A springtime trip to Reykjavík, Vík, the South Coast and the Eastern Region of Iceland
We’re ending on a big note here for #SSPTravels Week! Iceland is quickly becoming one of the trendiest places on earth to explore and we’re so glad that we made the trek to see this gorgeous land of ice. We chose to visit for my birthday, the first week of May. It was really surreal to take off and land in Iceland on my birthday. While we missed out on seeing the Northern Lights, we were able to experience a taste of Iceland during the winter. Yes, even in May it was cold. C.O.L.D. cold.
There are million blog posts out there with packing lists, exploration tips and car rental recommendations for Iceland. Those is not one of those. It would take me forever to go through every little detail about traveling Iceland so I do recommend that you do lots of additional research! In fact, I’ve already shared one blog post about our time in Iceland that you can see here!
The one feeling that I vividly remember having throughout the entire trip was just complete disbelief. I could not comprehend how a place as beautiful, diverse, rugged and rural as Iceland existed. It felt like we had been plopped down on the surface of Mars. This trip was exhausting and very fast paced but with tons of downtime in the car. We did almost twice the amount of driving during this trip as we did during our entire 10 days in Ireland.
A few tips:
This itinerary has you based entirely out of Reykjavík because it’s just what was easier for us. We didn’t know what the weather would be like each day and we wanted to have the flexibility of switching out each days itinerary if needed. You could opt to stay in an AirBnB or guesthouse for the days where you’re headed east of Vík.
You will be doing A LOT of driving. I actually modified the timeline on our arrival day for you because we were so tired I kept falling asleep in the car which wasn’t safe because I was supposed to be keeping Kyle awake. This itinerary is not for someone who isn’t comfortable spending their limited time in Iceland going, going and going. I’m not sharing details about gas stations, 4x4 cars and prepaid gas cards here but if you have questions, you’re welcome to email me!
We did not go to any nice restaurants in Reykjavík because we packed entirely in one small carry on suitcase and only brought outdoor hiking clothes. The people of Iceland dress up… seriously dress up… for dinner. So we grabbed a burger at 4 PM one day and that was about it as far as restaurants. We packed a lot of snacks for the car and almost every single lunch was just from a gas station. Don’t judge.
We did not visit Solheimasandur plane wreck for a number of reasons. First, you’re no longer permitted to drive to it because people are jerks. Second, we read in dozens of articles that the family who owns the land really doesn’t want people on it but they’ve just given in. They have to constantly clean up tourists’ trash which is really sad. If you’re going to visit, please be respectful.
The itineraries I am sharing are the exact ones Kyle and I followed on our trips. Each itinerary was planned entirely by me through extensive research and knowing our personal travel preferences. Everyone loves to travel differently. It’s very important that you know the way you prefer to travel and make the modifications that you feel would suit your lifestyle best. I used various travel blogs, recommendations from family and friends along with internet reviews to choose what worked best for us. Kyle and I are certainly not luxury travelers however we do not stay in hostels either. You will not find any bed and breakfasts on these lists… sorry! We are hotel traditionalists. We typically do not place huge importance on every meal of the day however we do love to eat! Trip prices shared at the top of each post are simply approximations at the date of our travel and could have changed minimally or drastically in the time since. We take trips more than we vacation so you may find that these itineraries are too busy, fast paced or condensed for your lifestyle. When most people would suggest a 7 day tour of an area, we would usually condense that into 4 days. Our goals are always to see and do as much as we can on a trip which results in long, incredibly rewarding days. This can be exhausting - I wouldn’t deem any of these itineraries to be extraordinarily relaxing but they are all worthwhile. It may seem obvious but one main priority for wherever we travel is photographing the location so we may opt for 8 quick stops over one 6 hour tour. My goal is to share what we have seen and loved in the hopes of guiding someone else’s research. I suggest that instead of taking these at face value and doing exactly what we did, you make the modifications that suit your own needs and cater to the way you love to travel!
WHEN: May 3 - 7 * Most flights leave in the evening and fly overnight arriving in Iceland in the morning. So we left on May 3 and arrived in Iceland on May 4.
HOW MUCH: $3,900 (including food, alcohol, hotel, car rental, fuel, flights and activities)
Almost every flight from the U.S.A. arrives to Iceland in the very, very early morning. If you’re flying out of BWI or Newark, you’ll likely arrive at Keflavík International Airport about 4:15 AM local time. Don’t bother trying to get a coffee or breakfast in the airport. They have a terribly awful policy of only allowing departing flights to purchase anything (welcoming, huh??) and they’ll ask for your boarding pass as proof.
Take the airport shuttle over to Blue Car Rental (they’re open 24/7) and pick up your car. We reserved a Toyota CH-R and ended up with an upgrade to a brand new 4WD Toyota Rav4.
Google Maps will work in Iceland so, no worries. Just add an International Day Pass to your AT&T plan or call your cell phone provider to discuss your roaming data options. We had service throughout all of the southern part of the country. Head off to The Blue Lagoon where you’ve reserved the first time slot of the morning.
Enjoy the Blue Lagoon (and hope it doesn’t hail on you like it did for us)! Grab a bite to eat in their cafe after you’ve enjoyed the warm waters. You’ll probably be starving. Don’t freak out at the price tag, food in all Iceland is offensively expensive.
Drive to the south-western corner of the island to Strandarkirkja
The Church was originally built in the 12th century. One night when a group of sailors tried to navigate back to Iceland in a storm. The southern coast of Iceland is notorious for its hidden reefs and rough coast. The distressed sailors prayed to God for a safe return and vowed to build a church wherever they landed. When they ended their prayer an angel, seemingly made of light, appeared before their bow. The angel guided them through the rough surfs and led the crew into a bay for safe landing. The sailors, making good on the promise, built a wooden church at the site and named it Strandarkirkja. The bay nearby is named Angel's Bay. Many miracles have been attributed to Strandarkirkja and there was a time when it was one of the richest churches in Iceland from the donations of Icelanders coming from all over the country in hopes of having their prayers and wishes realized.
The wind here can be INSANE. There are railings along the coastal rocks for a reason! Hold on to them. Don’t be dumb.
Drive in to Reykjavík and check in to Skuggi Hotel. Parking is free and there is an underground garage. If you room isn’t ready, ask them to hold your bags while you walk around Reykjavík and get adjusted to the temperatures. We loooooved this hotel. It’s small and simple but they’ve thought of everything. The included breakfast was delicious, parking was always available, the staff were so sweet and the shower (and heated towel rack) were so amazing to come home to after really long days.
Grab some a bowl of hot noodles at Noodle Station, just a block from your hotel. They’re just what your wary traveler soul needs right now.
By this time, you’re probably falling over from exhaustion. The time change is brutal and the overnight flight likely left you with barely any sleep. Trust me, we were barely able to keep our eyes open. Go to bed early! The sun doesn’t set fully this time of year anyway.
This is going to be a very, very long day with 10+ hours of driving. Total, this could easily be a 16 hour day. It worked for us but it won’t work for everyone. Know your limits. Please, do not speed. Iceland issues heavy fines for speeders and there are cameras. The terrain, temperatures and the weather in general can change very quickly. Iceland is desolate. Make smart decisions and stop for gas every time you see a gas station.
Grab breakfast downstairs at Skuggi Hotel. It’s delicious and you won’t want to miss the dark rye volcanic bread.
Hit the road as early as you can! It’s helpful to map these points out in advance so you have a visual of where you’re going on the island. Spend your day enjoying the sites from your car window, hiking and exploring these spots:
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon (4 hours 35 minutes from Reykjavík)
This is the farthest east that you’ll travel in Iceland. Drive straight out here enjoying varying landscapes along your drive. It will feel like you’re passing through at least a half dozen different ecosystems. You’ll see many, many sites on your drive back.
Until 1932, Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon was covered in thick glacial ice. Over the years, the glacier started to retreat from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, developing into a lake where chunks of ice are constantly breaking away from the disappearing glacier to reshape the lagoon and fill it with icebergs of various shapes, sizes and colors. The size of the lagoon has increased fourfold since the 1970s - a beautiful but sad consequence of global warming. As the lagoon is open to the sea, it contains a mixture of salt and freshwater, giving it a beautiful blue-green color.
This wasn’t originally on our list because it’s not really on Google Maps but you can’t miss it! It’s a GLACIER (and it’s about 2 minutes from where you stop for Svartifoss. Yes, the road to get back here is terrible. GO ANYWAY! It wasn’t on our list but it ended up being our favorite memory of the entire trip. Hike around, explore and enjoy. It’s unique and something you’ll remember for a lifetime.
Hike approximately 30 minutes to see the hexagonal columns that were formed inside a lava flow which cooled extremely slowly making the backdrop of this waterfall very unique.
This is just a small stop along the road with mountain views. Pull over for pictures!
Stop at Systrakaffi for lunch in Klausturvegur.
Give yourself a good bit of time to truly explore and enjoy Fjaðrárgljúfur!
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This is a famous Game of Thrones filming location! One of many in Iceland. Strong winds can be very possible here. The winds moved our car while it was in park with the emergency brake on. They’re not kidding when the rental car agency staff tell you to hold on to your car door tightly when you open it. The wind can quite literally rip the door right off.
Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi waterfalls
There is a wide and shallow cave located behind the waterfall - hike back but you will get VERY wet! We recommend having a change of clothes in the car. To get to Gljúfrabúi, walk the trail to the left of Seljalandsfoss and pass through the hole in the canyon wall to get into the waterfall area. It was too wet and rainy for us to do this when we visited unfortunately! The water was waist deep.
Skógafoss can be seen from the road but you definitely want to drive up, get out and hike up close!
You’ll be hungry so grab fish and chips at Sveitagrill Míu (Mia's Country Grill) - the red shack at the end of the road. It’s the best fresh fried fish that I’ve ever had and you definitely need the homemade Icelandic tartar sauce!
Drive back to your hotel and hit the hay. You have another long day ahead of you tomorrow!
YAY! It’s Golden Circle day! If you’ve done any research into Iceland, you’ve probably heard about the Golden Circle. It’s very easy to drive on your own which means you can set your own pace. Eat breakfast at Skuggi Hotel and then set out to explore Iceland’s Golden Circle.
Iceland’s Golden Circle drive:
Thingvellir National Park
This canyon was used as the entrance to the Eyrie in season 4 of Game of Thrones. You might notice it from two separate scenes – when Littlefinger and Sansa approach the Bloody Gate in E5, and when the Hound and Arya arrive in E8.
Iceland deemed this space a national park in 1928 but it’s the home of the oldest parliament in the world. The land held the Alþing general assembly, established around 930.
Research indicates that the hot spring areas at Geysir have been active for approximately 10,000 years. In records dated 1630 the geysers erupted so violently that the valley around them shook.
There’s a cute little restaurant here if you need a snack!
Horse petting at Margeiri, Bru's Farm
Stop by and feed and pet some famous Icelandic horses
You won’t believe how insanely beautiful Gullfoss is. One of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland, we think it’s prettiest in the winter, covered with layers of ice!
Volcanic crater-lake Kerið
Kerið was originally a cone volcano that erupted and and emptied its magma reserve leaving the cone to collapse into the empty center. The crater that was created, later filled with water. This place is very cool to explore!
You’re finished with the Golden Circle drive! Congrats! Stop in Ölverk Pizza & Brewery for wood fire pizza and Icelandic beer made using geothermal energy.
Head back to your hotel, change your clothes, rest up a bit and then explore the rest of downtown Reykjavík. Visit the plethora of shops and the city’s Old Harbour area.
The Icelandic dress up for dinner (think: cocktail attire or dressier) so either get dressed up or have your dinner early! We opted to grab a late lunch at Frederiksen Ale House. The falafel burger is amazing!!
At this point, you’ve had very little sleep and you’re probably exhausted so there’s no shame in heading back to the hotel bar, grabbing a few drinks and then going to bed. If you’re still hangin’ in there, Reykjavík is known for their clubs and nightlife so, you’re in luck!
This can be a flex day depending on your schedule! Our flight left very early in the morning so we took the morning to explore what we hadn’t yet seen of Reykjavík. We are sad that we had to skip the Snæfellsnes peninsula so, had we had more time, we would have done the itinerary below:
Have breakfast at your hotel or walk up to Brauð & Co. for the best cinnamon buns and bread in the city. OR DO BOTH! You’ll be doing a lot more driving today so grab some pastries for the car!
Hop in the car and head for the Snæfellsnes peninsula, just north west of the city. You can choose various points on the map to hit making your trip longer or shorter depending on how much time you have that day. This Drive it Yourself guide from I Heart Reykjavík is a perfect place to start your research. Stops along the way could include:
Eldborg volcanic caldera
Gerðuberg Basalt Columns
Drive straight to the airport to drop off your car and say goodbye to the land of fire and ice.