Warning: This post is long. It's filled with lots of photos. It has a handy driving map. It has a list of Icelandic nature words to know. It may make you book a flight to Iceland today.
It's been a week now since we've officially left and I am still reeling at how beautiful the place is. Iceland's raw beauty is unparalleled. I don't think six days was enough to explore this beautiful island filled with stunning contrasts of green fields, white frozen glaciers, blue cool waters, black raw lava ash and warm accommodations.
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Day 1: Blue Lagoon and Reykavik
Our Iceland journey started with a 5.5 hour plane ride from New Jersey. Our first top upon arriving was the Blue Lagoon. A welcome respite from the flight. A dip in the warm lagoon with flashes of cold air was what our bodies needed to wake up. A silica and algae scrub got our faces picture ready for the day ahead. It was a perfect start to what would be a long summer day in Iceland with almost 24 hours of light.
We booked a 9am reservation at the Blue Lagoon in advance as time slots tend to fill up. Nine AM was a perfect time as it was not filled with too many people yet. I highly recommend going early as by 11am you will start seeing buses of tourists coming in. It's nice to be at the lagoon with some space and quiet. We purchased the Experience Comfort tickets which includes towels and locker access. Bring your own flip flops, a good moisturizer and good hair conditioner as the water can leave your skin and hair very dry.
Post Lagoon, we checked in to our apartment. Shout out to Lauren B. who booked accommodations for a group of 17 people. All of the places we stayed at were excellent and ranged from modern to cozy and allowed us to experience true Iceland in all of its many forms.
My first meal in Iceland was a veggie sandwich, broccoli soup and an espresso at Sandholt in the city center. Cute place with lots of good bread and pastries. From there, we walked and toured the beautiful town of Reykjavik. Stroll around Laugavegur which has plenty of shops and restaurants. We arrived on a Saturday during Iceland's National Day so the place was bustling with lots of people, local and tourists alike which made for a true city feel. True to Iceland, it drizzled for a few minutes, then cleared up, then rained again so wear your rain gear when you are out and about.
After a quick nap, we headed out for dinner. An absolute must to know is that majority of places stop serving dinner at around 10 or 11pm. With the sun still out at this time, you may not realize how late it is until you try to find a place to have dinner and everything is closed so don't use the outside light to judge time. We arrived quite late to the restaurant and they were mostly out of everything, but I did have the burger made with local, grass fed beef and that was excellent. Post dinner, we walked to Mikkeller & Friends serving local Icelandic beer ranging from sour to stout beers.
It was quiet strange to be out and about at 1am and still be light out, but when in Iceland.
Old Charm Apartments - A modern apartment in the heart of Reykjavik.
Places to See:
Laugavegur Street for shopping and eating
Hallgrímskirkja (largest church in Iceland)
Statue of Leif Eriksson (next to church)
Harpa Concert Hall (beautiful glass architecture)
Faxagata (walk by the water, enjoy the scenery)
Places to Eat:
Day 2: Golden Circle Drive
We traveled with a group of 17. Yes 17! Our car of 4 people was scheduled to fly out a day earlier so we broke from the group to see sites that were scheduled for the last day. We drove the Golden Circle Drive which is the number one Iceland tour recommendation. Thanks Jeff J. for the heads up on this.
Out first stop was Thrihnukagigur Volcano in the hopes of being able to see the inside of a volcano. Unfortunately, we found that you need tickets and early reservations as this is a guided experience done by one tour company. Prices start at around $400. Without a reservation, tickets and the time to do so, we just walked around the area for a bit and took pictures. We arrived to the volcano early on so were one of a few cars on the road which makes for a quiet time and beautiful scenery as the clouds roll out. Also, great for drone shots if you go early since there are not a lot of people and the wind is fairly minimal.
Next stop on our tour was Thingvellir National Park which lies in a rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. To the south lies Thingvallavatn where you can go snorkeling in between the two plates of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. What a cool site to see. The park is also home to Iceland' s first parliament and is a World Heritage Site. It's a busy place with lots of tourists. There are a few options to park. We stopped at the first parking lot that overlooks the lake. From here we walked down in between the rift and headed to the church, Thingvallakirkja, below. You have the option of starting from the bottom and walking up.
In Thingvellir is also the first of many waterfalls that we saw in Iceland, Oxararfoss. It is a 5 minute drive from the first parking lot at Thingvellir. You also have the option to walk it from any point in Thingvellir if you don't want to drive. It started to drizzle while we were there so we opted for a quick drive in case it down poured.
From Thingvellir, we drove an hour to Geysir Hot Springs and Gulfoss Falls. Both a site to see and proof that Mother Earth is more powerful than we can fathom. At Geysir, you can witness geothermal activity that hurls boiling water as high as 70 metres. During our visit, we witnessed Strokkur erupting every 10 minutes or so. The others appear dormant, but don't let that fool you. The water is still hot. Surprisingly, there are not a lot of barriers around the geysers, just a thin rope surrounding each geyser.
Within a 10 minute drive from Geysir is Iceland's most popular waterfall, Gulfoss, and across all of the waterfalls we saw on the trip, was one of the most impressive. I would love to see these falls in winter, half frozen in time. If you want to be adventurous and get close to the falls, head to the lower level to stand on the rocks. Bring your rain gear, it will be a wet one.
We rendezvoused with the rest of the group at Seljalandfoss. OK, not as impressive as Gulfoss, but still beautiful and you can walk behind the falls and feel its power. I opted not to do this because I was already wet from Gulfoss.
Skogar Guesthouse - A summer house owned by an Icelandic journalist named Sigga. She was very nice and opened her home to all of us. She had a well appointed kitchen where a few chefs from our group: Mish, Rees, Manny, WinSon cooked a family dinner for all of us.
Places to See:
Golden Circle Tour: Thingvellir, Geysir, Gulfoss
Places to Eat:
Thingvellir National Park Visitor Center for snacks, sandwiches, coffee
Geysir Visitor Center for a sit down meal of lamp soup, snacks, coffee, pastries, etc.
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Day 3: Black Sand Beach, Glacier Hiking, and Icebergs
Day 3 began with a visit to Skogarfoss next to the Guesthouse. These falls are set against the Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 stopping air traffic in northern Europe due to ash and smoke. You wouldn't believe this place could be covered in ash. It's so green and so beautiful.
Next up was a ride up a windy road to the Dyrhólaey Lighthouse where you can see the Black Sand Beach from high above. This ride up was a little scary, no joke, but the view is amazing.
Today's main agenda was a glacier hike. Not sure how I end up agreeing to a lot of these things, but apparently I did. Our hike was set at Svínafellsjökull, part of the great Vatnajökull Glacier in Skaftafell National Park. We got fitted for boots, cramp-ons, a harness and given helmets and ice picks. It was nice and sunny as we left, but once we got the glacier, the weather turned and it started drizzling. Another cue to dress in layers while in Iceland and that rain gear is always important. The Icelandic Mountain Guides were amazing as they dropped some knowledge about glaciers, volcanoes, ice climbing and Iceland.
Post glacier hiking, we rested and ate at a food truck in the camping area, filled up on lots of glacier water and then proceeded to hike uphill to Svartifoss. The hike entrance for Svartifoss is a few meters from the Visitor Center.
Day 3 was already a memorable day, then we saw this sight at 11:30PM and my mind was blown. Iceland, so stunningly gorgeous. No. Words.
Bragdavellir Cottages - My fave place we stayed at, by the mountains, complete cottage, cozy. Love!
Places to See:
Dyrhólaey Lighthouse overlooking Black Sand Beach
Vatnajökull Glacier in Skaftafell National Park
Svartifoss next to Skaftafell National Park Visitor Center
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Day 4: Hot Spring Hunting
Day 4, the group quested to find hot springs.
Grjótagjá are hot springs under a cave. It was popularized in Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, during our visit, no swimming was allowed and there were so many flies circling around that it might have been a sign not to go in.
Mývatn Nature Baths is a commercial bath area with a similar look and feel as the Blue Lagoon.
Unfortunately, no luck with the hot springs on this day, but another unbelievable waterfalls at Dettifoss before we headed to Akuyeri, Iceland's second largest town. It's a picturesque town guarded by mountains and water. Unfortunately, we arrived too late and did not get a chance to explore the city. Next time!
Day 5: Hot Spring Before Journeying to the Center of the Earth
Day 5 continued with a quest for hot springs and one was found at Fosslaug next to a small waterfall called Reykafoss. A small spring pond next to a flowing river and small waterfall. It blends in with the surroundings and offers good privacy. It's very off the beaten path and took some time to find. I, personally, did not go into the hot spring, but majority of the group did and it was a thumbs up for warm and of course the picturesque setting and once in a lifetime experience.
Our final destination for Day 5 was the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We hoped to see the Snæfellsjökull volcano, but the clouds were hanging low so we couldn't see the top of the volcano. Nonetheless, the surrounding area looks as if it is from a completely different planet. Rough yet green. The volcano is a setting in Jules Verne novel "Journey to the Center of the Earth" which I have not read, but now I intend to after seeing this magical place. We stopped at Dritvik and explored the area including heading to the ocean side. The air is so fresh and it's so quiet, it's one of the most relaxing place to be in.
Stóra-Vatnshorn - Another cute cottage with a small waterfall next to it, a lake in front and the mountains behind. Complete cottage with small kitchen and comfortable beds. There are toilets in the cottage, but full shower and laundry are in a separate cottage. In a very, very quiet town and street. Set on a working farm. The next town is 17 km.
Places to See
Reykjafoss to Fosslaug
Day 6: Saying Goodbye to Iceland
Six days in Iceland didn't seem enough. While we saw many things, drove many hours and many kilometers, there were so many places that we still did not see which means only one thing: another visit. Our last day in Iceland was spent enjoying the scenery as we headed back to the airport.
The drive around Ring Road is possible in 6 days, but do keep in mind that it means a lot of driving, but if you like to drive on picturesque highways, then this will be the trip for you.
Shout out to the travel group who made this trip a memorable one. Carmates: Sarkis, Magda and Sylvia - thanks for the snacks and the good company. Thanks to everyone who planned, navigated, took photos, made dinner, etc.: Arjun, Lauren, Mish, John, Kim, Wallace, CeCe, Rees, Beth, WinSon, Jeff, Pedro, Manny.
Iceland Drive Tour Map
Click to enlarge the map and save.
Icelandic Nature Words to Know
There are not a lot of signs in Iceland. In fact, some of the attractions can only be recognized once you pass it. Get to know these nature words so that you can recognize natural attractions easily on the road.
jökulsá = glacial river
kirkja = church
bær = farm, township
stræti = street
strönd = beach, coast, seashore
lón = lagoon
skógur = forest
vatn = water; lake
foss = waterfall