The majority of visitors to Iceland go for a week or less, some for only a few days during a long layover. I was a bit surprised by this, but Icelandic Tourism keeps really, really detailed records. In 2015, just more than half of all visitors stayed for less than 7 days in the summer, and less than 4 days in the winter.
This isn’t surprising, really, there are an awful lot of people taking advantage of the Icelandair extended layover program, where you can have up to 7 days in Iceland if you stop on your way to or from Europe, between your flights, at no extra cost. Some people stay just long enough to lounge about in the Blue Lagoon and see the Golden Circle. It’s worth the stopover — even in just a few days you can see some of the gorgeous scenery, eat fabulous meals, and soak in hot water until you are boneless.
Those that stay a little longer often take an Icelandic road trip, on all or part of the Ring Road around Iceland. Route 1 circles the whole island (well, it doesn’t go up into the Western Fjords), and is 1332 km (828 miles) long. While it can be driven in as little as four days (or two, I’ve driven that far on road trips in the US), you really need at least a week to appreciate the main sites as you drive. Half of the time you’ll spend gaping out the windows at the gorgeous scenery, it’s the biggest attraction that there is!
Ten days is a good length of time to do a leisurely circle, and if you can allot more time, there’s the possibility of going up into the Western Fjords, which are breathtakingly pretty. Dozens of “self-drive’ tours are offered for 7-10 day trips around Iceland. 12-14 day trips are also relatively common.
We decided to go for two weeks, which actually turned out to be 15 nights. It’s enough time to drive around and see a taste of each region of Iceland, and we could stop and relax and take our time seeing things if we wanted. Our “must see” list was still far too long to accommodate in two weeks. I read a number of blogs from people spending four or even six weeks in Iceland, and I wish we had that amount of time this year. Our usual travel plans are 4-weeks-in-one-country, but our schedules don’t quite fit that this time.
What a tiny little first world complaint, eh? Only two weeks in Iceland. Woe! I realized immediately that it was going to be too short, regardless of how long we planned. I think anyone who goes to Iceland is going to feel the same way.
- If you have only 2-3 days, you still have plenty of time to see the Reykjavik, the Golden Circle (Þingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss) and the Blue Lagoon, as well as drive up into the fjords north of Reykjavik.
- Add in another two days, and you can visit Jokulsarlon and the southern coast, including some hot springs and cool lava flows, or drive up around the Snaefellsnes peninsula for ‘iceland in miniature’.
- In a week, you can drive the ring road and pick up the highlights in Myvatn, Akyureyri, and the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
- In two weeks, you can venture off the beaten path easily to see other waterfalls or glaciers. It’s easy to circle the ring road and add a drive up into the West Fjords or spend more time in the east.
For us, two weeks was a good, but too short, time. We tend to meander around and see a lot of things in one area and not make much ‘forward progress’ as Mr. Phouka is wont to mention. For a first trip, we got a taste of each part of Iceland (with the exception of the highlands, which were still inaccessible).
Some might say two weeks in a small camper van is too much, too. There is a lot of togetherness involved!
Check here for some sample itineraries that I used during the planning phase. Our actual route and timeline is here, too.