The first question that must have come to your mind – Why Iceland??
To simply put – Iceland is a bundle of most dramatic natural spectacles on the planet.
You will agree to this statement the moment you land in Iceland and start your own adventures. So lets start with few basic checklist and then I will share my trip itinerary details and quick tips along the way.
#Tip 1: Iceland is quite expensive, but if you plan it in advance, you can save a lot of $$$. Trust me!
- Best Time to Visit Iceland: Each season is unique to its own. It depends what your interests are.
- Summer(May end to Aug): Lots of day light, you get almost 22 hours of daylight. It gives the flexibility to start your day late without worrying to return early. We went during the last week of May, I believe that turned out pretty good. It was just the start of tourist season. Hotel rates were still not bad.
- Winters: You get to see spectacular Northern lights ONLY in Winters. But keep in mind the day light is only from 10 am to 2 pm ( Just 4 hrs, yeah its true !!).
- Family Destination: Definitely Yes. We were 4 of us. Me, my wifey & 2 kids ( one was 4 yrs and other was 10 months). We faced no problem with 2 kids, even though one was an infant.
- Flights: We flew in & out of Reykjavik Int Airport. They have 2 airlines – WOW air and Icelandair. We found WOW air pretty awesome. Try booking at-least 21 day in advance tickets to get good fares.
- Hotels: This require some planning. They have very few Hilton’s & Marriott’s. Most of them are very expensive. We had heard a lot about Airbnb, but never stayed until this trip. Here is our break down of the Stay:
- 3 Nights at Reykjavik ( For Blue lagoon, Golden Circle, Reykjavik City Tour) (Here is the link for our stay: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15802030) This apartment is 1 Bed room(queen bed) and one living room which has a convertible Sofa bed for 2 people & Full Service Kitchen. The Apartment is centrally located within walking distance to city center & other Reykjavik main attraction. Parking is just right on the street. Overall the apartment was perfect for a family stay and had everything which we needed ++ wifi Includ.)
- 1 night at Vik ( Iceland South Coast Tour, Black Sand Beach and lots of Waterfalls) en-route to Vik. Here is the link for our stay: (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4915432). Its a bread & breakfast and is newly renovated with some great views The host has only 2 rooms to rent out . The room was very small and had no kitchen but the breakfast provided by the host was pretty amazing. Accommodation at Vik are generally very expensive ranging around US$200 to US$500 .
- 1 Night at Hella ( Return next day from South Coast). This was the last day of our trip on our return from south coast. As we had to catch our flight the next day, we wanted to cover much of the 9 hrs drive from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon to Airport. We planned to cover first 5-6 hrs on journey the same day then took a halt at Hotel Hella and continued the remaining 2-3 hrs the next day just in time to reach back Airport. This planned worked really well.
- Food: Meals are quite expensive in Iceland. A single meal would just cost you double the amount that you would have paid in US.
#Tip 2: Best to book an Airbnb with full service kitchen. That way we were able to cook breakfast and dinner at the stay and pack for the lunch. This itself would save tons of money.
#Tip 3: Some grocery stores are really expensive. If you need to buy Milk or some grocery items you must shop at Kronan or Bonus only. They both accept US credit cards.
- Navigation: If you rent the Car Navigation from your rental agency, if will cost you around $15 a day. Well you can totally save on this spending if you have a smart phone ( which I believe most of you do) and google maps app. Save all your destinations on Google maps offline either before starting the trip or before you start for the day. Google Maps also works on GPS co-ordinates and this feature will simply amaze you( Credit to our friends’ Dipesh and Ruchi).
#Tip 4: Do carry a Car Cell phone charger. Voice Activated Google Maps Offline will guide you for all destinations.
- Cash/Money: No Need to take convert money to Icelandic Krona. All stores, gas stations and sites happily accept credit cards. When using Credit card, if given an option, always pay in local Icelandic currency, that way you get the best exchange rates.
- Gas Station: Iceland has the 3rd highest Gasoline prices in the world!! Even through Gas is quite expensive at about US$ 7.5 per gallon, but renting a car is still worth it. We filed gas at N1 pump stations, they also have a loyalty card.
#Tip 5: If you are pumping gas/petrol using a credit card, it will ask for a PIN. Credit card in US does not have a PIN but the ones in Iceland do. Don’t worry, its not a big deal. Most of the N1 gas stations are manned, you can go inside and ask them. If not, then you can buy a prepaid card from the pump.
Our flight reached Reykjavik early morning. Immigration was a breeze and within minutes we were at the Car rental location, which is located within Airport itself. After picking up the car we headed straight towards Blue Lagoon. Its a good idea to cover blue lagoon on the first day itself. Its en-route between Airport and the Reykjavik city. The distance from airport to city is around 40 mins, and Blue lagoon is located right in the middle of that. Its a great relaxation to soak in at warm waters of Blue Lagoon. Spent around 3-4 hrs at Blue Lagoon and headed straight back to our Airbnb stay.#Tip 6: Plan to book Blue Lagoon in advance.
We started for the famous Golden Circle. Couldn’t ask for a better weather. Have heard so much about this scenic drive..We were really excited that the day has finally arrived to explore Iceland’s most popular route.
This is a circular route which covers 3 beautiful attractions: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. So instead of driving back and forth, people normally drive a short circle. The actual driving time may only be 3 hrs, with stop along the way it could easily take around 8-9 hrs.
Þingvellir National Park: Its a natural beauty. There are 2 stops here. One is a road sign & map, here you can park the cars to admire the scenic mountains. Second stop is the actual national park, where you can park the car and stroll around for few minutes. This is also where the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly splitting apart from each other, creating deep fissures in the ground.
Geyser geothermal area: Our next stop on the Golden Circle trip was this Geyser place. There are 2 famous geysers, the place smells like rotten eggs. This place will remind you of Yellowstone National park in the US. Warm up with some hot delicious soup ( a.k.a SUPA). This was the best soup we had in Iceland.
Gullfoss waterfall: Our Next highlight of this Golden Circle tour was the spectacular waterfall called Gullfoss. It was a perfect sunny day to visit this splendid waterfall. There are 2 parking spots, either to park on the same road and descend a long staircase or a secret parking lot just before the main lot, lower parking lot, a small beautiful roads descends down and takes you right across the waterfall.
The best part of this waterfall is that you can walk on the trail and reach all the way to the top of the rock where you can be really close to the waterfall. The river rushes 40 km from the Highlands before cascading into a two-step gorge at the Gullfoss waterfall; with one step being 11 m high and the other step 22 m high. Certainly the most beautiful waterfall in the world!
Our next stop was Fredhiemar, this place is famous for its tomato soup with homemade bread and cucumber salsa but the place got closed by the time we reached there.
Kerio Crater Lake: Our final big stop on the Golden Circle was Kerio Crater Lake. We pulled into the parking lot as the sun was beginning to set on this red volcanic crater covered in green vegetation. The bottom is filled with a deep blue shade of water that sets off the red & green colors on the crater itself. Hiking down to the bottom of the crater only takes 5 minutes.
Not as well known as the other attractions featured here, Kerio Crater is definitely worth a quick stop if you have the time.
We called it a day and went back to our Hotel in Reykjavik. ( Instead of driving all the way back to Reykjavik, had I known earlier, I would have tweaked my itinerary & booked my hotel for that night in Selfoss, which is very close to end of golden circle.)
Day 3: Reykjavik City Tour
We wanted to take this day easy with minimal driving and decided to cover the city on foot. From our Airbnb we took our car and reached our first spot.
- First stop – Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral. This is a good place to park your car and start the city tour. This cathedral has a striking tower visible throughout the city. We did a quick tour of the cathedral and took some snaps outside the tower.
- Braud & Co – (look for Frakkastígur lane on the way to Sun Voyager)This is a small bakery we found on our way… Found out later that its a very famous shop in the city. They have great cinnamon rolls and fresh breads. The fresh aroma of the breads will surely entice you to a 5 min pit-stop to grab a quick-bite.
- The Sun Voyager – This is a very scenic location. Sea on one side and city skyline of the other side.
- Harpa – This can be visible from Sun voyager. Just a 10 min walk. Its one a city’s great landmark and a cultural and social center in the heart of the city. Nothing much to do here expert there is a public viewing area on the 4th or 5th floor.
- Hard Rock cafe: I have a fascination to visit Hard rock cafe of every new city around the world, few years back I had a count, seems to have lost the count, but the passion to visit is still there 🙂 Anyways the hard rock cafe is like city’s downtown, you will see lots of visitors and lots of places to eat and drink.
- Park Austurvöllur: City center with a small park, right across the park is an Indian Restaurant – Gandhi. Across the street is the Old Parlament’s garden.
- Reykjavik City hall: There is a small monument just outside the center connected a small bridges and lots of ducks around the lake. This city center has a visitor center as well. Be sure to check with about about the road conditions of the Iceland’s south side and get a map from them.
- Head back to Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral through Bankstraeti and laugevegur, there are some good shops on this street to shop around.
We took the car and decided to explore few more places.
Perlan Museum was next on our bucket list. I have read that its one of the most visited attractions of Iceland with some breath taking views from its observation deck. It was worth a visit. Don’t miss it.
A day well spent!
Day 4: Drive to South Coast
This drive will mesmerize you and will leave you with lots of great memories. We started from Reykjavik at around 11 am. This is going to be a long drive but insanely scenic, packed lots of food and snacks for the journey as there wont be much food options along the way.
A lot of people ask me whether they can drive all the way to Jokulsarlon and drive back to Reykjavik in 1 day. Yes, it is doable, but I wont advise that option. Its a good idea to stop overnight somewhere near Vik. That way you can spent lots of time at most of the scenic spots.
We planned and booked in Advance at Vik. Its a beautiful village half way between Reykjavik – Jokulsarlon and a good pit-stop to fill the gas tank.
#Tip 7:Plan to book your night stay at Vik well in advance.
Seljalandsfoss: We reached our first spot at around 3. This is Iceland most famous & gorgeous waterfall – Its one of a rare waterfall where you can go on the back side of the waterfall.
On a clear sunny day, from this point, the drive to Vik will be simply hold you spellbound. There will be numerous waterfalls one after another that you would just amaze you.
Skogafoss: This is one of the largest waterfall in the Iceland. There is a staircase besides the waterfall which will take you to the top. We hiked to the top of the waterfall to catch some amazing views of the river that lead to this waterfall and Icelandic highlands.
Plane Crash Site: We planned to skip this spot. It was directly not accessable by road. After parking, you need to walk 3 miles of an off beaten path.
Around 7, we reached Vik and got a warm welcome from our host at our B&B. She gave some delicious home baked bread with butter. Rested a little while, but anxious to explore Back Sand Beach.
Black Sand Beach: We reached the beach at 8pm, it was still bright and sunny. This may be the first place in Iceland trip where you will start to feel cold. Be sure to take heavy jackets, caps and gloves with you. The name is aptly given due to its black sand. There exists the famous basalt columns, which will leave you to think how can such pyramidal columns be created by mother nature. Overall the beach is very picturesque.
After this we headed back to our B&B. What a fantastic day!
Day 5: Drive to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
There is a sight just a mile away on the mountain top in Vik, it provides an awesome view of Vik and Black sand beach.. Don’t miss it.
This is the day we are finally going to see a Glacier – Europe’s largest Glacier. We were quite excited. This day will have lots of driving but its totally worth it. Once you reach the see the first visit sight of the Vatnajökull glacier, its going to be epic!
Fjaðrárgljúfur: This place was suggest by our b&b host. It was a last minute surprise addition to our itinerary. Definitely worth it. It was probably the most spectacular canyons I have ever visited.
On the way there are a few water falls that I have marked in the map.
Before Svartifoss, there is a small place to park your car and watch the Glacier. On a good clear day, this view will blow up your mind.. it so beautiful and scenic that its really hard to believe..
Jökulsárlón Glacier : The final destination for the south coast tour. Here you will see glaciers pieces floating around. We took a boat tour to visit Glacier up close and was spell bounded with the pure blue-green color glaciers.
Diamond beach: As the name suggests, when we reached the beach, it feels like lots of diamonds scattered all around the breach.
Time to head back to our hotel at Hella and start 4 hrs car journey..!
Finally, South Coast trip is totally worth it. The landscape changes every 5 mins and sometime you wonder – is this really part of earth??
Day 6: Hella to Airport
Hotel Hella was fine but breakfast was superb. Time to head back to Airport and say bye to Magnificent Iceland.
One interesting thing, as we were talking to some local folks, they suggested to use an alternative way to reach airport from Hella. This alternative route had no peaks, just plain roads, bypassed Reykjavik city with almost no traffic. The route is not only scenic but short as well.
All well that end’s well! Had a fantastic 6 day vacation in Iceland, the memories of the landscape will be remembered forever.
I hope that my blog will help you in your Icelandic adventures!