Photo: Overlooking Jökulsárlón lagoon
This particular vacation/adventure was special for me because I rarely traveled with my parents as a kid. I am so grateful that I was able to spend this time with them although I must admit 10 hours a day in a car with your parents has
its several moments of discomfort. When I originally started planning this vacation one of my fears was 7 days would be too long in Iceland (with my parents) and that I was wasting days where I could potentially add one more country to my itinerary. The second largest fear would be that it would be difficult to navigate the road through harsh weather conditions. Both fears were proven to be useless after day 3 of traveling the island.
The weather (in November) was mild, there were a few days where it rained but overall the sky was clear and the (only) main ring road, that travels around the country in a circle, was easy to navigate. The temperature was much cooler than it ever gets in sunny Los Angeles so I quickly regretted not packing a heavy overcoat. I ended up borrowing one from my best friend since buying a decent one there would have run at least three hundred american dollars.
We stayed at an airbnb in Reykjavik and used that as our home base where we traveled back to each evening with our rental car. If I could change something about this trip, I would have rented a camper van and camped along our path starting from Reykjavik moving counter clockwise around the Island. I’ve read on several blogs that you don’t need to rent an SUV but after experiencing driving in the rain and attempting to drive past cars on the one lane road I would suggest something in the middle size vehicle region with decent power. It isn’t necessary to rent a 4 wheel drive but it helps if you’re planning on doing some heavy off-roading.
In the 7 days we were there, we explored mostly the southern and eastern regions of Iceland. Next time I come back I will be spending more time in the Northern and Eastern regions. Also, please note that we traveled to the southern region 3 times during our trip. It would be very taxing and tiring if we were to have visited all the southern/south eastern sites in one day.
Some Travel Items/Tips that will make your Iceland trip easier
- AirBnb: A decent hotel will cost quite a bit in Iceland, if you are traveling with a group of people it might be worth it to rent an Airbnb or check out hostels if you’re traveling by yourself.
- Rental Car: You do not need to go on tour groups for the attractions listed below. Most travel credit cards cover car rental car insurance (make sure you check your credit card policy). II carry the Chase Sapphire card which offers car rental insurance. Also, if you pick up a wifi egg you will not need the GPS they offer you with the car.
- Wifi Egg: Comes in handy when you’re navigating the country or you are trying to post photos on social media or if you’re like my parents, day-trading stocks in the car on our 10 hour drives.
- Food and water for your long drives: Most of your drives will last all day, load up on snacks for your drive.
- 4 Wheel drive car: If you plan on off-roading and hiking, you won’t regret the investment
- External Charger: This might be an obvious one but I feel like the cold weather causes my phone to lose battery quicker, this is an essential when I travel.
- Bathrooms: There are several gas stations along the road that you can make a pit stop at and use their bathroom.
- Alcohol: Liquor stores stop selling alcohol at 7 PM. Stock up earlier if you plan on drinking at your airbnb
- Clothing: Bring a heavy outer layer and water resistant clothing. The weather is no joke in Iceland or maybe it is, our tour guide said to us “if you don’t like the weather in iceland wait 5 mintues” which ended being more true than not. The wind and unpredictable rain result in very chilly weather. Wear wool socks, and hiking boots/water resistant shoes. If you plan on hiking or leaving your car, the ground can get slippery or and your socks will get wet.
Southern Region (Listed below From East to West)
Seljalandsfoss – A relatively small waterfall compared to its neighbor (Skogafross) but worth pulling off the road to see.
Skogaforss – A beautiful waterfall which we were lucky enough to see a rainbow that day there. You can hike to the top of the waterfall and look down.
Dyrhólaey – 120 meter high peninsula where you have a view of the inland to the North and to the East you have a view of a black lava arch coming out of the ocean.
Reynisfjara beach – Another black sand beach near Vik where you can see Reynisdranger the large stacked basalt columns.
Photo: Black Cave at Reynisfjara beach
Northern Lights – The later it gets into the winter season the stronger the Northern lights will apprea. You can see the northern lights better anywhere away from the city where there isn’t too much light pollution. The most prominent sighting was on our third night driving back from south east Iceland. I would not suggest hiring a tour group to take you out to the middle of nowhere because the total trip takes around 6 hours and chances are if you are there for an entire week you will catch it at some point when you are driving in the late evening.
Golden Circle (Popular tourist route, according to Wikipedia the name Golden Circle has no historic roots in Iceland)
Thingvellir National Park – The location of the boundary of 2 tectonic plates. The landscape here is a beautiful mixture of water, land, and greenery but also really busy tourist location.
Geysir – The site of one active and one inactive geyser. There’s a restaurant there that serves classic Iceland food. We tried the lamb stew and the sample platter of meats.
Gullfoss – The largest waterfall we visited. Golfross means golden waterfall in Icelandic, it was given that name for the golden color of the waterfall on sunny days.
Faxi Waterfall – Smaller bonus waterfall we visited with our tour group
Kerið Crater – Crater hole that has filled up with water to create a small lake. The most noticeable thing for me was the color contrast between the turquoise water and the red earthy material at this site.
Photo: Kerið Crater
Blue Lagoon – A geothermal spa that has natural silica salt in the water. We didn’t get to spend that much time here since we traveled with a tour group for this site and it was the last stop for the day. I would recommend taking a few hours on the way to the airport or after a long day traveling to visit this place. Your admission ticket buys you a whole day here, so allot a plenty of time to pamper yourself by soaking in the water and using their complementary silica face masks.
Photo: Relaxing at Blue Lagoon
Brimketill Laval Rock Pool (The Trolls’ Pool) – A pool shaped lava rock formation carved by the ocean waves that was said to be a giantess’ bathing pool. Drive carefully, there aren’t very many signs or cars in this area and the trail up to the parking area is a little rough.
Photo: Overlooking Brimketill
Reykjanes Light House – A light house by the ocean.
Gunnuhver Geysir (near by Reykjanes Light House) – We weren’t able to walk up to this particular geyser since we weren’t wearing the appropriate clothing. If you want to get a better look at this geyser it is wise to wear waterproof/water resistant clothing with/or a poncho.
The Perlan Observatory and Cafe – Get a 360 Degree view of Reykjavik from the observatory deck and stop by to have a sip of coffee in their cafe.
Photo: View of Reykjavik city from the Observatory deck of The Perlan.
South East Region
Jökulsárlón – This was my favorite natural wonder that we visited in Iceland. I remember feeling the breath leave my body and staring in awe. At to top of this bright blue lake filled with glimmering floating icebergs. We took a boat ride around the lagoon to get up close with the icebergs that lasted about one hour. You might recognize this place from the James Bond movie.
Photo: Jökulsárlón Lagoon.
Diamond Beach – On the other side of the road from Jökulsárlón large pieces of ice sit on the black sands of diamond beach. We went in the late afternoon just as the sun was about to set. The purplish skies on the blue ice and black sand created a surreal portrait for us while we were walking along the the “Diamond Beach”.
Photo: Diamond Beach.
Skaftkefell / Svartifoss Waterfall – Svartifoss waterfall is the main attraction of the upphill hike in the Skaftafell national park from the visitor center will take approximately 45 minutes to reach. The rock formations are hexagonal basalt columns formed by lava flow that cooled slowly.
Snaefellsjoekull National Park – This park is huge, there are many spots to pull the car over and view the landscape or set up camp. The landscape is reminiscent of a desert by the beach. The plants look like they came from a Seuss book.
Kirkufellsfoss – Known as the “Straw Hat Mountain” for the shape and color resembling that of a straw hat. Probably second on my list of favorite attractions in Iceland.
Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden – The sculpture garden outside of the Einar Jónsson Museum does not require an admission fee and you can stop by any time they are open to check out the mythological and religious themes sculptures.
Harpa Concert Hall – The architecture is inspired by the basalt rock formations that are prevalent in Iceland landscape.
Photos: Harpa Concert Hall second floor.
Hallgrimskirkja Church – A church in the center of Reykjavik. The shape of the building resembles pipe organs. You can also see a view of the city from the top level of this building.
Photo: Halgrimska Church
Exploring the City: If you have some time to explore Reykjavik outside of the major attractions, you can walk along the harbor and the city, there are parks you can grab a coffee and sit at.
Food To Try
Icelandic food isn’t too different than any other western food with the exception of the types of meat they serve. We prepared our food for most of the trip to help manage the cost, Iceland is a relatively expensive place to travel to as an American. If you eat at sit down restaurants for meals, expect to spend around $25-35 a person per meal.
- Meat: If you have a more carnivorous appetite, you can eat whale meat, horse meat, and puffin while you are in Iceland. If you are not into exotic meats, lamb and seafood are very popular in Iceland.
Skyr: an Icelandic yogurt.
- Cod Roe in a Tube: A fish egg spread that was surprisingly yummy on bread.
- Icelandic Bread: Traditional Iceland bread is cooked using geyser heat by placing in a pot and burying it in the proximity of a geyser.
- Mashed Fish: A cream/potato/fish mixture.
- Lamp Soup: Think chicken soup, only with lamb.
- Salted black licorice.
- Bergensteins: After we visited Kirkufellsfoss, we ventured to the town nearby and had dinner on a lake in a very cozy restaurant with a view of the mountain. I highly recommend this restaurant because of the ambiance and the fair price
- Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: A famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik that Bill Clinton has stopped by to grab a bite at. The hot dog casing was crispier or crunchier than the american sausages and german bratwursts I’ve tried.