We had a fantastic week in Iceland, even though we are not fans of winter and cold temperatures. As we heard many stories about the beauties of Iceland, we had to take the risk of freezing a bit. Luckily we went in spring and were very fortunate with the weather. Except for one day when it was raining like there would be no tomorrow, we had sunshine and bearable temperatures. In this blog post, we share our one-week itinerary and all our experiences from doing the Golden Circle with a rental car, visiting stunning waterfalls, fjords, and mountains as well as some great places to eat and stay.
Explore Iceland by car
If you plan to explore the island by yourself and would like to do the Golden Circle or driving around the island on the ring road, then you need a car. We rented a car for the whole week and got it at the airport, which was very convenient, as Reykjavik is a forty-five-minute drive away. We suggest booking your car in advance as you get better prices and can be sure that your car will be ready upon arrival. There are many car rental agencies from which you can choose. We decided to go with Hertz, as they have a good reputation and high-quality cars.
When renting a car in Iceland, there is one crucial thing to think about in advance. Some roads are only open to vehicles with AWD like SUVs. Don’t try to drive on these roads with cars that aren’t suitable for that as you will lose your insurance. Signs mark these kinds of ways, so you don’t get any surprises. If you plan to explore the wild nature, then go for a proper car, even if it might be a bit more expensive than a standard car. Besides, don’t forget to add fully comprehensive insurance.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
We stayed at the charming Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel. From the hotel to the city center, it’s a ten to twenty-five minutes walk depending on where in the city you want to go. They offer a great breakfast buffet, and the hotel bar serves good local beer. If you don’t want to go out for dinner because it’s too windy, rainy, or snowing too heavy, which can happen in Iceland, then you can enjoy a decent meal at the restaurant.
Things to do in Iceland
Drive the Golden Circle
If you have limited time only in Iceland, then the Golden Circle is the easiest option to experience Iceland’s beautiful nature and some exciting things. On the route, you will see waterfalls, geysers, lakes, mountains all within the omnipresent unique and mystique landscape Iceland has. Besides, you have the chance to take a swim in some hot springs, visit a greenhouse, or join an exhibition in the geothermal powerplants of the Island. Everything within one day.
If you don’t like to drive on your own, you’ll find many tour operators offering comprehensive day tours, including the Golden Circle. Have a look at viator.com to find the best option for you.
There are mostly a lot of tourists on this tour. If you’d like to enjoy the attractions on your own, we highly recommend going early in the morning. There are many places on the route where you can stop, eat something, and use the restrooms. As it’s hard to find good quality food in the touristy restaurants, we took a snack with us.
On the map below, we added some of the major attractions on the Golden Circle. As we like to enjoy the places and don’t want to be in a hurry just to be able to visit every spot, we only directly visited the Geysir hot spring and Gulfoss waterfall. Besides that, we stopped our car multiple times and enjoyed the many amazing views which you can find everywhere.
Experience massive water fountains at the Geysir
The Geysir is an active hot spring area with multiple geysers. Around the area, there is a very sulfurous smell in the air, but that didn’t bother us as seeing a fountain exploding and shooting water many meters up in the air is a fascinating spectacle. Getting the perfect picture may take some time as the geysers don’t work on a fixed schedule. Therefore, we suggest reserving some time when visiting this place.
Enjoy a scenic view on the impressive Gulfoss waterfall
Visiting the Gulfoss waterfall was some kind of fun. It was so windy; we barely couldn’t walk in a straight line. The not so funny thing was that it was drizzling. In combination with the wind, it felt so cold that we couldn’t enjoy the view on the waterfall for very long. Still, it was an impressive experience to see this massive waterfall.
Visit the Hellisheidi geothermal power station
On our way back, we ran a bit out of time and, therefore, couldn’t join the exhibition at the Hellisheidi geothermal power station. What we were fascinated about Iceland was that the island primarily uses renewable energy sources. To see how this works would have been a great experience.
Say hello to cute Iceland ponies
An advantage of being on the road with your car is that you can turn over and say hello to the cute Iceland ponies. We’re sure that there plenty of opportunities to see them when exploring Iceland in a group, but this way, you can enjoy them for your own.
Visit the Snaefellsjökull National Park
In the north of Reykjavik, there is the half-island of the Snaefellsjökull National Park. The scenery while driving along the coastline is terrific. Make sure to visit the cliffs at Arnarstapi and the black beach of Djupalonssandur. As Iceland is home to about 130 volcanos, most of the beaches are black.
Visit the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall and mountain
When driving back to Reykjavik from Snaefellsjökul National Park, make sure to take the northern road. Otherwise, you miss the beautiful waterfall and mountain at Kirkjufellsfoss.
The landscape reminded us of the film Lord of the Rings and other fairy movies. Many movies got filmed in Iceland, which isn’t a surprise because of the beautiful nature and the very mystical feeling. Some movies are Interstellar, Batman Begins, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Oblivion, Thor, Star Wars, and many more.
Explore the south of Iceland
As we didn’t have time to do the full ring road tour, we decided to visit at least the glacier lagoon of Jökulsarlon in the south of Iceland. As it takes about five hours to drive there, we also chose to stay in Höfn for one night.
See the rainbows at Skogafoss waterfall
While driving on Route 1, aka Ring Road, you can see so many beautiful places like waterfalls, stone formations, and lava fields. It’s fascinating how many natural wonders Iceland has to offer.
After one-third of the distance to Höfn, there is the beautiful and massive waterfall called Skogafoss. Because of the vapor, you can see a rainbow if you stand at the bottom of the waterfall. If you don’t like to get wet, you can climb up the stairs and enjoy the stunning view from above.
Enjoy the silence at Jökulsarlon lagoon
One hour before Höfn, there is the stunning glacier lagoon of Jökulsarlon. To stop here is a must and worth the long drive. Standing in front of the lagoon with the glacier in the background and seeing all those massive icebergs floating peacefully in the water was a breathtaking moment, we never forget. And it’s so quiet there that you can hear the ice crunching.
Stay one night in Höfn and try to see the polar lights
Staying in Höfn for one night was a perfect idea. In Höfn, there are only a few little hotels and restaurants. We stayed at the Milk Factory where we had a nice, big room for a reasonable price. At the port, we found a nice place called Pakkhus, where we enjoyed a decent dinner. When in Höfn, don’t miss to try one of the local Jökulsarlon beers.
To make our stay in Höfn a bit more adventurous, we came up with the idea to try to see the polar lights. First, we checked the Aurora Forecast and then drove to a place where there was no light at all. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky and couldn’t see any polar lights although sitting in the car for hours. As it got freezing, we aborted the mission unaccomplished and returned home into our warm bed. Although we weren’t successful, it was fun to try it at least and enjoy some hours in pure darkness and silence.
Don’t miss the ice formations on the beach at Jökulsarlon
On the way back to Reykjavik crossing the bridge just before Jökulsarlon, we realized that on the other side, there was a beach with massive ice formations. Somehow we missed them the other day as we were only watching to the left side of the road towards the lagoon.
The massive ice formations are incredible. Some of them are so clear that you can watch through it. Fascinating!
Watch out for reindeers
As already mentioned, you’ll see so many beautiful things along the road. One time we even saw a herd of reindeers, which was something we’ve never seen before. And another day we saw a little snow fox. So cute!
Discover amazing street art
Reykjavik is a fantastic city that is full of colors and beautiful street art. Almost around every corner, you can find work of talented and sometimes famous artists.
Taste some of the local beers
We usually are not much of beer drinkers. But in Iceland, we became some because of two reasons. First, Icelandic beer is the best we had so far. The Einstök Pale Ale and the Ulfur India Pale Ale were the beers we drank most.
Second, beer is the only alcohol you can afford in Iceland. Hopefully, this doesn’t sound as we were heavy drinkers, because the complete opposite is the case, but a good glass of wine for dinner is something we do enjoy from time to time. But paying up to twenty US dollars for one glass of wine is too expensive. To be fair, in most cases, the amount of wine is double what you get in other European countries.
Eat delicious food
In Reykjavik, there are many places where you can eat tasty food in an amazing atmosphere. The latter was something we didn’t expect but we found some places which are really fancy. Eating out is quite pricy too, in particular when having dinner at a fancy place.
Our favorite places to eat are:
- Snaps Bistro Bar – located in a Glasshouse, with a cool bar in the basement where you can wait to be seated
- Fiskmarkadurinn – very fancy location with great seafood
- Verbud 11 Lobster and Stuff – nice restaurant at the Port of Reykjavik, with very good food & great cocktails
- Apotek – nice location to have a drink and some snacks (we didn’t go for dinner)
Iceland is a fascinating country with so much to see and magic charisma. Besides, the people are so friendly, and the vibe all over the island is relaxed and welcoming. We enjoyed our week in Iceland a lot and can highly recommend it to everyone. If you can, plan enough time for your visit (at least two weeks) and do the ring road tour around the island. We have only seen a little part of this beautiful and magical island, but even that made us loving Iceland. One thing we didn’t mention so far and makes Iceland even more sympathetic is that there are places that are protected because of the elves that live there. How cute is that!?
If you have ever been to Iceland, what was the thing you loved the most? If you plan to visit Iceland, what’s the one thing you’re most excited about? We’re looking forward to reading your comment.