Average cost p/day: US $90 (this was on a very tight budget! Camping and cooking our own meals)
Time frame: 10-15 days
Currency: Icelandic Krona
Iceland is without a doubt one of my favourite countries. The landscape is just unbeatable. Waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, black sand beaches, hot springs, moss-covered rocks that look distinctly like troll-homes..the list goes on! The best way to see this stunning landscape is of course by car. Find a few friends to split the cost, and embark on an epic road trip. That way, you can stop off as often as you like to explore the land.
Both summer and winter have their perks in Iceland. In Summer, you’ll get gloriously long days which are ideal for exploring, followed by spectacular sunsets which seem to go on forever. Summer is also ideal for camping which will save you lots of money. However, in Winter you will have a good chance of seeing the Northern lights! No matter what time of year you go, the weather is constantly changing – expect sun, rain, thunderstorms and then sun again within a matter of hours.
Iceland is incredibly expensive but also incredibly worth it!
WHERE TO GO
There are SO many places to stop when you’re on the road. Often you’ll just see a car park or a sign or a crowd, and pull over to check it out. The places I’ve listed are my highlights.
The highlights are listed in the order that I visited them in – going clockwise around the island.
The capital city is a great place to start, given that it’s probably where you’ll fly into. While it’s only a very small city, it’s worth a day or two. Do a free walking tour to learn about Icelandic culture and history, check out the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral (looks like a geysir) and the concert hall (looks like fish scales) – both unique and interesting buildings.
Hostel recommendation – Bus Hostel or Hlemmur Square
The infamous Blue Lagoon is a must! Swim in the warm pools of bright blue water while the cold air cools your face. This is only a short drive from Reykjavik and the best time to do it is around sunset – that way you see it in both daylight and darkness!
An incredible waterfall that you can hike up to – if you’re feeling brave! The path is not exactly marked or even well trodden, but if you’re crafty you’ll find a way up to the top, where you can feel the fresh water spraying you from the falls.
What makes this canyon cool is the awesome story that comes with it. It is said that a half-troll half-man being lived nearby with his daughters. One day, his nephew, Rauofeldar, pushed his eldest daughter onto an iceberg and she drifted off to Greenland, somehow unharmed. The half-troll man was so angry that he pushed his nephew into the canyon, which is now named after him (Rauofeldar) but he was never seen again. You can go a inside the canyon too, beautiful but crazy windy!
This stunning seaside mountain is made extra special by the waterfall nearby. If you can find the right spot, you can get a great picture of the waterfall with the mountain as its backdrop.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss
These two waterfalls are right by each other. Hranfossar is incredibly impressive. It’s like a river with endless waterfalls coming out of its sides! Barnafoss, a much smaller waterfall further up the river is slightly less epic, and has a rather sad story behind it. In Icelandic, the name means “Children’s Waterfall” named so because two children are said two have disappeared, presumbly drowned, hundreds of years ago at the waterfall.
The largest hot spring in Europe. The water, at 100 degrees celcius, bubbles away and emits huge amounts of steam.
The “other city” in Iceland. I say city, but really it felt more like a quaint town. Akureyri has got this incredible charm about it. Very typical Icelandic buildings, all in immaculate condition. Quirky shops, lots of bars and restaurants, some funky street art, mountains and all this set upon the beautiful fjord. Roam around the bay for great views and head to the Settlers Monument to watch the sun set behind the mountains.
Campsite recommendation – Tjaldsvaedi Akureyri
This waterfall is absolutely immense. You can see it from many different angles by climbing along rocks on both sides of the falls. Great photo ops dangling your feet off the edge of the rocks.
Myvatn Lake and surrounding area
There’s heaps to see and do around Myvatn lake. The Skutustadir pseudo craters right on the lake make for a nice stroll. The lava rocks and caves at Dimmuborgir are worth exploring. Grjotagja cave, more commonly known as Jon Snow’s sex cave, will impress anyone – regardless of whether or not you watch Game of Thrones. Hverir, an area full of hot springs and steaming hot rocks, will have you questioning what planet you’ve landed on – looks like something out of Mars! And just a little bit further out from Myvatn is Viti volcano crater, with its stunning blue lake in the center.
Campsite recommendation – Bjarg (right on the lake – amazing sunset views!!)
My favourite waterfall in all of Iceland! The drive to Dettifoss is horrible – the long and bumpy dirt road seems to take forever. But push through! There is such an immense spray from all the water gushing down this waterfall that it creates a double rainbow. Words cannot describe how beautiful this is! (Note: make sure you go to the east side of the falls for the best views)
The scenery is constantly changing as you walk to this waterfall, making it an impressive hike. Once you make it to the top, you’ll see that the rocks around the waterfall are layered with lava, making it look very unique. Allow roughly 2-2.5 hours for the hike there and back. The nearby Hallormsstadur forest is the biggest forest in all of Iceland. Lovely to walk around, dotted with waterfalls.
Iceland’s biggest glacier! While driving you’ll get various views of the glacier, but it’s worth getting up close. My favourite spot in all of Iceland was the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. It’s a huge lake filled with icebergs that have broken off the glacier. The lake eventually opens out into the sea, where you can see Icebergs floating along, many washed up onto the shore. Skaftafell National Park is great for a closer view of the glacier. You can do a 1.5hr round trip walk from the car park.
A stunning canyon that you can walk along, getting constantly changing views.
Just outside of Vik, this black sand beach has huge basalt columns, unique rock formations and is home to many puffins.
This US Navy plane crash landed on the south coast of Iceland in 1973 and is now a very popular tourist attraction. It’s a little bit surreal, walking through a plane wreck! The walk from the car park to the plane wreck is a flat 4km, with absolutely zero scenery to keep you entertained. But it’ll be worth it.
Iceland’s third largest glacier. There’s a volcano underneath the glacier that is meant to erupt every ten years or so, but hasn’t gone off since 2000! Eek. The thing that makes this stop particularly awesome was that you can walk ON the glacier. An amazing and unique experience.
Another massive waterfall. A quick but steep climb will take you to the top of the falls, where you can continue to walk alongside the river, finding more and more waterfalls the further you walk.
While not as immense as other waterfalls in Iceland, this one stands out because you can walk behind it, giving you a totally different perspective on the falls.
A common daytrip from Reyjkavik for those on a shorter trip, the Golden Circle is some of the best of Iceland’s scenery. The main stops are the Geysir, a bunch of natural water fountains that burst water every few minutes; Gullfoss, the biggest and most famous of Iceland’s waterfalls; and Pingvellir National Park, where you can see the separation of the European and American tectonic plates.
WHAT TO PACK
Summer: Layers. Iceland summer is all about layering. The weather is so changeable that you might start the day in a top, a jumper, a jacket, a beanie and a scarf…but by lunchtime you’ll have stripped down to just your t-shirt.
Winter: your absolute warmest clothes… It’s called Iceland for a reason! Don’t forget to bring boots that are snow-appropriate and thermal socks to keep your toes warm. Thick winter jacket, gloves and beanie are a must.