|Location||Driving||Steps||Stay at||Hotel recommendations|
|Day 1: Snaefellsnes||6 hours||10,000||Reykjavik||Reykjavik Edition|
|Day 2: Reykjavik & Reykjanes||2 hours||15,000||Reykjavik||Reykjavik Edition|
|Day 3: Golden Circle||3 hours||15,000||Reykjavik||Reykjavik Edition|
|Day 4: Southwest||5 hours||15,000||Hof||Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon|
|Day 5: Southeast||2 hours||20,000||Hof||Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon|
|Day 6: Vatnajokull||1 hour||20,000||Hof||Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon|
This, I think, should be one of the most convenient self-drive Iceland itineraries.
It's planned carefully, so I'd be cautious customizing it.
In case something comes up (e.g unexpected weather, car malfunction), and you find yourself having to sacrifice some attractions, then use the right column of this table:
|Day 1: Gerduberg Cliffs||High|
|Day 1: Budakirkja (Church)||High|
|Day 1: Raudfeldsgja Ravine||Mid|
|Day 1: Arnarstapi (Village)||Mid|
|Day 1: Londrangar Cliffs||Low|
|Day 1: Djupalonssandur Beach||High|
|Day 1: Saxholl Crater||High|
|Day 1: Kirkjufell (Mountain & Waterfall)||Low|
|Day 2: Reykjavik Downtown||Mid|
|Day 2: Hallgrimskirkja (Church)||Mid|
|Day 2: Solfar (Ship sculpture)||High|
|Day 2: Fagradalsfjall Volcano||Low|
|Day 2: Blue Lagoon||Very low|
|Day 3: Thingvellir Park||Mid|
|Day 3: Bruarfoss (Waterfall)||Mid|
|Day 3: Geysers||Very low|
|Day 3: Gullfoss (Waterfall)||Mid|
|Day 3: Kerid Crater||Very low|
|Day 4: Seljalandsfoss (Waterfall)||Mid|
|Day 4: Gljufrafoss (Waterfall)||Mid|
|Day 4: Skogafoss (Waterfall)||Mid|
|Day 4: Kvernufoss (Waterfall)||Mid|
|Day 4: Reynisfjara Beach||Very low|
|Day 4: Dyrholaey Beach||Mid|
|Day 4: Eldhraun (Viewpoint)||Mid|
|Day 4: Fjadrargljufur Canyon||Low|
|Day 5: Stokksnes Beach & Vestahorn Mountain||Mid|
|Day 5: Diamond Beach||Low|
|Day 5: Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon||Very low|
|Day 5: Jokulsarlon Ice Cave Tour||Very low|
|Day 5: Svinafellsjokull (Glacier)||Mid|
|Day 6: Skaftafell Glacier Hike Tour||Very low|
|Day 6: Svartifoss (Waterfall)||Low|
|Day 6: Skaftafellsjokull (Glacier)||Mid|
Obviously, "Very low" signifies the least and "High" signifies the most expendable attractions.
Image by image walkthrough of all the attractions:
Don't forget to bookmark it on Google Maps. It can and will help you a lot:
Lastly, do make sure to download offline maps to your phone (here's how to do it if you're unaware [Youtube Video]).
- Ideal months to follow this itinerary
Sep, Oct, Mar, Apr and May.
If you're going to visit Iceland in summer, you can still use this itinerary as a starting point. But you're going to have to tweak it.
- Will this itinerary take me to all of the attractions in Iceland?
This might not be the case for other countries, but Iceland has way too many hidden gems for one to discover even in a few months of time, let alone just a couple days/weeks (which is why planning a trip to Iceland is usually more difficult).
So, regardless of the itinerary you follow, you will miss out on some sightings.
Whoever claims otherwise is lying to you.
That said, this itinerary, I'd say, is quite solid for one week. You'll get to experience plenty of Iceland.
- How busy is this itinerary?
Not so busy. You should be able to enjoy it a lot without rushing it.
You can pull over at will, pour yourself a cup of tea, and admire the view at leisure without worrying about falling behind the plan.
But if you'd like to spend a few extra hours on an attraction you liked, then you're probably going to have to sacrifice some other spots in most cases (in which case you can use the expendability table above).
- Expense report
This itinerary would cost around 3,150 USD per person - assuming you already own essential gear (warm, waterproof clothing and hiking footwear).
Otherwise, add from 500 to 1,500 USD per person - depending on the gear quality.
- Would the hikes and activities be too tough for someone untrained?
Not at all.
If you have the capability of walking for a few hours, then you have everything it takes to do this. However, you will, of course, be tired by the end of the day.
- Packing checklist
A parentheses on jackets here - if you don't know what to get, see my comprehensive article on insulated jackets.
- Where to eat in Reykjavik Downtown
Below are my favorites. To my knowledge, they're also popular.
Menus are available online:
- Lunch: Traditional hotdog stand: Baejarins Beztu Pylsur ($)
- Lunch: Traditional & quick: 101 Reykjavik Street Food ($$)
- Dinner: Traditional & down to earth: Thrir Frakkar ($$$)
- Dinner: Traditional & classy: Apotek Kitchen ($$$$)
In Thrir Frakkar, you can try out pretty much any traditional Icelandic dish. Including whales (recommended!), fermented sharks, puffins and horses.
Disclaimer: I'm not an "Iceland travel expert". Take my advice with a grain of salt.
I visited West & South Iceland late March 2022 with my girlfriend İlay (:Eli).
Turns out that we were lucky having started planning the entire thing early on.
Because, in contrast to what we initially had thought, apparently, literally NOT A SINGLE SOUL ON THE INTERNET did the work and put together a complete guide to West & South Iceland in a decent format whatsoever.
In the end, the planning step ended up being more difficult than we thought it would be, but on the bright side, we also ended up learning a lot.
As a result, I decided to take the initiative and create the very guide I was looking for by myself.
Having said that, I didn't base this itinerary and guide solely on my own, subjective experiences (although they helped immensely - I've been to Iceland twice). Tons of research has been made and many others' opinions are asked in addition.
In case the breathtaking Iceland is in your bucket list, with the help of this write up, hopefully the planning step won't be as difficult for you as it did for us.
This is non-negotiable. Thank me later.
This article involves not only the most convenient 6 day self drive West & South Iceland itinerary that I could come up with; but also other must have sets of information, checklist, videos, guides, links, apps, maps and more.
If you're going to follow this, I wouldn't bother taking notes if I were you. Instead I'd just print out the web page entirely.
I hope you find this article helpful. Either way, please let me know in the comment section below.
Without further ado, let's get to it.
I wouldn't label this routine aggressive.
When traveling, I don't want to take things too slowly because I'd like to visit and see as much as I can.
But on the flip side, I also don't like rushing things to the point that the trip starts feeling more like running errands and less like a fun, enjoyable activity that it's intended to be.
When we were on this trip, we still had the chance to stay at an attraction we loved a little more than the time we allocated for it, to pull over occasionally & admire the view at leisure and to have a little longer breakfast and dinner conversations (not very long though).
However, you certainly won't have plenty of idle time. If you'd like to spend a few extra hours on an attraction you liked without the fear of falling behind of your itinerary...
...then you might be cutting yourself too thin with this kind of routine.
In that case, I'd either subtract some spots and/or up the days. I'm unable to direct you in this regard because things become even more subjective than they already are.
And I wouldn't worry about this.
Because, strange enough, some of these sightings can be even more beautiful under foul weather.
Sometimes the fog, the snow, the clouds, the rain, the sun etc assemble in such a divine harmony in Iceland that you get to experience something extraordinary and unique.
This is why I always recommend you to visit the destinations no matter what. It's one of those things that make your Iceland experience unique and special. I'm glad the weather wasn't any better when I was in Londrangar, for example. It changed the experience for the better.
There is, however, one exception to this - and it's when everything is completely submerged in snow. Most attractions will definitely still be worthy of a visit even under snow, but they'll mostly be less impressive.
The daily trips would last anywhere from 7 to 10 hours each (including prolonged road trips), depending on how much you end up staying in each location as well as on other things (e.g the road conditions due to the weather).
You can, by the way, customize this plan to adapt everything to correspond to your own schedule. I'd be careful with this, though. Because, as you know, customizing usually tends to backfire. And itineraries are no exception.
Let's get to it.
Day 1: Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Under heavy snow, this peninsula can be less impressive - though it's still intriguing.
- -Fjall: Mountain
- -Foss: Waterfall
- -Jökull: Glacier
- -Fell: Cliff
- -Fjörður: Fjord
- -Kirkja: Church
- Vik: Village (Let me know if you know whether there's a connection between this word and the word "Vikings")
What makes this cliff special is its geometrical structure.
This very same profile, however, is also observed in many other spots in Iceland - such as Svartifoss (waterfall - visited later on in this trip) and the cliffs by the Reynisfjara Beach (black sand beach - visited later on in this trip).
And I think they're more impressive than Gerduberg since it's more stunning to see these hexagon basalt columns when they're combined with other special scenes like waterfalls and black sands.
Lastly, as you can guess, this place is not as beautiful when it's almost completely submerged in snow - as you can also see in the image. You can barely observe the structure.
This small, eerie church is in the middle of nowhere.
There's also a cemetery in the backyard (see image), where you can simply walk into.
If you'd like to shoot an indie horror movie, take a note of this place.
I think it makes a decent job in delivering the somehow "abandoned" ambiance of Iceland.
Other than that, not that special of a spot in our opinion.
This ravine, too, is not as beautiful when covered in snow.
Caution: Watch out for your step if there's snow when you're in here. Path to the ravine is slippery and a little steep.
A tiny, uphill path takes you to a small canyon you can get into. A calm water flow takes place inside right in the middle. It's a nice, peaceful environment.
You might be indecisive around taking your daypack with you or not in here. I'd recommend not taking it.
We tried hiking as further as possible into the crack, but it wasn't that long before we couldn't do so because of the interior rock formations.
Cute little town.
You get to see the traditional Icelandic turf houses in here. You can even be able to have lunch in one of them.
We saw plenty of pretty looking restaurants - though we didn't enter.
You can also have a sight of beautiful cliffs by the sea.
Don't spend too much time observing those cliffs though, because the best is yet to come right now...
Best spot in Snaefellsnes in our opinion.
We loved how untouched and vivid this place was. One of the few places I've felt in the wilderness this much.
The cliffs by the sea here make a stunning companion to birds and waves. It's like you're inside a documentary.
Take a look at the video we captured. It better describes what I'm trying to say.
I suppose this sums it up.
In my opinion, Reynisfjara Beach, which is another black sand beach and going to be visited on the upcoming days, is much more impressive than here.
This place is still nice, though. Wreckage of a British fishing ship takes place in here, from March 13, 1948.
Apparently, only five men lived that day and fourteen men lost their lives - and the ruins are left there as a memorial.
Compared to Kerid Crater, which is going to be visited on Day #3, this crater is, in our humble opinion, less impressive.
Don't get me wrong. It's still pretty damn good. After all, how many of us get to have a sight of craters during our daily lives?
We took the 396 steps near the parking spot to reach the top of Saxholl Crater, and the view makes it worthwhile.
You get a 360 degree view on top. It's pretty nice.
Kerid Crater, by the way, has got a small lake at the top inside the pit. As if the crater wasn't enough by itself, there's also a lake! It's crazy.
Kirkjufell Mountain & Waterfall
Apparently, this is the most photographed mountain in Iceland.
The mountain and waterfall, all in one frame is pretty neat. That said, the entire place was covered in snow when we were visiting. As a result, it was much less impressive than we thought.
But, it's almost always impossible to predict Iceland's incredibly dynamic weather. So this is inevitable. We didn't mind that much!
Fun fact: Remember the Arrowhead Mountain from Game of Thrones?
Yeah, you're looking at it. In fact, it turns out that roughly 10% of GoT was Iceland.
Day 2: Reykjavik Downtown & Reykjanes
Reykjavik Downtown is alright. But it's tiny. There's nothing much to see or do. The architecture doesn't offer something that special either.
I recommend you to start out with wandering in Reykjavik, and then moving on to Solfar (open all day) and Hallgrimskirkja (open between 11 AM - 4 PM).
As you see, Solfar (Sun Voyager) is a ship sculpture (open all day). Nothing really special in here, but the road that takes you there is by the sea, and it only takes around 15 minutes from the downtown, so it's nice. But it's totally optional and skippable, in my opinion.
If you do decide walking to Solfar, then I'd recommend you to get your coffee from Reykjavik Roasters. Their coffee was pretty nice. We've had heard it from another blog in Turkey. I liked how smooth the coffee was. I even bought the beans they prepared my coffee with (which is called Dona Nenem).
When it's 11 AM, I'd recommend heading on to Hallgrimskirkja.
The unique, geometrical design of this church was inspired by the hexagon basalt columns of Svartifoss - which is a waterfall going to be visited on the last day of this itinerary. This makes the visit there even cooler and more interesting!
You get a nice view of Reykjavik from the top of the church, but the elevator that takes you there is pricey (1200 ISK per person).
On this day, I'd have two recommendations on where to have lunch at:
- 101 Reykjavik Street Food: Icelandic Meat Soup (traditional Icelandic dish) here was rich, delicious and warming. Probably my favorite Icelandic dish. Another dish I'd recommend in here would be the fish stew.
- Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: A popular spot. Small chain of hotdog stands. This too is delicious, although we liked the former for better.
You could then move on to rambling the downtown, again. We visited some of the stores here and there, and did some shopping. Fortunately, the most traditional things in Iceland are the cheapest - contrary to other staggering price tags you come across in here.
Let's have a quick look at them:
- Wool felted soap: Apparently, wrapping a soap in wool helps further exfoliating your skin. That said, the important thing here to me isn't the returns but the Icelandic traditions. Turns out that Vikings have been using this.
- Salts: Iceland is famous for its salt. In most stores you'll see options like volcanic salt, lava salt, sea salt and snow salt.
- Salted chocolate: This is a thing not only in Iceland but around the entire Scandinavian countries. I like Marabou (Swedish) the most, but Om Nom (Icelandic) wasn't bad either.
So yeah, the level of amusement here is limited, but it's nice. A few hours should cut it.
If you still have some extra energy left, then checking out the following activities and attractions can be a good idea:
- Perlan Museum: https://www.perlan.is/en-gb. This is the place most people consider visiting the most.
- Hafnarhus Art Gallery: https://listasafnreykjavikur.is/en/hafnarhus
- Pools: https://reykjavik.is/en/swimming-pools
- Coffee & books with free WI-FI: https://visitreykjavik.is/service/ida-zimsen
- Some other museums:
- Maritime Museum: https://reykjavikcitymuseum.is/reykjavik-maritime-museum
- National Museum of Iceland: https://www.thjodminjasafn.is/
- Saga Museum: https://www.sagamuseum.is/
- Icelandic Phallological Museum: https://phallus.is/en/. A huge collection of penises. More than 280 penises and penile parts. Are we excited for this place, everyone?
Do consider getting a Reykjavik city card accordingly.
- Special thanks to Reddit user _ilovethefall for these recommendations.
When we got to Fagradalsfjall on late March 2022, it had been 6 months since the volcano stopped erupting. You could, however, still see the smoke coming out under the hardened, blackened lava that you could walk on.
You could even feel the temperature leaning your hand on top of the smoke. It's fascinating.
There's also a hiking route right next to the dried lava, and we did hike there for around 2.5 hours (round-trip). I do recommend it because it provides a beautiful view of the entire volcanic activity, including the volcano itself, and the path of the lava flow.
The ocean sits right next to the lava. It's beautiful.
We wanted to go as far as we could - preferably to the metal box that was placed on top of the hill. However, the wind was getting to a point where we would call the hiking an extreme sport, so we decided to back out.
The path does, by the way, go around the volcano and make a full circle. So it's an option assuming the wind isn't extreme.
Hmm, turns out that this might not be correct, after all. Check out the 360 deg aerial view of Fagradalsfjall.
As you can guess; the volcano, the lava, the smoke were all extraordinary to us (as it is to most other visitors). Even when considering the volcano was inactive.
I'm sure we wouldn't be just as impressed with this place if there was no hardened lava or smoke.
I took one of these blackened lava rocks with me back home. Makes a great decoration.
Now we're going to the Blue Lagoon!
The ticketing system does make you book the time you're going to be there in advance. They're pretty flexible around this, though.
We did arrive to the lagoon in time, but by the time we were inside the pool, we were HALF AN HOUR in (hello @ilay, how are you?).
And no one forced us to leave the lagoon. I hiiiiiiighly doubt they ever do this. Didn't have that impression.
Sure, do arrive in time, but don't worry if you end up wasting too much time in changing rooms. You can compensate this later on (if you want to).
Considering the itinerary, the earliest I'd recommend you to book this would be around 17:00 (which is what we did).
I wouldn't recommend the Premium pack unless you decide dining at Lava restaurant - which I wouldn't recommend either (more on this later).
Because (1) we found the bathrobe to be almost completely unnecessary, and (2) even if you purchase the two additional masks later on, comfort pack is still cheaper!
Mask prices inside the lagoon:
- Silica Mud Mask: Complimentary
- Lava Scrub Mask: ISK 900
- Algae Mask: ISK 1200
- Mineral Mask: ISK 900
You've probably seen the photos of people eating at Lava Restaurant with their bathrobes on. This sounds like a cool and unique idea in the beginning, and we, too, were excited about this.
But, upon entering the restaurant after the lagoon, we changed our minds.
There were two main reasons for this.
- The first reason is because the restaurant doesn't offer anything from the traditional Icelandic kitchen. This might actually be a pro instead of a con for some of you, but we I wanted to try out the local stuff, so this wasn't really a good fit for me.
- Second, we felt like the restaurant was being marketed as if it offers its unique experience, having dinner around the view of this unique lagoon. However, to us, the reality was different. The view offers much less than what we have already had seen being inside the lagoon just a few minutes prior. Having just left the lagoon, this didn't really excite us all that much.
If you, on the other hand, do decide eating there with your bathrobe, then don't forget to book a table in advance and absolutely bring a second swimsuit!
It's easy to have this little detail to slip up your mind, but it's so important. The one you used inside the lagoon is obviously going to be wet.
In case you forget bringing one more, the store does sell swimsuits. You can even RENT them (for 800 ISK if I'm not mistaken), as far as I know. Renting swimsuits. Crazy, right?
You probably have heard of the famous Skyr Smoothies of the lagoon. Well we did, and we asked for two, but it seems like they're discontinued for over a year now. Supposedly due to covid (doesn't make sense to me because they still offer other refreshments and drinks). Just saying.
If you want to take pictures with your phone, then you'll need a transparent phone cover. The water in the lagoon is extremely salty, so I think it can damage your phone - even if it's waterproof. I don't know the science behind this, but I personally prefer not risking it. Not worth it IMO.
The prices of these covers are extravagant inside the lagoon (3500 ISK!). So bringing yours is a better idea. If you don't have one, then this much cheaper one on Amazon can be a good fit.
Also, boys, don't shave before the Blue Lagoon. No need to have the masks and salty water burn you.
Lastly, including everything, I'd recommend allocating around 2.5 - 3 hours for Blue Lagoon if you're getting there from Fagradalsfjall. The ride and changing your clothes cost you big time.
Day 3: Golden Circle
Geysers and Kerid Crater were the two climaxes of this day.
Thingvellir doesn't seem to be the highlight of anyone's Iceland adventure.
Considering how extraordinary the rest is, this isn't surprising.
Because, when it comes to what Thingvellir has to offer; the hikes, the clean air and the Oxararfoss waterfall are all nice, but that's about it. Nothing really special.
The cafeteria nearby is also solid and hence can be a good checkpoint.
Compared to other spots in Iceland, we weren't all that impressed by it, either. BUT, it's important to note that we still do like the place and that we would go there again given the chance.
Because, yes, it might not have a lot to offer. But the peaceful ambiance shuts down your brain (a pro if you're an overthinker like we are), makes you feel good about yourself and the entire place. I can even safely say that I loved this place!
Check out some other activities you can participate in Thingvellir: https://www.thingvellir.is/en/plan-your-visit/
You might have already come across this waterfall by chance - but I decided to add it anyway.
Bruarfoss is famous for the harmony of its colors. Turquoise water combined with dark rocks gives it a fresh and slick look.
Feel like you remember this very color palette from somewhere? Yeah, it was Blue Lagoon.
Geysers were GREAT.
Strokkur, which can hurl boiling water for up to 40 meters high every 15 minutes or so, isn't even the biggest geyser in Iceland!
Eruptions of the biggest geyser, Geysir, can reach up to 70 meters high. But at times, it's inactive. And when we were there, it had been inactive for 1.5 years if I remember correctly. So we didn't have the chance to see it.
Still, Strokkur was fascinating. We spent around an hour there. There were times where Strokkur was active for every few minutes!
If you're lucky, you might even come across consecutive eruptions without giving any breaks in between. From what I've heard it's not uncommon to witness this (although we didn't).
Lastly, it's easy to get carried away watching this monster hurl water up top on and on and on. Always keep an eye on the time.
We spent more than an hour there without even realizing, lol.
Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is HUGE.
Its noise makes a good job in reflecting its power. You also get to view it on top, which is rarely the case with waterfalls.
Observing this place was nice but we didn't stay there for too long.
Of all the places we've been to in the Golden Circle, we pretty much liked the Kerid Crater the most.
Apparently, scientists originally believed that this crater was formed after a volcanic explosion.
However, such evidence cannot be found. Scientists now believe that Kerid was once a cone-shaped volcano.
And that after it ran out of magma, the roof has collapsed inside itself due to its heavy weight and the vacancy inside.
The entrance is 400 ISK.
We loved it so much that one round-hike (takes around half an hour) didn't cut it.
We had to do a second one. And we were thisclose to a third round. But it was getting dark so we called it a day and ended it there.
The mere idea of craters is already fascinating in itself. On top of that, a LAKE taking place on top of the crater is one of the wonders of the nature we definitely don't get to witness ordinarily.
The variety of the colors makes the entire thing look like a painting. Our jaws dropped the first time we laid our eyes on this freak of nature.
The stairs nearby get you down, next to the lake. When we were there, the lake was frozen, as you see. This made the crater even more extraordinary.
If you'd like a liquid lake (liquid lake? what?), you'd better visit after mid April. This obviously isn't ALWAYS going to be the case, but it's a good rule of thumb.
Day 4: Southwest
Seljalandsfoss pretty neat, and would definitely recommend you to visit this place.
What makes this special is that you can get behind the waterfall into the cave.
Also, a portion of the Seljalands River is apparently originated from the recently active volcano Eyjafjallajökull.
Lastly, this is one of the many places in Iceland you'll thank God for bringing a rain coat with you.
This is a waterfall hidden inside a canyon. It's very close to Seljalandsfoss (around 500 meters of easy trail), so it doesn't cost you anything in terms of time and energy.
It's definitely worth a visit. Favorite waterfall of many visitors.
25 meters of width and 60 meters of height make Skogafoss one of the largest and most powerful waterfalls in Iceland.
It's also highly likely to see a rainbow on sunny days in here. This is one of the main attractions of Skogafoss.
You can, by the way, walk behind the Skogafoss, too.
- No one:
- Guide: "OK so we're going to visit the waterfalls you can walk behind today"
But only do it if there are no icicles. Otherwise it's dangerous because they might fall down.
Apparently, some scenes of the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was shot in here.
Another amazing waterfall. It's just nearby the Skogafoss. Walking distance.
The short hike you take inside the gorge, to the waterfall provides a surprise solitary here. I don't know why this waterfall isn't any more popular.
Man the variety in Iceland is CRRRAAAZZYYYYY. This is probably the main thing I love about Iceland. It's like you're visiting multiple countries. No wait, not multiple countries. Multiple PLANETS.
Take Reynisfjara Beach, for example. This place is out of this world.
If you visit on a foggy day, when it's just getting dark, I guarantee you you're going to feel like you're another planet. Like Mars. Did you know they've shot the scenes with Matt Demon on the Martian in here? No? Well of course not, because I just made it up.
The eerie ambiance of this place made us feel like we were inside a movie like Lighthouse. There indeed was, by the way, a lighthouse far away to the right hand side of the beach, over the rocks. Heavy fog was preventing the light it was shedding from escaping the island, giving the place even a more of a characteristic soul. It was unforgettable.
Do not make the mistake of listening to my techno playlist in this place. I mean, unless you want to get depressed. You have been warned.
We just didn't want to leave this place. I hope I get the chance to visit this beach again. Maybe after another 7 years... Who knows. If I do, I might allocate an entire day for this place.
Do not get too close to the ocean, by the way. It's pretty dangerous. Sneaker waves are no joke. If they catch you, they have the potential to drag you underwater and drown you:
This black sand beach, to me, is definitely less impressive than Reynisfjara - but it's still pretty nice.
There's a hike route towards the top and it takes you to a lighthouse.
Also, if you're visiting in summer (although this itinerary isn't specifically made for summer and rather than made for fall & spring)...
...then the odds of seeing the puffins in here are also pretty high.
Also, there's a coffee shop inside a yellow school bus in Vik. They're called Skool Beans. You can get your coffee there. The interior is pretty nice too.
Moving on to the next stop.
We liked Eldhraun a lot. Just for the record, though, I wouldn't say that it's a major destination (not that it matters). It's literally on the main route, just at the right hand side of the road.
We didn't plan visiting stopping by this place, because we haven't even heard of it before. We saw plenty of parked cars and pulled over just out of curiosity.
Cool viewpoint if you ask me. Pretty much sums up the Icelandic flora. I'd definitely recommend you to stop by in here.
Fjadrargljufur Canyon is stunning! Definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip.
We couldn't take our eyes off of those gorgeous large rocks.
It was very fun to observe the water flow, birds, and the overall ambiance.
Things I'd give just to walk on the terrain right near by the water flow in the middle...
This place is extremely peaceful. Photos can't describe it well enough. You just have to be there.
Can't even imagine being able to camp down there. Even looking at it was giving us the chills.
Day 5: Southeast
Stokksnes Beach & Vestrahorn Mountain
This black beach, along with the grandiose mountain, is an amazing hidden gem in Iceland.
The road that takes you here has been under maintenance in September 2021, because most tourists were getting a flat tire.
This was especially weird because this is one of the few roads in Iceland you pay for.
Speaking of which, this is a private land - meaning that you have to pay to the Viking Cafe (900 ISK per person).
The road that takes you there a bit tough, so a 4WD would definitely be better, but you'd do just fine with a 2WD, too.
If the air is clear, I'd say definitely see this spot. If not, it won't be as nice, but I'd still take the time to visit it.
Blocks of ice around the black beach is the thing in here - which is obviously why they call it Diamond Beach.
These two being together at the same place isn't that common on our planet.
You probably won't end up spending too much time in here but we definitely liked this place.
Do not forget to make the joke "Hey let's take one of these blocks of ice home with us, it'd make a cool decoration". Can't guarantee the laughs though. Proceed at your own risk.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Just 2-3 mins of drive from the Diamond Beach and you're here.
Glaciers in here aren't just sitting still. Instead, they're floating. You can even notice their movement.
The water flow takes the smallest of the glaciers to a tiny waterfall (maybe it isn't even called a waterfall). They then fall down to the ocean. It's pretty distinct.
Another dazzling thing here to us was the seals.
Observing these adorable animals was such a pleasure. Funnier than watching whales, in my opinion. They turned out to be a lot more playful and social than I thought! They were going under the water in a silly way, goofing around with each other. Yeah, definitely see them.
They reminded me of cats. On top of that, considering the fact that they are lazy, eat fish, and have whiskers; I even did some research upon coming home, but didn't come across any real source to back this up... But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Jokulsarlon Ice Cave Tour
Unfortunately, due to the weather conditions, we couldn't do the Ice Cave Tour, but I trust in my research around this and would recommend you to do it.
A super jeep takes you there (last departure is at 14:30, and I think this is the ideal hour considering this itinerary, but still, do check it out for yourself), which in itself is quite an experience.
Not to even mention the ice cave itself. Just look at the pictures and you'll see what I mean. Most people say that it was on of the highlights of their entire lives, let alone of the Iceland trip.
The availability is between September and May. The tickets tend to sell out early, so I'd recommend you to book in advance.
Svinafellsjokull is one of the outlets of the Europe's biggest, and the world's second biggest glacier Vatnajokull (also the name of the related national park).
The glacier hike tour on the next day of this itinerary takes place on another outlet of Vatnajokull - which is called Skaftafellsjokull.
Anyways, back to Svinafellsjokull.
First, yes, you can't get as close to them as you'd like. Or get a top view as you'd like. You get a mere side view of them, and the angle seems to be far from ideal.
But the view is still nice. The texture of the glaciers are pretty impressive. For whatever reason, I always imagined glaciers like clean cut. But it turns out that the reality is different. They're somewhat patterned.
The road that takes you there is also cool and fun to walk. It's a wide, long road. Imposing mountains, clouds and moss as far as your eyes can see make you a good companion. The air is so clean that it's refreshing. Makes you feel good about yourself and the entire thing.
The planet Matt Damon was in on the movie Interstellar was shot in here.
Day 6: Vatnajokull
Skaftafell Glacier Hike Tour
Starts at 10:30 AM.
It takes around 5 hours, and getting to / returning from the glacier takes around 1.5 - 2 hours. You don't need to have your crampons with you beforehand because you can rent them inside the tour's office.
An important point is that during the glacier walk, after 1 kilometer of walking distance is covered, if any one of the tour members would like to go back for any reason, then the entire tour would have to go back because the guide needs to keep an eye on and protect the entire team.
Something to think about.
Lastly, the availability is year round.
Again, tickets usually sell out early, so I'd recommend you to book in advance.
You'll have burnt out on waterfalls by this day. Still, Svartifoss does live up to its name. In my opinion, this is the best waterfall in Iceland.
We took a low/mid level difficulty, 30 mins of uphill hike to the waterfall.
The hexagon basalt columns are brilliant and make the entire hike more than worth it. It's mind blowing how these columns aren't carved by hand and just formed completely on its own.
Along with Reynisfjara Beach, I think Svartifoss is the best spot to observe this columnar structure in Iceland.
Svartifoss is another place that you'll appreciate having waterproof clothing the most. Even if it's not raining (which it usually does as far as I know), the combination of powerful wind and strong waterfall still gets you wet.
If you don't have and don't plan getting a waterproof shell jacket - which, in my opinion, this isn't even negotiable, you MUST have one, but in case you'd like to know the alternatives for any reason - then you can also consider investing in a portable rain poncho like this one on REI.
Mind you though, you sacrifice using your hand pockets and a shitload of breathability by putting this on. If you're like me and tend to sweat more than average, then this might not be a really good option for you.
Skaftafellsjokull is accessed thorough a curvy, narrow road.
It leads you to a plateau-like terrain, covered with dark rocks, dark water, and dark beach.
You can also see several tiny waterfalls by the cliffs. Definitely a unique spot.
That said, you can't get as close to the glaciers as you'd like.
This is another reason why I recommend the glacier hike tour (the main reason is because it's pretty neat).
If you find yourself having to sacrifice one of the activities on this day, then this spot would be the one I'd recommend you to give up on.
Supporting data and information
See how much this trip should roughly add up to, for 2 people:
Main gear would involve baselayers, insulated jackets, shell jackets, waterproof pants, gloves, waterproof hiking footwear and insulated socks.
Side gear would involve fleeces, backpacks and insulated bottles & mugs.
If you're planning to purchase gear, then I'd recommend upping the expenses by anywhere from 500 to 1,500 USD per person - depending on the gear quality.
List of certain gear we brought:
- Arc'teryx Nuclei FL (Men's - Women's - read my review),
- Nuclei FL absolutely isn't the best fit for Iceland. Unless you're like me and run very warm (I'd doubt you do). I'd probably recommend Atom AR (Men's - Women's - read my review) if you're like most people.
- Check out my Temperature Ratings of Insulated Jackets article for more information about insulated jackets.
- If you're a big Arc'teryx fan like me, then check out my Best Arc'teryx Jackets article to see what to get for Iceland.
- Arc'teryx Thorium AR (Men's - Women's - read my review),
- Patagonia Fitz Roy (Men's - Women's),
- The North Face Diablo Pants (Men's - Women's),
- Columbia Back Up Heat Pants,
- Columbia Fire Side II Sherpa,
- Columbia Midweight Stretch Omni-Heat Long Sleeve Baselayer,
- Columbia Midweight Stretch Omni-Heat Baselayer Pants,
- Columbia Rugged Ridge Sherpa,
- Salomon Outline Prism MID GTX Hiking Boots,
- Salomon Predict Hike MID GTX Hiking Boots,
- Samsonite HI-FI Spinner (81 cm - 32") Hardshell Luggage,
- Osprey Farpoint 40 (Men's - Women's - read my review),
- Yeti Rambler 26 oz,
- GSI Outdoors Doppio Mug.
Jackets, baselayers and waterproof hiking boots are absolutely non-negotiable in our humble opinion. Regardless of whether it's summer or winter.
If you won't get them, maybe (definitely?) reconsider visiting Iceland.
Others can be optional, depending on your own preferences.
Back to the expenses.
There is no denying that Iceland is one of the most expensive countries.
Having said that, most of that expense are the essentials: Flights, accommodation, car rental and gas.
Which means that once you are in Iceland, then the best things you can and will do there are going to cost much lower.
You can also see this in the expense chart above.
On top of that, we certainly didn't avoid any expenses. This indeed was a lavish trip. Well, at least as lavish as Iceland can get after you're already in Iceland, like I said.
So the remaining expenses might cost you much less if you're on a budget.
All in all... Iceland is definitely expensive. But it's also definitely more than worth it.
Important: This checklist is still helpful for those who are going to be car camping instead of staying in hotels - but definitely won't cut it all by itself.
These are pretty useful:
- Road conditions and live web cameras: https://www.road.is/. A godsend, really.
- Alternative: https://vegasja.vegagerdin.is/eng/. Another godsend.
- Landmannalaugar hiking trails: https://www.fi.is/en/hiking-trails/trails
- Additional information about Southern Iceland: https://www.south.is/
- Ring Road map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?ll=64.82521008094454%2C-18.031648309518328&z=7&mid=13tiCvchTcY2zgAKZMhV_ZgAuHwE
In my opinion, none of them are negotiable except the last one:
- Vedur: An Iceland specific weather app.
- Weather in Iceland is incredibly unpredictable. There's an old Icelandic saying that goes "If you don't like the weather, just wait for 5 minutes".
- If you're visiting Iceland in a high solar activity season, then this app would also help you with your Northern Lights hunt (because you'd want close to zero fog).
- EasyPark: A parking payment app. You can make the payments without using an app (using the black boxes nearby parking zones), but I'd absolutely recommend using it. Some crucial information:
- You don't have to mark the exact location of your vehicle to use it. Instead, you just specify the zone that your car is parked at. Then, set the timer to point out your expected departure, and you're good. Your card is going to be charged once the end time arrives.
- Except Sundays (which is when it's completely free), you must always pay for parking in specified zones (which you can see in the app) between 09:00 - 18:00.
- I recommended EasyPark over the alternative app Parka because EasyPark allows you to star the timer for the next day in advance. With the Parka app, on the other hand, you'd have to wait until it's 09:00 and you can only then start the timer.
- Google Maps Offline: Make sure to download the entire Iceland in your phone so that you can use it offline when the connection goes off on the go.
- Netflix Offline: Make sure to download Breaking Bad to your device so that the best show of all time is readily available at your disposal during your lengthy flights.
Fueling up your vehicle in Iceland
In some cases, there will be no facilitates around the gas stations. That's why you might not have someone to ask about this, and hence it's good to be prepared.
- Insert your card into the POS machine.
- Enter your PIN.
- Select an amount.
- As you see, you select the amount BEFORE you start filling. This is where people get confused.
- Here's how it works: Your card gets on hold just as much as the amount you picked. If your tank ends up taking on less fuel than you paid for, then your card gets refunded for the remaining amount. Otherwise, you will have paid the amount you already filled up.
- This is important because if your card doesn't have THAT much of limit according to Iceland prices (which are staggering), this might hinder your future purchases. Don't let this happen to you.
- Pump is ready. Fill your tank up, until the pump stops by itself. If fueling up by yourself isn't a thing from where you live, then ask someone to handle it for you or just fill it by yourself. There are so much safety mechanisms that it's hard to mess it up.
That's it. You're good to go.
Important: Never skip gas stations if your tank is below 60%. It's not unusual that you'll have to go a few hundreds of kilometers without coming across any gas stations. Take this seriously and always be prepared.
Driving in Iceland
Traveling in a car has its own place when it comes to experiencing Iceland. Its unique landscape covered with dark rocks and green moss offers some of the most scenic views you'll ever see in your lifetime.
Important things to note here:
- Be careful when opening the car doors. Strong wind has the potential to rip it off.
- I'd recommend a 4WD over a 2WD since most roads in Iceland are paved and/or occupied with wide and deep pits. A 4WD can and will save you lots of time and energy in these places.
- Always bring snacks with you, because there will be times where you don't come across any markets for hours.
- You'll come across plenty of one lane bridges in South Shore. If two vehicles come towards this bridge from opposite directions, then it is the one that is closer to the bridge that gets the priority to pass the bridge. The other vehicle must hold on until the bridge is empty again.
Markets in Iceland
The most widespread (and cheapest) markets can be listed as Bonus, Kronan and CostCo.
Also, never pay for water. Iceland has one of the purest tap waters you're likely to find anywhere in the entire world.
Chances of seeing Northern Lights
Iceland is below the arctic circle, meaning that it isn't a perfect location to see the Northern Lights. If Northern Lights is your main expectation from your journey, then maybe reconsider visiting Iceland.
That said, it is possible to see them in Iceland. When it comes to seeing the Northern Lights, it boils down to these 3 components:
- High solar activity (peaks during Sep 21 and Mar 21),
- Clear sky,
- Close to zero light.
You only have control over the last one. So it's difficult to pinpoint the likelihood, considering the constantly changing weather in Iceland.
They say that if you:
- Visit Iceland during a high solar activity season (October & March),
- Spend at least 5 nights outside, where there are almost no lights (easy),
Then the odds of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland are over 50%. Though unfortunately I for one was on this side of this gamble and didn't see any (due to overcast).
Do keep an eye on the more detailed graphs of Vedur app when hunting for them.
- After giving it more thought, I decided to exclude it from the itinerary.
- I'd recommend this only if you have an exclusive interest in observing wild animals, and particularly whales (duh). Because otherwise, the activity will have very little to nothing to offer for you.
Whale Watching might not be that impressive if you don't have an interest in them. Contrary to what you might have seen in the internet, you most likely won't come across outstanding moments like the whales jumping out the water, or putting out a whole show raising their heads above the water. We didn't.
That said, growing up, me and my dad would always watch animal documentaries every Sunday morning. Even the mere idea of seeing a wild animal live is enough to thrill me.
The hunchback whale we saw popped out the water just a couple times, and we had a limited vision (boats are cautious getting too close to them in order to not scare them off). On top of that, it lasted pretty short (maybe 10 minutes).
But observing her splashing water out was enough to fascinate me. If anything, I'd only wish the trip to last shorter (it takes 3 - 3.5 hours round trip).
We did, by the way, make a mistake by not opting for RIB boats. They're not only faster (round trip lasts around 2 hours instead of 3), they're also able to get much closer to the whales (I've seen the footage of tourists kissing them). Additionally, they also board smaller groups of people (another advantage).
So, in case you're going to do this, I'd highly recommend you to go whale watching on RIB boats instead of regular boats (like we did).
Here's the availability for one of the decent tours:
İlay, however, who isn't nearly as into wild animals as I am, wasn't all that impressed. She says that given a second chance, she wouldn't take it and go again.
In terms of the service providers, there are two big players when it comes to whale watching in Reykjavik: Special Tours (specialtours.is) and Elding (elding.is). They both offer classic whale watching tours, departing from the Reykjavik Harbor (a few minutes walking distance from the downtown).
- #Note: Husavik, which is a town located at far north east, is also pretty popular for whale watching. Check out northsailing.is and/or gentlegiants.is if you're interested in checking out the biggest competitors there.
We did that of the Special Tours. I'm pretty sure they're 99% the same though. The boat of Elding rode right next to us. If anything, I felt like the fliers of Special Tours were more corporate (lol). But, even if they were so, it was by a very small margin.
Most of these tours also give you a free ticket in case you don't see any whales on your own trip. Special Tours did provide this opportunity (though we didn't need to use it). Still, do check it out for yourself because things might change over time.
When we arrived to the harbor for departure, we also realized the office of Special Tours is the largest of them all (HAH! I told you they were more corporate! Money well spent).
Both of them offered two departure times: 09:00 and 13:00. Over the course of a year, the also occasionally offer an additional one at 17:00.
If you're going to be going whale watching AND going to be sticking with this itinerary, then you must pick the one at 09:00 and you don't have any other choice.
They say you must be in the harbor 30 mins earlier, which I think is more of a cautionary and less mandatory. Still, they're correct, you never know what to expect on your way there and you wouldn't want to miss the boat.
Lastly, summer season outshines winter in terms of the average success of sightings (97% vs 60%). Something to consider.
For additional information, you can check out this informative article I came across when researching: http://icelandwithkids.com/2016/08/20/whale-watching-in-iceland-tips-and-tricks-for-families/
Do Icelanders speak English?
Yes, perfectly. Language barrier shouldn't be a concern at all.
They're EU outlets, not UK or US. You can read more about this in here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schuko