Iceland had been on the travel agenda for well over a year. One day we were gonna go. Finally I told Meg that I was gonna go before summer and she could come if she wanted but either way I was going. Which I knew she wouldn’t miss it lol. So we picked some dates that worked for both of us before the wedding season got too crazy. Before we even got a chance to book flights one of her couples decided they wanted to change everything up and elope in Iceland in May. We were able to coincide the dates and it was perfect so although we spent 7 days in Iceland, half a day was dedicated Brooklyn & Austin’s elopement.
We wanted to see as much of Iceland as we could. When Meg and I get together to travel, sleep is not a part of our vacation. Too much to see and do, we can sleep later 😉 And Iceland is a small island lets see as much of it as possible just in case one visit is good enough. Meg is not a planner. Well not beyond a few hours ahead. Neither am I but when it comes to travel I love researching and making an outline, maybe not a plan, but an outline. Meg’s sister Steph came with us and good thing she knows us well enough to know what she was getting herself into. As I searched I found little on trips for the Ring Road just the Golden Circle and we wanted to see so much more. So I thought it’d be fun to share photos from our trip but also our itinerary around the country and tips! WARNING – this post is MASSIVE. There are so. many. Photos. The entire post has a mix of images from Meg and I’s cameras, as well as iphone photos from all 3 of us!
WHAT TO PACK –
Layers upon layers. This is probably the #1 tip for Iceland travel that you’ll read anywhere. The weather is constantly changing so layers are where it’s at. Don’t forget good socks, I brought lots of snowboarding socks and reading socks at night and it was perfect. I’d recommend multiples of each layer, even jackets. Yes, multiple jackets. Cause waterfalls shouldn’t just be seen from a distance, get close to them and feel them. You’ll be happy you have an extra set to let those dry for a day.
Bring a towel. You might get wet, often. We camped (which I’ll get to) and needed towels for all kinds of things including cooking. I brought us a small backpacking towel and it was a lifesaver.
Rain boots are a must. If you bring one pair of shoes let it be rain boots. We wore ours everyday and it allowed us the ability to explore so much and not worry about the elements. Meg and I had Hunter Boots and never wore any other shoe, they were perfect and comfy AF.
Speaker & Chargers. We had a camper van but it didn’t have the right hookup for our phones but we often have a Bose speaker with us. I highly recommend having a speaker, so cool to experience places with music playing. I brought a power inverter and it was a lifesaver to get all of our phones and computers charged all the time.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE –
If you want alcohol get it at duty free when you fly in! We read this and then when we arrived thought nah it’s 6am we don’t need alcohol we’ll find it as we go. WRONG! I did end up finding a couple beers here and there for Meg and Steph but liquor is hard to come by and I won’t get into it but I’m allergic to most alcohol and needed liquor. I had a dry week. So don’t hesitate hit up duty free and grab a little! Or a lot!
You don’t need cash. Everywhere in the country accepts credit. Don’t even hassle with cash.
CAR CAMPING – and a door + gas tip 😉
We went the route of car camping. We had considered Airbnb’s around the country as many only have a one night minimum. But after much consideration cost wise the Airbnb was about the same as a camper rental and actually would have costed more as we still would have needed to rent a car. But even more so we didn’t want to feel pressured or rushed to be anywhere at any set time. We didn’t want to have any responsibilities to people haha. And there are campsites EVERYWHERE you could just pull into.
Check out Happy Campers! We looked through so many companies with their fleet, what was included, and cost and confidently booked with Happy Camper. They picked us up from the airport and then took us to our hotel the last night when we dropped it off. They’re a super fun group of people and have a ton of extras you can rent at affordable rates for your trip. They laughed at us when we said we were doing the Ring Road. They thought no way we could do this in 7 days. When we came back they looked at us amazed and looked at the camper van and asked where the hell we went (it was so dirty once we returned lol). We stayed on the allowed roads they told us we could!
Pick a camper with room for one extra person. These are TIGHT! Especially when you add in luggage, and we only take carry ons. We had 3 of us and went with a 4 person van and it was perfect. Had seating during the day, plenty of sleep space, hooks to hang our things, a cooler, cooking station, and a heater. And although a little big of a vehicle to drive at first on tiny roads it was totally manageable.
Park into the wind! We thought this was a funny thing they told us but realized this shit is real! The winds in Iceland are insane. If you park into the wind it can be hard to open the door into the wind but if you park in another direction you can open your door and the wind grab it and rip it back further than it’s supposed to and damage your vehicle. It happens alot! And it’ll cost ya! Park into the wind.
Get gas OFTEN and get a gas card. There are N1 stations EVERYWHERE. Well everywhere there is a town haha. We found that although we could use our cards everywhere often at the pumps it didn’t work. Which isn’t uncommon for international cards at a pump. We didn’t want to end up after hours somewhere in the middle of nowhere unable to get gas at the pump so we grabbed a few gas cards inside the station which you can use your credit card on. We bought 3 or 4 cards the whole trip in $10,000 icelandic krone increments (approx $80 usd) we’d use about ⅔ a card to fill up the van. It’s actually more like an N1 gift card cause you can use it inside on coffee and snacks too 😀
Campsites. Check this link out for spots. They are literally everywhere. We picked a few for each night in advance just in the general area of where we thought we’d be just in case. We went the end of May and some of them had facilities open and others didn’t. Surprisingly Vik’s facilities were closed! They charged per person and for the 3 of us each night we spent less than $10usd per night. And some of these are in such cool locations! A couple had no attendants so didn’t cost a thing.
We bought most of our food at the grocery store. Iceland is not a “cheap” place to travel, well Scandinavia in general. The one area we definitely saved a lot of money was on food. We stopped at 2 grocery stores the whole trip. I read Bonus was the least expensive so we hit up one on our way out the first day and then one on the other side of the country. Spending about $100 each trip which wasn’t horrible for 3 of us. We ate breakfast and dinner every night (but the last night in Reyjkavik) in the camper van. We did stop for lunch a couple times at small cafes to get something hot without the work haha. But be warned it’s pricey. A bowl of soup and a black coffee cost $23 usd.
Iceland is pretty far north so depending on the time of year you go you may get little sun and the other half get little or no darkness. We went the last week of May and had only 90 minutes of “dark” each night. You think how will we sleep?! Trust me when you’re tired you’ll sleep! But we did find if we woke up after 6:30am it was so bright we generally just got up.
OK now that’s enough with tips. How did we get around the country in 7 days?!?!?!?! We went clockwise around the island as the wedding was our 2nd day on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Here’s our 7 day itinerary –
DAY 1 – Reyjkavik to Snaefellsnes Peninsula
We arrived early morning even before the camper van place was open to pick us up and rather than get alcohol at duty free we went to Joe and the Juice. Don’t skip alcohol at duty free and don’t skip Joe and the Juice. IT’S SO GOOD!!!! Happy Campers picked us up and we got our van and drove straight to Bonus in Mosfellsbaer. Fun fact just before our trip Meg found Kaleo on youtube. Which their music became some our anthems for the trip and within weeks of getting home they were on the radio and we were sad they were discovered so quick hahaha. BUT they’re from Mosfellsbaer! We then headed to Oxararfoss which was our first realization that although Iceland can look flat in places, do not be fooled, it has layers. Walking down this path into a gorge all of a sudden and beautiful waterfall coming from nowhere.
Bjarnarfoss we saw from the road and from then on the whole trip we’d make comments of people do you know that behind your house is a massive waterfall?!?!?! We later came back here with the bride & groom.
We quickly checked out Budir since the wedding was there the next day and went on to Raudfeldarja Gorge. Meg and Steph thought I had lost my mind or surely misunderstood this place when reading about it cause there is no way we can go into that crack in the cliff. Oh but we did! You can get through this without getting in the water but with rain boots we just trekked right in.
From here we started to lose a bit of energy after an early morning arrival with little sleep on the plane. So we chose to just drive around the peninsula, stop eat and get some sleep. We checked out Skardsvik Beach and Ondverdarnes Lighthouse and then camped at Hellissandur.
DAY 2 – Snaefellsnes Peninsula (Wedding day) to Northern Iceland
We did a full circle of Snaefellsnes this day. After breakfast we went to Kirkjufellsfoss. And spent quite a bit of time here taking as many photos as possible. And it was so windy and so cold! But it really is as pretty as it is in the pictures!
We headed back around the peninsula stopping near the Londgrangar Cliffs so strange they just stand there with everything around them so flat. There was a little zipline there that we road so many times. Random fun! And onto Arnarstapi before heading to Budir for the wedding. Check out Meg’s post and my wedding blog post to see more Budir and Hellsnar 😀
After the wedding we drove 54 through the mountains to Grundarfjordur for dinner with the couple and their family. This is a main road there but it was sketchy. There was so much fog you could barely see in front of you and the roads are so narrow. But clearly, we survived. We then decided to drive as far as we could across the north with a couple stopping places in mind. We ended up giving in randomly between a couple of the spots we initially planned on as possibilities. To this day I can’t figure out where we slept! Somewhere between Hvammstangi and Blonduos. The map often makes roads look like they’re primary and apparently they are but they aren’t paved. We drove through the rain on some roads we really questioned but it all turned out ok and they were indeed real roads. LIKE THIS…..
DAY 3 – Somewhere Northern Iceland to Berunes
This was a long day of driving. And up to this point we started to think all of iceland looked like flat lava fields and we wouldn’t ever need to come back, we’d seen it all. We found out we were wrong. The drive was an awesome day of conversation. The road just kept going and somehow the scenery continued to change. But up in this area is where so much happens on the Game of Thrones. And it’s easily recognizable. First stop was Godafoss. And we spent a couple minutes there. It was so big but because of the time of year was so dirty and roaring so much the spray was as big as the waterfall we decided to look, quick phone photo and move on. Cause waterfalls are EVERYWHERE!
We took 848 down by Hverfjall through Dimmuborgir lava field. Kind of a crazy lava desert on the edge of hours of driving through tundra. The only stop we made here was at Grjotagja Cave and we were real excited about this as we so badly wanted to get in the hot springs and c’mon its the cave Jon Snow has sex in in the Game of Thrones! BUT it’s now a HUGE tourist attraction. Seriously buses of people. And you can’t get in the water. With that many people around we couldn’t even sneak in. It was pretty though!
We had thought of going to Lake Mytvan Nature Baths as they were less popular than the Blue Lagoon and wasn’t artificially colored, felt more pure haha. We decided day of that we were so excited to get to Southeast Iceland we’d skip it and go to Blue Lagoon later. We also skipped Namaskard, Hverarond, and Dettifoss. Honestly sometimes the waterfalls everyone rages about are cool obviously, but some that no one knows about and you just see on the side of the road are even better! So we didn’t feel pressured to go to each and every waterfall. We stopped in Egillstadir at Bonus for another grocery run and a snack break in the parking lot and headed to camp at Berunes. On the way we took 939 and there were plenty of people there, maybe not the greatest drivers, another one of those unpaved roads. Steep! Sketchy! After I drove us down this Meg and Steph didn’t make another backseat driver comment the rest of the trip HAHA! But at the end of this hill was a random waterfall that we had to check out mostly because we needed to celebrate that we survived!
We camped at Berunes that night. This was my favorite camping spot. This was literally the view of our camper van. And so different from everything we had seen up north. We couldn’t wait to get out and explore the next day. This camp spot had a kitchen, bathroom and shower facilities. I think Steph showered, don’t ask when Meg and I showered…… There was also a hostel there with warm food and beer and wine which is a nice touch after days at campsites with just a bathroom and water.
DAY 4 – Berunes to Vik
We left that morning so stoked for such a crazy change in scenery. Also this is when the craziest tourist drivers start to appear. And one vehicle bridges! We took a quick stop in Hofn for gas and snacks on our way to Jokulsarlon Lagoon. Such an interesting place! The water so blue even some of the icebergs so blue. We took photos until the verge of hypothermia. The wind off the ice is chilling!
The scenery is incredible it’s hard to put into words. From glaciers and glacier lagoons to black sand as far as you can see to all of a sudden huge green mountains and black sand. It was so beautiful. This is when we knew we’d want to come back again. Foss a Sidu is RIGHT there, you have to stop, it was almost an automatic turn in.
We started driving again and saw this waterfall and took a turn towards it as we had to have photos there. No idea where we are or if it has a name, we had to go. It does have a name, this is Systrastapi.
We’re driving through another area of green rolling hills, and somewhere in here after a few turns should be a canyon and there it appeared out of nowhere…. Fjadrargljufur Canyon. If trolls were real I swear this is where they would live. For sure. I didn’t see any.
After this we drove to Vik. But as night came the weather was blah and we went to the beach but decided to try again in the morning and hope for awesome weather. We pulled into the Vik campsite and although you can camp there, their bathroom facilities were closed and so many people parked there. That was just not gonna work for us. We went for a drive. And we ended up sleeping on the side of the road by a field of sheep. Woke up super rested haha.
DAY 5 – Vik to Gljufrafoss
We did not get our wish of sunny pretty weather but we headed to the beach and then up to Dyrholaey. Don’t get hung up at the main beach go up to Dyrholaey. It’s a great view with other beach access to caves.
We decided to skip Solheimasandur just simply cause we were too excited for other waterfalls to spend the time walking out there. And next on our list was Skogafoss. This waterfall is nothing short of epic. It’s what inspired Meg and I years ago that we needed to go there. We spent over 4 hours there. So long that we wandered up the creek at the base of it. Hiked up the top. Came back down with a plan for photos. Took photos and got completely soaked. Steph even left us to go to a cafe haha. We did meet her there and ate a warm lunch and then convinced her to come back out with us and get wet at the base of the waterfall and take more photos. And then we went back to our van and took a nap! HA!
After some rest we went up to Seljavallalaug, excited to get into water. The walk up there is so pretty. Waterfalls everywhere you look. There are 2 spots in the pool that are actually warm. Up against the rocks and the hot water is pumped into the back corner. We did question however when we got out if our bathing suits were ruined as they were covered in black algae. We later washed them and they were just fine!
We ran into some friends at Seljavallalaug and all trekked back towards Skogafoss to hike out to a “secret waterfall.” It’s not really a secret anymore but at the time no one was out there or sharing it on the internet and social media. We went out at 10pm and had the whole valley to ourselves. Kvernufoss was a highlight of our trip for sure.
We drove to Seljalandsfoss and got there around 1am and parked and stared at it. But after just being at a waterfall in a valley to ourselves that we could walk behind the magic of it was lacking. After sitting there for 10 minutes, we didn’t even take a photo, we drove a minute up the road to camp at Glijufrafoss.
DAY 6 – Glijufrafoss to Reykjavik
We woke up in the am and couldn’t wait to get into Glijufrafoss. This crazy little break in the cliff and a waterfall flowing in. Spent so long in there taking photos and just trying to keep the lenses dry from all the mist. If you go to Seljalandsfoss don’t skip Glijufrafoss, it’s a minute up the road!
From here we went to Reykjavik. It’s not that big of a city but we wandered the streets. Ate hot food. Shopped. And visited Hallgrimskirkja. Steph convinced us we should go inside and we were so surprised! It’s sooooooo beautiful. Amazing pipe organ. A more modern feeling interior. It’s one of the best churches I’ve ever been in.
That evening we returned the camper van and headed to a hotel near the airport. At lunch we had considered going to Blue Lagoon and just couldn’t decide. You do have to book in advance. We ultimately didn’t go as by the time we looked they only had tickets available for the last hour and it was $50 + towels and blah blah. We should have gone. But we enjoyed the hot tub at our hotel to ourselves 😀
DAY 7 – Left Iceland
We left that morning to the airport to eat breakfast there. Their food is so good and so healthy. And then had to rush to our flights cause Meg and I found a steal of a deal on glasses and lenses at a little optics shop in the airport. We spent so much time there but if you’re wanting new glasses get them there. Seriously! I had an eye exam done cause I didn’t have a pair on me to read my prescription (that’s another story in itself), bought Tom Ford frames had new lenses cut with all the films I get at home (that normally cost me $600) and I spent $360 usd total. I’ve considered another flight back to the airport on my next Europe trip just to get another fun pair!
THINGS WE WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY OR GO AGAIN FOR
If we had 7 days without a wedding we would have been through the West Fjords on the second day. Find more time to spend between Vik and Selfoss. There is just so much out there. Either Lake Mytvan Baths or Blue Lagoon. If we had 10 days I would have spent more time down there and/or hop over to the Faroe Islands, they look incredible!
Ohmygosh I’m certain this is the longest blogpost I’ve ever written! I hope you enjoyed it and may have found it useful planning an upcoming trip to this crazy beautiful island. Or encouraged you to do so!