Hi friends! I’m here to chat about one of the highlight trips I’ve ever had… Iceland! Iceland was on my bucket list for a few years so when James surprised me with a trip for my birthday, I cried tears. Yes. Actual tears. I’m here to finally write about our experience and some of the best things to do in Iceland.
In preparation for Iceland, there are so many online resources available with tips on what to see, where to go, best time of the year, yada yada. I did a ton of research and in short, I found that one of the best times of year to go is in September, when the summer tourism is over and there is still warm enough weather (warm as in 50-60 degree weather ha!). If you’re lucky and have the strength and courage to wake up in the middle of the night, you can also spot the Northern Lights! From weather to scenery to tourism peaks, you get the full show this time of the year.
Iceland Essentials Checklist
- Pocket Wifi Device: We used this one!
- Automatic Car (unless you enjoy driving manual) with capability to drive on F Roads. We rented from here! A lot of the roads to get to the pretty views require a car made for the F Roads!
- Lots of layers for clothing. Bring a beanie or warm hat + mittens if you tend to get cold.
- A swimsuit for the hot springs!
- Snacks. We didn’t bring any but wish we did. The food in Iceland is crazy expensive. Some people end up packing a suitcase full of food and paying for the extra suitcase to fly with them (it’s apparently cheaper than buying food there ha!). If you don’t want to bring snacks, be prepared to spend a lot of money. The best example I can give is I spent $15 on a small gas station veggie burger.
How to do Iceland the right way
When I first found out we were visiting Iceland, James mentioned we’d be road tripping around the entire island. I was stoked, as this was something we experienced in New Zealand. I envisioned waking up in a van, getting that POV shot of my socks with amazing scenic views. Turns out that no… We were going to rent a car and sleep in the car. A regular car hahah (see above). It took us one night to find out that this was the biggest mistake ever since temperatures drop exponentially at night. After a night of shivering and 3 hours of sleep, we decided to just spend the $200+ a night on last minute hotels and b&bs. Don’t make our mistake. Just don’t. Either opt for airbnbs along the way or rent an actual van you can sleep in.
Aside from that, here are the places we visited! I hope you enjoy the imagery and if you follow our route, please tag me on insta @danimeep and share your photos!
We arrived in Reykjavik and stayed for one night. We knew we didn’t want to stay too long, as most of the beautiful scenery is outside of the city.
Places to visit here:
- Mikkeller & Friends: Think hip Euro brewery where you channel your inner Peaky Blinders. Good beer, cool company, graphic design that’ll make you audibly say “aw!!”
- Vesturbæjarlaug: A local hot spring stop. Very cheap and very local! You’ll bathe with plenty of Icelandic citizens and feel right at home. We chose to forego Blue Lagoon simply because it was very packed and much more expensive.
- Hlemmur Mathöll: A very cool, chic food hall that has plenty of amazing food options for vegans and carnivores alike! There’s also a wine bar, a coffee shop, a pastry place, and more! Plenty of things to eat and drink here.
- Þúfa: A perfectly groomed and shaped grassy hill that you can climb and take photos on.
To start our trip outside of Reykjavik, we began in Þingvellir, which features beautiful rock formations (oh hey Game of Throne fans), waterfalls and beautiful trails. This is a place to learn some of Iceland’s brutal history and is the first of Iceland’s three national parks to be established. It’s also a part of the famous Golden Circle so if you are in Iceland for a quick visit, definitely make a pit stop here.
Right after the park, we took a quick drive to this famous crater (also a part of the Golden Circle), full of rich red soil and a deep turquoise blue lake at the bottom. It was raining when we went but so so magical! Pro tip: hike around the entire crater at the top and then use the stairs to descend and get a closer view.
This was one of my top places I would recommend. You can hike up a mountain for some time, see herds of sheep, walk through thick steam and then arrive at…
…the most beautiful place! An actual river with hot spring water, hot enough for you to take off alllllll your layers and lay in it for hours. We were surrounded by lush green grass and the most deep black soil. It was absolutely stunning and makes any hot spring fan the happiest person ever.
The next morning, we visited this beautiful waterfall high up in the mountains. You need a four wheel drive car in order to use the F roads to get to this one. On our way up, we saw lots of sheep and felt like we were driving through the Swiss countryside. It was so green and full of waterfalls once we reached the top.
I had found a bunch of photos of the highlands in this area that I really really wanted to see. It takes a full day trip to get out here simply because it’s quite a drive via F roads and high up in the mountains. We saw lots of beautiful views with untouched green mountains, red volcanic dust, and an enormous beautiful lake. Oh… and sheep. Are you getting my drift that there are lots of sheep here?
Seljalandsfoss is a beautiful waterfall right off the main highway. It’s a short flat walk that leads you to a breathtaking area, where you can feel the mist and even walk behind the waterfall! There can be quite a few tourists at this stop since it is so easy to get to so I highly recommend visiting in the early morning if you can. Otherwise, just photoshop people out like I did ha!
After our trip to the waterfall, we visited the Open Air Museum (at the Skogar Museum) which features 15,000 artifacts and examples of Icelandic heritage architecture. We loved seeing the traditional turf houses, which feature moss on the roofs and look like woodland creatures would live in them.
The Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool was one of my top experiences of my life, that’s how much I loved it. It is also a very requested location on my Instagram. The swimming pool is about a 15-20 minute hike into the mountains. It’s not a difficult hike but it’s also not for the elderly or people who might have trouble walking on loose rocks. The pool was actually built in the 1920s and has a pipe from a nearby hot spring that brings water into the pool. It is not maintained so the bottom of the pool is covered in moss and very slippery. It’s not for everyone but I absolutely loved the experience. It’s secluded in the mountains with distant views of waterfalls allllll over! Plan to bring a change of clothes so you can change in the little deserted structure nearby.
Reynisfjara Beach is a black sand beach that is incredible to see for sunset. It was overcast for us so the skies were slightly pink. There are amazing caves and basalt formations to visit here too so I highly recommend if you’re looking to see some magical black sand and amazing cliffs.
In Skaftárhreppur, there is Fjaðrárgljúfur, which is a scene straight out of Lord of the Rings. You can walk along cliffs overlooking a waterfall, river, and lush moss-covered boulders.
After Fjaðrárgljúfur, we visited Svartifoss, which is another waterfall with views of dark lava basalt columns. I kept telling James I felt like this is what all Disney writers based the villain lair off of. It looks evil. But cool.
Jökulsárlón is incredible to see and one of the more popular tourist spots. Between floating glaciers, seals, and ice, there’s plenty to see and right around the corner is Diamond Beach. Our good friends took a tour around the area via boat and loved it! We ended up just walking along the water and crossing the bridge to see Diamond Beach. Most people end their shorter Iceland trips here and return to Reykjavik. It’s about a 5 hour drive back to the city! We decided to continue on with our trip around the island.
We continued up the eastern fjords and visited the sweet orange lighthouses all along Fjarðabyggð’s coast. We really channeled our inner Wes Andersen life and walked through the mist and mossy hills to see these little structures.
All throughout the eastern fjords is where we really got to experience the areas with way less tourists. At the time, we were driving through our 1 out of the 2 days it rained and I was itching for another hot spring excursion. I found Djúpavogskörin on Google Maps. It’s right off the highway but anyone can easily miss because it’s covered by a couple hills. It feels very secluded and features a small rectangular tub that hits the spot if you’re feeling cold. We made some friends while we were there, as it’s a pretty intimate place to be.
Norðurþing has a couple of waterfalls including Dettifoss and Selfoss. Dettifoss is supposedly Europe’s most powerful waterfall. It’s huge, beautiful, looks like it’s falling in slow motion. Right up the street, you can walk to Selfoss, which is a little smaller but still absolutely beautiful. Because it was a sunny day, we spotted a beautiful double rainbow at Dettifoss!
While you continue your drive, you can’t miss Namaskardh, which has heaps of steam rising from geysers and underground pits. Warning: It is very stinky. But super cool to visit and a quick pit stop.
Mývatn Nature Baths was an amazing Blue Lagoon like experience but much more affordable and much less populated. We really enjoyed taking a dip here and relaxing without our phones.
As we continued our drive in the Northern part of the island, we saw less and less people and more Icelandic ponies!
Of course I had to stop and get all the photos! There were tons of baby horses to see.
Snæfellsbær is a beautiful natural area on the north end of the island with loads to see! We first went to Svödufoss which featured a really nice hike up to a small waterfall. You can walk along a river, find your way across it, and then walk up to the top of the falls. It was a somewhat easy hike but definitely bring water shoes, rain boots, or shoes you don’t mind getting wet if you’re going to cross the river.
Right down the road, you can visit Skarðsvík Beach, which is a beach which lava rock surrounding it. It has a beautiful view of the Arctic Sea and is also very quiet compared to other beaches.
On our way around the peninsula, we hopped off to see Saxhóll Crater, which is a large crater you can climb around via stairs. Once you’re at the top, you can peer into a once active volcano.
We ended our time in the peninsula with a view at Londrangar, another scene straight out a fairy tale. It’s a short walk to the top of the cliffs, where you can view the lighthouse and see the amazing rock formations. Don’t be fooled by our sunny day, it’s quite windy and cold up there so prepare to wear warm clothes for this area.
Once we headed back to Reykjavik, we decided to stop by Geysir, which is a geothermal area in the Golden Circle with hot springs, boiling pits, and an actual active geyser! So fun! The geyser erupts every 15 minutes or so, so it’s fun to sit on a nearby bench and watch it blast out hot water!
After Geysir, we went back to Reykjavik and spent a day there exploring and eating! I highly recommend sticking to the areas outside of the city simply because there is so much more to see and experience. I hope this guide has been helpful! Enjoy Iceland, friends!