Iceland is a paradise unlike anywhere else. An island in the Arctic Circle, it’s a haven of colorful architecture, kind-hearted locals, and otherworldly landscapes.
Make your way to Reykjavik and get your walking shoes on. Your first stop for the afternoon must be Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: The famous hot dog stand.
A simple hot dog, it’s covered with mustard and a gravy sauce. The best part though is the crispy onion beneath the hot dog. Come hungry and order two with all the fixings.
Continue on your walk and you’ll discover colorful buildings, ornate churches, snow-white swans, souvenir shops, wool clothing stores and cafes galore.
Now that you’ve worked off the hot dog, hop in your car and make your way down to the Blue Lagoon. A place synonymous with Iceland it is not to be missed. Stop by on your first day or make it your last stop on your way out. A large pool with cloud blue water, a swim-up bar, facial station, bridges to cross under and a waterfall to stand under it’s an oasis like no other.
When you’re done relaxing, hop in your car and head for the Golden Circle. Strokkur, Geysir Hot Springs, and Thingvellir National Park are must-see attractions. Personally, Gullfoss Waterfall was a bit of a letdown. Yes, it’s massive in size, but its water is a murky brown and it’s so touristy that its grandness gets lost among the crowd. I’d skip it.
After the Golden Circle, you MUST dive Silfra. Silfra is in Thingvellir National Park and was formed by the divergent tectonic drift of the Eurasian and North American plates. It’s the only place in the world where you can dive between the fissures. At 2 degrees Celcius it’s a bit chilly, but that’s what your dry suit is for! With visibility up to 100 feet, it’s one of the most incredible experiences you’ll ever have.
After a peek into the deep, make your way south to the Ring Road (Route 1) which goes all the way around Iceland. You can start north or south but I recommend starting in the south so that you’re prepared to drive in the north. Just like in Game of Thrones, winter hits the north first. We’ll come back to that later.
If you loved the Blue Lagoon, but didn’t like the smell and want a smaller more intimate hot spring to sit in, make your way to The Secret Lagoon. The water is crystal clear and fresh (no need to lather yourself in conditioner). The sand beneath your feet is a sparkling black and all around you are bubbling geothermal hotspots in case you didn’t get enough of those at Strokkur.
Driving along the Southern Region, you’ll see why I said to skip Gulfoss. There are waterfalls everywhere. Anytime you see a sign with “foss” as the end make you take the detour if you love waterfalls. Here’s a few of our favorites.
Thingvellir National Park
I am convinced that the only way to see Iceland is to rent a car and drive. The roads are well paved, but I’d recommend getting windshield insurance because it’s inexpensive and flying gravel is common.
We traveled to Iceland in late September so it was raining at times. Because of this we skipped Vik and went onward toward Jökulsárlón. This natural phenomenon is where black sand meets giant furniture sized glaciers.
Frolic around on the beach, take your photos and then continue on up toward Myvatn. The Myvatn Nature Baths are the Blue Lagoon of the North. It’s smaller in size but filled with the same famous sulfuric blue water. The temperature here is less regulated so you’ll find hot spots and cool spots within feet of one another. Visit during the day to see the blue water, but come at night and you may catch a glimpse of the Nothern Lights.
If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones then your next stop must be the Grjótagjá Cave. It’s unfortunately no longer open for public bathing because the geothermal hot spring has risen in temperature and can get up to 45 degress Celsius. Hot to the touch, it won’t burn you if you fall in, but it’s far too hot to be comfortable. Still, it’s worth a visit.
A trip to Iceland is always going to be uniquely yours. Where you stop, how long you stay and what you see are all up to you. You don’t need an itinerary, in fact, I’d recommend going without one. Pick one or two places a day that you definitely want to see and then give yourself the freedom to stop or keep driving as you please. Don’t rush through the trip or you’ll miss out on some amazing rainbows!
And last but not least, download the My Aurora Forecast App and make sure you look up at the sky! You can pay $150/pp to take a Northern Lights tour with no guarantee that you’ll see them, or you can be diligent and catch them on your own. They can last anywhere from five minutes to two hours, so check often.