What can you do on a five-day holiday in Iceland? Can you drive all the way around the island? Should you book bus tours or rent a car? Read ahead for our top tips on how to make the most of five days in Iceland.
If you're visiting Iceland for five days, you have a wealth of things to do and see, regardless of the time of year. While you will not have quite enough time to encircle the entire country without rushing past the sites, you can still see a wealth of places across the South, West, North, and even the Highlands.
Of course, what you can do is limited by the season during which you arrive. With the ever-present daylight hours of the midnight sun in summer, you have longer sightseeing opportunities and there will be more activities available, though you will not be able to see the Northern Lights or visit the ice caves.
During the dark winter in Iceland, meanwhile, there are fewer tours available, but these amazing natural phenomena can be marvelled over, and you will get to immerse yourself in a frozen wonderland.
Regardless of the season, five days in Iceland is more than enough to have a fantastic holiday, whether you are seeking relaxation in the nature, adventure on a tour, culture in the capital, or all of the above.
Reykjavík is a bustling, cultural capital that none should overlook, no matter the length of their stay or the season of their arrival. One of the reasons that it is not recommended to attempt to complete the ring-road in this window of time is the fact that you would then miss out on experiencing this historical, fascinating city.
At least half a day should be spent sightseeing here to check out the cultural sites, the unique architecture and the street art. Many choose to spend much more time getting to know its quirky, hidden gems.
If you are planning on using one or more full days to explore Reykjavík, you would do well to purchase a City Card which gives you access to a wealth of museums, galleries and swimming pools. You can get these to work over 24 hours, 48 hours, or 72 hours.
The cards also provide free public transport and discounts across the city.
Of course, there are also many city sightseeing tours, such as Hop-On, Hop-Off Buses, and those that focus on the cuisine and drinking culture. If you would like to sightsee independently, you should check out these tips.
With so much to do in the city, it is little wonder why many spending five days in Iceland elect to base themselves in the capital. What makes Reykjavík even more convenient, however, is the fact that it is the epicentre of tourism, meaning you have a wealth of options that will allow you to get out of the nature while still returning to all your amenities each night.
If you are looking for a relaxing day, whale watching tours leave throughout the year from the Old Harbour, and in summer, you can add a puffin-watching segment. Otherwise, you can easily book transfer and entry to the world-famous Blue Lagoon Spa, and bask in its azure waters.
If, however, you are looking to get your adrenaline-pumping with some Icelandic adventure, you could embark with ease, year-round, from the capital on horseback-riding, snowmobiling, glacier hiking, quad-biking and lava caving trips.
There are also a wealth of sightseeing tours that head the South and West in just a day. Most notable of these are the Golden Circle, the South Coast, the Reykjanes Peninsula and The Snæfellsnes Peninsula. All of these places will immerse you in the country's magnificent nature, and show you a wealth of unique and breathtaking sites.
Some excursions will even take you as far as the Highlands; this tour, for example, will allow you to spend a day hiking in Landmannalaugar, through its magnificent rhyolite mountains. It also provides you with the opportunity to bathe in the local natural hot springs, surrounded by highland landscapes.
If you are particularly ambitious, you could even make use of Reykjavík's Domestic Airport. This airport can be utilised to going on plane and helicopter tours, or else to visit more remote parts of the country. This tour, for example, will fly you to the northern town of Akureyri to see the incredible sites of the Diamond Circle (note that you will have to spend one night in the north, however).
Many coming to Iceland, however, want to visit places off the beaten track and witness sites that cannot easily be reached from the capital in a day. For those people, vacation packages, self-drive packages and multi-day tours are excellent and convenient options. As mentioned, however, what can be seen and experienced with five days in Iceland depends largely on the season.
In Iceland's summer, the sun does not set, meaning you have many hours every day to go sightseeing and partake in activities. Packages allow you to fit as much as can be enjoyed into these hours as possible, and come in many different forms.
This classic five-day summer package is an excellent example; it includes a two-day tour of the South with a visit to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, a Golden Circle tour, and Blue Lagoon entry. It also includes all accommodation and transfers and has a wealth of optional activities.
These activities include snowmobiling atop the glistening surface of Langjökull glacier; snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of Silfa fissure; riding a magnificent Icelandic horse; glacier hiking upon the mighty Sólheimajökull; and taking a boat trip amongst enormous icebergs.
By allowing yourself to spend two days in the South, you can not only enjoy the activities on offer, but also make the most of your time at the natural wonders. The South Coast is home to majestic waterfalls, one of which you can fully encircle; glistening glacier tongues; incredible coastal geology; black sand beaches; and, of course, the glacier lagoon itself, which many nickname 'the Crown Jewel of Iceland'.
Another particularly incredible five-day package available only in summer is one which includes a day to Greenland, with flights included. This not only allows you to enjoy the three iconic sites of the Golden Circle and the aforementioned wonders of the South, but the remote and otherworldly village of Kulusuk, a place very few people will ever reach.
Here, you can expect to see enormous icebergs cruising just off shore, jagged mountains, plunging fjords, and great whales breaking the surface of the pristine arctic waters.
If you want to get out into nature but would rather have more flexibility than booking up your full five days in one go, you can instead look to two-day tours. This two-day biking tour of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, for example, could be booked alongside this two-day South Coast tour, leaving you a free day to explore Reykjavík and go whale-watching, for example.
The advantages of seeing the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in this way are manyfold. Often called 'Iceland in Miniature', Snæfellsnes has dozens of attractions across its 90 kilometre length on both shores. These range from seal-watching beaches to pyramid-shaped peaks; hexagonal basalt cliffs to mountainside gorges; towering sea-stacks to world-famous glaciers. To pace yourself as you travel around them, breathing in fresh sea air, is a fantastic opportunity.
In summer, you also have the opportunity to take a tour that is wildly different to the standard trip most get to experience in Iceland. The Westfjords are home to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, the remotest part of the country, which only accessible in this season. An uninhabited arctic wilderness, the area boasts unmatched sea-views, dramatic mountain landscapes, and a wealth of flora and fauna.
The Highlands are another uninhabitable region, and draw thousands of guests each summer, particularly avid hikers. The Laugavegur Trail is a world-renowned trekking route, going from the highland oasis of Landmannalaugar to the forested valley of Þórsmörk through some of the country's most stark and dramatic nature. It is possible to take a hiking tour across it in four days.
If you want to get explore a part of the Highlands that is even further from the beaten track, you could escape far from the crowds by spending three days hiking in the eastern part of Vatnajökull National Park. Bear in mind that you will need to arrange domestic flights to the town of Egilsstaðir for this, but with five days in Iceland, you will have plenty of time to.
Five days in Iceland will also allow enough time to reach the north of the country, particularly in summer when the roads are clear. From here, you can embark on many tours and enjoy a wealth of activities, particularly if you base yourself in the northern city of Akureyri.
The most notable sightseeing route here is the Diamond Circle, which explores the incredible Mývatn lake region, visits the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss, and heads to one of the world's greatest whale-watching ports, Húsavík.
A whale-watching tour from this picturesque village could not come more highly recommended; throughout summer, humpback whales are seen on basically every tour, with a wealth of other creatures that sometimes even includes blue whales and orcas.
There are many other summer-exclusive activities you can look into when planning your five-days in Iceland. River-rafting, for example, is an exhilarating adventure conducted in the west and north, and most tours are fun even for beginners. From May to October, it is also possible to descend into a volcano's vast, vividly coloured magma chamber, on a tour that is only conducted in Iceland.
Trips to and from the Westman Islands also only depart in summer, providing a great reason to spend a day or two on this historical, volcanic archipelago.
Summer is also the breeding season for many seabirds, most notably puffins. These adorable, unique animals cover many islands and cliffs throughout the season, and can be seen from land when travelling to places such as Dyrhólaey in the south and Látrabjarg in the Westfjords. They can also be seen on boat tours from Reykjavík, Akureyri and Húsavík.
If you wish to rent a car, then there are some excellent self-drive packages that will take the stress of plotting out an itinerary for you, while still providing you with a lot of independence.
This classic example takes you to major sites along the South Coast and Golden Circle, including a trip to the Blue Lagoon; though similar in its agenda as the first package mentioned above, the fact you are driving yourself allows you to spend as long at each site as you like, and seek out some unique nearby places if you wish.
This tour is similar, but exchanges your time on the South Coast for the Snæfellsnes peninsula and cultural West Iceland. This five-day self-drive, meanwhile, is tailored to animal-lovers, focusing on the puffins and whales of the Westman Islands and meeting the friendly farm animals along the Golden Circle route.
Five days in Iceland in winter will be enough time to expose you to spectacular snowy landscapes and to let you engage in awesome arctic activities. The nights will be long and all-encompassing, the days short but cosy, yet even so, you will find your holiday can still be packed full of adventure and fun.
Of course, most coming to Iceland in winter are looking for one thing; the northern lights. Watching the auroras descend from a canopy of stars in a spectrum of intense colour is an experience that borders on holy, and the chance to experience this for themselves tops many people's bucket list.
With five days in Iceland in winter, you have a decent chance of seeing them; they can appear whenever it is dark and the sky is clear between September and April. However, a five-day storm or a week of heavy overcast is not at all unheard of in this part of the Atlantic, so be prepared for the possibility that you may not be lucky.
If your holiday will not be complete without seeing them, it is highly recommended that you book a longer trip.
There are many ways you can maximise your chances of catching the auroras, however. Some elect to rent a car and drive out into the nature themselves in hunt for them, using the aurora and cloud forecasts on the Icelandic weather website to plan their route.
Others take packages around the country that have plenty of travelling time to keep an eye out of the winter. This 5-day family friendly winter package, for example, includes plenty of time on the roads for Northern Lights hunting. It also provides the opportunity for adventure, with options that include, but are not limited to, snorkelling, snowmobiling, glacier hiking and whale-watching.
Most, however, simply book a northern lights tour, where you have a guide who is comfortable driving on winter roads, informed on all the best viewing sites, and aware of the conditions. A great advantage of these tours is that if you don't get a chance to see the lights, you'll be able to go again the next night. If you are planning one, therefore, ensure you book it early in your holiday.
Northern Lights excursions can be taken by bus, boat or super jeep, depending on whether or not you want your experience to be affordable, unique, or adventurous, from many towns across the country.
The second biggest draw to guests to Iceland in winter is the crystal ice caves that open underneath Vatnajökull glacier between mid-October and March (note that many operators don't start tours until November). These incredible formations allow guests to see the electric blue world inside an ice cap as it naturally occurs. In very few places in the world do these caves form, let alone accessibly, so the chance to enter one is not one to overlook.
Unfortunately, again, however, the ice caves can be fickle, especially after a heavy rain. Although every effort will be made to see them, keep in mind that your trip may have to be rescheduled, replaced with an alternative activity, or cancelled.
The best way to see the ice caves is by taking a multi-day tour, where your guide may have some flexibility in when you organise trips to them. There are several tours that go along the South Coast to the incredible glacier lagoon which include ice caving components. These can be conducted over two- or three-days.
This five day vacation package is particularly of note, as it spends plenty of time in the Jökulsárlón area to maximise your chances of seeing an ice cave, while also immersing you in the South Coast and Golden Circle. It also focuses on finding the Northern Lights, and includes Blue Lagoon admission.
If you don't want to worry about cancellations at the ice caves, there are many other things you can fill five days in Iceland's winter with. This unique 3-day winter tour to Landmannalaugar, for example, is one of the few ways you can enjoy the majestic Highlands in winter (and you will still have a great shot at seeing the auroras). Very few ever see this dramatic wilderness in its arctic colours.
Another activity you can partake in that is usually only reserved for summer is camping; this overnight tour takes you hiking up Mount Esjan just outside the capital, to have a camp out while seeking the elusive Northern Lights. This activity could be booked alongside a two-day Snæfellsnes tour designed to make the most of the peninsula in winter.
A lesser-known activity that can be partaken in during Iceland's winters is dog-sledding, and this four-day package allows you to immerse yourself in the experience. You will be based in the beautiful Mývatn region in the country's north, and will not only get the chance to be sped across snowy landscapes by some adorable huskies, you'll also get to meet them and give them all the attention you want.
This package even includes an additional super jeep excursion.
Of course, if you are renting a car and driving yourself, there are several self-drive options that can help you carve out the best route. Please note, however, that Icelandic road and weather conditions can be quite dangerous in winter, so only confident, skilled drivers should consider renting a car, and even then, only a four-wheel-drive.
Those eager to plumb the depths of an ice cave and see the magnificent Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon should look into this five-day self-drive, that covers the South Coast and Golden Circle. It also has the potential for many classic Icelandic activities to be added onto the journey.
A more alternative option skips the ice caves, but instead grants you the opportunity to see north Iceland in winter, by taking you to the stunning Mývatn region. You'll have the opportunity to witness endless snowscapes, geothermal energy seething through ice, vast frozen lakes, and the popular sites of the north clad in their winter colours.
Coming to Iceland for five days provides many more opportunities for sightseeing, adventure, culture and relaxation than those coming for a long weekend. So long as you respect the fact you can't see everything that those coming for a week or more could, you will be able to fully immerse yourself in Iceland's nature and history, and enjoy a holiday you'll never forget.