Rent a car!
Would HIGHLY recommend renting a car to see the rest/more of Iceland. It gives you flexibility to do and see what you want and make stops or detours. It also will be cheaper than doing organized day trips. When selecting a car to rent, I would NOT choose the cheapest option (like we did). Instead, I would make sure that a) the car has 4-wheel drive b) it is higher above the ground than, say, a sedan or station wagon. You do not want to have to worry about the bottom of your car getting screwed up when you go through pot holes on gravel roads. c) it is nice to have the option to go off-roading (on F roads) if you want to
We used Geysir Rentals, recommended by a friend who traveled to Iceland. I’m sure others are just fine as well, as there are other well known rentals like Enterprise, Hertz, Avis, etc in Iceland. Geysir Rentals worked well for us. Make sure to specify AUTOMATIC if you do not want to deal with stick shift/manual. Also, note the different type of insurance available. We were told that road assistance is not great in Iceland (and that made sense to me when we were driving the country because often roads would be very desolate and empty). Thus, we were hoping we would not get a flat tire or have any other issues.
Geysir rentals offered a wifi device as an option. We did this and it was one of the better decisions we made. They gave us a hot spot that 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 and use this all the time. We ended up bringing it with us when we were hiking or going places that we didn’t have wifi because it essentially was just a hotspot. It was very helpful for looking up directions and for finding information on sites nearby
Depends how long of a trip you want to take
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)
Book in advance
Very busy during the day so 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. I do not know what happens if you get there after 8:00. I imagine this is not an issue, but I did not want to risk it. It is probably a larger problem at busier times, if at all.
Do NOT put your hair under the water. They tell you if you condition it well before and after, you will not have problems. However, my hair was gross for three days after visiting the Blue Lagoon.
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 though and a cool experience.
We spent about 1.5 hours in the lagoon and then we were easily ready to go. The package you purchase affects what amentities 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. They give you a wrist band at check-in 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 (ie more drinks) and pay on the way out.
This is about 45 minuets outside of Reykjavik so it is easy to do it while staying there. We drove with our rental car there, but there is also a shuttle bus you can look into taking to get there from Reykjavik.
This is the direction we drove it in, starting from Reykjavik, you can also do it backward. In one day, we did the Golden Circle, then did the hike in Hverageroi – 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 7:00 pm. We had enough time to do all these things, and did not rush until the end, but we also did not dawdle. If you want to have more time, perhaps consider doing this and booking the Blue Lagoon at 8:00 pm. Then you can show up anytime between 8:00 and 9:00 pm
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.
About 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik
Almannagja Gorge (Mid-Atlantic Ridge; it’s the tectonic plate break between North America and Europe) – this is where a few scenes from Game of Thrones were shot. 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 . Look this up further if this interests you. 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 at this stop.
Pay for parking (about $5) and put slip in your window
About 45 minutes (60 km) from Pingvellir National Park
2 famous geysers here
There are also a bunch of other hot springs around here. You can smell the wonderful smell of sulfur here
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 after it shoots up.
Geysir has not “shot up” in a few years, but could still happen again
Free parking; there are some gift shops and a restaurant here
We probably spent about 30 – 40 minutes here.
10 minutes away from the geysers (you will drive back through the geyser area to continue on the Golden Circle after this stop because you must go a bit off the “circular” route to get to the waterfall – out and back piece.
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.
Along with the giant waterfall, the panoramic views are beautiful. 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
Pay about $4 for entry
You can walk around the rim of the crater and 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.
Hot spring capital of the world
Hverageroi is on the Golden Circle. 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’s a small little café and restrooms at the beginning of the hike.
3 km hike (one-way so 6.6 km round trip). The hike takes about 1 hour to do one way. It goes up a lot at first and then is more rolling hills. Relatively easy hike. You will walk along/by many hot springs and see 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 many people complete this hike for that reason. There are some changing areas, but they are simply boards in the shape of a cross so you will still need to hold a towel up to shield yourself while changing in one direction since they are open. Up the river, it is much warmer, at some points it was too hot to sit in. You can test out the different areas and find the temperature that suits you. We did not have water shoes, but if you have them, they would’ve been nice to wear in the water as the ground is gravel/rocks in the river.
Bring a towel and swimsuit!!
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’ll see a lot more hot springs in the air, and it will be quite steamy. We had to wait for some of the “fog” aka 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/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 do this hike easily:
From Reykjavik (about 45 minutes away)
Along the Golden Circle (on the way or at the end)
Before or after the Blue Lagoon
On the way down or back from south Iceland (to Vik or another area of South Iceland)
Turf Houses are the traditional Icelandic housing
We decided not to visit this. If you want to, head towards Hela. Then follow signs soon after to Kledur. It looked like it was about 16 km outside of Hella, but not positive. We did not go because we read that it was interesting but there was a hefty entrance charge. While driving the South of Iceland later in the week, we ended up seeing a few along the drive.
About 1.5 hours away from Reykjavik
Large waterfall; you can see it as you approach from the road. 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
Bathrooms and small food stand with food and some drinks (ie coffee to go)
Shortly after Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Take a left off the road where you see a sign saying Seljavellir if coming from the waterfall. Then you will follow a shrot road that then leads to a dirt path that leads up to a parking lot. We ended up not 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
You can also see this waterfall from the road when driving up.
Climb up the side of the waterfall on the stairs to have a nice view from the top as well.
This is 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.
Glacier you see when in Skogafoss Waterfall area. We turned left off the road (when heading from Reykjavik to Vik) and followd 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 in Iceland. 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).
Cool to check out the edge of a glacier
We spent about 45 minutes here (including the walk out and back)
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’ll 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 nerveracking 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.
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.
Hexagonal shaped rocks on the beach
Huge, and you can climb on some of them
More impressive than I thought they would be, worth checking out
About 5 minutes off the road, follow signs that lead down to the beach. If heading towards Vik, it’s 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).
View of Arch (can see the arch partially from here out on the beach)
Nice to walk along
BEWARE: very dangerous here at high tide as the water comes up high and is very strong
View of the Reynishverfi Rocks and other interesting rock forms around here. The water has carved out some small caves/pieces in the mountain, which also makes for interesting rock formations. Very beautiful out here
Small town, good area to stay in or near. In the summer, hotels book quickly. When I looked, everything was booked so we got a guesthouse nearby that we found on airbnb. It was about 8 km away from Vik and was perfect. It was fine not being right in the town, just needed a place to stay in the South region so we could see some of the sights out here and on the south east coast.
A few restaurants here and a gas station – (Note: if driving east, this will be the last gas station you see for awhile)
Grocery store – which we used to get snacks and get food to make dinner one night
About 2 miles off the main road on the way to Jokulsarlon
About 0.75 hike out to 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. Very pretty canyon
Moss covered lava field – the largest ever)
Drive through this on way to Jokulsarlon
Pull out point where you can walk around a bit of the moss covered lava.
Very large and impressive. You cannot miss it. There are other lava flows visible beforehand, but this one you hit after about 45 minutes to 1 hour of driving.
National park (on the way to Jokulsarlon, slightly off the road)
Hike 1.8 km out to this waterfall. Relatively easy hike; mostly up hill on the way there and downhill on the way back.
Start from the Visitor’s Center
Cool waterfall with hexagonal shaped rocks at the top and broken/cut short as it goes down
About 3 km hike out
We did not do this, but supposed to be a slightly more challenging hike than the one to Svartifoss Waterfall
Beautiful Ice Lagoon. You can see the glacier as you’re approaching the destination, but the Ice Lagoon pops up quickly 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.
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.
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, and also raises the temperature.
Land and water vehicle (like those Duck boats we have in the US)
Takes you out on the water for about 25 minutes to see the glaciers from the water
Large boats that fit a lot of people and run rather frequently. Likely do not need to book in advance, but you can
Smaller boat tour – this is what we did with Ice Lagoon Tours
Boat holds about 14 people
Boats always go out at least 2 at a time (in case something happens in the lagoon)
1 hour boat experience plus 45 minutes for prep (30 beforehand for getting dressed and driving to the starting point and 15 minutes afterward for undressing and getting back)
They give you 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. They also give you a life jacket.
Amazing tour; very cool 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.
Highly recommend doing this! Very cool
Costs 9500 Icelandic Kuna (about $95)
If you’re there in 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
We saw seals, and 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 how dark blue it was. Not much oxygen was in the iceberg yet, which affects how it reflects the light
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 largely 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 (but does get up close to some of the pieces, still not the large ones though).
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.
Largest glacier in Europe found on the east side of Iceland
Found on the west side of Iceland, about 2 hours north of Reykjavik
Long, giant hexagonal columns stretching for about a kilometer. They are huge, and you will not grasp an idea on the size until you stand next to one
About 1 mile off the main road
Drive by when close to Gerduberg Basalt Columns
Can see it from the road
Can hike out to it (we did not)
Sudur Restaurant and Bar – in Vik
We went to the grocery store in Vik and purchased food to cook dinner one night, as well as snacks and food for other meals while driving for other
ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL. I wish I had had 10 days in Iceland to do the whole ring road. We got a lot done in the 5 days we had, covering a lot of the South region. It would’ve been fun to hike some more too, but we saw a ton of beautiful sights and did some short hikes each day.
Most roads outside of Reykjavik are one lane, each side. Thus, there is a good deal of passing occurring.
Ring Road is a nice road for driving. Note that there are a LOT of side roads that you can take, many not marked on the map. There are also many F roads, which tend to be more dirtlike roads. Certain cars are equipped for this (ours was not). Also, only some rental insurance covers driving on these roads so make sure to beware of this beforehand; if it only has 2-wheel drive, the insurance likely doesn’t cover it. You need 4-wheel drive at least on these roads and you also want a car that is higher from the ground.
Beware of wind; if strong, it 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)
Changes a lot so pack for anything (you could be on a glacier, or you could be swimming in a warm lake; you could be driving through rain for a few minutes and then in a sunny area shortly after)
You’ll want a backpack for traveling
Bring lots of water
Use the Bonus stores for snacks and water bottles
Pretty much everywhere accepts credit cards (even some bathrooms stops where you have to pay – I noticed this at Gullfoss Waterfall – but usually need coins for bathrooms where you pay)