NEHA PATNAIK / ICELAND, TRAVEL GUIDES / 26th December 2019
Planning to spend one week in Iceland ? Congratulations for coming to the right place. In this Iceland travel guide for one week, I will cover everything that you need to know to plan an amazing trip to Iceland.Read on to know about itineraries, budget and much much more.
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Iceland is one of the most amazing places on the planet, filled with stunning landscapes and vistas. Till now we had mostly travelled around South east Asia (especially in Cambodia,Vietnam and Thailand.)So Iceland was a huge leap for us in every way: physically, mentally and financially.
Ideally two weeks is perfect for exploring the country but not many of us have the luxury of unlimited travel time. We had just one week in hand and it was very difficult to decide the places to include for our one week in Iceland itinerary. Talk of mind boggling choices!
But after a lot of thinking, we finalized our one week in Iceland itinerary which I think is perfect for first time visitors. It has a mix of some popular well known attractions along with a few off beat sites. This very detailed and informative one week in Iceland travel guide is filled with plenty of helpful information like when to go, what to pack, itinerary options, travel budget, northern lights plus tips on how to avoid crowds.
ONE WEEK IN ICELAND:THE COMPLETE TRAVEL GUIDE
WHEN TO VISIT
Each season in Iceland is worth visiting because you can get to see a different side of the country. All the stunning sights look beautiful, albeit in different ways during summer and winter. Many people visit Iceland during both the seasons to experience the best of both worlds.However, for one week in Iceland you will have to choose a season.
Summer (May-August) is the best time to visit weather wise but it is also the peak tourist season. So get ready for lots of people and high prices. Long daylight hours mean you can do a lot of sightseeing. This is possible due to the phenomenon of the ‘Midnight Sun’. The summer temperatures are milder with mostly bright sunny days and less chances of rain/storms.
Summer is also a great time for whale watching tours and spotting puffins. If you plan on self driving, summer is again your best bet because of the good weather especially if you plan on visiting the Northern Highlands. The cons: This is not the season to view the northern lights. Plus because of the weather, this is PEAK season, especially July and August with huge crowds and high prices.
Winter (October-March) will have much lower temperatures with snowfall. This is the best time for viewing the Northern lights as the nights are long and the skies are generally clear without clouds. One of the unique activities you can try in winter is exploring an ice cave.
However, the days are short so the amount of sightseeing you can do in a day is much less compared to summer. Winter is also not the season for whale watching tours or spotting puffins. If you plan on doing self driving tours, this is a difficult time with chances of ice storms. It may be prudent not to visit the Northern Highlands.
IN A NUTSHELL∼
VISIT IN SUMMER IF:
- YOU WANT MILD AND WARM WEATHER
- YOU DO NOT MIND CROWDS
- YOU DO NOT MIND SPENDING MORE MONEY
- YOU WANT TO DO A SELF DRIVING TOUR
- YOU DO NOT MIND MISSING OUT ON THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
VISIT IN WINTER IF:
- YOU WANT LESS TOURISTS
- YOU DO NOT MIND THE COLD FREEZING WEATHER AND SNOWFALL
- YOU WANT THE BEST CHANCES OF SEEING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
- YOU ARE PLANNING ON DOING GUIDED TOURS
- YOU DO NOT MIND LESSER DAYLIGHT HOURS AND HENCE LESSER SIGHTSEEING
OUR EXPERIENCE: We visited during September which is a transition month between summer and winter. During our one week in Iceland,the weather was unpredictable but we were able to explore all that we had planned. We had one proper stormy day but luckily we were checking out the Golden circle that day and the tour was not cancelled.
The rest of the days were a mix of cloudy days with some drizzle and a couple of sunny days. In this season, you can see the beautiful autumn scenery that we got to enjoy in the picture above. September is also the shoulder season. So,the tourists were MUCH less and we got to enjoy scenic spots without having to jostle with selfie sticks. This was a huge plus for us and the prices do tend to be a bit less compared to peak season.
DURATION OF STAY
Ideally it will take you a good two weeks to explore the country via the Ring road. If you can’t spare that much time, go for at least a week to see some of the major attractions. If it is your first visit, anything shorter than one week in Iceland will be too less for this mind blowing place.
Keflavik airport (which is 40 kilometers away from the city) is the main airport catering to international flights. There are no direct flights from Asia and you will have to take a connecting flight from Helsinki, Oslo or Copenhagen. American tourists do however have the option of direct flights through Iceland Air.
Check out the cheapest flights in SKYSCANNER.
The currency is the Icelandic Krona (ISK). However cash usage is much less as card payments are preferred. You can bring Euros and exchange them in Keflavik airport for ISK. FIND YOUR CURRENCY EXCHANGE RATE HERE.
It is best to stay at least one day in Reykjavik and we would suggest staying near the main street/church to get access to nearby bus stations and sightseeing spots. We stayed in a shared apartment REYKJAVIK GUEST HOUSE right near the church. The location was very convenient and they had all the facilities we needed like a fully functional kitchen and heaters.
In the South coast we definitely recommend NICE HOSTEL which is located only a kilometer away from Seljalandfoss waterfall. This hostel has both dorms and private rooms and is situated right in the middle of nowhere. The bathrooms are shared but clean and there is a cosy vibe to the whole place. The breakfast buffet (which is included) is good and they do offer lamb soup and pizza for dinner (extra charges). The location in the countryside is beautiful and there was a waterfall right behind our room!!! This is a great place to base yourself for a couple of days while exploring the South coast.
In the Snaefellness peninsula we stayed in HOTEL BORGARNES (in the town of Borgarnes). This was a standard business hotel which was a bit formal and cold for us. It lacked the vibe of Nice Hostel. However the rooms do have huge windows which are ideal for catching a glimpse of the Northern lights. We stayed just one night so it was no great problem for us.
Iceland abounds in wild and unpredictable weather, so you need to be highly prepared to deal with any sort of condition. Icelanders have a favourite saying: “The weather is never bad, it is you who is unprepared”!
OUR TOP PACKING TIP: the key here is to ALWAYS DRESS IN LAYERS. The Icelandic weather keeps changing every hour or so. Dressing in layers will help you deal with the changing weather conditions. You can add or remove as required depending on the conditions at that time. If it is summer or starts feeling warm, remove a layer. If it is winter, add an additional layer.
On any given day, this was how i layered:
UPPER BODY: Hiking thermals, a light sweater, a thin down jacket and my heavy waterproof jacket. If the sun was out, I removed the heavy jacket.
FOR MY LEGS: Hiking thermals, hiking pants/jeans and Rain pants if necessary.
My husband, who does not get affected by the cold as much as me used to wear a layer less. There was one proper stormy day during our trip which was rainy, windy and cold. Even with all the layers we felt cold and my fingers were freezing. So, if you go during proper winter when there is snowfall, you will need a heavier fleece wool jacket. It is always best to buy these woolen jackets from Iceland itself. ICEWEAR is a reputed brand there and they have a showroom at Keflavik airport itself where you can select and buy.
It is almost always windy so a windcheater is another essential.
THE CLOTHING ITEMS CARRIED BY US FOR ONE WEEK IN ICELAND:
- A PAIR OF LONG THERMALS
- A PAIR OF DURABLE AND SWEAT PROOF HIKING THERMALS
- A FEW TEE SHIRTS/ LONG SLEEVE SHIRTS
- A COUPLE OF LIGHT SWEATERS
- A LIGHT DOWN JACKET/WINDCHEATER
- ONE HEAVY,WARM AND WATERPROOF JACKET
- RAINCOAT/ RAIN PANTS
- HIKING PANTS
- MERINO WOOLEN SOCKS
- FLEECE GLOVES
- WATERPROOF TOUCHSCREEN GLOVES
- LOTS OF BEANIES AND KNIT CAPS
- WOOLEN MUFFLERS
- SLIPPERS FOR USE IN THE ROOM
- SLEEPING CLOTHES
- A SMART DRESS OR TWO FOR REYKJAVIK
- SWIMSUITS FOR HOT SPRINGS
NOTE: We rented sturdy, waterproof hiking shoes from Nice travel for all our tours. The cost was 13 USD each per tour.
FLYBUS is the best option for airport transfers, offering hourly buses to/from the airport to a wide range of bus stations in the city and the outskirts. You can easily explore Reykjavik by walking. For exploring the rest of the country, you can either rent a car and drive yourself or opt for guided tours.
You can compare car rental prices here on THIS SITE. and one of the well reviewed car rental companies is THIS. It is generally best to rent a 4X4 in Iceland. Another option is to rent a campervan. That way you save transportation plus accomodation costs. THIS is one of the companies you can check out. However, the gas prices are pretty high around 230 ISK per litre /2 USD per litre. So factor that into your travel budget.
SELF DRIVE VERSUS GUIDED TOURS
Iceland can be easily covered in two weeks and that is thanks to the well maintained ‘Ring Road’. This is the main road that basically runs in a complete circle around the island and is very convenient if you want to take a road trip. A great option for seasoned drivers as it is very easy to rent a car and explore at your own pace. This is also a big way to save money.
However, be careful of unpredictable weather changes and storm alerts. CHECK OUT THIS SITE FOR WEATHER AND ROAD CONDITIONS. You can check out THIS WEBSITE for car rental options. In winter, it might be better to avoid self driving especially in the northern part of the country.
If you are not confident of your driving skills (like us!) you can opt for guided tours of your choice. But be prepared for high prices. Most activities like glacier hiking and going down a lava cave are expensive so if you want to try any of these you will have to shell out more.
SOME TIPS FOR DRIVING IN ICELAND
- The weather in Iceland is notoriously fickle. So make sure to get constant ICELAND WEATHER UPDATES.
- There will be long isolated stretches during your road trips without any shops or towns. So ALWAYS always fill up your car tank whenever you spot a gas station. And while you are there, you can pick up some groceries/ food items too!
- Always maintain the speed limits.
- Never go off road. The ecology of Iceland is one of the most sensitive in the world with volcanic lava and moss amidst soil. Driving on them will cause irreparable damage.
- Watch out for sheep on the road!
For our one week in Iceland,we opted for two small-group tours: one was a three days two nights tour of the Golden circle and the South coast where we spent our nights in the beautiful countryside and the other was a two days one night tour of the Snaefellness peninsula.
Our tours were organized by NICE TRAVEL (a small family run local business) through Guide to Iceland and were perfectly managed. The itinerary was exactly what we wanted with plenty of time at each of the spots along with a few extra bonus stops at offbeat secret sites. The guides were brilliant and took great care of us. We definitely recommend Nicetravel for guided tours in Iceland.
CAN YOU SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND ?
The Aurora borealis(Northern lights in the northern hemisphere) and the Aurora australis (in the southern hemisphere) are a natural phenomena which takes place at high altitudes when charged particles from the sun collide with gaseous particles in the earth’s atmosphere and get trapped in the earth’s magnetic field. This causes a colourful light show ranging from pale green to purple and red that is an otherworldly experience. To see the northern lights, there are some conditions that have to be fulfilled.
- Location near the magnetic poles, specifically above 55 degrees. So anywhere near the Artic and the Antarctic are good spots.
- Solar activity
- Clear skies
- No light pollution
Iceland is one of the best places to see the northern lights in the world. But it’s wild and unpredictable weather can cause havoc in your plans. September is a pretty decent month to see the lights so we were extremely unlucky to miss out on seeing them during our one week in Iceland(especially because we were travelling near the time of the Autumnal equinox).
The one thing I can tell you is to not travel to Iceland or any of the Scandinavian countries with the sole purpose of seeing the aurora. Being a natural phenomenon, their sighting is never guaranteed by any tour. Iceland is filled with amazing landscapes so plan your trip with plenty of other activities so that you are not letdown if you do miss the lights. If you are lucky enough to catch the lights, consider it as the cherry on top of your Iceland trip! If you want to know more about the lights, READ THIS. Check out AURORA FORECASTS HERE.
Lapland (both the Finnish and the Swedish ones), northern Norway, Alaska and parts of northern Canada are places where you can get to see the aurora.
SHOULD YOU GO TO THE BLUE LAGOON ?
Iceland’s most famous attraction worldwide has a got a bad repo in recent years thanks to surging prices and crowds. In case you don’t know, the Blue Lagoon is a famous hot spring spa which is located midway between Reykjavik city and Keflavik airport. This makes it a convenient stop before/after flights. But the prices are very high and the place is inundated with tourists especially during peak season.
So to answer the question of whether you should go or not: my short answer is Yes but only if you have cash to spare after doing other unique activities like Glacier hiking and iceberg boat rides. If your budget is tight I suggest you skip it and spend your money on other experiences. In case you are going off to Northern Iceland, you can skip the Blue lagoon for Myvatn nature baths.
By the way, we took a dip in the milky blue waters of Blue lagoon and absolutely loved it! To know more about the lagoon and a review of our experience, check here.
SO MUCH SHOULD YOU BUDGET FOR ONE WEEK IN ICELAND?
Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. We already knew this and had budgeted accordingly. Our total expenses for one week in Iceland was Rs 2,28,544 or 3180 USD. This amount includes accomodation, food, drinks, transportation, activities and souvenir shopping but not flights, visa or travel insurance.
Our average daily budget for one week in Iceland turned out to be approx 450 USD/day for the both of us or 225 USD / day / person. We spent a major chunk of our travel budget on all the activities that we wanted to do. Depending on your travel style, this is what you can expect to spend :
- BUDGET TRAVELERS: 150-180 USD/day
- MID RANGE TRAVELERS: 200-250 USD/day
- LUXURY TRAVELERS: Upwards of 300 USD/day
If you want more comprehensive information, check out our detailed Iceland budget breakdown and analysis.This also has plenty of tips to help you cut costs.
UNDERSTANDING THE ICELANDIC GEOGRAPHY
To give you a basic understanding of the country geographically, I have put this list of the main regions of the country with their major attractions.
- Northern Region: Akureyri (the main city of North Iceland), Husavir (which is famous for whale watching) and the Myvatn hot springs
- East: Eastfjords
- Southeast: Vatnajokull glacier region
- South: Vik, Skafatell national park area
- South west: Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, Blue lagoon
- West coast: Sneafellness peninsula
- Northwest: Westfjords
BASED ON THIS AND THE SEASON, YOU CAN DECIDE YOUR ITINERARY.
3 DAYS: Reykjavik and the Golden Circle (Great as a layover option)
5 DAYS: Reykjavik, Golden circle and the South coast along with the South east
7 DAYS: Reykjavik, Golden Circle, South Coast, South east and Snaefellness peninsula/Eastfjords.(The best for first time visitors who have a week to explore)
10 DAYS: Reykjavik, Golden Circle, South Coast, South east, Eastfjords, Myvatn, Husavir and Akureyi.
14 DAYS: Reykjavik, Golden Circle, The South Coast, Eastfjords, Myvatn, Husavir, Akureyi, Westfjords and Snaefellness peninsula.(Basically the whole country!)
Before proceeding, I do want to mention again that your itinerary will depend on the season that you have chosen to visit. If you are visiting during summer, you can go to the Northern highlands which have some truly spectacular sights like the Myvatn hot springs, Detifoss and Godafoss waterfalls. During winter its best to stick to the South coast.
Because of the season (September) and being first time visitors, we didn’t want to pack too much in our one week in Iceland. We wanted to take our time exploring our chosen sites. We included the South coast and the West coast in our itinerary. Avoided the northern highlands during this visit and have saved it for a future trip during summer (which hopefully will be in a few years!)
OUR ITINERARY FOR ONE WEEK IN ICELAND
DAY 1: ARRIVAL IN REYKJAVIK AND REST
Most flights from Asia reach during the evening so it is not really possible to visit the Blue lagoon on this day. If your flight lands during morning or afternoon, you can easily schedule a visit to the Blue lagoon and pamper yourself after a tiring flight. Rest and relax today.
DAY 2: REYKJAVIK SIGHTSEEING
Most visitors skip Reykjavik and directly go off to the countryside. I would totally advise against doing this during your week long trip. One thing we have learnt from our travels is never to schedule any tour on the day after arrival. Any flight delays/ cancellations will put all your plans in jeopardy. So it is best to keep one day in hand after arrival taking into account these factors. Also, I strongly recommend exploring Reykjavik for one day after arrival to get aquainted with the country before jetting off on your adventures.
SOME OF THE THINGS YOU CAN DO IN REYKJAVIK:
- Visit the Hallgrimskirkja church and take an elevator ride to the top (1000 ISK/PP). Get a panoramic view of Reykjavik from above.
- Walk to the waterfront and check out the Sun Voyager sculpture, a modern icon of the city.
- Go on a whale watching tour during summer from the old harbor.
- Take a northern lights hunting tour (for winter visits only) if you are not staying in the countryside. Be aware that such tours also commonly get cancelled or rescheduled and there is NO guarantee of seeing the lights.
- Explore the Lauvegur main street with it’s colorful murals and the ‘Phallic’ museum!
- Visit a hot spring like the expensive Blue lagoon or the cheaper Secret lagoon for a relaxing dip.
DAY 3: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
Today you will finally leave behind the city and start your Iceland adventures with a visit to three of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions. The Golden circle comprises three sights in Iceland that are located near each other making them easy to visit on one day. They are Pingvellir national park (the site of the world’s oldest parliament), Geysir (a geothermally active area which is home to Stokkur geyser that spouts off regularly every 5-7 minutes) and Gulfoss waterfall (one of the mightiest falls in Iceland). Gulfoss means Golden and it is because of this reason that the term Golden circle has come about.
Also located nearby is the Kerid volcanic crater lake which is absolutely stunning. (check out the picture above) You should definitely plan a stop here or choose a tour that includes this on their itinerary.
Our tour guide also stopped at a local horse farm which was an additional bonus for us. FUN FACT: Icelandic horses are unique as they have never been cross bred with other horse species. They are beautiful and many tours offer horse riding activities and visits to horse farms.
After your day at the Golden circle you can head back to Reykjavik for the night or proceed directly to the South Coast. I strongly suggest heading directly or choosing a tour that has an itinerary like this. This will ensure that you get to relax in the countryside and don’t have to waste your time and energy making the long journey from Reykjavik the next day.
DAY 4-DAY 5: THE SOUTH COAST: CHASING WATERFALLS, GLACIERS AND ICEBERGS
We LOVED the South coast and you will too! The Skafatell national park area is filled with amazing scenery and waterfalls. Some of the best falls in Iceland are located here.
SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU SHOULD SEE AND EXPERIENCE IN THE SOUTH COAST:
- Go chasing waterfalls. Some of the must visit ones include mighty Skogafoss with it’s jaw dropping height and sheer power (my absolute favorite), Seljalandfoss and Gljufrafoss (a secret one that lies inside a cave)
- Check out the glaciers and go on a guided glacier hike. The Mystajokull glacier cap is one of the biggest in Europe. Guided glacier hiking on one of it’s smaller outlet glaciers is a very popular activity here. This is a truly unique adventurous experience and a must for anyone who is physically capable. Also get to see first-hand the effects of climate change on the glaciers.
- Visit the Black sand beach at Reynisfera and admire the stunning basalt columns created by nature. (These black sand beaches of Iceland are far different from the tropical beaches of Asia that we were accustomed to!)
- Visit the spectacular Diamond beach and get to see chunks of icebergs lying on the beach and shining like diamonds.
- Take a boat ride amongst icebergs at the Jokularsson glacier lagoon (Part of the Vatnajokull glacier region). This was the highlight of our South coast trip and we were blown away by watching the icebergs floating past us. A must visit!!
- Take a hike to see the jaw dropping beauty of Fjadrargljufur canyon (also known as the Justin bieber canyon) with it’s epic views.
- Make random stops in the countryside and see the beautiful farms, falls and rivers.
DAY 6-7: THE SNAEFELLNESS PENINSULA (WEST COAST)
Snaefellness is called as ‘Mini Iceland’ and there is good reason for that. It has volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs and amazing landscapes. So you get to see a lot of what Iceland has to offer in one place. We did a two days one night tour of Snaefellness peninsula and got to see almost everything. It was a bit tiring but the landscapes more than made up for it. While the South coast has a lot of greenery, the ground here in the West coast is covered with a lot of volcanic lava and moss. The autumn colours were out in full force and there was a lot of yellow and orange in sight.
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR SIGHTSEEING:
- Hike along the dramatic cliffs and coastline of Arnarstapi and check out the famous Arnarstapi arch. This was the best part of our trip there.
- Check out the famous Kirkjufell mountain and it’s waterfall. Game of Thrones fans can tick this location off their list!
- Go down a lava cave and see what happens below the ground. This is again one unique experience to have.
- Waterfalls to see include Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. Take in the beautiful scenery all around.
- Indulge in some seal spotting at Ytri Tunga seal colony. These adorable mammals were basking in the sun right in front of us at touching distance.
- Visit the Black pebble beach at Djupalonssandur which boasts of beautiful vistas.
- Hike up a volcano like the Saxholl crater (there are many more with stairs) and take in the epic view from above.
NOTE: If you have one extra day in hand ie 8 days, I strongly suggest using that as a rest day in the middle or the end of your trip to give your body a much needed break.
START PLANNING YOUR TRIP
So this was our detailed post on how to plan a trip for one week in Iceland. I hope you found this useful and got a lot of essential info for planning your trip. Have you ever visited Iceland before? Do you have any other additional and useful info to share? Share your thoughts and views in the comments! If you liked this post subscribe for more travel inspiration.