Iceland is full of sharp contrasts, it is after all a country where fire and ice co-exist. Where the winters are long and dark, but the summer’s midnight sun makes up for it, making the summer days feel much longer.
Iceland has been a dream of mine for about 5 years now. The first time I saw pictures my jaw dropped. Who knew the country with “ice” in the name was so stunning and has such a diverse landscape? Not me. Iceland immediately jumped to the top of my bucket list. I started researching how much a trip to Iceland would cost me… and my jaw dropped again. There was no way I could afford that! Or was there? *Puts on thinking cap*
Here’s my 8-Day Itinerary for Iceland’s Ring Road
How to Get to Iceland
Fly into Reykjavik International Airport (KEF) to get to Iceland. Flights are typically one of the largest expenses when traveling. I fly on budget airlines frequently, especially if it’s going to end up saving me a couple of hundred dollars a flight.
We chose a great time to visit Iceland because we flew direct from Detroit into Iceland for under $300 USD on the airline WOW. The budget airline was in operation from 2012-2019 and is no longer running. So as of today in 2022 there are no direct flights out of Detroit and prices range from $500 – $1500 USD.
How to Get Around Iceland
Once we arrived in Reykjavik, we took the Airport Direct bus into the city (we found that to be the cheapest way into the city without a rental car). Grace was arriving last so she would be driving the rental car into town later. The bus had WIFI and put public transportation buses in the US to shame. We were dropped off within walking distance of our Airbnb and the city’s attractions.
A rental car is necessary if you plan to explore Iceland’s ring road or outside the city of Reykjavik. Another option is to use public transportation around the city and visit the surrounding area via tours that pick you up from your hotel in Reykjavik.
Day 1 in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is extremely walkable, so I’d recommend exploring on foot with a Citywalk tour.
Things to do in Reykjavik:
Perhaps the most iconic building in Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja is a beautiful Lutheran church standing 244 ft high. The height of the church makes it the largest church in Iceland, and one of the tallest structures in the country!
Reykjavik Sun Voyager Sculpture
The Sun Voyager is a sculpture created by Jón Gunnar. The Sun Voyager sits along the coastline of the city and has a cool history. In 1986 Gunnar’s design for Sun Voyager won best outdoor sculpture in a competition funded by the city. The competition’s purpose was to create a sculpture that would commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city.
Where to Get Food in Iceland
Snacking on traditional Icelandic food was… interesting. Logan tried things where I drew the line, such as fermented shark and dried pounded fish. The rye bread ice cream, however, I could eat in gallons. If you’re a foodie, why not try out a food tour with a local?
Icelandic hot dogs are not like ordinary hot dogs, because they’re made mostly from Icelandic lamb, along with a bit of pork and beef. We ordered ours the traditional Icelandic way. A hot dog on a warm, steamed bun topped with TWO kinds of onions- raw white, and crispy fried onions, finished off with ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs. It was delicious, and much preferred by locals over the fermented shark.
SO MUCH COFFEE. Iceland knows coffee, every cup I had was exceptionally delicious. Which is GREAT, because it’s cold and rainy almost all the time, and coffee is a requirement for me to become a functioning human in the mornings.
Everything about Iceland is expensive. Including the food.
We easily spent around $25-50 per person a meal while in the city. Before we drove to our first cabin we went grocery shopping at the local Bonus to get groceries for the first few days so we didn’t have to eat out.
Spend 3 Days in Golden Circle
We headed east towards Thingvellir National Park where our next Airbnb was. The road trip had officially begun! Make sure to check the road conditions during your trip, the weather in Iceland is unpredictable, in one hour we saw sunny clear warm weather turn to hail and wind-blown frost.
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We spent two nights in this stunning cabin. Like most cabins in Iceland, this one came with a hot tub and was in great proximity to all the major attractions we wanted to see in The Golden Circle!
Golden Circle Activities
- Chase breathtaking Icelandic waterfalls.
- Enjoy stunning diverse views along your Golden Circle road trip.
- Witness the wonders of the Strokkur geyser, it erupts every 5 minutes!
Chasing Waterfalls in Iceland
Gullfoss (translated to ‘Golden Falls’) is one of Iceland’s most iconic and beloved waterfalls, found in the Hvítá river canyon in Southwest Iceland. For those who rent a car or take a Golden Circle tour, the Gullfoss waterfall can be reached within two hours from Iceland’s capital.
The Faxi waterfall is located on the Golden Circle but is a hidden gem not many tourists know about. Directions can be confusing due to the lack of signage so follow your GPS to the small parking lot leading to the waterfall.
Kerið is a volcanic crater lake located in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland, along the Golden Circle. There is a small entry fee of 400 ISK ($3.20 USD). There are hiking trails leading to the bottom of the crater and around the lake. The other trail takes you around the perimeter of the crater. You are not allowed to swim in the lake.
A favorite stop along the Golden Circle is the highly active Geysir Hot Spring Area with boiling mud pits, and exploding geysers. The lively Strokkur geyser spouts water 30 meters (100 ft) into the air every few minutes so you won’t miss it! There is also a shop and ice cream where you can get snacks and souvenirs.
When we visited in 2018 the “blue waterfall” of Iceland was a hidden gem, and difficult to get to because it wasn’t marked as an official trail. We parked in a very small parking lot where our GPS led us.
There was a trail leading into a farmer’s private land that we were hesitant to follow. But it wouldn’t be an adventure in Iceland unless we did because the bruarfoss waterfall was on my Iceland bucket list. As we made our way to the waterfall we followed the trail through rain and hail along a blue river.
Mud caked my boots, my pants, my FACE, everything, and the tree branches along the trail kept pulled at my hair.
Hoping you have better weather – as of 2022 the trail and parking lot are well marked and bruarfoss is much more accessible.
Spend 2 Days in Southern Iceland
Head south from the Golden Circle to continue your journey along Iceland’s Ring Road. The two-hour drive will take you to Vik, where we took a tour with Arctic Adventures.
Katla Ice Cave Tour
Our tour guide was awesome, enthusiastic, and a slightly wild driver. Our group drove through scenic landscapes of black sand and bright green mountains to the volcano Katla in a tour van.
Once there we were provided safety gear such as helmets, and crampons. These are required to be worn during the ice cave tour, trust me – you’ll want them. After the tour, we still had plenty of time to explore until it got dark out.
There were a couple of attempts to go behind the waterfall…
After the successful attempt at getting soaked- we went inside a local restaurant next to the waterfall parking lot to warm up with some delicious lamb stew.
Thanks to that summer midnight sun! The picture above was taken around 11:00 p.m. Remember that in May, the days in Iceland are long, and the sun never fully sets at night, at midnight you’ll still see the sun on the horizon.
This meant a couple of things, 1. We weren’t going to be seeing the northern lights (huge bummer, huge) 2. Sleeping at “night” became a challenge. Without blackout shades/curtains and no sleeping mask, it was difficult to fall asleep and confusing when you woke up (I never knew what time it was).
We talked to a couple of locals about it and they laughed, and said we’re used to it, it’s all they knew! I would recommend bringing a sleeping mask if you’re visiting in the spring/summer months.
The south coast of the island is unbelievably beautiful. On our way to the glacier lagoon, we came across what used to be a giant farm. Back in 894, the first recorded volcano eruption of Katla (yes, the same one we went under to get to the ice caves) destroyed the entire farm.
Laufskálavarða, is a lava mound that was named after the farm. In memory of those that were lost, it is surrounded by stone cairns. Travelers crossing the desert of Mýrdalssandur for the first time would pile stones up to make a cairn, which was supposed to bring them good luck on their journey. The tradition continues to this day, leave a stone when you drive by!
Secret Glacier Lagoon
As we continued our drive along the coastline we came to our next stop, the “secret” glacier lagoon. We found it thinking it was the main glacier lagoon we were trying to get to… it wasn’t. Looking around, we had the place to ourselves. We realized we had found “the secret lagoon,” the locals told us about.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
We were greeted immediately by the reindeer grazing in a clearing when we pulled in to park. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a must-visit destination on your trip to Iceland. Boat tours are available on the lagoon to take you further into the glacier water. We were shocked that despite the freezing water of the lagoon, it was full of wildlife.
We watched the sea lions play in the lagoon while we sat and listened to the sounds of the ice moving in the water. After we’d had our fill of adorable animal friends we headed out of the lagoon and across the street.
The ice from the glacier lagoon washes ashore on the black sand beach. Scattered across the beach were giant chunks of ice, giving the beach the famous name “Diamond Beach”.
When we could no longer handle the cold beach in our wet clothes, we headed back to our cabin for the night, where more amazing scenery awaited.
Our next cabin had a sheep farm in the backyard, and it was spring. That means BABIES. And in my opinion, there are few things cuter in this world than baby animals. I sat on my bed while I watched them play outside my window. With the window open, I could hear them BAAAing at each other and feel the crisp salty air blowing in off of the sea. (BLISS)
Spend Two Days in North Iceland
We got up early and took advantage of the complimentary breakfast the cottage offered. It was a 5.5-hour drive north to get to the city of Akureyri, Iceland’s second-most populous city. We spent 2 nights in the northern part of Iceland, chasing waterfalls and exploring the Lake Myvatn areas.
Goðafoss, or the Waterfall of the Gods, is a magnificent natural wonder located in northern Iceland. With its stunning 30-meter span and 12-meter drop, it has been called one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of Europe. But the real beauty of Goðafoss lies far deeper than its physical composition – its true beauty comes from its historical importance that has been passed down throughout the ages.
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Skútustaðagígar, located in the eastern region of Iceland, is a collection of pseudocraters created by the explosive interaction of hot lava and icy water. These stunning formations can only be found in a few places around the world and are a true testament to the incredible power of nature.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience of nature’s beauty and mystery, then look no further than the awe-inspiring Dimmuborgir. The site’s combination of mysterious caves, striking rock formations, and fascinating geological features will surely leave you with a lasting impression. Whether you’re an experienced hiker, a casual wanderer, or a curious explorer, Dimmuborgir offers something for everyone in its sprawling landscape.
Have you ever been to Hofdi? Located on the outskirts of Reykjavik, it’s one of the most breathtaking places in Iceland. Its peaceful atmosphere and stunning views make it a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. From its sweeping grasslands and vivid sunsets to its illustrious historical buildings and stunning coastal views, Hofdi has something to offer everyone. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful getaway or a spot of sightseeing, this tranquil location is sure to leave you with lasting memories.
Hverfjall is an ancient volcanic crater located near the town of Myvatn in North Iceland. The natural wonder is one of the most awe-inspiring sites on the planet, standing tall at over 400 meters, with stunning views of the surrounding countryside creating a scene that is truly breathtaking. The impressive crater is encircled by a circular wall that rises over 130 meters in height, making it a must-see destination for anyone visiting the region.
Krafla Vita Crater
Krafla Vita Crater is one of the most captivating and stunning geological attractions in Iceland, located in the northern region of the Mývatn district. This awe-inspiring crater was formed a mere 2,000 years ago through a series of volcanic eruptions, and its presence is as powerful today as it was then. With a diameter of 1,000 meters and a height of 90 meters, Krafla Vita Crater is a sight to behold.
Last Day: Blue Lagoon
It was another long drive from Akureyri to Reykjavik. We had an appointment at the Blue Lagoon in the afternoon we were trying to make. The national speed limit of Iceland is 90 km/h on paved rural roads… which is REALLY slow when you’re driving around the entire country. Which is probably why we got pulled over in the middle of nowhere and received a speeding ticket. Trust me guys, you DO NOT want to get pulled over for speeding in Iceland- like everything else, the tickets are outrageously expensive.