Each year, during the month of June, my husband and I take a trip to celebrate our anniversary. Well this year we chose Iceland as our destination. We have discovered that when you tell people you are going to Iceland, you get one of two responses: “Iceland?! What’s in Iceland, ice??” or “OMG, so jealous! Iceland is brilliant!” It’s funny. A lot of people don’t realize that Iceland is actually an AH-MAZING travel destination. It’s a volcanic island with gorgeous mountains, black sand beaches, glaciers, icebergs, volcanoes, hot springs, and I could go on and on. We had the time of our lives in Iceland. Read on to see what all we did and how we fit it all into 7 days.
Things to know about Summer in Iceland:
- The sun does not set. Okay, technically it does (and it depends on the exact time in which you are there), but while we were there from June 17-25, we saw no darkness. The sun did set for about an hour each night, but what you really end up with is about a 2-3 hour long “sunset”. It’s lovely, especially for those of us night owl travelers.
- Expect any and all kinds of weather. We’ve heard rumors of even seeing snow in June! I think we got really lucky. We got about 5 warm days of clear skies with highs in the 50s. The last two days of our trip were a little drizzly, but nothing to spoil the day.
- This is the most touristy time of year. It’s funny because while it is the most touristy time of year, you will see from our videos, it was never actually crowded at all. In fact, most of the places we went, we were either the only ones there or we shared the space with no more than a dozen other people. (Visiting places late at night certainly helps.)
- There are SPEED CAMERAS along the Ring road (as well as other places, I’m sure.) We didn’t actually discover this until halfway through our trip when we saw one of them flash at us! We started Googling and, sure enough, they are there! Beware. We are waiting for our tickets in the mail. Who knows how many there will be.
- If you are going the camping route in Iceland, you can get away with not staying in paid campgrounds if you so choose. There are very small “rest stop / camping” areas occasionally along the road that may have a porta-potty if you’re lucky. (Please be respectful to the locals and only camp where you are welcome.) We however did decide to stay at campgrounds each night. We purchased a Camping Card which got us access to campgrounds with showers, bathrooms, and common areas throughout the country. It was a great perk.
- This one is more of a personal opinion, but we thought we should let you know that “campervanning” is absolutely the BEST way to see the country of Iceland. We rented ours with Camper van Iceland (also known as Rent.is) and our VW Caddy had everything we needed including WiFi, fresh water, a refrigerated cooler, a bed, sleeping bags, pillows, window shades, table and chairs, and a gas cook top. You don’t have to stress about your itinerary or meeting any deadlines. We had absolutely zero stress. You can do all your exploring, eating, and sleeping from your ride. Your camper van is your oyster. Just don’t sleep and drive, folks.
Below is our week’s itinerary. We didn’t actually plan out our days before going. Instead we made a Google map to pinpoint all of the places we were interested in seeing and tried to hit as many of them as we could along the way. This itinerary is just the result of that. There are a few things we may have done differently in hindsight, but I think we did a pretty dang good job with the time we had.
Day 1 – The Camper & the Golden Circle
- Note that the airport is not in the city of Reykjavik. We actually flew into Keflavik International which was a little bit confusing to us since all of our tickets and boarding passes say Reykjavik. Pro Tip: If you plan on purchasing alcohol, tobacco, or other goods in Iceland, do so at the airport duty-free shop. The alcohol tax is INSANE in Iceland!
- Rent.is picked us up and shuttled us directly to their office a few miles away to pick up our camper van, and it was all gravy from there!
- We headed straight from Rent.is to Reykjavik (about a 40 min drive) to see the city and pick up some groceries. (More on Reykjavik on Day 7.)
This church is a must see in Reykjavik. The architecture is amazing, and the view from the top (we hear) is also amazing. We didn’t actually go to the top, but we should have.
- We didn’t actually visit the museum, but we parked there and strolled through the trails overlooking the city.
- We stopped at a Bónus on our way out of the city to load up on a few days worth of food before heading to the Golden Circle. Our camper van had a cooler, a small gas cook-top, and storage – everything we needed to keep our food fresh.
If you’re doing the Golden Circle, this is a must-see stop. It’s a crater lake inside of a collapsed volcano. Note that this is one of the only natural attractions in Iceland that you have to pay a small fee to enter (about $5 USD per person)
- This is another must-see on the Golden Circle. Geysir was not active while we were there, but it’s neighbor, Strokkur, is very faithful. You can expect to see Strokkur as it goes off about every 8 minutes.
- We stopped here because we simply could not continue any further. We had to catch some Zzzs before moving along. This is a nice campground on the Golden Circle with plenty of camping space, nice bathrooms, and a restaurant.
Day 2 – South Iceland
- After we were well rested, we finished up the Golden Circle at Gullfoss. This is one of the most touristy places in Iceland, but for a good reason. Very beautiful, very massive waterfall.
Head to Ring Road
- After Gullfoss, we left the Golden Circle and began our journey of Ring Road. We decided to go counter clockwise because most of the things we wanted to see were in the South and we didn’t want to run out of time. Depending on the weather, you may decide to go the other direction, and that’s fine! Just reverse your itinerary!
- This is a tall, beautiful waterfall that you can actually walk behind. Would absolutely recommend. You may have to pay a small fee for parking.
- This is Iceland’s first swimming pool and is fed by natural hot springs water. It’s a pretty short hike up in the mountain and is definitely worth it. This is one of the best things Iceland has to offer and is a little further off the main tourist drag.
- This waterfall is right on Ring Road and you can walk right up to it. Very cool. You can climb the stairs to the top of the fall if you so choose. I’d say it’s worth it. Work those quads!
- I can’t say we actually did this hike. We did hike in about a half mile before we turned around and came back, and from what we saw it is gorgeous. I believe it’s about 13 miles in total. We didn’t really budget the time in for it, but we heard from at least two people that it was the best hike they’ve ever been on! In hindsight, we would have brought camping gear and spent a night up there so we could see it all.
- This is a US plane wreck along the southern coast. If I can give you any bit of advice for this one, it would be “Don’t be fooled!” When you pull up to the lot, it looks like the coast is RIGHT THERE. Well, it’s not. Be prepared for a walk. At least 45 minutes each way. It will feel like you are walking on a treadmill, but just keep going. It’s worth it.
- We were completely exhausted after Sólheimasandur and went straight to Vik to sleep. This meant we would be doing a little bit of backtracking the next day, but it was cold and windy anyway so it was probably for the best. This campground was one of the most beautiful campgrounds we stayed at during the week. It was nestled just beneath a cliff just off the southern shoreline. It was also one of the largest and had large bathrooms, showers, and a breakfast area with hot water kettles, tables, and a dish sink.
Day 3: – South Iceland
- Like I said, we had to backtrack for this one, but it wasn’t far at all. Dýrhólaey is a bird nesting area on the southern coast. You’ll recognize it by its large rock archway and beautiful black sand beach. You can see lots of birds here, including puffins. We didn’t do as much hiking here as we wish we had.
- This is the infamous black sand beach of Iceland and is located right next to Dýrhólaey. It’s actually not black sand at all but tiny pebbles. Very cool.
- This is a really awesome canyon that we never really figured out how to pronounce. It’s worth the short drive though. We hiked up to top to see the waterfall, and in hindsight wish we would have also hiked down to the bottom.
- This is an iceberg lake at the base of the glacier. This is where the Icelandic band Kaleo filmed one of their music videos atop an iceberg in the middle of the lake. Check it out here. It’s worth watching before you go.
- Diamond beach is another favorite of ours. No, they are not real diamonds, but chunks of ice that float from Jökulsárlón into the sea and rest on the black sand shore here.
- Jökulsárlón is the neighbor of Diamond Beach just across the road. You can’t see one without the other!
- This is a small town on the southeast coast. Very small, picturesque town. We actually didn’t even mean to come here, but we missed our turn and ended up stopping here for midnight coffee. We rounded the town for some quick shots before heading on our way though.
- This was a very small campground in a very small town. There didn’t seem to be an office or common area of any kind, but there was a small trailer with a few bathroom stalls and showers. A woman in a car came through in the morning and collected our camping card tax.
Day 4 – East & North Iceland
- We stopped in this town for gas first of all and also for a few more groceries before heading to the north side of the island.
- This is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. It is a bit of a ways off of Ring road and you have to take a long gravel road to get there. You may feel lost, but you probably are not. It is worth the drive. It is in fact a powerful waterfall and you are able to walk right up the edge if you so choose. Just be careful!
- Okay, so maybe this area is a bit smelly, but it is worth it. Just power through. This may be the closest thing you ever experience to being on Mars (until Elon Musk figures it out.) You’ll see a lot of bubbling mud that I imagine would make an excellent mud mask. Just kidding. Please don’t try that.
- This is the infamous Game of Thrones cave from Season 3 Episode 5. The cave visited by Jon Snow and Ygritte. I’ll let you do the research. (Parental Discretion Is Advised.)
- Goðafoss was one of our favorite places on the whole island. This waterfall is simply beautiful and very explorable. We hopped along the rocks at the top of the falls and descended the stairs to the bottom of the falls. We spent nearly two hours here and had it all to ourselves (at midnight.)
- We passed Akureyri to hit a hotpot on the shore. It’s actually a hot tub right on the shore. There is a box on the wall to deposit your $2 (I think) fee. We found it fairly easily but the water was cold. It was about 2 AM, so we figured they turned it off at night. We left there and headed up to camp instead.
- This was one of the nicer camps we stayed at during our trip. It was the first shower we took which was glorious. (The cold breeze does draft through the shower walls though. Fair warning.)
Day 5 – Akureyri to Westfjords
- Akureyri is the second largest city in the country. While we were there, Iceland was playing in their first World Cup ever, and the whole town was gathered in the square watching together. We visited a couple of souvenir shops on the main drag and then headed on our way.
- In addition to hot dogs, Iceland is also very fond of ice cream. We popped into this very popular local ice cream shop to see for ourselves. Pretty good. Would recommend. It was like what we in America would call “soft serve.”
- After leaving Akureyri we decided to try the hotpot from the night before one more time. When we got there we found the changing rooms with the hot water valve. We could have turned on the hot water all along.. *facepalm*.. No matter. We hung out with some German girls and watched whales surfacing out in the fjord. It was quite nice.
- After a long drive, we stopped at one more hotpot before calling it a night. This hotpot required a short detour before reaching our campsite, but it was worth it. Pro Tip: There’s a Hotpot App you can download on your phone to find many hotpots throughout the country. (Editor’s note: Or use our free interactive hot spring map)
- This campsite is in the Westfjords. The drive there is beautiful. I kept my eyes peeled for whales out in the fjords, but sadly saw none.
Day 6 – The Westfjords
- The Westfjords is no doubt a large time commitment. I don’t think we fully realized this going into it. If you plan on going to Látrabjarg, be prepared to spend a FULL DAY driving. Don’t get me wrong. The day will not be wasted. You will see some of the most beautiful mountain and seascapes of your life, and the puffins will make the journey well worth it.
- This was an unplanned stop, but we are very glad we discovered it. On your way out to Látrabjarg, you will pass a huge, old, rusted-out ship on the coast. There is nothing to it, but it is very picturesque. Much like Sólheimasandur.
- This is the westernmost point of Iceland at the very corner of the Westfjords. Here you are pretty much guaranteed to find puffins (during the right season) which is the main reason we made the long journey. The cliffs are also spectacular. We were there on a very foggy, drizzly day which made it quite eerie.
- After Látrabjarg, we booked it straight to this campsite to get some rest after a long day of driving. This campsite is in West Iceland. We arrived really late around 2 AM, and located some locker room bathrooms in what seemed to be a pool house. From what we could tell, the showers were all community locker room style.
Day 7 – Snæfellsnes & back to town
Kirkjufellsfoss & Kirkjufell
- This is another popular Game of Thrones destination. The waterfall is just off the road on one side, and Kirkjufell (AKA Arrowhead mountain, the iconic Game of Thrones mountain North of the wall) is on the other side of the road.
- We arrived again in Reykjavik, completing our circle of Ring Road. We did a bit more souvenir shopping, hitting up Bónus again for most of our souvenirs.
The Blue Lagoon
- To top off our whole trip, we soaked in the mineral rich waters of the Blue Lagoon. This is one of Iceland’s most popular destinations. It’s very nice (and a bit pricey for our taste.) However it was THE BEST way to end our Icelandic journey.
- This was a nice little campsite located near the Airport. It was well maintained and had nice bathroom and shower facilities. We were glad to have a place to stay near the Airport and Rent.is. The next morning, we returned our camper van where they shuttled us directly to the airport for our return flight home.
Well, there you have it! Our 7-day Icelandic guidebook. Of course, in hindsight, there may have been a couple of things we would have done differently if we could do it all over again (which we would love to do, by the way!)
- We wish we could have seen puffins earlier in our trip, perhaps at Dýrhólaey. If we had, we probably could have skipped the Westfjords. Although it really is beautiful and desolate land, many of the roads are unpaved and it does eat up an entire day of your trip.
- Since we were already in the Westfjords, we should have made a quick jog off-route and seen Dynjandi, the huge layer cake waterfall. We were not very far from it and do regret not stopping for it.
- We should have taken a tent for overnight hikes. We would have loved to finish out Fimmvörðuháls, but it was already late in the day and we didn’t have the necessary camping equipment to set up camp mid-hike.
- We wish we would have planned ahead and purchased a waterproof phone case before our trip. First of all, it is Iceland. You will likely get rained on at least once during your trip. Second, you will likely visit numerous waterfalls that will no doubt shower your phone. Third, you may at some point in your trip want to snap some photos underwater at a hot spring or tectonic plate diving.
- Speaking of tectonic plate diving, we wish we had budgeted time and money for this one. It looks absolutely amazing from online photos.
What will you do on your Icelandic adventure??
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