Iceland is at the top of most of the world’s bucket list right now, and for good reason! The breathtaking, otherworldly country is like nothing you’ve ever seen before- but with so many amazing places to see, it’s hard to know where to begin (and how to save money while doing it!)
As a professional destination wedding photographer, I get the opportunity to travel with couples all over the world and Iceland will forever be one of the most unreal destinations I’ve ever had the chance to explore and photograph in!
This 5-Day Itinerary for Iceland will give you the perfect roadmap on how to maximize your time in Iceland to see all the best spots, as well as give you insider info on what to pack, clothing to wear, and best of all- how to do it all on a budget.
DAY ONE: TRAVELING TO ICELAND
+ THE BLUE LAGOON
Our trip to Iceland took place in mid-May, and it was perfect: the weather was turning warm for Iceland’s summer but it was before tourist season hit, so we had most places to ourselves! Visiting in the cusp of the shoulder season gets 10/10 stars for me as far as expenses, crowds, and weather go.
It’s no secret that tickets to places like Iceland can be expensive, especially from the U.S. The best option that we found for traveling to Iceland on a tighter budget is to use IcelandAir’s stopover option! This program will allow you to fly to certain cities in Europe, and then select a ‘stopover’ in Iceland on your way to or from your selected European city. These stopovers can be as short as two days and as long as a week or two! This is the perfect option for saving extra cash on airfare, and getting to see another part of Europe while you’re there. We chose to use IcelandAir to fly into Amsterdam, and enjoyed the Netherlands (and a quick trip to Ireland!) for a few days before heading to Iceland. In total, our tickets were only just over $300 USD to get to both places from Denver, which is an INSANE deal.
Once arriving in Iceland, we headed from the Keflavik Airport to grab our rental car, which we had reserved in advance from one of Iceland’s car rental companies that had great reviews. A rental car is a MUST for anyone wanting to explore all of Iceland has to offer! You don’t need to get a 4×4 unless you’re planning on going off-roading in Iceland’s highlands: a 2×2 will be perfect for this trip. Be warned- you will need to get all sorts of insurance on the car, such as wind insurance (the wind in Iceland is very intense and can easily rip your door off your car- seriously!), gravel insurance (from the rocks that can pelt your car in the wind and dent it), and ash insurance (for volcano explosions- but don’t worry, that very likely will not happen to you while you’re there 😉 ). Lots of the insurance is required and I would recommend getting it- it’s much better to be safe than sorry when dealing with Iceland’s unpredictable weather!
From Keflavik, we drove to the Blue Lagoon! The Blue Lagoon is about midway between Keflavik and Reykjavik, Iceland’s capitol and main city. It was the perfect place to go after flying- the Blue Lagoon was so surreal and relaxing, and a great way to enjoy one of Iceland’s main attractions after a long day of travel. You need to book this online ahead of time (reservations can go fast!). We got the lowest package the Lagoon offered and were completely happy with it. I’m not one for gimmicky tourist spots while traveling and was hesitant about the Blue Lagoon, but am so happy we visited it. The warm KoolAid-blue waters and mud masks were absolutely amazing to experience, and we could have stayed there all day! The resort itself was very clean and pleasant. Overall, I loved and recommend the Blue Lagoon.
From the Blue Lagoon, drive into Reykjavik to your hotel or Airbnb! While traveling throughout Iceland, I HIGHLY recommend getting an Airbnb for each night. Not only are they much cheaper generally, but most Airbnb’s in Iceland offer “entire home” accommodations so you can have the whole apartment or home to yourself, as well as access to a kitchen. Food in Iceland can be VERY expensive- we’re talking $14 USD for a hot dog and $45 USD for a gas station hamburger and fries. My husband is Celiac as well (gluten-free), which is more expensive than regular food just about anywhere. To prepare for this, we actually packed REI (freeze dried) camp meals in our carry-on’s! We made these almost every night for dinner in our Airbnb’s. In addition to saving us a lot of cash, it also saved us a lot of driving- Iceland is not very populated and many of the places we stayed did not have nearby restaurants or gas stations where food was available. We also swung by a few of Reykjavik’s grocery stories before getting to our Airbnb to grab things like fruit/cereal for breakfast, bread + lunch meat for sack lunch sandwiches while out exploring, and other small goodies. Bringing things like REI meals, granola bars, etc in your carry-on luggage and hitting up a grocery store will save you MAJOR money.
DAY TWO: GLYMUR FALLS, LONDGRANGER, & KIRKJUFELL
The Glymur Falls hike was easily one of my very favorite parts of Iceland. Despite it not being a very challenging hike (although it is a longer one), there are very few tourists on the path and the views were completely out of this world. This is also where I experienced Iceland’s crazy weather first hand- we experienced waves of rain, then white-out blizzards, then the warmest sun several times over while hiking! The elevation of the hike also gave us the surreal experience of getting to watch each new storm roll in over the ocean and hit us with a new blizzard before the sun came blazing back through again. We went from blizzard chill to sweating in the sun- a perfect example of why having the right clothing for Iceland is essential! As mentioned above, we traveled to Iceland (our entire trip including Amsterdam and a pitstop we made in Ireland was a little over 2 WEEKS long) with nothing but a carry-on and a personal item. You don’t need a lot to survive Iceland’s weather! The most crucial things to have are weather-appropriate layers. Each day, I dressed in a t-shirt for my bottom layer, covered with a thermal shirt or jacket (I have loved this extremely comfy and lightweight thermal shirt from 32Degrees for years now, as well as thermal running jackets from Nike), a warm coat, and then a waterproof rain jacket. Waterproof gear is one of the most essential clothing items for Iceland, with both the weather and all the waterfalls you’ll be visiting! My rain jacket was a cheap one from Amazon and it’s amazing. For the bottom layer, I highly recommend warm thermal leggings (I’m obsessed with these ones from Land’s End) layered with more leggings or loose hiking pants. Warm wool socks + waterproof boots or tennis shoes for your feet, and don’t forget a beanie and a scarf! Having these layers was the perfect fit for hiking in Iceland, as I could take off the layers when the sun came out and I got hot, and then throw them back on when the snow hit.
At the top of Glymur, enjoy the view, eat a sack lunch, and take a lot of pictures!
After our Glymur hike, we went to Londgranger and Kirkjufell. Both were beautiful, but I wouldn’t put them as high priorities on my list personally- definitely big hitters for tourists. Londgranger reminded me a lot of Big Sur on the California Coast!
DAY THREE: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
The Golden Circle is arguably one of the most famous destinations in Iceland. An easy 190-mile round trip beginning and ending in Reykjavik, you can pick and chose what stops you want to see! We first hit up Kerið, an amazing crater lake surrounded by rainbow-colored dirt, before heading to Geysir Hot Springs area, which features a boardwalk path that leads you through some of Icelands amazing geysers and hot springs that erupt on schedule. Geysir also has a great gift shop if you want to pick up some Icelandic art and goodies (we’re big magnet collectors in this family).
After Geysir, we went to Gullfoss- while for sure touristy, it’s definitely a must-see. It’s the only waterfall in Iceland that looks as if it is falling into the ground, and the magnitude of how huge and powerful it is completely took my breath away.
Following Gullfoss, we headed to Hveragerdi, a hike that took us through Iceland’s rolling + craggy hills and steaming hot springs and hot pots. It felt like I was walking through a different era in time and was one of my very favorite parts of the entire trip! The trail ends at a stream made from hot pots where you can swim and soak, which I ABSOLUTELY recommend doing- it was like a wilder version of the Blue Lagoon! Pack a swimsuit and towel in your hiking pack- the river has wooden partitioners set up so you can change with some privacy- and then hop in a soak for a while. We spent hours in this hot spring and I could’ve stayed for days!
After your long day of hiking + seeing Iceland’s views, head back into Reykjavik for dinner and resting. We treated ourselves this night by eating at Gló, which was a goldmine for my gluten-free husband and fellow gluten free travelmate (vegan and gluten free food galore!), and then discovered a dessert place called Joyland just around the corner, which was stocked with gluten-free crepes and brownie ice cream sandwiches! We loved both places so much that we went back again on our last day in Iceland, they were that good. If you’re gluten-free, vegan, or just enjoy good healthy food, I absolutely recommend both restaurants.
DAY FOUR: SELJALANDSFOSS & SKOGAFOSS, + VÍK’S BLACK SAND BEACH
All three of these iconic landmarks in Iceland had been high on my bucket list for the trip, and they did not disappoint. Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss are two of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls and are both so beautiful and nearby each other that they’re both worth seeing! Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall that juts far enough away from the cliff edge that you can walk around behind it, and Skogafoss is so giant and magnificent that we stayed there for ages taking it in. Make sure you have your waterproof gear for these waterfalls so you can get close without getting drenched by the mist!
After the waterfalls, we drove to Vík to see the famous black sand beach. I’d been dreaming about photographing at this spot for ages and it was just as amazing as I expected- the rocky walls (I dubbed them the Lego or French Fry rocks) and dark black sand with the stormy ocean waters was out of this world. It was also freezing- the wind coming off the ocean combined with Iceland’s generally chilly weather had us scrambling back to the car several times to warm up! Regardless, it was amazing and a must-see.
We stayed the night in an Airbnb on the cutest farm (Icelandic ponies and sheep, anyone) outside Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
DAY FIVE: DIAMOND BEACH + ICEBERGS
We left our Airbnb in Kirkjubæjarklaustur and drove to Diamond Beach- it’s a little bit of a long drive, but so worth it! The ‘diamonds’ on this black sand beach are made from iceberg breakoffs from gigantic glacier forcing its way down Iceland’s cliffs to the ocean. The whole beach and lagoon is covered with these glistening chunks of iceberg- it’s a sight you won’t see anywhere else!
During this section of the trip, you can also take the hike out to Iceland’s Instagram-famous abandoned DC Plane on Sólheimasandur. While originally on our itinerary, we discovered once there that it was over a three-mile hike across black sand (and in that icy wind) to the plane and decided it was not worth our time. This is a hike that could easily be done on your way back to Reykjavik, where you’ll be spending the night.
DAY SIX: REYKJAVIK + TRAVEL HOME
Our ‘sixth’ day is mostly a travel day. With our flight home taking place that evening, we spent our remaining few hours in Iceland exploring the colorful downtown of Reykjavik, including stopping by our favorite restaurant Gló again and checking out the dramatic and beautiful Church of Hallgrímur.
TO RECAP: PACKING LIST + TRAVELING IN ICELAND ON A BUDGET
Iceland is an amazing, wild country with so much to see and explore. It can also be a little expensive! To save on costs, try getting a sweet deal on IcelandAir using their stopover program, and pack all your clothing into your carry-on luggage and personal item! Here’s a full list of what I packed into my carry-on for Iceland:
-waterproof rain jacket
-2 pairs of fleece-lined or thermal leggings
-1-2 pairs of regular leggings
-4-5 thinner tee shirts
-2 thermal shirts or tight thermal jackets
-2 sweaters (for chillier exploration days)
-1 bathing suit for the Blue Lagoon and hot springs (remember that these are geothermic pools, so your suit will smell like sulfur! I recommend bringing a suit you’re not overly attached to)
-1 small towel for hiking + the hot springs
-beanie hat, gloves, mittens, and a scarf
-1 pair hiking shoes/boots, 1 pair tennis shoes
-wool socks + warm hiking socks (at least 1-2 pairs per day, as they will get wet and need to dry!)
-REI camp meals + snacks to save on eating out while there! (note that Iceland has restrictions as to what you can bring into the country, such as fruits, vegetables, and meats. All our foods were things like Clif/granola/protein bars and freeze-dried meals, and we had no issues)
*another perk of getting an Airbnb- we would wash our clothes (such as our socks/leggings that had gotten soaked and muddy from hiking that day) at night upon arriving at home so we could get more use out of each item and keep our packing list down to what could fit in a carry-on!
Iceland is just as amazing as it’s made out to be, and I already cannot wait to travel back to photograph more lovers in this beautiful place! If you’re looking for a great place to elope or get some beautiful images of you and your love, don’t hesitate to reach out– I’d love to help you plan the perfect trip + photograph your amazing adventure!
All images were taken by and are property of Nicole Aston Photography, LLC
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