Iceland is an amazing and gorgeous country. We stayed for 2 weeks in early October and only touched the surface of this gorgeous place; exploring Reykjavik, Southern Iceland including Grindavik, Vik and Glacier Lagoon, Thingvellir and Gysir area, and West including the Snaefellsnesvegur peninsula. See below for a full itinerary.
The country is only 103,000 sq km but gives you everything you could possibly need or desire in a vacation getaway like: The Blue Lagoon (need I say more), city time exploring/eating in yummy cafes, local patisseries and coffee shops. A little later you will be in the middle of a gorgeous farm or National Park surrounded by moss-covered lava fields or barren black sand dunes that make you feel like you’re on another planet. The roads are also littereted with thundering, towering waterfalls or glacier tongues and surrounded by gorgeous rainbows galore. Absolutley incredible.
Renting a car and getting around is very easy. Our Chevy Spark was petit, easy to drive and did the trick! I would recommend renting the camper van with 4-wheel drive so you can sleep and explore without any reservation. We did not take our little Spark on any F-roads, or into the highlands, and some regular roads can be a little sketchy so to be sure you won’t be in harms way, the 4-wheel drive is the way to go.
We also did not pay for any guided tours, and do not regret it at all. There was so much to do and see without having to pay for a tour. If you prefer the guided tour option, check out Guide to Iceland for hiking tours, glacier walks, cave tours or to swim the great divide.
Thanks to all who have asked me for my itinerary or advice on traveling to Iceland, you’ve inspired me to put this on my blog and share with everyone.
Tips to Tour the Land of Fire & Ice
First of all Friends, Icelandic Air does a up-to 7 day layover in Iceland for no extra charge when traveling to/from Europe and the US. Also, WOW Airlines has $99 tickets from select cities and we were lucky enough to snag our this way from Boston to Iceland. Both great options!
- Pack Smart! I want to mention this because it happened to me. Sometimes our faithful airline friends maybe end up having to ‘transfer your bag” to your final destination several days after you arrive…. Yes, they left my bag in Austin and we were in Iceland for several days before my bag arrived. On the airplane over I wore warm jogging pants, a 4lb. sweater we still joke about, a t-shirt and tenny-like flats. Totally comfy for travel but horribly inappropriate in rainy, freezing Iceland. Do yourself a favor and pack a few extra items in your carry on, just in case! Also, take your swim suit with you because in any event at least you can go to the Blue Lagoon and relax in the cleansing waters. I was lucky my husband’s bag arrived and I had packed my swim gear with his so was able to do just that.
- Layers, Layers, Layers and Rain gear! You will probably read this tip every where you look. This was Key for me. I may be able to handle the cold of Colorado or Canada but this change in weather was very different. The sun will warm you up and your stripping everything off and then out of no where cold wind, huge clouds and sideways rain. It will get cold super fast and you’ll be adding back! I recommend a base layer, medium layer, and waterproof external shell. I took my double layer ski jacket and a parka. I wore the ski jacket for hiking (warm and rainproof!) and the parka for city exploring. These Patagonia, The North Face, Columbia, REI brands all do the trick.
- Buy waterproof hiking pants! If you are like me, when you travel to Europe you may want to put style above practical and then you end up wet and achey with a sunburn and your favorite cute city shoes are ruined. For our Iceland trip I decided to be practical. I opted to spend the money on PrAna’s Halle Pants via Amazon.
- Take Awesome hiking shoes! Any hiker knows you need a great pair of shoes and there are so many different types of feet out there you really need to try them on and wear them in. I purchased mine from REI because the staff was so helpful and your purchase has a guarantee. I chose the Ahnu Montara boot and surprisingly my husband also went with the same one (copy cat), we both love them!
- Back packs are awesome! We all know we need them and since we were road tripping and not trekking we took two Osprey Packs, the 65 and 45 liter Porter and Farpoint travel bags. The Farpoint was great because of the detachable smaller pack, great for day trips.
- You can bring up to 6 lbs of food into Iceland! This was a great tip and we chose to bring power bars and granola, as well as chocolate. Since we were road tripping we also brought a cooler bag and used that in place of a cooler, which worked really well and it was cold enough it could just stay in the car.
- Purchase the alcohol you may want at the Airport Duty free store! This was the best tip we got from a local guy on the airplane. He said it cheaper, easier and sets you in a good mood right from the start. You are forced to go through several Duty Free shops going through customs, wait until right before baggage claim. We stocked up on a couple bottles of wine and whiskey and of course, some chocolates and it lasted the whole trip. Super Tip!
- Grocery Stores! They are called Bonus or Kronan and you can pay in cash or card, everything was easy to find and since we are huge fans of different European foods it was great to stock up on some favorite items like spec, wafer cookies, skyr, various cheeses and awesome hearty breads. oh and Om Nom Chocolate. We didn’t eat out much to save on cost, see itinerary below.
- Rental Cars! Renting a car was very easy, the pick up is right by the airport. If you get a tiny Chevy Spark like we did, or any standard two-wheel drive car you can not take them on any of the F-roads and this is because… they will get wrecked. You can drive pretty much anywhere else, but the F-roads are the only way to explore the highlands so if your car can not take you there, consider a camper van or tour group option. Some NON-F roads are bumpy and feel like you’re doing something wrong but it’s OK to drive down them, like going to Fjaðrárgljúfur for example. The true F-roads are all marked with a big F sign, so that is helpful.
- Gas Cards! If you plan to road trip in Iceland, pick up some pre paid gas cards at the gas stations called N1 in Reykjavik before going out on the loop road. This will allow you to get gas after hours and if you’re far from a town. I think we purchased a $10,000Kr card and that was enough for the whole trip.
- You can drink the Tap water in Iceland! Shower water, not so much since it does have a subtle sulfur smell and taste but the Tap Water is the freshest in the world!
- AirBnB! We are big AirBnB fans and were lucky to find several great places to stay for our first few nights in Iceland. We had planned to do this more but decided to have a more day-to-day schedule and not rush. Check out the beautiful options they have for city access or secluded farms.
- Joe & the Juice is in the airport and if you are on a red eye inbound flight you may just want to hit them up before starting your journey. Everything in the airport opens at 6am, we arrived at 5:30 and had to wait for the car rental to open as well. This was a great treat to get us motivated; delicious fresh squeezed juice, sandwiches , coffee and espresso!
- Make online reservations for the Blue Lagoon! The first time we went we showed up 2.5 hours before they closed and even though I’ve hears others have had issues, we honestly did not have any problem getting in. We walked around outside for a while before checking in and then change to swim. The second time we pre-paid online for a noon appointment and still had to wait in line for about an hour. Our tickets were for the Comfort Package and so needless to say the higher your package the shorter your wait in line. I recommend staying for at least 2 hours and going multiple times! You’ll see why. They give you electronic wristbands that open/lock your locker, pay for your drinks and are very easy to use. Make sure to do the silica mud mask and find the skin care lady wading around with the serving tray. You’ll also want to spend some time in the Blue Lagoon Body Shop, but watch out because the exchange rate to US is pretty pricey.
- Don’t be afraid to explore off the path! Icelandic people are very friendly and as long as there is a road you can take it. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t tresspass but in some cases the only way to where you are going is across someones property and we found everyone to be very open to that. Check out their traffic signs in advance. The ‘place of interest’ sign that look like a 4 way road loop means there is something awesome to see so pull over whenever you can. You’ll find this sign when traveling to waterfalls and hikes and off the path landmarks like Fjaðrárgljúfur.
- Talk to the locals! They love to share about their country and have so many great recommendations for anything you could need. My luggage was 2 days late (so sad, I know!) and so we needed to pop into a mall and grab some essentials as well as a few layers. Our BnB host knew exactly where to go, but also drove us there and showed us her family’s fish farm and where they work and really took us in a guests. She even offered me clothes while mine were in route, so sweet. In Reykjavik we parked outside of the Hallgrímskirkja and walked down rainbow road to all the shopping, cafes and art museums. Everyone we talked to had such nice things to say. Check out Reykjavik Roasters for coffee, its very quaint and their roasters trained in Denmark. (Side note, there is a great cafe on Highway 54 toward the Snaefellsnesvegur peninsula, it looks like a gas station but is a BnB with cafe. Best macchiato and bagel sandwich I had the whole trip!)
- Ok Ok, last but not least. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed primarily in Iceland and for fun we found two filming locations. The scene of Ben Stiller running for the bike is in Grundafjordu behind the Femnes hotel and then the Helicopter jump/take off when he runs from the bar was in the town of Stykkisholmur, located just Northeast on the pennunsuila past Bjarnarhofn town and Shark Museum. You’ve probably heard of the famous fermented Shark. We did not try this.. as we heard it can be very dangerous when NOT fermented properly. I’m sure it is safe in Iceland, just not really our cup of tea if you know what I mean.
“Don’t fear the porpoise!”
Feel free to message me or comment below if you have any questions or if I can answer any questions. Thanks for reading!