I took a trip to Iceland with my girlfriend from June 23rd - July 2nd and, while we read a lot and prepped for the trip, we felt there was still some good info that we could relay to other travelers so this project started. Above you will find a video of our experience, and below you will find a map that contains our route and many Points of Interest around the country. We break down each day, what we did, and advice we have for each area and the country in general. We truly hope this helps future travelers this year or going forward!
We found the following links very helpful for our pre-trip planning and information:
We flew in to Reykjavik from NYC (originating in Orlando, FL where we live) and landed at 8:30am. After landing we headed straight to the blue lagoon with our pre-booked "premium ticket package" that is highly recommended across everything we read. The lines at the Blue Lagoon were pretty long, even for the "premium ticket" holders so we definitely recommend not going on the cheap if possible because it will translate to much longer wait times.
After showering and spending about an hour in the geothermal water we decided that it was time to head inside and have some desert at their in-house restaurant, LAVA. We both shared a spectacular "Hjónabandssæla" (which consisted of Skyr mousse, spiced ice cream, and rhubarb cake) while taking in the view of this magical lagoon.
After we had our fill of relaxation and first taste of Icelandic cuisine it was off to the KuKu Campers main office to pick up our ride. When we arrived we were kindly introduced to our home for the next week, Shania:
Shania was an automatic Renault Kangoo with two seats in the front and a camper-van in the back. We decided to go with the camper-van option over picking stops each night ahead of time because we felt it was important to have the freedom to stop whenever and wherever we wanted. This was literally one of the best decisions of the entire trip; it saved us a lot of money, time, and allowed us to see everything we wanted!
After picking Shania up we stopped into a nearby BÓNUS and picked up some much needed supplies... cream cheese, bagels, lots of water and some delicious snacks (Side note: if you go to Iceland you MUST try Ris Buff... it's one of the best things we have ever eaten) before starting our journey.
We originally were going to do the Golden Circle on day one however, after our overnight Delta flight decided to leave their cabin lights on the entire time and serve chicken salad sandwiches at 3am, we were pretty tired and chose to begin the Ring Road and save it for our final day. For us (and if you're following along on the map above) this meant hitting up Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
Seljalandsfoss was pretty windy and cold so, even though you were able to walk behind the falls, Ashley and I were in no mood to get soaked. It was a good first stop and the beginning of what would be many incredibly waterfalls and other natural wonders.
After Seljalandsfoss we headed to the next major waterfall on the Ring Road, Skogafoss.
Skogafoss was much larger and more impressive than Seljalandsfoss and, if you're running on a tight schedule or only a few day trip, I would recommend doing this one for sure. After we marveled at the might and power of this 197' monster we finished the first leg of our trip, ending up in Vik, Iceland at the Vík í Mýrdal campsite. This site had showers, toilets, a common room, and wifi (the internet was extra) along with plenty of places to park.
As the sun came up on our second day we found ourselves heading to Vik's black sand beach on the small peninsula of Dyrhólaey. This area included beautiful basalt columns and, of course, stunning black sand
After a few hours hiking along the rock formations and admiring the scenery we headed to our next way-point, and the drive kept getting more and more beautiful:
When we arrived at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon we were surprised at how busy it was... so far the trip hadn't yielded many other drivers on the road, but when we arrived there were a TON of cars, vans, and buses all crammed in to the parking lot. It took about 10 minutes to get all set but, once we did, we realized why this spot was so popular:
The hue, shades, and depth of blue that you witness here will absolutely take your breath away. We sat in silence and listened as pieces of glacier broke off into the water and became icebergs, floating out to see underneath a simple one-car bridge. This was absolutely one of the most stunning things that we saw on our entire trip, and definitely a major high of the journey.
After gawking like the tourists we were for quite a while it was time to head over to the Brunnhóll Dairy Farm for some home-made dandelion ice cream (which was out of this world delicious). We continued on to Höfn where we tried the Steak Sandwich and a Langoustine Baguette at Hafnarbúðin (an old-school feeling Icelandic diner). After we had filled our bellies we continued on through djúpavogshreppur to the little town of Stokksnes which provided much needed facilities, some great street art, and a spot to rest for free!
Our third day had us determined to hit Dettifoss, the waterfall located within Vatnajökull National Park in the Northeast of Iceland. When you are driving to this waterfall there are two road options: one paved, and one unpaved. It's important to note that, thus far, even "paved" roads have horrifically torn up dirt and gravel filled unpaved areas, so we opted for the longer but paved route to this site.
After some time checking the park out we got on our way to visit the Hverir geothermal area within the Krafla region of Mývatn. Along our way we found the windiest spot in Iceland... it was a vast open valley with no protection besides a few rock piles stacked by local elves:
We arrived at Mývatn in the early afternoon and was able to witness the earth opened up and bubbling with sulfur, mud, and various chemicals. It was truly a site to behold, the ground split open like it was some sort of festering wound. It is through this region where one can see why they call Iceland the land of ice and fire:
After enjoying about an hour of stinky sulfur fields we felt it was time for a change in scenery, so we decided to detour up to the northern port of Húsavík to see if we could spot a few whales. We got hooked up with Gentle Giants whale watching company and took a speedboat out to view some local puffins and whales in the ocean:
Gentle Giants was a great company to work with and we were very happy to end up on a speed boat instead of one of the larger vessels... any time we saw a whale breach we were able to be there in a matter of seconds, and it was definitely worth the additional money. Also, as a perk, they give you full waterproof suits to wear and allow you to try their locally made liquor on the boat!
After we got back and had some dinner we took the one-hour trek down to theBjarg campsite in Reykjahlíð and watched the midnight sun setting before enjoying a hot shower, using the restrooms, and then passing out.
The next morning we continued on our journey to Grjótagjá, the very same rock grotto where a scene from Game of Thrones was filmed. It was surreal to see the ground torn in two at this geological fissure, and the cave was beautiful inside. Word of caution: watch where you step inside the cave... as you will find throughout Iceland there aren't many warnings or areas that are roped off, and there were definitely slippery and precarious spots, as well as pointy rocks at head-level.
Once we got some ice and neosporin for the cut in Ashley's head, we got back on the road to check out the Pseudocraters at Skútustadir in Mývatn. On our way we passed some beautiful horses grazing in a field and simply had to stop... I'm sure that, if you're reading this, you are aware of Icelandic horses but they truly are incredible creatures to behold:
The Pseudocraters at Skútustadir were beautiful but largely underwhelming... we only stayed for about 20 minutes, and that was because they had sheep. The only thing I would say about the craters is that if you see one pseudocrater you've seen them all.
Next on the list was Goðafoss, Icelandic for "waterfall of the gods." This place was also crawling with many tourists, but an easy rock-scramble down a partially hidden path brought us to an area at water level where there was no one and we could view the glory of this natural wonder in isolation. This was definitely a great waterfall and amazing site to see, but I still believe that Skogafoss is the coolest one in the country!
After Goðafoss we packed up and headed to Akureyri, the second largest city in the country. It was a neat little place with cool shops, great places to eat, lots of tourist traps, and funky artistic stores. We ended up having dinner at Bautinn, a restaurant in the center of the city. I had a steak sandwich and Ashley got the salmon, we both loved it, an incredibly flavorful meal. It was odd seeing things like whale and puffin on the menu and, while we were interested in a unique taste, stronger heads prevailed and we both chose not to add to the industries which hunt both creatures.
After dinner we walked around the city a bit more and then headed to Brynja, billed as the best ice cream in the country. It was certainly delicious with a very large selection and variety of candies and other treats; we both tasted some of the flavors and got some candies for the road to our next campsite in Búðardalur. We arrived at the site fairly late in the evening but, due to the midnight sun, were still able to take in the sights and enjoy the beautiful view out over Hvammsfjörður, the narrowest part of the Breiðafjörður.
The campsite here had great facilities, no showers, but was overall a solid respite from the road. There was also no charge to stay here, which was nice as well.
At this point in the trip we were definitely pro's when it came to Iceland. We had tasted the delicious hotdogs which each gas station serves, realized that all stores/pools open very late and close very early (I'm talking open at 11am and close at 5pm), learned that Olis gas stations typically had free wifi, and praised the magic of sleeping masks (very helpful when it's never dark and you're living out of a van). We were on the cusp of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, host to a wide variety of sights and scenery so we began the day hiking up to the Sugandisey lighthouse in Stykkisholmur. The lighthouse was a squat little thing but it had a lot of character and provided some incredible views! We were also able to stop at the lovely little red church in Helgafell which, though pretty and highly lauded, was a little bit underwhelming for the amount of recommendations we found for it online.
After visiting the lighthouse and church we wanted to try some of the local fare, so we checked out the famous Bakery Nesbrauð Stykkishólmi which did not disappoint! (their fried sweet dough with raisins were incredible). After visiting the bakery we swung by Gallerí Lundi, a small gift shop in the area for handmade items with some neat little trinkets at outstanding prices. It was already lunchtime (because everything was opening at 11am) so we grabbed a hotdog on the way out of town at the Meistarinn Hot Dog Stand, and it was hands-down the best we had all trip.
I had an opportunity to fly the Vandal Flag (the University of Idaho is where I got my masters degree and it holds a place near and dear to my heart) on the next stretch of the journey from Stykkisholmur to Bjarnarhöfn. We also had the opportunity to soak up some of more breathtaking scenery on our stretch to Snæfellsjökull National Park.
Our next stop early in the afternoon was Snæfellsjökull National Park. We wish we had more time to spend in this area because there was so much to do and see! One of the more interesting locations within the park was Öndverðarnes, an ancient lava flow at the tip of the peninsula itself. There are winding bumpy roads through impressive lava fields and majestic cliffs until you reach the end of the road at the Svörtuloft bird cliffs and lighthouse.
After wandering around the cliffs for a while, sitting and contemplating the rugged environment, and trying to discern if we were seeing a whale or some other creature out in the clear waters we got back on the road and hit the southern side of the peninsula, stopping at Djúpalónssandur beach and the Buðir black church. We later will learn why there are so many churches in Iceland... it turns out that, when the country was introduced to Christianity, landowners would get 50% of all tithes from a church they built on their land which encouraged many farmers to add them throughout the century. I thoroughly enjoyed the architecture and beauty that these structures brought to the country, and the Black Church in Buðir was definitely my favorite.
Our next stop along the route was the Ytri Tunga beach, which was incredible because we were able to see wild seals playing right in front of us.
At this point the sun began to sink lower in the sky and we started towards the small town of Borgarnes, passed through, and pushed on to the campground at Þingvellir National Park to rest for the evening. It was a long day but we definitely conquered the peninsula and were able to snag a few great shots on the way to our resting spot.
When we finally arrived at the campground we were pleased to find that they had outstanding shower and toilet facilities, very large and clean. There also wasn't too many other people around, which was nice. The below picture was taken at about 12:30am as the sky burst into the flames of the midnight sunset with some cool cloud cover.
We woke up among the sprawling natural beauty of Þingvellir and began to plan our day accordingly... we wanted to explore the park in the morning and then check out the golden circle throughout the afternoon. The day began walking around the park, exploring the tectonic continental divide, taking in the reflective shallow waters, and learning about Lögberg (the law rock).
After a thorough immersion into all this park had to offer we hit the road and continued our journey around the golden circle, visiting Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss, Gamla Laugin (not-so secret lagoon), and a few of the other staple spots on this route.
(click here to see an interesting short little video of Geysir erupting on my instagram)
After thoroughly exploring this famous little area within the country we chose to throw some caution to the wind and undertake the hour-long hike up to the Reykjadalur Hot River. You can see most of this hike and what the area looks like in our video, but it is a clothing-optional geothermal river coursing through the mountains above Hveragerði. Once you get there (after braving swarms of flys and geothermal pots of mud) you can get into the river at any point and just relax.... it's a natural hot tub! The higher up the river you go, the hotter it gets. For anyone who is backpacking or camping, this would definitely be a cool spot to spend the night.
After an hour-long relaxing soak combined with great conversation with a doctoral student and Vanderbilt and four Europe-bound friends from Brooklyn, NY we ambled back down the mountain to enjoy geothermal rye bread, carrot cake, and a chocolate pastry at Kjöt Og Kúnst bakery in Selfoss. We hit up the local Pylsuvagninn for a traditional Icelandic hotdog dinner and then headed to our final campsite, Gesthús. This site also offered some good facilities to shower in, free wifi, and a nice little breakfast area with a kitchen. After cleaning up and setting the camper up we uploaded our photos to instagram, checked in on the rest of the world, and headed to bed.
Our seventh day led us to bring Shania back to her home, check out some outlet shopping, and then check-in to our AirBnB in Reykjavik. There were many outlets near the KuKu Campers home base including 66°NORTH, ICEWear, and a few others. We ate lunch at a MetroBurger (which is basically McDonalds with chalkboard menus) and our stomachs regretted it immediately.
After lunch it was time to check in to our AirBnB in downtown Reykjavik. We ended up working with a very kind and communicative fellow named Kristján who rented us his 1Br/1Ba with a spectacular view of the water:
This was the first point in the trip where we actually had more than the back of a camper to live in, so we lived it up and stretched out for a while. It was great to have a spot to call home for the next few days, and we appreciated a chance to rest our laurels, take inventory of souvenirs, and plot our next day in Reykjavik. After finalizing a plan we realized it was midnight-sunset again and decided to head down to the Sólfar (Sun Voyager) Sculpture, which was one of the best calls made so far:
There were actually (not surprisingly) a lot of tourists and locals that had the same idea we did, and the sculpture was quite crowded, so we snapped a few shots and then took a walk down to Harpa then up to Hallgrímskirkja church for a sunset shot before heading home and passing out.
The final day we spent in Iceland was dedicated to exploring Reykjavik, and boy did we! We started at the highly lauded and Björk-favorite Grái Kötturinn (grey cat) cafe where I had "The Truck" which seemed like it consisted of a little bit of everything served in this restaurant. After filling up on coffee and breakfast it was time to head downtown to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. This turned out to be pretty disappointing, basic, and cobbled together... it was definitely a novelty which I would not recommend if you aren't spending a lot of time in the city.
After that we headed across the river to the National Museum of Iceland which was located on the University of Iceland's campus. The museum was very informative and interesting... remember earlier when I mentioned the thing about churches and farmers? This was where we learned it. The National Museum is a must-stop if you are in the city and interested in history at all... it takes you through each decade meticulously, and provides a lot of background on the things you will see or have seen in the country. The University of Iceland also has a nice campus which was fun to explore! Do note that this is pretty far off the "beaten path" and middle of the city... you're looking at a 20-30 minute walk from downtown if you choose to hoof it out there.
Our next stop was the C is for Cookie cafe where we enjoyed some pastries, street art, and a coffee before continuing on.
After re-fueling with caffeine we went straight over to Laugavegur for a final shopping trip. We got a blanket and some sweaters at the Handknitting Association of Iceland and some incredibly resilient wool and leather shoes at OgÞó before heading to Hallgrímskirkja church one more time while it was light out and we were able to head up to the top.
Our dinner spot was Old Iceland where I enjoyed the ling and lamb dish and a cold beer, Ashley had the fish stew, and we both enjoyed an apple rhubarb cake for desert. The food was on-point and a perfect end to an incredible vacation.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post on our trip!
We got so much insight and help for the planning, research, and execution of this journey that we felt it was important to give back to the knowledge base and community around what we experienced while in-country. We hope that the above helps some of you navigate your journey to the land of ice and fire, and if you need advice or information feel free to send me an email! Don't forget to check out the video I put together from this trip, it sums up all of the above in a cool way!
12 final points and summary of tips and takeaways on this trip:
10/2/2015 10:34:39 am
Couldn't agree more with what you've said.However, if you're coming from the UK, the only thing that is expensive is the food, diesel works out alot cheaper than at home.
11/19/2015 12:23:30 pm
One important missing detail.......what camera or phone did you use?!
12/28/2015 12:44:00 am
Greetings from California,
2/23/2016 06:27:41 pm
Hi Matt, great video, thank you for sharing your information on your trip. I have a question regarding airports is Keflavik or reykjavik the better airport if we plan on doing the Blue lagoon, water falls and geysers to end with the Northern Lights?
4/13/2016 05:50:04 am
Spectacular photos and beautiful destinations to tour.
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Matt is a passionate and curious traveler based out of Connecticut.