To be very honest with you, the reason I booked our trip to Iceland was because I saw a deal pop up – $300 for a round trip flight to Iceland. Not knowing a whole lot about Iceland, I was a little hesitant at first, but I was looking for a place for our anniversary trip anyway so I decided to jump on the deal. And I am so glad I did. It turned out to be one of the best trips of my life.
I have taken quite a few road trips across the U.S. with the hubby. We usually just drive till we are tired, then find a hotel on the fly. Can’t do that in Iceland. No Sir! Being such a small and sparsely populated country, you need to know exactly where you are going to end up every night, which is a challenge on its own. You need to do some serious planning while maintaining a sense of flexibility (I’m not crazy, just
hear read me out). Make sure you have a list of must-see attractions for each day and a place to stay at night, and leave the rest open for F roading or stopping like a million times on the side of the road for pictures (guilty!). You get the idea!
In case you are wondering, F roads are mountain roads that take you across the highlands of Iceland. All the major F roads are marked with the ‘F’ sign. They are fun and thrilling to drive on, but you do need a 4×4 vehicle and they are highly affected by weather conditions.
A Few Things Worth Noting:
- You need to rent a car in advance if you plan on driving in Iceland. We rented a Suzuki Vitara 4×4 from Blue Car Rental. The best thing about Blue Car Rental – they have all the major insurances built in already. Make sure to take tons of pictures of the car before you leave for your trip. This may come handy if they try to charge you for any damage you didn’t make.
- Download offline Google maps for Iceland in advance. It worked wonderfully for us throughout the whole trip.
- You don’t need to take out any cash. Iceland is very credit card friendly, but you may need a pin number for your credit card at some locations (especially gas stations), so make sure to set one up before going there.
- Like I said before, you NEED to book all the accommodations in advance. Booking.com was the best source for me, and no, I am not getting paid to say that (I should though!).
- Just like everything else, alcohol is really expensive in Iceland and regulated by the government, so make sure to stop at duty-free. Outside of the duty-free shop, you’ll need to frequent Vínbúðin (state run liquor store), but I’ve only seen them in major cities.
- http://www.softservenews.com/ is one of the best sources for aurora forecast. If you sign up for an account, you can opt in to receive a phone call or text message when the aurora is active. Also, it is possible to see the aurora starting mid August. Even though we didn’t get to see them, they were active most days while we were there. Anything over 3kp is worth looking into.
- http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/ is another good source for aurora forecast. It lets you see what locations have the best visibility based on cloud coverage.
- Make sure to send your itinerary to http://www.safetravel.is so someone in Iceland knows your whereabouts the whole time. Better safe than sorry!
- Download 112 Iceland app on your phone, which will call the police with your GPS location in case of an emergency.
- Check the road conditions before embarking on your trip everyday at http://www.road.is/. Roads can get pretty nasty out there, especially in winter, so looking ahead could save you time and effort.
Some observations from our trip:
- The main road in Iceland that circles the entire country is Route 1 also called Ring Road (you may already know this at this point). We drove about 1500 miles (2400 km) and total cost of gas for us was roughly about $300 USD.
- June – August is considered high season in Iceland, and for a good reason. The weather is in high 50s °F (12-14 °C) , mostly sunny and perfect for a road trip. The con? There are like a million tourists, and the prices are significantly higher. We went from August 19th – 27th in 2017 because we wanted to go there to celebrate our first anniversary.
- I had printed out a separate itinerary for every single day on a map (start and end location with must-see attractions) which we thought was really helpful.
Ok! Now the fun part! Here’s our 9 day itinerary. I am going to list all the attractions we saw, along with a few attractions we missed because of time constraints. I am also going to suggest roughly how much time you should expect to spend at each place.
Day 1 – Reykjavík and Blue Lagoon
Our flight landed bright and early at 5:30 AM. We took a shuttle over to our rental car place and headed straight to the Blue Lagoon, and I am so glad we did. We were sleep deprived and after a (not so) long flight, it was just the perfect way to relax by laying in the hot springs. We got the standard package which was good enough for us. It’d help to bring flip-flops and a towel (if you got the standard package), but you can also rent one there. When you hop in the shower, make sure to use the conditioner they provide before and after getting in the lagoon – unless you want your hair to look and feel like a broom. Get a reservation before heading there and give yourself at least 2-3 hours to fully enjoy it.
Walking around Reykjavík
Laugavegur Street (we called it L Street for short) is the main street in Reykjavík and that’s where we started exploring the city. We quickly realized that Reykjavík had a cultural festival the weekend we went, so there were tons of people everywhere (it felt like walking around Times Square at times). Most streets were closed off to vehicles and people were drinking, dancing and just having a good time. It was such a fun weekend to be there – the city felt so alive. We enjoyed live music at Arnarhóll Park, and later on took a short nap there. Apart from the festival, there is still a lot to do on the L street – restaurants, shops, entertainment – you name it! Most of the major attractions can be explored on foot from here.
- We walked over to Sólfarið – Sun Voyager – which was surrounded by little kids climbing the sculpture.
- We then walked to Harpa Concert Hall – there was a Cadillac car show across from Harpa which made the hubby very happy.
- Hallgrimskirkja Church is a short walk from Harpa. This is the largest church in Iceland and has the most amazing architecture. A viewing platform on the top of the church offers the best views of Reykjavik. You need to get a ticket to go to the viewing platform.
- Another place that offers great views of the city is Perlan. The best part – it’s free.
- Stop at Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach which is also one of the best places to see the aurora near Reykjavík.
We spent the night at Route 1 Guesthouse.
Day 2 – The Golden Circle
3 hours – 192 km
If you are only in Iceland for a few days or don’t have enough time for a road trip around Ring Road, Golden Circle is the second best option. There are beautiful sights and lots of Icelandic landmarks along the route. The drive is short enough and can be easily accomplished in a day. If you don’t want to drive, there a tons of Golden Circle tours starting from Reykjavík.
- Þingvellir National Park – The highlight here is a huge rift in the ground created by the drifting of North American and European tectonic plates. One of the well known rifts is Silfra, where you can snorkel between the tectonic plates in icy cold glacial water. Þingvellir Park is also home to Iceland’s first parliament. We hiked a few trails there and spent about 2 hours. Depending on what you want to see, you can easily spend more or less time there.
- Geysir & Strokkur – This was my favorite part of Iceland (at least up until that point). We saw a few little geysirs here, including the Geysir geysir (all of the geysirs in the world are named after this one) – which is dormant. But the one that stuck out the most was Strokkur, which erupts every 6-10 mins. And if you’re lucky, it’ll erupt twice within seconds – so keep your cameras rolling. It was just so amazing to see the bubbling water shoot up as high as 20 m. in the air from just a few feet away. Plan on spending about an hour here.
- Check out Gullfoss Waterfall, which translates to golden falls. This attraction is well known among the tourists as the pie-shaped falls (obviously because of it’s shape). You can even spot a rainbow over it on a nice sunny day. A very short hike from the parking lot will take you to the falls. If you follow the trail along, you can get really up close to the water to appreciate its grandeur. We were in and out in an hour.
- Hike up Kerið Volcanic Crater and enjoy the beautiful views of the lake from up top, or take a hike down by the lake. We went to the upper trail as we wanted a better view of the lake. Admission is about $4 USD and hike should take about an hour.
- We wanted to stop at Fridheimar for dinner to try their famous homemade soups from their own tomato farm, but they close at 4PM (bummer).
Spend the night in Selfoss area and don’t forget to load up on groceries before getting on Route 1. We spent the night at Selfoss Hostel.
Day 3 – South Iceland & Waterfalls
2 hours – 130 km
This is a good day to wear your rain pants as you have a long day of hiking – up and behind waterfalls. Even though I got by without rain pants, there were definitely times I wish I had them. But seriously, somebody needs to make designer rain pants – regular ones are just so ugly!
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfall – A quick hike will take you behind the waterfall, then up a viewing platform. It can get pretty muddy and slippery here, so don’t be the person that shows up wearing flip-flops. Wear proper hiking shoes and be careful. We spent about an hour here.
- Skógafoss Waterfall – We originally thought this was going to be a quick photo stop. Coming from Seljalandsfoss, I thought, how can this be as good? Boy was I wrong! This one turned out to be our favorite waterfall in Iceland. It totally took us by surprise. We went up 428 steps (Yes! We counted, possibly correctly) to a viewing platform, and there is like a whole other world up there. The hiking trail will take you through stunning green landscape and you’ll see beautiful waterfalls every few minutes. We walked all the way to the top of the mountain (HOORAY!) which was a first for me. We spent about 3 hours here, but wish we could spend more.
- Sólheimasandur Plane Crash – The big question here is – is it worth it to walk 1.5 hours round trip to see a plane crash site? Long answer – how often you get to see the remains of a US Navy plane from 1973 on a black sand beach surrounded by amazing landscape? (Short answer – Hell Yes!). Although it’s a (very) long walk, it feels longer than it actually is because of the surroundings. I kinda felt like I was walking into infinite space – no matter how much I walk, I felt like I didn’t move at all. I finally got a glimpse of the plane about 30 min into it (about time!). They used to allow cars to go all the way to the site, up until a few years ago, but people started wrecking the plane wreck (ha!) by graffiting all over it. A few people ruin it for everybody.
- We wanted to hike the Sólheimajökulll Glacier either day 3 or 4, which is why we planned to spend 2 nights near south Iceland. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find time for it.
After a long day of hiking, enjoy delicious dinner at the Bistro Bar overlooking Skógafoss. Make sure to try their skyr cake.
Spend night near Vik. We spent the night at Guesthouse Drangshlid.
Day 4 – Icebergs and Glaciers
4 hours – 300 km
You’ve got a long day ahead of you, with lots to see and lots to do (hey, that rhymed!) so start your trip bright and early. Well, we didn’t! We got a phone call around 1:30 AM then another one around 3 AM that lady Aurora was gonna show up (KP of 3.3 at first, which later changed to 5). So we got in our car and started driving to the middle of nowhere. We were up looking till 3:30 AM, but she was a no-show (how rude!). I guess it was just too bright by 3 AM to be able to see anything. Oh well! A person can only try.
- Our first stop was Black Sand Beach at Reynisfjara. It is one of the most unique beaches in the world with basalt sea stacks, caves, and unique rock formations coming out of the ocean. I originally imagined the beach would be fine black sand, but it actually is black pebbles and stones. (So why not call it black pebble beach?). We spent about 2 hours here.
- Hike up to Dyrhólaey – a huge rock formation with an open arch.
- Drive to Skaftafell National Park. The two major attractions here are Svartifoss Waterfall and Skaftafellsjökull Glacier. The hike to Svartifoss takes about 45 min one way, hiking uphill. Being really tired from the long hikes the day before, we decided to skip the waterfall and went to the see the glacier instead. The walk to the glacier is an easy 30 min walk through a narrow trail surrounded by low shrubs which lands you right in front of the glacier. Here you will also see beautiful turquoise pieces of the glacier floating in an icy cold river.
- Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon – One of the most iconic and most photographed places in Iceland featuring floating icebergs – Jokulsarlon, doesn’t need any introduction. You know how some places seem like they are right out of a movie. Well, this place actually is. And not just a movie, but a whole bunch of movies. You might recognize it from Tomb Raider, Batman Begins, and a couple of Bond movies (and maybe more). You can take a boat tour here to see the icebergs from up close up. Plan to stay here for a couple of hours.
- Diamond Beach is right across the street from Jokulsarlon and a must stop location. The chunks of ice you see here – sitting on black sand, looking pretty – are actually pieces of iceberg that broke off and floated across from Jokulsarlon into the ocean.
Hofn is a good area to spend the night at. It’s a decent size town with lots to restaurants. We spent night at Hofn Guesthouse and loaded up on groceries before heading out.
Day 5 – Driving the eastern fjords
7 hours – 520 km
Majority of day 5 was spent driving the eastern fjords where we witnessed sea cliffs and winding roads that had no shoulder at times. Instead of following Route 1 the entire time, we took Route 96 to Route 92 and got back on Route 1 at Egilsstaðir. This way we got to enjoy the fjords for a little longer and more importantly – we had missed the turn to Route 1 (oops).
- Dettifoss waterfall – After the scenic 6 hour drive, we arrived at another beautiful and gigantic waterfall – Dettifoss. This is like the “Niagara Falls” of Iceland. You’ll hear a lot of debate over whether to go from east side or west side. I’d say it totally depends on your preference – if you want to get really close to the falls, go from the east side. I personally think west side has a better view of the falls. It seems like you get too close to the water from the east side and can’t get any good pictures of the entire falls (I maybe wrong but this is just an observation). We stayed here for about an hour and half.
- Namafjall Hverir – Namafjall is the mountain overlooking the Hverir geothermal area. When we first got there, the only thing I could notice was the very strong overwhelming sulfur smell. As we started walking closer, the smell had disappeared (mentally) and I couldn’t help but feel like I was on a different planet. It was quite a rush to know that just a few feet away there is a pool of sulfuric acid so strong that it was literally dissolving rocks into mud before your eyes. (Boy! Wouldn’t want to fall in that one). We spent about 30 mins here.
- Take a dip in the hot springs at Myvatn Nature Baths. Since we’d already been to the Blue Lagoon, we decided to skip it as this is basically the same thing.
- Drive up to Viti Volcanic Crater which is surrounded by beautiful mountains, geothermal area and filled with bright blue water.
We spent the night at Midhvammur Farm Stay really close to Husavik.
Day 6 – Akureyri & Whale watching
2 hours – 130 km
- We started the day by visiting the beautiful Godafoss Waterfall, which translates to waterfall of the gods. Godafoss is a quick walk from the parking lot, and we were in and out in about 30 mins. One thing I noticed here – there were no fences around the waterfall. So keep your balance on the huge slippery rocks while visiting here.
- Stop at the Christmas House where you’ll see the tiniest elf house and the world’s biggest Advent calendar. You can even knock on Santa’s door (knock knock! Where are my presents?)
- We originally wanted to go to Husavik for whale watching, but the timing didn’t quite work out and we decided to go to Akureyri instead, and I’m so glad we did. We had a blast with Ambassador Whale Watching. We got the 3 hour extreme package. It was such an exhilarating feeling to be in this tiny itty-bitty inflatable speed boat just a few feet away from some of the world’s largest creatures (humpback whales), but more importantly a creature that’s twice as big as your boat. One of the whales we saw was named Tattoo – they are named based on the pattern on their tail (how cool). We paid about $150 a person but it was so worth it – it was an experience of a lifetime.
- Akureyri is the second biggest city in Iceland, so if you have any time left in your day, walk around a bit.
Akureyri has a tons of hotels and guesthouses for you to spend night at. We spent night at Ytri Vik cottages which is about 20 mins outside of Akureyri. Don’t forget to load up on groceries here.
Elf house at the Christmas House close to Akureyri
Day 7 & 8 – Snæfellsnes Peninsula
5 hours – 380 km
A big part of day 7 was dedicated to driving from Akureyri to Snaefellsnes. The original plan upon arriving the peninsula was to walk around the town and have picnic by Kirkjufell. Well, to our dismay, this was by far the worst weather day we had – it was extremely windy and rainy. We drove through mountains covered by clouds with almost no visibility at times. We decided to take a rain check on that dreamy picnic by Kirkjufell and stayed in instead as the weather was just too harsh. Luckily, the guesthouse we stayed at (Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments) had a great view of the Kirkjufell mountain so we enjoyed the view from the indoors while having dinner.
Day 8 was no better weather-wise (yikes!). The rain didn’t stop at all and the wind picked up quite a bit. But we decided not to let anything bother us and make the most out of the day – it was our anniversary.
- Kirkjufellfoss & Kirkjufell Mountain – Fighting the harsh wind and rain, we got to Kirkjufellfoss – the waterfall across the street from Kirkjufell mountain. A very short trail from the parking lot takes you over a bridge, and then to the 3 iconic waterfalls overlooking Kirkjufell mountain. For all the game of thrones fans out there, this is the spot where they shot one of the final scenes from season 8. I don’t watch the show (don’t hate) so I can’t give you specifics. As we were heading back to the parking lot, we noticed that things were starting to get chaotic over there as more cars were trying to come in. This tiny lot can barely fit 5-6 cars, on top of it RVs and campervans were trying to find their way in. By the time we left, people were literally parked on the main road, and behind other cars blocking them in. It was a hot mess.
- Check out the famous statue of Bárður Snæfellsás in Arnarstapi. Take the trail from the statue to see Gatklettur, the circular stone arch. A few minutes down the trail is another stone bridge, but this one you can walk on and this was the one I was so looking forward to seeing. What a rush it was to stand on that bridge, looking down to the waves slamming on the rocks. It felt like I would be gone with the wind at any moment. This bridge is not very easy to locate. Fortunately for you, I noted down the GPS coordinates (64.768, -23.617). Walk towards this location and look for the sign “Midgja”. You can probably spend a couple hours here admiring the cliffs and the amazing rock formations.
- As we start walking away from the bridge, I start noticing the rain again. (It’s funny how you forget about the pain when you’re doing something fun). At this point, my pants are completely soaked in rain and I couldn’t feel my legs. Remember what I said about rain pants before?
- Stop at the golden sand beach near Langaholt. This is one of the only few beaches in Iceland where sand is golden, not black. This place is full of locals on a nice sunny day.
- We drove to Reykjavik later that day and enjoyed a nice anniversary meal at Italia Restaurant at the L street.
We spent the night at Maxhouse Reykjavik.
Day 9 – Reykjavik
4 hours – 270 km
We had a few hours in Reykjavik before going back to the airport so we decided to go to the L street to hang out and have lunch. Also, since we didn’t get to see the aurora on our trip (*sob*), we decided to check out the Aurora Museum, which turned out to be very informative and a lot of fun.
As we were driving back to the airport, I took a moment to reflect back on our trip. It hadn’t quite sunk in yet that we had just witnessed this awe-inspiring country. Trying to take it all in, I immediately started feeling melancholy. I didn’t want our time in Iceland to end. But as they say, sometimes we get so caught up thinking about what we’re losing, we forget to appreciate what’s before us. We were lucky to have the opportunity to visit this country and going back home with the memories we’ll cherish forever. I can live with that!
Oh! And also, we are going back to Iceland in February of 2018, so that helps too!
Hope you enjoyed reading this post, and hope I was able to give you necessary details to help plan your trip. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. I would be more than happy to help out.
Until next time 🙂
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