When we were planning our trip to Iceland, I started looking at itineraries of things to do for a week but everything I found suggested travelling the ring road. We wanted to base ourselves in Reykjavik as we were travelling with a toddler, and I was 7 months pregnant at the time. The thought of packing up and travelling for hours every day wasn’t particularly appealing to us. In the end, the furthest outside the city we travelled to was the black sand beaches in Vik, just under three hours away on day 4 (however this was broken up with a couple of stops).
We hired a car whilst we were here because we didn’t want to be reliant on tours to take us to all the places we wanted to go to, and we needed the freedom of going at our own pace. The cost of the car hire for a week was around £810 which was for a Kia Cee’d Sportswagon WITH a toddler seat, so there are definitely cheaper options you can go for. We hired through Blue Car Rentals and we were able to pick the car up straight from the airport to drive the 45 minute journey to our accommodation in Reykjavik.
Little tip; Reykjavik Airport is located right in the city centre, but is NOT where you will fly into (it’s a small airport just for domestic flights). Keflavik Airport is the international airport and is 32 miles outside the city centre.
So here it is; how to spend a week in Reykjavik with a car WITHOUT doing the ring road, whilst still capturing some of the best sites Iceland has to offer.
Day 1 – Explore the city!
If you’re staying in/around Reykjavik, I think it’s important that the first thing you do is explore the city. It’s the best way to scope out any shops, restaurants, or other places that you might want to come back and visit later in the week, and it’s a good way to ease you into a new culture. If you’re looking for a spot of breakfast/brunch, Rainbow Street is right in the heart of the city and has a great selection of cafes where you can sit out in the multi-coloured street and soak up the crisp summer sunshine. From here, you can take a stroll down to the harbour, visit the largest church in Iceland (Hallgrimskirkja) or have a swim in the heated outdoor pool at Laugardalslaug. This is also the perfect time to also take a nice walk around Tjornin lake and Hljomskalagarour Park.
One of the best things we noticed about the city was how great it was for our 2-year-old. There were plenty of parks dotted around and small play areas to keep her busy in-between the ‘site seeing’. The city itself is really colourful; aside from the rainbow painted roads there were loads of brightly coloured buildings and street art around which our daughter loved!
Some other things you can do in the city itself is visit the Whales of Iceland museum, Icelandic Phallological museum or the Maritime museum. The Perlan museum is by far the best museum in Reykjavik but we’ve saved this for day 5 as it’s a little bit outside the centre and you can spend a bit more time here.
Day 2 – Whale watching and cat cafe
One of the BEST things we did in Iceland was go whale watching. Because we went in July, it was the perfect time to see some sea life and we ended up having the best weather with super calm water. The best time to go is first thing in the morning which is such a beautiful way to start the day. You can get up close in a small speedboat or take larger boats with inside areas, toilets and a café. We booked the Whale Watching and Marine Life Cruise through Get Your Guide which cost us £59 each (infants are free) which was perfect for families. We saw Minke whales, dolphins, puffins, harbour porpoises and a sealion in the 2-3 hour trip.
When we got back to shore, we grabbed some lunch from the harbour area where there is a great selection of restaurants; plenty of seafood if you’re a fan. We went to the Hofnin restaurant which served some of the best fish and chips we’ve ever eaten!
After lunch, we spent a bit of time wondering around in the sunshine, walking along the water-front and getting lots of pictures of the city. This is a great time to do any of the museums you may have missed on day one. In the afternoon you can head over to Kattakaffihusio, a cat café which has some of the best cakes (they have lots of vegan options) and, of course, some cats! Our toddler loved it here as the café has a shelf of cat toys so you can play with them.
Day 3 – Blue Lagoon
Before our trip, we’d read about a few other lagoons in Iceland that are said to be less busy than the famous Blue Lagoon, however sadly they were either too far away or didn’t allow children*. As we were visiting with our 2-year-old, we had to go to the Blue Lagoon but we weren’t disappointed. We decided to go first thing in the morning as it was £20 cheaper per person and we wanted to try and catch the quietest time. It 100% paid off!
The drive to the lagoon from Reykjavik was around 45 minutes and it was really easy to get to (you can see the steam from miles away). Depending on the package you pay for, you get at least one mud mask included when you’re in the water as well as a free drink. You can even get in-water floating massages which were really relaxing. There’s no time limit to how long you can stay there, so it’s worth getting there early for this reason as well. There’s a café area and a restaurant so you could make a whole day of it if you wanted. We arrived at around 7:30am and there was hardly anyone else there at all! There were no restrictions on going in the lagoon when pregnant, however I did have to get out after about 90 minutes as the pool is over 37 degrees Celsius in some areas and I didn’t want to overheat. By the time we left at about 10am, the place was really busy.
A tip for the lagoon – SMOTHER your hair in the conditioner they provide before you go into the pool, and keep your head out of the water. The salt water can completely dry out and ruin your hair so keep it tied back as much as you can! Also, I’ll say it again – get there as early as possible. It’s worth the early wake-up, I promise!
*Children must be over the age of 2 to go in the Blue Lagoon (if you’re travelling with a child who’s not far off the age, it’s definitely worth bringing their passport with them as proof of age as they might not let them in without) and they have to wear armbands/floaties which are provided to them.
Day 4 – Kerid Crater, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, and the Black Sand Beach
This will be the longest driving day (3 hours of driving each way, broken up by stops), so feel free to swap it out for any other day if it makes more sense for your plans. The whole day took us between 12 and 13 hours overall but we were going at a toddler’s pace so I’m sure it could be done in a quicker time.
We first set off from Reykjavik at around 8:30am after breakfast and drove for around an hour to get to the Kerid Crater. It cost just under £3 per adult to enter (children under 12 are free) and is only a short walk down some steps to get into the crater. In all honesty, this was a nice way to break up the first stretch of the journey, but it wasn’t anything we were blown away by so if you wanted to carry on through then I wouldn’t say you were missing out on anything hugely.
After another hour of driving, we got to our next stop, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which is an absolute must-do! The parking here cost about £5 and there’s a little outdoor café/drinks area here as well. The waterfall itself is really fun because you get to walk all the way around it. The walk is a little rocky and slippery but 7-month-pregnant me managed just fine and there were some slightly elderly people walking around so as long as you’re careful, it’s pretty accessible for everyone. You do get a bit wet so if you’re worried, bring waterproofs or leave enough time to dry out in the sunshine afterwards; there are a couple of other small waterfalls that you can see along the same stretch of cliff just a short stroll away.
The next stop of the day is 50 minutes away in Vik to see the Black Sand Beaches (you can stop at Skogafoss en-route if you want, but our daughter fell asleep in the car as soon as we left Seljalandsfoss so we caried on the Vik and stopped at Skogafoss on the way back past instead to break the return journey up a bit). There are two different black sand beaches that you can visit; Víkurfjara beach and Reynisfjara beach, both in Vik. We went to Víkurfjara which was a short drive down a bumpy track to the car park and then a tiny walk down a few steps to get onto the beach. Aside from a few people out trekking on horses, it was pretty much empty; despite being summer, the weather was actually really windy and a bit drizzly when we were here, so we didn’t spend long.
Skogafoss waterfall is another great one to visit as you can get up close to it on the ground as well as climb up a few hundred steps to the viewing platform from the top. I got 200 steps up and opted out, partly because of the extra weight of being heavily pregnant, and partly because I’m no good with height and it was making my legs go a bit wobbly. it’s still worth the trip though, as it’s free parking and there’s also a campsite at the bottom of the waterfall which I’d imagine would be incredible to camp at!
On the way back home, we stopped in Selfoss for some food as it was getting quite late, but we’d recommend booking ahead as we struggled to get in anywhere. We ended up going to Tryhhvaskali which did serve some great food; their rack of lamb was amazing!
Day 5 – Volcano trip and Perlan Museum
There are two options to see the volcano – you can do a hike which takes a few hours, or you can go in a helicopter ride. When we went, it was just a couple of weeks after the 2023 eruption and so there were some dangers around hiking near there. As it’s on Scott’s ultimate bucket list to see an active volcano, he decided to pay for the helicopter ride (which he booked through Get Your Guide). I will say, it wasn’t cheap! It cost over £500 per person and the trip took less than an hour, HOWEVER flying over an active volcano and getting shots like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity so it’s completely up to you.
If you choose to do the hike*, it can take up to 8 hours overall to get there and back, and the weather can be unpredictable – it can get really cold, windy and rainy, so you’re advised to fully kit-up in hiking gear and stay with a group/tour guide if you’re inexperienced.
In the afternoon we visited the Perlan museum. We actually arrived at lunchtime and headed straight up to the 5th floor restaurant for some food with the most amazing views over the city! They didn’t have a huge menu but the food there was good and the highlight was definitely the Reykjavik skyline.
The museum itself cost £30 per adult (children under 6 are free), which gives you access to the whole museum, the northern lights show and all Wonders of Iceland exhibitions. This includes the ice cave, which is a 100m long man-made ice cave, made with over 350 tonnes of snow from the blue mountains. As you can guess, it’s freezing cold in there so definitely bring a coat with you!
*If you do choose to do the hike then this will take a whole day and you won’t then have time for the Perlan museum in the afternoon, so you may want to add this into one of the other days if so.
Day 6 – The Golden Circle
This is one of the most famous trips in Iceland, and is an absolute must-do! The Golden Circle is a trip made up of Thingvellir National Park, the Geyser geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall.
Thingvellir National Park is about 50 minutes outside Reykjavik and is part of the Atlantic Ocean Ridge. Here, you can go for some beautiful hikes, find great fishing spots or spend some time camping. It’s also the only place in the world that you can stand on two continents at once – talk about a bucket list moment! The car park costs about £4.50 and there were toilets, a cafe and a little gift shop on site, so a perfect little stop on your trip!
The next place to go to is to see the Geyser another 50 minutes up the road. The whole area has little pools of thermal water which bubble and steam, but the main attraction is the Strokkur Geyser which ‘goes off’ every 5-10 minutes. By the car park, there are a couple of restaurants, gift shops and toilets, and this was the perfect place to have some lunch!
Gullfoss Waterfall, or The Golden Falls as they are also known, are only 10 minutes away from the Geyser. This has to be one of the most impressive waterfalls we’ve ever seen, and the perfect way to finish our trip in Iceland. There are quite a few different viewing areas, and each one equally as impressive as the last. If you’re looking to get some great instagram pictures or TikTok videos, now’s the time to do it!
The drive back to Reykjavik from Gullfoss was 1 hour and 45 minutes, and we managed to get back with enough time to eat dinner at our AirBnB and pack ready for our early morning flight the next day.
We spent a lot of time researching and watching TikTok videos for inspiration before we went, and I truly believe we managed to cover everything we wanted to see in the week that we spent here. If time wasn’t an issue then of course there would be a lot more to explore on the other side of the island, but 6 days’ of exploring was the perfect length of time for us and our toddler, and we highly recommend following a similar plan to fit everything in!