I love nature and therefore sometimes I despise technology, but at the same time I can’t deny the fact that emerging technology is making things much more easier and accessible. I had only dreamt of visiting a distant country like Iceland but never thought it’s going to be so easy to actually plan and act on it! Thanks to ‘Google’ and our diligent planning, we had an almost perfect time in Iceland (of course nature likes to play sometimes and you can’t control that!). Though Iceland is about 4 times smaller than even California, 10 days weren’t enough to explore this country. It’s unique in many ways – plenty of unspoiled, virgin natural landscapes and solitude altogether leaves you with a feeling that you are on an entirely different planet.
Before you visit:
- Book flights and accommodations as far in advance as possible – Iceland has got only a few big cities Reykjavík, Kópavogur, Akureyri etc. for hotels/ hostels and Airbnbs (which offer some of the best accommodations in remote locations ) fill up fast. We booked ours more than 6 months in advance (before our trip in May’18) and lot of good options were already gone by then!
- Study the Map of Iceland and download an offline copy of your route on Google Maps along with the coordinates of important places – You don’t want to get lost in a place where there are no other humans in many, many miles…
- Shop for appropriate clothing and gears – Windcheaters, Water-proof wears, compatible charger pins and camera/ accessories are a must!
- Book activities of your interest in advance based on the season you will be visiting Iceland – The Blue Lagoon, Ice caves and Glacier hiking are some of the ‘not to be missed’ activities.
- Book a camper van instead of a rental if you are comfortable. It’s one of the best ways to experience Iceland.
- Stay away from ‘F’ roads, if possible. They are indeed scary and can get worse depending on weather conditions.
If you are flying from the United States, WOW airlines offers direct flights from most of the major cities with great deals. It cost the two of us only about a 1000$ RT! (Unfortunately, I read few days ago that it has ceased operation due to financial crisis. I hope it resurrects soon or hopefully other/ newer airlines will fill in the gap. ). Overall I believe we spent somewhere between 4000-5000 USD for our trip which I would like to call as ‘economic’ as we were really careful on spending money. If I have to split our basic expenses into categories, it ‘d look like this:
- Flights – 1000 USD
- Accommodation (mostly Airbnbs) – 1000 USD
- Rental car & gas – 500
- Food, shopping and miscellaneous – ~1000 USD
- Activities (Blue Lagoon, Glacier Hike,
Ice caves, Whale watching, Puffin tour) – 1000 US
As dining-in can be a bit expensive in Iceland, we tried stock food from Bónus supermarket wherever we could, esp. when we were staying in remote locations. It’s also helpful to make a note of the gas station and food market locations beforehand.
The trip begins:
Harshul and I started our Icelandic expedition on 19th May from California and next 10 days were pure bliss. (Even though we missed the northern lights!). Here are some of the highlights from our trip.
The Blue Lagoon
Our adventure began as soon as we came out of the Keflavik international airport at ~11 am to catch the rental shuttle. It was raining. Oh wait! it was actually down-pouring with gusty freezing winds. “So, what next now?”. We had already booked the 1 pm slot at Blue Lagoon hoping to get a perfect relief from jet lag. But weather put us in a state of dilemma. Nevertheless, we brave-hearts stuck to our plan and jumped into the blue gorgeous geothermal pool few hrs. later.
STOP 1: Blue Lagoon
Listed as one of National Geographic’s 25 wonders of the world was truly impressive. Once you soak yourself into the hot springs, with beer in your hand and freezing weather outside, you don’t feel like coming out ever.
- Food and drinks are bit over-priced, but worth paying for to get surreal experience and Instagram pics 🙂
- The geothermal water can be harsh for your hair, so apply ample conditioner before getting into the pool.
STOP 2: Kerið crater
Almost almost 4 hrs. we finally decided to come out and head out to our next destination – Kerið crater. Kerið is a striking volcanic crater lake on the Golden Circle route, filled with milky blue-green water amid stark black and deep red slopes. A small stairway takes you to the the bottom trail of the crater. Again a great spot for pictures!
After Kerið and short breaks at Hveragerði and Reykjadalur Hot Springs, we decided to call it a day and drove back to our Airbnb in Reykjavik.
Þingvellir national park
Strokkur & Geysir
Seljalandsfoss & Gljufurarfoss
Wrecked DC-3 Plane on Sólheimasandur
Day 2 turned out slightly long, but with 23 hrs.+ of daylight, we were comfortably able to accommodate all of our sightseeing stops. We had planned to cover all major stops at the Golden circle today.
STOP 1: Þingvellir
We started with the beautiful Þingvellir UNESCO World Heritage Site followed by the Mid-Atlantic fault and meeting place of the world’s oldest Parliament. Here, you can walk on a path in the rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
STOP 2: Geysir and Strokkur
Next on the route was Haukadalur geothermal area, where you can see Geysir – the original “geyser” – and its more active neighbour, Strokkur, which spouts water every few minutes.
STOP 3: Gullfoss
It was now time to witness the majestic Gullfoss. Also known as the ‘Golden Waterfall’, it’s a breathtaking two-tiered waterfall that drops 32 metres into a narrow canyon 70 metres deep and 2.5 kilometres long. Gullfoss Kaffi (cafe) is near by which is a great place to eat and warm up after the waterfalls.
STOP 4: Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrafoss
Next on our list was fairytale-like Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where you can experience walking right behind the misty cascade, and the gorgeous 60-metre high Skógafoss waterfall was just a short drive down the road.
- There is a wonderful hidden waterfall located about 1 km from Seljalandsfoss known as Gljufrafoss which is known to very less people. If you enjoy caves, hike through the stream to reach the base of the falls. You will get absolutely drenched here, so make sure to plan accordingly.
STOP 5: Skógafoss
This stunning Iceland waterfall is unforgettable and one of the most popular places to visit in Iceland. Those rainbows you see in all the photos of Skogafoss? 100% real and easily visible to the naked eye!
STOP 6: Crashed DC 3 Plane
We ended day’s itinerary with a long walk to Crashed DC 3 Plane site. However, we do recommend taking the shuttle as walking takes approximately 1.5 hrs. return and there are better ways to spend time if you are exhausted. 🙂
Reynisfjara & Reynisdrangar
Skaftafell glacier hike
Jökulsárlón Ice Beach
STOP 1: Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar
Day 3 started with world-famous black-sand beach Reynisfjara found on the South Coast of Iceland, just beside the small fishing village of Vík. With its enormous basalt stacks, roaring Atlantic waves and stunning panoramas, Reynisfjara is considered to be the most beautiful example of Iceland’s black sand beaches. Reynisdrangar are basalt sea stacks out in the water visible from Reynisfjara, though you won’t be able to get quite as close.
- Be careful at Reynisfjara. Even if it looks calm, large waves can come out of nowhere
STOP 2: Svartifoss
It is one of the absolute beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. Svartifoss is known for water pounding from its inverted basalt columns. Located in the Skaftafell/Vatnajökull National Park, a medium hike of 2-3 hour round trip took us to Svartifoss. We had to hike down a narrow path to reach to the base of waterfalls. Good hiking shoes and warm clothing are a must for this hike.
STOP 3: Skaftafell Visitor Centre – Vatnajökull National Park
Our most exciting activity for the day was hiking tour over serene Blue Ice which we had already booked in advance with ExtremeIceland. We had never done ice climbing or hiking before, but the instructor did a great job explaining how to use the crampons and ice axes and we felt very secure.
The crevasses and amazing ice formations left us in awe and presented some exceptional photo ops. We will definitely be booking another hike when we return to Iceland… preferably a much longer one!
STOP 4: Jökulsárlón Ice Beach/ Diamond beach
If you want to be left gasping in wordless wonder, you have to see Jökulsárlón (an outlet from Europe’s largest ice cap Vatnajokull) and the incredible black sands of the Diamond Beach.When icebergs wash up on the shore, standing dazzling and defiant in stark contrast to the black sand beach, these shimmery unique natural ice sculpture are formed. This place makes it impossible to forget the opposing forces of fire and ice.
- In winter awesome Crystal Ice Cave tours begin at Jökulsárlón. Visit in any light and there is a special magic here.
After a delightful breakfast at our Airbnb, we ventured eastwards for a completely different experience! Plan was to relax and explore magnificent mountains of the east fjords.
STOP 1: The town of Höfn
Often known as the capital of southern east Iceland, Höfn is a small, pretty fishing town with a population of just two thousand. Stop here for a delicious breakfast/ brunch from one of the many local food eateries with a view of looming Vatnajokull glacier.
STOP 2: Papey Island
For centuries Papey was the only inhabited island off Iceland’s east coast and it’s the best Up Close Puffin Watching place in Entire World. In order to go there, you need to take a 50-minute boat ride from Djupivogur to Papey Island. The wind blows hard here, so be sure to layer up and enjoy the thrill of turbulent ocean.
STOP 3: Kirkjubaer Church
An old wooden church that’s now renovated and serves as a place for travelers to get a much-needed rest after a long day of exploring. How cool would it be to stay in this cute church overnight! Icelandic churches never cease to amaze me. Take a pause at Petra’s Stone & mineral Collection if you are interested.
STOP 4: Vattarnes
Not exactly a stop but its a fabulous coastal drive through the Eastfjords of Iceland. Take multiple stops and relish the beauty of high snow capped mountains, valleys and falls.
STOP 5: Holmanes Peninsula
Hólmanes peninsula is located beautifully between two towns – behind Reyðarfjörður and just before Eskifjörður. Walking here is like a therapy
with flourishing bird life, magnificent views of mountains and endless ocean.
STOP 6: Seyðisfjörður
Staying here for a night was undoubtedly one of the best memories of our trip. It’s an absolutely gorgeous dream town nestled between snowy valleys. Although driving and getting down here on a snowy day came as an unexpected (“scary”) adventure for us. 🙂 While we were in Seydisfjordur, the town was filled with tourists, chilling out in the café near the famous ‘Blue Church with rainbow steps’. A visit here is highly recommended!
While most of the tourists visiting Iceland don’t go past the Golden circle, there are a wealth of attractions hidden in Central and North Iceland which are not to be missed! We also felt weather was slightly merciful at this part of the country.
STOP 1: Modhrudalur
Located slightly offbeat from the Ring Road, we drove here to see the
Vintage wooden gas station. A guesthouse, a small store and a restaurant are also operated in the area.
STOP 2: Detifoss
Europe’s most powerful “beast” – Dettifoss – is 100 meters wide and drops 45 meters down into the Iceland’s largest gorge, Jökulsárgljúfur. It’s one the best places to experience the wrath of mother nature. So powerful, we could feel the ground shake as we got closer and hear the velocity of roaring water crashing. It was wide and majestic!
- There are 2 roads to reach views of Detifoss, on each side of the canyon. East Bank – Road 864 (Hólsfjallavegur) is an easy road all the way along the canyon and West bank – Road Road 862 (Dettifossvegur) has easier walking paths with better views of Dettifoss.
STOP 3: Namaskardh
There’s a high chance that you’ll smell this place before you even see it, for this is a high temperature geothermal area emitting a strong bouquet of rotten eggs! We were amazed by the close look of huge bubbling mud pools and steam vents. The whole view is extremely photogenic. Indeed, Each corner on Iceland takes you to a different planet – from the Moon to Mars and back to Earth!
STOP 4: Myvatn
About half an hour from Namaskardh, Mývatn is a shallow lake with nice little geothermal area that’s easily accessible with plenty of parking and is not far off the beaten path at all. Myvatn Nature Baths can be imaged as The Blue Lagoon of north and the area is often termed as ‘The Northern Lights Capital of Iceland’. Beware of some flies in this area.
STOP 5: Goðafoss
‘Goðafoss’ the name itself means waterfall of the Gods and has truly a godly beauty. It’s an impressive site any time of year. Play with your tripod and camera to get some amazing photos here. The east side offers best views for photographers, with paths to the river base, and a good view of Geitafoss, Goðafoss´s little sister. On the west side you can reach the brink of the falls themselves, but due to the parking facilities, this side may be a little busier at peak times.
After Goðafoss, we decided to call it a day and drove straight to our hotel in the lovely city of Akureyri. The city was so beautiful that we couldn’t help but take a scroll around it late night, despite all the exhaustion. Being a software enginner, I coudn’t help but notice the offices of ‘Deloitte’ and other big Software companies.
Glaumbær Farm & Museum
Hvitserkur rock formation
While roaming around in Akureyri we came to know that the Arctic Circle crosses Iceland at its northern most point, on the island Grímsey which is a part of the town Akureyri and we were just about 62 miles away from the Arctic circle! Akureyri is also called the northern capital of Iceland, is very picturesque with its location by a scenic fjord and there is plenty to see and do here. After a quick breakfast we were all set for Day 6 that started with a Whale watching tour at Hauganes!
STOP 1: Glaumbær Farm & Museum
Home to the characteristic turf houses, Glaumbær is a protected site and is owned by the National Museum of Iceland. Here you can have a look inside the turf houses to see how life in Iceland was back in the 18th and 19th century. This place was genuinely fascinating and was an eye opening view of a lifestyle in a harsh, unforgiving environment.
STOP 2: Borgarvirki fortress
It’s an uphill trip through narrow and gravel road. There is a small parking lot and a very easy walk up to the summit of the fortress/crater. The views are great, but we really didn’t find it worth the bumpy drive unless you are interested in passing through the Vatnsnes peninsula.
STOP 3: Hvitserkur rock formation
Another highlight of our trip was this extra ordinary rock formation in Vatnsnes peninsula. Hvitserkur is a beautiful cliff where many types of seabirds have made their nests for centuries. A steep descent is required to get to the rock, but is worth the photo shoots! 😀 Overall, this was a nice stretch of coastline to explore.
After taking a short break at Icelandic seal center – Hvammstangi, we headed towards our accommodation for the night.
Kirkjufellsfoss and Kirkjufells
Hellnar and Gatklettur
West Iceland combines the most diverse landscapes that Iceland has to offer: stunning glaciers, lava rock, volcanic craters and definitely lives up to the hype. It’s hard to narrow down a list. However, a few of my favorites are listed below.
STOP 1: Stykkishólmur
This picturesque fishing town with traditional wooden houses is on the north side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland. The Snæfellsnes peninsula has been picked as the best winter destination of Europe by the Us magazine Travel. The town has quaint gift shops, exhibitions, charming buildings and scenery. You can also go for a sea kayaking tour or hike to the top of Helgafell (Holy Mountain).
My architect husband was particularly interested in the church of Stykkishólmur which was a photogenic wonder to behold with stunning architecture.
STOP 2: Selvallavatn
If you turn from road 54 north to 56, before starting the descend from the mountain, there is a small lake called Selvallavatn. There is a parking space just after crossing a small bridge. If you follow the small river nearby, you will reach a nice little waterfall. There are no signs leading to the waterfall, therefore it’s often missed by tourists.
STOP 3: Kirkjufellsfoss and Kirkjufells
Kirkjufell mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall are among the most photographed icons of Icelandic landscape because of their interesting shape. You could take a picture from the bottom of the waterfall or even go behind it.You can even see the reflection of this so-called ‘Church Mountain’ when the water is calm. A MUST VISIT!
- If you are fan Kirkjufell the HBO series – GAME OF THRONES, this is where Jon Snow and other main characters faced the Night King and the Army of the Dead during an epic battle.
STOP 4: Saxhóll
Saxhóll is a beautiful volcanic crater that was formed between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. There is a small car parking besides it from where you can take the 400+ steps to the summit of the crater. Icelandic landscape architecture firm Landslag has been nominated for an international award for their staircase up Saxhóll crater in Snæfellsjökull National Park. Its like a “hidden stairway to heaven” where you get a 360 degree view of the lava region which originated from this very crater, thousands of years ago!
STOP 5: Djúpalónssandur
It is a beautiful pebbled black sand beach, with a series of rocks of mysterious form emerging from the ocean.
STOP 6: Lóndrangar
Lóndrangar are a pair of ancient rock pinnacles in Iceland that are believed to have endured the forces of nature for tens of thousands of years. They have sustained the wind, the forces of the ocean and even eruptions that have pushed more lava around them some thousands of years ago.
STOP 7: Hellnar and Gatklettur
Another 10 or so kilometers away are two small villages (Hellnar and Arnarstapi). Once again, area is full of great photographic opportunities of cliffs and rock formations on a rigged and lava scarred beaches. We hiked all the way from Hellnar to Arnarstapi via Gatklettur (‘Hellnar Arch’) – naturally formed stone arch to take pictures on the rocky arch. Who knows it might crumble one day and we at least have a picture to remember it by!
STOP 8: Budir
This Black Church is also photographers’ favorite and it is not hard to see why. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. You can’t go in unless their is an event.We had a nice walk here before we left for our accommodation.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss
Old Akranes Lighthouse
We were coming towards the end of our trip but were still not over the surprises that Iceland has been offering. Day 8 was no different and had some more surprises for us.
STOP 1: Víðgelmir
Víðgelmir is Iceland’s largest lava tube cave and is perfect for a day tour. The Cave is 1585 meters long and is claimed to hold no rival in Iceland. We were given a detailed tour and we witnessed pretty cool ice formations inside. A tour to the caves end is for those who desire more adventure.
STOP 2: Hraunfossar and Barnafoss
Hraunfossar is a series of Lava waterfalls that are made of the clear, cold springs of subterranean water that seeps through the lava in an exceptionally beautiful and unusual natural phenomena. Rocks might get a bit slippery here, so we suggest walking with caution.
A short walk from Hraunfossar, is Barnafoss or the child waterfalls was named so after a mother lost two of her children who tried to cross the bridge across this waterfall, which was later destroyed by her so that no child ever falls again from that bridge. The gushing sound of the waterfall reminds of a mother’s anger.
STOP 3: Glymur
Glymur is Iceland’s second-tallest waterfall, and the tallest that is easily accessible by foot. This was one of the most beautiful hikes that we have ever done.
STOP 4: Old Akranes Lighthouse
Akranes is a port town on the west coast of Iceland about 45 km north of Reykjavík with some exotic cuisine restaurants. Depending on your time and schedule, you can climb the old lighthouse located here for just 3$. Thereafter crossing the state of the art – Hvalfjörður Tunnel (where we drive partly under the ocean), we drove towards Reykjavik.
Day 9 and 10:
….and lots of walking!
After more than a week of nature’s savory, it was time to explore Iceland’s capital and biggest city – Reykjavik. Best explored on foot, you can get a decent feel of this in one day. The places that we have listed above are a must visit in the city, but there is certainly much more to that.
With that, we had approached towards the end of our trip and while we were convincing our mind to face the hustle and bustle of the bay area, without a doubt we knew that we will be visiting this paradise again.