– The Gist –
Iceland is a world of natural wonder, filled with geysers, waterfalls, hot springs, mountains, glaciers, mossy lava rocks, and ever-changing weather. The main roadway, Route 1, is nicknamed the Ring Road for the circle it makes around the island. We felt it would be too rushed to try to drive the entirety of the Ring Road in a week. Therefore, we stayed in the south where most of the main attractions are, and rented a car, affectionately dubbed the “Snow Beast,” to get around.
– Near and Around Reykjavik –
Spend a day in Reykjavik, enjoying the cafés and walking through the city center. Three of our favorite stops were croissants at Sandholt, the house-brewed coffee at Café Haiti, and the flights of beer at MicroBar.
We split up to explore the Golden Circle and scuba dive in Þingvellir National Park. Choosing between visiting the waterfalls and geysers in the Golden Circle and diving underwater through the continental drift is as tough as it gets. Two quick notes on Þingvellir National Park, 1) here, you can see Iceland’s Parliament, which was founded in 930 AD and is the oldest Parliament still in use; 2) if you are not scuba certified, there is a snorkeling option, as well.
– Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) –
Vestmannaeyjar is easily accessible by ferry. You can park your car and enjoy the ride. It is highly recommended to get your ferry tickets well in advance as spaces do fill up. Arrive 30 minutes early, as they tell you, to since you’ll need to go into the office and show your reservation before boarding. Even though it isn’t tropical, Vestmannaeyjar certainly has the island vibe with a laid-back, go with the flow (or in Iceland’s case, the weather) attitude. But weather-permitting, they are still very punctual!
The Ribsafari Zodiac boats are a quick way to zip around the smaller islands and see puffins flying over head. They take you into the caves, share some of the history of the islands, and point out elf churches along the way. Also of note on the island is the hike up the volcano where you can get great views of the mainland, the never-ending ocean, and Vestmannaeyjar, itself.
– Vatnajökull National Park –
I highly recommend doing a glacier walk tour with Glacier Adventure. This could not have been a better experience! Our guide, Hawk, went at whatever pace we could handle, making sure everyone felt safe and comfortable. You’re given shoe clamps and a hiking pick for walking on the glacier. As it was summertime, the ice cave tours were not available, but I can imagine that must be pretty spectacular.
There are various levels of hikes in Vatnajökull National Park, ranging from 1-2 hours until 8+ hours. We started at the Skaftafell Visitor Center, and their hiking options can be found here. We did a longer hike of 6-8 hours, and only our legs regretted the journey the next day. The nature is constantly changing, and we found ourselves hiking through meadows to forest to rocky mountains to glaciers below…plus the shift between beating sun (a glorious 4 hours) and pouring rain (the remaining miserable 3 hours). Check out our hiking tips for a more comfortable journey. In Höfn, stop by Kaffi Hornid for dinner, and while there, you MUST try the Vatnajökull beer made with glacier water. I am forever changed.
For these two days at the park, we stayed at the Hali Country Hotel. This farmland turned hotel is surrounded by sea on one side and mountains on the other. The owners’ daughter is married to Hawk, who started the Glacier Adventure company. Sheep and cows come complimentary.
– Vik –
Vik is a charming town, and as you drive east towards the city, you can get a good bird’s-eye view of it. Just west of the city is Reynisfjara, the famous black sand beach. Here, you can roam around rocky formations and see the two “trolls” that have been turned into stones in the ocean. From Vik, you can park your car and walk the beach there, as well. You’ll see the large, touristy Iceland gift shop with a spacious parking lot as you drive through town. Wherever you end up for dinner, I recommend the arctic char. We had it on multiple occasions, and it seemed like the only thing that could possibly soothe our aching, exhausted bodies after long days of hiking and walking around. Well, that and the Vatnajökull beer.
– Blue Lagoon –
As the most popular site in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon can get pretty crowded, especially at peak hours. Book your time slot well in advance, and figure out which package is best for you. We did the Comfort Tickets which seems to be the most popular choice.
– Pro Tips-
Rent a car. It seems every 20-something year old must have read the same hitchhiker guide as there would be groups of people just meters away from each other, all competing to hitch a ride in popular areas like Vik. Rental cars are not cheap; in fact, nothing in Iceland is cheap, so plan your budget well in advance.
When driving in Iceland, know the rules! We stumbled upon this goofy, but amusing, video with an elf explaining all the unique driving standards of Iceland.
Bring layers. We were there in August, and the weather could change from hot to cold to rainy within an hour’s span.
Pack snacks and always keep a full water bottle. It can be hours between sights of civilization (which may be as simple as a rogue gas station). We ended up eating granola bars every. single. day. for lunch because our activities were often a ways out from town.
As you drive, make sure to save time to stop at the waterfalls. The signs can be small, but look for road signs ending in “foss,” which means falls.
Far right photo is taken through a tunnel formed of ice on the glacier.