Iceland is quickly growing in popularity and I’ve received many client requests on a variety of Iceland trips. I’ve done everything from planning a two-week self-drive around the whole country, to helping to maximize a shorter city visit, to a romantic honeymoon itinerary focusing on the Northern Lights. There are so many options to explore Iceland, so here is a cheat sheet of all the different ways you can travel to Iceland.
- Long weekend (staying in one city)
- Two weeks or longer trip
- Organized tour
Visiting Iceland on a long weekend
Many visitors to Iceland are taking advantage of the quick flight from the USA to Iceland and often stay for only four days before heading back – perhaps due to a long weekend or business holiday back home. Most people choose to base themselves in Reykjavik for these four days and take excursions each day rather than switching hotels multiple times.
Because of Iceland’s compound size, it’s possible to see many of the most famous sights this way, although you probably won’t make it up to Akureyri or the Eastern Fjords as they will be just a little too far. But you will be able to see a lot more of the country than you would expect, even though some of the excursions may involve several hours on a coach bus, so be prepared for long days – luckily, in the summer there is 23 hours of sunlight, so you will have plenty of time to get home before dark!
In fact, I have an article on what to do on a Reykjavik-based trip – I suggest you check it out for a great example of how to spend your time on a long weekend in Reykjavik.
With a four-day trip to Iceland, you can combine a number of Do-It-Yourself activities plus organized day-tours. You can also rent a car for many of these activities if you prefer to drive yourself.
Some activities include:
- horse back riding through lava fields
- thermal pools at the Blue Lagoon or other hot springs
- a coach bus trip/tour to the Black Beaches
- hiking on a glacier
- cave explorations
- whale watching and/or puffin watching.
As you can see, you can fit a lot into four days!! So, don’t avoid going to Iceland just because you “only” have four days. You won’t regret it for a moment, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can fit in and how quickly you’ll fall in love with Iceland.
What to do in two weeks around Iceland
If you have extra time in Iceland, you can really slow down and appreciate the natural wonders of Iceland. You can do a combination of things – for instance, you could book an organized 10 day tour but add on extra nights before/after so that you do your own thing without the coach bus crowd. You can consider taking a cruise around Iceland. You can also book short, three- or four-day trips run by tour companies that will take care of your transportation and lodging to some remote areas. Or you can travel to each of the major cities in Iceland and spend two or three nights in each city, allowing yourself relaxation time and spontaneous sight-seeing activities.
Each section of Iceland is distinctively different – from fjords to beaches to lava fields to glaciers, so you won’t feel like you’re looking at the same scenery all the time. In fact, you’ll be blown away by how extreme the scenery can shift even in one day.
If you’re driving, you’ll quickly notice that even if on the map two towns are just two hours apart, it can easily take you double or more the time to drive as you’ll be pulling over to the side of the road to take photos or visit local attractions such as waterfalls along the way.
With two weeks in Iceland, your possibilities are limitless – for people who enjoy being busy, you can pack each day full of activities, or for those who enjoy slow travel, you can slow down and enjoy quiet time appreciating the beautiful outdoors.
Taking an escorted tour in Iceland
Organized tour companies are a good option for travelers who want to see more of the country but who enjoy the comfort of a pre-planned itinerary and socializing with other travelers.
The average organized tour is 10 days although there are some that are 8 days. Most tours include many of your meals, plus baggage porterage, all your hotels, certain activities/excursions, and the services of a tour guide. There are different types of organized tours, with different levels of economy, comfort, excursion types, and schedules, so make sure you understand the difference between them and know whether you’re comparing apples to apples when making your decision. (Someone like me can help explain the differences if you’re feeling overwhelmed!)
One of the biggest benefits of escorted trips, especially for last-minute trips, is that they may have availability for specific hotels or activities that are on your bucket list, whereas the ticket sales may have ended previously for independent travelers.
The multi-day organized tours have a variety of travel styles. Some are focused on small groups of less than 12 passengers. Others focus on upscale, luxury unique experiences. Some might include a lot of free time and merely act as your transportation and accommodation organizer. Work with a professional travel advisor who understands the differences between the gamut of escorted tours and can let you know which option suits your personality the best.
Many travelers, even those who wouldn’t generally consider road-tripping anywhere else, fall in love with driving around Iceland. You can do this any number of ways – some remain based in Reykjavik and rent a car to just drive the Golden Circle in one day, while others follow the famous Ring Road to circumnavigate the entire country.
A leisurely self-drive itinerary would be 10-14 days, allowing you to drive the whole Ring Road. For self-drives of 7 days or so, I recommend picking one area of Iceland such as the West Fjords or Southern Iceland so you’re not rushing every day.
Some travelers love this combination of independence + help. My self-drive clients love having the flexibility each day, yet the confidence of knowing that they have maps, GPS, car rental for two people, wifi in the car, special guidebooks and suggested stops along the way, free cell phone or SIM card for emergencies, and on-call assistance from the Iceland office if you should have any problems. We also add on excursions catered to their requests, such as a special hiking naturalist guide in one of the stops, a glacier hike, or whale-watching.
Here is an itinerary of a two week driving tour I’ve designed for clients – we chose this route specifically because it has two or three nights in each location, so they wouldn’t feel so rushed and constantly unpacking/packing. You could also design your itinerary by focusing on a theme, such as Game of Throne filming locations, waterfalls & glaciers, or even Fairies and Troll Legends!
You will need to bear in mind that cars with automatic transmission are not the norm – you have to request this specifically, otherwise you will end up with manual (stick) transmission!
There are some lovely cruise options if you’d like to say you’ve sailed around the whole county! Depending on the cruise line, even your Zodiac boat expeditions are included, and you can often see more of the country than on a traditional tour. You’ll be treated to beautiful coastal scenery as you travel from one city to another, and won’t have to worry about doing your own driving or getting lost.
Cruise options range from small expedition-style boats, to luxury small ship cruising, to Iceland-owned explorer vessels.
For instance, Tauck Small Ship Ship Cruises feature 8 days of many of Iceland’s top sights. The only ports they do not stop in are the Eastern Fjords. The cruise price includes all shore excursions, so you don’t have to worry about being asked for more money once you’re onboard the ship. All staterooms have windows for ocean views (and 95% of rooms have balconies!). You’ll tour Reykjavik, Grundarfjordur, Grimsey (where you’ll be able to step across the Arctic circle!), Akureyri, including the Godfoss waterfall, Isafjordur, Heimaey, the “Golden Circle” tour of Iceland featuring waterfalls, and more.
This is a fantastic way to see most of Iceland’s top spots without constantly packing and unpacking as you move between hotels. You’ll see puffins and other wildlife up close, and the ship itself only holds 140 guests, so it’s small enough to call on ports that other large cruise ships can’t.
The “Ocean Diamond” ‘Iceland Circumnavigation’ trip run by ProIceland Cruises features 10 days of Iceland’s most famous cities. Reykjavik, Stykkisholmur, Isafjördur, Siglufjördur, Akureyri (2 days), Husavik, Seydisfjördur, Djupivogur, Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands), and back to Reykjavik, make this a true circumnavational cruise. All meals are included and all Zodiac excursions are included, but land excursions are extra.
This cruise even provides you with your own windjacket to protect against the elements – it’s yours to keep afterwards! The rooms are comfortable and adequate – this cruise is focused on the destination and activities, not on over-the-top luxury, so it’s a good fit for many travelers. (However, you may end up with a hefty bill after booking shore excursions, so it’s important to mentally budget and prepare for that or make sure your travel advisor shows you the excursion options in advance.)
There are many other cruise lines that are not round-trip Iceland but that feature Iceland for a large portion of their cruise. This can be a good option for travelers who wish to see additional sights in Europe or who want to have a more traditional European visit.
For example, Azamara’s 12 Night “Fjord, Iceland, and Fairy Islands” Voyage starts in Denmark, goes to Norway, Shetland Islands, Iceland (3 days there), and the Faroe Islands before returning to dock in England’s Southampton port. Azamara includes foods, drinks (including alcoholic beverages), tips, gratuities, and an AzAmazing Evening (all inclusive port excursion free for all passengers).
For more on Azamara, read my blog post here.
Viking Cruiselines has a special ocean cruise called “In the Wake of the Vikings.” It’s a special 15 day cruise that begins in Norway and ends in Montreal, Canada. Along the way, you visit Norway, Scotland, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Canada.
As you can see, there are many ways to see Iceland. It’s a short flight from the USA – it’s actually only five hours from Boston, barely enough time for a nap! – and flights are often economically priced compared to other destinations in Europe. Whether you wish to cruise, tour, take a long weekend, or spend two weeks seeing the entire country, there is an Iceland vacation that’s right for you!
Planning Tips for Your Iceland Trip:
- Please note that Iceland is very popular – many people book a year in advance! Especially for summer trips, you should try to plan ahead as much as possible to get the best options for lodging and for your budget.
- You can visit Iceland any time of year, and it is a great destination for a winter visit. However, if you definitely want to drive yourself, the non-winter months are recommended. In winter, plan on city stays with day-excursions or paid transfers between towns.
- Bring waterproof shoes and even waterproof pants for outdoor activities in the cooler months – keeping dry goes a long way in keeping you warm.
- Layers are important even in summer – a windbreaker/rain jacket, a pair of dry socks, a long sleeved fleece, and a hat will all come in handy.
- Credit and debit cards are used almost everywhere – even to pay for their famous hot dogs. You won’t need to withdraw cash upon arrival at all.
Need assistance in planning your Iceland trip? Head over to my Services page!