Probably one of the questions we’re asked most by would-be visitors to the country is: how many days do you need in Iceland?. The answer depends on many things, not least a traveler’s budget and the season they intend to visit.
Fortunately, we can help you work out how long to spend in Iceland. So, take a look at our advice and work out what’s best for you before organizing your flights and working out how many days you'll need that rental car in Iceland.
Questions to consider when deciding how many days you should spend in Iceland
How long to visit Iceland? How long’s a piece of string? Working out how much time you’ll need to visit a country with so much to offer is a tricky one, and the answer will vary depending on who you ask. But the good news is that you can make a holiday to Iceland work no matter how many or how few days you have. The following seven points are worth thinking about before you book your flights:
1. How much holiday allowance do you have?
Let’s face it, for most of us, the amount of time we are able to get off work is the factor that’s largely going to determine how long our holiday is going to be. It’s just not practical to chuck in our job and see how long it is until we get fed up with Iceland (spoiler alert: that’s unlikely to happen) or our funds run out. In reality, one of the biggest deciding factors is time off, so start with that.
2. What’s your budget?
Next up is what we can afford. Iceland, more’s the pity, isn’t the cheapest travel destination on the planet. Although there are plenty of ways you can cut costs and stretch your budget to the max, at some point money (or rather the lack of it) is going to be an obstacle.
Figure out how much money you can allocate to this trip, get information on how expensive is Iceland, and from that, it will be easier to work out how many days in Iceland you can afford.
3. What time of year are you coming?
The number of hours of daylight, and of course the weather in Iceland, varies considerably between summer and winter. Considering how many days in Iceland in June would be enough gets you a very different answer to how many days in Iceland in November, for example. Also, some areas can only be visited in summer: the F-roads that cross Iceland’s highlands typically open in June and are shut by September.
4. What passport do you hold?
If you are planning a longer stay, then it helps to know what the rules are at the border. Iceland is part of Schengen, so EU nationals can travel and work without restrictions. Holders of passports from countries outside the EU, such as the UK and the USA, can travel without a visa for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. And will need to get their passport stamped as they enter and exit the country. The answer to “how long can I stay in Iceland?”, therefore, depends on where you come from.
5. Is this going to be your first trip to Iceland?
It’s not unusual if it’s your first time somewhere to be so excited you want to see and do everything. How many days in Iceland, then? In a place as scenic and quirky as this, you’d need to be here for months or years. If this will be your first trip to the country, get your head around that as soon as you can and, instead, think about what’s really important to you and what you love doing. From that, you can figure out the must-sees and must-dos.
6. Are you likely to come back?
The question “How many days do you need in Iceland?” gets a whole lot easier if you aren’t going to attempt to do and see everything in one trip. Even if you might usually prefer to travel to a different country each time you take a holiday, Iceland’s likely to get under your skin. If you plan to come back, you can stop worrying about what you won’t see (saving that for next time) and concentrate on what you will.
7. How far apart are the places you wish to visit?
Iceland’s not a huge country, but if you don’t have a lot of time to play with, then you’re not going to want to waste it covering the same ground twice. Be mindful of the map and plan accordingly, so you group destinations and experiences by region. For instance, looping the ring road’s all very well for a longer trip, but if you’re planning a weekender, you’re better sticking to one base.
What can you expect from your holiday in Iceland?
Let’s give some more thought to that last question. For you to work out how long to spend in Iceland, it will help if we explain how long various options typically take.
Iceland for a weekend
Most visitors come to Iceland for 48 hours or a short break. Though not all, base themselves in Reykjavík. It makes sense: there are so many things to do in Reykjavík that you wouldn’t even have to leave. Nevertheless, if you think about what makes Iceland so special, it’s the phenomenal, unique landscape. To come to Iceland, even only for a weekend, and not see any of the countryside at all would be a missed opportunity.
By renting a car, Reykjavik can be your convenient base for day trips and excursions to iconic attractions such as the Blue Lagoon. The Golden Circle – the enticing package of Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir and Thingvellir National Park. It is easily manageable in a single day, and so long as you start reasonably early you could also squeeze in a dip at one of Iceland's hot springs or thermal baths.
At a push some of the south coast’s highlights can be reached in one day, particularly in summer when there’s more daylight, bringing waterfalls such as Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss or the volcanoes and ice caves of Mýrdalsjökull into reach. In summer, if you’re up for a really long but scenic drive, you could reach Jökulsárlón, though at around five hours’ drive from Reykjavík that’s quite ambitious and best saved for a longer trip.
Iceland for a week
With a week at your disposal, things get a little less hectic. Pick up your rental car in Reykjavík and you could, for instance, head to picturesque North Iceland. In winter, this is a great place to ski. Year-round, tick off impressive waterfalls like Dettifoss and Goðafoss on the Diamond Circle, hop on a whale-watching excursion from pretty Húsavík or take a relaxing dip in Mývatn Nature Baths.
To reach this corner of Iceland from Reykjavík is about a six-hour drive, but you can break the journey with an overnight along the way. Try beautiful Siglufjörður, once a busy herring port but now one of the highlights of the Icelandic coast. Alternatively, call in at Glaumbær where you’ll find some of the best-preserved turf houses in the country.
Another option is to head off the beaten track and explore the remote Westfjords. Roads have improved and you can cover a fair bit of ground in seven days. Ísafjörður makes a good base if you’re keen to catch a boat to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and you can call in at Hólmavík’s macabre but fascinating Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft on the way.
Head back via Patreksfjördur, from where you can reach the birds of Látrabjarg and the incredible red sands of Rauðisandur Beach. Catch the ferry across to Stykkishólmur and you’ll not only save time, you can explore Snæfellsnes as well. Its extraordinary wild beaches and quirky Shark Museum, not to mention photogenic Kirkjufell, make this a rewarding detour on the way back to Reykjavík.
Iceland for ten days or more
Technically, you can drive the Ring Road all the way around Iceland in less than 24 hours. But, trust us when we say you wouldn’t want to. The point of looping the Ring Road is to stop off and see and do things along the way, so even with a week, that’s going to be tight and you’ll be leaving too much out. Ten days, or better still, two weeks, is ideal if you’re keen to combine the highlights of north, south and west Iceland we’ve already mentioned.
Allow plenty of time to stop off in East Iceland, too. Charming villages such as Seydisfjördur nestle in its fjords. Inland, it’s also where you’ll find the breathtaking Studlagil Canyon, whose rust-coloured basalt columns flank a steep-sided gorge through which a dazzling turquoise river flows. In winter, East Iceland is also where you’re most likely to spot herds of reindeer.
How long to stay in Iceland?
Whether you’re figuring out how many days do you need in Iceland in early March, May, or September, there’s an itinerary that’s just perfect. Remember, you can cover so much more ground if you rent a car, maximizing the fun and adventure.
With Iceland displaying beauty at every turn, creating the perfect itinerary for your trip won't be a challenging task!