We flew Iceland Air into Iceland and Norwegian air when departing. The main airport is located in Keflavik (KEF) and is about 40 minutes from the city of Reykjavik.
If renting a car while staying in Iceland, you can rent the car directly from the airport and take your rental car to your accommodations. If you are not planning to rent a car or will only rent the car for a portion of your trip, there is a very easy bus option from the airport to Reykjavik.
Flybus costs around 3000 Icelandic Kuna (about $30) and is a large bus shuttle service from the airport to your accommodations. I would highly recommend looking into this as an option since Iceland is very expensive. With the shared bus service being nearly $30, it will make for quite an expensive taxi ride. The bus leaves just about every 20 minutes and is quick. It makes stops at all the major hotels and guesthouses (do double check to find out what stop you need to get out at as the driver will ask you when you board the bus). The large coach bus takes you to the company’s location in Reykjavik where they then have smaller shuttle buses waiting to take people to different zones/locations.
There is free wifi on the buses. You can purchase these tickets right after exiting customs/the arrivals area; just follow the signs and look for the location to purchase tickets. They’ll then direct you where to catch the bus. We were renting our car a day later so we picked up our car in Reykjavik rather than at the airport. If you are picking up your rental at the airport, there is a short shuttle bus you can take to all the different car rental locations.
To access any areas outside Reykjavik, you will need a car or will need to be with an organized group. I would highly recommend renting a car to make the most of your trip and see the more of Iceland. It gives you flexibility to do and see what you want and make stops or detours. It will also be cheaper than doing organized day trips.
When selecting a car to rent, avoid choosing the cheapest option (like we did). Instead, make sure the car has 4-wheel drive and is higher above the ground (crossover vehicle). You do not want to have to worry about your car bottoming out when driving through pot holes on gravel roads. If desired, it is also nice to have the option to go off-roading (on F roads). This is not possible with some of the cheapest rental options.
Geysir Rentals was recommended by a friend who traveled to Iceland and worked well for us. Some of the more well known rental car options including Enterprise, Hertz and Avis are also available. If required, make sure to specify an automatic rental, but note that if you or someone you are traveling with likes driving manual, this will be a cheaper option.
When renting, there are different type of insurance available. We were told that road assistance is not great in Iceland. This was clear after we got out on the road in Iceland as often roads would be desolate and empty for long stretches. Thus, we were hoping we would not get a flat tire or have any other issues.
Among other amenities offered was a wifi device, which we opted to add to our rental. I would recommend spending a bit extra to have the wifi / hotspot as it allowed us to get wifi just about anywhere in the country. The only times we had trouble at first getting a connection was in very busy, out of the city areas (ie stops on the Golden Circle) because we suspect that a lot of people were trying to get data in those locations. Thus, we would just drive a short distance away and then have no issue. We had an unlimited amount of data we could use with this device, which meant we could keep our phones on airplane mode to save battery and use the wifi device at all times. This came in use for directions while navigating and also when we were out hiking. It was very helpful for looking up directions and for finding information on sites nearby
Where to stay will largely depend on how long of a trip you are thinking of taking and what is a priority. To see all that Iceland has to offer, you will need a longer trip. We had a five day trip and stayed in Reykjavik for a few nights and outside of Vik on the south side of Iceland for a few nights. This enabled us to see the city of Reykjavik, the South and the East. At our pace and interest level, we would have required a total trip length of about 10 days to see the rest of the island.
I would recommend staying somewhere on each point of the compass (ie somewhere on the West side – Reykjavik, somewhere on the South side – near Vik, somewhere on the East side, and somewhere on the North side. Since I did not stay in the east or the north, I do not know the best place to stay there. You also may want to stay somewhere in the West Fjords as that is a big sector as well).
Outdoor geothermal spa that draws in a lot of tourists. If you wish to go, make sure to book a visiting time / tickets in advance. This is one of the more touristy things you will do in Iceland. Note that the Blue Lagoon is right next to a geothermal power plant, as the water that heats the lagoon is from the plant (brought up from underground). The Blue Lagoon is pretty and a cool experience.
It gets very busy during the day so I would recommend going early or late in the day. We went at 7:00 pm which was perfect since we had the whole day to do activities and then ended our day here. A 7:00 pm reservation meant you had to arrive between 7:00 and 8:00 pm. We arrived slightly before 7:00 and we could still get in right away. Being summer in Iceland, it is light almost the entire day.
From personal experience, I would recommend not putting your hair underwater, especially those with longer hair like myself. Many will note that if you condition your hair well, you will not have problems. However, my hair was stringy and grimmy for three days after visiting the Blue Lagoon.
We spent about 1.5 hours in the lagoon and then we were easily ready to go. The package you purchase affects what amenities you receive. We purchased the comfort level, which included a towel, 2 different types of face masks, and a free drink of any kind at the bar. At check-in you are given a wrist band that becomes the key to your locker and also holds your free drink and face masks on it. You can use it to make purchases while in the lagoon (i.e. more drinks) and pay on the way out.
The Blue Lagoon is about 45 minuets outside of Reykjavik so it is easy to visit while staying in the city. We had our rental car and drove to the Lagoon, but there is also a shuttle bus you can look into taking to get there from Reykjavik.
The Golden Circle is a commonly driven route by Iceland visitors, especially those that only have a day layover in Iceland. You can drive the whole Golden Circle in about 3 hours. However, I would plan for 6-8 hours, as you will make stops and want to spend some time at each location. I thought this was a generous estimate on time, but we definitely spent about 6 hours on the route.
The order of our stops was as follows (but can be done in the reverse direction as well): Reykjavik, Thingvellir National Park, Haukadalur (Geysir and Strokkur), Gullfoss Waterfall, Kerid Crater Lake, Hverageroi and the Hella/Kleuder Turf Houses. In one day, we did the Golden Circle, stopped for a hike in Hverageroi (located along the Golden Circle route on your way back to Reykjavik), and then drove to the Blue Lagoon. We went slightly off the Golden Circle route to get from the Blue Lagoon to Hverageroi, but this drive was nice and part of it was along the shore.
We left at 9 am and had reservations at the Blue Lagoon at 19:00. We had enough time to do all these things, and did not rush until the end. If you want to have more time, perhaps consider doing this and booking the Blue Lagoon at 20:00 pm. Then you can show up anytime between 20:00 and 21:00. If visiting in the summer, it will be light most of the night.
Located about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik, the National Park is largely known for the Almannagia Gorge. The gorge provides a visible portion of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the tectonic plate break between North America and Europe. There are some places along this ridge where it goes through water nearby Iceland, notably Silfra; you can go scuba diving and swim in both North American and Eurasian waters at the same time and see where the continental plates meet. You will not see the waters at this piece on the Golden Circle, but just a note.
You can walk along the gorge and you’ll see a waterfall that goes along the gorge at one point. It is a very pretty area and nice to walk along the path. We probably spent about an hour visiting this stop. When you arrive, pay for parking (about $5) and put the slip in your window to show you have paid. For Game of Thrones fans, a few scenes were shot in the park.
The next stop is about a 45 minute drive (60 km) from Thingvellir National Park. Haukadalur is a geothermal valley and is home to two famous geysers, Strokkur and Geysir. Strokkur erupts about every 7 minutes so you can see it shoot up. You will get wet if you are standing on the side where the wind is blowing the water so be careful. Geysir has not “shot up” in a few years, but could still happen again. The area also has a lot of other hot springs, some much larger than others. Be careful while walking around here
Upon arriving, you may notice a strong and strange smell. The source of the smell is the sulfur, which is naturally occurring in the hot springs. There is free parking in the parking log nearby. This stop also has a restaurant and gift shop. We probably spent about 30 – 40 minutes at the stop.
This giant waterfall is a 10 minutes drive from the geysers. To get to the waterfall, you take a slight detour off the larger Golden Circle route and will drive back through the geyser area to continue on the Golden Circle after this stop. At this stop, you can walk above the waterfall, as well as down stairs to walk up closer to the waterfall. The valley here is beautiful as well.
Make sure to take in the beautiful panoramic views here. You can see large stretches of land, the valley, mountains, and even a glacier out in the background. We spent about 30 – 40 minutes here.
This beautiful lake is found within a crater. It costs $4 for entry where you can walk around the rim of the crater and also down to the bottom. Walking the rim takes about 15 minutes and walking to the bottom takes about 5 minutes. We were here for about 30 minutes.
Hverageroi is on the Golden Circle and is the hot spring capital of the world. Head into the town and drive through it on the main road. This will only take a few minutes. Then follow signs to Reykjadalur (continue past the town on the main road and you should see signs). You will follow the road for about 5-10 minutes before reaching the end, which is a parking lot. There is a small little café and restrooms at the beginning of the hike.
The hike is just over 3 km one-way (6.6 km round trip) and takes about 1 hour each direction. The beginning of the hike is a steady incline, and then moves into rolling hills. Overall, it is a relatively easy hike that winds around many hot springs and follows a river most of the way.
Your destination is a piece of the thermal river that may people swim and relax in since it is so warm. There are wooden boards put up now to maneuver around this piece of the river since it draws in hikers for this reason. There are some changing areas, but they are simply boards in the shape of an X so you will still need to hold a towel up to shield yourself while changing in one direction as they are open.
In the area where people get in the water, there is a significant change in temperature throughout the river. Up the river, it is much warmer, and at some points even too hot to sit in. You can test out the different areas and find the temperature that suits you.
Bring a towel and a swimsuit so you can enjoy the natural warm river. We did not have water shoes, but if you have them, they would have been nice to wear in the water as the ground is gravel/rocks in the river.
Once you find the start of the hike, there’s really only one clear way out and back. Towards the “end”/point where you can swim, you will see a lot more hot springs in the air, and it will be quite steamy. We had to wait for some of the steam to pass at times to continue on the path, specifically when crossing the bridge.
TAKE CAUTION on this hike. It is very safe, BUT you should not go off the main path, as the ground is very active and boiling underneath. There have been some accidents where people have stepped on loose ground and burned themselves if the ground was thin or they got too close to a hot spring.
Note: there are a lot of flies in the summer, which are incredibly annoying. You will go stretches where they will not leave you alone and then pieces where you won’t have any. Some people have fly nets, but we did not
You can easily do this hike from Reykjavik (about 45 minutes away), stop along the Golden Circle (at the beginning or at the end depending on the direction you drive), before or after visiting the Blue Lagoon, or on the way down or back from South Iceland (to Vik or another area of South Iceland).
Turf Houses are the traditional Icelandic housing and this stop is about 90 minutes from Reykjavik. We opted not stop because we read that it was interesting but there was a hefty entrance charge. If you would like to stop, head towards Hela. Then follow signs soon after to Kledur. While driving the South of Iceland later in the week, we ended up seeing a few along the drive.
Large waterfall that you will see as you approach from the road. If driving south from Reykjavik towards Vik, this will be one of the first notable stops. There are a few smaller waterfalls along the same ridge. You can walk behind the waterfall, but make sure to bring a rain coat and dress appropriately because you will get wet.
There’s a cool place to take a photo right before going behind the waterfall, with a little ledge that has the whole waterfall in the background. There are bathrooms and a small food stand with food and some drinks.
Shortly after Seljalandsfoss Waterfall you will reach Seljavallalaug Pool. To reach the swimming pool, if driving from Seljalandsfoss, take a left off the road where you see a sign saying Seljavellir. Then you will follow a short road that leads to a dirt path and continues into a parking lot. We decided against checking out this pool as reviews said it was rather dirty looking. However, if you’d like to see it, it’s about a 15-20 minute hike from the parking lot area. It’s a man-made pool, but the water comes in from the mountains and is warm.
Another waterfall you will spot when driving up from the road. Take the stairs next to the waterfall and climb to the top to have a nice view over the waterfall. This marks the start of a long hike that many travelers do over a few days. I would highly recommend hiking some of it as it is BEAUTIFUL here. We walked about 2.75 km from the start of the waterfall back and then turned around. We saw many more waterfalls along the way. The path follows the river on the ledge above the valley for a while.
A glacier you see when in the Skogafoss Waterfall area. We turned left off the road (when heading from Reykjavik to Vik) and followed the road until it turned into a parking lot. There is a path out to the glacier, which is probably about 1 km away. We saw many people dressed in glacier walk gear (helmets, shoes, picks,etc.) with a guide. This looked like a cool thing to do, but we did not do this while on our trip. We spent about 45 minutes exploring this area.
You should not go on the glacier without a guide (we went on the edge without realizing it really was the glacier as most of it was covered in ash. However, we did not go far). If we had planned further in advance and had more time, it would have been an interesting experience to check out the edge of a glacier with the right gear.
Shortly before reaching the town of Vik, you will see a sign leading to Dyrholaey Arch. You take a right off the main road and follow this road for about 5 minutes. Then you will have the choice to either go very clearly up or follow the road straight. I would recommend doing both.
BEWARE: the road up is steep, gravel, and winds a lot. This was quite nerve-wracking in a small, low to the ground car that did not have 4-wheel drive. We made it up, but not without a lot of doubts. There are also a lot of potholes in this road, as is the case with any of the gravel roads. For this portion of the trip alone, I would recommend getting a car that is not low to the ground and has 4-wheel drive.
The view from the top is GORGEOUS! You have mountains and a glacier behind you when facing away from the water, then black sand beach at your left and right, and the ocean on the other side. Overlooking the ocean, near the lighthouse, you get a beautiful view of the Dyrholaey Arch. Make sure to walk around everywhere up top.
View from the lower area is nice as well. You can see part of the Dyrholaey arch from here, as well as more beach and mountains behind.
Famous rock formations found off the shore of a black sand beach at the southern point of Iceland. If heading towards Vik, take a right off the main road, (found after the Dyrholaey right turn option so go out and check out Dyrholaey, then get back to the main road and find signs for Reynisdrangar). The beach is just five minutes off the road and can be reached by following signs to the water. You can see the arch partially from out on the beach.
These hexagonal shaped rocks are found out on the black sand beach. They can be climb on and are overall large and impressive. The beach is nice to walk along and admire the small caves and interesting rock formations that the water has carved out. It is very beautiful out here. BEWARE: very dangerous here at high tide as the water comes up high and is very strong
This small town is found on the Southern point of Iceland. It is a small town and provides a good area to stay in or near when visiting the southern parts of Iceland. In the summer, hotels book quickly. There are guesthouses nearby available on rental websites like airbnb. The guesthouse we stayed at was about 8 km away from Vik and was perfect. It was fine not being right in the town as we just needed a place to stay in the South region so we could see some of the sights out here and on the southeast coast.
There are a few restaurants here and a gas station. Note: if driving East, this will be the last gas station you see for awhile so make sure to fill up your tank. The town also has a convenient small grocery store, which we used to pickup snacks and buy food to cook dinner one night.
This canyon is located about 3 km off the main road on the way to Jokulsarlon. It is about 0.75 mile hike out to a view point where there’s a waterfall and view of the canyon. There are a few other view points along the way while walking along top edge of canyon.
The largest ever moss covered lava field. You will drive through this on the way to Jokulsarlon, and provides a clear reason why Iceland is often referred to as the land of fire and ice. There is a spot for cars to pull off the road and visitors can walk around on part of the moss covered lava.
You cannot miss this massive lava field. There are other lave flows visible beforehand, but this one you hit after about 45 minutes to 1 hour of driving.
A national park just off the road on the drive to Jokulsarlon
Start from the Visitor’s Center and hike 1.8 km out to this waterfall. Overall it is a relatively easy and doable hike. The majority of the hike to the waterfall is uphill while the way back is downhill as it is an out and back route. The waterfall is interesting with hexagonal shaped rocks at the top and broken/cut short as it goes down
About a 3 km hike out to a glacier. We did not do this, but the hike was supposed to be a slightly more challenging hike than the one to Svartifoss Waterfall
Beautiful Ice Lagoon and easily one of the best experiences in Iceland as it was unlike anything I had experienced or seen before. As you are approaching the destination, you can see the glacier, but the Ice Lagoon pops up rather abruptly on you. It is blocked by rocks and then all of a sudden you get a peak of it and immediately will want to turn off the road and park to go check it out (this is what we did). The lagoon is full of large and small icebergs that broke off the glacier. They are white, light blue, dark blue and black. The different colors helps tell each icebergs story on how recently it broke off the main glacier.
Continue driving over the bridge and take a left to see the main lookout point. There are boat tours offered here and I would recommend doing one of them if you made the long drive out there. These are offered in the summer when the weather is better, but still not a guarantee. The lagoon is a warm 3 degrees Celcius. Funny enough, that actually is warmer than it used to be because the seawater comes into the lagoon, which is salt water, and melts the ice quicker. This is what causes the temperature to raise.
Offer boat tours with a land and water vehicle (similar to those Duck boats tours held in other parts of the world). The tour takes you out on the water for about 25 minutes to see the glaciers from the water. They use large boats that fit a lot of people and run rather frequently. These likely do not need to be booked in advance, but can be if desired.
Ice Lagoon Tours
Smaller boat tour (other companies as well) that take you out on the water in a smaller group and more intimate and worthwhile experience. The boat holds about 14 people and at least two boats always go at the same time (incase something happens while in the lagoon). The tour includes a 1 hour boat experience, in addition to 45 minutes of preparation before getting out on the boat (30 minutes spent getting dressed in the warm gear and driving the group to the starting poing, along with 15 minutes afterward to return the warm gear).
The tour group provides a warm full-body suit, which you will be glad you have as it is very cold out on the lagoon when in the boat. They recommend wearing a hat, gloves and scarf if you have any/all of these items. I just had a hat, but my hands definitely got cold by the end despite it being the beginning of July. They also give you a life jacket.
The tour was amazing and one I would definitely recommend. It was great to be out on the water and up close to the icebergs and glacier. You get closer to the glacier and move around more in the lagoon with this tour rather than the Zodiac Tour.
The tour costs about 9500 Icelandic Kuna (about $95). If you are visiting during busy season or have a large group, book ahead of time. We booked the night before and got lucky that there was availability, but we were also just a group of two. These tours run less often than the Zodiac tours and the boats can hold a lot less people
While on our tour, we were able to see seals and identified a piece of the iceberg that had freshly fallen off that morning. The guide saw it fall this morning, but knew this was the case because of its deep, dark blue color. Not much oxygen was in the iceberg yet, which affects how it reflects the light. On the other hand, the clear see-through pieces are the oldest pieces.
Only 10% of icebergs sit above the water, giving you an idea of how large they are underneath. This is why it is important that two boats go out at one time; the glacier is always changing and pieces are falling off, or moving around. Unlikley of course that anything will happen as the boat keeps a safe distance from the actual glacier.
Instead of taking a left off the main road to see Jokulsarlon lagoon when driving from Vik, take a right before the bridge to go see Diamond Beach. This is where a lot of icebergs wash onto shore. Depending on when you go, there may be a lot or very few icebergs and they could be huge or very small. Regardless, it’s worth checking out and walking along the beach to see what’s out there. You will easily see why it gets its name as Diamond beach as the broken off iceberg pieces glisten on the black sand beach.
Largest glacier in Europe found on the east side of Iceland
Giant, tall hexagonal columns that stretch for about a kilometer. These are found on the west side of Iceland, about 2 hours north of Reykjavik. They are huge, and you will not grasp an idea on the size until you stand next to one. The Columns are about 1.2 km off the main road and worth checking out.
This Crater is visible from the road when driving to Gerduberg Basalt Columns
While in Iceland, we ate most of our meals on the road or cooked ourselves. We went to the grocery store in Vik and purchased food to cook dinner at our guesthouse as it was cozy after a long and active day to eat at our accommodations.
One of the few restaurants found in Vik. There was a line to eat, but the restaurant was just fine with us wearing our outdoor close from the day’s adventures. We ate the local lamb, as they are in excess throughout Iceland. The food was tasty!
Most roads outside of Reykjavik are one lane, each side, but often are not busy. Since they are one lane roads, there is a fair amount of passing that occurs on the roads, but there are plenty of long stretches where this is easy and not dangerous. Make sure to pack water and snacks and also stop and fill up the gas tank whenever you pass by a gas station. There may be longer stretches where you are driving and will not see a gas station or pass any stores with food.
The Ring Road is a nice road for driving. From the Ring Road, there are a lot of side road options that you can take, many not marked on the map. There are also many F roads, which tend to be more dirt roads. Certain cars are equipped for this (ours was not) so take this into consideration before driving on them and deciding what car you would like to rent. Another important aspect to note is that only some rental insurance covers driving on these roads. If the car only has 2-wheel drive, it is unlikely that insurance covers driving on F roads. You need 4-wheel drive on these roads and will also want a car that is higher from the ground. Beware of wind as it can get strong and can blow your door open and dent the door.
Check Vedur.com for weather forecast and plan out routes beforehand (especially if you do not have wifi/data access). The weather can vary so pack for a variety of climates. You could be on a glacier on the same day you are swimming in a warm lake. The weather can also change quickly, where you are driving through rain for a few minutes and then in a sunny area shortly after. We found this to work in our benefit as we would let the weather determine when we would spend more time outside visiting a spot or get back in the car and continue pressing on.
Iceland was absolutely beautiful. I wish I had planned for 10 days in Iceland to do the whole ring road. We were able to see a lot in the five days we had, focusing mainly on the Southern half of the island. It would have been fun to have the opportunity to get out and hike more too, but we saw a ton of beautiful sights supplemented by short hikes at different locations.
Make sure to bring a backpack and travel with a lot of water. While traveling, take advantage of the Bonus Stores for snacks and water bottles. Nearly everywhere accepts credit cards, even some bathroom stops where you must pay.
Transportation and Accommodations
Things to do and see
Food and Drinks