Rachel and I both love to travel and now that we live so far apart, one of our favourite ways to see each other is to meet up in other countries! This year we decided to meet up in Iceland for a road trip! Here is an itinerary based mostly on our trip, with a few changes thrown in for what I might do differently if we were to do that trip again.
Day 1 - Reykjavik:
Seeing as the only major airport in Iceland is in Reykjavik, your trip begins there. Start your first day with a bike tour around Reykjavik with Reykjavik Bike Tours. We did the Classic Reykjavik Tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fun, not too hilly (I have only ever lived in flat places and therefore do not do hills), and we saw a good mix of mainstream Reykjavik tourist sites as well as some sites that were a bit more off the beaten path.
After you’re done with your bike tour, you probably will have worked up a bit of an appetite, so head over to Sea Baron for lunch. Make sure to try the lobster soup, and if you’re with a group, it’s a good idea to share a few different types of fish skewers so that you get to try as much as possible.
While you’re still in the harbor area, take a look around Harpa, the new concert hall/conference center in Reykjavik.
In the afternoon, check out one of the major Reykjavik sites that was not included in the bike tour, the Hallgrímskirkja. It is a beautiful church that is meant to resemble the basalt lava flows that can be found in Iceland’s landscape. Take a ride up to the church’s observation tower for a great 360° view of the city.
If you have still got some time left before you’re ready for dinner, take a nice stroll around the main streets in Reykjavik and check out all of the cute shops, many of which carry jewelry, ceramics, and other works of art from local artists. One of my favourite jewelry stores we walked into was the studio/store of Orri Finn Design, located at Skólavörðustíg 17a.
Once you’ve had your fill of walking and shopping, it’s time for dinner at Snaps. The food is French style made with Icelandic ingredients, and it was one of the best meals we had during our stay in Iceland.
If you’re interested in after dinner drinks and enjoy a good craft beer, I’d recommend going to Mikkeller and Friends or Skúli Craft Bar.
Day 2 – The Golden Circle
The golden circle consists of three of the most visited sites in Iceland and it makes for a nice day trip out of Reykjavik. The first stop on the golden circle is Þingvellir, the site of Iceland’s first parliament in the year 930. This is also where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. Other sites here include the Öxarárfoss waterfall and the Silfra fissure, where many people like to go diving and snorkeling.
The second stop is Geysir. The geyser Great Geysir is the oldest geyser described in writing and is the origin of the English word “geyser.” Geysir itself is no longer very active, but the nearby geyser Strokkur erupts every 6 minutes or so and is very fun to watch.
Last up on the golden circle tour is the Gulfoss waterfall, which is just one of the many epic waterfalls one can see in Iceland.
Technically, the golden circle loop is over at this point. However, we chose to stop at the Kerið volcanic crater lake on our way back to Reykjavik. After the tourist packed golden circle, it was nice to stop here, as there were almost no other people around. The colors here are incredibly beautiful, and it was a pretty peaceful place to sit for a while.
My dinner recommendation for your second night in Reykjavik is Roadhouse, where they serve up tasty burgers and milkshakes, as well as local Icelandic beers.
Day 3 – West Iceland
Today you’ll be driving through West Iceland and ending in Akureyri. If you like hiking, beautiful waterfalls, and feeling like you’re in Jurassic Park, you’ll love Glymur waterfall, which is Iceland’s highest waterfall. The main hike up to the waterfall viewing point takes about an hour, and it has to be one of the most fun hikes I have ever done. If you get to the viewing point and you’re still feeling adventurous, you can hike even further up to where the river feeds into the water, cross the river (easier said than done. It is EXTREMELY cold and slippery, but it’s also worth it), and hike back down on the other side. The longer hike takes about 3 hours total.
Your next stop in the west is Borgarvirki, an ancient Viking era fortress. Climb to the top of the ancient walls for an incredibly scenic view. If you’re lucky like we were, you might get to see a procession of Icelandic horses going by, using a gait specific to the breed, called a tölt.
Today’s long drive ends in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city. Get dinner at Rub 23 and make sure you try the sushi pizza! Save room for dessert, as you don’t want to miss out on the soft serve ice cream at Brynja.
Day 4 – Akureyri and Husavik
On your way to Husavik, make a stop at the impressive Goðafoss (waterfall of the gods) waterfall.
After you leave Goðafoss, head over to Husavik for a whale-themed day. Start with a whale and puffin watching tour. Sadly, we only got to see part of the backs of two different whales as they went by. Our guides said that the whales must have been tired and resting, as they didn’t seem to be diving, which is when you get to see more of them. We did however get to see a ridiculous amount of puffins, as well as some huge dolphins, so overall our tour was a success!
You’ll probably be looking for a warm place to sit and eat after having spent 4 hours on a cold and windy boat. Go to Naustið for some of the best fish soup you will ever have.
Once you are feeling warmed up and full, go to Husavik’s whale museum and learn about the whales in the area, their habitat, and the history of whaling in Iceland. The last stop in Husavik is the cheese tub, a former cheese-making tub that is now filled with hot water from a nearby well and used as a hot tub. It is a unique, cute concept and the view from the tub is spectacular.
Drive back to Akureryi and get dinner at Hamborgarafabrikkan, a cute hamburger place in the center of town.
Day 5 – Akureyri > Egilsstaðir
Today you will start your day in Akureyri and end it in Egilsstaðir. First, drive over to Grjotagja Hot Springs. People are no longer allowed to bathe in these hot springs, but they’re still worth visiting to see the beautiful, deep waters down in a cave.
Hverfjall volcanic crater is very close to the hot springs. Hike up the steep, short path to the top and walk around the rim of the crater for a gorgeous view of the whole region.
Get lunch at Vogafjós restaurant, a cute restaurant in a cowshed, where you can see the cows from your table. They make their own cheeses, skyr, and bread, and all of their meat comes from their own cows and sheep. It doesn’t get more fresh, local, and delicious than this.
Now it is time to relax at the Mývatn Nature Baths. These baths are a similar concept to the Blue Lagoon, but a bit less touristy. They also provide another beautiful view over the region.
Time for another crater! Drive over to Viti Crater, a crater that is now filled with a deep turquoise pool of water. The area all around the crater is an active geothermal area. If you’re interested in Iceland’s use of geothermal energy, look around at the nearby visitor’s center at Krafla geothermal station.
Your next stop will be the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss. The sheer size of this waterfall totally blew us all away. If you want to get an idea of just how big this waterfall is, check out the person on the other side of the waterfall in the below photo.
After a long day exploring the North-East of Iceland, it’s time to get some food and sleep. Drive to the cute little town of Egilsstaðir, and get a bite to eat at Café Nielsen, a delicious restaurant located in Egilsstaðir’s oldest house!
Day 6 – Southeast Iceland
Today starts off with a long drive to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Sign up in advance for a boat tour of the lagoon, as the lines looked really long when we showed up. We chose to do the zodiac boat tour, which was great because it got us up close and personal with icebergs, seals, and the edge of a glacier!
Your next stop is Vatnajökull National Park, where you can do a nice short hike to see Svartifoss waterfall. Svartifoss means black fall, and the name comes from the black basalt columns that surround the waterfall. While it is not the most powerful or tallest waterfall, it is one of the most unique waterfalls that you’ll see in Iceland.
Grab an early dinner at Systrakaffi in the little town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. This would also be a good time to stock up on any groceries you might need, as there is a grocery store right next to the restaurant.
After dinner, continue westward to Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. The landscape here is incredible. I highly recommend viewing it both from the footpath along the top and from down inside of the canyon.
End your day with a relaxing soak in Seljavallalaug pool. This pool is hidden back in a scenic valley and it does take a bit of a walk to get there, but it is definitely worth it. Seljavallalaug is one of the oldest pools in Iceland, originally built in 1923 so that people in the area could learn to swim, and while the pool itself is manmade, the water comes from local hot springs.
Day 7 – South Iceland
There are so many wonderful things to explore in this area, so you won’t have to drive very far for anything today.
If you’re interested in getting a bit more up close and personal with a glacier, you’ll love the glacier hiking tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides. This hike was one of the highlights of our trip, and we loved the chance to see the fascinating landscape of the ice. Dress warm and bring gloves!
Not far away is an abandoned plane crash on a beach. The view of the broken down, abandoned plane on a black sand beach is very cool, but we had the misfortune of showing up when there were a lot of tourists climbing all over the plane. Sadly, this detracted a bit from how impressive I think it could have been. I’d still recommend going there, but you should keep in mind that this site has become a surprisingly popular tourist attraction.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a day in Iceland without seeing a waterfall. Today you’ll be seeing Skogafoss. The coolest part about this waterfall is the epic rainbow caused by the spray coming off of the waterfall. Walk up the long staircase next to the waterfall for a beautiful view from the top.
Right next to the waterfall is the Skogar museum. We weren’t sure what to expect when we saw that the main part of the museum was a transport and communications museum, but it turned out to be a fascinating look into the history and evolution of communication within Iceland. There is also a very cute outdoor part of the museum, where they have examples of houses from different centuries in Iceland.
Drive to Vik and relax for a while on the famous black sand beach before getting dinner at Suður-Vik.
Day 8 – Southwest Iceland > Reykjavik
The waterfall of the day is Seljalandsfoss, and it is one of the most popular in Iceland, partially because of its proximity to Reykjavik and partially because you have the chance to walk behind the waterfall. If you do choose to walk behind the waterfall, make sure you have at least a rain jacket (rain pants are also not a bad idea), as the waterfall sprays back into the cave, causing everyone who walks back there to get sopping wet.
At this point, you can either drive/ferry to the island Vestmannaeyjar or drive on to Hveragerđi. We chose to go to Hveragerđi, but friends of ours went to Vestmannaeyjar and loved it. If you do go there, check out the public pool, where there is a water slide that has a trampoline at the end.
In Hveragerđi, visit the little geothermal park. There you can bathe your feet in hot mud, boil an egg in one of the springs, or just walk around a have a look. Unfortunately, after the most recent earthquake there, many of the springs seem to have dried up, but it was still a cute place to go and see.
Up next is, in my opinion, the most fun bathing experience in Iceland, the river Reykjadalur. Once you get to the parking lot just outside of Hveragerđi, it’s about an hour-long hike to get to bathing area in the river. The whole river is fed from hot springs and water running through it is therefore very warm. There were a lot of people there, but that didn’t really take away from the novelty and the beauty of bathing in a hot river.
If you stay out to party at night, be sure and get a late night snack at the famous hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.
Day 9 – One Last Day in Reykjavik
Start your day off with breakfast at the delicious Sandholt Bakery. Take today to explore the different museums that Reykjavik has to offer. We especially enjoyed The Settlement Exhibition and the small photography museum. Take a stroll along the water and see the famous Sun Voyager statue.
Get lunch at The Coocoo’s Nest. Next door is one of Reykjavik’s most popular ice cream stores, Valdis, so if you’re in the mood for something sweet after lunch, that’s the place to go. After lunch, walk or drive over to the art installation Þúfa by Ólöf Nordal.
My dinner recommendation for tonight would be Hverfisgata 12, a pizza place (located underneath Mikkeller and Friends) with no name. The pizzas there was some of the tastiest I’ve had in a long time, and the beer and cocktail menu was equally impressive. Another option would be K-bar. We didn’t actually eat there, but it looked like it had a great and really unique menu!
Day 10 – Blue Lagoon/Heading Home
The Blue Lagoon is located pretty close to the airport, so I’d suggest stopping there when you’re on your way to the airport to leave. Yes, it’s a bit pricey and touristy, but I feel like it is something that should be done once when in Iceland. With that, your ten-day trip around Iceland has come to an end!
A Few Notes
While on the road, towns with restaurants and grocery stores can be few and far between, so it’s good to look these things up in advance. I found this map of all of the grocery stores in Iceland to be very helpful. Most days for breakfast and lunch we just bought sandwich ingredients, small snacks, and fruit and ate on the road. Be sure to try the skyr, an Icelandic cultured dairy product similar to Greek yogurt.
When you see a gas station, fill up even if you’re not that empty. It can sometimes be a while before you see another gas station.
We rented a car from SADcars and we were really happy with the car and the price. They provide older cars that are not the prettiest, but will get you from point A to B on the sometimes rough roads of Iceland.
We noticed a lot of people traveling around the country in camper vans and it looked like a lot of fun. Some of the camper vans for rent are really cute! For an idea of what a trip with a camper van would be like, check out this post from The Kitchen Paper.
All images in this post belong to www.baytobaltic.com.