 4 hour drive in order to get there! Luckily I'd included a fun stop on the way!
Landbrotalaug Hot Pot:
3h drive from Seljalandsfoss.
A tiny, romantic hot pot in the middle of nowhere! It was surprisingly easy to find by putting it into google maps, but getting to it involves wading through the shallow middle part of a pond, (which is fun when the pond is iced over and it's pitch black!).
I made it though, and bathing in the hot pool under the stars surrounded but nothing but nature was well worth it.
Taking a dip in the hot pot, surrounded by snow (I definitely needed my hat).
I spent the night in Grundarfjörður HI Hostel, £34 for a dorm room (again I had the room to myself).
I went to Kirkjufellsfoss to look for the aurora again, but sadly it wasn't meant to be!
5 minutes drive from my hostel.
I went for sunrise at the waterfall in front of the famous Kirkjufell mountain. The waterfall is just down to the left when you park in the carpark- this might seem obvious but when I went the night before it was so difficult to work out where the waterfall was!
A 45 mins drive from the waterfall, you can climb right to the top using steps added round the side (it took around 15 mins for me to walk to the top from the car park).
The drive up to Saxholl.
From the top, there are great views of the surrounding area, and you can see into the (dormant) crater.
Cooled lava in the crater.
A 5 mins drive from the volcano, the road is quite narrow and windy, and steep in places. There are a few paths you can take down the beach from the carpark, with lots of interesting rock formations and information about a grounded ship.
The rock formations on Dritvik beach.
A 10 mins drive from the beach, you can walk right out to the lighthouse for views of the sea (I didn't have time as I was on a schedule to get back to Reyjavik for my flight later that day).
The lighthouse from the carpark.
Another 10 mins drive to the carpark by the statue of Bárður. Worth having a look at the statue, then walking along the cliffs to the left for views of the Gatklettur Arch. You can also explore the little town, but I didn't have time.
A 15 mins drive to the black church, you can't go inside but it's lovely to see it against the snowy mountains behind. It was already on my circuit back to Reykjavik anyway so definitely worth a stop.
Budakirkja in the snow.
And finally, I drove the 3h back to the Airport and my 5 days were over! My flight was at around 8pm! .
If I had more time, I would have loved to spend more time on The Snaefellsnes Peninsula as it was so beautiful and there's so much to see, but I'm glad I took the time to visit for a day.
I really enjoyed this guide on the area, and it has some other things to do in the area.
You may also consider:
Sólheimasandur plane crash- An old plane wreck on the beach, 1h walk each way from the car park and no shelter. GPS 63°27’32.7″N 19°21’53.3″W.
Seljavallalaug heated swimming pool- The oldest pool in Iceland situated in a mountain valley, a 20 min walk each way. There is a small changing room there that can get quite dirty.
Skaftafell National Park- Visitors centre, many walks from the car park including a 1h30 circuit to Svartifoss waterfall.
Dryhoaley Lighthouse and Arch- Lighthouse with cliff views, and an arch from eroded sea cliffs.
Djúpavogskörin Natural Geothermal Pool- Small, free hot pot with amazing views 1h30 drive from Hofn . GPS: 64.653803, -14.341653
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon- On the way to Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon, 12 mins before you turn off up a side road. This is a smaller and less touristy version.
Svinafellsjokull Glacier- Great views from the car park, also organised expeditions to explore it. GPS: 64.008373, -16.879973
Ytri tunga- beach that's known for big seal population.
Ytri-raudamelur- Little red church
Gerduberg- basalt columns in the hillside. GPS N64° 51' 33.243" W22° 21' 59.774"