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Visiting Iceland - an epic 10 day itinerary

Iceland travel tips.jpg

A Rad Family Collective article

This guest post is 2 of 2 written by my sweet friend Karen Hinde. All photographs within this post belong to Karen Hinde, and you may not use them without written permission. You can find Karen on Instagram @hindesight.

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Things to do and places to go in Iceland

First, I wrote about why Iceland is a great country for an international adventure here.

What follows here is our 10-day summer itinerary, with some comments about winter travel mixed in.

Day 1 - Arrive at Keflavik International Airport, Vik, & waterfalls

Arrive at Keflavik International Airport in the morning and pick up your rental car. I have used Hertz and Green Motion. I liked the Hertz experience a bit better because they have a counter at the airport, and they didn’t try to sell us unneeded, extra insurance. Definitely get a GPS!

Depending on what time your flight arrives, you can stop in Reykjavik for groceries or breakfast, but if you arrive really early, you may want to have some snacks with you as very little will be open. We didn’t spend any time in Reykjavik until later in our trip.

We began driving east along the South Coast on the Ring Road (Rt. 1) toward our destination of the beautiful, sea village, Vík (about 140 miles, 2 ½ hours from the airport if you don’t stop).

Driving along the South Coast is absolutely stunning! To your left are lush, green cliffs and mountains, mossy lava fields, horse farms and waterfalls nearly every few miles; and to your right is the ocean. We stopped in Selfoss for a bite to eat and Hella for some coffee.

We explored several well-known waterfalls: Seljalandsfoss (a waterfall you can walk behind) and Gljúfurárfoss, which are right next to each other, and Skógafoss. You will want waterproof pants, jackets and shoes for these stops. You will get wet!

Layering is important in Iceland, no matter the season.

Later in the afternoon we explored the otherworldly canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur (personally, one of my favorite places in Iceland). We ended our day at our Aribnb in Vík.

Glacier hiking at Skaftafell

Day 2 - Skaftafell National Park - glacier hike & ice cave tour

Drive to Skaftafell National Park Visitor’s Center (about 1hr, 45 minutes from Vík on Rt. 1) for a 10:00 am Glacier Hike. In the winter, we did a combo Ice Cave Tour and Glacier Hike (about $150/person). Both times we used Icelandic Mountain Guides. We loved our guides, felt very safe, and were very happy with our experiences!

In the summer, we had a great lunch in the café at the Visitor’s Center. In the winter, we packed a lunch and ate at a picnic table. After lunch, we took a trail from the parking lot to the waterfall Svartifoss (about a 45-minute hike each way). We then drove about another hour to Fjallsárlón, first, and then Jökulsárlón - beautiful glacier lagoons where icebergs float along and seals hang out.

Finally, we hung out on the Black Diamond Beach by Jökulsárlón, where chunks of shimmering glacier ice lay scattered all over the black sand along the shore. We then returned for another night in Vík.

Day 3 - Reynisfjara Beach

Explore Reynisfjara, the famous black sand beach with incredible lava formations and basalt rock columns. This is right by Vík. Close by, you can drive up to Dyrhólaey, which offers a cool lighthouse and a bird’s eye view of the south coast.

Continue back west on Rt. 1, hike to the plane crash at Sólheimasandur. This is about a 1 ½ hour hike to a surreal, decaying US military plane that crashed there in the 70’s. It’s probably my least favorite thing I did in Iceland. It makes for cool pics, but is rather underwhelming in person, given the long, windy hike through a completely barren landscape (personal opinion).

Lastly, stop at the Keldur Turf Houses and Farm which features traditional Icelandic style homes. It is super interesting and picturesque. The buildings are open for tours in the summer, but even in the winter, it is worth a visit. Then continue west to accommodations in Reykjavik.

Day 4 - Scuba dive between two continents!

Scuba Diving between the continents at Silfra in Þingvellir National Park. This is truly incredible! We used for this adventure. It cost $400/person and was worth every penny! picked us up at the main bus terminal in Reykjavik and provided transportation, great scuba equipment*, snacks and an unforgettable guided experience diving in crystal clear glacier water in between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

*You must have PADI or equivalent Open Water and Dry Suit Certification to do this dive. You can snorkel the same area instead, if you are not certified.

Afterwards, they dropped us back in Reykjavik, and after we cleaned up, we headed downtown to explore. Downtown Reykjavik is very quaint, funky and colorful with tons of great shops, cafes and restaurants and beautiful views of the harbor.

Day 5 - The Golden Circle

There are a lot of options along the Golden Circle. This is probably the most popular day-drive out of Reykjavik that you can do.

We chose to drive and hike to Haifoss – the second highest waterfall in Iceland. We also went to the Kerið Crater, which I didn’t care for. It was very touristy, charged a small fee to see, and just wasn’t that spectacular compared to everything else we had been seeing.

We also went by Gullfoss and Geysir, two very popular Golden Circle attractions. We stopped along the way to pet horses by the road and get coffee at a cute café in the afternoon. We ate out in downtown Reykjavik again that evening.

Day 6 -The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

This is about a 2-hour drive north and west of Reykjavik.

There is so much to see in a small area! I love the Peninsula!

We stopped at a hot pot (natural hot springs), went to Ytri Tunga Beach and Seal Colony, the small village of Búðir where there is a lovely black painted church sitting in a lava field, hiked the waterfall Bjarnarfoss, stopped in the tiny seaside village of Arnarstapi, and then had lunch in the quaint town of Hellnar, where we ate at Primus Kaffi where you can try some really great Icelandic dishes and desserts.

After lunch, we spent quite a bit of time exploring the beach areas at Dritvík and Djúpalónssandur. We continued around the end of the peninsula taking in great views of the Snæfellsjökull volcano and glacier.

Next, we stopped at the iconic mountain Kirkjufell. The very next town is called Grundarfjörður. Be sure to stop at Cafe Emil.  This combination coffee shop, museum, library and book store is run by the friendliest lady who is such a treat to talk to!

The last stop on the peninsula is the harbor town of Stykkishólmur. The colorful harbor is beautiful; and in the summer, you can get incredible fresh fish and ships from a food truck right by the harbor called Finsens Fish & Chips.

In the winter, enjoy the fresh catch of the day at Sjávarpakkhúsið. We stayed another night in Reykjavik. This was a long day – we didn’t return to our Airbnb until about 11 pm.

Day 7: Drive to the Westfjords, Dynjandi Waterfall

On this day, drive to the Westfjords, and stop to see the amazing waterfall Dyanjandi.

We chose to rent an Airbnb in Ísafjörður. This is about a 5-hour drive from Reykjavik, not counting the stop at the waterfall. Winding through the fjords and high mountain passes makes for an incredibly beautiful drive. The Westfjords is sparsely populated. Roads are narrow and mostly dirt and gravel. It is very rugged, and only about 15% of all tourists bother to visit the Westfjords!

Be sure to eat at the amazing fish restaurant Tjöruhúsið. The food is incredible and the experience and atmosphere are completely unique! It’s about $60/plate, but you won’t regret it. You need to make reservations ahead of time. Ísafjörður is a tiny town, but because lots of cruise ships stop there, they have quite a few charming shops, and you can walk everywhere!

Day 8 - Guided hike at the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Take a day long guided hike at the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. This involved a 2 ½ hour ferryride through the Northern Atlantic with fantastic views of the fjords on our way to the nature reserve and back.

The nature reserve is home to a unique species of arctic fox and is about 5
miles below the Arctic Circle. There are no roads or permanent facilities there. It was beyond stunning!

We hiked to the Hornbjarg Cliffs. The company we used for this all-day tour was called Wild Westflords and it cost about $400/person. We absolutely loved our guide, and we only had 7 people in our group.

Day 9: Horseback riding

The Icelandic Horse is a unique breed, and the Icelandic people have a
special relationship with their horses. The horse has a special gait called the Tölt. If you like horses at all, you should definitely ride at some point while you are in Iceland. There are lots of great tour operators.

We just happened to ride horses while we were in the Westfjords. We used
Fosshestar for about a two-hour ride with some instruction on riding tölt. We had a private, guided ride that cost about $150/person. They did not accept credit cards, but did accept USD.

After our ride, we cleaned up and headed south to our Airbnb in Keflavik near the airport, stopping in Reykjavik for one more fun dinner downtown. We used a different route leaving the Westfjords than we used going, so we saw different scenery.

Day 10: Return your rental car and fly home!

Final thoughts: When I emailed to inquire about bookings for accommodations and tours, I found everyone to be very responsive and easy to dialog with, which made planning quite easy.

A fairly common way to road trip in Iceland is to simply circumnavigate the island on the Ring Road in a week or 10 days. The Ring Road bypasses the Westfjords and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We considered doing this, but in the end decided to focus our time on the south and west sides of the island. Even then, we didn’t see everything there is to see in those areas.

Obviously, the excursions are what cost the most. The summer trip was for my son’s high school graduation, so we splurged some. When I went back in March, it was with my daughter and her friends over their college spring break, so it was a shorter, college budget-type trip. We ate lots of peanut butter and only did the Ice Cave/Glacier Hike tour, and it was pretty cheap splitting the car rental and Airbnb’s five ways.

Both trips were amazing. You can’t put a price on the Northern Lights!

Planning a trip to Iceland with younger kids? Check out ICELAND with Kids: a Self-Drive Itinerary by TraveLynn Family.

I’d love to go back again someday and see the northern and eastern parts
as well as The Highlands. I hope you get a chance to explore Iceland. It is truly spectacular!

Here is link to the video my son made of our trip. Enjoy!

Want to remember this? Pin this to your Pinterest board so you can find it again easily when you're planning your adventure to Iceland.