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Okay, so it seems like everyone is going to Iceland (due to a combination of cheap airfare and Instagram), so I thought I’d save you hours and hours of research and help you plan an itinerary to get the most out of your week in Iceland. This is the blog post my wife and I wish we had prior to going.
(Also note: We are not getting paid for any links or tips here–this is straight up our opinion.)
Overall here’s what you need to know about traveling to Iceland: Getting there is cheap, staying there is cheap, doing ANYthing there is super pricey, but man…the place is beautiful!
My wife and I did the whole trip for $2,700 for 1 week ($1,400 flights and hotels through Groupon Getaways + $300 rental car + $1,000 food, gas and activities for both of us).
1. When should I go?
For us, it all revolved around the northern lights. That was the main reason we went. I’ve always wanted to see them and we got lucky enough to catch them for a bit.
Summertime pictures look incredible, but no northern lights. Wintertime is simply enchanting, but northern lights are fickle (http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/ that is the site where you can get a forecast of how strong the lights will be and the cloud cover).
Northern Lights were a bucketlist item for us, so we went in the winter and were lucky to have a day where the lights were strong and the cloud cover was minimal.
2. Should I rent a car?
They drive on the right side of the road and renting a car for a week should set you back less than $350USD. If it is stormy and wintertime, the roads will be pretty rough, but it is WAAAAAAaaaAAAAY cheaper to rent a car (even with gas being $7-$8/gal) than doing tours the whole time.
Also, I loved being able to stop along the way to pet Icelandic horses, video goats battling and stay longer/leave earlier as we wished. If you don’t want to drive, and are okay paying a lot for tours and need the local history voice-overs…then do the tours.
3. What should I eat?
So I’ll give a couple of restaurants that we ate at, but don’t be shocked to see that the prices are way more expensive.
We ate burgers and fries (no drinks) and paid $60USD.
Not even kidding.
And no, it wasn’t the best burger OR fries I’ve ever had…in fact, they were pretty okay.
We did breakfast in the hotel every morning, made a little sandwich for the day and bought some snacks along the way and then ate out for dinner in Reykjavik. I thought it was a good combo and helped keep costs down for meals.
There were four restaurants that I MUST recommend in Reykjavik (and keep in mind, Iceland is known for their incredible fish dishes…but I detest fish and yes, I’ve tried it since I was 4 years old and yes I still don’t like it and no I don’t take Omega 3 pills and yes I’ll probably die from it…but I’ll die without a fishy grizzled look on my face).
1. Bergsson Mathus for great breakfast and brunch
2. Kryddlegin Hjortu has amazing soup and salad bar for dinner
3. Snaps Bistro Bar for some great sandwiches and duck salad
4. Vegamot for just all around great food–the open steak sandwich and the noodles were great and this is a popular local eatout
4. What should I do there?
So make plans, but be willing to change the days around of those plans depending on weather.
We were based out of the CenterHotel Klopp in Reykjavik, which was a GREAT hotel with a central location. Hot water had good pressure, good breakfast every morning and great service.
Day 1: See the city and chill.
Get in, take a short nap, walk around the city and keep yourself up until at least 7. You can lose the first 3 days if you go to sleep too early to take too long of a nap. Not worth it. Also, the drive to and from the airport from Reykjavik is about an hour or so and is fairly pricey. If you have a rental car, you save the money of transportation to and from the city.
Day 2: Blue Lagoon and northern lights.
The Blue Lagoon is the super cool hot spring you always see on Instagram. It is even cooler than the pictures. Yeah, it costs like $100USD to go, but sheesh, it is cool and I did not feel that I overpaid. Note, you MUST have reservations. Also note: there is a dry sauna and steam room–try both of those out too while you’re there!
The northern lights is one of those things that makes it so much easier to have a rental car because the tours are charging you tons of money to just drive you 15 minutes out of the city and if you have a car, you can decide when to do based on the forecast.
Day 3: The Golden Circle and City Pool
This place is seriously awesome. It is a beautiful day-trip to catch a lot of the main attractions of Iceland: waterfalls, horses, hot springs (if you want), hikes, custom foods, etc.
Here are three sites I found useful in doing this drive:
- http://theblondeabroad.com/2015/09/23/the-ultimate-guide-to-driving-icelands-golden-circle/ This one has a simple map you can use
- http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2014/12/drive-it-yourself-the-golden-circle/ This one has a more detailed map
- https://expertvagabond.com/golden-circle-iceland/ This is a good overview
We then came back to the hotel and went to a pool in Reykjavik. There are some sprinkled all over the city, so just pick one and go. They have hot and dry saunas and hot tubs of different temperatures. Very relaxing ending to any day.
Day 4: Snæfellsjökull National Park
This is a few hours to drive up there, but it is so worth it! The countryside is breathtaking and the views along the way are incredible. The black beaches, the cliffs, volcanoes, wildlife, lighthouses, churches, everything is just awesome.
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/50/e0/f8/50e0f82f8641738ac96c6f1ef0ae2b6c.png This is the only decent map I’ve found on this drive.
Day 5&6: Drive the South Coast
So admittedly, we were not able to do this because of the weather, but from what I’ve heard this is such a lovely trip and can be extended to stay for one day out there at the end of the dive and come back the next day.
http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2015/01/drive-it-yourself-a-south-coast-adventure/ That is the link we were going to use…but alas, it will have to wait until next time we go (in the summer).
Day 7: Snorkeling
Okay…I know it sounds crazy, but I’m telling you…snorkeling was so much fun–even in the winter!
It was soooooooo cold and seemed crazy at the time when it was sleeting rain and the water was just at freezing, but it was incredible to snorkel between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It looks like a stream from above, but when you get down there, it goes down over 100m and you can see all the way to the bottom if the sun is shining. The water is that clear.
I’d recommend going in a dry suit (they do have a wet suit option is you are a masochist) and this is another one of those things that must be booked in advance with a tour company. We ended up booking it the day of, but had to go through a bunch of hoops and almost didn’t get it done.
My body was not that cold, but my face and hands got a little chilly. Even though I’m a baby when it comes to cold, I wasn’t uncomfortable–it was just the thought of it that made it cold. The dry suit kept me pretty warm. Bring an extra change of clothes though, because water leaked into my suit and I was sure glad I had something dry to change into in the car.
A tour company we saw a lot of people using was this one: https://www.adventures.is/iceland/day-tours/snorkeling-and-diving/into-the-blue/. You can find it cheaper though.
5. Any last thoughts?
Iceland is a beautiful country with amazingly kind people. I loved sitting in the hot tubs and just talking with the locals (and don’t worry, because almost everyone speaks English). They are really used to travelers since there will be 1.3M people who visit this country of 300k in 2016.
It is a great way to spend a week of your life and will be a trip you will remember forever.
Like with all traveling, you will never have the time, you need to make it. If die never going to Iceland, it isn’t because you couldn’t find the time, it is because you didn’t want to go–and that’s fine. Just be honest with yourself. You have full control over going and can do it for a very reasonable price. Look, you’ve made it this far into the post, so either you are seriously considering it or already decided to go.
If you have decided to go: yeah man! Rock on and enjoy the trip. Let me know of any other good restaurants/activities I can post.
If you are still considering it: just do it. Put aside $50/mo to go and you’ll be able to afford it in no time. If you can’t take that much time off of work, for for fewer days. Just make the decision and do it.
Let’s put it this way: I’ve been to 34 countries and this is the only one I already have plans to go back to.
Happy journeys and if you have any questions, drop me a comment.