Going to Iceland had been a dream of mine for many years, so we decided at the beginning of 2018 to make it happen! We knew we wanted to do the Ring Road self-drive trip and opted to go toward the end of September as it is the end of the peak season (fewer tourists!) yet the weather is still bearable.
Having read a fair amount of blog posts we quickly decided to make our week in Iceland a long one by adding an extra day. This allowed us to explore the country thoroughly but also to avoid spending our entire time in the car.
I am conscious that not everybody has spare days off to spend, so if you are planning a shorter trip I have added at the end options to plan a 3-day and 5-day stay in Iceland. For those of you who prefer the movie version of a book, there is also a video of course.
The land of ice and fire was everything we expected it to be and more! In a nutshell, it is much prettier in real life than in any of the pictures you may have ever seen!
Now brace yourself for a fairly long blog post but I wanted to give you all the information you need to plan a memorable week in Iceland. Got a drink and a snack? Great! Let’s go!
We arrived on a Saturday evening from London and with a 40-minute drive from the airport to Reykjavik city centre, we only had limited time that day and simply enjoyed a lovely dinner at Hlemmur Matholl.
Our flight back was on a Monday morning, so again we only had time to grab a quick breakfast before boarding the plane.
Now let’s move on to the exciting part – 8 amazing days exploring Iceland!
Day 1 – The Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik
We started our day bright and early with a huge tasty breakfast. Food is expensive in Iceland so we had to be tactical and used a few tricks to save money where we could, this included gorging on bread at breakfast.
Our first stop of the day was the famous Blue Lagoon. We decided not to go swim in it as we knew we could do the same in Myvatn for half the price. I talk more about it on day 6.
We still wanted to check it out and see what the fuss was about. Once there we could easily see the lagoon from the coffee shop area and we went for a walk around the complex as well.
So if you are doing the full Ring Road, save your money but still go for a little explore and to take some very decent pictures.
We spent the afternoon exploring Reykjavik city centre. The town is compact so you only need a few hours there. We started at the seafront to enjoy the views and see the famous Sun Voyager sculpture.
We explored the main shopping streets, which are all very quaint with colourful houses, and we stopped at Braud & Co for an afternoon treat. Their cinnamon rolls are to. die. for.
We then visited the beautiful Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik cathedral. This is the first time I found a religious place to be an interior inspiration for my actual home.
Moving west, we stopped for a break in the sun in front of the Tjornin lake before visiting the much more conventional Cathedral of Christ the King.
Reaching 15,000+ steps, we were getting a bit tired so we started to head back toward our hotel via Epal Harpa, Reykjavik concert hall and a real architectural gem.
This place looks like a giant crystal beehive. It is also good to know that they organise free public concerts and we had the pleasure to enjoy some opera before finding our way back to the hotel for a little nap.
We stayed at Storm Hotel both on our arrival night and on day 1. It was perfectly fine, very modern and clean, well situated to explore the city centre and the breakfast buffet was really nice!
Day 2 – The Golden Circle
Our second day was dedicated to one of the most famous areas of Iceland – the Golden Circle. On this day we also got our first taste of what was to come weather-wise… We started with rain, followed by sun, rain again, strong wind and hail. And I thought the weather in the UK was crazy!
We left Reykjavik immediately after breakfast and after a bit of rain, we were treated to some amazing road views.
Iceland has thought of everything, and there are many stopping points along the way for tourists to take pictures. Add a good 20 minutes to any of your drives to account for pictures stop!
Our first destination of the day was Thingvellir National Park. It has a great view of a valley and river, an impressive canyon and one very photogenic waterfall.
Some of you may find it familiar, probably because it has featured in Game of Thrones, as did many other sights I will mention in this post!
It took us about an hour and a half to explore Thingvellir main attractions.
We then headed to our second stop, which I was very excited about! For the first time, I was going to see a geyser!
The drive along the Golden Circle is very easy and there is no way to get lost with many other rental cars on the road to follow. The geyser park is smaller than I thought but it is still very special to see water actually boiling on the ground and some epic nature water displays.
The geyser goes off every 7 minutes or so, and when it does you won’t miss it!
A short drive from the geyser is Gullfoss waterfall. This was definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.
We felt very small facing the cliff and the thousands of litres of water dropping off it.
We were also treated to sharp hailstones on the way back to the car which was nice. Not. We got so wet that we almost lost one of my cameras so we decided to warm up in the car and skip Kerid crater (I know, I know, but trust me we were freezing).
We drove toward Selfoss and swung by the coast. It wasn’t exactly the French Riviera and we again got attacked by hailstones which you can see in the video (at 7:27)
Cold, damp but still in awe with how beautiful Iceland was, we headed to our accommodation for the night. We stayed at Guesthouse Nonni which was basic but perfectly fine and very clean. The owner also bakes bread herself so the breakfast was a real treat!
Day 3 – The South Coast
The first stop that day was the very famous Seljalandsfoss. You would have seen it in any Iceland guide but also in many editorial pictures. The place is famous to have access to the back of the waterfall.
We actually ran into a few fashion photoshoots while visiting and I really felt for the models wearing sleeveless evening gowns while we were all buddled up in waterproof winter coats. Whoever think modelling is not a ‘job’ needs to think again!
You do get really wet when walking behind the waterfall so make sure to dress appropriately and protect your camera.
We walked along the main path to see the other smaller waterfalls, in particular, the Gljúfrabúi waterfall which hides behind rocks.
Our second destination was yet another waterfall – Skogafoss. It is truly spectacular and you only really understand the scale of it when seeing teeny tiny humans walking in front of it.
We got lucky and were even treated to a rainbow while visiting.
Make sure to climb to the top too. It is a great leg workout and the view of the valley and surrounding mountains is beautiful.
Our next activity required a bit of planning as we needed to make sure to have 2 and a half hours for it. Iceland has a famous plane wreck which you can access very easily, however walking from the car park to the plane takes about 50 minutes one-way.
The US Navy DC plane ran out of fuel in 1973 and crashed on a black beach in Sólheimasandur.
It has since featured in editorial shoots and music videos.
The walk there is rather boring but we were happy to have done it as not often do you get to see such a sight.
An hour drive later we arrived at Reynisfjara a black sand beach. Famous to have featured in Game of Thrones (again), it will also be remembered as the place where Andrew and I almost got swept away by a wave. You will see warning signs about the ‘deadly snake waves’, well trust me it is not a joke! They took us by surprise and cornered us while we were exploring the Hálsanefshellir sea cave. First time I genuinely ran for my life!
The place may be deadly but it is also insanely beautiful, so just keep your distance with the water and you will be just fine.
We ended our day at Fjadrargljufur Canyon.
We arrived at golden hour and the colours of the cliff and grass warmed up while we enjoyed the view of the canyon. It was so peaceful and quiet we almost forgot that we were cold.
The drive to our hotel was dotted with some amazing landscapes and we did stop a few times before finally checking in at Fosshotel Nupar.
Day 4 – Glacier hike and Icebergs
We started our third day with an epic sunrise at our hotel which we enjoyed while sipping on warm coffee.
We then put our skiing gear on and off we went to Skaftafell National Park where our glacier hike was starting.
A glacier hike is a must to add to your Iceland bucket list and talked about it in great details here, so you know exactly what to expect.
We finished the hike around midday and after changing into lighter clothes we headed straight onto another hike in Skaftafell National Park to see Svartifoss waterfall.
The views on the way were amazing and it felt like we were in The Lord of the Rings.
We then spent the afternoon iceberg hunting with a stop at Fjallsárlón glacier lake.
Followed by one at the even prettier Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
And finally, at Diamond Beach beach which in all honesty was less impressive than Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón.
Day 5 – Iceland East Fjords and heading north
Day 5 was one of our long driving days, we started the day in Hofn on the east coast and finished in Myvatn in the north of the country. Andrew and I shared the drive to make it less tiring.
From Hofn we headed to Vestrahorn, a peninsula with splendid views of the cliffs and the glaciers we drove past the day before.
We drove along the coast and admire even more amazing spiky landscapes. A big part of the coast is a peninsula so the sea is very calm and you can see many migrating birds having a rest before heading east or west depending on the season.
We cut the long drive with a first stop in Djúpivogur, a very small town at the edge of the Eastern Icelandic Fjords with a charming harbour area.
The drive along the N1 road is truly spectacular in this area with fantastic scenery, small fishing villages and beautiful lakes.
It is good to note that the stretch of the N1 road between Reydarfjördur and Egilsstadir is not fully paved, so a part of the drive is a bit bumpy even though you are still on the main road of Iceland. No need for a 4×4 though any car can drive through it.
We took a lunch break in Egilsstadir and went for a short hike to see Fardagafoss. This was the perfect way to walk a bit and break the long drive. It was very pretty and quiet!
The next stretch of the journey took us to much whiter lands. The landscapes along the way from Egilsstadir to Reykjahlídtook went from green valleys to white mountain tops.
At one point it felt like we were driving on top of a glacier.
The journey may be long but it doesn’t feel like it at all with such views.
We ended our day at the great Icelandair Hotel Myvatn. A real relaxing treat after a long and slightly stressful journey.
Day 6 – Myvatn baths and the West Coast
On the 6th day of our Icelandic adventure, we were finally able to enjoy geothermal baths. Myvatn baths are a smaller and quieter version of the Blue Lagoon, so we knew from the start that we would go there rather than its more famous and busiest cousin. There are less tourists in the north of the country which makes the experience more relaxing.
Myvatn baths only opened at 10 am that day, so we headed to Hverir first to see the sulfur fumaroles and the boiling mud.
The place was amazing and it looked like we were on Mars.
The entrance ticket to the geothermal baths for the two of us costed the same than the entrance for one person at the Blue Lagoon. So if you are travelling north of Iceland save your money and go there.
We were the first in the baths. The run from the changing rooms to the pools was freezing, but once in the water, it was really pleasant.
We floated for a good hour and enjoyed the steam rooms and the hot tub. It was so relaxing!
By the time we left, there were about 15 people in the entire pool so it was still very quiet. No tourist crowds there!
We swang back to our hotel for a quick shower and after checking out, we started our journey west.
Our first stop was Grjótagjá Cave made famous by Game of Thrones to be Jon Snow love nest.
The next destination was the amazing Godafoss waterfall. The place was truly spectacular but unfortunately, the wind was insanely strong. So much so that I actually struggled standing straight. Make sure to check out the video at 17:07 to see the behind the scenes of the pictures I took for this post. Quite comical to say the least!
We then headed toward Akureyri. The drive was a bit challenging at that point as the wind was so strong. Drunk driving is the best way I could describe the way the car moved. It wasn’t too dangerous but I was more comfortable with Andrew behind the wheel for some of the stretches as it took strength to stay as straight as possible.
On our way to Akureyri, we came across the most impressive view of the trip (ok, one of many). Get your camera ready while approaching Eyjafjördur, the longest Fjord in Iceland, because the view is EPIC.
We took a break at Akureyri. It is a charming little town with a very pleasant architecture. I felt like I was on the set of a cute TV show.
We treated ourselves to a hot chocolate and a slice of cake at a small cafe in the big blue house (they have no website but you will know which one I am talking about when you are there) before heading back to the car for, yet again, more driving.
The journey was long but we wanted to make sure to reach Hvítserkur for sunset. Which we did!
Hvítserkur is also known as the troll of Northwest Iceland. The road leading to it isn’t paved and as the sun was setting we felt a bit lonely, but we eventually got there and met an army of photographers ready to take professional sunset shots.
We were too hungry for this and after taking a few pictures, we headed to our hotel, Gauksmýri Lodge, just before it got completely dark.
Day 7 – Snæfellsjökull National Park and Northern Lights
We saved some of the best for last and spent day 7 exploring the Snæfellsjökull National Park. The weather wasn’t great that day so I was worried that we would just feel cold, wet and miserable with many outdoor sights to visit.
We first walked around Stykkishólmur a very quaint fishing town.
The architecture there is so charming with all the colourful houses.
It was very cold and windy so after a short stroll, we came back to the car to warm up and moved to our next destination the postcard-famous Mount Kirkjufell.
I was getting a bit concerned that we may not even see it as the fog was covering all the mountains. Luckily the clouds vanished ever so slightly by the time we got there and we were able to take the same picture thousands of tourists have taken before…
And you can see why…
Our next stop was Djúpalónssandur, a black lava beach. We drove through lava fields to get there which gives a good idea of how powerful and devastating the eruptions must have been.
We accessed the beach via a small lava canyon and were greeted by the ‘5 lifting-stones’. These were used to assess the strength of Icelandic fishermen. You had to be able to lift the 50kg one to be hired!
The beach reminded us of Reynisfjara with spectacular scenery, very dangerous waves and black sand. Someone actually got swept away by a wave while we were there and they luckily were able to find their balance back and run to safety. I said it before and I will say it again – those deadly snake waves are no jokes!
The coastal landscape in Snæfellsjökull is very dramatic.
We also saw the remains of the Epine GY7 boat which was wrecked in 1948.
It was getting windier and we spent the remainder of the day driving along the coast and stopping at the most scenic spots like Malarrif Lighthouse and Londrangar.
We ended our day a bit earlier than usual as we were absolutely freezing. We stayed at the Arnarstapi Cottages which were really nice with each room in an individual cabin.
We went for a quick walk to the cliff to make the most of the golden hour before retreating to a local eatery for a warming meal.
After heading back to our cabin we went to bed and at 4 in the morning I randomly woke up to this…
I was so happy to finally see the Northern Lights as it had been very challenging to do so and we were getting to the end of our trip. It was really special!
Day 8 – Arnarstapi, meeting seals and heading back to Reykjavik
We spent the morning exploring the remainder of Arnarstapi as we didn’t the evening before.
We were so glad we did as the weather on that morning was so much better with almost no wind.
It really worth spending time walking along the cliffs of Arnarstapi as the sights are truly impressive.
Volcanic beaches, arches, giant holes in the cliffs – Mother Nature got busy there.
Around midday, we started our journey back toward Reykjavik with a first stop at Budir Church. With its statement black colour and dramatic background, it features on many postcards.
We then headed to Ytri-Tunga beach which is famous for its seal colony. Obviously, as with any animal-related activity, you are never guaranteed to see them. This was our lucky day though, and after climbing the rocks we got quite close to a group of seals. We sat and observed them and I was able to get a few decent pictures!
Which wasn’t the case for the people who arrived about 8 minutes after us, they were a bit loud and the seals got annoyed by the noise and all dived in. So one tip is to respect their environment and remain the least noticeable possible.
Having ticked every single item off our ‘first trip to Iceland’ bucket list we drove back to Reykjavik. Making new friends on the way!
Only have limited time in Iceland?
If you are only there for a long weekend as many Europeans do, I would suggest you combine our day 1, day 2, day 7 and 8. Go swim in the Blue Lagoon, explore Reykjavik. Rent a car or book a tour and visit the Golden Circle and Snæfellsjökull National Park. This is a great compact itinerary where you will see some of the most famous sights!
If you have a bit more time but not a full week I would advise you follow my 3-day Iceland itinerary above, but instead of booking tours rent a car. This will allow you to add to your visit day 3 and 4 so you can see some of the most impressive waterfalls, the iceberg lagoons and go for a glacier hike! It will be busy but you can always skip the plane wreck hike (day 3) if you run short on time.
Hopefully, this itinerary and tips will help you plan one very epic week in Iceland!