In 8 short days you can venture around the entire country of Iceland on its sole highway known as the Ring Road.
Iceland is called the land of fire and ice and it sure lives up to that name. Around the island are volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, sea cliffs, geysers, mountains, oceans, valleys, and more. I like to say that Iceland is one giant national park- which it technically is since most of the country is protected and 90% of the population lives in Reykjavik. Most of the grand natural marvels of Iceland are located right off the side of the highway. You will see so many waterfalls that you will begin to pass some without stopping.
Iceland’s weather on the other hand can produce minor setbacks in your travel itinerary. The locals say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour”, but this hour can turn into an entire day. Many people suggest adding an extra day for waiting out the poor weather. In order to accommodate extra time in my itinerary, I planned to visit the city of Reykjavik at the end. I prefer to explore nature more than touring cities and could squeeze Reykjavik into one day if necessary- which it wasn’t.
Visiting in the summer months will hold an added bonus for animal lovers. Literally, everywhere you look you’ll find a baby-something. Keep an eye out for my next blog on wildlife viewing in Iceland. Visiting in the winter will gift you with panoramic views of the northern lights. I was able to see them this winter in Alaska. Traveling off season in the winter usually comes with a major discount, too!
Iceland is a great place for a first time solo trip! I had planned my trip solo, but my mom decided to join me. I landed at 4 am and she was supposed to land at 7am, but there was this whole ordeal with the weather and running out of fuel, so they turned back for Canada and didn’t arrive in Iceland until 7pm. They landed at a military base in the middle of nowhere and were trapped on the plan for hours. True story, it made national news. I had planned to take it easy that day in Reykjavik anyways because of the redeye flight, so I toured the city and checked into my hotel in the meantime.
Lodging: Outside of Reykjavik, it is difficult to find an actual hotel. Farm stays are very popular, but still very pricey. I also stayed at a dormitory in a school which closes down for the summer and opens as a hotel- quite interesting. Another trending option is to rent a van and sleep in the converted back. In Iceland, you can park anywhere you like and sleep in your vehicle, or pitch a tent.
Prices: Iceland was the most expensive place I have ever visited. There are no ‘budget travel’ options here. Remember that tax is included in all prices- which sort of makes you feel a little better about the high prices.
Explore Reykjavik: Museums, Harpa, Wharf
There is a lot to see and do in Reykjavik. The good thing is that it is all within walking distance. I went to The Culture House, The Harpa Concert Hall, and walked the wharf. If you don’t have to take a second trip to the airport like I did, then you might be able to fit in more museums like the ones I visited on day 7.
Þingvellir National Park, Diving Between the Silfra Fissure
Thingvellir Park is about one hour outside of Reykjavik and can be toured in a day. The road that goes through the park is known as the Golden Ring Road. Here you will find geysers, a crater lake, the divide of the North American and European tectonic plates, hot springs… the list goes on and on. Be sure to have a map of the park!
Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Turf Homes, Vik Beach, Mýrdalsjökull Glacier
I began my Ring Road travels Southwest towards the city of Vik. Our first stop was actually in the city of Selfoss. We found out the hardway that this is not the location of the waterfall Selfoss… Don’t make this mistake, too. The word ‘foss’ in Icelandic means waterfall, so if you see this at the end of a word it usually means a waterfall. The Selfoss waterfall is located in the Northwestern region of the country and can be visited on day 5.
Seljalandsfoss is the famous waterfall that you can hike behind. It gets pretty wet, so don’t forget your raincoat – and rain pants.
It is literally impossible to miss these landmarks, as they reside just meters off the highway, but there are plenty of signs to direct you toward them as well. Turf homes are all over the country. Once you see one, just pull over.
Skogafoss is a nice place to break for lunch. There are two restaurants and a gift shop located nearby.
Vik beach is the world’s most famous black sand beach. There is also a lighthouse and a downed plane in this area that many people go to photograph.
Mýrdalsjökull Glacier is the place to go to hike a glacier. We chose to just hike around the skirt of it. It is a beautiful example of fire and ice in Iceland. The black streaks are volcanic ash that mixed in with the glacial ice.
Svartifoss in Skaftafell (AKA Vatnajökull) National Park, Ice Cave Tour (winter only), Driving the Eastern Fjords
Svartifoss is located in Vatnajökull National Park. This is the only waterfall that requires a hike- of only one mile.
If you are visiting in the winter, this would be the best day to visit the popular ice cave in Iceland. The Eastern Icelandic Fjords is a gorgeous sea cliff drive. There are many turnoffs for photo ops. Unfortunently, it was extremely rainy when we passed through so I didn’t get many photos.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Dettifoss, Selfoss, Godafoss, Tar Pits, Mývatn Nature Baths, 6 Hour Drive to Akureyri
At the Glacier Lagoon, you are able to take a boat tour to get up close and personal with a few icebergs.
Godafoss is one of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls.
Dettifoss and Selfoss are located on the same fissure in Northeast Iceland.
The tar pits and vents were actually not on my to do list. But like I said, everything is right on the side of the highway so you won’t miss a thing.
This is also the day to stop at Mývatn Nature Baths if you were looking for a less crowded hot spring. Around the lake are all sorts of geothermal sites.
Tour Akureyri, 5 Hour Drive to Reykjavik
Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city, but honestly, there isn’t much to do here. There is a harbor, out of which I believe does whale watching tours, and a lot of shops. It is a great halfway point around the top half of the country.
Snæfellsjökull National Park was also on my list, but I didn’t get to visit. If you plan to visit the Western Fjords, add in two to three days extra. There are a lot of artic wildlife in this area.
Blue Lagoon, Viking World, Elf Homes Tour, Reykjavik continued
The Blue Lagoon is an amazing natural experience. Get more details on my Blue Lagoon travel guide.
Viking World is a great museum to learn more about the Viking’s history and culture.
The Elf tour is located in Hafnarfjordur. 75% of Icelandic people believe in elves and fairies and other magical creatures. This is a guided walking tour where the host points out elf houses and tells true stories about elf encounters in these locations. It is rather comical for a non-elf believer. The tour begins at the Hafnarfjordur visitor center. Call for dates, times, and pricing.
In Reykjavik, part two, we visited the Hallgrimskirkja Church, Leif Erickson Monument, the Sun Voyager, the Icelandic Phallological Museum, Saga Museum, and the Volcano House. Iceland was in it’s first ever major international soccer tournament while I was there. We watched the game in the town center on a megatron with half of the country present.
Puffin/Whale Watching Tour
This is the extra day and typically the day you are to depart. Flights leave at various times so it’s up to your flights if you can plan anything. For us, we took a puffin boat tour out of Reykjavik. In all of our 8 days around the entire island we did not see a single one. If you have never been whale watching, I also highly suggest that. It is the most incredible interaction with wildlife that you can have.
Iceland is becoming a very popular destination but the hotels are not keeping up with the demand. Be sure to book your accommodations before Spring ends. Popular excursions like the Silfra Dive, Ice Cave tours, and volcanic trekking also sellout quick. Lastly, keep an eye out for my upcoming blog: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Iceland!
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