Iceland has been in the news a lot and all the talk of several travelers these days. All the good stuff you have heard about it is true. Iceland is utterly fantastic. The diversity in landscape and the sheer beauty of it all will capture your heart in no time.
If you have at least five days the best way to see Iceland is to rent a car and get going. We had six days, and we didn’t feel rushed, but we did feel we just scratched the surface of this beautiful island. We stuck quite close to the N1 (Ring Road) and didn’t venture too far off. Next time, we will venture out further into the fjords and spend more time off the N1.
Several resources break the island down into several different sections. We found this to be too much for our short stay and kept it comfortable using North, East, South, West and Reykjavik as our primary points. We didn’t do much research before we arrived which I think slowed us down. We had booked our night stays but thought we would ask the locals to recommend choices for our daily itineraries. Although, we received some great tips we could have saved time by already knowing about the most popular places. Do some research before you go.
We loved the North because of our farm stay. I firmly believe we would have missed the charm, and overall feel of the North had we stayed in a hotel. The views of the surrounding treeless mountains and acres of horse and sheep farms are gorgeous. But it wasn’t until we reached our farm stay, and our host explained the area history that we realized how special this place is. Give yourself at least 24 hours or more at your location. We left right after breakfast and now we wish we would have stayed and helped in the barn or taken a hike around the area.
The East is all about tender delish Atlantic lobster and rickety old fishing boats. Stop and stay in Höfn. We did at Hotel Edda located on the shorelines. Eat at Pakkhus and ask what the lobster special is for the day. Don’t like lobster? It’s ok their menu is quite diverse including lamb, duck, goose, chicken, fish and horse. Yes, the horse was a bit of a shocker, but we tried to remember to be open to others cultural tastes. That being said, neither of us will ever eat a horse.
Right off the N1 in the Southeast region of Iceland stop at Jökulsárlón Lagoon. Visit both the North and the South side of the road. The lagoon is located on the north side of N1 where the icebergs break off from the Vatnajökull glacier. Boat tours are offered at the lake, and the operators have all weather gear if needed. We didn’t do a boat tour, but we were still lucky enough to see lots of ice chunks and even a seal playing amongst the ice.
The south side of N1 leads to the beach with icebergs being quickly launched out of a narrow channel. Then they either bob and twist as they are carried out into the Atlantic Ocean or if the tide is right the ice chunks lodge themselves all over the black sand beach. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit this area, the ice sparkles in the light making the best photos.
Stop in Vik at the N1 restaurant and then walk to the black sand beach and the hexagonal basalt columns. We didn’t make it to the columns because when we stopped we didn’t realize where they were located – duh! We did make it to the beach, and it was beautiful. The N1 restaurant does get quite busy in high season. We recommend arriving early. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano is located in the south area and easily viewed from the N1.
The Golden Circle is probably the most popular tourist location outside of Reykjavik. The circle includes Þingvellir National Park, Geysers at Haukadalur, Gullfoss waterfall, and Kerið Crater Lake. We did not make it to the lake but did see the others. If you are a diver, please don’t make the mistake we did and miss diving the tectonic plates in Þingvellir National Park. We wimped out because of the cold and now regret it. The Golden Circle is an easy day trip from the city, but if you can give yourself two days. Þingvellir National Park may deserve an entire day to itself. After all it could take a day or longer just to locate a white walker.
If you only have a day or 2 in Iceland than Reykjavik & Golden Circle may be your easiest bets. The city has a small town feel and is safe, quite and comfortable to walk. We may have cut ourselves short on Reykjavik, but what we saw of it, we liked. The street art is colorful and abundant throughout the city. The best birds eye view is from the Hallgrímskirkja church located in the center of the city. We stayed outside the city and did not make it back in to test the infamous nightlife in Reykjavik.
Road Tripping Tidbits we learned along the way
- All the N1 gas stations have restaurants attached. The prices are reasonable, and the food ranges from good to really good. Each location has a varied menu but in general, fish and chips and burgers are the standards.
- The majority of the bridges are one lane, so traffic has to take turns crossing the bridges. Which in the busy season I can only imagine takes quite some time.
- If the road says closed, it means closed! Don’t try to off road or get around it. The locals told us quite a few stories of tourists getting stuck or lost for hours because they didn’t head the warning signs posted on roads.
- Most gas stations open around 7 am and close between 8-12 pmish; Plan accordingly.
We left a lot to do on our next trip to Iceland. Tons of hiking, lesser known thermal baths, ice caves, boating, more waterfalls and finding a Puffin. We did not see a single live Puffin on our entire trip. We saw several stuffed Puffins at Petra’s Stone Collection.
Vehicle – We chose to go with a rental car and drive ourselves around the island. At the time, we checked Budget had the best price, and we booked through Expedia.
Ring Road – Additional information regarding the Ring Road can be found here. Also, get up to date road and weather conditions here.
5 out of 5 Travelationship High Fives – We love, love, love Iceland and can not wait to go back to see and experience even more of this majestic place!!!
Great for the traveler looking for adventure, romance with a loved one, relaxation, nightlife, unique foods, history and/or a bucket lister.