Southern Iceland and Beyond
Surely by now you have seen photos of Iceland plastered all over social media. You are probably thinking “wow, so beautiful! I want to go!” I thought the same thing, but there were some things I wish I would have known before going. In this post I will discuss some of those as well as our itinerary including some of the must see locations.
My husband and I flew out of Boston with a direct flight (5 hours) to Keflavik, Iceland. The airport has several rental options with competitive prices. I believe that the best way to experience Iceland is by car. Depending on the time of year you go I would recommend getting a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Some of the roads are very rough and not designed for cars that are low to the ground. Definitely get the insurance. American insurance companies will generally not cover you while in Iceland. The possibility of the vehicle being sandblasted is very high and I would not want to be stuck paying for the damage. Get the insurance while booking online. The price will increase if you wait until you are at the check out counter.
Another transportation option is a campervan. With all the hype surrounding #vanlife a campervan sounds amazing. I looked into it and it ended up being less expensive for us to stay in hotels for our entire trip instead of rent a campervan. It was also nice to have a bathroom and breakfast included with our hotels. There is a certain freedom that comes with staying in a campervan, but due to the recent change in Icelandic law which requires visitors to stay at a campsite it has made camping difficult. Many campgrounds close in September which also complicates this issue further.
Keflavik is about 22 miles from Reykjavik. We stayed our first three nights in Reykjavik. While the possibilities are endless in Reykjavik (from hostels, AIRBNBs/VRBOs, chain hotels and smaller/boutique style accommodations) that fit any budget, they become more scarce the farther away you get from Reykjavik. If you do not have the hotels.com app I would highly recommend it. This is where I was able to find all of the hotels in our price range with the amenities that we wanted.
Our flight got in at 4:30 am and needless to say we were pretty tired. After getting our car and driving to Reykjavik we spent the rest of the day exploring the city. Reykjavik is located on the west coast of Iceland. It is the country's capital and largest city. It's home to the National and Saga museums which trace Iceland’s Viking history. The striking concrete Hallgrimskirkja church and rotating Perlan glass dome offer sweeping views of the sea and nearby hills. Reykjavik is well known for the late-night clubs and bars in its compact center.
Not far out of the way as you travel towards Reykjavik lies the Blue Lagoon. The Lagoon is located in Grindavík about 45 minutes from Reykjavik and 20 minutes from the airport. You are required to make a reservation and will want to make it at least a week in advance, and maybe more. The lagoon books up very quickly.
My husband and I decided to skip the Lagoon. This is a giant tourist trap. Know that there are several other hot spring options that are not nearly as commercialized or expensive.
Woke up early to drive to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula for sunrise at Kirkjufellsfoss. We got there early enough that we were already done taking photos before the tour buses arrived. You will want to do the same if you want photos without a million strangers in them.
From there we continued on to the Arch Rock at Arnarstapi, the Búðir Church, and the Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs near Malarrif to name a few. If you are really feeling adventurous you could take a tour of Vatnshellir Cave.
We woke up early again to start our drive on the golden circle. We made it to Öxarárfoss just in time for sunrise. This is another good day trip from Reykjavik that takes you to the three most popular natural attractions in Iceland, Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir National Park.
This was our last morning in Reykjavik. We slept in a bit and grabbed breakfast in the city before heading out on what turned into our waterfall day. This was the start of the Ring Road (Route 1) for us. Make sure your car is fueled up and you have plenty of snacks before heading out because amenities are scarce between Reykjavik and Vik. Approximately 2 hours from Reykjavik lies the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. There is a parking fee here but if you continue to the next parking area at the Gljúfrabúi waterfall the parking is free. From that parking lot you can walk to Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall is unique because you can walk behind the falls and feel the true force of the water. Gljúfrabúi is located inside a canyon and cannot be seen from the road. Skógafoss is the next major attraction on the ring road. This is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls known for its rainbows on a sunny day.
We had stayed just outside of Vik so a good part of the day was spent exploring the area around Vik. Dyrhólaey Peninsula is a small detour off the Ring Road. It is home to an abundance of birdlife and is most known for the massive rock arch, a result of centuries of erosion. There are two parking areas here, the tour buses only go to the lower parking area due to the steep road. The upper area may be closed during puffin nesting season (late April to mid August). Reynisfjara is a world famous black sand beach just outside of Vik. Reynisfjara is known for its enormous basalt stacks, roaring Atlantic waves and stunning panoramas. There is some local Icelandic folklore surrounding the basalt columns. Be aware of the sneaker-waves, they can stretch much farther up the beach than one might expect.
We spent the night in Hofn about 15 minutes from Diamond Beach so we could be there for sunrise. Jökulsárlón is Iceland’s most popular glacial lagoon. The lake fills with melt water and icebergs that have broken from the Breiðamerkurjökul glacier. Some of the icebergs tower several stories high. Diamond Beach is located just on the other side of the road. This beach is known for the ice that washes up on shore. The ice contrasts with the black sand and looks like diamonds glistening in the sun. This place doesn’t even seem real, it looks like something out of a movie. I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes, definitely a must see.
This was our last day before our flight home. We decided to take a tour through an ice cave. If this is something that interests you, check out this guide to decide what kind of tour would be right for you based on your skill level. From there we started the long drive back to Reykjavik before our flight home in the morning.
In timing your visit, consider that the number of daylight hours can have unanticipated physical and emotional effects. In early summer there is never complete darkness and the sun stays low to the horizon (midnight sun). Spring and fall daylight hours are roughly the same as in North America or Europe. Days in mid-winter have only 4 or 5 hours of sunlight. These fluctuations are even more extreme in the northern part of the country.
Also note that food is SUPER expensive in Iceland so I would recommend packing as many snacks as possible to help cut down on cost.
If you are planning a trip to Iceland and this blog peaked your interest consider checking out my guide on Wild Bum. Included in the guide are tips on where to eat, where to stay, and hidden gems along the way that are not included in this post. Also included is a packing list, tour suggestions, tips and links on several things including the northern lights. I spent months researching before going and learned several things while being there that I wish I knew ahead of time.
Happy Travels! And Don't Forget to Pet an Icelandic Horse!!!!!
No comments posted.
Recent Posts24 hours in Greater Portland Guide to Havasupai Rafting - The Grand Experience Pack it 'Out' Pack it In, Let me Begin (Hiking 101) How I Beat the Winter Blues New Zealand Take Me Back! Southern Iceland and Beyond Angels Landing VS Observation Point Thoughts of a Sheepdog Ha’ikū Stairs the Ever Muddy and Legal Way