My hubby and I just got back from Iceland! This was a bucket list trip for me, and I was so excited to explore the island with my camera in tow. I fell hard for this country almost immediately, and I’m already planning another trip to see everything I missed out on the first time around.
Since returning to the states, I’ve had several friends reach out for info and advice about traveling to Iceland, and while we were only there for four short days, I do have a few tips to share if you’re planning on making the trek to this beautiful island….
#1: CAR RENTALS
I’m a huge fan of renting a car and exploring on my own. I hate the idea of being tied to a tour bus or traveling to popular sites with hordes of other tourists. So that’s exactly what we did. We rented a small car through Avis (four wheel drive is highly recommended) and picked up our vehicle at the airport when we arrived in Iceland. The rental itself wasn’t too pricey, but YOU WANT TO ADD THE INSURANCE OPTION, and that can make the daily rate a bit more expensive. I can’t stress enough though that purchasing full coverage insurance is something you NEED to do. The roads in Iceland can get a bit rough and the weather is very unpredicatble. Sand and rocks WILL get kicked up, and there WILL (most likely) be minor dings to the undercarriage as a result. They don’t mess around with their inspecrtions when you return the vehicle, and I’ve heard of people being charged thousands of dollars for damage they had no control over. So, just purchase the insurance.
Side Note: They were out of Wifi devices when we picked up the car (even though we paid for it in advance), so they gave us a GPS unit instead. This thing was useless, so don’t waste your money. If they don’t have a Wifi option for your car (which negates the need for international cell service), purchase an international day plan through your cellular provider and just use Google maps. Our international day pass was $10/day and it was worth every penny. Getting a signal was not an issue for us, even in the most remote of places.
Iceland is expensive. Not the trip there necessarily…in fact…it was cheaper for us to fly to Reykjavik than it was for us to fly to Seattle. But once you’re there, everything is super pricey. Hotels are no exception, so we chose to AirBnB. We opted to set up a home base in Reykjavik and do day trips from there for the duration of our stay. For a short 4 day trip, this suited us well. But next time I go, I will definitely set up accommodations in different towns along the Ring Road (highway 1). Most of the things you’ll want to see can be easily accessed from this main highway, which goes in a full circle around the island. You can travel it clockwise or counterclockwise (we traveled counterclockwise), and instead of having to drive out to a location and then turn back for Reykjavik, you can just crash where you are for the night and keep going the next day. This will give you the opportunity to see both sides of the island. There were one or two things I really wanted to see, but couldn’t due to travel distance, so next time I’ll change up our accomodations. That being said though, we had FULL days everyday and didn’t feel like we compromised too much by day tripping. There was a lot to see and do between Reykjavik and Vik, and we may have missed some of that if we had done it the other way. So…you have to sort of weigh the pros and cons.
This is the AirBnB we rented and it was perfect for us. Hugi was an amazing host and the apartment was right near everything in downtown Reykjavik.
#3 CREDIT CARDS
You don’t need cash for this trip. Seriously. We debated exchanging some cash for Krona so we would have it if we needed it, but it’s truly not necessary. Credit cards are accepted EVERYWHERE; we even used our card for the restrooms (yes, you sometimes have to pay to pee). We love our American Express and use it for everything here at home (hello points!), but Amex is not widely accepted in Iceland, so you’ll want to make sure you have another card with you….Visa or MasterCard would be ideal.
#4 THE ITINERARY
As I mentioned, we had four full days to explore because this mama just can’t bare to be away from her kiddos for any longer than that. This was our itinerary, which we felt was pretty full without feeling stressed about time.
Day 1: Reykjavik and Snaefellsnes Peninsula
We took an overnight flight and arrived in Iceland at about 6:45am. We rented our car at the airport because it was the most convenient, and then dove right into vacation/exploration mode. We spent the morning exploring the town of Reykjavik, which is the capital of Iceland and it’s largest city, so there was plenty to see and do. We explored until lunch time, ate, and then checked into our AirBnB before heading out to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which is about a 2 hour drive. The trip out to Snaefellsnes is gorgeous you guys, so the two hour journey is totally bearable! We saw a ton of Icelandic horses and were able to pull off on the side of the road to love on them a bit. They literally just walk right up to you! It was one of my favorite things about Iceland :) Once we got out to Snaefellsnes, we headed to the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge first, then stopped at the Buðir Church (13 minute drive from the gorge) , and then finally drove an additional 30 minutes to Kirkjufell to take in the mountain before sunset. All of it is worth doing, even when you’re exhausted from travel, and even though you’ll be driving back to Reykjavik in total darkness.
Day 2: Skogafoss waterfall and Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
This is another 2 hour journey from Reykjavik (in the opposite direction), but both sites are very close to one another so that’s the extent of the driving for the day. We did Skogafoss first, which was absolutely stunning (in good weather you’ll get a beautiful rainbow under the falls!), and then headed to Solheimasandur to take in the plane wreck. This was one of my favorite stops, and I highly recommend making the trek out to the wreckage. It’s about a one hour hike (one way) on what looks like the surface of mars. There will most likely be intense wind and misty rain, which in my opinion, just adds to the experience. At one point, we couldn’t see the car behind us, or the plane in front of us….just horizons on all sides, and it was a totally epic experience. My skin was a bit chapped the next day from the harsh wind and cold, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
There is a flat walk to the base of the falls, and you can walk as close as you dare. Waterproof clothing is a must.
There are also stairs on the right side of the falls that take you up to the top. It is roughly 500 steps and you need to be reasonably fit. We chose not to make the trek to the top because we knew we had a long hike ahead of us in Solheimasandur.
There is a cafe and toilets on site, and camping is allowed. Hotel Skogafoss is next to the parking lot.
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck info:
Directions - after Skogafoss, going East on Route 1 (away from Reykjavik), you will cross a small bridge and see a turnoff for Solheimajökull on your left. Keep going for another 2 kilometers and keep your eyes peeled for a small turn off on your right. It will be the only opening in the fence after the bridge, and there will most likely be a parking lot full of cars.
Once you get there, you’ll exit the vehicle and start walking towards the ocean. You’ll be walking for about 45 minutes before you even see the plane. Make sure you bring water and a high protein snack.
GPS coordinates to the turnoff/parking lot 63.4912391,-19.3632810
GPS coordinates to the plane 63.459523,-19.364618
Day 3: Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach) and Vik
This is another 2.5 hour drive from Reykjavik. At this point, you’ll be passing the sites you saw the day before to get to your destination, which is why it probably would have made sense to change our accommodations. Next time, we’ll drive the extra half hour to Vik after Solheimasandur and stay the night there, instead of heading back to Reykjavik. As it turns out though, having to drive the same route twice allowed us to make an unplanned stop at Seljalandsfoss, which we had initially passed over on the way to Skogafoss. It was totally worth it, and I’d suggest adding it to your itinerary (this is the waterfall you can walk behind).
It rained pretty hard on us the entire time we were at Reynisfjara, which I was pretty bummed about, but we still managed to spend a solid hour or two taking it all in. The basalt columns have a bit of folklore attached to them which is fun. Apparently they were once trolls trying to pull ships in from the ocean. These trolls were on the slow side I guess, and went out too late in the night. Dawn broke on the horizon before they knew it, and turned them all to stone.
Side note: this is also a popular spot for Puffins. We didn’t see any due to the weather, but be on the lookout!
After Reynisfjara, we went into Vik which is a small fishing village, and had an early dinner before driving back to the apartment.
Day 4: Blue Lagoon and then the airport!
Blue Lagoon is a must see. We debated it for a while because we aren’t really “spa people” (well, my hubby isn’t, I am all about a spa day here and there). BUT, I’m SO glad we decided to do it! The geothermal spa is located in a lava field near Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula (about 15 minutes from the airport), in a location favorable for geothermal power. We like to say we were swimming around in a volcano, though it may not be the most accurate of descriptions. Ha. The water is icey blue due to the silica content, and it’s so warm and steamy! There’s a walk up bar and complimentary algae masks. It was exactly what we needed after all the hiking. We also made a reservation at Lava Restaurant (located in the lagoon) for a yummy meal before we left. You’ll want to purchase tickets for your visit in advance as they do sell out. We upgraded our package to include a towel, drink, and bath robe, which I’d say was worth the extra money. Most people suggest doing Blue Lagoon when you arrive, or the day you leave, due to it’s close proximity to the airport. We were at the spa from 9am to about 2pm, and our flight left at 5pm.
I LOVED ICELAND YOU GUYS! I really wanted to see Jökulsárlón (a glacial lagoon) and Dettifoss, but we couldn’t make it happen this time around. Soooo, I’m using that as an excuse to go back soon. I'm working on a travel photography side project, so you’ll most likely be seeing lots of travel photos (and tips) from me in the near future; from Iceland and elsewhere. Be on the lookout! In the meantime, here are some of my favorite photos from this most recent trip. A few of these are available for purchase in my shop if you’re looking for art to hang on your walls at home!