It’s hard to believe it’s been about two months since I started my journey around Iceland. It was quite the adventure of finding the most spectacular fjords, bathing in the hottest of tubs, taking the wrongest of roads, and having the most magnificent of times. Did you lose track of me along the way? Couldn’t keep up? Planning a trip of your own? Here’s the blog post you all have been waiting for – a summary of what happened:
Day 1 – Reykjavik
I arrived at Keflavik International Airport 4:30 AM, disoriented and exhausted. The benefit and the drawback of WOW Air flights is that they arrive so early, so there are no problems getting through customs or anything light that because the airport is so empty. On the other hand, it’s 4:30 AM. I took the easiest route when heading into the city, which is riding with the FlyBus. If you fly with WOW, you can purchase tickets for the bus on the plane, but I opted to buy mine from the counter in the main terminal. I went ahead and purchased a round trip ticket because it saved me about 500 kr, and the tickets are open-ended so I could use it whenever I wanted to. There are buses leaving the airport and the station in Reykjavik regularly.
Once in Reykjavik (now 6AM) I walked 15 minutes to my accommodation for that night, the Bus Hostel. I obviously couldn’t check in to my room yet, but they were kind enough to let me hang out in the common room until it got light. Bus Hostel was a pretty nice place (they claim to have Iceland’s last McDonald’s Burger on the bar), and the cheapest one I could find in the city. It took me about 20 minutes to walk to the center, where I spent the day very jetlagged but doing my best to see some of the city. I visited the Harpa (concert hall) and the Hallgrimskirkja (church). I also walked along the main shopping street and visited the tourism center. I highly recommend doing this in cities that you visit. Embrace the resources that they give you! I got a few maps as well as an Icelandic sim card, which is really necessary for anyone looking to drive the Ring Road, you don’t want to get stuck somewhere without the ability to call for help. I paid 2000 kr for the card which came with some credit for talk and text as well as 300MB of data. That data was more than enough because I made sure to download a road map of Iceland and music for each day’s ride with WiFi. I found that I hardly ever needed my directions though. Signage in Iceland is very good and since I was mostly just staying on one road, I didn’t have any problems.
Finally I checked into my room in the afternoon and fell, exhausted, into my bed so that I could rest up well for my first day of driving the next day.
Day 2 – Western Ring Road, 245 km
I woke up at 8AM ready to go get my rental car. I had to walk across the city, which took me about 45 minutes. By the time I got to the rental car location, I was soaked to the bone and exhausted. I rented with Sixt, a European company that I found had the cheapest prices. The car I rented was an Opel Corsa that I named Opal (because I’m creative). Opal was very basic, but she was fast and easy to drive. She did just fine on the gravel roads, but I avoided anything that got too rocky. I did (accidentally) purchase gravel insurance for the car, but ended up being happy that I did. Even if I didn’t get any dings in it, it made me feel a little better on those roads. It was about $50 for the week.
After finishing copious amounts of paperwork, Opal and I sped off in the rain towards Holmavik, a small town at the base of Iceland’s Westfjord region. The downpour eventually stopped as I was driving through this endless lava field. I pulled off at a trail head I saw from the road and did a very easy hike up to Grábrók, a small crater. There are steps built in and everything, so it was a lovely little introduction to the Icelandic landscape to stand on an old volcano in the middle of its own lava field. Once I arrived in Holmavik and checked into my hostel there, I walked around the small fishing village a little and went to the most delicious restaurant. I don’t know what it was called, but it is in the same building as the museum about witchcraft and sorcery. I had a (rather expensive but totally worth it) dinner of baked fish and bread. I was the only one eating there, and I spent the evening chatting with the waitress and the chef, who gave me extra bread for my trip and a bunch of recommendations on where to go in the region.
Pro tip: Just north of Reykjavik is a big tunnel that crosses under a fjord. It’s the only toll I ran into in Iceland, but it cost 1000 kr ($9!). If you don’t want to pay that, you can drive around the fjord, which I hear is very beautiful, though it adds about 40 minutes onto your trip.
Day 3 – Westfjords, 407 km
I spent the day visiting three of the many fjords in this north-western region, Mjoifjordur, Reykjarfjordur, and Isafjardara. Opal and I zipped along the mostly-paved roads up over a mountain and into the incredible north-western region. I think I went about an hour without seeing another car. I loved just sitting and watching the stillness of the world go by. And if you are looking for some waterfalls, the base of the Westfjords has got them!
I wound around the first fjords and headed off on a tiny gravel road to Heydalur, where I found my first hot pot, recommended to me the night before. It was beautiful and peaceful and pretty awesome – I had been dreaming about that for months! From there I zipped off to Osar, hitting a couple bumps along the way, but eventually making it as night fell. Osar was a great little hostel – a renovated farmhouse – and I was the only one staying there, so I had all of the peace and serenity I could have hoped for. I got another treat when the Northern Lights made an appearance around midnight. The moon was full, the stars were bright, and the green lights were reflected in the fjord below me. My stay in Osar was definitely one of the main highlights of my trip.
Day 4 – West of Akureyri, 216 km
I woke up to the sound of cows mooing out in the fields around the hostel. I opened my windows and saw Osar in the light for the first time. I had blue sky for the first time since my arrival, so I put on my hiking boots and headed out on a walk down along the fjord. Osar is known for its seal-covered beaches and the famous Hvitserkur rock structure. Osar was beautiful, and the fair weather was boosting my spirits. I was sad to get in my car and head to Akureyri, but the sadness did not last long. The drive that day led me through an incredible mountain range, and it was definitely the most memorable day of driving. When I did arrive in the city, I was greeted by a CouchSurfing host. I took Nikki out for ice cream to thank him for letting me sleep on his couch and he showed me some of his favorite places there, like the perfect angle to photograph the church from. I told him I liked to be adventurous with my eating, so we went grocery shopping and he surprised me and his other guest, Marguerite, with meatballs made from sheep and horse. It was delicious and an interesting combination I would definitely recommend!
Day 5 – East of Akureyri, 301km
After a tasty breakfast of waffles, Marguerite and I drove eastwards out of Akureyri to go visit Myvatn, an actively volcanic area. Again we had blue skies. Along the way we stopped at Godafoss, one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. Myvatn is a city as well as one of Iceland’s biggest lakes. There is a lot to do there. There is this mysterious sky-blue pond and Hverir, a field of sulfuric gasses being released into the air, as well as the famous Myvatn baths that are heated by hot springs in the area. Just outside of Myvatn is Krafla, an active volcano which is used to power and heat many homes in Iceland. I wish I had had more time to spend here, it was one of my favorite days of the trip, and I was glad that I had a companion to relax in the baths and chat with. Marguerite found a ride back to Akureyri for the night, but I continued east towards a small town called Seydisfjordur. That was a lovely drive, watching the sunset turn the mountains pink.
Day 6 – Eastern Iceland, 289km
This was a day for driving. I woke up promptly, found a room for the next night, and then set out towards it. The drive brought me along the eastern coastline of Iceland, and I loved being alone there. Iceland’s east coast is wild, with waves crashing onto the black sand beaches and, at least this day, whipping wind and rain. Not all of the road here was paved, but the gravel bit was in pretty good shape. Halfway down the coastline I stopped at a hot pot hidden away on the side of the road. It wasn’t in a town or anything, though it was kind of near Djupivogar. The hot pot was 42 degrees Celcius and had a spectacular view of the ocean. I was joined by a lovely couple from London. I would 100% recommend visiting here, it was wonderful. From there I drove to Höfn where I spent the night in a kind of grubby hostel. It wasn’t so exciting but it was good for the night. If you find yourself in Höfn, I would definitely recommend going to eat at Hafnarbudin. It’s kind of a greasy grab-n-go restaurant (though you can eat there) with some really good Icelandic cuisine. I got the fish burger, one of the cheaper items on the menu, but they also had what looked like an Icelandic version of a lobster roll and the famous Icelandic hot dog.
Though I loved spending time in the Westfjords at the beginning of my trip, the fjords on the east coast are just as spectacular, and not as far out of the way. So if you are looking to save time, I would leave out the Westfjords and experience them as you drive along Route 1 in the east.
Day 7 – South Iceland, 359km
After being off on my own for so long, this is the first part of my trip when I really ran back into tourists. Iceland’s south coast offers so much incredible and diverse nature, and it’s so accessible from Reykjavik, so there are a lot of tour buses that drive along this route for people doing shorter trips in Iceland. I started my day off by hiking up to the Hoffell glacier, just outside of Hofn. Though it was cool, I don’t think it was the best choice for how to spend my morning. I walked the entire 4km road there and back because I didn’t think Opal could handle the drive. The glacier was beautiful, and I was there entirely alone, but what I didn’t know was that there are several more accessible glaciers along the road to Vik. Also on this day, I drove by the famous Iceberg Lagoon, where I stopped and spent a lot of time looking at the ice from the nearby glacier that had floated into the ocean and washed up onto the shore. This day was rainy until the sun came out in the late afternoon and put on a spectacular display of rainbows over the glaciers. I visited Vik briefly, a town on the southernmost tip of Iceland. I had been really excited to explore there. It’s black sand beaches and unique rock formations are some of Iceland’s best-known. But I found the beaches so full of tourists that they were impossible to really enjoy. Instead I drove a bit further and then walked towards the famous Solheimasandur plane crash. When I say I walked, that is an understatement. I pretty much ran the 4 km to the site to make it there by sundown. It was perfect to be there then because when I arrived, I found one of Iceland’s most famous attractions to be completely empty. There was not a single other person and I was treated to a spectacular sunset. From there I drove another half hour to Stora Mork, a farm that had a guesthouse. I spent the evening chatting with other guests there and eating their food.
This portion of the drive was easily the most memorable. From sight to sight, I was treated to some of Mother Nature’s most incredible gifts. There is a reason that this region is so famous. I sped through far too quickly, take two days to explore the southern coast, it’s worth it!
Day 8 – The Golden Circle, 268km
For my last day in Iceland, I decided to drive the Golden Circle. This is made up of three famous sites not far from Reykjavik and is the most popular tour to go on when visiting Iceland. It offers a great introduction to the landscape without being much of a hassle for tourists. As I was driving from the east, I started at the end and made my way back towards Reykjavik, visiting the attractions in reverse order. First I visited Geysir, an actively volcanic field very similar to the one I saw in Myvatn, except that there is an active geyser there that erupts every 5 minutes or so. It was actually really cool, and because it happened so often, I was able to see it erupt 3 different times. From there I drove to Gullfoss, which is one of Europe’s largest waterfalls. It was really spectacular and we even had some sunshine that treated us with some rainbows in the falls. There are some nice trails there and it really gave Niagara Falls a run for their money. My last stop was Thingvellir, a national park deeply rooted in Icelandic history. Not only is this where the Icelandic parliament was established and met from 930 until 1798, but it also is home to a rift valley that marks the border between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. My visit there was cut short by the setting sun, but it was still a beautiful place to spend a little time, and there are lots of trails and options for hikes there. I headed back to Reykjavik from there and spent a couple of hours (unofficially) at a hostel there and made some dinner before packing everything up, dropping off my rental car, and walking to the bus station. I took a bus to the airport and slept there for the night before catching an early flight to Frankfurt.
What a spectacular adventure I had in Iceland. I could have spent my entire 7-week trip there. But alas, this time I only had eight days to drive 2193 km I had dreamed of around the island. My parting advice:
- Go to Iceland expecting the worst weather. Chances are, it will rain at least 60% of the time you are there.
- Don’t go to Iceland just for the Northern Lights. I got extremely lucky, but I also had no expectations. Aurora Borialis is fleeting and tricky to predict. Don’t waste your entire trip on something so unreliable.
- Fly with WOW Air! It’s incredibly affordable and the flights are easy and the flight attendants are really wonderful!
- Rent a car. There is really no better way to see the country, and maybe it’s not the cheapest option, but it is worth every krona!
- Take your time. Plan an extra 2 days into your trip at least. You’ll probably fall in love with something and want to spend more time there.
- Go in the off-season. Let’s face it, you’re not going to Iceland for the weather, it rarely gets above 65 there anyways. So go in October/November or March/April. It’s cheaper, easier to find accommodation, and there will be a better chance of spotting the Northern Lights if it actually gets dark at night!
- Budget!!! Iceland is very expensive. Plan on spending more than you think you will. Food is expensive, accommodation is expensive, rental cars are expensive, those Icelandic sweaters are expensive! I spent a little over $1000 in my week there and I was traveling as budget as I could.
- Enjoy every single moment.