One would think that after traveling to so many corners of the world that the potential of everything beginning to look the same or becoming one of those travelers that is more difficult to impress by a place could be something at stake.
Maybe it’s my passion to travel or the fact that when I travel for leisure, (“leisure” being key as traveling for business can prove a little more difficult) I like to explore cities/countries deeper by really having all my senses experience a place I visit that I can still find the uniqueness of cities thankfully.
And admittedly, while I had heard so many fabulous things about Iceland and it being high on my list to visit, I didn’t expect to be impressed as I did. I figured my travels had taken me to some of the more inaccessible and obscure corners of the world like Easter Island and Madagascar, that a country visited by many types of travelers; nomads, tourists, etc. could be potentially overrated.
This was the biggest misconception I had coming to Iceland but Iceland quickly changed this misconception and continued to do so during my time in this country. One could travel only an hour time by car and be struck by the constant and every changing landscape of such a small country/island. I cannot begin to count the amount of times, my fabulous travel partner, Ronnie and I had to tap into our vocabulary in order to not overuse words like, “Stunning”, “Breathtaking”, “Beautiful” or “Speechless”. (Our grammar teachers would be very proud of us.)
Speaking of travel partners, sharing Iceland with another person is certainly a big takeaway from my trip. The number of people Ronnie and I met during our Icelandic adventure who were also traveling with another person was endless to count. It was heartwarming to exchange stories when we saw each other at campsites and knew that they too were leaving Iceland with their own experience and their own story that only their respective Iceland travel partner would truly understand or be able to relive. As I mentioned, Ronnie and I buddied up for this trip and excitingly planned for a little over 4 months. While we met and traveled in Cambodia and have visited each other in our respective home cities; Chicago and Israel; this was our first trip visiting a new country together. I can’t begin to thank Ronnie for being brave, staying positive to new travel adventures and helping both of us have an adventure of a lifetime. Till our next adventure Ronnie!!!
Now, it’s your turn to pick your Icelandic travel partner, begin to plan your own adventure in Iceland using Ronnie and my guide below and be impressed by this “Stunning”, “Breathtaking”, “Beautiful” and “Speechless” country.
Being a solo traveler means you are a pro at traveling on your own and not waiting around for someone to travel with you. That being said, with Iceland I would certainly recommend traveling with someone else as it’s a place that’s certainly worth sharing memories with. Bringing even if it’s just a +1 will also help with costs, picture taking and a conversation buddy. (Ronnie was my perfect +1.)
- Hoping to catch the iconic Northern Lights? Leverage the Aurora Forecast map HERE and download the ‘My Aurora Forecast & Alerts’ app which provides up to date readings on the best time, location and cloud coverage.
- To capture the best pictures of the lights using your mobile device download the ‘Northern Lights Photo Taker’ and/or ‘NightCap Pro’ app. (Ronnie and I didn’t find out about the photography apps for your mobile device until after but admittedly we both agreed that we were glad we didn’t. When we saw that our phones weren’t capturing the lights correctly, we just allowed ourselves to enjoy them while jumping up and down in the middle of the night in Icelandic fields. A truly, you had to be there experience.)
Life In A Bag
See my #Lifeinabag Iceland Edition below for the list of items I brought with me during the 9-day trip. The key was layering up for the cold temperature and repeating outfits. I didn’t have to wash clothes during the trip but any longer of a trip then I would have certainly done a wash.
Cabs – Uber does not operate in Iceland so be sure to leverage cabs but know that if they aren’t short trips within the city, they will come with a hefty price tag.
Bus – Busses are available for both local and longer travel to other cities in Iceland but I would not recommend using busses when traveling outside of Reykjavik as bus times are less frequent and the only way to see the sights of the country is via a car.
- Traveling in the city via bus is very easy and you don’t even need cash when using. By downloading the ‘Straeto’ app you can purchase bus tickets and activate when you board your designated bus. They also offer a day ticket for 1.900 KR ($ 15.00 USD) which is useful if you plan to travel around the city.
- Traveling to and from the airport/Reykjavik can be done on the bus. Keep in mind the journey will be around an hour long and the cost for the ticket is the equivalent of a day ticket.
Car – Renting a car to travel the country is a great option if the idea of a camper van doesn’t strike your fancy and you rather camp (which I don’t recommend during the winter months) or stay in proper accommodations. The freedom of being able to stop where ever and whenever in the ever-changing landscape in Iceland will feel so gratifying.
Camper Van – By far the best and most cost-efficient way to travel Iceland is using a camper van since you travel, cook and sleep using the van and it provides for an adventure in it of itself while doing this.
- There are many camper van companies in Iceland so certainly do your research, read reviews and shop around on prices and van styles. We chose the basic camper van from Happy Camper and while it did the job, we both agreed that if a male was traveling in the basic camper van, they would certainly be quite snug.
- Read any information the camper van company provides and ask plenty of questions about how to use the van properly. I would even add, practising doing said tasks like starting the grill stove, heat and lighting in front of a staff member to ensure you are doing this correctly. This would have certainly helped us when our battery died and we lost heat because we missed the part about not covering the air vent for the heater. Doh!
- If traveling in a camper van during the winter months, ensure you keep the water container as full as possible and try to preserve your water for cooking and drinking. (All water in Iceland is safe to drink so bring a water bottle and enjoy.) Use the sinks from the campsites to wash dishes which is what wastes the most water from the water container. During the winter months many of the hose used for refilling your container freeze which means it could be days before you have a chance to refill. But don’t be too scared, you can easily purchase bottled water at the various gas stations should you find yourself needing to.
Driving in Iceland as I mention is the best way to see the country. Coach bus tours can only help so much and most tours begin in Reykjavik meaning you truly are limited on what you can see or do in Iceland if you stay in the city the whole time during your trip.
Ensure you practice caution while driving by following the below tips for a truly enjoyable journey.
- If traveling during the winter months, ensure you check road conditions HERE for up to date reports on snowstorms, blizzards etc. and take the advisory warnings seriously. Remember that with a small population in Iceland this translates to less people power to clear roads or provide road side assistance as quickly as we are used to especially once you are outside of Reykjavik.
- Be sure to familiarize yourself with the wind maps and what road signs mean. Planning your driving based on the wind maps is very useful since driving in anything above 30% mph means you will have to drive quite slowly to ensure your car does not tip over. (See image of truck from pictures for the Ring Road below.) If you do find yourself driving with high winds know that it is doable but one must travel very slow and cautious.
- See more driving tips in the pictures below.
Scandinavian is the language spoken in Iceland with English coming as a close second so no need to brush up on any language lessons when visiting.
What To Eat & Drink
As one can imagine, food costs can really take a hit on your budget in Iceland. To help alleviate this cost, we leveraged our camper van kitchen and campsite kitchens to cook our own meals while on the road and only ate at a couple of restaurants during the trip, mostly in Reykjavik when we were no longer in the camper van. We were very tactful when planning our grocery list for the van life portion of our trip as we purchased perishable items at home which we brought in our luggage, bought liquor in Iceland’s duty-free shop before leaving the airport and then went to the grocery store to buy the misc. food such as fruit we would need for our trip.
- TIP: We saved on luggage costs by purchasing 1 luggage on the economy airline and sharing that luggage to carry our supplies for the trip.
- TIP X2: Many campsites have sections in their kitchen for food left by other travelers for other travelers. Helpful when you need oil, spices or any odds and ends.
Check out what we purchased (either prior or once we arrived) for our van life adventure below. Any additional items along the way was purchased in shops in the bigger cities.
Resturants – See the restaurants we did get to check out.
- Wake Up Reykjavik Food Tour – Worth every penny. Not only do you get a tour of the city with a local but you also get a truly culinary tour of food in Iceland without going too into the more obscure Icelandic dishes. TIP: Come hungry! This tour doesn’t skimp on portions so you will leave the tour feeling full for the rest of your day.
- Frioheimar – For a unique and tomato indulgent experience in the Golden Circle be sure to visit the restaurant/greenhouse of Frioheimar where all their cuisine is based around the tomatoes grown in the greenhouse where you yourself get to enjoy said meal. While pricy for tomato soup it is certainly an experience and a warm soup certainly hits the spot during the winter months.
- Humarhofnin Resturant– Enjoy local islandic lobster in this charming fishing village in Hofn. Who can’t say no to delicious lobster bisque caught from the harbor which you can see from the restaurant windows? Truly a highlight on our road trip along the Ring Road.
- Messinn – By far my most enjoyable eatery in Reykjavik. Their Artic Char and Fish Stew is a must.
- Apotek – Fancy dessert? Then this is the place to check out for sweets in Reykjavik. (They serve food and drinks as well but can’t speak to them.)
Food – Check out the list of food you should eat while here.
- Icelandic Lamb Stew – We had this in Reykjavik during our food tour at Islenski Barinn.
- Rye Bread either with smoked trout/lamb or if you have more a sweet tooth, how about with Icelandic ice cream, whipped cream and caramelized rhubarb syrup. – If you are in Reykjavik, check out ‘Café Loki’ to get your fix.
- Icelandic Hot Dog – Be sure to try this with all the trimmings; Icelandic ketchup, Icelandic mustard, remoulade sauce, deep fried onion and onion. TIP: The place to go in Reykjavik is Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. This little stall apparently sells well over 1K of these Hot dogs each day!
- Artic Char
- Fish Stew aka Plokkfiskur – Looking less like a stew and more like a fish casserole this dish includes cod, potatoes, onions butter, cream garlic, celery, white wine and lime. Yummy!
- Fermented Shark – If you are daring and fancy being adventurous with your taste pallet. Be warned that we aren’t saying this is tasty but apparently, “it’s a thing” in Iceland.
- Dried Cod – Again, same point said with the fermented shark goes here.
Where We Went
Check out our 9-day itinerary HERE which also includes the campsites we stayed at during our road trip.
NOTE: The itinerary above was not our original itinerary as we had to alter given the snow storm that hit during our travels. See the original 9-day itinerary HERE if you would like to travel the full Ring Road.
Ring Road – The epitome of Iceland encapsulated into a road. One can travel around the whole island on this road that is divided by North, East, South and West. Each area having its own beautiful attractions and wonders. Other travel blogs recommend a week to travel around the whole Ring Road in the summer months and 2 weeks in the winter months to account for weather conditions as we learned ourselves. Snow storms hit the North and East while we were traveling in mid-October causing us to stop our road trip of the Ring Road and only visit the South and part of the East portion of the road.
(Based off our trip visiting the South and tip of the East portion of the Ring Road before having to change plans and visit the Golden Circle due to snow storms.)
- The Small Towns and Fishing Villages – Make as many stops as possible to see whatever catches your eye. I am certain with the ever-changing landscape in the Ring Road you will be in awe and find your own must see’s.
- Hverageroi – A town and municipality in the south of Iceland built above a hot-spring field.
- Seljalandsfoss – Beautiful waterfall that you can walk around as there is a big cave behind it.
- Bra Fence in Brekkukot – A farm fence near the Eyjafjoll mountains has become quite the attraction as its covered with lady’s bra’s. One would call this a growing art installation as many travelers continue to leave their unmentionable mementos on this fence,
- Skogafoss Waterfall – One of the biggest waterfalls in the country.
- Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach – Beautiful beach near Vik with Basalt columns and powerful waves described by some as dangerous as they sneak up on people without notice.
- Vik – A quaint little village along the Ring Road and a great place to rest and stock up on items and fill your car with petrol.
- Solheimajokull Glacier – Glacier in southern Iceland between the volcanoes Katla and Eyjafjallajökull and definitely on the list of places to visit. Glacier hikes are offered here and if you have the time and budget, I would say consider but not a must.
- Scenic Green Lava Walk – Just one of the many little places we had to pull over to see.
- Jokulsarlon Glacier – A must visit as this breathtakingly blue glacial lagoon is dotted with icebergs.
- Diamond Beach – This beach sits just across the Jokulsarlon Glacier and has the chunks of iceberg ice that flows from the glacier lagoon.
- Fjadrargljufur Canyon – Stunning serpent like canyon.
- Blue Lagoon – While entrance tickets may seem high, this is certainly a must during the trip. General ticket includes a beverage, towel and mud mask. Be sure to purchase in advance online to avoid queues. TIP: Beat the crowd by going right when they open at 8:00 AM. While this may be early, it will certainly be worthwhile as we learned. Picture this; less crowds which translates to being able to enjoy the lagoon and take all the insta worthy pictures and the ability to truly enjoy the facilities which aside from the lagoon include a sauna, steam room and relaxation lounge. Campsite Grindavik is a short drive away and a perfect place to stay the night before your visit to the lagoon especially if visiting when they open.
Golden Circle – The most popular traveling route in Iceland as one can easily hit the highlights in a day and most tours from Reykvik do day trips here. I would recommend 2 days and beginning around noon as this will help you avoid the tour groups.
- Thingvellir National Park – This is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Silfra Fissure – An open rift between the plates that one can snorkel and dive between the plates. Highly recommended by Ronnie who did this activity while we visited the Golden Circle.
- Geysir Geothermal Field – Smell the sulfur, see the geyser erupt and bask in nature steaming and bubbling all around you.
- The Great Geysir – Oldest geyser in Europe but unfortunately no longer active unlike Strokkur Geyser.
- Strokkur Geyser – The most active sprouting hot spring in Iceland erupting every 5-10 minutes.
- Gullfoss Waterfall – One of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland.
- Kerið Crater – A volcanic crater lake in Grimsnes and from our personal opinion more picturesque online at least during the time of year that we went but if you find the time consider a stop and certainly let us know in the comments below if its better during other months of the year.
- Secret Lagoon – This geothermal pool has a sprouting geyser and a fabulous way to unwind after a day of touring the sites of the Golden Circle. TIP: Fludir camping is a short drive away from this lagoon and a perfect place to lay your head without having go far after your warm splash.
Reykjavik – The capital and largest city is an unavoidable stop during your trip to Iceland. I would definitely not recommend making this your base during your trip as this will limit you on sights but spending a day or two before returning home is great way to unwind and bring you back into civilization. The city is small and very walkable so be sure to just walk around and take in the sights of the capital city.
- Hallgrimskirkja – The tower cathedral
- Harpa Concert Hall – Stunning architecture venue hall along the shore.
- Sun Voyager – Steel sculpture
- Laugavegur – The street for all things shopping.
- Laekjartorg – Main square in Reykjavik’s center.
B&B’s and hotel accommodations may be found in all the major cities along the Ring Road and Diamond Road but since we lived in our campervan, I can’t speak to these. I can speak to the campsites stayed at during our road trip.
See below the campsites we recommend from our trip and be sure to check availability during the year as some campsites do close during the winter months.
- Hellisholar Cottages – Hvolsvollur
- Vik Camping – Vik
- Campsite Grindavik – Grindavik TIP: Blue Lagoon is a short drive away and a perfect place to stay the night before your visit to the lagoon especially if visiting when they open the lagoon at 8:00 AM.
- Fludir Camping – Fludir TIP: Secret Lagoon is a short drive away from this campsite and a perfect place to lay your head after an evening splash.
When staying in Reykjavik we lodged at Oddsson Hotel. Described as a self-catering boutique hotel near the city, this place offers wonderful rooms for various type of guests/budgets and includes breakfast. We would highly recommend staying here during your time in Reykjavik.
- Our 9-day itinerary can be found HERE.
- Our original 9-day itinerary for traveling the full Ring Road can be found HERE.
- Our trip was inspired by travel blogger, The Blond Abroad. See her blog pieces on Iceland HERE.