Key for time: != at least hour hour. If no exclamation mark, assume short stop
Main Tips for visiting Iceland
1) Prepare yourself for rain. I mean a LOT of rain. I plan on writing a separate “packing for Iceland” post but cover your bases and bring a long RAIN COAT and water proof shoes. (DO NOT plan on buying these items once you’re there, the cheapest rain jacket I saw was in the $150-$200 range)
2) Rent CAR WIFI with your rental car. It’s the greatest thing ever. We paid $100 for 9.5 days and the signal was strong enough to cover all 4 of our phones going at the same time. It’s also a portable device you can bring in restaurants or around town to have service if you need. (For comparison, big cell phone companies like AT&T and Verizon offer international plans for $10/day meaning I would’ve spent $100 for JUST MY PHONE and we paid that for 4 people. SO WORTH IT.
3) Get ALL the car insurances available. In some countries we rely on our credit card for rental insurance but in Iceland… your credit card is not going to cover ASH, and SAND, and GRAVEL. I read so many horror stories about cars getting Sand blasted which cost the renters 1,000s. Just get the insurance.
4) Go in the shoulder season. (Spring/ Fall) I’m partial to Fall since you still have Summer greens hanging around and the fall colors were AWESOME) As you will see in the below posts, guest houses and hotels are VERY expensive and they are even more so in the Summer. You’ll also be able to find some solitude in the shoulder season… so go then!
5) Grocery stores are your new best friend. Seriously we didn’t see anywhere that an entree cost less than like $20 so eating out 3 meals a day in Iceland… will seriously break the bank. Plan on grabbing some breakfast snacks and lunch materials in the store and then potentially eat dinner out. Look for guesthouses/ airbnbs that provide kitchens where you can cook your own meals. The 2 major grocery stores (with the most options/ best prices) are BONUS/ Krónan. oh, and bring some re-usable grocery bags… as all the stores will charge you for bags ( like 0.25 – $3.00 depending on the bag)
6) Get at least one N1 gast station card. For some reason, out of all of us on this trip with debit cards with pin numbers.. only 1 card worked. (and we tried a variety of gas stations) so you will want the gift card that doesn’t require a pin (or human interaction at all) for when you get to unmanned gas stations. This is especially important if you plan on driving the ring road.
Rental car – roughly $1195 for 9 days split between 4 people, so per day for 2 people: $66.40
Gas total – $321 for entire trip split evenly and spread out over 9 days = $18/day for 2 people
Day 1: Exploring Reykjavik
Parking is free on Sundays in the city.. for all the other days of the week, here’s a great blog post that describes the parking zones and info on parking in the city.
If you’re looking for drinks, make sure to look up the different Happy Hours around town.
Hallgrímskirkja : Free to enter, going to the top of the tower is about $8.50/adult
Harpa Concert Hall
The Solfar (sun voyager) statue and coastal walk
The National Museum of Iceland !!: $9.50 student/ $19 adult
The Cultural House museum (skippable if you’re short on time but included in Museum ticket) !
Horse back riding tour !!! where we went Ishestar horseback riding tour $109/pp
Take a walk and enjoy this colorful city!
Blue Lagoon (if you so desire, we skipped to save on time/money)
Airbnb apartment split with another couple, $115
Breakfast: on the plane
Lunch: Hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur about $4/ hotdog
Dinner: groceries/ dinner cooked at airbnb for $28
Day 2: The Golden Circle (Reyk-Selfoss)
Start early!! With the proximity of these spots to Reyk, they will get busy fast with tours. Stay ahead of the tours by getting there early!
Pack a lunch… there aren’t much but expensive cafes with limited options along the golden circle route.
As long as it isn’t torrentially raining, visit Haifoss. Yes there is a dirt road, but you can make it in a 2 wheel drive car if you take it nice and easy. This was my favorite spot of the day!
Thingvillir National Park !: Parking is $6.50 for all day pass
Kerið Crater admission ! : $3.80pp
Garun Guesthouse $113/ room
Breakfast and lunch – groceries from previous day
Gulfoss shop sandwich $7
Dinner at Yellow $36.20
Groceries again for potentially next couple of days: $21.86
Day 2 Costs: $276 for 2 people
Driving Distance/Time:300 km 4hr,45 min
Day 3: Southern Iceland (Selfoss- Vik)
Again the earlier you start the better. You’re still within tour bus range so to beat the hordes of people, I’d try to get out early.
Seljavallaug Pool is still a VERY cool visit even if you don’t plan on swimming.
Skógafoss is worth exploring at the top. Plan on more than an hour here so you have time to hike around and explore the upper cascades without the tourists. It is beautiful up there.
The plane crash…. if you REALLY want to see it, go for it. It had literally the most full parking lot of our trip, meaning the chances of getting actual good photos of it were slim to none… so we skipped it.
Reynisfjara Beach… WATCH OUT FOR SNEAKER WAVES
Seljalandsfoss: ! parking was $6.50/ car
Seljavallalaug Pool !
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash !!
Giljur Guesthouse: $177/ room
Breakfast and lunch were again taken care of by previous groceries
Groceries from Vik Kronan: $20.50
Dinner at Sudur Vik: $34
Day 4: EPIC Vik- Höfn
In Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, explore to the last viewpoint of the canyon for a beautiful waterfall and if you have time, take a walk along the base of the narrow canyon.
If you aren’t in stellar hiking shape, you can park closer to Svartifoss waterfall than the visitor center. See my post on the hike for a map and directions. It’s worth seeing!
Shop around for glacier hikes and if you have the time/money, maybe book a climbing tour. I was satisfied with our shorter tour but we didn’t go very far out on the glacier.
Check out BOTH Glacier lagoons. The smaller one has less icebergs but is amazing to see the glacial tongue right on the lagoon! Also make sure to stop at the pull outs between the two lagoons for amazing views and a LOT less crowds.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon !
Kirkjugólf basalt tiles
Svartifoss Waterfall hike !
Glacier hike in Vatnajökull national park with Extreme Iceland !! : $ varies, we paid $94.85 pp
Fjallsárlón Iceber Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Lagoon !
Sefdalur guesthouse for 4 people: $325, so $162.50 if you split with another couple
Breakfast/ lunch: Previous groceries
Coffee at Glacier lagoon: $4 Dinner at Z bistro $45 (Try the Lobster Pizza!)
Day 4 Costs: $485 for 2 people
Total Driving: Roughly 400 km and 5 hours
Day 5: The Eastern fjords: Höfn- Mývatn
MOST importantly, DO NOT drive Road 939 of Oxi Pass if it is raining or otherwise inclement weather. This is a very scary, DANGEROUS road that the gps/ google maps will likely direct you down. It definitely will save you time in nice weather.. but in anything but nice… just stay on the ring road.
My other major suggestion here is consider staying in the town Seydisjordur. It was easily my favorite town in Iceland and it’s spot on a fjord is SO beautiful. Not to mention there are tons of beautiful hikes in the area… See if there’s availability, stay here… otherwise the next spot with available hotels is in Myvatn.
For an excellent blog post to help you decide which bank of Dettifoss to visit, check this one out.
It’s next to impossible to find accurate information on hikes in Seydisfjordur… so visit the tourism center at the ferry terminal to get a more accurate idea before heading out.
Hengifoss waterfall ! : 2 waterfalls with cool basalt features, but DEFINITELY a hike
Egilsstaðir for your grocery refill mostly.
Gufufoss : Small waterfall right off the road into Seydisfjordur
Seydisfjordur !! The town itself is charming. Walk the rainbow brick road, explore the cafes and shops, visit the tourism center for hiking info, and check out the little blue church.
Mt. BJÓLFUR !! Supposedly a 5 km hike (but double check at tourist center) and on a beautiful day offers the most killer views down the Fjord.
Monument to Þorbjörn Arnoddsson : If hiking is out, definitely check out this monument which is a quick stop and provides the best views of the town/ fjord combo.
Dettifoss/ Selfoss ! save some driving the next day by hitting up Dettifoss on your way to Myvatn.
Skútustadir Guesthouse: $294 for 4 people so $147 for 2
Breakfast/ lunch: previous groceries Groceries in Egilsstaðir: $35 Hotel Aldan 2 coffees and Date cake: $16 Dinner was 2 freezer pizzas for $4 (included in grocery cost but hey we live on the cheap side sometimes!)
Day 5 Costs: $283/ 2 people
Total Driving: 524 km/ 7 hr, 45 min
Day 6: Northern Iceland: Mývatn
If you’re trying to save money… skip the blue lagoon and nature baths or pick ONE of them. Unfortunately the “little blue lagoon” of Myvatn was not very warm for us… It was cool… but not $80 cool.
Get off the beaten track and visit the Husavik Whale Museum… it was such a neat little museum and the drive out there doesn’t add THAT much time.
Most of the stops around Myvatn lake DO NOT have toilets available… The Nature Baths and Dimmuborgir were the only 2 with obvious ones and the both cost… unless you pay for the baths of course.
Beware in the SUMMER months, the flies around the lake area are said to be terrible… In late September we didn’t see any… but we also didn’t see any sun either haha
SKÚTUSTAÐIR craters !
Myvatn nature baths ! : EXPENSIVE, we spent $80 for 1 adult, 1 student, and 2 towel rentals
Húsavík Whale Museum ! : $28.20 for 2 students
Húsavík Whale watching tours !! We didn’t get to due to weather but the variety of whales seen in this bay is incredible.
Kidagil Guesthouse: $220/ 4 people so $110 for Braden and I
Breakfast- included in night stay Fish Soup and Date cake at Naustiq for $30 Fish n chips in Husavik $16.00
Dinner: Grocery snacks
Day 6 Costs: $350/ 2 people
Total Driving: 184 km/ 3 hours
Day 7: Northern Iceland: Mývatn- Gauksmyri
This day is pretty straight forward. Check out Akureyri’s cool stuff… You could potentially drive further than Gauksymri, especially if you have 10 days and want to try to make it out into the Western Fjords… otherwise if you stay at the Gauksymri lodge, the restaurant in town gives you a 10% discount.
*note Parking in Akureyri is VERY confusing and unlike any other parking system I’ve seen… but it is FREE. Here’s the deets:
Parking is free but you need a clock-card where you set the time of arrival. Parking areas have maximum parking times displayed. You set the clock to show your time of arrival and if you exceed the maximum parking (or try to cheat by setting the clock ahead of the actual time) you run the risk of a fine. The clock-cards are available for free in banks, info-centers, hotels, petrol-stations and many shops in Akureyri. In case you don’t find a clock-card, write the time of parking on a piece of paper and display it in the front window of the car
Akureyri botanical gardens !
Akureyri city center !
The Christmas House $
Glaumbær Turf Farm ( Free to walk around, however there’s also a museum INSIDE the turf farm for a cost)
Hvítserkur Rock Formation !
Hvammstangi/ Seal Center ! *note the seal center closes at 5 so we didn’t get there in time to really check it out
Gauksmyri Lodge: $215 for 4 people, $54/pp
Breakfast: included in night stay Backpackers snack and drink in Akureyri: $12 Donuts: $4 Dinner at Sjavarborg Restaurant with 10% discount for 2 burgers $43.50
Day 7 Costs: $197.50/ 2 people
Total Driving: 272 km/ 3.5 hours
Day 8: The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Stop in Grundarfjörður just before Kirkjufell for toilets, snacks, etc… There are a few towns past here but they were very small and didn’t seem to have many food or toilet options.
Kirkjufell WILL be busy… While enjoying the main view, don’t neglect the surrounding area and view back toward Grundarfjörður where the surrounding mountains reflect beautifully on the water.
If you want to see the main arch you can walk on at Port Arnastapi, park at the Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss Statue and follow the path left. This will take you to Gatklettur arch and the “stone bridge”
Dritvik Djúpalónssandur Beach !
Snæfellsjökull National Park Visitor Center
Port Arnastapi !
airbnb cabin: $170 for all 4 of us, so $85 for us 2 (BEST NIGHT OF THE TRIP)
Breakfast: included in night stay Lunch: picnic’d with groceries $10 Dinner: a giant filet of arctic char for $21
Day 8 Costs: $200/2 people
Total Driving: 400 km/ 5h 30min
Day 9: Take a hike (and return to Reyk)
Try to start Glymur as early as you can.. We actually skipped Barnafoss and drove staight to the TH. We got there between 8-9 and were maybe the 3rd car in the lot so we mostly hiked up without seeing too many others. When we finished, the lot was FULL!
TAKE A PICTURE of the Glymur trail head sign. There are 3 trails and while the main one going UP is easy to follow, if you loop it, coming down was hard to follow.
Most importantly BRING WATERSHOES. I can’t stress this enough, in order to hike up the main trail (the side of the canyon where you can actually see Glymur) you will have to cross the creek at least once… and while there’s a log, there’s a good chance you will still have to wade a bit. AND IF YOU WANT TO LOOP, the crossing at the top is ROCKY, WIDE, AND VERY COLD. I’ve never cursed so much in my life as crossing that part of the river. Water shoes will help save your feet.
Lastly, PARKING IN REYKJAVIK IS FREE ON SUNDAYS
Mount Esja (if you still have energy for more hiking, this area has the next best hiking after Glymur and offers nice views of the bay and Reyk)
Reykjavik stops that you still need to check out (We did the church tower this day since the sky was more clear)
Airbnb apartment (with 1st time user of airbnb discount): $184 for 4, or $92 for 2
Large shared plate at Ali Baba’s – $17 Lebowski Bar fries and 1 drink at happy hour– $14.50 The Laundromat cafe (coffee and chai tea)- $10
Day 9 Costs: $235.50/ 2 people
Total Driving: 135km and 2 hours
TOTAL TRIP COST for 9 days/ 2 people: $2,697 (not including flights) or $4,210 with flights Driving Totals for the Ring ROAD: 2,355 km and around 33 hours in the car