If you’re reading this you’re probably starting to plan a getaway to Iceland or you’re just incredibly curious about what this place has to offer. This past summer my sisters and I went for a 5 day road trip and I’ve detailed it all below to hopefully make your trip a little easier!
Day 1 – The Golden Circle
We got in around 7 am so we would have a full first day there. Our rental car was available then and we headed off as soon as possible! I believe one of the most popular things to do in Iceland is the Golden Circle road. I read somewhere that it could be done in half a day if you do it yourself vs with a tour, but we decided to dedicate our entire first day to it and take our time really exploring each stop. It is ~190 miles to do the whole thing but the drive was by no means exhausting. On the way we came across Melfoss Church which is not a stop on the circle but it was really cute so we decided to see it anyway. That’s the great thing about driving yourself is all the opportunities to make pit stops!
First Stop: Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park
This place actually took my breath away, not only because it was so windy, but all the things to see were absolutely incredible. The park sits in a valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, and you can actually snorkel in an unreal spot down there if you have enough time. I believe we spent the most time at this spot on the circle! There was no cost to get in, but you do have to pay for parking.
Second Stop: Geysir
This one is a little more self explanatory than the others because the main attraction here is the giant geyser that goes off every few minutes. Apart from that, there were hot springs and geothermal pools, it was like a mini version of Yellowstone only way less sulfer-smelling. This is also one of the only places on the circle with a bathroom as well, so take advantage! There was free parking and no entrance fee here.
Third Stop: Gulfoss Waterfall
Go here. You have to go here. I have never been so amazed at the sheer mass of a waterfall and how powerful yet stunning one can be. You can walk from the bottom to the top of it very easily and it didn’t take much time, either. I don’t believe you had to pay anything here either.
That night we decided to try the world famous hot dogs Iceland is known for at a place called “Pylsurvagninn”. They were only about $4, so not too bad. We then pulled off at a rest stop/information point and slept in the car. There are so many different opinions on how to road trip there and where to sleep, but we stayed in the car every night and never ran into a problem. Other people next to us were even setting up tents on the side of the road, so it’s definitely do-able but do so at your own risk!
Day 2 – Waterfalls and Vìk
First Stop: Thorsmork (Þórsmörk) Waterfalls
We slept just down the road and stumbled upon them on our way south. These are roughly halfway between the cities of Hella and Vìk for reference. You can go all the way behind the falls and get some really good photos as well.
Second Stop: Vikurfjara – Black sand beaches
The black beaches were absolutely my favorite part of Iceland. I had seen them in Hawaii before, but these were other-worldly. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park, it was something I hadn’t experienced any other place I’ve traveled to.
Also, make SURE you get to see the basaalt caves! I had seen pictures of them and while it took a little searching on how to get there, we finally found them. While we didn’t find an exact name of the area, we could see them in the distance and followed the road until we got there. (pictured below)
Two things I want to mention that may be of interest that I did not personally see are the Elf Gardens and the DC-3 plane wreck. Be sure to research those a little more to see if they are sights you want to see!
Third Stop: Dyrhólaey
This was an accidental find, but one I would not have wanted to miss. I know I say that about everything, but it’s just that great of a country I wouldn’t want to miss a n y t h i n g. We parked at the bottom of the hill and walked up. I HIGHLY recommend that if you have any shadow of a doubt about your driving skill or your car. So many cars got stuck or had to back down the tiny, winding road because they couldn’t make it all the way. When you get to the top, you’ll see a lighthouse as well as a peninsula with an incredible archway in it. You are standing on top of the craziest cliffs and drop offs looking down on the water.
Day 3 – Miscellaneous Stops
First Stop: Reykjadalur Hot Springs
These springs can be found after a roughly 40 min hike through the mountains. It’s definitely not a difficult hike, and afterwards there’s an ice cream shop you can head to! I found detailed instructions on how to get there at the bottom of this post.
Second Stop: Borgardes
The inspiration behind my entire interest in Iceland was when I saw the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. So when we didn’t have any other plans for the day, we took a long drive up to Borgardes, which is where we found the cafe that they transformed into a Pizza Hut for the movie (that sounds a little weird but if you’ve seen the movie, you get it). The drive was incredibly scenic even if you haven’t seen the movie.
Third Stop: Bonus
Maybe it sounds strange, but part of the fun in visiting new places is going to do the activities the people that live there do daily. We needed to stock up on some food, so we pulled over at a Bonus, which is one of their grocery stores. I seriously suggest stopping in at least once…it was an experience.
Day 4 – Blue Lagoon & Reykjavík
First Stop: Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is truly everything you see in the pictures and more. We actually loved it so much that we stayed for SEVEN HOURS!!! There are several packages you can choose from depending on what you want out of the experience. I got the premium and was completely satisfied!
Second Stop: Reykjavík
We knew the first thing we wanted to see here was the church you see in every picture of the city – Hallgrímskirkja. It also serves as an observation tower where you can see the entire city, which is actually a pretty crazy view considering all the Icelandic architecture you’re looking down on.
Harpa was next up on the list. I really didn’t know too much about what Harpa even was until we drove up to it. Inside we found the craziest windows and architecture along with some gift shops, info to read, etc. It’s a good place to go and sit for a while, and plan where to head for dinner.
Third Stop: Dinner
I had researched places to eat before our trip, so I knew one stop was going to be Reykjavík Fish Restaurant. As all food is in Iceland, this was expensive, but not nearly as bad as other places prices were. I got fish and chips and a few of their sauces and definitely was pleased with my choice. After that we headed to Valdís for ice cream which was just down the road, and then pulled over by a lake for the night to sleep.
Day 5 – Full Day in the City
First Stop: Café
While wandering around for a bit we stumbled on a coffee shop called Kaffibrennslan which ended up being the cutest place with the best carrot cake and tons of other options.
Second Stop: Laugerveugr
This is the main street of Reykjavík and has lots of shopping, food, and plenty of picture opportunities to go around. We spent most of the day just wandering with no set plans and found so many interesting places to check out.
Third Stop: Dinner
Our last meal here was incredible. We went down by the water and saw Sægreifinn which is famous for the worlds best lobster soup. It’s a total hole in the wall, everything you’ve ever dreamed of, tiny place in the old harbor. You can choose from the soup, a variety of seafood skewers and even pieces of whale! We grabbed that, a pint of Gull and then headed back to the same ice cream place mentioned above before passing out for the night.
Some extras I want to leave you with:
If you are renting a car take into consideration if it needs to be able to drive on f roads. Some roads require specific cars. We rented one that could just in case.
Prepare to shell out a lot of money for gas. Surprisingly enough we only had to fill up a little less than twice and we spent days driving around. Our car had wonderful mpg and it was overall cheaper than hotels would have ben for the entire duration. It was ~$58 for half a tank if that puts it into perspective.
Write out the places you want to see ahead of time in the Icelandic spelling. We knew a lot of places we wanted to go, but just knew the English way of saying them. That proved difficult when the car’s GPS had no clue what we were typing in.
So go put on Walter Mitty and start planning!
I’ve posted a travel diary from my Iceland trip below if you want some more visuals to what the trip looked like for me!