Imagine being able to see mountains, glaciers, grassland, dessert, flowers, and the ocean all in a single 180 degree view! That mesmerizing piece of dream is Iceland for you!
Iceland has been hands-down the most BEAUTIFUL country we have even been to- in terms of the landscape as well as the beautiful people of the country. Its the kind of place where the customs officials will genuinely feel sorry and apologize to you for having to discard liquids from your cabin luggage, where locals will offer to stay up till late at night and watch out for the northern lights for you, where people do not lock their houses…And they don’t expect a lot of gratitude in return- they genuinely believe that helpfulness, kindness and compassion towards other beings are normal traits that everyone possesses. A lot of people compare the beauty of Iceland to heaven, I instead would compare the inner beauty of the Icelandic people to that of angels.
We had been trying to plan a trip to Iceland for 3 years- but the 29 hour long and super expensive flights from India were a dampener- so when we shifted to Washington DC and learnt that its a shorter cheaper affair to fly to Iceland than to fly to Seattle, we started off planning our Iceland trip.
2 Minute Trip Planner
- Ideal Time: IDEALLY you should spend at least 12-15 days in Iceland, there is so much to discover! But since we only had 7 days with us, we decided to leave out the Western Fjords all together from our trip.
- While the flights to Iceland can be seemingly inexpensive from US and parts of Europe, Iceland in itself is VERY expensive (small cup of coffee is ~4-5$, pizza between 25-30$). Plus visa costs and processes are a dampener.
- If visiting in summers (June-Sep), you DO NOT need a 4*4 or AWD. We covered the entire ring road and Landmannalaugar and Asbyrgi comfortably in a 2*2. Do buy the windshield insurance with the car- winds can be unpredictably rough in Iceland, unlike anything you would have experienced before, and good enough to break that windshield of yours!
- Liquor can be expensive- buy it at the airport if you must. Even other items such as Blue Lagoon merchandise and local souvenirs seemed to be 20-30% less priced at the Airport (Tax free)
- Be prepared for a LOT of driving! The fun is to not think destination to destination but stop wherever you like- Iceland is full of random picnic spots- you will realize some random places in the middle of nowhere turn out to be way more fun than the ‘must see’ points popularized by the net
- Dont’ Miss:
- Buying the local Birch Liquor Bjork
- Summer window shopping at Laugavegur market- seeing the crowds at 11:30pm in the evening, wearing sunglasses!
- Having a
beersmoothie at Blue Lagoon.
- Dipping in the hot spring at Landmannalaugar
- Giving hitchhikers a ride in your car- Iceland has a lot of students from neighboring countries who visit on a shoestring budget. Give these hitchiker a ride- you will have fun conversations in the long drive, and earn a lot of karma points! 🙂
- Hearing your voice reverberate at Asbyrgi, the lake where Santa’s elves live!
- Click a selfie with the wild horses
- See the multiple rainbows that appear to move with you, when you are close to the waterfalls
- Stop at a random picnic spot and thank god for your trip 🙂
- VEGAN TIPS
- Every eatery in Iceland has Vegan eating options- and I do not mean 1 item in a menu 20, but at least 3-4 vegan items! 🙂
- Highly recommend Havari – you can not ask for a more spectacular setting, amazing food and the entire menu is Vegan. Apparently the owner was a sheep farmer and had a change of heart two years back and started organic vegetable farming. This place also has a lot of gigs and will be on your route from Hofn to Eglistadir.
- TRIP COST FOR 2 (including airfare)
- USD 3,500 from USA (with roundtrip flights booked 600$ per person and last minute hotel bookings in peak season)
- TRIP COST FOR 2 (including airfare)
Day 1: Golden Circle [HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY- STOKKUR GEYSIR]
Golden Circle can be as exhausting or relaxing as you want it to be. When we arrived we were extremely tired and jet-lagged- so instead of exploring Reykjavik, which would require significant walking, we decided to explore the Golden Circle, which took us around 4 hours. We followed the itinerary we got off the net:
First stop: Thingevellir National Park- ………..Honestly, this was meh!
Second Stop: Random lake on way to Stokkur (way more fun than Thingevellir- did I not mention random picnic spots earlier! ;))
Third Stop: Stokkur Geysir area. This place was simply wow! It was the highlight of our day. The entire place is full of Geysirs with one of them erupting to huge heights every 10 min. People who weren’t mindful of the direction of the wind, eventually got drenched! #instagramtip: Make a slowmo video of the erupting geysir. Also, there is also a huge place to eat, right in-front of the Geysirs with tons of options- and ice cream!
Fourth Stop: Gullfoss Waterfall. We were more mesmerized by the multiple rainbows than the waterfall!
Fifth Stop: Reykjavik [we had no energy got Lake Kerid- regret not going there]
Stay: Try to find a place in Reykjavik that is closer to Laugavegur street, the most happening street in Iceland, full of Bistros, Pubs etc.
Day 2: Landmannalaugar [HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: HOT WATER SPRING BATH]
Possibly the most awesome day in our trip was Day 2. The drive to Landmannalaugar this place is as amazing as the place itself. We went in a 2*2 and were initially a little skeptical because there were signs there that read “Only 4*4 Vehicles Allowed” but we made it safely in a 2*2 because the weather had been good and the road conditions were favorable. We had infact checked with Hertz and they mentioned that its absolutely fine to drive to Lanmannalaugar in a 2*2 in summers- just park your car before the river and cover the last 200-300mt on foot.
Now it wasnt simply the view that was breathtaking at Landmannalaugar, but it was a first experience taking a dip in a hot spring! So carry a change of clothes, and a huge towel that you can wrap around yourself while you change clothes IN THE OPEN! Yes, do not expect fancy changing rooms/washrooms here. The nearest washroom is a good 100-200 mt away from the spring and its rough making that way in the crazy winds!
In the hotspring, we were so fascinated to see bubbles coming out of the water, and that some parts of the water were much warmer than the other. It was an amazing experience. Since Landmannalaugar is a good 2-3 hour drive away from the nearest civilization, pack your lunch before the drive and have a small picnic when you reach- you may not find food here. It is also a great place to camp.
Day 3: Reykjavik- Skogafoss- Sólheimajökull-Vik [HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY- NORTHERN LIGHTS AND REYNISFJARA BEACH #GOT]
If your map shows the distance from point A to point B as 2 hours in Iceland, count it as 2.5-3 hrs! And at least half, if not more of your day will end up on the road if you plan to cover Iceland in 6-7 days. On Day 3 we started off with a quick stop Skogafoss waterfall which was nice to click, but the chilly weather made it not so nice to enter- we stopped there for about 10 minutes before we hit the road to Sólheimajökull for our Glacier walk.
The 2.5 hours at Sólheimajökull for the Glacier walk was SUPER FUN! The patch above the glacier apparently has rain over 320 days in a year- so we were super lucky to have the sun come out when we were on the glacier. Wear layers- we kept changing from jackets to half sleeve t-shirts during the glacier walk.
What you see on our face is volcanic ash- apparently a miracle mask for the skin and the same thing sold for $$$ at beauty shops. No my skin did not get better and Yes it was a lot of fun putting this on my face and washing it off with ice-cold water from a glacier stream 😉
What makes the glacier here very unique is the black-ice, which is basically ice mixed with volcanic ash. We saw some very deep cervices here and drank the freshest water off the glacier! 🙂 What an experience that was! What really impressed me was the our guide from Extreme Iceland was so passionate about the global warming melting the glaciers, that he turned vegan, to do his bit in saving these glaciers. Right next to the parking in Sólheimajökull there is a cute little restaurant which offers few vegan eating options too! 🙂
From Sólheimajökull we drove to Vik – Reynisfjara beach and it was spectacular! The black sand with the magnificent game-of-thrones like cave made for such a beautiful sight! We spent over an hour at Reynisfjara walking in the sand and clicking pictures. The view from Dyrholaey also make for a stunning sight! While there, dont miss the cute little Vik Church. For some reason I assumed Vik would be a large town and was surprised to see lack of stay options at Vik on the internet- upon arriving I realized why. Vik is a significantly small town with just 2 restaurants and few small houses.
As evening set in we left all the way to Hofn- phew this was a long long day but we were rewarded in the end with a beautiful and long sighting of the Northern Lights!!!
Day 5: Jokulsarlon- Hofn- Eglistadir- Myvatn [HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY- JOKULSARLON GLACIER]
Jokulsarlon was one of the most unreal things we saw in Iceland. Pieces of glacier strewn across the beach, seals playing on these glaciers and seeing the glaciers float in the never ending ocean. Its the kind of place that will make you wow to yourself never to use a plastic spoon, never to drive in that car without a person, never to do any thing that causes damage to this beautiful thing god made- that we call mother earth! We spent over an hour here just mesmerized by the sheer beauty. We actually crossed Jokulsarlon on Day 4 in the evening, and even in the darkness we were mesmerized by this place! The next time I visit Iceland, I am definitely camping here and witnessing the sunrise.
After Jokulsarlon we wanted to take a dip in the Hoffell Hot Tubs but sadly they were closed for cleaning- bummer! 😦
Day 6: MYVATN- GODAFOSS- AKUREYI- IS [HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: GRJOTAGJA CAVE, ASBYRGI]
Another packed day because of including Asbyrgi at the last minute….
Stop 1: Hverir Mud Pits: We were staying in Myvatn and started the day exploring Lake Myvatn and the mud pits. For some reason the mud baths did not fascinate me- the view and the smell reminded me of our school chemistry lab- chemistry a subject I dreaded and lab a place I hated. But Grjotagja Cave was fun.
Stop 2: Grjotagja Cave. You aren’t allowed to swim in the cave but can go deep inside by climbing on the small rock formations. The way the light reflected in the game-of-thrones fame cave was so pretty! From here we went
Stop 3: Dettifoss Waterfall: KD and I had earlier contemplated using this day to hike to Askja lake. However, I also wanted to see the more touristy places and we only had time to pick one option- so off we drove to Dettifoss waterfall. The half mile walk till the waterfall had a very interesting landscape and the waterfall itself was pretty too, but not worth the hype. We had got accustomed to being so amazed at things in Iceland that this seemed meh!
Stop 3: Asbyrgi Lake: That morning, someone suggested we visit Asbyrgi lake. They had me at the Elves story! It is said Santa’s Elves lived at this lake! Now we had to had to go there! 🙂 While its a mere 25km from Dettifoss the road to Asbyrgi is terrible! So a 30 minute drive becomes over an hour long.
At Asbyrgi I cursed myself even more for not booking a place to stay in Husavik given it was just 60 km from Asbyrgi- we have to drive over double the distance to IS and then back to Husavik the next day 😦
Stop 5: Krafla Geothermal Area- nothing much to write about except the scenic view from top
Stop 6: Godafoss. By the time we reached Godafoss KD and I were so tired and so hungry we were fighting with each other for the lamest reason. But the minute we reached Godafoss, our attention got diverted from our fight to the sheer beauty of this magnificent waterfall! Oh it was spectacular! Despite our fatigue we were drawn to the beauty of this waterfall. We spent only 10 minutes here and regretted wasting our energy spending close to 2 hours at Dettifoss!
Stop 7: Akureyi: Akureyi is such a sweet charming town with many places to eat. Stop here for a meal and do take a walk around this town. Do try the vegan desserts at Blaa Kannan Cafe. P.S.: There is also a little India eatery here.
Day 6: IS- HUSAVIK-SKOGASTRONG [HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: WHALE WATCHING]
Because of my stupid planning, we had to drive 80 miles extra on a trip which already had no dearth of car ride! But Husavik made it worth it. How how pretty was this town! Had I found a place to stay here, I definitely would have. We reached Husavik at around 11:00am and left immediately for our 3 hour long whale watching trip. This was again one of the most enjoyable day of our trip because we saw a school of 5 whales! And whales btw are solitary animals so even our guide was surprise to see 5 whales so close together, interacting with each other. We went towards the end of the season, and the whales were beginning to make their migratory journey of thousands of kms, and making that journey in such a large group was verey very rare according to our guide.
If you are going in the lean season, I highly recommend one of the smaller 6 seater speed boats instead of the traditional boats, because how it works is that you hear the whale in distance, or see it pump out a burst of water, and try to go to that point to catch a close-up glimpse of the whale. Often the boat takes 2-3 minutes to reach and by then the whale is back under the water and you are only left guessing how far and in which direction the whale will emerge next. The smaller speed boats are quick and on spotting a whale from afar you can reach them way way quicker and see them closer.
Day 7: Skagastrond- Reykjavik- Keflavik [HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: BLUE LAGOON]
We left from our Airbnb in Skagaströnd for Reykjavik. The plan was to explore Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach which was such a dampner! The geothermal pool here was STUFFED full of people- it made quite an unappealing site. The beach wasn’t much to write about either- the water is cold, in case you were wondering! We did however med two amazing hitchhikers who added a lot of flavor to our day, sharing their Lithuanian stories. After window shopping at Laugavegaur street (and I say window because everything was soooo expensive) we went of to Blue Lagoon.
Blue Lagoon was so much fun- words cant explain the vastness of the lagoon, despite parts of it being under construction. Yes I want to be close to nature, but I sure don’t mind a beer in my hand while I’m at it 😉 (of well! in my hand was a smoothie – but you know what I mean). The turquoise color water has such a calming effect! And while the lagoon may seem crowded at first you can find lots of quite secluded spots and have them all to yourself!
Iceland has something new to offer everyday. Yes it was one of those trip where you need a vacation post returning from your vacation because of all the driving, and there are many things we would do differently in hindsight, but it was one of our most memorable trips. We are already planning to go back in winter soon! 🙂