Iceland is a beautiful country full of waterfalls, Mars-like landscapes, and double rainbows. Lately it seems like everyone on my social media feed is going and there actually has been a legitimate jump in Iceland’s tourism. Reports show that there were more American tourists than Icelandic residents in 2016 and with WOW Air offering dirt cheap flights (my round trip flight from SFO to Reykjavik was $300), it’s not hard to see why.
Planning for a long trip in a new country can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. In this article, I show you how you can plan your own Icelandic adventure, complete with destinations, hotels, and driving estimates.
- Book your flight! WOW Air offers cheap flights but beware that they will charge you for anything and everything extra like carry-on baggage and soda on the flight.
- Pre-book any activities you may want to do because they fill up in advance. We chose to snorkel in the Silfra and hike a glacier/check out ice caves.
- Book hotels ahead of time. Iceland is a small country (size of Kentucky) and once you head away from the more densely populated areas of Reykjavik/Golden Circle, it can get pretty desolate with limited options for housing. We primarily used booking.com and Expedia to find our housing.
- If you’re planning on driving around Iceland yourself (highly recommended as there are limited, if no, taxis/Lyfts/Ubers, especially once you leave Reykjavik), book your rental car ahead of time. This is especially important if you are used to driving an automatic as most cars in Iceland are manual. We rented ours from Sixt. I highly recommend getting a GPS in case you have no Wi-Fi in the more deserted areas.
- Download offline maps of Iceland so you can access them if and when your GPS craps out. This happened to us a couple of times and it was CLUTCH.
- Make a map of where you are planning on going using Google Maps. This will help with planning and understanding how long it will take to get from place to place. I would allot for extra driving time as weather in Iceland can be unpredictable. Here is a picture of ours:
Day 1 – SFO –> Reykjavik
Our first day in Iceland, we landed at 4am, picked up our rental car from Sixt, and went exploring in Reykjavik! It takes about 40 minutes from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik. If you’re planning on drinking during the trip, I recommend picking up alcohol duty free from the airport because alcohol in Iceland, like everything else in this beautiful country, is expensive. For reference, a pint of beer can almost be $10.
If you have time in Reykjavik, I recommend checking out:
- Lake Tjörnin for its views (pictured below).
- Hallgrimur’s Church (Hallgrimskirkja) because the architecture is incredible (pictured below).
- Harpa Concert Hall is another beautiful building in downtown Reykjavik.
- Baejarins bestu for the “best hot dog” in Iceland – personally, I thought it was okay, but a lot of my friends disagreed with me. What can I say, Costco’s hot dog is hard to beat.
- Kolaportid Flea Market where we tried fermented shark and smoked whale. I’m down to try anything once and I can confidently say that this will be my first and last time trying these two dishes.
One additional thing I’d recommend but we didn’t have a chance to do is the Free Walking Tour of Reykjavik. A few of our friends did the tour and loved it. Here’s the link.
At 106 square miles, Reykjavik is smaller than you think and you can explore the main sights easily in a day. Our apartment manager even said, “Tourists shouldn’t spend a lot of time here. The outdoors is really where it’s at in Iceland.”
Day 2 – Reykjavik –> Vik
On our second day, we began our trek around the Ring Road, a road that encircles Iceland. We chose to do this drive because we had 10 days in Iceland and wanted to see as much as possible. For our first stop, we drove from Reykjavik to the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Trail which took 40 minutes and then went hiking. This is where hiking shoes will definitely come in handy as some parts of the trail were icy and some of us (who shall not be named) fell a couple of times.
From there, we drove 30 minutes to visit Kerið aka Kerid Crater, which is a volcanic crater. I’m going to include photos of what we actually saw vs the pamphlet picture because it’s funny how different they are…
After checking out the crater, we drove 40 minutes to Thingvellir National Park to snorkel the Silfra, something that’s been on my bucket list for a while! The Silfra fissure is the only place in the WORLD where you can snorkel between two continental plates. The water is known for being so pristine that it is drinkable. It IS cold, but you are given two suits and water never leaked into my suit.
After the Silfra, we headed towards our next destination and home for the night, Icelandair Hotel Vik, which was 2.5 hours away. But not before pulling over to take some pictures of this beautiful sunset.
Day 3 – Vik –> Höfn
On day 3, we continued our drive around the Ring Road and headed towards our ultimate destination of Höfn, where we were sleeping at the Milk Factory. Along the way, we had several stops:
- Reynisdrangar – This is a beautiful black sand beach with basalt columns chilling nearby the sand. It is windy AF though, so make sure you bring your down jacket! It took 15 minutes to get here from Vik.
- Fjaðrárgljúfur – This looks like something out of a Justin Bieber music video and is sooo beautiful. You have to hike for ~15 minutes uphill for the views but it’s totally worth it. It took an hour to get here from Reynisdrangar.
- Skaftafell/Vatnajökull National Park – This is where we went glacier hiking and ice caving. The hike was originally supposed to be 2.5-4 hours, but it lasted about 5 hours for us. It was tiring, but definitely worth it to see the glacier up close and to walk through the ice caves, where you can still see air bubbles trapped in the ice. The glacier is pretty crazy because it covers over 8% of Iceland’s land mass and is the largest glacier in Europe. It took an hour to get here and then almost 2 hours to get to Höfn.
Day 4 Höfn –> Egilsstaðir
On Day 4, we doubled back to Jökulsárlón, the well-known glacier lagoon, because the previous day’s glacier hike went longer than anticipated and we ran out of daylight. If you’re planning on visiting the lagoon and following this itinerary, I would try fitting it in Day 3 so you don’t have to spend additional time backtracking. It took us an hour to get here from Höfn.
It was totally worth it to come though because we were lucky enough to see not just one, but TWO, rainbows here.
After the glacier lagoon, we drove an hour towards Vesturhorn to go hiking. We accidentally ended up offroading because our GPS actually told us to “leave the road” (first time I’ve seen that), and it ended up offering amazing views. On one side, you’d see “Batman Mountain” aka Vesturhorn and the other, black sand beaches, with all of it being shrouded in a mysterious fog. For more info on how to get to this incredible scenic spot, click here.
After our photoshoot, we headed towards the next items on our agenda, Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss. Unfortunately, all the roads were blocked due to snow, which our GPS did not take into account when navigating. This meant that we could not see the waterfalls or other sights around the area. Because we had to try multiple alternate routes, it took us the rest of the afternoon and evening to ultimately get to our home for the night, Lyngas Guesthouse.
Day 5 Egilsstaðir –> Vogar
Day 5 was the day of water. We visited two waterfalls, Dettifoss and Selfoss, which are located next to each other and accessible from the same trail head. Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Iceland and Selfoss isn’t bad to look at either. It took 2 hours to get here from Egilsstaðir. Afterwards, we visited the Lake Myvatn Nature Baths, which was about one hour away. The cool thing about these baths is they are less crowded than the popular, tourist-friendly Blue Lagoon and feature similar amenities like changing rooms and rentals. If you’re looking for a more low-key experience, this could be just the place for you. From the baths, it was a 10 minute drive to our hostel at Vogar Travel Service.
Day 5 concludes Part 1 of this 10-day Iceland trip post. Part 2 will include the next 5 days of the trip and tips, so keep an eye out for it in the next few weeks!