In October of 2016, I renounced my title of Baltimore-gal-who’d-only-ever-been-a-2-hr-plane-ride-away-to-Florida and embarked on a crazy journey… to ICELAND. I feel like every time I say that beautiful fucking country’s name, it needs to be in capitals. It really is that magnificent.
So— let me start by saying that exploring Iceland is one of the most otherworldly experiences you will ever have. From the second your plane starts to descend over the island, you will realize this. The more time you spend there, the more you will start to feel like you just landed on the moon or another planet and you will be flooded with wonderful feelings of discovery and adventure. My boyfriend, Sam, and I spent our time road-tripping from Reykjavík all the way to Jökulsárlón (the glacier lagoon), which ended up being a whopping 10 hours of just driving in one day.
When I first said I was going to Iceland, some friends and coworkers responded, “Iceland…? Why would you want to go there? What’s in Iceland?”. Once I got back and they saw the photos and they had their answer. I now know TONS of people that have been there for multiple reasons. That being said, I hope this little guide helps you. If you have any questions feel free to contact me and I’d love to answer.
- Iceland can be very cold. And was extremely rainy for us in October! It rained every single day we were there, which also means no Northern Lights because the clouds cover them up. 🙁 Bring appropriate clothing. SCARVES, HATS, GLOVES; you will be miserable if you don’t have a good raincoat and hiking boots. In retrospect, definitely a pair of swishy pants too. You know which ones I’m talking about. But seriously, it’s a great idea to research the weather during the time you’re thinking about going as well as Northern Lights visibility and cloud cover.
- I would recommend going sometime in fall or early spring. Summer time is much more saturated with tourists and you may not see the lights since it is daylight for so long (only THREE hours of darkness in the Summer!!). Northern lights “season” is September – mid April so definitely keep that in mind.
- RENT A CAR. Or a happy camper. In a place like this, you want to be able to explore at your own pace. Tours can be cool— but I know I would’ve been disappointed if my time was limited. You can also go northern light hunting (unless you hire someone to take you) and ya know, have your freedom in general. We definitely took some naps, made a lot of pit-stops, and pulled over to look at little things/talk to the sheep.
- Bring lots of snacks. Something filling. From attraction to attraction, there may be hours-long-drives in between. There are little food stands at some of the big ones, like Skogafoss, the geysirs, a gas station in Vik with a little food hall, BUT you will probably get hungry in between and in certain places it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere. Options are definitely limited. Personally, my boyfriend and I chugged many tubes of paprika Pringles, longing for them when we got home… only to find out they’re the SAME AS BBQ FLAVOR. WHAT?! There’s some European vs. USA marketing for ya…
- Just to touch on daylight in Iceland again — really be sure to plan ahead. I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure you time your travels appropriately, especially if you’re doing a road trip like we did. And be ready to get up early! This isn’t your relax-on-the-beach kind of vacation, unless you’re wearing a coat and boots sitting in black sand. I made an itinerary and a map of all of our destinations but still allowing some breathing room. We definitely discovered some hidden gems along the way that used up quite a lot of our time.
- Use offline google maps. There is also a northern lights visibility map you can look at before you head out— it shows you cloud cover and your likelihood of seeing them in different spots. From what we’ve heard, all the way to the south (Vík or surrounding areas) or all the way to the north is usually best.
- There is one road that goes all the way around the island. The “ring road”, Route 1. There are signs on the side of the road indicating when there’s something cool coming up. Usually there’s a little “clover” symbol. AND don’t go on F roads. They’re really bumpy and you need four wheel drive. It may be a good idea to get gravel protection on your rental car, which covers you if rocks hit the bottom of the car.
- Your credit card may be charged international transaction fees (that applies to anywhere outside of your country, but wasn’t something I immediately thought of) so either use króna or get a credit card that doesn’t have those.
- Gratuity is included at restaurants. No need to tip.
Believe it or not, getting to Iceland is fairly inexpensive. We try to travel for as little as we can without sacrificing quality and I’d like to say we did a pretty good job for this trip. I outlined our expenses to give you an idea of some great options— I figure everyone’s curious just how much it really costs!
FLIGHT — WOW air — $390 a person, roundtrip.
WOW is a relatively newer, inexpensive airline headquartered in Reykjavík. Our experience with them has always been decent, but for this trip, we did have a verrrry long delay due to an issue with one of the emergency exit slides. (6 hours… kill me…) They handled the situation okay, but we weren’t allowed to get off of the plane which was pretty god awful. 6 hours stuck, then 6 hours for the actual flight. But honestly, for the price, I’d do it again. You will save hundreds flying with them. I linked their destination page to the company’s name above, so take a look. We flew to Dublin and back from Edinburgh with WOW as well, and had a good experience.
Note that the price I quoted above DOES include bag fees, but if you look at certain dates on their website, the advertised prices do not. It’s $50 for a large carry-on one way, so factor in another $100 for the round trip price… still cheaper than anything else.
Something else worth pointing out is that WOW does something called a “stay over” where, if you’re traveling to any of their other destinations, you can choose to stay in Iceland for however long you’d like for cheap. This is because no matter what, you’re landing in Iceland for a transfer/layover. It’s so worth it if you have another destination in mind and don’t mind making your trip a little longer.
HOTEL — AirBNB — $600 for 6 nights.
If you’re looking to stay in Reykjavík, I HIGHLY recommend the place we stayed. It’s a super cute garage-turned-guest house that is about a 15 min walk from the main strip of shops in the city and has easy access to Route 1. It is on the host’s property, but completely unattached from her house so you have complete privacy. Check out the photos. It was so cozy and exactly what we needed to come home to after a long day of adventure. Looking back, for a cross country trip, it makes much more sense to book hotels/AirBNB “checkpoints” along the way. What I’m saying is why not book your first night in Reykjavík, second night in Vík, third night in Hof, etc. That way you don’t have to drive all the way back out if you don’t hit everything you want to see in one day. That’s what we decide on in Ireland and Scotland and it was MUCH better than driving back home at night.
CAR — Blue Car Rentals — $500 for 6 days.
As I mentioned, getting a car is so important!!! We rented a little Volkswagen for a good price at Blue. It’s walking distance from the airport, so we just walked over with out luggage, checked in with them, then drove off. They’re very thorough and explain everything to you. Like I said before, you may want to get the gravel insurance they have— they do check the car and compare it to “before” photos when you bring it back to make sure you didn’t F anything up.
Fjadrargljufur Canyon – 3 hrs from Reykjavík
This was probably our favorite place in Iceland. It’s BEAUTIFUL beyond words. You can hike along the edge or view it from a bridge at the bottom. Either way, you will not be disappointed. The road there is a little bumpy so be careful, but there’s a parking lot and bathrooms once you get there.
Dyrhólaey – 3 hrs from Reykjavík
Dyrhólaey is a peninsula not far from Vík with spectacular views of the black sand beaches, fierce ocean waves, and crazy rock formations. There’s a steep, windy road to get to the top but it is so worth it. There’s a lighthouse at the top- just to the right of that was our favorite spot (pictured). You might see some puffins!
Plane Crash Site – 3 hrs from Reykjavík
There is a plane crash site from the 80′s (everyone lived!) on the beach that draws a lot of tourists. You can not drive right to it but there is a parking lot and a path that leads you to it with yellow markers. It is a 45-50 minute walk!!! I have no problem hiking that far in the woods, in fact I do it all the time… but when you’re hiking for almost an hour with nothing to look at but black sand and the sky… it’s… tiring. But super neat to see. I found some crazy looking rocks while I was there, too.
This website has good directions to it:
Jökulsárlón – 5 hrs from Reykjavík
The glacier lake. This place is incredible. From the natural aqua-blue color to the seals (!!) to the ice slowly floating towards the bridge… you may never see a place like this again in your life.
Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss – 1.5 hrs from Reykjavík
Everyone knows about Seljalandsfoss, the waterfall you can walk behind- but what about Gljúfrafoss? This BEAUTIFUL secret waterfall is hidden around the corner from Seljalandsfoss. If you keep walking down the path and keep a look out on the right, there is a passage way that leads you into a cave-type rock structure. The second photo is what this path looks like.
Skógafoss – 2 hrs from ReykjavíkSkógafoss is yet another gorgeous waterfall. This one has stairs next to it that allow you to walk all the way to the top and look over the edge. There’s a huge, beautiful mountain right next to it that makes this view absolutely unreal.
OTHER AWESOME STUFF
- The Big Lebowski themed bar. (Drinking a white russian in Iceland?? What more could you possibly want in life.)
- The Blue Lagoon, obviously. MAKE SURE YOU BOOK AHEAD. We ended up having to go at night because we waited too long. Still cool, but a lot cooler when you can see everything. A warning: you do have to shower before you go in. It’s a little awkward for people that don’t feel comfortable walking around naked with people you don’t know (most of us, I’d say…) but you can take your towel with you and I just wore my bathing suit into the shower then took it off. A lot of the showers do have doors, so you can just change in and out of your suit there. And— keep your hair out of the water completely if you can. It dries it out very bad. My hair accidentally fell in the water and looked like I had bleached it a little the next day.
- Definitely visit Hallgrímskirkja, the big church in Reykjavík. You can climb to the top and look out onto the city. It’s a beautiful view because of all of the bright colored buildings. There’s a donation somewhere between $5-10.
- Take time to walk around the city! There are tons of cute shops and art in the streets.
- Bonus is the cheapest grocery store. There are a lot of them throughout Reykjavík. We stocked up on bread, cheese, and lunch meat for the long drives.
- The Phallological Museum. Yes… the penis museum. It’s a great time.
- The first thing we ate when we got to Reykjavík was some AMAZING thai soup at Noodle Station. I haven’t had soup as good as that since. It was just what we needed after a long, cold day of travel.
- Our favorite place to eat was Messinn. Food was delicious and it wasn’t too too expensive. Food anywhere in this country is pricey- may as well make it count! (Try the arctic char!!!) It’s rated #3 on the best of Iceland list on TripAdvisor.