We’ve just returned from an amazing 9 days in Iceland. As much as I love London, the city does get a bit frenetic from time to time and I don’t realise it at the time, but I get quite wound up from the fast pace. Every now and again it’s so nice to just reconnect with nature and be in the middle of nowhere. Admittedly, by the end of the trip, I couldn’t wait to get back to civilisation!
We spent 9 nights in Iceland, mostly on the famous Ring Road, which circles the entire country, exposing you to all sorts of beauty along the way.
What do you need to know about visiting Iceland?
- It’s expensive. Very. Expect to pay around GBP150 on average per night for a 3 star hotel, which was the lowest I could drop my standards to. Of course, you could camp, but with the rain and wind I can’t see how that could be fun – at least not for me! The only other holiday I could compare Iceland to is New Zealand, and to be honest, I think that trip was better value for money – although it didn’t have quite the same scale of natural beauty as Iceland.
- It’s cold! We went in August – summer – and temperatures hovered around 10 degrees Celsius with pouring rain on some days. Accordingly, make sure you go equipped with thermal underwear, a lightweight waterproof jacket, and good hiking boots. Your normal sneakers will not cut it. We hiked around 15km each day – you drive everywhere, and there’s an interesting place to stop pretty much every 2km
- Food is an issue. Many of the small towns only have 2-3 restaurants at most, and they’ll sell things like pizza or burgers which gets tiring after a while. This pained me a lot because for me, a huge part of travel is food. We seldom eat at expensive restaurants in London, so it was torturous to eat expensive bad food on holiday in Iceland. Of course, you’ll find cheap hot dogs for sale at gas stations, but if you want to eat decently, expect to pay around GBP20 for a food truck style fish and chips meal, or GBP30 for a main at a normal restaurant. Try and plan your meals well so you don’t go hungry. At times you could be driving for hours with no food in sight. Same goes for gas.
- Hiring a car is the cheapest and easiest way to get around. The Ring Road is very good with no potholes, and the few gravel roads we drove on were also fine. Don’t bother with organised tours. Apart from very specialised activities, like glacier hiking, you can do everything yourself. We used http://www.bluecarrental.is who were priced competitively. There isn’t a need for a 4×4, although if you can afford it it would definitely make the journey more pleasant. We had an automatic Toyota Yaris which was fine.
- There are little gnats everywhere! Make sure to have a hat with netting so that they don’t drive you crazy – I’m pretty sure I swallowed a few :/
- You can either drive clockwise or anticlockwise from Reykjavik. We went anticlockwise because this way the driving distances are shorter between the attractions at the start of the trip (1-2 hours.) Towards the end, we were driving up to 5 hours between attractions.
This was the route we followed
Now, for the itinerary!
Day 1: Keflavik
The international airport, Keflavik is situated about 40km out of the capital city, Reykjavik. We arrived late at night so opted to stay near Keflavik. If you’re arriving in the afternoon, hire your car and spend the night in Reykjavik where there are lots of nice restaurants and a pretty cool night vibe. You’ll want to get a really early start the next day so get an early night!
Day 2: The Golden Circle
We did this on the last day of our trip, but I would recommend you start with the Golden Circle because it gives you a good overview of the amazingness of Iceland, but if you leave it for last it is a bit underwhelming as you’d have seen a lot by then, much of it more spectacular than the Golden Circle.
Thingvellir National Park
This will be your first stop – only 40 minutes or so out of Reykjavik. It’s a beautiful park entrenched in history – Iceland’s first parliament was formed here. The scenery is also really pretty, but you don’t need more than an hour to walk around and see everything.
Geysir and Gullfoss
These 2 sights are situated close together, about an hour away from Thingvellier. Both are really cool – the Geysir spouts boiling hot water 30 meters into the air. It’s a geothermal zone so you’ll also see lots of other steaming water pools.
Gullfoss is just breathtaking. You’ll soon find out that there are hundreds of waterfalls in Iceland – all special and beautiful in their own way. Gullfoss was one of my favourites.
Finish off at Hveragedi, where I recommend spending the night. We did a stunning 6km hike here, which led us to a natural hot spring swimming pool. Probably best to leave this hike for the morning.
Day 2: Vik
There’s so much to see on the way to Vik, including Seljalandsfoss (a stunning waterfall that you can see from the front and back), and Skogafoss. You’ll be stopping the car every few minutes to capture the beautiful landscapes. If you spend the night before in Hveragerdi, the distance isn’t far at all. (note I’m not giving accommodation recommendations as most of the places we stayed were unremarkable.)
Spend the night close to Vik, and make sure you also check out Dyrholaey – this mystical cliff like place with a black beach where you can see PUFFINS.
Day 2 doesn’t seem like a lot of driving, but you’ll be stopping a lot along the way.
Day 3: Hofn
Between Vik and Hofn there are two must dos.
One is Skaftafell national park. Here, you can do glacier walks and also go on incredible hikes. We’ve done glacier walking before in New Zealand so we decided to give it a skip (it’s quite pricey at around $300 pp as it includes a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier), but if you’ve not done this before I definitely recommend it.
At Skaftafell, we did a 3 hour hike through the park which was beautiful, apart from severe rain at the end. Despite our waterproof gear, we got soaked.
From there, we visited Jokulsarlon lagoon, which is a lagoon filled with huge icebergs. We had a speedboat tour booked for the afternoon, which I was really looking forward to. This was the low point of the holiday for me. We were still in our wet clothes, with a waterproof warm suit over that. It was freezing, with pouring rain slapping my face like bee stings, and we were zipping through the water on a speedboat. After about 10 minutes I stopped caring about the icebergs and just wanted to get out of there! We didn’t get any decent photos because of the rain, but if you Google it, you’ll see that it really is stunning and definitely worth a visit.
The hot shower back at our hotel was the best shower of my life 🙂 Thankfully, after that day, the weather cleared up.
Day 4: Egilstaddir
We spent our fourth day at a sweet little cottage in Egilstaddir. This town has nothing much to speak of, but we just needed a place to break up the driving before we headed to Lake Myvatn, which is the next big attraction after Hofn, but is about a 5 hour drive.
The cottage we stayed at in Egilstaddir is actually one of the few places I would recommend. It was so nice to have our own space instead of staying in poky little B&B rooms.
Since there were no options for food in Egilstaddir apart from Subway and a really bad grocery store, we drove 30 minutes to Seydisfjordur, to have dinner at a really lovely coffee shop called Bistro Skaftfell. The ambiance was so warm and cozy, and they had delicious hot chocolate and pizza. The town itself was also quite picturesque, situated at the bottom of a hill – a nice drive.
Day 5: Dettifoss and Asbyrgi Canyon
It was a LONG drive to get from Egilstaddir to Dettifoss, mostly because the last hour of the road is gravel, which our Yaris didn’t like very much. However, Dettifoss is an incredible waterfall, and we even saw a double rainbow! It’s supposed to be the most powerfall waterfall in Europe. Once at Dettifoss, you can hike about an hour to another really beautiful waterfall, Selfoss. The walk is stunning and it was quite quiet – I think many tourists skip Selfoss, but it’s so worth the walk.
From Dettifoss, it was a 30 minute drive to get to Asbyrgi Canyon. Here, you can either hike to the top of the canyon (like a mini Grand Canyon), or drive to the bottom of it. By this time, we were quite tired, so didn’t take advantage of the very long hikes. I was quite struck by Asbyrgi – firstly by how clean the air is. Like when you inhale, it’s somehow easier to breathe. London air is disgusting. The second thing that struck me is how still, and quiet it was. A very special place.
After Asbyrgi, we were desperate for a good meal. The closest town was Husavik, which incidentally, is also renowned for whale watching. We first went whale watching in Hermanus and LOVED it – so we thought it would be really cool to see orcas. The trip was cool, but we didn’t see that many whales. We did get this shot though 🙂
None of the towns in Iceland are worth a visit on their own (the attractions are really the scenery around the towns), but Husavik is really pretty. We also had one of the better meals of the trip here – at a seafood restaurant called Naustid.
We based ourselves midway between Husavik and Lake Myvatn for 2 nights, in a small village called Laugar, purely because we couldn’t find any hotels close to Lake Myvatn. You need 2 nights in Lake Myvatn for sure, but this area fills up quickly, so if you can’t get in Lake Myvatn itself, the surrounding villages work too.
Day 6: Lake Myvatn
This was one of my favourite days. In the morning, we climbed up Vindbelgjatfjall, the highest peak in the area. Getting up the mountain was as nice as the view from the top, because of all the flowers and greenery around us. It was a really steep climb up though!
The main thing to see at Lake Myvatn is the dormant volcano craters – which look exactly as you’d expect a volcano crater to look.
We strolled around the entire crater, and then decided it was time to chill – so we headed to the Myvatn Nature Baths, a much cheaper (and apparently more authentic) version of the Blue Lagoon. We took our swimming costumes with us, and were told to shower before entering the baths. Once in, it was deliciously warm with stunning scenery. We didn’t take our camera here, but here’s a pic I found online which shows the scale of the baths – they’re massive!
Day 7: Stykkisholmer
We could have easily ended the trip here and headed back to Reykjavik on Day 7, which is the traditional Ring Road 1 week itinerary.
However, we had an extra 2 days, so we headed far West to Stykkisholmer, where we spent the last 2 nights of our stay. Once more, we enjoyed beautiful scenery.
Most of Day 7 was spent driving. We stopped in Akuyeri, the second biggest city in Iceland. It was quite a shock to the system to see actual civilisation after a week, so we hung out here for quite a while, chilling in a cafe, stocking up on “padkos” and having lunch.
By the time we got to our hotel, we only had time for a quick sunset walk to the top of the lighthouse before dinner.
Day 8: Snaefellsjokull
Our final day in Iceland was spent driving around the entire Snaefellsjokull peninsula. This is the Westernmost part of Iceland, and we saw magnificent coastal views, particularly along the hike from Hellar and Anarstapi.
Day 9: Reykjavik
I’m glad we saved Reykjavik for last, because we were so excited to have restaurants and cafes around us again. The city has quite a nice vibe at night, so after dinner, we strolled around, found a place to have coffee, and enjoyed soaking up the energy of the nightlife – live bands, karaoke and lots of rowdy bars.
I probably spent more time researching Iceland than any other holiday, just because there are so many little villages and choosing where to spend the night and how much to drive each day is hard. Also, I started booking hotels about 6 weeks before the trip, and lots of places were fully booked. There aren’t that many hotels and B&Bs and demand is high.