Iceland is full of sharp contrasts. This is a country with fire and ice co-existing. Where the winters are long and dark, but the summer’s midnight sun makes up for it, making the day’s feel much longer in summer.
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 with such a diverse landscape? Not me. Iceland immediately jumped to the top of my list. I started researching how much a trip to Iceland would cost me… and my jaw dropped again. There was nooo 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). 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 hundred dollars a flight. We flew direct into Iceland on the budget airline WOW. *WOW IS NO LONGER IN BUSINESS*
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). The bus had WIFI, and put public transportation buses in the US to shame. We were dropped off within walking distance to our AirBnB and the city’s attractions. Reykjavik is extremely walkable, so I’d recommend exploring on foot!
A rental car is necessary if you plan to explore Iceland’s ring road or outside the city of Reykjavik. You can pick up your rental right at the airport or take the bus into the city and get your car when you’re ready to leave the city.
Spend 1 Night in Reykjavik
Perhaps the most iconic building in Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja is a beautiful Lutheran church standing at 244 ft high. The height of the church makes it the largest church in Iceland, and one of the tallest structures in the country!
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 purpose was to create a sculpture that would commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city.
Taste the local cuisine …
Snacking on the 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.
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 as most Icelanders do and were served 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.
The 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 (here) 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.
Spend Two Nights
GUYS. If you haven’t yet used AirBnB to travel, you’re missing out on some amazing deals. AirBnB and Skyscanner are my two KEY TOOLS I use when planning and budgeting for my trips. What are the two largest expenses for travel? Accommodation, and flights. So where do you want to maximize your savings and cut costs? Accommodation, and flights. But seriously… check these out.
We spent two nights in this stunning cabin. Like most cabin’s 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 like the ones below
- Enjoy breathtaking views as you drive the Golden Circle
- Explore Thingvellir National Park, where tectonic plates meets
- Witness the wonders of the Strokkur geyser, it erupts every 5 minutes!
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.
Our tour guide was awesome, enthusiastic and a slightly crazy driver. Our group drove through scenic landscapes 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.
Katla Ice Cave Tour
After the tour we still had plenty of time to explore until it got dark out…
There were a couple 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 day’s 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 things, 1. We weren’t going to be seeing the northern lights (huge bummer, huge) 2. Sleeping at “night” became a challenge. Without black out 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 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 local’s 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 wild life.
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 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 back yard, and it was spring. That means BABIES. And in my opinion, there are few things cuter in this world then 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)
Two Nights: Northern 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.
Krafla Vita Crater
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.