Nothing in all my travels has impressed me more than the wild landscapes of Iceland. The land of sagas, trolls, and fairies. The place to eat dried fish, see active volcanoes, climb mangificient glaciers, jump into geysirs and hot springs, experience locations of a booming movie industry and finally see one million waterfalls. I hope I can share some of my excitement for this beautiful country in this travel report.
Day 0: Direct flight Düsseldorf – Reykjavik
Day 1: Bláa Lónið (Blue Lagoon) / Krýsuvík / Kleifarvatn /Reykjavik
Day 2: Ice Cave Tour
Day 3: Diving in Silfra / Bruarfoss / Geysir / Solheimajoekull / Gulfoss /
Day 4: Seljalandsfoss /Skogafoss / Jökulsárlón
Day 5: Skaftafell & Vatnajökull
Day 6: Snaefellsjoekull National Park
Day 7: Kirkjufell and Reykjavik
Trip date: 09/2016
Trip duration: 7 days
Vacation days required: 5 (departure on Sunday due to cheapest ticket. Could have extended to two days more)
Budget total: ~1552€/p.P (~222€/day)
Cost rating: high (>200€/day) (due to very cheap flight, rest is very expensive)
Our flight was with Air Berlin and a direct connection from Düsseldorf. Flight tickets were very cheap, but we had to depart on Sunday instead of Saturday or Friday night. Return was good, with a midnight departure and overnight flight. Due to the time difference the effective flight time (actual is 3.5 hrs) is very short. So you could actually optimize this more, with a departure Friday night and get a full 9 days on the ground instead of 7. But price difference was significant so we did not do that.
Day 0: Arrival in Reykjavik
We had a late evening arrival in Reykjavik. So we just picked up the rental car and drove to our hotel. Again – you can get good prices with any rental car company or go via a broker like Check24. Iceland is perfectly regulated and all are fine. A normal rental car is okay if you want to stay on the ring road (which is sufficient for all major sites and sightseeing points). If you a) wish to take the tough gravel roads up the passes or b) you go in winter (after October and before March) then a 4WD is a must.
Day 1: Blue Lagoon
We started the day very slowly and with a good breakfast and went off to the blue lagoon. This is one of the famous tourist spots on Iceland and is quite nice. But it is also expensive and crowded. And it feels more like a thermal bath you could find anywhere in Europe, neither that special nor that that natural. If you don’t care and want to go anyway, then reserve online via the link above and bring lots of time to make the most of your visit. Or alternatively – just go for the natural hot springs that are free and also not that far from Reykjavik. Of course there you have to change out in the open and jump into a river. But the experience is a millon times better. Blue Lagoon [not recommended].
Staying south of Reykjavik we continued to the Krýsuvík geothermal fields. The area looks just like the moon and the rough wilds around Kleifarvatn lake are excellent for hiking.
We spend the rest of the day exploring Reykjavik, which is a fantastic and lively city. These is lots of great street art to discover and many cozy cafés. Check out Hallgrimskirkja (hallgrims church). The statue in front is Leifur Eiríksson, the first European to discover America (around the year 1000).
Day 2: Ice Cave Tour
One thing you have to explore on Iceland are the ice caves! This is a must-do, but unfortunately many of the caves are unsafe for exploration in the summer months. Still a few operators offer tours to some of the caves that are accessible all-year-long. If differs which cave is open, so each tour is different. We had chosen a tour with Goecco. They have a good reputation and the tour operators, knowledge of the guides and group were great. I can really recommend them. They offer multiple tours, we had chosen the 4 Elements tour, which offers you all the essentials. All tours are very expensive (300-350USD each) and are usually a full day. They pick you up very early at Hallgrims church, which is also where you get dropped off in the late evening. You have a comfortable all-terrain vehicle (like a bus for ~8 people) and the tour includes a visit to some of the rock caves where Game of Thrones was filmed (not that impressive), visiting a hot springs just in a mountain valley in the middle of nowehere (amazing!), and the way up on a glacier and into the ice caves. All mountaineering gear is provided. You will cross several rivers on the way, pass through a beautiful valley, and see volcanoes / caldera lakes. We had a really good time, but I still struggle with recommending this. The hot springs were great and the guide and group were awesome. But the summer caves are much much less impressive than those in winter and the movies sights are underwhelming. In winter a must do, in summer… maybe.
After the tour, the entire group went out for dinner and drinks at cafe loki which offers great local food at a reasonable price. (restaurants are very expensive, better go get supplies at a supermarket)
And then we got the perfect ending for an amazing day! When we came back to the hotel, our host told us to turn right around and head into the mountains: Aurora Borealis time! One of the main reasons why we had chosen September was the high chance of seeing polar lights. And we got lucky on the second night already! Sitting all alone in the mountains, on top of your car in thick winter gear, having a hot chocolate and watching the northern lights. This is the perfect moment.
Day 3: Diving in Silfra
Iceland is geologically very active because two tectonic plates are drifting apart. It’s one of the very few places where you can see this above ground and the only place on earth where you can dive in between two plates and touch both! The location for this is Þingvellir (Thingvellir) and the diving spot nearby is Silfra. It is located a 30minute drive from Reykjavik. We had booked our dive with Dive.is. Like all things on Iceland they were very well organized, very professional, and very expensive. They offer both a snorkeling and a diving option. To be honest… probably the snorkel is enough unless you want an underwater pic of yourself touching both plates (at snorkel dive level they are too far apart). Beyond that you will see almost exactly the same rock formations underwater. Still – our first time in a dry suit and a fun experience. But if you are on a budget I would say [not recommended].
We had done an early morning dive and spent the rest of the morning exploring Thingvellir. Afterwards we continued on to Bruarfoss. This is one of the most beautiful falls in Iceland and the hike to get there is very nice (but it can be muddy, come prepared!)
The great thing about Iceland in summer is that the days are very long. Sunset is around 9pm, which gives you lots of time for visiting sites and exploring waterfalls. We had chosen Gullfoss as our sunset waterfall destination. Gullfoss means “golden falls” and really lived up to the name. Simply stunning and a must visit on Iceland!
After the sun had set, we continued to circle counterclockwise on the ring road (1) and to our first stop outside of Reykjavik, a small remote hotel in the middle of nowhere near Keldur.
Day 4: More Waterfalls and the Beach of Diamonds
A morning of waterfalls. There are hundreds of beautiful falls on iceland and after visting this country, almost all “world famous” waterfalls will hardly get more than a shrug from you. First stop: Seljalandsfoss. Make sure you take the path behind the fall and head up to the little cave further down with another smaller fall that is also very nice. You *will* get wet. 😉
Second stop: Skógafoss. One of the tallest falls in Iceland (>60m) with a high chance of rainbows. According to legend, a chest of gold and treasure lies buried beneath Skógafoss waterfall.
There are many other smaller falls, but I found those two most beautiful. For some variation we then headed to the black sands beach Solheimasandur. Famous because of the plane wreck on the beach. You can park directly at the ring road and walk towards the beach. Takes quite a while (45mins), but is flat and easily doable. Don’t just focus on the plane, the beach is also very nice. Careful though: Can be quite crowded around the plane and you might need to wait long for a good picture.
We continued on a long drive to the last destination for the day: Jökulsárlón. The views on the way are impressive as well and we did many short stops for pictures or just to relax. I would’ve liked more time here, but there were few accommodations, so it would have meant a lot of redundant driving.
Then finally our last destination on this day and the most beautiful stop of the entire trip: Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon and diamond beach. Many movies were shot here, including not one but two James Bond movies. The icebergs floating on the lagoon lake are a marvelous sight, as are the thousands of ice shards on the black beach.
We stayed until sunset and then headed onwards to our hotel. In retrospect we spent far too little time here. Definitely book an overnight stay and come back in the morning.
Day 5: Vatnajökull National Park and Skaftafell Glacier Tour
We spent the entire 6th day hiking in Skaftafell national park, which is part of the larger Vatnajökull national park, one of the three national parks of Iceland. A famous destination inside the park is Svartifoss fall. The hike towards the fall is beautiful and the fall itself, with the black basalt rocks in the shape of a heart, is rightfully one of the most famous postcard motifs. I never associated cold Iceland with so much romance. 😉
After returning, we booked an excursion on Vatnajökull glacier. You need proper gear for this and definitely go with a guide. The landscape is amazing and you will understand why the movie “Interstellar” was filmed here – really looks like another planet:
Our legs hurt from all this walking, so on day 6 it was an early night. (And the weather wasn’t so great anyway)
Day 6: Snaefellsjoekull National Park
We had decided against a full circle drive and instead turned around on day 7 and went all the way back east, towards Snaefellsjökull peninsula. This meant missing out on two major locations: Myvatn (mosquito) lake and Dettifoss falls. Instead we headed to the river of trolls on Snaefellsjökull, another one of the three major national parks on Iceland. Of course not without some sightseeing stops on the way:
We stayed in Fossatún that night. Iceland is the land of sagas and you will find myths of fairies and trolls everywhere. We never experienced that more intensely than in the place we stayed that night, at the river of trolls. We spend most of the evening listening to classics on vinyl and hearing stories from the owners about Icelandic legends. We really enjoyed the evening there and the hotel is my number one recommendation for Iceland: Fossatun Country Hotel
(Also great for northern lights, but we had a rainy day that night)
Day 7: Kirkjufell and Reykjavik
Our final day, with a return flight at midnight. So early-on, we headed further onto Snaefellsjökull peninsula to Kirkjufell. This is by far the most famous image of Iceland and a beautiful sight. We had heavy winds and rain (so typical icelandic weather) and it was still amazing:
We then headed back to Reykjavik and explored the city until it was time to depart. Besides the impressive street art, you should also check out the creative architecture all over the city. And finally, there is a Big Lebowski Bar and a Chuck Norris grill, where you can get a decent burger – Chuck Norris’ style 😉 Make sure you head to the waterfront to see the Sun Voyager, located just near the – also impressive – concert hall. The Sun Voyager is a sculpture symbolizing the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress, and freedom.
A fitting closing image of our visit to Iceland.
Waterfalls. Lots of Waterfalls:
- Near Reykjavik: Either the port or drive up to the mountains near Mosfellsbæjar
- Sunset and Sunrise (very different)
- Diamond Beach just south
- Go to both sides of the lagoon
- Plane wreck at the black sands beach
- southern coastline
- Kirkjuflel Mountain
- Reykjavik Street Art
- Sun Traveller and Reykjavik Architecture
- During high season, hotels sell out quick. Best to reserve!
- Prices are very high, better re-supply in supermarkets
- On the ring road it can get very remote, don’t plan too late arrivals. Some of the hotels are on gravel roads and quite off the main path.
- Winter can be very tough. Check if the ring road is open and what options you have
- Northern Lights: Good chances in September/October and March, but still need to be lucky.
- Even in Spring/Autumn/Summer it can get very cold, especially on the glaciers. Bring warm gear.
- Pre-book all major locations/activities. This includes lagoon tours, blue lagoon bathing, cave tours etc.
- It is very windy and rainds a lot. Come prepared.
- Iceland is very safe. There is extremely low crime risk.
- Iceland has problems with tourism. There is far too much and far too extreme. Locals are getting more and more frustrated by this.
- Do not plan on getting a spontaneous hotel. Capacity is very limited.
- Overpriced restaurants. Many people get an appartment instead and cook themselves.
- Gravel and mountain roads are for 4WD only.
- Don’t go off on glacier tours on your own. Take a guide.
- Diving in Silfra. Unless you want to have it for the bucket list, snorkling is enough and all is overpriced.