Two weeks ago, we were lucky enough have the chance to travel to Iceland for a week.
Iceland has been at the top our bucket list for quite some time now and we jumped at the chance to go when we found plane tickets at a fairly low price. We would have loved to stay longer as there are so many things to see and do there, but unfortunately due to school and work commitments back home in Ottawa we only had 1 week to visit this beautiful country.
That said, we still got to see a big part of Iceland for the short amount of time we had.
Here is a look at what we think are the best places to see in Iceland in such a short amount of time and our itinerary for the week (including a handy map at the bottom of the page):
Day 1: Reykjavík
Though we were jet-lagged and had barely gotten any sleep on the plane on our way there, we were determined to make the best of our trip. We got our little rental car at the airport, drove through a blizzard and made it to our retro Airbnb apartment by 9AM. We took a short nap to reinvigorate ourselves and were out and about exploring the city by 11AM. We walked to the Old Harbour, had the freshest lobster soup EVER, went shopping and explored the city. Read more about what to do in Reykjavík here.
Day 2: Reykjavík/DIY Golden Circle Tour
On day 2 we woke up at the crack of dawn and headed to Kerið crater lake for the first stop of our DIY Golden Circle Tour. Our tour lasted all day and included many stops, such as witnessing a geyser eruption and snorkelling in the Silfra fissure. When we got back to Reykjavík that evening (though it felt like it was really late at night since it was so dark and we were so tired by then) we went out on a quest to find the best burgers in town at Burger Joint and sipped some beer at a local bar called Kaldi (which is also a delicious Icelandic beer brewed in the North).
Day 3: DIY South Coast Tour/Vík
On the morning of day 3, we packed up our bags and headed to Vík, about a 2 hour drive from Reykjavík. However, it took us way longer to get there as we decided to see a few sights along the way and created our very own DIY South Coast Tour. As we’ve said before, if you’re already renting a car there is no reason to pay for expensive tours to bring you to the main attractions. They are all very easily accessible and are FREE! Sights along the way included our favourite waterfall of the trip, Seljalandsfoss, and our very first black beach sighting.
After exploring for hours and gazing at the beautiful mountains on our way, we finally got to our hotel in Vík right as the sun was setting. We checked into the gorgeous local Iceland Air Hotel and immediately fell in love with its amazing décor and view of the sea (we might even model our apartment after it).
After thoroughly checking out our digs for the night and stealing all the shampoo we could (don’t judge, we know you do it too), we drove over to the grocery store to buy lunch and breakfast supplies for the next day (as we may have mentioned before, food in Iceland is REALLY REALLY expensive and our hotel’s restaurant was no exception – dinner for $60 anyone?).
Tip: Try out as many local foods as possible, especially Skyr which is like Greek yogurt but way better (who knew that was even possible?!). It has virtually no fat and an abnormally high amount of protein – a great way to start off the day!
We then made our way to the IceWear store which has a large selection of winter apparel and souvenirs. What interested us most though were the galleries on the second floor where you can actually watch workers making all of their products. So, if you’ve even been curious as to what went behind making that sweater you love, this is the place to go.
Day 4: Skógar/Vík
Unfortunately we didn’t get to go ice climbing on the nearby glacier, Sólheimajökull, due to extremely strong winds that day (25 m/sec – try standing straight with that blowing around you!) but no matter, we visited the nearby town of Skógar instead!
Though significantly smaller than Vík (which is saying something because Vík is only about 5 streets big), this small little gem still had plenty to offer and kept us busy for the day.
We started off by going to Skógafoss, another one of Iceland’s amazing waterfalls, and took in the view. Of course we couldn’t just stay at the bottom and stare at it, we climbed all the way so that we could get a better view (glut muscles for the win!). Even still, we needed to be more adventurous so we climbed to the side, beyond the already made staircase, to get a closer look. If you’re the least bit scared of heights then you should definitely avoid doing this as there is nothing preventing you from falling right into the pit of the waterfall.
One of the beauties of Iceland is that even the most visited places look as though they have been left virtually untouched. There are no ugly looking fences blocking your view to its natural wonders, they just expect you not to be stupid and let yourself fall in. So be smart and don’t disappoint the people of Iceland 😉
After our little morning adventure we ate ham and cheese sandwiches (we’re probably never going to eat these again as this is what we ate ALL week) in the car as it was raining again. We then proceeded to visiting the Skógar Folk Museum which was just down the road on the other side of town. This place was really cool as it showed artifacts from old ambulances to butter churns. We even got to visit old thatch houses that looked as though nothing had been moved or touched inside them since their original owners had vacated them.
Entrance to the museum is 2 000 ISK (about $20 CAD) and is large enough to take up about 1-2 hour(s) of your time. We then headed back to our beautiful hotel and relaxed as we knew we would be getting up at the crack of dawn again the next morning.
Day 5: Skaftafell National Park/Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon/Seyðisfjörður
On the morning of day 5, we packed our bags once again and drove 2 hours to Skaftafell National Park, Iceland’s second largest national park. We saw some pretty cool things along the way like lava fields (awesome!), waterfalls (seriously, Iceland has them every 10 feet) and of course Iceland’s classic mountainous scenery.
Of course, when we got to Skaftafell is was pouring rain – typical. However, since we had sort of become accustomed to this country’s madness by then we decided to go hiking anyway (Gandalf, we’re going on an adventure! *you read that in Bilbo’s voice didn’t you?*). We geared up, putting on basically all of our coats, thermal underwear, splash pants, hiking boots, our thickest socks and rain jackets and set out to the trails. The park has tons of beautiful trails ranging from easy to difficult, and going to various points of interest in the park.
Our main focus was getting to Svartifoss waterfall, AKA the black waterfall (in the picture below), so we set out on trail S2 which got us there in about 30 minutes. Walking there was absolutely beautiful as you walk through beautiful mountains, waterfalls and forests, but the end point was the best part for us.
Behold this beautiful gothic looking waterfall seemingly untouched by man. It really makes you feel like you’re the only people left in the world (probably because we were alone at that point again). We stayed there for about 15 minutes, admiring the flow of the water and we even drank straight from the stream (that’s safe right?). We hiked back to our car in another 30 minutes and were on our way to our next destination, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon – but not before eating ham and cheese sandwiches in the car!
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was only about 5-10 minutes away from Skaftafell and really crept up on us. One minute we were driving along barren looking land, and then BAM, blue icebergs popped out of nowhere! As soon as we saw them we got ridiculously excited and immediately pulled the car over to take some pictures, never mind that the visitor’s parking lot was only 10 meters away.
Once we had done that we went to the ticket office and promptly bought tickets for the next available Amphibian Boat Tour. Tickets can be bought at the small hut located beside the café. The tour costs about $45 CAD and takes about 30-40 minutes total and brings you out into the lagoon on a big boat which even has wheels (cool eh? – yup we’re Canadian). They also offer private tours through the Zodiac Boat Tours which cost about $80 CAD and brings you slightly closer to the icebergs than the Amphibian Tour would. If there is a short wait time between your arrival and your tour, have no fear! The building beside the ticket office houses a small café, gift shop and bathrooms.
The tour was a really cool experience as we got to see the icebergs up close and even learned a few things in the process. For example, the lagoon was created by the melting of the nearby glacier, Vatnajökull – Europe’s largest glacier, which melts at the alarming rate of 100 metres per year! This is in part due to the fact that the lagoon mixes both fresh and salt water (since it is linked to the ocean) but also due to global warming.
We also learned that the icebergs in the lagoon have 3 different colours – black, blue and white. The black is volcanic ash residue, the blue is attributed to the fact that that specific part of the iceberg was under water recently, and the white signifies that that specific part of the iceberg has been exposed to air/sun for a while. There are all sorts of cool things you can learn in Iceland! Our guide even fished out a large piece of ice from the lagoon, let us hold it and then cut it into small pieces so we could eat it! So yes ladies and gentlemen, we have 1 000 year-old ice in our systems now.
After we got back from our tour we spotted an awesome black beach across the street, so of course we had to go there and play in the sand a little. After we had had our fill, we headed to Seyðisfjörður, a small eastern fishing village nestled in the mountains about 4 hours away that would be our home for the night.
We headed to Seyðisfjörður which meant that the sun was starting to set by that time. This was the first time we were driving at night in Iceland, and honestly we were a bit unprepared for what that entailed. Part of what makes driving in Iceland so great is its never ending scenery. You can be driving for hours without even realizing it simply because you’re too busy staring out the window the whole time. Not the case when everything around you is so completely black that you wouldn’t be able to even see your hand in front of you face.
On top of that, part of the ring road becomes gravel on the way to the east and this combined with the fact that there is absolutely no (like really noooooo) lighting around except the reflecting posts along the side of the road to guide you along your way and that it was raining, windy and foggy made for some less than ideal driving conditions. At one point we were legitimately scared because we hadn’t seen another car in over 3 hours, we were very close to running out of gas and Google Maps told us to take a “short cut” through a road of death.
Note: if Google Maps tells you to take a road called Öxi – AKA 19km of hell – stay on the Ring Road and take the long way. Our car actually slightly slid down a hill at one point because it was so steep! And here’s the thing about driving in Iceland, there are practically no guardrails anywhere along the road, even when you are on the side of a cliff or lake, so when you see one then you know there must be something serious on the other side (which really isn’t comforting when it’s dark and you can’t see anything).
After 4 endless hours we finally made it to the east’s most populated town, Egilsstaðir (don’t worry, we found a gas station in a small town along the way so thankfully we were saved from sleeping in our car on the side of the road for the night). Here we filled up on gas again (lesson learned, always fill up when you can as you never when the next station will be) and headed up the mountain to Seyðisfjörður. Yup, we actually drove up, on and then down a mountain to get to this little place, but boy was it beautiful when we saw it at sunrise the next day.
Day 6: Seyðisfjörður/Húsavík/Akureyri/Blönduós
We woke up insanely early on the morning of day 6 and got to see the sunrise. It was really beautiful as there is a small harbour and the town is nestled within the mountains. Unfortunately we didn’t really have the time to stick around too long other than to stop by yet another awesome waterfall on our way out of town, but had our trip been longer we would definitely have spent more time in this little gem.
Once we had driven up, on and down the mountain (in daylight this time which was much better) we were on our way to Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfall. We passed through a huge blizzard and volcano ridden grounds to get there, but dang was it worth it. We can’t emphasize enough the magnitude of these huge waterfalls and how much power they hold. They really are quite a sight to behold. Again, we were a bit rushed on time here so we were only able to stay about 30 minutes (not a lot considering they are about a 800 meter walk away each). We got back in the car and raced off to Húsavík for our whale watching tour.
Once we came back from being at sea all afternoon in Húsavík, we headed to Godafoss for one last look at a majestic Icelandic waterfall. Again we were completely alone, and with the sun setting along the horizon this time it made for an even better view (if that’s even possible).
Akureyri, Iceland’s northern city, was next as we headed there for a bite to eat and a little bit of shopping. We weren’t very original and went with a classic hot dog, but we did check out a local bar called Backpackers (restaurant, bar and hostel) which had a great vibe. Sadly we weren’t able to party it up as much as we would have wanted to since this wasn’t our last stop, so we headed to our cozy farmhouse Airbnb in Blönduós (about 1 hour away).
It wasn’t so bad driving at night this time around as the roads in the north were somehow better than in the east. To make things even better, we even caught a slight glimpse of the Northern Lights! Unfortunately it was only very faint and the only time we ever saw them as the entire week had been cloudy.
Note: There is quite a bit of misconception surrounding the Northern Lights, namely that you will see tons and tons of green wisps in the sky at all times of the night. However, as we learned throughout our stay in Iceland, this is not the case. In order to see the Northern Lights, the sky must be completely clear of clouds and there must be a high level of activity for the lights. You must also be in an area completely free of any light pollution. This combination can be quite difficult to obtain, especially if you have a limited amount of time on your hands and simply end up having bad luck with the weather like we did. The Northern Lights are quite unpredictable but the Icelandic Meteorological Office does provide a daily forecast to manage your expectations.
Day 7: West Coast Drive/Reykjavík/Blue Lagoon
Our last morning in Iceland was spent mostly driving back to Reykjavík as our flight back to Ottawa was leaving that evening. Again, we saw some beautiful mountains and coastal views along the way. We even stopped on the side of the road a few times to try to take a picture with sheep, but those little guys run really fast! Once we finally got close to Reykjavík we got to cross the sea through a really awesome underwater tunnel (which costs $10 by the way) and walked around/grabbed lunch once we got into the city some 30 minutes later. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful days of our trip weather wise, but we weren’t complaining as our next stop was the Blue Lagoon for a little bit of R and R.
The reason why they recommend going to the Blue Lagoon to and/or from the airport is because it lies perfectly between the city of Reykjavík and the airport. So, in the afternoon (on our way to the airport for our evening flight) we stopped by this world renowned geothermal spa. It was just what we needed after a trip full of hiking, running and excitement. We had not a care in the world when we stepped into the perfectly warm and blue waters of the lagoon. We stayed there for over 2 hours, soaking in the magical properties of the water (no joke, these are supposed to be awesome for your skin!). We even slathered ourselves with mud for good measure. How do we look? 😉
We had a very ambitious schedule for the week and were only able to cover a fraction of everything there is to see and do in Iceland, but you have to start somewhere! Looking back, 2 weeks would have been a great amount of time to cover all the places we still wanted to get to but didn’t have enough time for – Western Fjords, spending more time in the East and Northern parts of the country, etc.
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