Traveling to Iceland is like visiting another planet. Breathtaking landscapes, diversity, adventure and rejuvenation with an exploding tourism industry has made Iceland one of the top travel destinations in the world. I’m sure you’ve recently come across someone that’s either going to or has already visited this small yet diverse country. There are few, if any, places in the world where you can see the Northern Lights, rejuvenate in hot mineral baths, visit volcanoes, crawl inside lava tubes, see breathtaking waterfalls, bask in extraordinary scenery, hike glaciers, and enjoy urban activities all within a single country. If you are in Iceland over the summer, it will be light until midnight. If visiting in the fall, the contrasting bright colors of the flora against the dark volcanic rock with snow capped glaciers in the background is magical. The best time to see the Northern Lights is after September when it starts to get darker early and for longer. There is something different for every season. There’s so much around the Reykjavik area that you could easily spend a week, I spent just 4 days on my first visit. Dare to explore the Ring Road that wraps the country, and you will find a never ending supply of beauty and adventure.
Last Visit: Oct 2019
Cost: $342/day
Stayed: 20 days
Suggest Staying: 1-2 weeks
English: 5/5
Safety: 5/5
Currency: Krona
Transport: Taxi, bus, rental car, super jeep

My Favorites

1. Reykjavik

Blue Lagoon

Highlights: Nightlife, people, food, architecture, natural wonders nearby like waterfalls, beaches, hot springs
Suggest Staying: 3-7 days
Stay Around: City Center / Old Town
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Reykjavik is the heart of Iceland and definitely the best place to start. A small city that has a lot to offer. A wonderful jumping off point to see the country, embark on an adventure, sign up for a tour, or rent a super jeep and guide yourself. Like other Scandinavian countries, food is pricey, mainly because other than fish and lamb everything is imported since there is little agriculture. You can explore the city pretty thoroughly in a couple days as well as experience the nightlife and meet the locals. Then head out from here as your base for areas around the South. Fun fact, you’re more likely to meet people not from Iceland because only 300,000 people are residents, about 2 million tourists, and the rest help to support and service the ever growing tourism industry.

See & Do

  • Laufardalslaug. Public geothermal pools with water slide, activities, swimming lanes, and of course dedicated hot tubs (plural). Where the locals go. This was an awesome off-the-beaten-path find. Be prepared to get naked in the showers before entering the pools.
  • Laugavegur, Bankastraeti, Austurstraeti. Main streets.
  • Skolavoroustigur Street. Another popular street.
  • Hallgrimskirja Church. Very popular site in Reykjavik with a nice view.

Food & Drink

  • Laundromat Cafe. Cafe great for breakfast. Has board games and books.
  • C is for Cookie. Cafe.
  • Prir Frakkar. Icelandic, seafood.
  • Hot Dog Stand. Best…hot dogs…ever. You’ll know it when you see it or ask around for the famous hot dog truck.
  • Sægrefinn. Lobster soup. They’re big into Langosteens in Iceland (mini-lobsters).
  • Buddah Restaurant. Varied.
  • . Some foods unique to Iceland are Whale, Shark, Horse, Puffin, Reindeer.
  • Lebowski Bar. Yes, a Big Lebowski themed bar with White Russians on Special.
  • Costco. Yes, for the Americans, there is a Costco in Reykjavik! Perfect to stock up for a road trip.


  • Blue Lagoon. Spectacular luxury hot springs, bars for easy access to drinks, massages, and food.
  • Golden Circle. One of the most popular excursions in Iceland. The natural landscapes are incredible. The mighty Gulfoss waterfall, Geysir, and Þingvellir (Thingvellir) national park where you can walk across the continental divide and through lava fields. Don’t forget about the short walk to Öxarárfoss, a nice little waterfall with a gorgeous winding stream amongst the volcanic rocks.
  • Kerid Crater. Having been disappointed by craters in the past (in the U.S.), this is not to be missed. Gorgeous blue water and amazing colors make this well worth the few dollars. You can walk around the upper rim as well as down below along the lake.
  • Krysuvik. Geothermal area with steam and hot pots.
  • Kleifarvatn. Lake area with some gorgeous sweeping views along the drive.
  • Reykjadalur Hot Springs. Hike is a couple miles up into the hills and then bath in the thermal river. Gets crowded.
  • Secret Hot Springs. Out in the open, bit more natural, less luxurious, costly and crowded than the Blue Lagoon if you’re looking for an alternative (or addition).


  • Transportation From Airport. Take Flybus from the airport to the city center, unless of course you plan on renting a car, which is easy to do from the airport.
  • Restaurants. We found that restaurants often require reservations, especially the more popular ones. Make one or go early.
  • Tours & Excursions. Grayline is an excellent bus system that goes everywhere and even has free wifi.
  • Golden Circle. Since my first visit, both Geysir and Gulfoss have exploded in the amount of visitors and now actually have their own shops for food, drink and merchandise. Personally, Geysir is neat, but if you’re short on time or have seen Old Faithful in Yellowstone, I would consider skipping. There are way cooler things if you’re on your own with a car. And by the way, you don’t need to do a tour for the Golden Circle, it’s super easy to do on your own with a rental car. If you have time, there are also a ton of waterfalls and hot springs in the Golden Circle area, as well as places to stay. You could easily spend 1-3 days hiking around and hanging out at hot springs.
  • Blue Lagoon. You get a wristband to charge drinks, food, massages, etc. and pay at the end. This way you can leave everything in a locker and not have to worry about it. It’s super easy to stop here on the way to the airport on your way out of Reykjavik. You can easily store your luggage and even rent a bathing suit and towel. And just think how relaxed you’ll be for you multi-hour flight home or to your next destination. The Blue Lagoon is halfway between Reykjavik and the airport, about 30 minutes. Plan to be there for 2-4 hours. Due to the increase in interest, this place has risen tremendously in price. Still worth it in my opinion, but there are also other hot springs around Iceland if you’re on a budget.

2. Akureyri & Mývatn


Highlights: Hot springs, lake, hiking
Suggest Staying: 2-5 days
Stay Around: Akureyri or Mývatn
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The second largest city in Iceland, Akureyri, next to a geothermal area and lake, Mývatn, is a perfect destination for both relaxation and adventure. While it’s supposedly possible to drive directly across the country through the highlands, the roads are closed during inclement weather. You can otherwise either drive the Ring Road or fly. If you’re up for a road trip and extended time in Iceland, this area is not to be missed.

See & Do

  • Goðafoss. One of the best waterfalls in Iceland!
  • Lake Mývatn. Lake and geothermal area.
  • Mývatn Nature Baths. Amazing hot springs, similar to the Blue Lagoon. Especially nice in the evening and/or around sunset.
  • Grjótagjá Cave. Popular old hot springs with crystal blue water that has since collapsed. Turns out this was a film location for Game of Thrones.
  • Namafjall. Viewpoint.
  • Hverir. Boiling mud pots.
  • Akureyri. Cool, clean town with modern amenities and awesome public swimming pool nestled in the mountains with entry points to the sea.

Food & Drink

  • Gamli Bærinn. Icelandic cuisine. Not open in the late fall/winter.


  • Dettifoss. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, waterfall in Iceland. Half mile rocky hike to the falls.
  • Selfoss. Just a mile or so hike from Dettifoss. Impressive with its own character. Film location at the beginning of Prometheus. You may be lucky enough to see some wildlife, we saw a ptarmigan (or grouse or something like that) nesting in the rocks.
  • Asbyrgi Canyon. Nice little hike through a canyon forest with a beautiful crystal clear lake and sweeping views at its heart.


  • Dettifoss & Selfoss. There are actually two roads that put you on either side of the massive falls. I personally liked the West side (via 862) better if you have to pick one, but both sides offer different perspectives. Be prepared for bumpy, unpaved roads, so allow some extra time to get there and back. The East side (via 864) is a bit easier to get to and seems to have better parking.
  • Akureyri Tunnel Toll. On the way to Akureyri, there is a tunnel that’s pretty expensive, around $12 one way. There is a route around it that adds some time to your trip. You must pay online and you can set that up online and even tell it when to expire your account so the next driver of your rental car won’t show up on your rental agreement after you leave.

3. Vik


Highlights: Black sands beaches, glaciers, waterfalls, valleys
Suggest Staying: 1-3 days
Stay Around: Vik
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Not your typical beach town, this small town offers sweeping views, black sands beaches, and access to glaciers. Popular destination and easy access from Reykjavik.

See & Do

  • Reynisfjara Beach. Beautiful black sands beach.
  • Kirkjufjara Beach. Black sands beach.
  • Reynisdrangar. Observation tower.
  • Dyrholaey. Nature preserve along the coast. Iconic rock formations.
  • Town. Get food and hangout in the town of Vik.
  • Vik i Myrdal Church. Nice views of the town.
  • LAVA Centre. Super cool interactive volcano museum just over halfway between Reykjavik and Vik. Great in general, but especially on a bad weather day.

Food & Drink

  • The Soup Company. Oh man this place is amazing. Perfect after a day in the cold. Great food, great prices, free soup refills!
  • Ice Cave Bistro. Cafeteria style eating in a shopping center.


  • Laugavegur Trail. One of the most popular hiking trails in the world, spans 37 miles one way to Thorsmork. Check the weather and do some planning, as the entry points from the roads may be closed in winter, or there may be high water crossings from glacier melting.
  • Thorsmork. You can drive into the valley for a flat, open, dirt road adventure where you’ll encounter towering waterfalls and traverse glacial rivers. Be careful and only do this if you have a 4×4 high clearance vehicle!
  • Sólheimajökulll. Glacier great for excursions like glacier walk and ice climbing.
  • Mýrdalsjökull. Another glacier great for excursions.
  • Skógafoss. Towering waterfall. Walk up to the top and behind you’ll find a nice hiking path along the upper river that feeds the falls.
  • Seljalandsfoss. Towering waterfall. Be sure to walk all the way down to Gljufrabui, falls that if you’re lucky to avoid crowds, will find a magical waterfall inside the crevice.
  • Kvernufoss. Waterfall.
  • Solheimmasandur Plane Wreck. Walk like a mile or so to a plane wreck on the beach. Lots of people go see it, a friend told me it wasn’t worth it, we skipped it. Decide for yourself.
  • Rutshellir. One of several old houses built into hills viewable just off the highway.
  • Landeyjahöfn Port. Entry way to Vestmannaeyjar, the tiny island off the south coast of Iceland, primarily an amazing summer destination. From the port, you can catch the ferry to the island (with or without your car), and you can also snap some nice photos of the island.
  • Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. Ancient massive canyons with a hiking trail.

4. Vatnajökull National Park

Skaftafell Ice Cave

Highlights: Glaciers, ice caves, waterfalls
Suggest Staying: 1-3 days
Stay Around: Vik or Höfn
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Incredible glacier system that dominates the landscape of Iceland. You’ll find a neverending array of glacier activities from hiking to ice caves to ice climbing to waterfalls. The weather can vary even from one spot of the park to the other. Find a guide and enjoy whatever activity you choose!

See & Do

  • Vatnajökull National Park. Home to the largest glacier in Europe. Collection of glaciers perfect for glacier hiking, ice caves, and ice climbing.
  • Skaftafell. Glacier hiking/climbing and ice caves.
  • Svartifoss. Beautiful hike and waterfall.


  • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Very cool glacier lagoon. There is a main parking lot for the lagoon, but you can actually pull off the road and walk up and over the hill to a section of the lagoon you’ll likely have all to yourself.
  • Diamond Beach. Black sands beach littered with chunks of glacier ice from the lagoon that wash out to sea, many of which remain on the beach.

5. Snæfellsnes Peninsula


Highlights: Mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, sea cliffs, birds
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Kirkjufell
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The peninsula below the fjords is a really magical place if you have the time. Not far from Reykjavik, the gorgeous sea cliffs and majestic views of the sea are incredible.

See & Do

  • Kirkjufell. Iconic mountain and waterfall popularized in many guidebooks and pictures of Iceland. Nice little town as well.
  • Arnarstapi. Such a cool place to get out of the car and walk by the sea cliffs, look for birds, and of course take pictures. Check out the Stone Bridge (it’s wild, you don’t even notice you’re not on solid ground until after crossing to the other side, having just walked across a stone bridge maybe 100 feet above the sea), Snaefellsass Statue, Gatklettur, sea cliffs.
  • Londrangar. Walk along the sea cliffs.
  • Hellnar. Sea cliffs.
  • Búða beach. Sand and sea with a nice little hike.
  • Búðakirkja. Tiny wooden church.
  • Vatnshellir Cave. Lava formed “cave” with a quick tour across from some nice sea views.

Food & Drink

  • Bjargarsteinn. Traditional Icelandic food. Best known for lamb, and certainly well deserved. Even had a great vegetarian meal there. One of my favorite restaurants in Iceland.

Other Considerations

Thrihnukagigur Volcano

Thrihnukagigur Volcano

This is one of my favorite activities to date. You hike about a mile or two across lava tubes to the base of the volcano. Once you climb to the summit (not very far or strenuous), you walk onto a catwalk and lowered several hundred feet down into the volcano. A bit scary for those weary of heights, but the experience inside is magical. This inactive volcano is beautiful and one of only a few in the world you can actually go inside. Only several people can be lowered in at once, so it’s very quiet and intimate. The colors are amazing and you can see tiny drops of water coming down from the ceiling. It’s pretty surreal.

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  • Footwear. Lava that has turned into rock is very rough, uneven and sharp. Bring good footwear for both the hike and inside the volcano.

Glymur Falls

Glymur Falls

I read about this hike on the plane and between the pictures and description it looked “fine” and if we had time and were interested in a day hike, we’d check it out. Turned out to be the crescendo and best unexpected adventure of the trip. This incredible 90 story, 300m/900ft waterfall overlooking the canyon valley is a site to behold. Even at the edge of the cliff you can’t see all the way to the bottom. There is a pretty wide river crossing, a log to cross, and chains to hoist yourself up along the trail. The trek is 3.8mi roundtrip that takes 4-6 hours. Plan adequate time, don’t go too late in the day.

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  • What to expect. I don’t want to spoil it, but just a couple tips. Read the map and details, take a picture of it, stay straight at the fork in the trail. We actually did the hike backwards (which turned out to be great because our socks weren’t soaked for the second half of the hike). The first river crossing isn’t too wide and has a log…unless it’s late fall where it’s pulled in so you have to cross in the stream. It’s about knee deep. The second river crossing is much wider. You won’t find a path entirely on rocks, so just suck it up, roll up your pants, and cross. The second half way back down is pretty uneventful, but a nice relaxing walk back down the hill. The hike is quite steep and challenging.
  • What to bring. Bring a towel and consider sandals to cross the streams, you’ll get wet, it’s cold, and it’s rocky. Even consider an extra pair of socks and bag for wet stuff. Bring water and snacks. Waterproof shoes are helpful, but the water crossings are at least ankle deep and water will get in your shoes.



Truly beautiful waterfalls with blue waters. Very picturesque, seen in many guidebooks. In between Reykjavik and Snaefellsnes.


Nice little town centrally located on the East Coast of Iceland. Great place to stay and some excellent seafood. Definitely go to Pakkhús, one of the best restaurants in Iceland. If it's busy, nearby Humarhöfnin Veitingahús is also good. Both are known for langosteen, which is excellent. Hoffell Hot Tubs are a neat mini excursion with a small set of outdoor hot tubs. Nearby Hvalnes Lighthouse offers nice views on the way further north. And if you're continuing along the Ring Road North, Djúpivogur is a nice stop for lunch and a dip at the local Sundlaug (swimming pool).

East Iceland

Continuing North along the Ring Road, Egilsstaðir is a good place to stop overnight. Good for food, gas, groceries, and other things you might need to replenish on your trip. There is also the Vök Baths for some more hot springs.


This famous whaling town is a nice little town if you're interested in a small diversion on your route and the road to get there is gorgeous along the sea cliffs. kind of like the Pacific Coast highway in California but with sea cliffs.

Cost Breakdown

  • Flights: $700 (RT from Texas)
  • Lodging: $1,586 (AirBnB, Guesthouse)
  • Transportation: $2,150 (rental car)
  • Activities: $207 (ice caves, glacier hiking, hot springs)
  • Food: $1,200 (estimated $80/day)

Total: $5,483*

*cost includes the 16 days I spent on my second trip

General Tips

  • Weather. Though the weather can be a bit all over the place, it's generally somewhat temperate as compared to say Norway, not reaching quite those frigid temperatures. Iceland does get a lot of rain and a lot of wind. Wear layers, wind and waterproof clothing and warm shoes/boots.
  • Rental Car. I researched quite a bit about various car companies from review sites to blogs. I felt most comfortable with Blue Car Rentals due to their reputation and car selection. I was interested in a 4x4/AWD small/medium SUV not a Dacia or Suzuki, but a Jeep, Toyota or Subaru (just my personal preference). If you're not planning on driving any F-roads, and you're not visiting when there is a chance for inclement weather, you'd be fine renting a sedan which is much cheaper. I would highly recommend going with the full insurance package which is extremely comprehensive and specific to the conditions in Iceland (ash, sand, etc.) as the costs for repairing the car if such conditions occurred are exremely expensive. I wanted the piece of mind, and this was beyond the normal car rental insurance included with my credit car. I never go beyond that, but none of it was covered. So go with it, or not (at your own risk), whatever works for you. Several other car rental companies I liked in my research were: Lagoon Car Rentals, Ice Rental 4x4, and Happy Campers (camper vans).
  • Driving. You'll hear about the infamous F-roads that are 4x4/AWD, high clearance roads as they are often unpaved, may have snow, may have river crossings. They are both fun and stressful. Be mindful of the weather and check for road closures at Some roads may be extremely windy, especially flat, open roads.
  • Footwear. Wear warm, sturdy hiking boots. Preferably winter/waterproof for walking in snow, ice, or even through water. Iceland is mostly volcanic, so it's very sharp and rocky in many places.
  • Clothing. Layer up! In late fall, I wore a base layer, long sleep hoodie, insulated jacket, and wind/waterproof rain shell. My bottoms were thermals, pair of normal hiking pants, and snow pants (though I would recommend some thing rain paints). This thin layering with water/windproof top layers made it easy to travel light while still keeping warm. Personally, I feel thick jackets are expensive and single purpose, so layering in this way gets more versatility and bang for your buck.

2 Replies to “Iceland”

  1. Reading your experiences paints Iceland as a magical destination.. it’s on my bucket list now.. thanks for your rich description.. It’s definitely on my radar now.. what do you think of April / May there.. our intensive hiking days are over.. what’s the best gentle way to see Iceland…

    1. Awesome! One reason I write this blog is to inspire people to go to wonderful places. I think April/May sounds like a good time frame. You may want to consider the amount of light during those months. More light will offer more time for day experiences. Less light of course will offer more chances to see the Northern Lights. May would likely have better weather and is the shoulder season which means less crowds. Iceland being very tourist friendly has many very nice hotels to stay, places to eat, and tour operators. You could probably find a more complete tour to take you to what you want to see in Iceland and at whatever adventure or gentle way you’d like. The alternative is to decide which excursions are of most interest, and find tour operators for those. I don’t know about the more complete tours in Iceland, but Grayline mentioned in the post was very good. I’m sure there are even more now then when I looked a few years ago. It all starts in Reykjavik and unless you have and want to spend more than a week there, I would stick to the Reykjavik area and time permitting vising Vik and the nearby Vestmannaeyjar island. I always recommend booking a tour far in advance to ensure you get what you want when you want. Look forward to hearing how you liked it when you get there!

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